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Backtrack: Members of the HC Scene Celebrate the Band on the Eve of Their Breakup (EXCLUSIVE)

Photo: Gray Muncy

Longevity is rare in the hardcore underground. There is simply too much of a turnover rate for bands and people. And that’s just fine. Every so often, though, a band will put its collective chin down, put its collective hands up, and fight to carve out a presence for themselves. As it relates to the past decade, I’m not sure any band has done that quite as impressively or earnestly as Backtrack. 

They’ve come to define the hardcore sound and ethos for an entire generation of kids, and they’ve done so with little fanfare or undue hype. They have an uncanny way of forming long-lasting relationships with bands and people. In fact, Backtrack became a sort of personal affirmation for me. They’d formed as I was reorganizing my own life, moving on from touring and settling down to a career. 

As I was digging into workaday life, Backtrack was becoming a powerful force. One that Long Island desperately needed. Watching them breathe life into a scene I loved was a vindication of sorts. Backtrack affirmed for me that touring in a van with your closest friends is priceless beyond measure. That bringing your music around the world is rewarding beyond measure. That this thing we call hardcore is valuable and worth believing in. 

What’s more is that Backtrack came to represent that for so many people and bands. That type of impact is also beyond measure.

As the band prepares to hang up their gloves, it’s only fitting that we celebrate all they’ve done for the hardcore scene. So, the idea for this feature started out typically enough. I contacted a few people I knew were close to the band, and asked for some of their thoughts. But those people suggested other people close to the band, and things began to widen in scope. As the responses continued coming in, I realized that this shouldn’t be a piece in which I somehow try to write out the story myself. 

Each contributor had such a personal connection to Backtrack that the only fitting way to do this was to simply let each response stand on its own. That speaks to both the influence of Backtrack as a collective, and to the bonds they formed as individuals. What follows are the responses from Backtrack’s extended family; a celebration of one of hardcore’s most important modern bands… 

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“Backtrack means a lot to me, as a band and as individuals. They were the first band Naysayer did a ‘real’ tour with, and we clicked immediately. I have so many jokes and crazy stories with those guys, it’s almost unbelievable. From John almost setting a shopping plaza on fire to Ricky filling in for us on tour. There was never a dull moment. I could cite hundreds of things I love about those psychos, but I’ll leave it at this. Backtrack and all their members, past and present, hold a special place in my heart.” – Gary Gunwald, Naysayer

Backtrack (Photo: Gabe Becerra)

“Backtrack’s work on and off the stage in this community has had such a huge role in shaping hardcore today. I’m not sure people realize how big their impact really has been. Touring with those sexy legends has always been a preferred way to roll for No Warning, and we thank and applaud them for being who they are and taking things as far as they did.” – Ben Cook, No Warning

“Backtrack has been such a driving force of LIHC and NYHC over the past 11 years. I feel like when they were first starting there weren’t many younger full time touring hardcore bands from New York, so it was cool to see them kind ‘carrying the torch’ in that sense. The band started right around the time I started going to shows so it was great to watch them evolve from the demo, to the 7”, then to having one of the biggest hardcore releases at the time when Darker Half dropped. 

“They’re a band that has always given it 110% in regards to touring and being a band. Pretty sure they were touring like seven months out of the year at one point. The band brought me on a few of their tours, which led me to form amazing relationships with people all over the country, as well as forming a stronger bond with the members of the band. I consider Vitalo one of my best friends, and I couldn’t be happier for him and the rest of the band to go out on a high note after releasing their newest LP instead of burning out. I owe the band a lot in regards to my own ‘hardcore upbringing’ so it’s definitely bittersweet to see them calling it a day. See ya in the pit.” – John Scanlon, The Fight

“Sometimes when you meet someone, you just click. Sometimes hearing a band is like that too. Backtrack is both. I consider every past and present member some of the best friends I’ve made though hardcore, and I’ve seen them play more shows in ten years than I could ever try to count. Every time I’ve ever seen them play, I’ve felt that click. It comes from watching people play music that they want to hear, not what they think people want to hear. And I know I’ll always feel that click every time I talk to any of those guys for the rest of my life. RIP Backtrack.” – Dan, Minus

“Backtrack has set the tone these past 11 years for what a real hardcore band is, time and time again. For a long time, there was a void of younger bands in New York, and Backtrack was there to put New York hardcore back on the map. I’m glad I was able to witness, first-hand, the mark this band has made on the hardcore scene. Thanks for taking me along for the ride. I owe you guys more than you’ll ever know.” – Aaron Warman 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Happy birthday @vitalo88. I tried to FaceTime you and you ghosted me twice but it’s cool because you’re a _______.

