I met Chaka Malik in 1987 while hanging out at Some Records on the Lower East Side. We quickly bonded over our mutual backgrounds and shared mania for all things hardcore. Chaka's always been the kind of person that, when he gets involved with something, he gives it his all: 100% full force. Whether that was graffiti, skateboarding, or music-related endeavors, nothing less than complete body and soul immersion was his mission.
It was really gratifying to see him come into his own as a performer with a body of work that was on equal footing as the stuff we admired growing up.
As the years passed, we periodically kept in touch. Normally I would get a message saying, "Hey, I'm living in this state/country," and people would always ask me what he's up to. My answer, then and now, was always, "He's doing his own thing." That individualistic strain is something I've always admired, and it has informed all the projects he's ever done.
It was great to catch up and talk about old times, and I'm really looking forward to the upcoming Burn reunion at the Black N' Blue Bowl in NYC on Sunday, May 17, as well as whatever new musical stew he's got brewing.
The interview was conducted with old friend Astoria Lou (Loizos Gatzaris) in attendance, and photographer Jammi Sloane York taking pics. I also wanted to say thanks to Ziggy on this one!
What's up, buddy? It's been a long time!
Good to see you, my friend, definitely been a long time.
I want to take it right from the beginning. What are your earliest memories from growing up in Queens?
I guess playing with friends outside. You have groups of friends and they choose teams for wiffle ball. I guess wiffle ball was the thing. We used to tape over the holes of the ball to make it harder and a homerun was if you hit it over the trees, into the street. I was good but for some reason I always got picked last.
No handball? That was the big thing in Queens.
We played "stoop," which was basically handball on a ledge. Basically you have the edge of the ledge or stoop, that's the bat. You have to throw the ball against the stoop. There's ways you can make it go far or ways you can get a single on purpose. There are ways you can get it in between the one step, it's an art. Maybe it's a lesser-known one, but an art nonetheless.
Every neighborhood had a different name for it, we called it Chinese handball on my block, remember that? All you needed was a wall and you had to bounce the ball once on the ground and serve it to someone else so you could play anywhere.
Right, really didn't do too much of that!
Graffiti was a big thing when we were growing up. What are your earliest memories from that?
I remember seeing [graffiti documentary] Style Wars. I was in my kitchen and those were the days where there were boomboxes with little TVs on them. That was the only time I could watch stuff that wasn't curated by my parents, it was primetime and Style Wars came on Channel 13.
SEE ALSO: The Graffiti and Hardcore Connection
Yep, that was in 1983 on PBS, Channel 13.
I was like, "This is crazy!" I remember watching that and just bugging. It was just crazy. It just seemed like something worth checking out, long story short.
Did you right away start writing on your own?
I did. I think I started trying to write SKANE or something like that. Then I started writing XPO for a while, and then I quickly kinda stopped writing. I was probably writing for about three years.
Do you remember any writing crews or anybody you were writing with back then?
Well, Sacha [Jenkins] wrote SHR and he was around. FREE 5 was around, HUSH, obviously. SP was around, those are people that I knew, just kind of Queens writers. That was the beginning of them writing, too. I used to... well, I don't want to incriminate myself [laughs].
The statute of limitations has probably passed! So, you say you got out of graffiti, but when did you discover skateboarding and hardcore?
It was all kind of one thing. Sacha was writing graffiti, we got into hardcore and we were skating. Sacha kind of got me into skating and I got him into hardcore. He would skate over to my house. He lived a mile away. We'd skate after school. I was rarely allowed to go very far (by my parents), so I really couldn't skate to where he lived. We had a crew of people we used to skate with; it was called Stage Dive Skates.
Maybe like 10 - 15 people that used to go down to the [Brooklyn] Banks. We weren't really shredding the Banks. We were basically shredding on our way from one place to another. So it'd be like 10 - 15 kids with skateboards getting up and going really fast, just ollieing stuff, you know, just enjoying the city, ollieing stairs. There was nobody in our crew doing tech tricks off rails, but we were skating. People knew who we were and we knew a lot of people, it was fun. It tied into punk and tied into hardcore.
