Interviews

Antidote Guitarist Robb “Nunzio” Ortiz on Early NYHC, Thou Shalt Not Kill + More

Antidote @ CBGBs in the '80s. (Photo from Robb's personal collection)

In the latest entry to his A Hardcore Conversation interview series, Anthony Allen Begnal chats with Robb “Nunzio” Ortiz, founding guitarist of NYHC OGs, Antidote. —Carlos Ramirez

You are Rob Nunzio, guitar player for New York’s own Antidote, correct?

I am ‘The Nunz’ aka, Robb "Nunzio" Ortiz. I still hold that distinction. I’m doing very well and hope you and yours are doing likewise.

So, fill me in a little about your personal history, what part of NYC are you from?

I’m from Midtown Manhattan originally, the area known as Hell’s Kitchen. I lived there until I was a teenager, then we relocated to Jackson Heights, Queens, New York. It was there that I first picked up a guitar and tried to play it out of boredom. One day I’ll figure it out, hopefully [laughs].

A young Robb in Hell's Kitchen, circa late '70s. (Photo from Robb's personal collection)

How did you get into playing guitar?

I started playing guitar because I stopped playing sports and was bored silly. It seemed like an overwhelming task at the time, because of the type of music that was around in the late '70s, but punk changed all that. Hearing bands like the Ramones and the Clash—with their “anyone can do this shit” attitude—was an eye-opener. So, I went out and got a decent guitar, an amp, and a boombox to play and record my progress.

When I discovered that I was able to play all those songs I loved on those albums perfectly, from there I started making up my own songs. Nothing fancy at the time, just little three chord blasts of comedy and hatred, songs about my friends, school, what an asshole this person or that person was. From there, I started adding political commentary, mental frustration, growing up in New York City, girls, and all other manner of topics.

Do you remember the first time you ever heard punk rock and hardcore?

I had always gone and hung out down in the [Greenwich] Village after school. We would take the E train In from Queens, get off at West 4th Street, and from there walk east onto St. Mark’s Street. We’d go and buy records and clothes, comics, magazines, go see cult films, all kinds of stuff like that.

In the liner notes for the reissue of the Thou Shalt Not Kill EP you mention how hearing Black Flag for the first time changed your life. Do you remember where and when you first heard them?

I was already immersed into the downtown New York lifestyle when I heard of Black Flag. Now, I didn’t write the liner notes that came later on the second release of Thou Shalt Not Kill, but I did read about Black Flag in a tiny little blurb in the New York Post. It was called “Black Flag Kills Ants on Contact." Something about a beef with Adam Ant or something. So, I read about this band from Redondo Beach, California and I started to look around for them a little bit.

I saw they were on tour and playing downtown and I went to catch them when Dez Cadena was still singing, and was kind of impressed. Then I got the surprise of my young life seeing the Bad Brains opening for the Clash at Bonds International Casino, and that was another eye-opener. I immediately sought out the Bad Brains and I found out they were rehearsing at a place downtown called 171A on Avenue A. I called up and booked some time for myself, Arthur Googy, and Jeff White and we went in there as a three-piece and started rehearsing.

Jerry Williams, our dear friend and the legendary soundman and engineer of CBGBs, was the owner. Jerry recorded our early attempts of stuff that eventually landed on Thou Shalt Not Kill, like "Life as One", "Nazi Youth," and "Die at War."

From Anthony Allen Begnal's personal collection

Huh, it says you wrote the liner notes on there…

I think what happened with the liner notes on the B9 Records, they had asked me for something. I really had nothing to add to what had already been said 100x. So, I scribbled a few lines and someone else. I’m guessing [current Antidote singer] Drew [Stone] cause that isn’t my handwriting style (they even tried to make it look like the lyric sheet which was hand done by me), getting his two cents in. I don’t talk or write that way. The friggin’ plagiarists [laughs].

From Anthony Allen Begnal's personal collection

How did the general public treat you and fellow “punk types” back then while you were out in public?

"Regular" folks were scared by punk and what it represented. I took a lot of nasty shit from people back then simply because of the clothes I was wearing. I, along with other punks in numbers, were spat on, cursed at, had shite thrown at us, and other sad reactions that weak-minded human beings do to others when presented with a different way of life to their own. This was because of their own emotional immaturity and fear, those types of attacks were fairly common.

I had to literally fight for what I believed in more than once. No doubt some of those same people eventually bought [The Clash album] Combat Rock, or some bullshit the Cure album, so fuck those people!

When we started hanging out heavily in the East Village area (mistakenly called the L.E.S, the L.E.S,. is technically below Houston Street) and playing the first shows downtown, Antidote was basically what I called misfits amongst misfits.

