I first met Bricks Avalon back in the mid-'90s when I was in Black Army Jacket and he was fronting Staten Island hardcore greats C.R. We played many of the same sweaty basements and VFW halls throughout the years, and any time I had a chance to catch C.R. live, I took it. Previously a member of hardcore outfit Phallacy, Avalon is still one of the most intense performers I've ever witnessed within the hardcore and punk communities. C.R. broke up before they truly had a chance to do the proper amount of touring to get their music out there, but in the NYC/NJ/CT tri-state area, they made a big impact. If you're a fan of bands like Negative Approach and Infest, you need to pick up C.R.'s discography, pronto.
Since C.R. split up, members of the band have gone on to such musical acts as Budos Band, Sheer Terror, and Bastard Sapling; and Avalon is currently singing in a hardcore supergroup of sorts called Miracle Drug. We recently caught up with each other after a few years of losing touch, so I thought it was the perfect time to interview Avalon about his musical upbringing and current life living far away from Staten Island.
Tell me about growing up on Staten Island. Even though I only grew up about a 45-minute drive away in Queens, I didn't spend any time on Staten Island 'til I was in my teens and would go see shows there.
Staten Island was big city mayhem, small town drama. I moved there when I was 9. I think I got into two fights within the first two weeks of being there. Until then, I grew up on the 19th floor of an apartment building in Starret City off of the Belt Parkway, where I was the minority. I remember bike riding through tons of woods and creeks and dead ends, and playing baseball and football all day in the street. We played punchball, stickball, and handball across the street from my house in the schoolyard. It was a lot of experimental mischief.
I know you were big into graffiti back in the day.
I was always a fan of what I saw as a child. Driving the Belt Parkway as a kid, and especially since I saw Style Wars on channel 13. I remember we had it taped from TV on VHS. Being into breakin' and rap and hardcore and punk, writers were always around. My heaviest involvement was in the mid-'90s when I lived with SEMZ and hung all the time with None-Rock and End, and we linked up with some Long Island dudes like GRASP. I started writing DAWG and did some walls. It was fun as hell, but short-lived. I'm really just a fan.
We both grew up in the '80s during a time when most kids, in a way, had to pick an allegiance to a specific musical movement, at least when it came to clothing style and your appearance. Even though we listened to a lot of different styles of music, there was usually a look you adopted.
Well, early on, I was into sports and late disco into freestyle and then into rap. My cousin Jimmy is like seven or eight years older than me and he had a dance crew with a few of his friends that used to be known at the Funhouse, where Madonna and Jellybean Benitez performed. I think they even performed on New York Hot Tracks and were in a Planet Patrol video. Anyway, him and my older brother were my idols. My older brother used to DJ as well. I used to wear a lot of Chinese slippers, and skippies, and decks with the Italian flag on the elastic; and white tube socks pulled up to the knees; and sweatsuits with ironed-on Playboy bunnies. I used to iron my shirts in half. I had a tail in 6th grade, I think. I never really got into anything metal until '87 or '88.
Wow, those visuals are bringing back memories! How did you discover hardcore and punk music? Did you have a mentor-type figure that helped you along with that at a young age?
My older brother took me to see Ozzy in '89, but he never continued on the path of metal and/or punk. He went more Grateful Dead, which I also embraced, but my friend, Tommy Falconetti, got me listening to Metallica and Slayer freshman year. Rob Marinelli, a.k.a. Bob Sauce, got me into the Misfits and then introduced me to [Staten Island hardcore stalwarts] Enrage. My first hardcore show was Enrage at Neri's on Staten Island. They are still playing.
When did your first band, Phallacy, get going, and how did you guys meet?
Oh, man, dates and me do not go hand-in-hand. I remember filling Gatorade squeeze bottles with vodka and orange juice and walking to Tommy's house to listen to him play drums, and then walking to Rob's house to practice in his bedroom around '90. I did not have the attention span to play an instrument, so I tried singing. A few guitarists and bass players later and then I think we hit a stride in late '92, after we graduated high school.
Tell me about the kinds of shows Phallacy played. Did you get to play some of the bigger rooms outside of Staten Island like L'Amours in Brooklyn or Studio 1 in New Jersey?
We were pretty popular on Staten Island, so we played the Rock Palace and The Wave and we did play L'Amours. I can't remember playing Studio 1, but we were just openers on a bill. We played with Life of Agony during the early demo days. We played with D.R.I. at L'Amours and we went on at like two in the morning and we were one of like 13 bands, so it didn't feel like we were up in the cut or anything.
