Jonathan Buske's Discogs page is pure fire. A native New Yorker, Buske has been a member of such hardcore outfits as Another Victim, The Promise, Terror, and Santa Sangre. More recently, the bassist has been laying down the low-end for Manipulate, a quintet that also features current and former members of Skarhead, Black Anvil, Suburban Scum, and Kill Your Idols—among other top-notch hardcore and metal bands.
Since Manipulate just issued their debut EP, Becoming Madness, on Flatspot Records, I figured it was about time I chatted with Buske about the band, and his life in the hardcore scene.
I know you're a New Yorker, but where exactly were you brought up?
I was born and raised in Auburn, NY, which is a small city of about 28,000 people in central New York, 30 miles west of Syracuse. Aside from the maximum security prison that sits in the middle of the city, our only other real claim to fame is being the hometown of metal titans, Manowar. I eventually moved to Syracuse, where I spent a good amount of my 20s—followed by a year spent in Philly, five years in Queens, and I'm currently in Long Island.
At what age did you start getting into music?
Music entered my life at a very early age due in part to my father and uncle. As a kid, my dad would always have his friends over to hang and they'd listen to 8-tracks on his stereo (lots of Gino Vanelli, The Doobie Brothers, Michael McDonald). I guess it just seemed cool to me, to have your friends over to do nothing other than sit around and listen to music. Although, I remember him singing along to some of those slow jazz tracks and being embarrassed for him. When my uncle came over, however, the music got a little heavier and a lot louder (Van Halen, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath). It was almost the train of thought that, "Uncle Rick was the rebel of the family and this was his music," and that attitude seemed way cooler. This is where I think I probably first adopted a kinship and taste for music, namely more aggressive music. I liked my dad's music alright, but I fucking loved listening to my uncle's music. He must have seen my interest, and for Christmas 1984, he blessed my brother and me with our first records—Mötley Crüe's Shout at the Devil gatefold LP with that ill glossy pentagram on the cover for me; and the masterpiece, Black Sabbath's Master of Reality, for my brother.
What was your introduction to hardcore music, and why do you think it resonated with you so deeply?
My introduction to hardcore came through my older brother and his friends. Having gotten into skateboarding, which was much more of a rather subculture mindset then, I'd see a lot of the older guys wearing Minor Threat, Circle Jerks, Subhumans, 7 Seconds, etc. shirts. The imagery and slogans really captivated me, and a short time later I was given a cassette of Raw Power on one side and Breakdown on the other.
Another great introductory source for me was my first Thrasher magazine, the December 1988 issue. I still have it somewhere and remember it had Lance Mountain doing a handplant on the cover, with Social Distortion and Guns N' Roses interviews. I was pretty heavily into skateboarding and had barely been tuned into much of the underground yet, and Thrasher at that time was a great mainline into the underground music scene. Puszone, Skate Rock, Igor's Record Collection... those monthly articles and features would always re-introduce me to names of bands I was familiar with from seeing on this or that thanks list; and it began the hunt to find their release, hear them, and see what they were about.
Which leads me to the answer to the next part of that question—why it resonated so deeply. In my case, it was a personal interest that I found on my own, largely uninfluenced by others, and far outside the norm. It was my own version of what I admired in my dad and uncle, except it truly spoke to and about me. The lyrics were real, non-fictitious, and unlike a lot of the metal I was listening to, hardcore hit home. Lyrics like "Seeing Red" or "Clenched Fists, Black Eyes" made so much sense to me and said everything about me. Paired with blasting drum beats, dissonant guitars, growling basslines, and recordings that bled raw intensity, it was an unmatchable pulse and energy. It wasn't always the easiest being the "skater fag" in a very small city in the '80s and '90's, and the message I got from punk and hardcore gave me the backbone to stand against what I thought was unjust, to defend myself and those I love, and to be accepting and respectful of others.
Tell me about Syracuse in the late '80s/early '90s. There's such a rich history of hardcore there.
The '90s in Syracuse were quite unique. Obviously, it was a very straight edge and vegan/vegetarian-themed scene, but there was always an array of different kinds of bands playing. I'd see Fugazi, Greyhouse, Phleg Camp, or Split Lip; and two weeks later see Sick of it All, Bloodlet, Madball, or Vision. Being centrally located in New York state, it was a pretty accessible location to travel to and that was actually a huge part of the scene makeup then. I don't really know much about the history of participants or bands in the '80s scene aside from Milton's Disciples and The Catatonics (a band which Belvy K., who later played in 7 Seconds for a stint, was in). It wasn't until around 1989/1990 when DJ Rose booked Underdog, followed by Uniform Choice, followed by a Gorilla Biscuits show (that actually never happened) that I really started paying attention and tuning in, as these were all the bands I kept hearing about and seeing in Thrasher.