How did you meet the original members of Antidote? And specifically Googy, how’d you know him?

Googy (aka Bliss, original Antidote drummer and ex-Misfits drummer) I knew from Jackson Heights. At the time, there were only 4 or 5 punks in that neighborhood and we all knew each other. One night, while he had just recorded the tracks on Walk Among Us for the Misfits, I went to meet him at the train and he had just come from the recording studio. He said, “listen to this!” (on a cassette tape), and I put on his headphones and I heard him playing all the songs on Walk Among Us. I said to him, “Wow, you guys really sound super tight now!," because I had thought that the earlier singles were a little bit sloppy and not well produced, which kind of hurt them in my young and inexperienced opinion.

It didn’t hurt them at all, as it turned out. That cohesion they showed on Walk Among Us, I really believe that Arthur Googy was responsible for a lot of that. Tommy Victor, who later formed Prong, and was the best musician I knew, was the guy who first approached me at a Bad Brains show about playing and jamming around with him, and he became the bass player for myself and Arthur.

This was the first attempt at Antidote. I guess I was pretty fortunate to have attracted such luminaries as friends, who showed interest in my playing and songwriting at the time. We never realize such things in these moments until the time passes us by.

Googy performing with Antidote in the '80s. (Photo from Robb's personal collection)

Did Googy have any good Misfits stories?

Ok, you want some Googy stories? When the Misfits went on that first Walk Among Us tour, I got to hear all the dirt. Some known, some not. The Misfits were an angry bunch and I think Arthur was the angriest! I heard of a riot in California where someone threw something and hit his drum kit, and he went flying out from behind the drums, found the person, and knocked him out cold.

Another time, I was with him coming out of the old St. Marks Pizza on Ave A, and we had just gotten pizza and Cokes. Somebody popped some remark at me and Googy smashed him in the face and bam, knocked him out cold. He still had the full, unopened can of Coke in his hand.

Then, the Misfits rift. I think this was started when Googy threw Glenn Danzig down the stairs at the Misfits rehearsal in Glenn’s Horror Movie basement. What caused that I don’t remember, all I know is it pissed Glenn off. Now, the thing with a lot of the fights back then, all of the people involved stayed friends.

Getting punched in the face wasn’t as big a deal as it is now. You took your lumps, acknowledged maybe you acted like an asshole, and went home and came back the next day with a black eye to talk about. I guess people had thicker skin back then. This stuff wasn’t obsessed over for all eternity.

Why was Googy credited as “Bliss” on the Antidote record?

[Laughs] Bliss? Because we used to take the 7 train into times square from Queens and there’s a stop called 46th and Bliss St. so he said, “46th and Bliss, that’s what I am....Bliss.” So he started calling himself “Bliss." Strange cat. He definitely had an identity crisis of some sort going on there [laughs]. Like a lot of people, he wanted a new name after the Misfits. New band, new name, etc. That’s as Sigmund Fraud as I can get on that.

How did songwriting work with Antidote You’re credited with writing most of the songs on the EP, did you just bring in finished tunes or did you guys all work it out at rehearsals?

I wrote all the songs on the EP, using all my (limited) guitar knowledge at the time to craft something that sounded great, was powerful, and touched on many of the subjects that were important to me at the time. It’s certainly the best thing I’ve ever done and the one thing I can say I’m proud of creating. I couldn’t have done it without those guys backing me up and believing in my playing and songwriting. Cooperation is key to any successful group endeavor.

The recording of Thou Shalt Not Kill, the sound quality, songs, lyrics, production and eventual international distribution, and its success came about by a few elements thrown together at the right time. Elements and correct decisions.

What’d you think of CBGBs when you first started going there?

I already knew all about punk by this time in the early '80s because I had gotten deep into it in the late '70s. The first punk show I had “accidentally” walked in on was the Dead Boys at CBGBs. I found myself going inside and seeing this life altering show (my teenage world was shook) because the club I was at that night with some friends up the block from CBGBs, which I think was called Studio 10, which was run by the Rock Against Racism folks had caught fire that particular night.

So, I walked down the block where a bunch of people were hanging outside of CBGBs, and Marky Ramone was standing outside. Road to Ruin was my favorite album at the time. So, I walked over to Marky Ramone and started talking with him. He said, “You should really go inside and check out this band.” He signed my Rock Against Racism pamphlet that I was still holding from Studio 10, and I went inside and it was the Dead Boys, who I thought were fuckin’ incredible.

I still have the signed RAR pamphlet somewhere. I also made friends with Alan Thompson who ran Rock Against Racism, and we played some great shows for him and have remained friendly still to this day.

Were you guys friends with any of the other OG NYHC bands back then, and who were your favorites?

