Scott Crouse came up through the fertile hardcore Syracuse, NY hardcore scene of the later '80s, early '90s. A founding guitarist of Earth Crisis, his guitar work helped make such recordings from the band like Firestorm and Destroy the Machines some of the most influential records of their era. Outside of Earth Crisis, Scott also played in Path of Resistance, the vegan straight edge collaborative project that has released two studio albums to date.
These days, Scott is a member of SECT, a brutally heavy metallic hardcore outfit that teams him with members of Catharsis, Left for Dead, Cursed, and Racetraitor. Their recently released No Cure for Death album is highly recommended by this writer.
To help celebrate SECT's new record, and to kick off 2018, I wanted to share this interview with Scott that covers not only his entire musical path, but also offers some insight into his personal life and journey.
Where were you born and raised, and what were your parents like?
I was born and raised in Syracuse, NY. My parents were both 16-years-old when I was born and my mom did her best to raise me. She ended up relying quite a bit on the rest of our family to help, which is very understandable. My father was out of the picture by the time I was 3, and that was for the best. He had nothing positive to bring to the table, he was using and selling drugs, and we were much better off without him. My grandmother, aunts, and uncle are wonderful and really assisted in my upbringing.
What kind of kid were you? Were you outgoing?
My neighborhood was pretty wild, and full of older kids who weren’t the best role models. There was a decent amount of drug use and crime going on and the older guys were getting me involved in that stuff at a really young age. We did play sports quite a bit, and I had a lot of fun as a kid. It wasn’t until I was much older that I started to realize I didn’t really have a typical childhood. I thought all kids were breaking into houses and setting fires as children.
Did you come to hardcore through heavy metal?
I definitely came to hardcore through metal, and it’s hard for me to determine what exactly the first hardcore band I heard was. I suppose it depends on your definition of hardcore. I love metal, and from there got more into punk like Dead Kennedys, Misfits, and The Exploited. Then I loved the crossover genre, bands like DRI, The Accused, Gang Green, etc. That was the perfect style of music to me at the time. I think Cro-Mags were the first “real” hardcore band I heard, though. My friends were all skaters, and some had older skater brothers. We would take our queues from them and I believe one of my friend’s brothers showed us Best Wishes and I loved it.
Who were some of the bands you saw during your teen years that had a big impact on you?
Zero Tolerance from Buffalo, NY had a huge impact on me. Earth Crisis was heavily influenced by them, and they remain one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. I loved a lot of the bands that were frequently coming through Syracuse at the time. Bands like Edgewise played there a lot, Conviction, Vision, Supertouch, I could go on and on. It was a great place to see shows, and I really looked forward to checking out new bands at shows.
When did you first declare yourself straight edge, and what helped inspire that decision?
I was playing in a band called Forefront around 1990 and a few of those guys were straight edge. I had already decided that the whole drinking and drug lifestyle didn’t make sense to me, so when they exposed me to straight edge, the title fit with who I already was. It provided me with validation that other people felt the same way I did. I think the guys in the band actually just started referring to me as straight edge first and I was like “yeah, I suppose I am.”
Tell me about the music scene in the Syracuse area when you were coming up in the late ‘80s. I didn’t go to any shows there till the ‘90s.
My first show wasn’t until 1989. Some friends I skated with had a band and wanted me to come check them out. I honestly don’t remember who else played, but I loved it. Seeing live music wasn’t attainable at my age, or so I thought. I had wanted to see DRI and Danzig and a few other bands that came through, but I wasn’t old enough to get in. I realized while watching my friends play, I could actually be in a band, and play a show, and possibly even have a record released. All this stuff that seemed such fantasy all became very real. I also never had much respect for people that towed the line, and being introduced to this counterculture at 14 really clicked with me. From what I understand the Syracuse scene prior was pretty unpredictable. There was no stable venue and it was mostly poorly organized punk shows until DJ Rose and John Mckaig started to run things.
Was Framework the first “real” band you ever played in? Tell me a bit about that group.
