A huge part of the hardcore scene has always been centered around the idea that everyone in it can and should get involved in any way they can. Whether it's starting a band, publishing a zine, booking a show, or any other facet of the movement, the D.I.Y. spirit is what has kept hardcore alive since the early '80s. When it comes to this topic, Rachel Rosen has definitely done her part.
Beginning in the '90s through her DJ/host work on NYU's Crucial Chaos hardcore radio show, to her guitar and bass playing in such bands as Indecision, Most Precious Blood, The Wage of Sin, and Milhouse, Rosen has dedicated a huge portion of her life to the music she loves. After living in the New York City area for most of her adult life, she's now based in Orange County, California where she has a career in the medical field. In addition to her work in pathology, Rosen also co-owns Caninus Collars, a mailorder business that offers custom dog collars. Through her and her boyfriend's (Derek Morse of MorseCode Recordings) connections in the music world, the small company has teamed up with bands like Sick of it All and Madball, offering collars featuring their logos.
Rosen is obviously a busy woman, but I was lucky enough to get some time from her for a chat about her life in music and beyond.
Tell me about your upbringing. What neighborhood were you raised in, and what did your parents do for a living?
I grew up in suburban New Jersey, in a nice little town, both parents worked in the medical field. I had two older sisters and was born at a time when my oldest sister had just been diagnosed with leukemia. It's different being brought up with life and death illness around you all the time. Ultimately, she died when I was 10, and I think it definitely made me see my life a lot differently and was a big reason I was drawn to hardcore and metal.
Was there a specific style of music—or, say, an artist—that you were obsessed with at a young age?
I played piano from age 6 to 18, and also played the clarinet for about four years as well. There was always a lot of music playing around our house—lots of classical music, jazz, and tons of '80s pop from my sisters. I loved Michael Jackson, Phil Collins/Genesis, and The Pointer Sisters a lot. The first record I remember going to buy on my own was the Rockwell album with "Somebody's Watching Me" on it.
At what point did you decide to learn how to play guitar? Was it one of those situations where you wanted to start a band, or did you play on your own for a while before you played with other people?
I didn't pick up a guitar 'til I was 13. I became obsessed with U2 and decided I loved the bass player, Adam Clayton, and wanted to play bass like him. All we had was an acoustic guitar, so I started learning on that until I saved the money to buy an electric bass and amp. I took a few guitar lessons from a friend of my mom's son and he taught me the basics of guitar. I used a lot of bass books and did most of my learning by transcribing and playing every U2 song on bass. When I had mastered that stuff I moved on to Led Zeppelin songs and Guns N' Roses. I had the bass line book for Appetite for Destruction and I think it definitely was a big influence on my bass playing. I would spend pretty much every weekend playing bass for hours, mainly learning other bands' songs and not so much writing 'til I was about 16. I also went to a guitar camp in Danbury, CT for two years in a row. Those were interesting times. I didn't really pick up a guitar again once I got my bass until close to the time I joined Indecision.
In terms of guitar, who were some of the players that you looked up to early on?
I can't really say I had much in the way of influences as a guitar player. I sort of did a crash course in re-learning guitar, specifically because I wanted to join Indecision and they already had a bass player. I had lots of influences as a bass player, though—obviously Adam Clayton, John Paul Jones, and Duff McKagan because it was their music that I used to gain skill in playing, and definitely Kim Deal and Kim Gordon as females who I looked up to. I got to meet both of them, which was awesome. David Sims from Jesus Lizard and Craig Setari (Sick of it All, Agnostic Front) were also later influences on my bass playing. I loved the dirty bass sound they had, and especially with David Sims the bass lines were so distinctive and to me were the focal point of the music.
Did you go to a ton of shows when you first got into hardcore? Who did you see and where?
I had started going to some shows in New Jersey with my friend's band, IDK, and through them had seen Prong, Scatterbrain, and a couple other bands sort of like that. I also had been super into grunge and had seen Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and Sonic Youth shows. The band I was in at the time had played some smaller NYC clubs like Bond Street Café, Street Level, and the Underworld, so we had played with some smaller new hardcore bands here and there. My first real NYHC show was Sheer Terror, SFA, and Fear at CBGB's. I went by myself, which is funny to think about now that my parents actually let me do that. I remember I came back late because I wanted to see as much of Sheer Terror as I could and couldn't stay for Fear because of my curfew. I still got grounded, though.
