Interviews

Mark Scondotto (Shutdown)

I first met Mark Scondotto at a show somewhere in NYC back in the early '90s through his older brother, Mike, a musician who has been in such bands as Confusion and The Last Stand. A few years later, Mark got his own thing going with Shutdown, a hardcore group that went on to sign with Victory Records and issuing two studio albums, among other split and compilation releases, in their time together.

After appearing on the Warped Tour in 2001, Shutdown ceased full-time operations. Since then, the NYHC crew has reunited for select shows, and just a few days ago announced that they'll be appearing at a Warzone tribute show on October 1, 2017 at Thompkins Square Park in NYC.

In this new interview, I speak with Mark about his time in Shutdown, and his life since.

I've known your brother Mike for a long time, but tell me a bit about your upbringing.

I grew up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. My parents were blue collar, hard-working people that raised five boys, myself being the youngest. My dad was the Director of a non-profit job placement agency run by the city called NADAP for over 20 years, where he helped rehabilitating addicts and the homeless find work, and was also in the Army Reserves, while my mom spent 30 years at the same bank locally in Sheepshead Bay and actually just retired last year. My dad was always playing music on his record player as long as I can remember listening avidly to Elvis, Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, etc. He always supported and encouraged us when it came to being creative and playing and writing music. 

The Scondotto Family, 1980.

Since you have music-obsessed siblings, I imagine you got into cool stuff earlier than a lot of other kids. 

There are five Scondotto brothers in total and four of us grew up all sleeping in the same very small room. There wasn’t a lot of privacy, so I was privileged to hear my older brothers play punk, metal, hardcore, and all things in between, at a very young age. One memory in specific was the first time I heard Suicidal Tendencies' "War Inside My Head" and I was immediately hooked on the fast-paced tempo and sound. I think I was nine, maybe 10, and it blew my mind. I remember my older brothers Mike and Jon had a pretty big vinyl collection and when they weren’t around, I started to go through their records and listen. I remember hearing Token Entry’s Jaybird for the first time and it made me want to start skating and play punk and hardcore. Then when my brothers would notice some of their records getting scratched they realized I was sneakily playing them when they weren’t around. Some other impressionable records for me at a very young age were Cro-Mags Age of Quarrel and Sick of it All Just Look Around, for sure.

Mark, Jon, and Mike Scondotto.

Since you were into heavy music at such a young age, did you have trouble finding other kids at school, or your neighborhood, that were also into that kind of stuff?

I went to Xaverian High School which was an all-boys Catholic School in Bay Ridge, and funny enough, when I was a freshman, all the dudes in Indecision were a bit older than me and in the same school, as well as a few others I was able to connect with from my brother, who had met some of these kids at local shows. He asked them to look out for me. Most of the kids we went to school with were your typical Italian Stallion wannabes, so it was easy to link up with the anarchists, punk rockers, and hardcore kids, although there were probably only about a dozen or so of us. As far as the neighborhood, I started going to shows with a fake ID at Lamour's at 15, sometimes they would sneak me in, and I met more kids my age or a few years older from going to shows with my older brothers.

What were some of the early shows you went to? Did you go see Lament and Confusion as a kid? The first time I went to L’Amour's, I was 13, and used a cheap-looking fake ID, so it wasn’t that hard there!

Yes, I saw Lament play with Shelter and Life of Agony in 1994, Christmas time at Lamour's. I remember a kid actually died at that show from the bouncer throwing him off stage and him landing on his head, and I believe that’s the reason Lamour's got sued and temporarily closed right after for a while. I saw Confusion play many times at places like Lamour's, Bond Street, even at Ft. Hamilton High School’s battle of the bands when I was 13. I can remember falling in love with the vibe and energy at a hardcore show which was like nothing I had ever experienced.

At what point did you declare yourself straight edge, and what inspired that choice?

I was straight edge pretty much from the day I learned what it meant at 13 or so. The fact that I was already drug and poison free and then hearing about the youth crew movement, and bands like Youth of Today, Gorilla Biscuits, Project X, and Judge. I felt like this was the brand of hardcore I related to best at that time as a kid. Young, positive, and totally energetic, I felt like I understood what they stood for best and gravitated to those bands at an early age of getting into hardcore. 

SEE ALSO: 2014 interview with Michael Scondotto (Confusion, Inhuman, The Last Stand).