No, I would consider Forefront my first real band. It had Mike Riccardi, the original EC drummer, and Dan Johnson on vocals. Dan went on to sing in quite a few Syracuse bands, the last one people may be familiar with was probably Unholy. Framework started out of Forefront. Ben Read was living with me at the time and he was always telling me that Forefront was good, but had no heart. He didn’t think there was enough emotion in it. He asked Mike and I to play in a band with him on the side. Playing with him felt more honest than what we had been doing with Forefront, so we decided to stick with it. It was also a great opportunity to get Ian Edwards in a band with me. Ian and I had been playing music together for a few years, mostly Misfits, Metallica, Danzig covers in my mom’s basement. He was, and still is, a great bass player and I was excited to get him in a real band with me.
When you read Karl’s lyrics to the first set of Earth Crisis songs, were you taken aback by their bluntness, or was that all clearly discussed before you even wrote together?
I was actually quite opposed to Earth Crisis at first, but not because of the lyrics. I loved how angry and unfiltered they were. They were honest and not catering to scene politics in anyway. I was Framework 100% though, and Ben Read was always trying out other bands, it was like he was shopping for a better opportunity all the time. There wasn’t much loyalty in him and it really bothered me. Karl had approached Ben about learning some songs he had written and also helping him record a demo. Ben agreed, and got Mike Riccardi on board. They would get together to practice, again in my mom’s basement. I would sit up stairs listening to them, bummed that it wasn’t Framework. It sounded like a mess, but Karl’s voice was incredible. One day the bass player they had didn’t show up, they asked me to come down and play, and I loved it. I only played one show on bass with Earth Crisis and Ian was nice enough to let me use his gear. At that show I lost his bass head!
Was Earth Crisis initially viewed as a side project sort of thing? In other words, when you recorded the All Out War 7”, were you looking at the band as something you wanted to pursue on a longterm basis?
It was definitely a side project. It didn’t even have a name when we were learning the songs and recorded the demo. Karl had played bass in a band a year or so prior with DJ Rose on vocals, that band was called Earth Crisis. We needed a name, and everyone liked the name Earth Crisis, so we asked DJ if we could use it and he agreed. It wasn’t until after we recorded the All Out War EP that we decided to do it for real. Basically, Framework became Earth Crisis with Karl on vocals.
At what point did Tony Brummel/Victory Records come into the picture? Did you guys talk to any other labels before you signed with Victory? What was it about Tony/Victory that convinced you it was the right move for the band?
Earth Crisis originally wanted to be on Hardline Records. Framework was very close to being on Hardline, and Earth Crisis seemed like an even better fit. We began to realize though that Hardline was a lot more than just veganism and straight edge. We disagreed strongly on a few of their viewpoints, basically it was too rigid in its overall agenda, and homophobia was a part of it. I’m not exactly sure signing with them was an option, but there was definitely talk with Hardline Records. Don’t get me wrong, we were fans of, and inspired by a few of the hardline bands, but ultimately we decided hardline didn’t represent us and chose to carry on under the title vegan straight edge.
We had our friend Guav release the All Out War EP, and then we sent a bunch of demos out to labels, We would get letters back saying they liked the demo, but they were afraid of the backlash they’d get from the lyrics. I think people assume Earth Crisis sat down and planned to be controversial, but that’s not at all how it was. Karl just wrote lyrics that were artistic expressions of rage and he put as much time and effort into them as we did the music. They weren’t all meant to be taken literally. Ultimately, Tony Brummel heard our demo and he reached out to us. We were all fans of Victory so we were excited to work with him.
I remember when the Firestorm 7” came out in 1993, there were all these rumors going around about Earth Crisis, and the band’s members, in terms of the perceived militance of its members. How aware were you of all that nonsense that people were saying? Did it affect you at all?
Oh yeah, we always knew what people were saying. We very purposefully never addressed any of it. To respond was to give it power, and if we let the people who were making that stuff up know it bothered us, they never would have quit. Very early, we had told people time and time again, we aren’t homophobic, we aren’t a pro-life band, we aren’t militant straight edge. People would just insist we were lying, which I still never understand the logic behind. If those things are part of our agenda, but we don’t publicly speak on them and “pretend” to not be aligned, then it’s not much of an agenda is it? I’ve always disliked the term “militant straight edge.” It gets used to this day and it suggests that we attack people in the name of straight edge, which is of course ridiculous and has never once happened. Karl’s early lyrics were personal expression. He was angry, frustrated, hurt and let down by friends and society in general. You have to either be out to get us, or not very bright, to refuse to understand that.
