Clay Rice and Sacrilege: D-beat in 1984 NYHC

Sacrilege NY were a mystery to me when I first started going to shows in 1985. I'd always been fascinated by their image: Four spiky-haired, bullet belt-wearing punks playing D-beat-influenced tunes to skinhead crowds at CBGB's. The few that managed to see them live, in their prime, raved about their explosive performances. To the rest of newcomers to the scene, like myself, they were an unknown entity.

They would have remained a curious footnote, with their Agnostic Front/Reagan Youth pedigree and all, except for the fact that I managed to get a copy of their nine-song demo in 1988. I came to realize that one of my favorite bands at the time, Nausea, had their roots in Sacrilege. Half of the songs on said demo became Nausea songs when Sacrilege guitarist Victor Venom started up the latter band in 1986.

Flash forward to 2013. My Wardance label, in conjunction with Radio Raheem Records, put out an LP of two Sacrilege demos from 1985. We searched high and low for all the original members, but their singer, Clay Rice, could not be found.

Clay recently got in touch with me after seeing the LP in a record store. I eventually sent him some questions and he graciously answered them, and as a bonus, sent along some of his killer artwork to share with all No Echo readers. There are some cool stories here about growing up punk rock in Virginia, living at the legendary hangout the Vats in San Francisco, squatting on the Lower East Side, and other anecdotes that continue to fill up the Sacrilege NY story.

To start off, tell me how you came to move from Virginia to NYC and when?

I grew up in the1970s, when Virgina Beach was still a relatively small town, unlike now, being the most densely populated region in all of Virgina. My family did well. My father worked in the auto business and VB being a military town and growing, it should have been ideal. But in 1979, I heard the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks, thanks to an English neighbor, and was taken with the intensity and rawness of the sound immediately. I was a skateboarder and this music was closer to the tempo of life I was living. By reading Thrasher magazine in 1981, I discovered new bands and a few like-minded friends in a mostly conservative suburban atmosphere, it is home to the 700 Club and very military. My parents caught the "tough love" craze (that was a real problem at the time, mostly for the kids) and swiftly and promptly they kicked me out of the house, because of my freaky friends, hair, dress, etc. But it wasn't just the parents, the high school I was attending at the time, F.W. Cox High School, decided to expel myself and Bob Davis (a.k.a. Fishman), along with several of our friends, for minor dress infractions at the same time. It was just complete bullshit. I wasn't a bad kid and would have had an art scholarship to college, but VB was afraid of us and made life difficult. The cops, the parents, the rednecks etc., I knew I had to leave.

I was 17 and went to Washington D.C. The music scene there was amazing in 1982, it never would be as good a scene as it was then. I lived in the old Wonder Bread factory and ran with the Rat Patrol, a kind of low-level punk gang run by One-Eyed Bruce. On a visit to VB in 1983, Tim Copeland (who had recently returned to VB after living in Hamburg, Germany) and I decided to hitchhike to San Francisco. Tim and I were part of a very small punk crew called the North Wolfsnare Gang, at least that's what the cops called us in VB back then (picture the movie Suburbia). Tim had played guitar in a short-lived band called Anschluss, with Jim Schaffer on drums and Charles Miller on bass, but he wanted to escape the oppressive small town mentality VB was so guilty of in those days.

Three days and several near death experiences later, we arrived in San Francisco, and after a brief stay with C.F.A., we found a place to live in the now infamous Vats (the old Hamm's Brewery) in the Mission District of the city. This was as close to punk rock college as you could get then, we hung around D.R.I., M.D.C., Dead Kennedys, and many others. We got to meet and learn the craft from people we admired and respected. We were particularly impressed with Crucifix. Tim and I both liked the European bands like Discharge, GBH, The Exploited, and Crass, but here was an American band that looked and sounded really cool, that were making it happen here in the US. We would climb a drain pipe, two stories, to sneak into the On Broadway every time they played, they were amazing, we were fans. We also saw Metallica before they blew up and were impressed with them, too. Tim and I decided to move back east to NYC. It was the destination we chose to make a band. This was 1984 and I had never been in a band before this, but would soon sing my first gig ever at none other than CBGB's.

Were you squatting during that time in NYC, and how did you meet Victor and Adam (Sacrilege guitarist and bassist)? I take it you knew Tim from VA?

When I first moved to NYC, I was lucky to have John John Jesse as a good friend. He and his mother let me sleep on the couch of their apartment in the Lower East Side for quite a while. Tim was staying with his girlfriend, Roxie, uptown. We met Adam and Victor and found like-minded individuals right off the bat. Victor had a rep as a great guitarist, and Adam as well with his time in Agnostic Front on bass. We were lucky to get them to play with us, no one knew Tim and I, but we stood out with more of a European punk look as opposed to the skinhead/hardcore look that was so prominent then. As far as who started the band, I'd like to think we all started it together.

Squatting, well, we were involved more out of principles, rather than necessity. Adam and Victor still lived at home, and Tim and I would take up residence in one usually when our girlfriends could not put us up anymore. In fact, I almost died in a fire at one, but I was awakened by our friend Marta's cat, Spacely, in the nick of time to escape with only what I was wearing on my back. Needless to say, it was very dangerous, and theft was always a concern in these places.