Tell me about how Shutdown first got together. 

OK, so back to Xaverian High School in the fall of 1993. I was a freshman and the summer before I was just really starting to embrace everything so as I said, my brother introduced me to a kid he knew from going to shows and went to my high school, who was a junior at the time named Nick Wobido. Nick pretty much introduced me to Justin Brannan (from Indecision) and Pete Larussa (former No Redeeming Social Value drummer), and Ed Mcnamara (first Shutdown bass player) and they were all a few years older than me. Another guy named Anthony Vrettos, would later replace Ed after the first practice, but at that practice at Ace London Studios we decided to basically just jam and see what happens. I told them I wanted to start a youth crew type project and we got together. I believe it was fall of 1994. We rehearsed and within five minutes started writing songs. I can remember “United” being written at that practice. Shortly after, about a month later, we even jumped up at the end of Purge’s set (the metalcore band Ed, Anthony, and Pete were playing in) at Ft. Hamilton High School and performed “United” for the first time. It was awesome and kids went nuts.

I knew in that moment I wanted to sing, write and play hardcore music no matter what. But those guys were in other bands they were committed to already (Indecision and Purge) and just helping me out with Shutdown, that’s when I met up with Steve and Jimmy, who also went the same school. Dion would join after Anthony left abruptly, just before we started touring. Dion was playing in a local band named Muddlehead and said he would help us do the East Coast tour in 1996, which we had booked and setup ourselves, along with Connecticut’s youth crew champs: Fastbreak. Dion did that tour and ultimately stayed on permanently from there and in 21 years we have been the same four guys.

How did you develop your vocal style in the earliest days of the band? Did you emulate certain singers, or did you just grab the mic and go for it?

Literally I would just grab the mic and go for it. I was very young so naturally my voice was always a bit high-pitched and a lot of people would always be cool to me because they saw the passion in when I performed was coming from a genuine love for the music, but I also encountered a lot of negativity and criticism as well from some older folks who weren’t so into my "extremely young-sounding voice," but mostly support.

SEE ALSO: 2017 interview with Dan O’Mahony (No For An Answer, 411, Done Dying, Carry Nation, Workshed Records).

One of the first things Shutdown put out was a split 7” with Indecision on Rick Healy’s Back ta Basics Records. This was back in 1995, when Rick was still very active in the hardcore scene. A lot has been said about the guy throughout the years, but I wanted to get your take on him. 

I met Rick outside of Lamour's when I was about 14 or maybe just turning 15. He knew Mike’s band and liked them a lot, and played some shows with 25 ta Life and Confusion on the bill. When I told him I started my own band a few times after I met him, and was explaining to him that we were playing youth crew style positive hardcore, he immediately told me without even hearing it that he wanted to put out a 7" with us on a label he was starting called Back ta Basics Records and hook us up on a few shows in the tri-state area. Our split 7” w/ Indecision was actually his third release on the label. Funny story, I remember Justin (Indecision) and myself being asked to meet him in the city at Bleeker Bob’s to pick up our copies of the record. When we got there, nothing was packaged, he gave us about 100 records to split, with colored copied paper to fold and insert, and we basically had to put it all together ourselves [laughs].

Hey, Justin was 16 and I was 15, I think we were just psyched to have a 7” out and appreciative at the time, not knowing he would go on to make thousands of more copies and never give us a dime or tell us how many he kept repressing, including color limited edition runs, etc. I mean, the guy basically exploited the fuck out of any band he met, but in some ways, those same bands got their name out there worldwide through his distribution connections that otherwise would have not been known. Today, I know nothing about him other than the craziness I see on the Internet. He is obviously not of sound mind and hasn’t been for some time. 

Kevin Gill released the Turning the Tide mini album on his Striving for Togetherness label.

I actually sent our demo and 7” to Kevin around 1996 when he was dropping lots of great records at the time like V.O.D., District 9, No Redeeming Social Value, and Fahrenheit 451, and also doing the NYHC documentary. We linked up one day after a show and he expressed interest in putting out an EP. In June 1997, we recorded Turning the Tide in NYC, with members of Roguish Armament and Noah from the Icemen being the producers he set us up with. Anthony (our bass player) was just about on his way out the door, so Steve actually wound up recording most of the guitar and bass tracks for that record. That was probably our first real recording experience in an actual place like that and we had no idea what the hell we were doing.