Speaking of which, what's the first hardcore show you remember going to, or the first people you met that were into the style?
I met [NY Hoods singer] Robert Steigerwald in High School.
Bryant High School, right?
Right. I think my first show might have been NY Hoods, Trip 6, and Underdog, maybe. I'm not sure, that may not be right!
Was Gavin Van Vlack in that NY Hoods lineup?
I don't know, was Gavin in it? There was a black gentlemen, was his name Richie?
Yeah, I think he later went on to play in Krakdown.
Maybe. I remember seeing him (Richie) on stage. I don't know if Gavin was in the band at that time. I remember Underdog was great. Trip 6, you know Tommy Rat, was great hardcore.
This was probably like 1986?
I'm pretty sure my first show was in '86, but for some reason I'm not sure. You can look that up, but that show could've been in '89 for all I know, but I think that was in '86. Yeah, you know, you start going to shows, it's hard for me to remember back like, "This is my first show." That might have been my first show.
On a side note, I remember you telling me that you had a strict curfew growing up. You were the first person I ever met that was a vegan. That was something that was very rare in Queens, circa 1987! Do you want to talk a little about that?
About being a vegan?
Yeah, you were raised that way, basically.
Well, I was raised vegetarian and then became a vegan later on. We ate fish. We didn't eat chicken and stuff like that. It was for health reasons. It wasn't for any humanitarian or religious reasons. The whole thing of being aware of what you're eating. A lot of us, when you're growing up, it kinda just creeps into your life, and it starts to make sense; potentially, unless it's completely crazy. Then you have your friends going, "Well, I don't eat meat either because I'm trying to save the cows." Whatever, cool you know?
Are you still a vegetarian?
I eat seafood. I love seafood. It's like the illest thing to me in terms of food.
You might have been the first vegetarian person I ever met
Really? There were a lot of people.
At least you were the first one that took me to Vegetarian's Paradise, that restaurant in Chinatown.
There you go. You would see people like [comedian] Dick Gregory there. All kinds of interesting political people that would talk about diet and were socially aware, and were known for being on the edge, ate there. It was interesting I must say. Dick Gregory was the kind of person you would see there.
In hardcore you had people like HR from the Bad Brains and the Cro-Mags' John "Bloodclot" Joseph that were vegetarian.
Obviously "Bloodclot" knows what he's talking about. I agree with what John's talking about; as far as chemtrails and other stuff. These days, especially with the internet, it's really easy for you to say: "Okay, I heard someone say there's chemtrails." You'd be like, "Okay, well, I'm gonna investigate what chemtrails are. I'm gonna do some research. I'm gonna recognize that, yes, there is something being sprayed in the air."
You recognize that it's Barium and you ask, "What does Barium do?" You start your research and you recognize that people like the Air Force admit they've been running these tests. Why would they do that? They admit spraying LSD over Los Angeles. You start to ask yourself when you look at different vaccinations and things like the Tuskegee Experiment where they vaccinated black men with syphilis and they gave them a card. They were illiterate people given a card saying if you get sick, bring this to the doctor. The card said that under no circumstances are you to treat this person. But if I'm illiterate I don't know what the card says. So, the doctor just says whatever and the guy walks out, gives syphilis to his wife, to whomever. It was an experiment to see, "I wonder what would happen..."
It's all documented stuff...
Even today, look up particulate matter experiments on young black teenagers down south where a woman just lost her job from the EPA. They're trying to get rid of wood-burning stoves and other stuff that's really normal by saying this fine particulate matter is really horrible. They take kids that have asthma, they plug them into noxious gas that will kill you and say, "Look, it was the fine particulate matter." You can look this up right now. People have lost their jobs over this.