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“Incendiary and Backtrack started around the same time in 2007-8. We had a lot of ‘firsts’ together and built a friendship that we still share inside and outside of hardcore shows today. An early Backtrack/Incendiary show at the Blackbox Theater in Northport in 2008 always stands out to me. Backtrack was already beginning to gain momentum on Long Island and had a wild set, but it the first show that Incendiary got a reaction for our own songs. It was a mostly, if not all, local show and I vividly remember thinking that it was the first time in a long time that kids were excited about local LI bands. They were going off for our bands with only demo songs and releases that hadn’t yet made it very far outside of the island. I was proud of that and felt like we were part of something new with Backtrack.

“When Backtrack took off and began touring hard, they were always spreading the word about LIHC. They helped get us shows in prestigious scenes along the East Coast that we hadn’t gotten an opportunity to play. We used to joke that rather than (ex. members of...), we should include (friends with Backtrack) under our name on flyers do prompt people to check us out. Backtrack will leave a lasting footprint on Long Island Hardcore. Future generations will romanticize the ‘Backtrack era’ as fondly as others reflect on the ‘Silent Majority era’ or the ‘Subterfuge/Back Up Plan era.’” – Brian Audley, Incendiary

“Backtrack is the most important band in hardcore for me personally. Not only are they some of my best friends, but through them I made countless friends all over the country. I still remember their first show, which I booked. I had never seen a local band get a reaction like that for their first show ever, and I instantly knew this was gonna be huge. Seeing a band I was friends with tour their asses off and put the entire scene on its back was amazing. They made Long Island one of the best places for new bands to thrive, and you see that legacy today in bands like Hangman and Rule Them All. We all truly owe a lot to this band, and I couldn’t be more proud to have been a part of it!” – Ronie Singh

“When I was living with [Reaper Records owner] Patrick Kitzel at Fort Reaper around 2009, I remember I was lying in bed and from the living room I heard a band I didn’t recognize but was immediately taken aback. Patrick would listen to records every day, but this sound really hit me. It had every element in a hardcore band I wanted. So I got up and said, ‘Who’s this?’ It was the Backtrack ‘Deal with the Devil’ EP, and I was hooked. Reaper went on to put out records for them and Terror did a bunch of tours with Backtrack. They were great live, and could capture that energy in the studio. More importantly, they were fun guys that always believed in the movement. Nothing but love for them.” – Scott Vogel, Terror

Backtrack (Photo: Becca Lader)

“I was 19 when I first heard the name Backtrack. Chris was talking about joining a new band and Vitalo was going to sing. We were all excited to hear what our friends were up to. At the time the Long Island scene seemed to be moving in a few different directions. Backtrack found a balance between the heavy and melodic sounds that were coming out of New York at the time. I remember being around while Ricky and Chris were writing some of the early stuff. The parts were catchy and fun. Not your typical NYHC adjectives, but they were. Groovy and hard at the same time. 

“It would be cool to see Backtrack develop their sound and grow as they continued playing together. I feel like Backtrack was started with the intention of touring full time. They definitely earned their “hardest working band in hardcore” title over the years. I was lucky enough to get to play bass with them on a string of shows in 2009 and tour California in support of the Deal with the Devil EP. I think that might’ve been the first time they played on the West Coast? Not entirely sure, but we had a blast. Santa Barbara still might be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. What made it even better is that Chris and I worked that entire summer at this shady telemarketing place in Lindenhurst to save for the trip. 

“We basically got paid to speak in fake southern accents in an attempt to sell 100 year old farmers bad herbicide. We were actually pretty good at it considering we were usually hungover from partying the night before. There was one morning we came in so wasted and Chris was fucking with this guy over the phone. So bad that our boss told him he had to leave because he looked 'defeated.' Soon as we had enough money for the tour we quit, but not before getting a group of our friends jobs there. We still laugh about that place. Fucking ridiculous. 