Overall we learned a lot but were extremely unprepared. We just kept thinking who cares if it's sloppy, it’s hardcore and the passion will shine through, and I think it did. We absolutely loved to play live. Every show, big and small, we just loved getting up there. Kevin Gill gave us the opportunity to get our name an even bigger platform at that time and for that I was grateful. Our next goal was to do a full-length record, and Kevin knew the EP was sort of a stepping stone for us in our development, and he was happy to put it out and supported us with t-shirts, posters, etc. We were very appreciative at that time and were label mates and played a bunch of shows with those bands who we really respected and were doing very well.

Shutdown obviously mostly played with hardcore bands, but did you also play on any metal bills as well?

As far as metal bills, there were plenty [laughs]. We actually played a festival in Germany in 2000 with Motörhead, Judas Priest, and Megadeth, with about 20-30,000 in attendance, which was insane. We played the New England Metal Fest at the Palladium in Worchester in 1999 with Manowar. As far as venues, we did a US tour for six weeks with the Cro-Mags (Harley and Parris version) and All Out War in the winter of 2000, and played some amazing venues like House of Blues in Chicago, which was lots of fun. Some of my other favorite venues in no particular order would be, of course, CBGB's, Wetlands, Coney Island High, and outside of New York, probably anywhere in Southern California or Texas were always good shows and good times!

In 1996, you recorded a demo, with some of the material ending up on your album. Did you make that demo specifically to send out to labels?

We made that demo just because we had new songs we wanted to record and eventually that demo got turned into a 7” on Positive Face Records out of Pennsylvania. We wound up sending that demo however to labels, kind of with a DIY-made press kit that I hand made myself, with the help of my friend Joe Sansone and Freddy Jackson, who would make video copies with covers of footage of our best shows at CB's for us to help send along with that demo and a letter I wrote to multiple labels at 16 asking to help put our full-length out. I remember really hoping and praying Revelation Records would get back to me but when it wound up being Victory we certainly weren’t complaining.

Yeah, Shutdown ended up signing with Victory Records, who then released the Against All Odds album in 1998. Was that a matter of Tony Brummel, or an A&R at the label, reaching out to you guys?

That was now around the early fall of 1997, and in September, [Warzone vocalist] Raybeez had unfortunately and suddenly passed away from a lung infection while in Chicago. I was pretty upset whn I found out. It felt like a train hit me. I was overcome with sadness knowing we would never speak again. About a month later, we were asked to play the second of two benefit shows for his family. Ray always looked out for us . He was always trying to help us. I met him at the Wetlands and he was a true friend from day one. He said he wanted to help us because we were so young and the next generation of something he had helped create in NYHC and he took great pride in that. I loved him like an older brother and we got close quickly, putting us on shows with Warzone, calling me at my parents house to talk, hanging out at shows and introducing me to a lot of older heads, etc.

It was at the Raybeez benefit/memorial show we played with Sick of it All, Gorilla Biscuits, CIV, Bouncing Souls, and Rejuvanate. The show was sold out from start to finish, and we had an amazing set filled with pile-ons, sing-alongs, stage dives, and great energy like any classic CB’s show would have. After the show, this dude, John Regan, came up to us and said he worked A&R for Victory Records and immediately wanted to get together with us to talk about putting out our first full-length. That was October, we were lucky enough to have the wonderful hardcore attorney, Mr. Dave Stein, handle our contract to make sure we weren’t getting taken advantage of and in December, wound up signing a four-record deal with Victory. We hit the studio with [Murphy's Law vocalist] Jimmy G. a month later to record Against All Odds in January 1998 and would be released in March 1998.

Now, it’s not a huge stretch to think of Jimmy G. working with you guys, but Shutdown was a straight edge band, and that’s the last thing one thinks of when they think of Murphy’s Law! 