Sacriliege NY live @ PB Kelley's in Richmond, VA, 1984 (Photo: William Pickett)

Sacrilege seemed to take off really quick. You played out of state and Canada, recorded two demos, and also did some high profile shows in NYC in a short amount of time. How do you think you guys stood out or were different from what was going on in the NYC scene at the time?

Oh, we stood out! The scene, of course, was centered around CBGB's, Agnostic Front, Warzone, Murphy's Law, Cro-Mags, the list goes on. We were alone in the wilderness with long, spiked, colored hair, studded leather jackets, tight pants, Doc Martens, and bullet/studded belts. Yeah, we were peace punks in a great, big field of Oi! Seems like that wouldn't be a problem now, but then it was! Reagan Youth was really cool to us, not just because Vic played bass with them, but Dave [Rubenstein] was such an amazing guy, I thought the world of them and getting to do the Yippies tour (to Canada) was an insane honor and so fun. You know, after throwing down our first set at CBGB's with Harley and John Bloodclot of the Cro-Mags taunting me from the edge of the stage, I knew we had survived the NYHC baptism under fire and would be at least tolerated, maybe even liked with more time, it felt good. Funny thing is, I ran into Harley 10 years later in D.C. and he said he thought we were pretty good.

Did you write the lyrics, for example, to songs like "Fallout"?

I wrote the lyrics with a little help from Tim, mostly, but everyone got to pre-read and have a say, we all believed in the power of words and wanted to make bold statements both musically and lyrically. We tried to distance ourselves from the mindless drink, fight, and fuck mentality of the scene at the time. A lot of the lyrics still hold relavent truth, 30 years later, and I am very proud of that.

The second Sacrilege demo from Bolt Studios on side B of the LP shows a more pronounced, raw metal direction. Was that a conscious effort, and what influenced the change from the earlier D-beat sound of the first demo from Don Fury's studio?

Yes, the Bolt Studio session is decidedly more metal. We were starting to grow musically and exploring the possibilities of what we could do and where we could go with it. It was not a stretch, we all liked metal, it was a very natural fit. Charles Miller was visiting us from VB at the time and reminded me recently of the dead body in the alley entrance of Bolt Studios on that day. Tim kind of nudged him and he fell over stiff. My first dead body (probably everyone's), no wonder this stuff is so inspired by the dark side. My voice was developing, it was exciting.

Clay Rice, 2014

What caused you to leave the band?

You know, I should have only myself to blame for that, although, honestly, I kind of blame my girlfriend at the time for convincing me to go back to school. I thought she had my best interests in mind, but she just wanted me out of the picture and was going about it in a non-direct way. She was my first serious girlfriend and I was young and stupid. Plus, Tim was using drugs pretty hardcore, in fact I caught him in an overdose only a few days prior, so I was pretty freaked out at the time and conflicted. In hindsight, I should have stuck it out. I've never been in a band since with a musical progression as fast as Sacrilege, and it was my first band, had forward momentum, and we clicked together. A real shame. Rob Zombie and Shauna (Sean Yseult) liked our band and were friends of my girlfriend and I back then. Shauna asked me, "Who are we going to play with now that you guys broke up?" Yeah, this was before White Zombie exploded to mega stardom and even had that famous sound they would be known for.

Clay Rice original artwork

I know you moved back to VA and played in Dynamite Jett, what type of band was that?

After a failed attempt at college, I moved back to Washington D.C. and started Dynamite Jett with my almost replacement in Sacrilege, Bob Davis (a.k.a. Fishman), on drums, Andrew Simmons on guitar, and Mark Petherbridge on bass. We played more conventional metal and recorded and played around for a number of years before Fishman and Andrew quit the band fighting over a girl. Classic, huh? Andrew Simmons would go on to play and record with 9353 and HR, before his untimely death five years ago.

Whatever became of Sacrilege NY drummer Tim Copeland?

I have not seen or talked to him in 10+ years. Truth be told, drugs consumed him in the end. He had it made in Virginia Beach (his family owned many profitable businesses), but he chose to flush his life down the toilet and was eventually run out of town for ripping off drug dealers (as well as his friends). I must say that Tim betrayed me in the end, and I find it hard to forget the beating I suffered at the hands of him and his cousin. Yes, they beat me almost to death. I still have lasting medical problems as a result of this ruthless attack, and no answers as to why it happened. You could say I am not looking to find him anytime soon, and hope it remains that way. Beware of Tim Copeland.

Has the response surprised you, from old timers and newer fans, once the LP reissue came out?

I am stoked so many people like it, young and old. I'm so glad to have something to show for that brief window of time in NYC. Funny, One-Eyed Bruce (quoted on the album poster) even genuinely likes it, and he hated me back then for jumping ship from the Rat Patrol's chaos punk ethos to being a peace punk. I guess 30 years was the answer, huh? I am very proud of the album, and what it stands for. I really did do it for the love.

Thanks for your time, Clay. I'm proud to have been involved with this.

Pick up the Sacrilege NY reissue directly from Wardance Records.

Clay Rice original artwork