So, all these things and people want to say, "Oh, you're a conspiracy theorist." I don't think so, not everything is a conspiracy. You and I conspired to meet here and then we conspired to include two more people. Let's be realistic about this. I don't want experiments performed on me. I don't want crap sprayed in the air for my nieces and nephews to breathe.
Getting back to around the time period we met, in 1987. We collaborated on the New Breed compilation. I don't remember if it was your idea or mine to do the tape. I was the one with the fanzine...
You can own it! I don't remember.
I remember sitting in your bedroom with a double-tape deck, dubbing those tapes...
With an equalizer, trying to get it to sound somewhat similar!
Did you ever think 25+ years later people would still be listening to it and talking about it? Not just old fogies, but young people, kids half our age.
I think it's a testament to the bands. It's not our music on it. We basically curated something and kudos to us for having the drive to do that. But, I mean, there were some really good bands on there and other bands that didn't release a ton of other material like Collapse, Our Gang, Outburst, and Absolution. Especially at that time, anybody that had stuff out didn't want to deal with us, so we were getting a chance to get early music from people that ended up doing well. Like Burn went on to record some stuff for people that helped us to put it out, you know, early on.
There was a guy named Chuck Miller that did a compilation 7" and put Burn on it. So, like, if you want to hear an early Burn song, you can do that because this guy was like, "I'm gonna do a compilation." I think that was the same kind of thing with us. We were like, "Let's do a compilation!" Now there is that historical data of bands that were willing to work with us at that time.
I remember being at Don Fury's studio when Absolution was recording for our compilation. When their song came over the speakers, it just blew us away. Was that around the time you got the idea of like, "Hey, I want to do this myself, be in a band"?
I don't know. At that time I liked dancing. I'm pretty sure it was Gavin [Van Vlack] that said, "We're gonna get you a band." I don't know what the impetus was, but he basically talked me and [Burn drummer] Alan [Cage] into it. [Burn bassist] Alex Napack was someone I kinda knew from shows.
John Krisciun, too, right? Wasn't he the original Burn drummer?
John Krisciun... I guess he was the original drummer. For some reason, like I said, I forgot about these shows. I think as Alan being the drummer, John was a wonderful drummer. We all used to work at [NYC health food store] Prana. I think John worked there, [Supertouch singer] Mark Ryan as well. [Quicksand, Deftones bassist] Sergio Vega was around, but he didn't work there. Alan worked there, and even other kids. I think [Texas is the Reason, Shelter guitarist] Norm Arenas worked there for a while. John Joseph was always in there. I remember summertime was just a hardcore meetup with people coming in there. You would say hello, talk to people, go outside for a bit, and get yelled at by the owner, Bruce. I loved him, wonderful person. He was a really caring dude. Wherever he is, I hope he's well. Amazing person.
Then you guys got the Burn common house going.
Yeah, we were living on Powers St. It was Gavin, Alan, and I living there. There was a woman that lived upstairs, her name was Andrea. She was the first person I had seen with a full head tattoo in like '89. She wasn't even trying to be punk, that's just the way it was.
You guys were like the pioneers of living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn at that time.
Yeah, dude. We used to walk around and there'd be no one out. At the time, Gavin was doing some graffiti and we would do a little bit of graffiti. At that time I was pretty much done with graffiti. Walking across the bridge (into Manhattan), there wouldn't be many people on the bridge and it was dangerous.
You mentioned Alex Napack. I've been trying to locate him; he kinda disappeared, whatever happened to him?
I don't know. I'm sure he's doing his own thing. I love Alex. I don't know what he's up to now, and I haven't talked to Alex in 20 years, maybe more.
Moving on to the Burn experience when you first broke up, maybe '93 - '94?
I have no idea [laughs].
Then you moved on to Orange 9mm?
Orange 9mm was in like '95.
I was waiting for Burn to do a full-length album, what happened?
We were talking to a friend of ours the other day about this and basically the whole thing was about moving into this new house in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It was all new, no one was there.
