"You know what's funny? I just listened to that record a couple of weeks ago, and I think the music is super cool," said John "Porcelly" Porcell the other day when I asked him about Ray & Porcell, the infamous 7" he released with Ray Cappo in 1990. The two musicians had just finished the first run of Youth of Today, the seminal hardcore band they co-founded in 1985, so fans of their previous work were clamoring for more of the same fast-paced mayhem from the new project they had come to know from the two friends. Well, Ray and Porcell had different plans.
"I know people wanted another Youth of Today kind of thing, but when I was writing the music, I was going more for a Dag Nasty, Embrace thing," Porcell told me during the chat. "I remember being kind of bummed because if we actually had a real drummer instead of a drum machine, and made the songs a little faster, and cleaned up the vocals a bit and added harmonies, the songs would have been awesome."
You see, Porcell's last statement is the perfect way to justify the reasoning behind writing this piece. I know most of you that clicked this link are probably thinking, "Someone actually wrote a story about the Ray & Porcell record?!" But since discovering the record around the time of its release, I've always loved its two songs: "Fame" and "Broken Glass."
Though Revelation Records would go on to branch out into many different styles of music in the following years, at the time of the release of the Ray & Porcell 7", the label was still pretty much hardcore-centric. "The 7" idea was spawned from a simple little electronic music demo Porcell did on a sampler/sequencer/keyboard thing, and a drum machine," Revelation Records owner Jordan Cooper recently told me. "Porcell called it 'Track 4,' probably because he recorded it on his 4-track cassette recorder and passed it around to some of his friends and we all really liked it. He was kind of shy or embarrassed about it, or something, because he didn’t want to release it. I kept bugging him about it and finally he relented and got Ray to write lyrics and they recorded those two songs."
Recorded by Don Fury, I've described the songs on the Ray & Porcell 7" as a cross between '80s Iggy Pop and Sisters of Mercy, and even if you disagree with my stylistic assessment, anyone with a working set of ears would agree that it's nothing like something you would have heard in the Youth of Today discography.
Porcell: "When I wrote those songs, everything in the NYHC scene was changing. You had bands like Quicksand starting out. Everyone was sick of just playing thrash for the previous 4-5 years. I had been playing barre chords as fast as I possibly could for so many years [laughs]. So, I wanted to do something different with these songs."
Interestingly enough, Porcell told me it was Quicksand singer/guitarist Walter Schreifels' younger brother, Dylan, who came into the picture before Ray even got involved with the EP. "Dylan is the guy in the photo on the record's label. I remember we had bought this shitty little drum machine for like $10 in the Music District. We wanted to use a drum machine because we wanted to do something a little different. Dylan was actually trying to get this girl he knew to sing on the recording, but for some reason, she couldn't do it. Anyway, Ray had just joined the temple, but he was staying in my apartment for a few days before going on a trip to India. Ray and Dylan always had a great relationship, so he asked Ray if he would sing on the recordings. Ray figured he had some time before he left for India, so he said he would try and work out some lyrics and melodies. He practically wrote his lyrics on the spot. By the way, I think the lyrics on that 7" are incredible."
Another interesting aspect of the record is that in the decades since its release, the black and white photo on the cover of Ray & Porcell is probably more known that the two songs it's actually representing. "For me, there was just this air of mystery surrounding the whole thing," Damien Moyal told me when I brought up the iconic (in hardcore circles) photo of Ray and Porcell staring out a NYC window. The reason I asked Damien for his input here is because in addition to being an active member of the hardcore scene as the singer of such bands as Culture and On Bodies, he's also co-owner and designer of Wear Dinner, a clothing brand that sells a few different t-shirt homages to the Ray & Porcell cover art.
Listening to Damien, it was nice to know I wasn't alone in my intrigue with the record. "I found the use of a drum machine (as I had previously with the song 'Shelter') to be pretty disruptive and irreverent in the context of hardcore. I liked the songs, but wasn’t sure why they existed at all. And, of course, the cover. It had this Dischord quality — clean and understated — and the shot felt really intimate, as it should. That cover always stuck with me, and I thought it would be fun to fill in that whole 'What the fuck are they looking at'” blank, so we — Wear Dinner, a parody t-shirt brand that a friend and I do for sport — launched not one, but four shirts honoring the release. We also declared it International Ray & Porcell 7” Day, which remains a time-honored tradition, celebrated by families the world over."
About that photo, it was taken by Raymond Legenzowski, who it turns out shot many more images of the two musicians that fateful day, according to Porcell. "He was a friend who had done some big-time photography work for brands like Nike and he told me that he wanted to shoot the images for our record. I remember we met him at this fancy office building in downtown Manhattan where he was working. So, we get there and there's that huge window in the office.
"Ray and I were looking out of the window because we couldn't believe how incredible the view was. That's when he snapped that photo. But we spent the day with him and he took a ton of photos. There's that other one we used which we took at Union Square Park. I remember all of the photos being really cool. I wish I still had them."
So, how about the hardcore scene's reaction to Ray & Porcell when it first landed in stores back in 1990? Porcell remembers it clearly: "It was completely polarized. People either loved it or really hated it [laughs]. But whatever, you know? I've never been terribly concerned with other people's opinion of me. I just follow my heart and I've done that my entire life. It's worked for me so far."
Polarizing or not, Jordan from Revelation Records remembers the Ray & Porcell experience in a positive light. "It was one of the fun projects that we just wanted to do, even though we didn’t really expect it to go over generally and sell. So much so that Porcell never bothered to come up with a 'real' name for the project and might have been using that as a way to drag his feet about releasing it (which he was still reluctant to do even after it was recorded and mixed and done). Once again, I just kept bugging him about it, insisting that 'Track 4' was a fine name for it, but he was even more insistent that it was a cheesy name. Eventually, I think I just kept suggesting to just call it 'Ray and Porcell' thinking that would inspire him to come up with something better, but nothing materialized. Either the name grew on him and Ray or they just decided not to wait any more and they gave the OK to go with that."
In the end, Porcell summed up our conversation about the 7" with a statement that can't be disputed: "It was a weird little document for a changing time."