We had previously worked with Jimmy for a Japanese compilation we were on a few months earlier. We had recorded a song with him and had so much fun and really appreciated all the knowledge and experience he brought to the table. I can’t remember exactly, but I think Tony had asked us if we wanted anyone specific to help and reached out to Jimmy himself. Jimmy G. to this day is someone I love admire and respect so much. He knew I was close with Ray and after Raybeez passed we began to make friends with a lot of the older bands like Murphy’s Law and Agnostic Front, being that those were the ones closest to Ray. Working with Jimmy G. in the studio was absolute comedy gold 24 hours a day. He loved that we were straight edge [laughs]. We had so much respect for him we couldn’t care less about his lifestyle choices. We never judged people based on straight edge, we judged them by the way they treated us and Jimmy was great with us. He even helped in the writing process, and got Craig Ahead involved and the guys in Warzone to come hang and sing back-ups while we were recording. That album was 75% written while in the studio and Jimmy helped us a lot in the process and taught us a lot as well. The old stories alone were the stuff legends were made out of, like the arena tour Jimmy did with the Beastie Boys in the '80s. He was a true mentor and friend to us.

Speaking of the straight edge hardcore thing, the ‘90s certainly had its share of bands touring throughout the world, but back in NYC, at least from my memory living there at the time, it wasn’t a stronghold for that scene. What was it like from your perspective?

From my perspective, internally, we never looked at ourselves as a “straight edge band” mainly for one because not all members at this point were straight edge, and also for the fact that we wanted everyone in hardcore to give us a try and not just limit ourselves to one “subdivision” of an entire scene.

 
How much touring did you do to support that first Victory album? 

The record came out in March 1998 and Victory was expecting us to hit the road full-time which we were excited and happy to do as it was always a dream of ours to be able to bring our music and message all over the world. First in April, we did a six-week headlining tour around the United States. Something like 35 shows in 40 days. Then we came back for a few weeks, then toured all of Canada for Halifax to British Columbia for another six weeks. Home for a week, then we another US tour where we took Inhuman, my older brother's band, as support middle of summer for four weeks. Then home for a week, then drove straight to Sacramento from NYC to meet up with Hatebreed and Death By Stereo (who dropped off before the first show) for another four-week US tour, working our way back to the East Coast from California. That tour was incredible and almost every show was packed with Hatebreed doing big things, coming off a big tour with Kid Rock at that time, and blowing up from Warped Tour and their record, Satisfaction Is the Death of Desire, which was getting big fast at that time. Lots of exposure to new kids for us and it was great and lots of awesome memories on that tour with those guys (RIP Boulder). After the summer, we took a month off and went to Japan. We were on the road more than home that year for sure but it was great.

Found on Hardcore Show Flyers.

What did your parents think of your choice to be in a touring band? I mean, your poor parents had three kids into this stuff!

My mom kept asking me to quit and go back to college, but my dad was all in [laughs]. He loved me coming home and telling him all the places I had been and the stories from the road. He would randomly have people in the neighborhood come up to him to inquire about where we were touring and he loved to tell people he was very proud and it really encouraged me to keep going with it. My mom eventually got on board as I brought her home something from each country we would visit. She still has all the souvenirs and shows me when I go back home.

After the Something to Prove EP in 1999, Shutdown released the Few and Far Between album a year later. You brought in Agnostic Front’s Roger Miret to produce that one. What was the most valuable thing he brought to those sessions, and were you intimated to work with him?

Working with Roger was a dream come to reality. We had so much respect for Agnostic Front and he was so down to earth and eager to help us advance. He especially helped me with my approach to vocals on that record. He also helped us understand how bands like AF and Madball obtain that incredible sound they get on their own records. He taught me how to “scream” from the stomach, and not from the throat and to control my voice and tone better. Those recording sessions at Big Blue Meanie Studios in NJ were intense. We spent three weeks pretty much living there with Roger, and there were even nights I would go to sleep in his apartment in his daughter’s room when she wasn’t there, so we could get right back to recording the next morning and head to the studio. The end result is what I think is the best sounding record to date we’ve put out.

What's your favorite song on that album?

My favorite song on the record is probably a tie between the cover of “Don’t Forget the Struggle, Don’t Forget the Streets,” for obvious reasons of the nostalgia and ode to Ray and everything he did for us, as well as “Few and Far Between” mainly because it has always been our dream to have Freddy Madball do guest vocals for us and I love his part on that title song.

Shutdown toured the US and Europe with Agnostic Front after Few and Far Between hit stores. What are some of the memories that most standout to you about those runs?

