Kill Your Idols: Walking Down Memory Lane with the LIHC Greats

Kill Your Idols, 2017.

The hardcore underground is unparalleled in romanticizing bands’ last shows. And yet, few could top Kill Your Idols’ final show in 2007. The weekend of three shows on Long Island culminated with a police raid on the venue. Just a few songs into Crime in Stereo’s set, the show was shut down and everyone was forced to leave. However, the parking lot was already abuzz with a new plan. Meet back up out front of Down in the Fourth’s practice space. Kill Your Idols will play. With a bevy of patchwork electrical extension cords snaking out to the parking lot, one of New York’s most endearing blue-collar hardcore bands played their final set in front of their most loyal fans. That night managed to bring into focus everything that the band stood for, whether they’d admit it or not. 

Throughout their original run as a band from 1994-2007, Kill Your Idols learned to endure, to push forward, to stay grounded, and to embrace the fierce loyalty of their fans. All of that shone as they played what they thought was their last show together in that Long Island parking lot. And while their members went on to play in other bands for a while, Kill Your Idols reemerged in 2013 to play New York’s Black ‘n’ Blue Bowl and Philadelphia’s This is Hardcore Fest. After playing two shows to raise money for their old friend Nate Gluck in 2015, it seemed that Kill Your Idols was finding the comfortability in not being broken up but more simply in playing when it made sense. 

The way Gary Bennett remembers it, Kill Your Idols just sort of happened:

The band came together very quickly. I met Andy at a show when I was in the band Big Sniff a long time ago. And when Big Sniff broke up, Big Vinny from Situated Chaos told me I needed to start another band. Big Sniff was kind of like a Dag Nasty-ish, 7 Seconds-ish kind of band. And not a lot of people were doing that at the time except for maybe Serpico. More so, hardcore bands were doing the mosh kind of thing. Long story short, I did my time in Clockwise, ended up quitting and that’s when I started up Kill Your Idols with Andy.” That’s a winding road to travel for any musician. Bennett really didn’t even see himself looking for a serious band after Big Sniff. “When Big Sniff broke up I said I was just going to get a job, and get serious, and not fucking worry about going on tour anymore or any of that shit,” Gary recalls. “I did a tour with Serpico and I said, ‘That’s it. I got it out of my system.’” So there wasn’t much of a plan for Kill Your Idols. Nor was the road particularly smooth to start for them. 

Photo: Angela Boatwright

Gary admits, “We had pretty humble beginnings. We weren’t that good. And I remember at a practice just going through the motions. We did a couple of original songs. We did a couple of Negative Approach covers. I remember thinking to myself, ‘This isn’t going to go anywhere.’ And then one day I was just listening to the practice tape, and Andy sounded great. And I thought, ‘This is actually pretty good.’ It sounded like Negative Approach or old AF or something.” Yet, that style of hardcore wasn’t all that popular in 1995, an era whose spectrum largely embraced super heavy mosh hardcore at one end or sappy emo at the other. There wasn’t much space in hardcore at that time for what Kill Your Idols sought to do. And they felt that marginalization first hand.

Frankly, Kill Your Idols wasn’t well-received in the early days. Gary remembers, “People hated us at first. They hated Kill Your Idols. If there was an internet back then, we would’ve been an internet pariah. There was a girl who hated us so much that she actually publicly crushed one of our demos in front of a group of people. And I don’t even know why she hated us. Lyrically, we were cool enough to play ABC No Rio. But, she just didn’t like what we were doing. She thought it was fake.” For all the drama, that sort of grandstanding didn’t deter Gary or Andy from pushing forward with the band. They knew they’d found something in Kill Your Idols that was worth sticking to. So they kept at it despite a revolving cast of other band members, eventually finding themselves ready to record their first EP. With that, Kill Your Idols recorded the 12-inch E.P. for an austere $800, and released it on the long-defunct Long Island label None of the Above Records. And, of course, they hit the road.

The rest of that story is one shared by the so very many of us who saw, played with, or simply had a conversation with Kill Your Idols along the way. They became tour dogs. And for a full decade they brought their music and ethos everywhere. Along the way, they became one of hardcore’s most prolific bands. Four proper full-lengths, five EPs, and a cascade of splits and 7”s reinforced the band’s legacy as the truest of hardworking blue-collar heroes in the hardcore and punk scene. But, as with all bands whose fire burns bright and strong, they ultimately exhausted the oxygen needed to keep that flame alight. Even as Kill Your Idols came to its apparent end, their members pushed forward. Gary and Paul already had Deathcylce going with Ron Grimaldi and John Lafata. Gary, Paul, and Raeph formed Black Anvil too. Andy sang with Too Many Voices for a minute. Brian played in Manalive. Mike D. and Vinny collaborated on Skinheads Still Scare People. They stayed busy apart. But the flame that had endeared them to so many people never quite went out.