What new house?
The new apartment I moved into. The whole thing with Burn was everything was new. It was always something new; nothing was established so that's always part of the DNA of the band. You know what I mean? Alan left to join Quicksand and we had a hard time finding a drummer that could play at his level.
Then you kind of just moved on to doing a new project. Orange 9mm really got around, huh?
Yeah, we did some touring.
How did it feel playing those huge festivals to thousands of people? Was it surreal?
I think that playing a Burn show versus an Orange 9mm show, I would prefer the Burn show because Burn is, the word that comes to mind, is real. I'm not saying Orange 9mm wasn't real, but I think with Orange 9mm we did an EP in 1994 that was real and then we got a record deal. The EP sounds nothing like the album. I think the EP was more in that progression from hardcore and the album was trying to be something that wasn't really what we were. We had problems keeping that ship afloat. [Guitarist] Chris [Traynor] left the band to join Helmet. It was musical chairs with members and stuff like that, it is what it is.
SEE ALSO: Best Orange 9mm Songs
The band broke up, things died down?
It lost its relevance for us and for our crowd. We had three albums with nine different sounds. The early Orange 9mm stuff I thought was good and it was really honest.
In the early '00s, I seem to remember, back in the MySpace days, a band...
A band called Moving to America.
I was gonna say Satan Sleep, what's Moving to America?
MTA was a roots rock band. We actually had some good songs, man.
I don't remember that one. Who was that with?
It was me, a guy named Michael, a woman named Karen, and Davide from Orange 9mm, our original bass player. It was basically Rolling Stones meets something a 'lil heavier, but still roots rock-ish.
Yeah, it was still rock sounding. I don't know if there was any documented music. I think James Spooner videotaped one show.
Speaking of which, you were in the [James Spooner directed] Afro-Punk movie, right? What do you think of that whole movement?
Honestly, I think it's good for people to feel that they don't have to be drawn away from something because of racial reasons. I think that in a certain way, Afro-Punk solidifies the fact that you're black but in another way it says, "You're black, but it doesn't matter." Or Latino, whatever it is. When I went to shows I could see that I was one of the only African-American gentlemen there, but I wasn't like, you know, I didn't take that as something I didn't own as an obstacle. I didn't label myself as the black guy at the show, or try to be the black guy at the show. I was at the show.
Satan Sleep, that was the acoustic stuff, right? In the MySpace days.
That started out as being...
Don't you have a Satan Sleep tattoo?
I do still have that and I repented getting that!
The stuff that I heard was solo acoustic.
There was one show somewhere. It was me with Gavin and Sergio who both did me a favor. It was horrible [laughs]. They were reluctant as they should have been.
The stuff I heard was great!
It ended up getting better. I ended up doing a show with some dudes in London. A guy named Rob and another gentleman, too.
I remember that you lived in London for a spell. There's a video of you jumping on stage with Supertouch when they played there.
Deftones, too. I did a show in London under the name Satan Sleep. It wasn't a huge event. It was a relatively empty show, sparsely attended. I wasn't promoting it because I had no idea if we were gonna suck. So there was really no reason for me to get into a big thing with it.
So, moving on to current musical stuff, have you been doing anything lately?
You're tricky because you know the answer to this! I'm doing kind of a new thing, I guess, called Ghost Decibels. Astoria Lou, how would you describe it?
Astoria Lou: Gothic sound. A 'lil new wave. A 'lil R&B.
Is this a full band project or a solo kind of thing?
I don't know. My friend Sacha talked me out of calling it the Chaka Malik something. I was thinking if I do want to invite people to play with me, they'd be more likely to play in something called a name and not my name.
Remember when Burn first started and you guys had no name, we were calling it "The Chaka Experience"?
Who came up with the Burn name? I think it was Gavin or you?
I think it might have been Alex [Napack], so let's give Alex the props on that.