“Long story short, Backtrack went on to introduce a new generation of kids to hardcore punk music and played a large part in shaping what the LI/NY scene looks like today. Their band has woven so many friendships together over the years and has definitely left its mark on New York Hardcore for years to come. Sad to see them step out of the arena. Proud to say they’re my friends. Very stoked that our band Somerset Thrower is playing the West Coast with them on their final tour! Feels kind of full circle or something... Backtrack RIP!” – Frank Traficante, Somerset Thrower

Backtrack with Frank from Somerset Thrower

“I met Vitalo in like 2006-2007 when he was doing merch for Guns Up on a tour. I tried to prank him at the band’s request and it didn’t work, but I immediately liked him. A year or two later, Backtrack jumped on a Madball show in Jacksonville and after watching them I was just like, ‘Whoa this band is fucking awesome.’ After their set I was talking to Vitalo and told him that obviously they had a record label but if they ever needed help with anything else to holler at me. The next time they came through on the Deal with the Devil tour, he actually asked me to print some shirts in a rush for the band because they were running low, so I did. 

“A few months later I moved to Atlanta and felt like I started seeing the band every month. Either they were rolling through Georgia or I was rolling with Foundation somewhere to play with them, and I got close with everybody in the band and really just dug their energy. I feel like they’re the main band responsible for starting the whole Atlanta-New York connection that was so strong for so long and that made so many people such close friends. It’s really sad to see them go, but I’m really excited to see what bands branch out from all of these members getting free time. Also for my final thought I think it’s only fair that I share with everybody that I’m the one that started the “James Vitalo is the hottest dude in hardcore” trend that has been sweeping the nation for 11 years.” – Ghetto Josh

“Long Island hardcore has had a lot of ups and downs over the years. When Backtrack came out, they were the band that brought it to another level. Straight up hardcore for hardcore kids. Not only did Backtrack uplift the Long Island and New York hardcore scenes, but they brought together a lot of people across state lines. I’m Backtrack for life!” – Brian Rutter, ex-Backtrack

“Everyone has their own story about how they got into this shit. I remember Vitalo always coming over when I was really young. He was always throwing dice and eggs at cars when my parents would go out to dinner or something. I remember when Christopher first came home and showed me and my other brother, Danny, the Backtrack songs. Little did Danny know he would end up holding it down on bass for the last couple years and tracking for Bad to My World. At that point the only shows I ever had the chance to go to were at the [Nassau] Coliseum or Jones Beach. 

“When I was 13 I first saw Backtrack open at the Crazy Donkey with I think Biohazard and Madball. It was pretty cool and I was psyched to see people moshing. Then my oldest brother, Eddie, brought me to another show at TGIF to see Incendiary, Backtrack, and I think Hostage Calm played. That time period completely changed my life, and to this day I love hardcore. It made me who I am and introduced me to all my friends, and brought me and my family even closer together. From booking Stand Your Ground to bringing Hangman all over the US, it’s literally unreal how important this all is to me and I couldn’t be more thankful for everything Backtrack has done for me as an individual and for our generation of hardcore. I never take this for granted, we were all very lucky to have had Backtrack.” – Michael Smith, Hangman

“One of the first things that comes to mind about Backtrack is how unrelentingly they persevere and how unmercifully fun they insist on keeping the band. Both of these traits left an impression on me from a tour we did together in 2010 and still do to this day. It’s been almost 10 years so some details might be a little hazy, so bear with me: 

“I can’t fully remember how we got there, but basically Rain Fest 2010 was a stacked fest. Backtrack, Foundation, and Harm’s Way ended up having shows booked together on the way back east from Tacoma, WA. We hadn’t met either band before and hadn’t really toured very much yet. We didn’t put Isolation out until the following year, which in turn kicked our touring into gear, so we were kind of unsure as to how we were going to fit in with the two bands since they had known each other for a while. The fest was great but Backtrack had a van issue and basically had to split up amongst Foundation’s and our van, while the 300 roadies Backtrack brought with them were going to stay in Tacoma while the van got fixed and meet up with the tour at a later date. 

“I think they legitimately had five extra guys with them just to hang for the tour. This was like the first example of Backtrack being both unrelenting and fun: not accepting the option of scrapping these shows while the van got fixed and they brought five extra guys just to chill in a van that already had five people and equipment, since none of us used trailers back then. My back hurts just thinking about some of those drives. But all five of them we are still friends with to this day and it is 100% because of this tour. 