For the Destroy the Machines album, the band chose to work with Kurt Bachman and Joey Daub, two members of the Christian thrash band, Believer. I’ve always wondered how that connection happened. Did Jim Winters (Conviction, Starkweather, Turmoil, The Promise) have anything to do with it? He seems like the obvious connection, especially since he did some stuff on the album.
Yes, Jim had a lot to do with it. We were all big Conviction fans, and when we learned that Jim was on the team (vegan straight edge) we made quick friends with him. He was very influential on me, pushing me to want to better myself as a player, and also in my tone. Conviction came through Syracuse on their way to another show and stayed at my house. Jim played us the Believer album and I was floored at the production and songs in general. Earth Crisis was trying hard to keep our roots in hardcore, but wanted to branch out also, and working with Kurt and Joe was our first big step in that direction. Their studio was in the basement of Joe’s grandmas house, and it was very small. They were great to work with, and it was a really fun laid back time. I wouldn’t say there was much of a learning curve, we were capable players and I remember Joe being very complementary. Jim shook his head at us a lot, and Joe and Kurt would basically tell him “let the kids do it the way they want to!”
Since it’s your first album, what are your thoughts on Destroy the Machines today?
I love Destroy the Machines, but I think Karl’s vocals weren’t the best on it, and so does he. He was finding his voice again after losing it during the recording of Firestorm. He was in a transitional period, and it just wasn’t quite there yet.
What are some standout memories from that album’s touring cycle? Did you have any difficulty adjusting to life on the road?
We never really had a hard time adjusting, we had a sense of purpose and most of us felt like touring was a better option than staying home working some dead-end job. Nothing stands out too much, well, I suppose the thing that stands out most was our van crash while on tour with Shelter. We slid on ice going about 60 mph and flipped the van 5 times up a hill. Most of us were ejected from the van and surprisingly no one died.
What’s the story behind the formation of Path of Resistance?
After the van crash, Dennis had a lengthy recovery time. He had collapsed both lungs and broken his collarbone. None of us were doing anything other than playing music full time, and we were in the middle of writing Gommorah’s Season Ends so we didn’t stay active with music. Ian, Mike Riccardi, and I were talking one night and came up with the idea of doing a Wu-Tang style hardcore band. We wanted it to have three singers, and when Earth Crisis got up and running again, they could replace us with other members and we could tour together. The next day we wrote a record, mentioned our idea to Karl who got DJ on board. We recorded a month or so later at Normandy Sound. Us deciding to go to Normandy was really Earth Crisis checking the studio out to see if we wanted to record Gommorah’s there. Unfortunately, we weren’t welcome back after Path because we blew off a bunch of fireworks upsetting the engineer pretty badly. Half the band was kicked out of the control room for the remainder of the session, luckily most of the tracking was done by that point.
Going into the writing of what would become Gomorrah's Season Ends, did you feel like you had to “step it up,” so to speak, since there were so many people waiting on the album?
I think Firestorm through Gommorah’s were subconscious reactions to the criticisms of the prior records. For example, people said Firestorm was all just simple open e chug, and alluded to us not being able to play or write anything with substance, so on Destroy the Machines we stepped up the technicality and tried to write more complex riffs. With Gommorah’s we were reacting to people saying we were just a dumb Pantera wannabe mosh band, so we wrote a record that was much more progressive and didn’t follow traditional song structures.
Gomorrah's Season Ends came out in 1996. When you went out on tour for that album, there were a ton of bands throughout the world that were hugely influenced by Earth Crisis. Actually, some would say a lot of bands ripped off what you were doing. Were you flattered or did it become to be a bit much?
I was always, and still am, very flattered if people say I/we had an influence on them. It’s the last thing we ever expected and it’s very humbling to hear people say that. The hardcore scene definitely over does it when they find something they like though and I was sad to see five band shows where all the bands sounded identical. I loved going to shows where you would have five bands of different styles playing together.
OK, so Earth Crisis signed on with Roadrunner Records for the next album, Breed the Killers. What was the relationship like with Tony and Victory at that point? Was it a matter of your contract being up, or were you guys displeased with Victory by then?