My first show in Syracuse was Shelter in 1990, which was also the last show DJ booked before John McKaig took over and ultimately helped to reshape and redefine the Syracuse hardcore scene probably best known today. We were very fortunate that we had a motivated person willing to take all the hits that came with booking underground bands, as it really strengthened the pre-existing efforts and made it possible for some of the '90s bands, especially Earth Crisis, to thrive far outside just the local scene.
Another Victim formed in 1997, and you joined the band right after the release of the Portrayal of Vengeance EP. Had you played in any bands before that?
Not really. I tried for years prior to get something going, but it never happened. When I heard the Another Victim demo, it was exactly what I wanted to be playing, and after seeing them for the first time, I offered to play second guitar, was given that EP to learn before it was actually released, and gratefully joined.
The EP was released by Hatebreed's Jamey Jasta on his Stillborn Records label. Did you guys play a lot of shows with Hatebreed? Was he hands-on with the promotion of the EP/band?
Absolutely, Jamey was/is great. He was definitely very involved in the entire process of the release and the band. He booked our first run with Pushbutton Warfare, as well as tons of east coast shows with Hatebreed and other bands like Entombed and Biohazard—which was huge for us being a very small, unknown, brand new band. Jamey has an incredible drive and work ethic to this day that he most definitely carried with him even back then.
Another Victim signed with Equal Vision for the Apocalypse Now EP. That was in 1998, a time when that label was still heavily invested in hardcore.
You know, I'm not entirely sure how the whole EVR signing came about. We were already friends with [label owner] Steve Reddy through mutual friends, so I'm assuming he was into the band. Steve is a great dude who put up with a ton of bullshit from a bunch of amateur, know-nothing hardcore kids trying to make something of their amateur, know-nothing hardcore band [laughs]. He went above and beyond the role of "label boss" numerous times, and I have a lot of respect for Steve—all that he has done with the label, music and merchandise, and especially everything he did for Another Victim.
The band ended up breaking up after the split EP you did with Shai Hulud for Trustkill Records in 1999, but you then reunited and recorded a demo called For the Liars and the Cheaters before throwing in the towel again.
We started doing Another Victim again—which ultimately led to The Promise—while Santa Sangre was going as a way to keep playing hardcore music, being that Santa Sangre was a lot darker, more off-topic, and metal driven. Once we started getting more involved with writing for Another Victim, we realized that we wanted to do something different, both musically and thematically. Another Victim was a pretty heavy band focused on animal rights, political issues, and had an extremist attitude and approach towards straight edge; and we wanted to evolve on that, but without the moniker that existed. Another Victim sort of just became more of a past tense approach, and we weren't interested in living there or doing that, which eventually led to the beginning of The Promise.
Tell me a bit about Santa Sangre. That band released an album on Eulogy Recordings in 2001 called Feast for the New Gods that I really enjoyed. I read another interview you did where you mentioned a tour the band did with Killswitch Engage and Everytime I Die that didn't go too well. Was that the reason the band broke up?
Santa Sangre, unfortunately, never had a chance to grow, as we were victims of internal short-sightedness and were very crippled financially. We also had a rocky beginning starting out due to not being able to find a committed frontman, so by the time we had to put the pedal to the metal to really launch the band, we were just exhausted mentally and financially.
I don't want it to seem like had we not done that tour with Killswitch Engage and Every Time I Die, we wouldn't have broken up—that tour just really helped us put things we were already questioning more into perspective. It was an incredibly fun tour, but the turnouts weren't so great and it buried us further into debt... as well as the band morale. Personal relationships became strained on that tour, so that—compounded with being penniless—unfortunately really made up our minds with what to do with the band's future at the time.
Keep in mind, this was at the time when "metalcore" was really just starting to become a popular word (before Killswitch Engage and Every Time I Die were even signed to labels, let alone Roadrunner), and there wasn't really much of an audience for it yet. It wasn't for a lack of talent that the tour didn't go well, because those bands have great careers. We were all ahead of the curve, Santa Sangre just never stuck around long enough to grow legs. That was a cool band, I wish we could have done more.
After Santa Sangre came The Promise, a band I remember getting popular rather quickly.