“Eventually the Long Island Road Crew met up with the tour and everything carried on. I remember the entire tour package playing a game of wiffle ball in the literal shadow of a mountain at sunset in Ogden, UT and thinking it was one of the coolest things I’d ever done. Similarly, when the toured show up to load in for the show somewhere in Idaho, the date that the venue had been promoting was completely wrong and no one showed up. This was before social media was as popular as it was, I think I made our band account on this tour as a matter of fact, so we had very little options to pull a show together, especially since we were in Idaho. We unanimously decided to cancel the show and ... went and played wiffle ball in some park nearby. 

“I can’t remember the shows very well, so I can’t remember what order the lineup was. I can’t even remember if we went south enough to play LA or if we just went due east from the Bay towards Denver, but I do remember shit like James and Big Brett sumo wrestling in the middle of a street and jumping off the roof of a garage into a pool. I don’t have any issue recollecting those details because of the guys on this tour making it so memorable. The entire thing culminated at a Denny’s somewhere outside of Little Rock, AR. For some ungodly reason, the host decided to sit all 21 of us in this separate dining area that they held some kinds of meetings in. Someone has a picture of this for sure, I’ve seen it, but I don’t have it. It was like closed off and gave us total privacy, which was a mistake. 

“We were all just very happy to be going home but sad to be leaving the new friends we had made. I wound up with a gavel in my hand and was clapping it on the wooden thing telling people if they were being funny or not. I don’t know, it’s not an easy thing to explain so long after it’s happened but that was really a happy memory that we all share and I’m sure all truly cherish. We have since toured with Backtrack several times, and each time was similar to that first one. It’s the most fun, it presses on through van issues and (many) injuries or whatever, and the band is truly a staple of modern hardcore. 

“I’m sad to hear that we won’t tour together again, but I know for sure that a game of wiffle ball will happen sometime and that’s something that genuinely brings a smile to my face. To everyone involved with Backtrack from that tour to the present; I want to thank you for your friendship and for the memories, you all know exactly who you are.” – Bo Lueders, Harm's Way

Backtrack x Harm's Way (plus friends/crew)

“There’s no doubt that Backtrack has set the foundation for the LIHC community and what it is today, as a band and as inidividuals. My time in Backtrack was short-lived (2008-2009), but watching them grow from our first tours crammed in Ricky’s SUV with guitars on our laps to the unstoppable force they’ve become, I’m just grateful to have been a part of it all. Much love to Vitalo, Ricky, Chris, and John. RIP BT.” – Nicka Brienza, ex-Backtrack bassist

“In 2013, Vitalo lost a game of high stakes Uno at 4am. I dumped a pot of chili on him from a third-story window. He didn’t complain. That pretty much sums up Backtrack. They will be missed.” – Josh James, Stick to Your Guns

Vitalo of Backtrack with Josh of Stick to Your Guns

“Bridge Nine may not have started working with Backtrack until 2013, but 11 years earlier a 14-year old Ricky Singh (who'd later go on to help start the band) was sending us well concealed cash and hand-written orders for some of the labels earliest releases. That's the kind of record label that I feel blessed to have become, one that many of our artists have grown up with. Working with bands founded by people who started out as teenage mail order customers is the greatest compliment. 

“Backtrack plays the kind of hardcore I've always dug. Influenced by late 1980s and early '90s bands like Warzone, Cro-Mags, Breakdown, Killing Time, and so many others, bands that I've loved since I found this scene myself, it was an easy decision to want to work with them. Bridge Nine has been based in the Boston area for over 20 years, but our love for NYHC is part of the fabric of this label, having worked with a lot of notable New York bands both past and present. Their album on Reaper was sick and it has been an honor working with them for the past six years. 

“I'm bummed to see them go, but while the band is calling it quits, they aren't going anywhere. Those guys are lifers and their unwavering commitment to this subculture - both through honoring its past while continuing to push it forward, will play a significant role in this band’s legacy.” – Chris Wrenn, Bridge Nine Records

“The overall reaction to Backtrack announcing their breakup had an interesting effect on me. Seeing what an influence we had on so many kids in hardcore shocked the hell out of me. It really made me proud to realize we exposed the thing that probably shaped my life more than anything to so many other kids all over the world who might even need it in their life more than any of us. Sometimes I think about if my brother never got into punk music and never shared it with me. I wonder if I would’ve found it some other way. How I would’ve found it... if it all would’ve played out the same way... I think it was meant to be. 