Shorty after Destroy the Machines came out, other labels started contacting us, some making very generous offers. We had a very non-specific agreement with Tony at that point. It didn’t have actual dollar amounts attached to recording advances. It basically said he’d pay for the recording, but not how much we could spend and also didn’t discuss publishing at all. We approached Tony with a few of the offers in hand and told him we’d like to stay with him, but these offers were hard to pass on and we’d like him to offer something similar. He refused, and at that point we knew we were going to leave when the right deal came along. We owed him two more albums at that point, which ended up being Gommorah’s and The Oath That Keeps Me Free live album.
I think Breed the Killers is very underrated. First off, you guys hired Andy Sneap (Testament, Kreator) to produce, engineer, and mix it, and I think he’s one of the best guys doing what he does in the heavy music world. Secondly, “Filthy Hands to Famished Mouths” and “Overseers” are a couple of my favorite Earth Crisis songs.
Thanks! I think Breed the Killers never really reached it’s full potential honestly, but I do hear from a lot of people that it’s their favorite of ours. Roadrunner insisted we work with an engineer that they were familiar and comfortable with. They suggested Andy, who at the time hadn’t done all that much anyone had heard of. They sent us a few of his albums, and we really liked how they sounded, and we were surprised that a few of them were records we were fans of already. Namely, the Iron Monkey album. I loved working with him, and learned a lot. He was very fun in the studio, and is obviously a very talented engineer and producer.
From your personal perspective, why did the deal with Roadrunner Records go sour? What were the circumstances to coming back to Victory?
I think Roadrunner had decided to drop us before the record even came out. While recording, they were pulling the cliché big labels stuff with us. They would send the A&R guy to the studio to make sure things were going the way they wanted, trying to have input on the direction of the songs. Sneap was super cool, and on our side. He wouldn’t answer their calls, and when the A&R guy was there, we would lock him out of the control room as much as possible. To be fair, what Roadrunner was suggesting wasn’t outrageous and they actually had some decent ideas, but we just weren’t used to that dynamic at all. We stubbornly made the opposite record than they wanted and they were fed up with us before it was even released. We were a bit difficult about the layout as well, insisting we use a friend they weren’t familiar with to do the art. There were also some big changes taking place at Roadrunner. Nickelback was a thing for them at that point, and they were headed in a more mainstream radio direction. All the hardcore bands that didn’t have a shot at radio ended up being dropped around the same time as us.
Did you consider any other labels before going back to Victory Records?
Prior to signing with Roadrunner, we had talked to Earache Records, Century Media Records, and a few others. Sharon Osborne wanted to sign us to Ozz Records, which we came very close to doing, but they pulled their offer because someone at the label told Sharon we were homophobic. We tried to explain that we weren’t, but she said the label was a family and if he didn’t like us unfortunately the offer was off the table. It ended up being a blessing in disguise because they never got the label going anyway, but I’ve always hated to think that she may have believed that about us. That move to Roadrunner made us realize some of the great things about Victory we took for granted. Tony could be difficult to work with, but he gave us full creative control and was always proud and supportive of the records we delivered him.
That brings us to Slither, an album that many people have dismissed as Earth Crisis’ attempt at going in a “nu-metal” direction. Did you expect people to be so critical of the material when you were recording it? Was everyone in the band 100% the direction of the songs on that album? What do you think of the album today?
Over the years we had become very frustrated by the hardcore scene. There didn’t seem to be anything we could do that wasn’t met with criticism, and we also realized we were just a passing trend for a lot of the people at our shows. Soon enough most of them would move on, we had seen it happen to many bands before us. We wanted longevity, and that rarely comes in the hardcore world. We had made a decision before Gommorah’s came out to try and play to a more metal audience, and work with new booking agents and promoters then we had in the past. Slither was us trying to thin the herd, it was an honest record at the time, we weren’t just writing something we disliked to try and alienate certain people. We were challenging ourselves to write in a new way, and also knew it would alienate certain people, which was fine by us at the time. Everyone in the band was on board with Slither, some like it more than others now. I’m of the opinion that it’s a good record, but it isn’t a good Earth Crisis record. I feel like most of our records are timmediately identifiable, but Slither sounds very dated. You can tell what era of music it came from.
After the Last of the Sane covers album in 2001, Earth Crisis broke up for a while. Were you guys just burned out at that point?