The Promise came about while doing Another Victim and Santa Sangre, as mentioned before. Again, we just wanted to keep playing hardcore and the focus and trends that were seeping into the soil at the time were getting repulsive to us. Dumb shit like "fashion core" actually started to gain traction, and we saw people's attitudes shifting from true ideologies to pointless garbage like that. The music was being watered down, lyrics were beyond abysmal, and most importantly, the threat to the norm was hardly viable anymore. The Promise was born intentionally as a reaction to that, and I think a lot of hardcore kids felt the same way at the time.
I think Jim Winters is one of the most underrated guitarists in the hardcore and metal communities. I would love to get your take on working with him in The Promise.
I agree. I grew up in total admiration of Conviction/Vigil and Jim's contributions to Believer. He's an absolute classic dude in my book. His stage presence, from the first time I saw Conviction, was mesmerizing; and his ability to craft a riff is even larger. We had him in the studio to help with production on the Another Victim Apocalypse Now EP, so when it came time to look for a second guitar player for The Promise, it was inevitable that we ask Jim. He definitely brought his own flavor to the band and always kept us entertained, that's for sure. The dude is a legend.
The Promise broke up after releasing one EP and a full-length.
The Promise was never really supposed to be a real band, as it was merely a project made in reaction to the watering down of the hardcore scene at the time. When Santa Sangre disbanded, it allowed more time to focus on The Promise and that led to more opportunities. The weekends here and there and one or two shows a month we planned on doing turned into month-long tours, and it became too much of a burden for some that never really planned on committing so intensely to the band. Also, again, internal relationships became frayed and it began to turn into something it was never meant to be.
Your next move was joining Terror in 2005. Were they already based in Los Angeles at that point? How did you hook up with them?
Yeah, the majority of the band at the time I joined was in LA—aside from Frank [Novinec], who was in Cleveland, and Doug [Weber], who was in San Francisco. Terror toured so much back then that it really didn't matter where anyone lived because we were very rarely home for more than a few weeks at a time. Frank left to join Hatebreed after the first tour I did, and that's when Martin [Stewart] stepped in, who was also in LA.
I had known Scott Vogel for many years prior as he grew up in Buffalo and would always come to Syracuse for shows, and being mutual fans of each others' bands, we often mentioned doing a band together. I had been asked to join Terror once before, but we had just started doing The Promise and I was all gung-ho on that. But years later when the spot was offered again, The Promise having just broken up, it was a no-brainer.
You recorded The Damned, The Shamed album and an EP called Rhythm Amongst the Chaos with Terror. There was also quite a bit of touring during the three years you were in the band. What was the experience like? Being on tour with Scott Vogel must be a trip!
Yeah, Vogel is a gem! The two of us together in a van for months on end, we found out, wasn't the most healthy of living situations for either one of us [laughs]. I regretfully took advantage of a lot of the opportunities given to me through the band and I often wish I had the foresight then that I have now. I'm extremely honored to have been a part of the band and to have contributed to their incredible growing music catalog. They've released some of the best hardcore records of all-time, so nothing but love and respect. TC4L.
After Terror, you had a project going with Doug Weber (Terror, First Blood), Rob Barrett (Cannibal Corpse, Monstrosity), and JC Dwyer (Pro-Pain, Raped Ape). What ended up happening with that, and did you ever release any material? That's quite a lineup of musicians!
Rob showed up one night at a Tampa show and I just sort of mentioned doing a project with him. I honestly approached it as more of a fanboy just seeing if he'd even consider it, which he did. Him being a native central New Yorker from Buffalo that listens to more hardcore than most hardcore kids do, we made a connection immediately. Doug jumped on board and dudes went to work writing and demoing shit with JC, and we ended up with a good 12 - 15 songs. Never having a vocalist, we tried out a few people but couldn't quite nail one down, and it became back-burnered when Cannibal Corpse started working on their new record at the time. I'd love to pick it back up someday and actually complete what was started, there are some pretty killer riffs.
Tell me a bit about your experience being part of the Black N' Blue Takeover radio show. That must have been a lot of fun to do.
Absolutely! Never a dull moment, ever. When it moved back to the city, it was just too difficult for me to continue to balance, but it's still going strong and is currently back on East Village Radio, every Tuesday at 6:00pm with Cuzin Joe, Laurens, Matty Pasta, and sometimes Jimmy G. It was a very different forum to learn how to adapt to at first—being a host, live on the radio—but I think everyone eventually got loose and found a groove after a while. It was a lot of fun, I miss hanging with those dudes. Check it out live every Tuesday at 6:00pm on dashradio.com/evr.