What was the first band you ever played in, and when and where was your fist show as a performer?
The first band I played in was called Tapeworm. I had two friends in high school, one who played guitar and one willing to sing, that were a year younger than me and we were all sort of into the same music. So we started a band. I can't even remember who our very first drummer was, though. We had a lot of them. Our first show was at my high school—we played a cover of "Love Buzz" (the Nirvana version), Pearl Jam's "Alive," and then one original that was just a bunch of noise and screaming. We scared half the room I think and had the first "mosh pit" in our school, which became a big topic of discussion in our school administration afterwards.
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We can't do this interview without mentioning Crucial Chaos, the hardcore radio show you did while studying at NYU.
I did Crucial Chaos from about 1994 - 1997 or 1998. It was a long-running weekly hardcore show on WNYU. I went to sign up to work at the radio station when I started there. I got to do an AM radio version of the show which was only broadcast to the dorms' cable station, so no one really heard it. At the time, Johnny Stiff was the main host of the FM version. Something went down that I'm not really sure of but all I knew was he was off the air and they told me I was moving to FM with the other DJ, Evan. I felt super unprepared for this but took it on and I think my first show I interviewed Sick of it All. It was a complete disaster because I was so nervous. But I got better as time went by. I eventually brought the singer of Tapeworm, David Fisher, on to host with me instead of Evan. It was awesome because we were able to have bands play live every week so we had so many good bands play the show. Currently Glen, the live engineer for the show for most of the time I was there, is working on digitizing all the bands and finding a home for the recordings online. Eventually after I joined Indecision, we were touring a lot, I technically was no longer in school anymore and wasn't around too much to do the show, so I passed it on to the next generation.
Didn't you also do a stint playing bass in SFA and Cause for Alarm sometime in the mid-'90s?
After my band Tapeworm broke up around 1994, I was looking to continue playing in hardcore bands. Brendan Rafferty, the singer from SFA, had been a good friend to our band, and had taught us lots about hardcore because we would just hang out and bug him every weekend while he worked the door at CBGB's. They decided to kick out their bass player and I joined the band. Around the same time, I had Cause for Alarm play the radio show and became friends with Keith, the singer. They were going through some lineup changes so I ended up practicing with them a few times to potentially join the band, because SFA and CFA were going to do a two-month tour in Europe together in a few months. Ultimately me playing in CFA just didn't work out for various reasons that I won't get into. I still did the tour playing bass in SFA. It was my first tour ever, and it was in Europe and it was two months long. It was a difficult time for me. I wasn't in a very good mindset and I was miserable for the majority of the tour. I ended up quitting the band on the last show of the tour.
Indecision formed in 1993, but you didn't come to join the band 'til a few years later.
While I was doing the radio show, the band Shutdown from Brooklyn sent in a demo for me to play on the radio. I hadn't heard of them but gave it a listen and thought it was decent and started playing them on the show. I was looking to get some newer bands to come up and play so I asked them to come play on the show. Justin [Brannan], the guitar player from Indecision, came up with them when they played since he was actually the original guitar player, and he gave me an Indecision demo and I think a 7", and asked if they could play on the air. I listened to their stuff and I really really liked it. I had them come play on the air a few weeks later and that was around when Justin and I started dating and were together through the beginning of Most Precious Blood. I thought I was the authority on touring after my time with SFA, so when Indecision and Shutdown were going to do their first tour in 1996 I tagged along selling merch.
I played my first unofficial show with Indecision in Tampa on that tour, but the rest of the band wasn't ready for me to join. So I continued to just help them out when I could and tagged along on another tour they did with Tripface. And then finally in 1997, they revisited adding another guitar player and Justin convinced the rest of the band to let me join. I can't say that it was easy joining a band where there had been one guitar player for the last four years, who was also your boyfriend, and who liked to do the majority of the writing. There were definitely fights and a lot of ups and downs but we made it work the best we could.
Around the time you joined Indecision, you also became a member of Long Island's Milhouse.
