Interviews

Dismay: ‘90s Connecticut Hardcore Band Discusses Their Time Together

Photo courtesy of Static Era Records

Dismay is a band that has seemingly been lost to time. They were a powerful presence in the Connecticut hardcore scene in the '90s. They played seemingly every weekend to a rabid following of hardcore kids. The crowds and shows in Connecticut could turn violent at times during that era, and the band's propulsive arragements encapsulated that frenetic energy perfectly.

Led by vocalist, Ian Keeler, Dismay harnessed the vibe of bands like Burn and Absolution, blending them with the post-hardcore tension of Quicksand and Into Another, delivering a unique writing style along the way. If there was ever a blue-eyed soul singer in hardcore, Keeler was it.

I was lucky enough to see Dismay a lot during their heyday. They were a group that had to be seen live to be properly appreciated. Large in stature, Keeler was one of the most physically imposing frontman the hardcore scene has ever seen.

Dismay ruled the roost of CTHC for a bit before the rise of bands like Hatebreed, Death Threat, and 100 Demons towards the end of the decade. While they broke up as the '90s wrapped, Keeler reformed a makeshift version of Dismay in the early '00s before passing away suddenly in 2007.

The band released some demos and a 7 inch in the early '90s before releasing their landmark full-length record, In Doubt, in 1995 via We Bite Records. The record brims with energy that still resonates to this day. Through file sharing and YouTube rips, the LP has found new life with a younger crop of hardcore kids who are eager to sort through the past for old sounds they may have missed. 

In Doubt has been out of print for over 2 decades, so the surviving members of the band have teamed up with Jay Reason at Static Era Records, who just made the record available on the streaming sites.

Reason had this to say about working with the band for this re-release:

"In Doubt by Dismay is a Connecticut hardcore classic that had never found its way to digital streaming. Our goal was to preserve Ian Keeler's musical legacy and get this album back out to the listeners. Working directly with Dismay guitarist Jimmy Lathrop and bassist Chris Hyatt, we have found a way to do just that. We also wanted to do the recording justice and have had it remastered by the legendary Zeuss."

We interviewed Dismay guitarist Jimmy Lathrop and bassist Chris Hyatt to get their memories of their time in the band.

Special thanks to Kyle Niland of Dead at Birth Fanzine for helping with the questions for this interview.

What was your entry point into joining the band and what were your first impressions of Ian?

Jimmy Lathrop: I was introduced to Dismay through Morgan Walker (RIP), who lived in Wilton, and had a recording studio in his house with an attic rehearsal studio. Morgan had just recorded a bunch of Danbury bands and met Ian, who was looking to record another demo; they needed another rhythm guitarist.

I started rehearsing with the band and my first show was opening for 108 at the Sports Palace in New Britain. My first impressions of Ian was that he was very opinionated and very particular. He had a very specific sense of what type of sound he was looking for and it wasn't open for debate.

Ian was very gregarious and a very funny guy, he could be very charming when he wanted to be. Ian also wanted things a certain way and he was very assertive. He was a very talented person and very passionate about his art. He had an intense personality.

Chris Hyatt: Ian and I were friends in the high school years before Dismay started. We knew each other from going to the Anthrax every weekend and skating. His family owned a restaurant in Danbury called Tortilla Flats. The first time I hung out with him he gave me free food and a bunch of hardcore shirts that he outgrew. So I thought he was a great guy!

I was in a band at the time called MySide with Scott from Wide Awake. Ian was just forming Dismay with Mike Delisle being the first guitarist. Then he had Brad and Dan who went on to play in Groundwork, and eventually Greg, the guitarist of MySide and myself moved over to Dismay. This was the first lineup to start playing shows consistently. 

The '90s for hardcore was a non-conventional time, and Dismay seemingly channels a lot of non-conventional influence into what a hardcore band generally does. Can you can be specific about where any of that influence came from?

JL: Ian listened to a lot of Black Sabbath and he really cherished that rich full midrange SG sound that Tommy Iommi perfected on Black Sabbath Vol. 4. All the NYHC bands like Sick of It All and Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front had these zero mid range transistor guitar sounds.

But Ian's SG guitar sound was a really searing sound and in the early '90s Walter Schriefels and Tom Capone really brought out these fuller sounds in Quicksand's Slip album, a much more organic and heavier sound, more groove oriented. Ian was more interested in post-hardcore stuff with off-time signatures like the stuff Die 116 was doing as well as listening to the swing and groove of Into Another. 