Okay, let's get into Manipulate. What's the backstory on the band's formation?
The band also features Iván Murillo (Dead Wrong, Skarhead) on vocals, Ricky Singh (Backtrack) and Paul Delaney (Black Anvil, Kill Your Idols) on guitars, and Paul Klein (Suburban Scum) on drums. The idea to do a new band started with myself and Ricky at first, and Iván mentioned he had something going with our friend Corey who had written some songs and had just moved here from LA. We came together rather quickly and recorded the demo shortly thereafter. Corey left the band, which led to Paul D. joining, as he already knew the songs from having filled in prior, and Paul K. came in on drums to really help round out the sound and direction of the new songs that Ricky and I were now bringing to the table. It's a dope lineup, these dudes are all awesome players, I'm stoked to work on new shit and to keep building the band.
Listening to the Becoming Madness EP, what struck me right away were the thick guitar tones. I think that's a lost art in modern hardcore. When you put on Born to Expire, that record still sounds like a beast, even though it was released decades ago.
Yeah, man, don't fix what isn't broken. We wanted the recording to be raw and intense to match the theme and vibe of the record without the process being overly complicated. That being said, we had our good friend, Jeff "STRESS" Davis, track the music at his spot Chopshop Studios. Iván did vocals with his friend, John Grant, at Madhouse; and Taylor Young, who has an incredible ear for heavy tones and music, mixed it. I think it definitely has a presence and sound of its own, which is exactly what we were going for.
The last section on the EP's final song, "Manipulate," is "Breakdown of 2016" material. Seriously.
[Laughs] yeah, that's a pit! The intro in that song was actually an intro we used to play live as a set extender, because we only had five songs at the time. One day Ricky sent us an email saying he had this idea to turn it into a full song and dropped that on us! Needless to say, it stuck, and is most definitely the highlight of the record for me, too. It also gives you a good idea of where we're heading, being that it's one of the last songs we finished before recording.
What's the plan for Manipulate for 2016 and beyond?
Right now we're just enjoying the EP's release and letting it marinate for a bit. It seems like we've been working on it for years, so it's good to finally have it out and be seen/heard. We've got some really cool shows we're fortunate to be a part of coming up with World Be Free, All Out War, Next Step Up, Bane, Maximum Penalty, and a bunch of other bands, so we're looking forward to those in the coming months. We'll also be releasing a new older song this year on The Extermination: Volume 3 compilation that Flatspot Records will be releasing. Aside from that, writing for a full-length and keeping it moving.
Outside of Manipulate, you're a successful graphic designer. When did you start doing that?
Thank you for the recognition, I appreciate it. I've been absorbing and learning how to design for years and have been lucky enough to have been able to make a career thus far from it. I started taking a much more serious approach around 1999. Prior to that, not having any formal training or schooling, I'd hack things together, but I never really took it very seriously until I did the Santa Sangre layout, which was the first time I put my name on anything. That led to many years of trial and error doing designs for a lot of friends' bands, and eventually a freelance position at Blue Grape, which evolved into a full-time position at Bravado International. So, going from whipping shit up for Comeback Kid and Champion to building a full tour line for Slipknot and Michael Jackson was quite a ride, and a huge learning experience. I left Bravado in 2008 to start freelancing again, and also am currently working full-time in the Design and Marketing Department for Sam Ash Music Stores.
What are some of the projects you're most proud of that we should check out?
Some of the projects that stand out the most are working with Usugrow on the Terror The Damned, The Shamed layout, and most recently with Pol at Branca Studio on the Manipulate Becoming Madness EP. It's always inspiring to work alongside artists of influence, so those projects will always stand out to me the most. Aside from that, having just done the Sick of it All 30-Year Anniversary logo was an honor. Being able to create that for them using the dragon that is so iconic to me... very cool. The Wisdom in Chains The God Rhythm layouts on vinyl, CD, and cassette all came out great; the stuff I've done for Vinnie Paz/Jedi Mind Tricks and Pitchfork Hardwear... and I love that Black Anvil still uses the blood splat anvil logo, and I've even seen tattoos of it. That's always cool. You can check out some of that work on my website and follow it on the usual social media outlets.
You're stranded on a deserted island. You can only take five albums with you.
- Black Sabbath, Master of Reality
- Sense Field, Tonight and Forever
- Crowbar, Odd Fellows Rest
- Judge, Bringin' it Down
- Corrosion of Conformity, Deliverance