This is when Gavin was moving away. You had no name and wanted to record something before he left. We went into the studio with John the Bastard (producer) and a couple of friends chipped in money for the recording. I have the tape, it's labeled: "The Chaka Experience."
Wasn't that, when we did the recording for Chuck Miller [Rebuilding 7" compilation]?
No, it was before Chuck Miller. I remember that clearly because the song "New Morality" before it was called that, you were calling it "Fight Back."
Wouldn't that be after Gavin came back, 'cause that's like a new song? I don't know. I have no idea. You know this whole thing!
Anyway what was my point? Burn now, in 2015, what's the story?
Well, Sacha, my good friend Sacha Jenkins who I skateboarded with and stuff...
Ego Trip editor.
Yeah, Ego Trip, Mass Appeal. He's in a band now called The Wilding Incident. He was basically like, "Dude, you have to play," and I was like, "Okay." He said I'm gonna talk to Gavin and it just happened. We had been talking to people for a long time. I'd been considering it, even when I was in London, I was like, "I'm not there, but I'm not against figuring something out." When I got back to the States, people from other festivals were like do you want to play? I was like, "I don't know." But, now it ends up being something more doable for me. People have heard about it and there's some excitement around it, which is always good, that helps. As far as I was concerned, communicating with Gavin; I thought he was ignoring me. I've been hitting him up on LinkedIn and he was like, "Dude, I haven't checked LinkedIn in like three years." So, apparently he wasn't ignoring me, weird things like that. I haven't talked to Gavin in a long time. I haven't seen him in like five years.
So, who's playing with you guys now?
Myself, a gentleman named Durijah Lang (drums), Gavin, and Manny Carrero (bass). Manny was on the Burn Cleanse EP and Durijah played with Manny in Glassjaw. Both are amazing drummers (Alan and Durijah). They're both well suited for playing the kind of original Burn four-song 7" and The Last Great Sea stuff. Playing more in that kind of style, not aping Alan, it's the right style. I think it's the closest we've gotten. I think it sounds better than most of the things I've seen on YouTube.
I think Gavin mentioned you guys asked Alan but he couldn't do it?
We did ask Alan. I would love to have him. I consider Alan a friend but he wasn't interested in playing.
What about some of the old unrecorded Burn songs like "Onlooker"?
That was actually a Moving to America song. I think so, we had a song called "Onlooker," maybe it was a Burn song, too.
How about "You Can't Stop Me"?
We might re-record that with different lyrics. "We Don't Stand a Chance" is another one, probably the best of that stuff.
"On and On"?
I don't even know what that is [laughs]. There's another one in that vein, like "You Can't Stop Me," kinda Discharge-y, fast tempo. Some of the later stuff Manny says he likes, like "The Hustler." I would have to re-hear it. "Lesson #1" is another one I would have to listen again.
So, are you taking it one day at a time as far as maybe recording this stuff in the future?
Part of me thinks it maybe makes sense to record two songs. You know, "We Don't Stand a Chance" and the rebranded "You Can't Stop Me" song. Just because everyone is agreeing to meet at a rehearsal, maybe it's easy enough to meet at a recording studio.
Work on new stuff or just those two songs?
I don't know. The focus now is to have a show that represents what people's expectations are ,so that's where it is now.
How do you feel hardcore and the way we grew up, how does that inform your life now?
That's a good question. Sacha and I were talking about this and even Astoria Lou. I bring up a story with Lou. We used to go record shopping on the weekends. Go to the stores, east side to west side. We knew the records we wanted. We had an expectation of finding stuff. We had a desire to locate certain records, to find new stuff. There's that kind of exploration stage where you're enjoying music for what it is, you're opening yourself up to it, you begin to appreciate what's come before the new stuff. That digging and kind of... I mean a lot of folks in punk collect records.
