Back in the mid-'90s, I used to play the hell out of In Your Blood, the sole album by a SoCal metallic hardcore band called Excessive Force. Released in 1995, its 10 songs are jam-packed with mouthwatering guitar riffs, and in the vocals department, frontman Dan Gump enraged vocal performances match the ferocity of the arrangements beneath them. In addition to his work with Excessive Force, Dan also ran Life Sentence Records, a label that issued works by such like-minded bands as Torn Apart, Eighteen Visions, and Lifeless.
Though he's not an active member of the hardcore scene these days, I tracked down Dan for an extensive interview about his time in Excessive Force, running Life Sentence Records, and what he's up to today.
Where were you born and raised, and what kind of family life did you have at home? I know you’re a former Marine, so I have to ask, were your parents also in the military?
I was born in Oakland, CA, at the Naval base there. My father was in the Navy. While I was a kid, my parents moved around a lot and I lived in Hawaii and Wisconsin before we settled in Northern Illinois. I don't remember anything about my dad being in the Navy and by the time we moved to Aurora, Illinois he had gotten out. My parents were somewhat strict although as long as I obeyed curfew I was able to come and go as I wanted. It was a different time then. This allowed me a lot of time outdoors skateboarding and going to punk shows.
What kind of music were first attracted to as a young kid? A lot of kids discover hardcore through heavy metal. Was that the case with you?
Well, in the '80s I discovered MTV, as a lot of kids did. My favorite bands on MTV were bands like the Cars and Talking Heads. I eventually discovered punk rock through a guy I skated with named Shawn. He was listening to bands like Dead Kennedys, Exploited, GBH, and to a lesser degree, bands like Minor Threat and Agnostic Front. He made me lots of mixtapes that i used to listen to while I skated. I was completely oblivious to heavy metal. Sure, I'd watch Twisted Sister videos on MTV but the music never really interested me. The first metal cassette i ever owned was a Metallica one. A girlfriend that I had in high school bought it for me for my birthday. I think it was ...And Justice for All. She knew I listened to heavy music and I think she assumed it was heavy music. I used to listen to the tape but never bought and Metallica albums for myself. I remember going to the local record store and flipping through their "hardcore punk" section for 7"s so I always equated hardcore with punk and I still today. For me, hardcore is about the lyrics and I find a lot of metal music lacking when it comes to meaningful lyrics.
Do you remember the first hardcore band was you ever heard and your impression of the music at first?
There was a small local club club and I remember seeing Broken Bones with Decrepit Youth sometime in the mid-'80s. That was probably my first show. Punk was an eye-opener for me. It was a place where I felt like I fit in. Later I discovered straight edge and moved on from the punk scene.
When did you first declare yourself straight edge, and what were the circumstances around the decision?
I think it was 1987. I remember listening to Minor Threat earlier but as those around me were becoming straight edge I just followed the crowd. Before I officially became straight edge, I was straight edge in all but name. I never was a drinker and smoking was just stupid. I grew up in a household where there was always a lot of alcohol. It was a part of my father's daily regiment and that probably had a lot to do with my decision not to drink. I'm not involved with the scene anymore but I still consider myself straight edge.
Tell me a bit about your first band, Full Contact.
I got stationed in Orange County, CA while in the Marines and while at a beach party I met some guys who played music together. They were a mixture of punk and metal guys and they happened to be looking for a singer. By this point I'd seen tons of bands play and I figured that I could do what they were doing. They had me come out to a practice and try out for the band. I was probably about 20-years-old by this point and we meshed really well at the practice. They were not straight edge guys but I thought that I could change that. Throughout the year and a half or so that we were together they went in and out of being straight edge. They were great musicians but I got tired of their drinking so I had this idea that I would replace all of them with new guys that were straight edge. It wasn't the greatest idea.
Ultimately, the guys that I got to replace the original guys weren't good enough musicians to pull it off and even though I was happy that Full Contact was officially a straight edge band, it was a shell of its former self. We ended up changing the name to Foul Play and recorded a couple of songs before I was deployed to Japan. While I was over in Japan, I listened to Earth Crisis pretty much non-stop so when I came back I needed to do something different. Something heavier. That is where Xessive Force came from.
Yeah, let's get into Xessive Force, as it was stylized back during the earlier days of the band.
Like I said before, I was looking for something heavier. I remember meeting this guy Billy at a show and he played for Dead Wait. He was their drummer and a pretty good one. I can't remember whether we brought in Jeremy or Richie next but with the four of us, we were officially a band. I had burned a lot of bridges before I went to Japan throughout the scene so I had already written the song "Vengeance is Mine" while I was in Japan.
How did you juggle being in both the military and Xessive Force at the same time, in terms of travel, etc.?