I actually joined Milhouse just after leaving SFA in 1996 after the European tour. They were going through some lineup changes and I met Artie [Philie] through Indecision playing in Long Island and through Wreck-Age/Exit Records. I tried out for Milhouse and really had a lot of fun playing with them. The music was a lot different, and the bass lines were already pretty intricate. I had a lot of fun writing stuff with them and definitely pushed my own limit as to what I was able to play in that band. Once I joined Indecision, shortly after Justin joined Milhouse on guitar. So the two of us did a few tours doing double duty. It was rough and when Indecision started doing more and more tours, eventually Milhouse got an alternate bass player and guitar player and it was called the Milhouse B lineup.
In terms of musical style, Indecision and Milhouse were very different from each other in many ways. When I interviewed Indecision singer Tom Sheehan in 2014, he said the following about your playing in Indecision: "I think she added a lot to the sound, she made it way fuller and allowed Justin [Brannan] to play more melodic stuff live, and on the records after that."
I agree with what Tom said about me with Indecision. I definitely was more of the rhythm player and sort of filled in everything when Justin liked to play more melodic parts. I did write some second guitar parts as well on the albums I played on. With Milhouse, Brian [Meehan], the guitar player, would come to us with parts that were always in crazy timings and it was definitely a challenge figuring out what to play to go along with it.
Milhouse released Obscenity in the Milk, the band's sole studio album, in 1997. Ian Love from Rival Schools was one of the engineers on the sessions. What memories do you have of recording that album? How do you feel about the end result all these years later?
It was great working with Ian. We also worked a ton with Davide [Gentile] from Orange 9mm on that recording, too. He was the magic behind the bass tone on that record, which I really love. He pushed me harder than I had ever been before with my playing on that recording. I remember barely being able to move my hands afterwards. I also remember us breaking a bottle down the stairs of the studio and Ian recording it for the end of one of the songs. And at the time his studio was in Chinatown and I remember seeing giant rats! But I love Ian's mix on that record and overall it was probably one of my favorite recording experiences. I still like to listen to that album.
In the late '90s, Indecision began to gain momentum. You guys did a ton of shows, and released a series of splits and EPs. How tough was it to juggle your studies and day job responsibilities with playing in the group?
We were all just working temp jobs in between tours at that point. We had a friend with a sister who worked at a temp agency and when we would know we had a few weeks at home, we would call her and she would find us all jobs in the Wall Street area as temps. I was finished with college by the time I had joined Indecision so at that point I was taking classes here and there when I could in preparation to ultimately apply to medical school, though. We all managed to get by. Money was always tight but we still were able to keep roofs over our head and it was great that Pat [Flynn] and [Steven] Bago still lived at home, so that those of us who couldn't would have rent money.
The first Indecision album you played on was 1998's Most Precious Blood. Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal recorded those sessions, and he would later go on to be a member of Guns N' Roses.
Ron is so great to work with. He's easygoing, funny, and so patient. Not to mention he's an incredible guitar player. Indecision had already recorded Unorthodox as well as a couple demos/7"s with him, so we all knew him well. He was working out of a studio in Staten Island at that time and I remember he had just started doing a little bit of work using the computer in the recording but there was still a board. I'll always remember him saying that one day you wouldn't even need a mixing board to record anymore and we didn't believe him. But overall, that was such an easy, relaxed, and fun recording session to do. Ron let us try any crazy ideas we had but also knew when to rein us in and keep us focused. I'm so happy to see all his success now. No one deserves it more.
Tom Sheehan went on to quit Indecision so he could concentrate on his graduate school work. Milhouse's Artie Philie went on to become the vocalist of the band. This lineup shift definitely had a big impact on the band's sound. How would you describe Indecision's sound during that era of the group?
His voice was much deeper and rougher and his stage presence was more unpredictable than Tom. We never really knew what Artie was going to do when we played. The albums we did with Artie definitely moved toward being more metallic and more polished, I think. The unpredictability was good and bad. We liked it at first but then it actually became an issue later on.
Indecision broke up after releasing the Release the Cure album in 1999. What brought on the break up, and what are your thoughts on that record?