I think there's something to collecting things that can bring you more than just a ton of crap in your basement. I think that when you collect stuff, you pay attention to detail. You begin to make plans, you begin to set expectations. Where most kids, when I say kids, I mean myself at that age, they are not doing that. You are not scouting, you're not focusing. That attention to detail transfers to your work life potentially. Because you're able to really know: this is what I really want and I'm willing to search in order to find it. Maybe put together a project team. Astoria Lou and I were a project team, we would go looking for records.
A search mission.
Exactly, as well as the D.I.Y. piece. You and I put out the New Breed tape, right? We had an idea and we executed it. Conceivably "easier" to do that today with the internet. You just make Mac pages and put something up on the internet. That's not the same as going to the print shop, getting crap printed up. Going to each band, having them give you a song. Doing the duplicates and finding a way to get it into people's hands.
Taking the train up to the Anthrax club and putting everything together at the last minute.
Exactly, getting them into people's hands. Physical music into their hands. I think digital downloads are great, but it's something different than a physical experience. This is something we're making available, are you interested in this? You say, yeah, I like those bands. I would like to buy a copy of that. Yes, I can put out a compilation and if you want to buy it, click here. You're missing out on a ton of engagement, a ton of learning, right? Teachable moments that you can have where you're actually engaging someone that's interested in purchasing your comp. You can say, "Hey, you look like you like this, what do you think about this, is it worth $5 to you?"
So, you're saying the hands-on experience...
Hands-on, entrepreneurial. Putting things together in the physical world because if you can do that, you can transfer that easily to the digital world potentially. You can also say I was doing this stuff in the physical world but now I can bridge that gap. For my own stuff I'm considering, well, I want to revisit some of these older kinda arcane formats. I want to re-engage folks on those lines.
I think we covered all the bases, anything else you can think of?
I just want people to be aware of crap like forced vaccinations. These vaccines have literally aborted fetuses in them. Do the research, you don't want this stuff in your body. Listen when people talk about chemtrails, there's this and that. Don't be so quick to write people off. Especially if you're into punk rock, you're not agreeing with the mainstream, so take it further and see what else is out there for you. Your willingness to find the truth, because you're willing to do that research, to go in that search mission. Like Lou and yourself did to find that record, find the truth, find what's real. Do your own research.
Open up your mind so you can lead a more rewarding life. Like fluoride in your water. Fluoride makes you... it calcifies your brain. These studies are all over the newspaper. In Austin, when they tried to get fluoride out of the water, the mayor gave them the middle finger. This is all over the media but people don't care. You've got to start caring about yourself, start to care about your family, start to care about your wife/kids, and your friends. You gotta start being aware, try to present information that can help them to live a more rewarding life.
SEE ALSO: The New Wave of British Hardcore
Do you think we'll see more of a social media presence from you?
Astoria Lou: Now you will!
Chaka: Hopefully not!
I was surprised when I saw you on MySpace a few years ago.
I don't know. I'm excited about social media. There is a gentleman named Gary Vaynerchuk, he's not a hardcore person. He's an east coast guy, Jersey dude. He was an immigrant, came here with his parents. Started as a stock boy in a liquor store, basically ended up taking his parents' wine store business from three million a year to like 60-something million. I like his approach to social media, which is look at the conversations people are having, the type of conversations. We were talking to Jammi [Sloane York] moments ago and he was sharing how he was looking at one social platform and he was like it's not gonna be worthwhile and it turned out to have value. We don't really know. Will you see a social media presence by me? I'm not sure, we'll see. Jammi shared this platform was valuable to him, so that's good learning. There are things out there that cam maximize what's good for you, that's what I think people should do.
Any last words before we wrap this up?
Thank you for putting out the comp with me. I appreciate it. Anybody that feels that the show on May 17th is something that they want to check out, come down.
Should be packed, hope the old crew shows up: Fern, Stak, Hush, etc....
I have no idea, they probably will. As long as Manny, Gavin, me, and Durijah are there. We'll be there to play the show.
Good talking to you!
You too! God bless.