Kill Your Idols at the Lifeline Records Showcase, Chicago, IL, 2013. (Photo: Brian Santostefano)

“When Kill Your Idols first broke up it was a permanent thing. I was taking Black Anvil very seriously, so that was fine with me. When KYI got our first reunion offer, which was Black ‘N’ Blue, we came back and the show went as well as it did. Then we did This is Hardcore, and then we played Chicago. Now this was with Paul and Raeph playing. I said, ‘Fuck it. This is great. Everybody loved it. Everybody’s having a great time. Look at how they welcomed us back.’ That was awesome. It felt special,” says Gary. But for some members, those reunions were meant to be one-time-only shows. They wanted the conclusion written out then and there. Other projects had potential and offered different opportunities. But for Gary and Andy, playing those reunions felt easy and fulfilling. Play once in a while, have some fun, be with their tribe again.

So Gary reached out to Mike D. and Vinny Value, both of whom played in Kill Your Idols in the latter days of the band’s original run. They both recorded on the band’s final full-length, From Companionship to Competition. The point of course was that there would never be a scab lineup here. That’s not Gary’s way. “There’s two well-known eras of Kill Your Idols. There’s the Raeph and Paul era, and there’s the Mike D. and Vinny Value era. I would never do Kill Your Idols without some combination of Mike and Vinny, or Paul and Raeph. I would never do it with somebody else. At this phase, if somebody can’t make a show, we just don’t do it,” explains Bennett. There’s a luxury in that, of course. Few bands can come out of retirement with a completely genuine lineup, even if it’s not the original members. But this is clearly important to Gary, and not something he’s willing to compromise. Kill Your Idols won’t be a band of halfway members, not at this point in the band’s story. Their legend will continue as a familial one.

Family makes sense for them too, maybe now more than ever. Gary is a father now. Mike D. is a step-father. The close-knit family values that so drove, and continue to influence, Kill Your Idols are at work now in their personal lives. “Without pushing [my step-children] too far in one direction, I try to guide them down a righteous path,” says Mike, whose step-children have known him for almost their entire lives. Gary’s road to fatherhood was a bit more winding though. For many years, his sole focus was on Kill Your Idols and the family he had there. But adulthood crept up on him and his wife. Fatherhood has changed Gary, as he reflects, “When [my son] was born it was the greatest thing in my life. Childbirth is a violent beautiful thing. But the happiest I am in the world is when he climbs into bed with me. I know he’s going to be twelve years old before I know it, and he’s not going to want to do that shit anymore.” Emotions aside, there’s a connection to be made here.

“Being in bands helped me to prepare for a child,” Bennett continues, “Because there’s always one guy in the band who acts like a baby. And you got to run around wiping his ass. And no matter what you still love him to death. But I mean, who’s more your family than the guys you’ve gone on tour with, the guys you’ve made records with. I have a family but I’m not that close with them. The guys I play with are my family. My wife and I, our couples situation is John Lafata (Mind Over Matter, Madball, The Great Lie) and Kelly Lafata. That’s my family.” The point is, priorities are different for these guys some twenty-plus years after Kill Your Idols first sprang to life. They don’t want petty grudges to cloud what’s left ahead for them. They want to hold onto what makes them happy. They want their family back.

Kill Your Idols at Tompkins Square Park, NYC, 2017. (Photo by JC Carey for JCPhotoMedia.com)

So Kill Your Idols will forge ahead. They’ve always done what’s right for themselves. They’ve never pretended to be something they’re not. They’ve never done a thing on anyone’s terms other than their own. “Kill Your Idols is a journey,” says Gary, contemplatively. Indeed it is. More than a sound. More than a band. More than a song. Unlike the journey of so many other bands however, Kill Your Idols has always taken the people who love them along for the ride. “I think the reason people are so happy at our shows is because our shows are like Sunday dinner. Like an Italian Sunday dinner,” Gary adds. The humor overshadows just how apt that metaphor is. Kill Your Idols shows are just that. They’re a place to go to see your family and friends, to catch up on each other’s lives, and to enjoy time away from the strain of the real world. At this point, who knows how much spaghetti is left on their collective plate? But I do know this, we should give thanks, take a seat at the table, and enjoy the dinner for as long as we can.

Photo: Carl Gunhouse

Kill Your Idols is playing three shows with Fireburn this weekend:
4/5/18 at Hardcore Stadium in Cambridge, MA
4/6/18 at Brooklyn Bazaar in Brooklyn, NY
4/8/18 at Underground Arts in Philadelphia, PA

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