A lot of things compounded to lead to our breakup. After Release the Cure came out, we were on the road a lot but barely getting by financially. We had bought an old short bus for trips that constantly broke down on us and was consuming all the money we had and we couldn't even do a tour in it. We were also having more conflicts within the band from us spending so much time together. After Bago quit the band in in 2000, we didn't last much longer. He was sort of the one even-keeled person who we had. I switched to bass in the end and we were playing some show in El Paso and Artie was drunk and I was angry and we had an argument during the show which turned into Artie quitting the band during the show. We finished out the set and all made our way back to NYC separately. I like the Release the Cure album a lot. We had never been in such a nice studio and had so much access to fancy equipment. It was definitely the most metal album that we did. The recording process was a ton of fun and we got to get Cuban food with Roget Miret who was producing the record.
What inspired you, Tom Sheehan, and Justin Brannan to form Most Precious Blood in 2001?
We actually formed in 2000, a couple months after Indecision broke up. Justin had always said that if Indecision broke up that we would start a band called Most Precious Blood. So we did it. Justin and Tom had been talking (Tom and I still were not on good terms) about starting something new, just for fun and not to tour or anything. Tom and I buried our differences and we started practicing and put out a four-song demo shortly after.
When I asked Tom why he quit Most Precious Blood after just one album, he said that while he was actually enjoying playing in MPB more than Indecision, the situation wasn't working for him. What's your take on the split?
Originally when we started Most Precious Blood, we didn't have much ambition as far as touring. we were only planning on doing little things here and there. But offers started coming in and Justin and I definitely got the tour bug again. The rest of us were ready to give it another try and we missed being on the road. After a couple tours with Tom, some of the same issues that caused things not to work the first time were happening again. I think at the time, he wasn't happy with all the touring again and the rests of us weren't happy with him. So we decided again to part ways. It was an ugly split again and definitely difficult for us as a band but we had different goals and in the end it was for the best at the time.
Most Precious Blood continued on with singer Rob Fusco in tow, releasing three studio albums between 2003 - 2010. What's the status of the band today? Are you open to doing something together again in the near future?
We're not really active anymore. After 2006 we got burned out on touring again. We had a good run for a while and then things just sort of started going downhill and we all sort of felt like we needed a break. We released Do Not Resuscitate in 2009 and we did a few shows here and there. And then we just went dormant. We didn't break up but we weren't active. We just recently played This is Hardcore in 2016 which was our first show I think since 2010. And then we did a one-off show with Tom where we just played Nothing in Vain. We currently have no other shows in the works, though, and we now live in three different states and two different countries which makes things difficult.
Caninus was a grind project you, Justin, and Colin Thundercurry did for a few years that featured two pitbulls (Budgie and Basil) handling vocal duties. I remember Caninus getting a ton of press, even outside of the music world.
I think when we were recording a Guns N' Roses cover for a comp with Ron Bumblefoot we had the idea to just record a quick grind song. I don't even remember whose idea it was to have the dogs singing. Someone in Most Precious Blood. Budgie and Basil were me and Justin's rescued pitbulls. They were both very vocal ladies and we decided to use their talents. We ended up putting that song as an extra track on the Our Lady of Annihilation album. I think Ron actually came up with the name for the band as a joke. Justin and I decided to keep the band going since Budgie and Basil were our dogs. We recorded mainly in his house with a drum machine and we released it on War Torn records. It wasn't 'til our split with Cattle Decapitation that we used Thundercurry on drums. That was our first real studio recording. Budgie and Basil were very excited for it. When we first started getting attention, there were some petitions going around to have us investigated for dog fighting which was crazy to us—they obviously weren't reading the lyrics and knew nothing about us. I have no idea how Howard Stern heard us the first time, but it was awesome to hear us on his show multiple times. We were also in Blender and FHM. We were able to keep it a secret for a little while, at least as to who the band members were, but then word got out. I think that band is still probably more well-known than anything else I did!
The Wage of Sin was a band you played in that I don't know much about.
Around the time that Most Precious Blood formed, I decided I needed my own creative outlet where I had a little more control over writing songs and also just to have a band that I didn't do with Justin, since we basically played in every band together. I decided it would be cool to start an all-girl hardcore/metal band since that hadn't really been done since the Doughnuts. I put the word out on a few messageboards and found some girls. We ended up putting out two albums on Immigrant Sun Records. We did two full U.S. tours and one tour of Europe. There wasn't really anyone else doing what we were doing at the time. It was always fun to see the crowd reaction when we would play. We ended up breaking up in 2005, I think? We sort of decided that we had done everything we wanted to do as a band and juggling both bands had become more and more difficult.