It wasn't easy but being in the military. You do get off a month a year, so I was able to schedule leave when we wanted to go on tour or play out of state shows. There were a few occasions when I had to sneak off base or get guys to cover for me while we went off to play a show but it was a good time. I was an aircraft mechanic, so I basically worked an 8-5 job while I was in as long as I wasn't deployed somewhere.
You started Life Sentence Records in 1994 to release the first Xessive Force 7”, Vengeance Is Mine. Thinking back to that time, what were some of the labels you had tried to reach out to for a deal? Also, how tough was is to figure out all of the logistical stuff that goes into releasing a record? Did someone offer insight?
I didn't plan on doing a record label at all. I sent out our demo (which was the EP we recorded) to New Age, Revelation, and Nemesis which were the three local labels and none of them even ever got back to me. It probably didn't help that our plan was to not play a show until a record was out so we were untested as a band at this point. With not having a label to put the EP out on, I decided to start a label myself and it was pretty easy. I remember seeing an ad in Maximum Rocknroll about a book on how to start a record label and I bought it and read it. In the book were all sorts of tips and places to get things done. I remember this place called Punks with Presses. They pressed some of our 7" covers and printed inserts and stickers for LSR early on.
In the first couple of years of the label, Life Sentence Records also released stuff by Grimlock, Eighteen Visions, and Overcome. At what point did you realize you wanted to make the label something more that just an outlet for your own music?
After the XF 7" came out, I was approached by someone in Dead Wait who told me they wanted to be on the label. I wasn't really sure what my end goal for LSR was at that point but I agreed to do a record for them. I had some people rotate through helping me out with things but the guy who helped me the most during those early days was this guy named Jeremy. He mostly helped me with packaging and shipping. He had a hook up at his place of business so a lot of those early packages were shipped on that company's dime. It was very sketchy and sometimes the packages arrived and sometimes they didn't. Torn Apart was the first non-California band. We stayed with the guys from Torn Apart while on our 1994 tour and they were super cool guys so it made sense to expand out of Southern California at that point.
Speaking of Overcome, both them and Focal Point were Christian hardcore bands. Although it’s still a topic debated by fans of this kind of music, Christian hardcore is generally more accepted by secular listeners these days, compared to the early to mid-‘90s. Did you have any reservations about aligning your label with Christian hardcore
Those were great bands and I'm happy that I got to work with them. Back in those days, I considered myself 100% atheist but I had nothing against these types of bands. I don't think I knew at the point how polarizing the Christian HC/non-Christian hardcore was back then and it wasn't my intention to break into that "inner circle" at all. I just met cool guys who played great music and I put out a record for them.
Going back to Excessive Force (was this when you changed the spelling?), 1995 saw the release of In Your Blood, the band’s sole studio album.
Well, I think it was a unanimous decision to change the spelling of the name. To be honest, I'm not sure why we went with that strange spelling at the beginning. It probably had something to do with being super "edge" and we were all about telling people how straight edge we were. We knew that we wanted to have a full-length out to tour on in 1995, so the guys got busy writing the music and I got busy writing the lyrics. It was pretty rushed, to be honest. The music was great for the most part but some of the lyrics were a bit over the top in terms of cheesy-ness but it worked for us at the time. We were trying to play for the fans of bands like xChorusx and less for the emo multitudes in Southern California. We were a very polarizing band. You could probably ask a hundred kids in the area during those days if they liked us and out of those hundred, we'd have 30-40 kids that did and those kids were 100% into us. The other 60-70 kids probably hated our guts.
I think Excessive Force's In Your Blood and Strongarm’s Atonement are some of the best metallic hardcore records of that 2-3 year window. How do you feel about the album all these years later? Would you change anything about it?
The main thing I would change was the recording. The bass drum was way too "clicky" and was the product of a bad/rushed recording. I remember that we paid $1000 for the recording and everyone chipped in their $200. I think we had 30 hours to record the album in which seems like a lot but I don't think we really had our crap together at that time. I'd also change some of the lyrics and a lot of the lyrical patterns. Playing live there were words that I never said or said the lines in different ways so some of the vocals are "off" to me.
Did Excessive Force do a lot of touring in support of the album?
We did a tour in the summer of 1995 with Vision of Disorder. I remember that we played a show with them in Worchester, MA in '94 and I was completely blown away by them. I got the contact info for the guitarist and for the singer [Tim Williams] and stayed in touch over the year and basically pestered them into playing a month worth of shows with us. It was a fun tour though and it was good to get our name out there. The previous year that we toured the shows were really bad for the most part. Working with promoters who didn't promote the shows and who would blame them. Some random straigh tedge band from California contacts them to book a show and its hard to fault them that only 30 kids were showing up to most of those shows.