Tom Koskelowski had an incredible groove, he was consistently on top of the beat, Chris on bass also would play these ringing tones in his strokes which filled out the low end.  When Chris and Tom got locked into a groove, it was like a train but one that could stop on a dime.  

The bridge in "Onlooker" comes to mind, live, Tom does this tribal thing with Chris laying chords around it and it eventually stretches into this grove where Chris lays out a bass line which builds into this big climax. Tom and Chris combined just makes everyone playing over them sound that much better. 

Cliff Brown is this incredibly innovative guitar player who was mostly self taught and spent his time in the band noodling around on these avant-garde jazz chords on an acoustic guitar in the parking lot before the show and then would come on stage and make his Ibanez Strat-copy just wail like a dying eagle, his high-end work was nothing like any other band around, maybe the closest thing was Reeves Gabrel's leads on Tin Machine.

Cliff Brown's lead guitar parts on In Doubt are just bananas. He just wrings these sounds out of a guitar like it owes him money, one of the most talented people I've ever worked with, a true artist.

Photo courtesy of Static Era Records

Did Dismay have any kind of reputation preceding them before you became involved with the band? 

JL: Charlie K, a guy who had a living room pop-punk venue and record label in Willimantic wrote some bombastic letter to the editor in Maximum rockandroll where he made some reference to Ian beating someone with a car bumper in the parking lot of a show which was completely inaccurate. It bothered Ian greatly. Very unfair. 

The band seemed to take off leading up to the release of the In Doubt CD coming out on We Bite Records. Did you guys ever have any plans to try to do any extensive touring? My perception was that the band never did much outside of weekends and playing in the Northeast.

JL: I was away at school until May of 1994 but we played almost every weekend that school year. After I graduated, we never committed to a big tour because we all couldn't get off of work or the van was broken or something trivial like that. Ian was always dreaming about buying an RV and just living the troubadour life but the rest of us had more pedestrian responsibilities or some bullshit. 

Also, we had such a crazy group of friends and hangers on and it was always such a party that a simple trip to play the Middle East in Boston with Killing Time with an overnight hotel stay literally felt like an entire European Tour. 

We played a hardcore festival at the Arrowhead Ranch in the Catskills (where the Rick ta Life on a Horse picture was taken) and we almost flipped the van a couple of times yanking the steering wheel too hard and someone in the band partied too hard and ran off into the woods to be alone, and so on and so on.

After these shows, we needed to head home and just chill out for a few days before heading out and doing it again next weekend or whatever, it was just too intense to be in a van or a convoy for more than a weekend at a time with these characters.

CH: We did have plans but it never happened. We Bite was supposed to fly us out to Europe for a tour after the record came out. I don't remember what happened other than it fell through. We did a short Northeast tour with Killing Time in the summer of '96 and then I ended up moving to California at the end of that year. We were in our early 20s at this point and trying to hold down jobs, so it was mostly just weekend shows. 

Found on HardcoreShowFlyers.net

Chris, You are credited with the creation of the character that was featured on the 1995 Demo/In Doubt CD, do you remember what you were thinking when you drew that for the band? Was it meant to illustrate anything specific or was it just a cool drawing?

CH: It was just something I drew in one of my books back in high school. Ian liked it and got it tattooed on the back of his arm and we ended up using it for a demo. We Bite decided to use it for the cover as well. 

The Tune Inn in New Haven, Connecticut seemed to be Dismay's home club so to speak. Any memories of dealing with promotor Fernando Pinto? He seemed to book the band a lot.

JL: I have a lot of warm memories of that guy. Fernando Pinto is such an icon of the Connecticut cultural scene, not just for hardcore music, but for the avante-garde and eclectic music he brought to New Haven, at the Moon and the Tune Inn. He brought Nirvana to the Moon in 1991, and also brought us bands that would have been more at home at CBGBs.

He expended a lot of effort to provide a venue where local bands could cultivate a scene in New Haven and it seems like such a thankless laborious job, We would show up and bang our equipment into the door frames and make them shudder and then our fans would do flips off his expensive sound cabinets and tag up the bathrooms. Dude deserves a street named after him. I wish him well. 

CH: Yes, it definitely was for a time. Before that was the Apocolypse in Norwalk. Fernando was alway good to us as far as I can remember. 

Found on HardcoreShowFlyers.net

What bands did Dismay befriend and play with alot during your time as band? Any friendships or relationships with any bands that specifically stand out?