Yes, we were definitely burnt out. Members of the band were sick of living in a van, and wanted to stop putting their lives on hold. It was, and is still, very understandable. Slither was doing surprisingly well, and quite a few radio stations were playing us in daily rotation. At the time it was the most success Victory had ever had on radio and they wanted us to play summer radio fock festivals, but we just weren’t into it and they were getting annoyed with us. It was obvious we were losing interest and drive and when we toured Japan later that year, the shows weren’t very good and there was a general sense that no one wanted to be there. We sat down and decided to pack it in before things got ugly. We never wanted to let the band get in the way of our friendships, and I think if it went on any further at that point it would have.
The second Path of Resistance album, Can’t Stop the Truth, came out in 2006. What are your thoughts on that one, and is that the final release by the band?
I think it’s a decent record, but it lacks the anger and bluntness that Who Dares Wins had, which is what made Path great in my opinion. Can’t Stop the Truth has its moments, but overall I think Path was best left at Who Dares Wins. I don’t see Path playing or recording again, but I’ve learned to never say never.
When Earth Crisis reunited in 2007, did anything feel different within the chemistry between the members? Did the time away from each other, and all of your collective experience throughout those years apart, help?
We all remained friends and stayed in touch with each other the entire time. Karl, Ian, Erick, and even Dennis, for a little while, all played in Freya together, and like you mentioned already, we did a Path album and toured off of it in that break. I have said it before, but we should have never broke up, we should have just taken a long break. That’s all any of us really wanted, I don’t think we ever truly thought we would never play together again as Earth Crisis.
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Earth Crisis has released three studio albums in the years since reuniting. What is the status of the band today? Can we expect any new material in 2018?
We really just play when we feel like it. If we get an offer I send out a text and if enough people say “sure” then we do it. We do our best to keep it all five original members, but that’s not always possible, especially for Ian. He’s very busy with work, so we have had people fill in for him from time to time if it’s something the rest of us really want to do. I really love To The Death, Neutralize the Threat, and Salvation of Innocents, but I’m not sure about writing and recording anymore with Earth Crisis. I feel like we’ve said and done everything we can at this point. I don’t know what a new album would sound like, and honestly I’m not sure many people are interested in new Earth Crisis songs. We seem to have become a nostalgia band, and that’s totally fine with me. I’m able to get my creative impulses out with SECT, and Karl has a handful of bands he is doing, so I think maybe Earth Crisis is best left as is. Again, I never say never though.
SECT finds you working with some very familiar names to No Echo readers. When I asked you about your role in the band earlier this year, this is what you said: "With SECT, I’m more of a passenger than the driver.” When you guys started talking about doing the band, did you verbalize that, or did it just happen organically?
No, that’s just kind of the way it has evolved. Jimmy didn’t like me saying that when he read it, but I really think it’s true, and he deserves a lot of the credit for SECT. I don’t mean to downplay my role completely, I write songs and organize a lot of stuff, but Jimmy is really the one who came up with the sound of the band and keeps that on track. I love it because it’s so different than what I’ve done in the past. Most things I’ve tried outside of EC end up sounding too much like EC and SECT would have been no exception without Jimmy’s input.
Musically speaking, what I love most about SECT is how to-the-point everything is. What is your favorite aspect of what you’re doing?
It’s a completely different approach that throws all my rules out the window forcing me to grow as a songwriter and player.
Outside of your musical pursuits, what do you do for a living? I know it must have been really difficult to maintain a career with all of the touring you’ve done. Are you still living in New York?
I live in North Carolina now, and have since 2012. After Earth Crisis stopped in 2001, I worked a few jobs to get by, but for the past six years I’ve been a stay-at-home dad to my two sons. My wife is a psychologist and I can’t compete financially with what she earns, so we chose to have me stay home to be there for our kids. Soon they’ll both be in school though, so back to the grind for me!
Last question: If you had to pick your favorite Earth Crisis song, what would it be and why?
I’ve always loved "Born From Pain." Musically it’s great, but lyrically it’s perfect:
“Strength. Born from pain
Beyond that of my flesh
Betrayed, robbed and beaten, but not defeated
Through my search for allies, I have found myself
Persistence is the answer to regain all that was taken
Hatred drives me onwards across to desolationof dying dreams and failure
to find I am my own salvation"
If you’re into hardcore, and that doesn’t speak to you, you need to move on because you’re clearly in the wrong place.
SECT's No Cure for Death album is out now via Southern Lord.