Many people already know this, but you've worked in the medical world, performing autopsies, and while you were still living in NYC you were stationed at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. How did you initially become interested in this line of work?
I became interested in pathology through all the reading I did on tour with Indecision. Justin and I both read a ton of books on the mafia and while I was in the true crime section, I bought a book by Dr. Michael Baden (seen below) on autopsy cases he did. I was hooked and started reading more and more about forensic pathology. I decided this was what I was going to do after I was done playing with the bands. Through some connections I was fortunate enough to have, I was able to get a paid position at the OCME in Manhattan in 2001. I had just finished taking classes to apply to medical school (in between Indecision tours) and was in the process of applying to medical school. I started working in the summer of 2001 where I was fortunate to have the current Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Barbara Sampson, as my mentor there. She and the other doctors there taught me how to assist them on autopsies. It was an amazing learning experience.
A few months later 9/11 happened, and I ended up helping to identify bodies for the next few months. A plane crashed in Queens a few months later and I helped with that, too. I got into medical school in 2002, but I put it off for a year to keep touring with Most Precious Blood and work at the OCME in between. I left the OCME in 2003 to start medical school. I tried to keep doing both the band and medical school but it just wasn't possible. I chose to leave school to keep touring. I don't regret it although I wonder how my life would be if I had chosen to stay and left the band. After Most Precious Blood stopped touring, I applied to graduate school to be a Pathologist's Assistant and that's what I still do currently. I still do autopsies at some of the jobs I've had but mainly I dissect surgical specimens now.
You're currently living in Orange County, California. Why did you decide to change coasts, and was there a tough transition period for you? I know for me, it was a pretty smooth changeover, but some NYC folks struggle with it.
Derek, my boyfriend, had been trying to convince me to move to California since I had finished school in 2009. I was not ready for a move that big at the time and never felt like I would ever want to live in California. So we ended up settling in New Jersey, near my family. We had a good life overall in New Jersey. After a couple of really cold and snowy winters, I decided I'd had enough. I had always wanted to move to Arizona because I love the desert and thought it was such a beautiful state. I actually was able to get a job in Phoenix and we almost were going to move, but the timing wasn't right. And then I saw the opening for the current job I have and applied and that time everything worked out. It definitely was not an easy decision to leave all my family and friends behind. I miss them but I'm fortunately still able to fly home often enough to see them and they visit me as well. We're both really happy out here. It didn't take much adjustment at all for us. I love being able to do outdoor activities year-round and I take advantage of every weekend I can to go see new places.
Tell me a bit about Caninus Collars, the business you and Derek run in addition to your other gigs.
I started making dog collars around 2008, simply because I wanted my dogs to have some cool collars. I had a friend in school with more sewing experience and she helped me take apart a collar and figure out how to make one. I started making some for friends and then opened an Etsy store. I continued to just do my Etsy store and often made collars for dogs at the shelter I volunteered at in Jersey City. The business stayed small until Derek asked if he could get involved about a year ago. It was his idea to do the band collars—he was bugging me to try doing them for three years before I finally agreed. He started sourcing parts for the collars in bigger quantities and lowering the cost. We got a new website, started listing the collars in more places. His business sense is way better than mine so he just had a lot more ideas on how to do things and how to expand. He promoted the business a lot—he's a lot better at that stuff than me and has a lot of experinece promoting since he used to book shows at a club called the Hanover House in Connecticut back in the '90s. He actually booked Indecision back then, and that's where we technically met for the first time. The business has grown so much with his help that I can barely keep up with working my day job and doing this. We currently have collars for Misfits, Madball, Terror, Sick of it All, and Indecision. We also have so many more bands in the works.
Outside of your medical career and what you're doing with Caninus Collars, you've been playing shows with Indecision for the past couple of years or so. Do you see yourself doing more of that in 2017 and beyond?
I'm not sure how many more shows Indecision will do. We haven't really been able to write anything new and with me being across the country, it's a lot more work every time we do play now. Our bass player and drummer also have yound kids making things more complicated. And Justin is currently running for City Council in his district in Brooklyn, so his focus is just going to be on that until the election. If you live in Bay Ridge or Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, vote for him!
Of all the songs you've recorded in your career, which one is your favorite and why?
This is a really hard question! I've recorded way too many songs....
Head to Caninus Collars' website to hook your dog up!