JL: Ian would call up Anthony from Killing Time and Anthony would offer us slots, in Boston, in NYC; I have great memories traveling with Carl, Sean, Drago, and Rich
(RIP). We played a lot of shows with Dissolve, they were kind enough to put us on bills with them at the Chance in Poughkeepsie; what a great venue. Western Mass with Cast Iron Hike, shows at the Boardwalk in Brewster with SubZero, skatepark shows with Jasta 14 (Bristol and Wallingford) and several memorable shows with Into Another, my personal favorite. 

CH: In the early days we played with bands like Groundwork, Another Wall and other bands our friends were in. Towards the end we played with Dissolve a lot as well as Cast Iron Hike in Boston. They were good guys, always a lot of fun playing with them. 

How do you feel Dismay fit into the Connecticut scene at large in the mid-'90s? 

JL: We were well positioned to headline hardcore shows and we filled bills with metal bands like Tyrant Trooper at the Globe Theater on Wall Street in Norwalk. We played youth centers, VFWs, basements, paid in pizza and beer, try to sell some shirts for gas money, etc. 

Photo courtesy of Static Era Records

How does it feel to know that there are still kids out there discovering the band and that there is still interest in the music you helped create.

JL: I would say that Ian's stubborn attention to detail in pursuit of his artistic vision had a lot to do with our success. He really had high expectations of our performances and he didn't want to be embarrassed on stage.

He was very particular about certain aspects of music — arrangements, technique, tempo- and I feel that in that rigor that he imposed it really allowed us to unleash a lot of power in the music.

It was annoying as hell going through it but it paid off in the end. It's a tribute to his enduring artistic legacy on our lives. The rest of the success is due to the Hyatt/Koskelowski rhythm session and Cliff Brown's guitar virtuosity. 

CH: I didn't know there were! It's strange really, we just wanted to play in bands back then and the crowds consisted of our friends. DIdn't think it was something that would be listened to 25 years later. 

Photo courtesy of Static Era Records

Did you have any contact with Ian towards the end of his life? Is there anything memories that youd like to share about him? How did you feel when you found out he had passed?

JL: I moved to Brooklyn in '95 and left the band shortly after that. After a break from music I played with Julian Vazquez from Stillsuit when he asked me to play bass on a project with Pete Ross from Godmaker called The Pullman Standard.

We did a couple of shows in Long Island before Julian moved to Georgia and from there me Peter and Steve Martinez went on to form Five Cent Hero with Paul Wohlmaker from Sworn Enemy on drums, and sometime in 2002 we played a show in Danbury and Ian came by and watched the show and gave a very measured critique of our performance and he and I took a ride in his van to see his new rehearsal space in Danbury and we caught up on old times. 

All my fond memories of Ian are based on unpleasant rehearsals where he would unleash his ire at someone who didn't tune their instrument properly or didn't hit the off beat *just right*. His dissatisfaction was legendary and comical, he would go off on tirades like Jackie Gleason.

When I was going to join the band I listened to these rehearsal tapes where the song would abruptly end and you would hear Ian disparaging something caught on a mic and you would laugh because it was funny. 

It's 30 years later and I just laugh thinking about all of that. It's like that line in the Terminator "in 30 years who's going to care?" well it turns out all that heartbreak was worth it because the music is now timeless. Ian was very serious with his approach, in the end, he was vindicated. 

CH: Yes, I remained good friends with Ian. We were doing sporadic reunion shows and would still hang out from time to time. I found out he died from a MySpace post while at work. I think I was in shock for a while. It was a terrible time. 

Photo courtesy of Static Era Records

What are your final thoughts and feelings about Dismay all these years later?

JL: I made so many lasting friendships from Dismay that continue today, a real camaraderie that was very organic and genuine, hard to find in this society where everything is artificially marketed and manufactured. The band and the scene and the music were and still are the source of my best memories of my life.  

I'm very humbled to be a part of something which has evoked a lot of emotion in other people who listen to the music and hear that slice of life. And of course, grateful to have Chris, Tom and Cliff in my life: they are wonderful people and I'm proud to have worked with them. 

I rented a car to drive out to Buffalo this last Fourth of July and I plugged my phone into the charger through a USB cable and it automatically started playing Dismay's White Demo that I had downloaded from some website and I was startled at first, and then I was really marvelling at how good it sounded.

When we started the final mixes, Morgan Walker would copy them to tapes and then play them while we drove around and listened to them and I'm so grateful because it was like I was driving through the Delaware Water Gap with Ian and Morgan's ghosts with me, an extremely peaceful and powerful feeling to have 26 years later.  

You can find all of the streaming options for Dismay's In Doubt album at this link.

***

Help Support No Echo via Our 3 Patreon Tiers:

Become a Patron!

***

Tagged: dismay

comments powered by Disqus