The US and European Tours with Agnostic Front were the experience of a lifetime. I can’t even tell you how many great memories I have, I even tell my kids about it when they ask about my old tours. Let’s see, there was one where in Europe we were playing in Porto, Portugal and it was Thanksgiving in the states. We got to the club early and it looked like an old castle. After soundcheck, we all went across the street by this river or lake and Roger got bit right on his chest by a huge bee. He happens to be allergic to bee bites and started to say he needed to get the stinger out himself before something bad happened, so I watched him literally pull and suck it out himself and I never had seen anything like that. Afterward he joked how he had almost got really sick from that bee bite and as he was saying that, the guitar player Craig (from Ignite, who was on that same tour) comes walking back to the club before the show all bloodied and beaten up. Apparently, he had been robbed while walking around by himself downtown. That show had like 1,000 kids going nuts and we all had a great time afterwards and stuck together. That tour covered seven countries and was like 28 shows in 29 days Nov/Dec 2000. It was AF, Ignite, The Forgotten, Discipline, and Stamping Ground. We went on somewhere in the middle every night and literally got to play in front of sold out crowds of anywhere from 500-2,000 people every show. It was incredible!

BOOK REVIEW: My Riot: Agnostic Front, Grit, Guts & Glory, by Roger Miret with Jon Wiederhorn (Lesser Gods, 2017)

Outside of NYC, what were some of the places Shutdown did well at, and why do you think those places resonated so well with your music/message?

We did great in Japan and Australia, as well as New Zealand. Some particularly great spots in Europe for us were Italy and Germany. In the States, outside of the tri-state area, of course, we always did pretty well in Houston, anywhere in Southern California, Philly, St. Louis, Ohio. Montreal was always a good time. Boston and Vermont were great. Not sure why we were more embraced in some of those spots. It just seemed like the kids completely connected to us and understood what we were about a bit more. They felt the passion we put out and was reciprocated from them and in return gave us some great shows to remember.

Shutdown (Photo: Rod Orchard Photography)

Shutdown effectively broke up in 2001. Was that you guys just having to focus on school and your careers, or were you burnt out on everything?

I’m going to be honest and say a little bit of both. We spent the better part of the four or so years previous on the road and were getting pressured at home by our parents to go back to college and graduate. For Steve and Jimmy, they were halfway done, but Dion and I had gone very little to that point being we were two years younger and the guys wanted at least a semester to go back in the fall of 2001. I decided to take some time off in Florida, where I stayed permanently once we realized we were taking a longer break than first planned. We actually had just come off a small stint on Warped Tour that summer and when we got back, got offered Europe with Biohazard and DRI but the guys said they couldn’t. I was really hoping they would change their mind but they wound up at some point deciding to finish out school and the hiatus became permanent. I was pretty broken up about it at the time because I felt like I was the only one who wanted to continue, but looking back I understand why they made that decision. I was living in the moment while they were planning their futures and it just wasn’t meant to be at that time.

The band has since reunited for some shows, but what are the chances of Shutdown getting back together to write and record new music?

I’d say at this point anything is possible and if it were up to me, likely. We actually just announced that we will be playing a very special NYHC show on October 1st in Tompkins Square Park in NYC, and although we can’t say who is playing yet, we are ecstatic to be a part of it. As far as new music, Dion, Steve, and Jimmy play in The Last Stand and are always writing and rehearsing for that, and I live in Florida, so to be able to make that happen would probably depend on my being able to cooperate and support their efforts. I’ll say this, hardcore music is something that I’m very passionate about and runs deep through my veins and nothing would make me happier than to put some new stuff out next year but we will see.

What have you been up to in the years since Shutdown broke up? 

I live in the Coral Springs area of South Florida with my three kids and wife, Liz. I have two boys, Carmello and Julian, who are 10 and 8, and Harley Quinn, my little girl, is 3. I am a recruiting manager with a publicly traded staffing firm. I work in accounting and finance. I’ve been down here almost 16 years already, crazy how time flies!

Thanks for your time, and before I let you go, if you had to name the hardcore album that you’ve played the most throughout the years, which one would it be, and why is it so important to you?

Hmm, tough one, there’s just so many I can think of, but if I had to pick one, I’d probably say Gorilla Biscuits Start Today, mainly because of the profound impact it had on me at such an early age. I can put that record on any day, any time, since I was 13, and listen to it from start to finish. I love the positive vibe it brings from the intro to the last song, always puts me in a better mood!

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