It wasn’t easy to fit in. Me, a Puerto Rican-Italian with the clothes and uptown girlfriends, Googy with his volatile nature, and just walking out on the the Misfits, we literally had to fight for every bit of friendship and love that we acquired. When we got Louie [Rivera] in the band, it made things a little easier. He was a well-known guy on the scene as the Bad Brains roadie/stagehand, and got a lot of respect even though he was inexperienced as a vocalist and was a huge pain in the ass! (Love ya,  bro!)

Our live shows changed everything. We were high energy, fast, and well rehearsed. We also presented a sound and style that hadn’t been heard before: melding heavy metal style guitar riffs with punk, and ead guitar parts played over fast thrash hardcore/punk. So, we got a lot of respect from our peers, bands like the Bad Brains, Agnostic Front, the Psychos, MOI, all were good to us and booked us whenever they could. Thou Shalt Not Kill changed the game for us, and it became known as one of the most representative of the NYHC style and sound.

Nunzio and Louie @ CBGBs, circa mid-'80s. (Photo from his personal collection)

You recorded Thou Shalt Not Kill at High Rise Studios. Was that a real studio? And do you have any memories from the recording?

I’m not sure who landed us at High Rise Studios, which I believe was on Park Avenue South, but I think it was Googy. Out of the four of us, Arthur had the most experience at the time. Back to Thou Shalt Not Kill, so Arthur knew where to go record. He knew how to get an independent record printed, how to order sleeves, etc. Our connection with the late Dave Rat Cage of Rat Cage Records paid off and he offered to distribute the record for us.

We only printed 1000 EPs and we pasted each sleeve together ourselves. I had no idea about record distribution at the time, but Dave got that record into hands in EU countries I had never even heard of yet. This was how it was done. All I had to worry about was crafting great songs, blending two sides cohesively together in an EP format, and drawing up the lyric sheet.

We actually recorded the record that became Thou Shalt Not Kill twice. The first time, we decided we could do it better after listening to the result. I talked Arthur into simply “throwing it in the garbage,” so to speak. He was like, “This shit costs money!” but I said, “Yeah, but this thing might be around for 100 years. Who knows? You want it with all the mistakes and shit I’m hearing? We can do so much better than this!” And thats exactly what we did and thank goodness, it was the right decision. I knew I was right about that and time has proved it. If we had put it out after that first shot at it, no way would it have achieved the notoriety it has now. 

Jerry Williams (Bad Brains, Warzone) is credited as producer on the record, what did he bring to the table? How did you guys achieve the vastly superior sound quality (compared to most contemporary hardcore records) and musical skills on that?

Jerry Williams knew us and knew our sound better than anybody. He also knew how to engineer punk and hardcore music better than anyone being that’s what the man did every day. So, after that first mess, getting him was the obvious move for us. Me, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I’m like that with everything.

I grew up listening to bands like Queen, Black Sabbath, KISS, then the Ramones, the Clash, etc. I wanted my record to sound professional, clear drums, vocals cutting through blazing guitar riffs, audible bass lines, and the guitar over the top blazing away. I figured, why the hell can’t a hardcore record have these qualities?

To me, many of them just sounded like crap. The energy was there but a lot of it was killed by bad production values. Somewhere between my perfectionism, and Jerry Williams engineering knowledge, we came up with something special that wasn’t ever heard before. I was 19 years old at the time we did Thou Shalt Not Kill.

Who did the artwork and logo?

The artwork on Thou Shalt Not Kill was done by our friend Geeby, who played in a band called Frontline, who were a great bunch of guys from Westbeth, which is a westside artists community. I wish I had grown up there! Geeby’s artwork was perfect for the cover. The "Law of Karma" picture—which was cut out from the book The Science of Self-Reservation—on the cover was used with the permission of ISCKON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness).

We were friendly with ISCKON through our visits to the Brooklyn temple. The cover got us called "the Krishna punks" in an old issue of Maximum Rocknroll. I’m glad that didn’t stick!

Do you remember playing the Hardcore ‘83 show in Philly? Any other road stories from back then?

Legendary show. It was Void, the Necros, Antidote, I think the Meatmen were added to the bill [they weren’t but they did play that same club in summer ’84], and local Philly legends Y.D.I. We had some kind of trip out to Philly. It was 150-mile battle royal, but we did make it and play the show. It was one of our greatest shows. Later, we went out to DC with the High and Mighty to play with Scream. This was how I first knew Drew Stone, who became the Antidote vocalist shortly afterwards. This was another band battle.