“We honestly owe a lot of our ‘success’ to all of our friends for going off when we’d play at home or anywhere close enough to home they could get to when we were first starting. We obviously developed strong bonds with a lot of bands along the way that would turn into great friendships. Many still holding strong to this day. Bands like Bad Seed/Title Fight, Naysayer, Forfeit, Downpresser, Rotting Out, Foundation, and obviously Incendiary from our home of Long Island. 

"There’s a fucking insane or hilarious story or two that goes along with each one of those bands. The soapy water fountain, the toy gun at the supermarket, the incident in the CiCi’s parking lot, playing DDP’s radio show in Albany, when we met Franz in Ohio and there was an actual riot at a CDC show we played there with his old band at the time which was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen, the time I threw Sean from Naysayer through his roommate’s windshield. Pretty much every night in Richmond was absolute chaos for some reason... a certain night in Zurich... Most of these stories involving my dumbass in one way or another. There was never a dull moment in the BT van. 

“I’ll never forget getting the first chance to play with any of the bands that influenced us most. Killing Time, Cro-Mags... BNB Productions really put us on hard when we first got started and I’ll never forget that. 

“We worked our asses off the first few years, burned a lot of holes in our pockets and went a lot of places we probably had no business going. But after a few years you could tell it was really paying off as there’d be more and more kids coming out every time we’d hit a spot again. As corny as it might sound we were just so psyched to be out playing shows away from home so whether there was two kids watching us or 40 (which at that time was a shit load for us) we ripped it up just as hard no matter what. We’ve also played to a crowd of people somewhere in China sitting down at dinner tables eating but that’s a whole different story all together... 

“We eventually got to the point where we were literally touring all year long, and for the longest time it was so fuckin sick. But after a certain amount of time with the same people for literally months at a time I felt like our friendships were taking a toll and it bummed me the fuck out which eventually led to my departure from the band, as well as obviously wanting to spend more time with my family and friends at home which was nearly impossible to do with the touring schedule we kept up with. I felt like we were burning ourselves out or at least I was burning myself out. So that was basically when I realized I needed to step away from that lifestyle. We’re all cool now and it feels good to see them around and say what’s up and shit. I am however pissed I can’t say I went on tour with Madball which was the next tour after my last.

“Now that it’s coming to an end even though I haven’t had a part in it for a while it still feels crazy. The band I started in my bedroom with Ricky 11 or 12 years ago is coming to an end. The band that gave me so many of the great relationships I have now and so many of the insane stories and experiences and memories I’ll be able to cherish and share and smile and laugh about forever. To all the bands starting... Just have fun with it and what happens, happens. Do what you want to do always. Stay true to your friends and just enjoy the ride as it happens and most importantly...never forget your roots.” – John Lopez, ex-Backtrack drummer

Backtrack (Photo: Dan Rawe)

“Personally, Backtrack’s existence as a band impacted my life in so many ways. So many close bonds formed, not only between members of the band, but between other bands and people across the country and elsewhere. So many life experiences gained (for better or worse), that I wouldn’t trade for the world. How many people can say that someone rode a motorcycle into the pit during their band’s set? Beyond all of this, Backtrack put LIHC back on the map, on a worldwide scale. Between them, King Nine and Incendiary, they’ve inspired a whole new generation of LIHC kids to start their own bands (shout-outs to The Fight, Hangman & Rule Them All to name a few), go insane at shows, and form close-knit bonds with each other. Backtrack forever.” – David Jaycox, Nosebleed and ex-Backtrack bassist

“I never thought I would look back at all of the time I spent tagging along and realize how much it meant to me, but here I am. One of the most pivotal moments in my life is the first Backtrack US tour, and had I not gone on that who knows where my life would be. In a sense, you could say I owe the band my life. Backtrack is so important to everything I have ever cared about since I was 14. I can’t believe it’s coming to an end. I guess, all good things…” – Dan Seely, King Nine

Backtrack (Photo: Becca Lader)

***This feature would not have been possible without the help of Ronie Singh. Thank you, Ronie.

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