Why did Excessive Force end up breaking up?
Lots of reasons, and I'm sure I was to blame in most of them. I was getting out of the Marine Corps at the end of 1995 and I didn't have much of an intention of staying in Southern California. I did love the weather there and had a lot of fun during my time there but I couldn't afford to live there. My intention was to go back to Illinois and get back in school and try and make something of myself so Excessive Force always had somewhat of an expiration date. There were also some commitment issues with other members of the band with staying edge and a few of the guys wanted to be in bands that didn't have such "tough-guy" lyrics. I remember distinctly a conversation at band practice about the lyrics and some people wanting me to tone them down a bit and I was fine with that. I felt that I had exhausted my repertoire of militant lyrics and I had actually written some songs that had a different tone to them. Some of these lyrics ended up being Decontaminate songs.
Right, after Excessive Force, you sang in the band Decontaminate.
Decontaminate was a diversion for me. After moving back to Illinois from California, I realized that I didn't really like much about Illinois and wanted to try something different so I moved out to Salt Lake City. Decontaminate had a revolving door of members and it was more of a song writing collective than a band. We played out of state a couple of times but mostly just played in SLC. I didn't have much interest in rekindling what I had done in the past with Excessive Force and there were much better bands in SLC than Decontaminate was doing so it just sort of faded away.
Since Life Sentence Records had so many releases, I figured it would be easier if I just threw out some band names at you and get a few thoughts about each.
Probably the only band that I ever released that I wish that I had the opportunity to do another record with. The Deeper than Blood CD was fantastic and I was super-jealous that Stillborn got to release it. They were also the only band that I ever released the same release on multiple formats. I pressed their 7" on CD with cardboard sleeve so that they would have them to sell on the tour.
The band that made me want to be a record label. The music that they were doing was so different than everything else at the time and I was surprised that they were't much larger than they were.
This band was going to be huge until the unfortunate events with Alex Slack and is still probably the band in SLC that every band does a cover for.
The band that I was most shocked that wanted to do a release on my label. In the top 5 list of releases that I did.
The band that started the decline of LSR. I dumped an enormous amount of money into the Crusher EP and I don't think the band ended up playing any shows after its release. It was a great CD and also the largest initial press that I ever did. I remember when I was moving from SLC to Minnesota that I filled garbage cans with stagnant CDs and a lot of those were Crusher CDs.
Were there any bands you tried to work with that didn’t pan out? I’m talking ones you really wish had happened?
Not really. LSR was going to do a VOD 7" in which we were going to put the demo on vinyl and that would have been cool but I think most of the bands that I was meant to release I was able to work with.
Were you ever able to make a living off the label back then, or was it financially draining?
I used the label to supplement my income but I was never able to live off it. Every dollar that I din't put back into the label just made it harder to put out more releases. I think most of the releases that I put out I at least broke even with but as the label grew, I had more expenses. I always worked a full-time job while doing the label except for a short time that I got laid off and worked part time while working on the label. It didn't help that there were a few distributors who owed me large sums of money and never paid me.
Why did you decide to end the label in 2005?
It just wasn't financially feasible to do the label anymore. If I was still in a band releasing my own record I could have done it forever but as the years went on, I had less in common with the bands I was trying to work with with some exceptions. It made doing the label a chore instead of a fun "hobby" which what the label really was. When I started the label bands were looking for a few hundred records or CDs and a handshake and toward the end bands wanted contracts and "tour support". One band I came close to working actually asked me if I was going to rent them a bus for their tour. I put the brakes on that deal and started to re-evaluate my prospects.
Gun to your head, what is your favorite Life Sentence Records release, and why so?
Torn Apart's Nothing Is Permanent, hands down. That is the only release I can still listen to today and just fall in love with it all over again.
What are you up to these days? Do you still keep up with the hardcore scene and its newer bands?
I don't really do anything with the scene or bands in the scene. When I moved out to North Carolina back about 12 years ago, I went to a few shows but felt like the creepy old guy at the back of the club. I still listen to some of the music but its mostly from bands that I've listened to for years like Sick of It All. The last hardcore CD I bought was Ignite's A War Against You, and it's a great album. I've always been a bit of a nerd in many aspect so I spend much of my free time playing miniature war games like Warhammer 40K, when I'm not doing things with the family.
To finish this, I’ll ask you, if you had to pick one hardcore album from the ‘90s you feel best represents the era, what would it be any why?
Earth Crisis' Destroy the Machines. In the straight edge scene back in the '90s, that was the CD to listen to. It's just such a good album.
Excessive Force's In Your Blood album is available on Bandcamp via Blasphemour Records.
Tagged: excessive force hardcore band