Phallacy released a 7" called Against It in 1993. You recorded that with Don Fury at his basement studio in Manhattan. Agnostic Front, Sick of it All, and Gorilla Biscuits are just a few of the legendary hardcore bands Fury produced throughout the years. I've heard that he's quite the character. What was your experience like working with him?
I honestly don't remember much about it. I remember him being a character and being fascinated with the setup. But Freedom [Tripodi], from Struggle Records, wanted to get us the best sound and equal footing, because being a Staten Island hardcore band sometimes felt like you were not part of the NYHC scene. When it came to playing shows, NYHC kids did not trek to Staten Island to shows, so it was like a sub-scene, and he wanted to get us into Fury for some recognition.
When and why did Phallacy break up?
I think I was going to move to California at one point, and that fell through, and then I think Matt on bass and Donato on drums wanted to do other stuff. We carried on for a little while longer with Elway on drums and Grover on second guitar [both would become members of C.R.], and then I can't remember, I think we stopped playing in '95. You'll have to ask Sauce.
Let's get into C.R. When and how did the band start? I know your guitarist, Mike De Lorenzo, had played in Enrage, which was the biggest hardcore band to come out of Staten Island up to that point, but he also played in Sleeper (later known as Serpico), which was a much different kind of thing in a melodic punk vein.
Mike D. and I lived around the block from each other. He became an in-scene mentor. He was always supporting Phallacy and he was a straight edge kid, and that was what I needed. Staten Island shows were so diverse, it was not uncommon for a death metal, emo, crossover, and hardcore band to all be on the same bill and everyone was there. I cannot remember the specifics, but Mike D. and I wanted to form a covers band to play a barbeque. We recruited Elway, Grover, and Vinny around '95. We went into the studio to practice a Chain of Strength song and we came out with two of our own songs and got on a festival that Freedom was booking at [seminal Staten Island live venue] The Joint, and played five songs for like five minutes.
What did the C.R. initials stand for? I heard different things throughout the years.
It was a girl's name at first, then it morphed into Compassionate Revolution.
I played in Black Army Jacket with Andrew Orlando during C.R.'s run and I remember he spent a lot of time with you guys.
I like how you call it C.R.'s run. It was definitely a run. It was a force. Not a band. Andrew fueled the force and fed off the force. If you were nice, passionate, silly, into powerful aggressive music, and wanted to do it 24 hours a day, then we did it. We hung out all the time, and he was available for us. He got us. He was part of us. He was a doorman at a prestigous Manhattan hotel [it was the St. Regis], and all I wanted to do was show up and take pictures with him, and he took pictures with me.
You always had an insanely intense performance style during the C.R. sets. You looked possessed. I'll never forget playing a show at the PWAC on Long Island with you guys where you got completely naked during your set.
I'll take that as a compliment. I try to tap into everything and go all-out all the time. I'm not sure if I even try actually, I'm not sure I have a choice. It can probably be said that I do not know how to apply the brakes. Yes, I remember getting completely naked. I was really opposed to clothing. There are a lot of people who have met me for the first time with no clothes on. Especially during the C.R. days. A lot of naked me. I saw this band, I think they were called Sorry Excuse, at ABC No Rio, and they played naked and I always wanted to do that. But I also was so intent on being so damn democratic, that I actually asked the crowd if they minded me taking of my clothes [laughs]. Then, after a song, I was bouncing all over the place and kind of uncomfortable and Elway looked at me and said, "Oh my god, what happened," or "Where did it go," and I got embarrassed and put my shorts back on.
As for performance style, I was always into raw energy and essence. The more I got in touch with that, the more it grew, and the less I thought about anything at all and it just happenened. It's the same thing today. I am always influenced by pure energy. I often don't even care how good it sounds. Shit that doesn't seem contrived. Even if it is a routine or choreographed, I love when it has force and depth and passion behind it.
C.R. released an album called The John Lisa LP in 1996. Why did you name it after the singer of Serpico?
John Lisa was one of the most punk people we knew, and I do not remember exactly how that happened, Mike D. or Elway would probably remember more, but that dude was and is awesome.
Why did C.R. break up? It seemed like you guys were all getting along, at least from my standpoint it did.
Yes, we were getting along. We were a powerhouse. We all have achilles heels. I broke up the band, and if I had it to do all over again, I would have executed my emotions with very different actions.
What did you do after the band broke up? I think I remember you worked at a phone company at the time, but were you doing anything musically?
I worked with the phone company from 1993 to 2003. I did a group called Ian Kline, which I thought was really good, and we played a couple of shows but it fizzled out. I also did a band called Super Duty Tough Work, which was very nasty, but very short-lived because I was moving to Colorado. I did put out a few underground rap records by this emcee named Tes, with Hardcore Ron Morelli, on VF Productions, and threw parties with Rich Hall in the basement of CBGB's for two-and-a-half years, which were very memorable for me.