From Anthony Allen Begnal's personal collection

While these guys argued, I tried to make jest and keep them laughing. Googy got sick and threw up all over the side of Drew’s van. This lineup ain’t gonna be around much longer, I remember thinking. Our set was so full of anger and intensity that the place cleared out before Scream even got on stage. Everybody left! I remember hobnobbing with Brian Baker of Minor Threat, who was sitting outside the venue (It was in a church hall). So, I actually had met hardcore royalty, I remember thinking, "Wow."

What concerned me most that trip was getting a 6 Pack of Coors. I had heard about Coors, but never saw any. This was what was on my mind, so the hell with Brian Baker, get me to the grocery store and let's find some friggin' Coors! [Laughs] I did find it and bought me a 6 pack. I was so proud of myself: “I am great at getting what I want.” [Laughs] Whatta dumbass.

Antidote @ the Hardcore '83 show in Phildelphia, PA. (Photo: Dan Mayers)

You’re known for your love of horror movies, where’d that come from?

I’m a movie guy from the silent era up, not just horror. My mother kind of nurtured this accidentally by giving me her old video store card to do with what I wanted. And what I wanted was to see great movies. I had done this all my life, and I‘ve never found any reason to stop. Every midnight movie in downtown New York, every cult film, I probably was there in the same theatre as you if you were there. Rocky Horror, Maniac, Head, Rust Never Sleeps, Glen or Glenda, Plan 9 From Outer Space, Cafe Flesh, banned Warner Bros. cartoons, so on and so forth.

When VHS died out and DVDs came, I got into those and started collecting, buying and selling movies. Horror movies are simply the quickest, most popular, and most collectible of all the film genres. I’ve always loved foreign films. Ingmar Bergman, The Seventh Seal and The Magician. Italian Giallos like A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, All the Colors of the Dark, and Suspiria. German expressionists and Weimar Republic stuff.

French films like Eyes Without a Face and Revenge of the Living Dead Girls. You name it. If you’re a movie nut, and want to post stuff or sell your collectibles, I started my own little movie page on Facebook dedicated to such insanity called CHAMBEROFXS. Send a request and join me there in my lifelong quest for movie perfection.

What’s the story with Antidote's Return 2 Burn album?

Return 2 Burn was hailed as our big comeback album in 1990. The best thing on the album was the title track, "Return 2 Burn," which was an old graffiti burn tag I copped from the Beastie Boys. I figured, they ripped us off once or twice so it’s all in the family!. The album was a big point of contention for me and I was completely pissed off at the result. It sounded like a bunch of bass-heavy crap because Drew Stone thought it’d be cute to go into the recording studio to mix it without me, and the result was an embarrassing piece of crap.

Robb and Drew Stone in the '90s. (Photo from Robb's personal collection)

I was having some personal issues at the time that took me out of my game (just a little), but nothing that would’ve caused me to put out a piece of shit that sounded like that. Embarrassing. Thats why when No Peace In Our Time came into play, I made damn sure that I mixed it down myself. Viva Los Pendejos, which came out 2 years after Return 2 Burn, is a better record. The best stuff on Return 2 Burn was used and I wrote a bunch of new ones for that release, also. So, when people get on me to “write some songs," I just gotta laugh at that shit now.

Bridge 9 ended up re-releasing the Thou Shalt Not Kill EP a few years ago. Was that mastered from the original tapes?

We couldn’t get the original tape because the person who has them (without naming names here to protect the fool) wouldn’t cough them up or was unreachable or both. So, they were remodulated (I guess thats the right word) off the old Hellbent CD release, which they never paid one cent for and they had the original Ampex tape.

Tell us a bit more about the No Peace In Our Time album.

Chris Wrenn, the owner of B9 and a super duper dude who runs a hell of a good business in Boston, and Drew Stone, I believe, were friends from Drew’s college days. Chris offered to put out something if we came up w some new stuff. So, I took 5 Antidote songs from our setlist in the 1980s that were never recorded before, like "Live for Nothing" and "Unaffected," and wrote 4 or 5 brand new ones like "Conspiracy of None" and "Don’t Blame Me" and set them up in a way that sounded like an album should sound. “

The cover of Black Flag's "Rise Above” was also added in because we had covered the song since the 1980s, and we got our friend Roger Miret from Agnostic Front to guest on vocals for us. It was kind of quietly released by B9 with not too much fanfare and became the 5th Antidote release. All of the tracks on No Peace In Our Time were recorded and mixed in 14 hours! And I mixed it myself so that sound was as close to Thou Shalt Not Kill as I could get it.

What’s currently going on with the band?

I’ve started work on what I hope will be a new Antidote EP, so keep your eyes open for that to drop sometime in the future. Just waiting on whenever they decide to open up some recording studios.

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Tagged: a hardcore conversation, antidote

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