We got back in touch with each other a few years back and you told me you had moved to Denver and were working as a massage therapist. How did that huge change come about?
I met a girl who had been through Massage Therapy school, and it planted a seed in my head. I always wanted to help people, and this was tangible. I took an educational leave from the phone company and halfway through schooling in Colorado, I took an early retirement. I stayed at that college as a Clinic Supervisor, internship instructor, and a teacher, briefly.
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You're currently living in Louisville, Kentucky. What brought on that move and are you still working as a therapist?
My brother-in-law married a Kentucky girl. My mother-in-law followed him. We got hammered by a few hard years of premature childbirths and intense hands of life being dealt. Also, I was a great therapist with a strong clientele, but I never budgeted for emergencies. We were all alone, a close-knit group of supportive friends, but no family. We wanted that companionship. We relocated in July of 2013. I am no longer a therapist. At the moment, I am a technician with the phone company again.
These days you're fronting a hardcore band called Miracle Drug. I love the tunes you have up on Bandcamp.
Thanks. I had not seen Thommy Browne, the drummer for tons of Louisville bands [formerly of Enkindel, By the Grace of God, Black Widows] in years and years, in a long time. I randomly met [a guy named] Jeremy at the skate park through our kids one day. We became real good friends, and he knew Thommy. One day we ran into Thommy at the YMCA. We kept seeing him and then he asked me if I would ever consider singing for a hardcore band again. I just looked at him and gave him a huge hug. I was so honored. He sent me two songs. He told me Matt Wieder [Mouthpiece] would play guitar. They were trying to get something going for a while now. And they had a dude Jeremy Holehan [Supertouch], who I like to call "Vibes" because he’s got that PMA, to play bass. I wrote lyrics and showed up at practice and yelled into the mic for the first time in a long time, and we have been going strong since then. The goal was to play fresh hardcore that was influenced by the past, yet current enough to inspire people to go off.
Before this interview, you told me the band would be working with Trip Machine Laboratories, a label No Echo is very familiar with.
Trip Machine will put out our demo on vinyl. Matt had mentioned a while ago that [label founder] Chris Weinblad would be a good candidate if we were to put out a 7". It was in the back of our minds, and then we all read the interview on your site, and that made us want to contact him even more. The crazy thing was when I read Alex Casey was working with him at Trip Machine. I've known Alex since he was like 3 or 4. Mike is his father and we have been good friends for years. Both of their pictures are on C.R. records. The connection and the energy and the family-type feeling started brewing, and it seemed right. You know that feeling.
How much time are you guys committing to the band? Will you be touring once the record comes out?
We practice once a week for two hours right now. We are working class dudes with families. We got together and all of us said we will do what we can, and we are all limited; and somehow we have played Indianapolis twice, a bunch of banging shows in Louisville, and we are headed to Detroit and Chicago at the end of this month and playing Midwest Blood Fest right here across the river in New Albany, Indiana. So, while we know we have obligations and priorities, we have been pretty active.
What do you think of the current hardcore scene? Are there any newer bands you're listening to?
I'm so hyped on this scene. Our local Louisville scene has like four or five venues that allow all ages shows that run on time and the bands go on when scheduled. There are some great promoters, and Ryan and Alex at No Luck Records put out our cassette, and Lloyd and Scott at JSK Productions and Jared at the Tap Room have all just shown us love from day one.
We just played with some great bands. The biggest problem for me right now, and us as a band, is that we cannot make every show and see every band. There are like three or four shows a week here, all with badass bands. We have been playing with these kids called Street Rat a lot and they get after it. They did a split with a band you would be into called Pissed On, who are awesome. The veterans here are Damaged Goods and Another Mistake, who pull their weight for sure. Nine Eyes is stepping in. We just played with Freedom, True Love, and Forced Order, and they all killed it. Blistered and Malice at the Palace were also great. Fury has got my attention. G.L.O.S.S. rips and they remind me of Los Crudos a bit. Vice from Staten Island is not really new, but they were the band that kept me connected to the scene in Denver and when I first got to Louisville. Knocked Loose is good, and the singer has one of my favorite voices. I can only get to so many shows and that is where the bands all go off, and the crowd has usually been really respectful.
What else are you up to these days?
Trying to be a dad. Trying to be a husband. Trying to exercise more. Trying to be a better person everyday. Get rid of some anger. Trying to laugh and smile more.
Do you miss Staten Island?
Certain aspects. I lived on The Rock for about 15 years. For all of the shit I talked about it, I have great friends and memories there.