Interviews

Eric Schauffele (Brother’s Keeper, Human Animal) Proves a Life of DIY is Not All Sour Grapes

Eric Schauffele photo found on Brother's Keeper Facebook page

In December 2018, fellow No Echo contributor Adam Yoe did a great article on Brother’s Keeper’s album Fantasy Killer. Coincidentally, at the same time I was catching up with former Brother's Keeper bass player and “Jack of all trades," Eric Schauffele. An interview that somehow took over a year for me to finish. Where does the time go?

Affectionately known as EMS, Eric has been a long-time pillar of Midwest hardcore. Like a lot of us, he started off in a small town and was turned on to punk rock through older siblings, friends and the skate scene. He would later move to Erie, PA from Harrisburg to take over bass duties for Brother’s Keeper. Nearly a decade long career that included multiple EPs, full-length records, worldwide tours, and countless memories.

After Brother's Keeper, he filled in for various touring bands and now is the front man for Human Animal, a band that includes longtime friends and former bandmates from Brother’s Keeper and xDisciplex. But it's not just EMS’s love for couch surfing that made me want to interview this seasoned vet. It’s his vast portfolio and accomplishments outside of Brother's Keeper that always interested me the most.

Starting with a zine that eventually became a record label, owning his own tattoo shop, record store and multiple properties. Including a small farm where he lives with his wife Rebecca and their two boys. 

EMS, my man. How are you?

Sitting in a car with my wife, my mother, and two boys (4 & 6) for a 7-hour car ride from Erie to Philadelphia for the holidays so you tell me!? But joking aside, life is good man. Got some cool stuff happening and trying to focus more on the positive things in life. This past year has been a transformative one for me. I’m now in my 40s but seriously don’t feel much different than when I was 18 and just as excited about things.

Thank you so much for doing this.  I am super stoked, and I think we are going to have a lot of fun.

For sure, brother; I love talking about the past and future. I think about this stuff nonstop. And it’s always fun to chat with likeminded people.

So, you have been posting a lot of old pics, flyers and sharing stories of the “good ol’ days” online lately. Anything in particular that has you feeling extra nostalgic?

4 years ago, my wife and I built our house and then 5 days after we moved into our second son Finnegan Ulysses was born. The years up until that were very transitional as well with selling our old house and moving in and out of a few rentals. I don’t know how we survived with everything going on, but I think we were so excited about the steps we were taking forward that we just had an optimistic outlook.  

Anyway, it’s taken us a long time to decorate and kinda dig everything out of boxes and storage. I had stockpiled a fair number of flyers from playing in Brother’s Keeper. I wish I documented more shows that I went to even before that, but I mostly just kept flyers from shows I played, and I missed a lot of those even. I dug out my binders in September and decided to sort them into months. It didn’t take as long as expected. Also, I haven’t had a decent cell phone for a year or two, but I finally upgraded and can take pictures now so that also helped.  

I always liked when random flyers popped up on Instagram and really dig it when they would get posted on the same date. I like thinking about how much time has passed. A huge part of this little stroll down memory lane has also been to get people conversing online too. Tons of old friends are coming out of the woodwork and chiming in stories or details from shows and nights that I might be forgetting or from their point of view. I feel like the community aspect of the internet has kind of diminished in recent years, so anything I can do to get people smiling and chatting together is awesome.

I know I am enjoying them and don’t feel bad, my wife and I finally settled down and bought a house 10 years ago after several moves and still have boxes that aren't unpacked. 

Isn’t it nuts how that happens? Like it I look at the stuff in the basement and think “what the hell could be in there that I thought was so important to keep!” Our basements can wind up looking like that end scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark when they pan out and there’s a million crates on shelves!

I have such fond memories of seeing Brother's Keeper when I was a kid. You guys were always great and so positive on and off stage. 

That was one of the cool things about being in Brother's Keeper, our whole crew were pretty much always on the same page; let’s travel and let’s have a fun ass time.  

We were just excited for the opportunities we had and everything that we got to do. I don’t think we took any of it for granted. We weren’t chasing fame, money, or hookups. We were generally stoked to just see the country and hang out with people. Give us a floor to sleep on, some good conversations, and a pot to boil some shitty pasta in and we were set.

Brother's Keeper at Hellfest 2003 (Photo: Joel Dowling)

Maybe you could give us a synopsis on Brother's Keeper for peeps that might not know the history.

I’ll try to keep this quick because I’m obviously a wordy fucker. We were a collection of dudes who loved all-things metal, hip-hop, and hardcore. Put the sounds and ethos of Quicksand, Leeway, and Public Enemy together and that’s what we did, only with a very charismatic, great conceptual artist and lyricist, high pitched voice having front man. We were a DIY band from start to finish. We combined lots of tempo changes, grooves, weird guitar work including wah pedals and glass slides (which weren’t too common in hardcore), and a good deal of bass breaks.

We weren’t for everyone and we weren’t apologetic for that. We played hard and toured a lot. I liked that we didn’t sound and do shit like all of the bands no one even remembers from back then at this point. Obviously in hindsight, I wish we had done even more. But ultimately, I think lineup changes just killed momentum and moral so many times it just kinda ran its course.

I used to beg my older friends to drive me all over Ohio to see you guys. Then I started playing in Run Devil Run and became friends with Nate and he introduced me to you and so many other great people from Erie, it was sort of surreal. I remember shopping for black Dickies pants and tees for your Misfits set at Hellfest 2000 and thinking “No way! I am at Walmart with Brother’s Keeper, this is awesome.”

Dude! Run Devil Run was awesome! Erie kids loved RDR. I remember going to Spider Studios to do backups on “Sinking Deeper." That was a fun time. 

And we loved them! Fun fact, my first show with Run Devil Run, and first show ever out of state was at Forward Hall. I have a special place in my heart for that venue.

Forward Hall was a special place for Erie. That club left a huge impact on a lot of young kids back then. Same with Edinboro’s The Hangout, and before all of that was the Continental Ballroom, which was a lot of older guys and girls favorite spot for all ages shows.
 
Man, that Hellfest, what a shit show that was huh?! I remember everyone running around all pissed off and taking things too seriously. Bands were griping about money, set times, etc.… It was kinda sad to see some of these bands taking themselves a little too intensely and their self-importance. Shit, we were just happy a show was still happening. High Roller was filming it for the DVD release and I remember right before we went on to play and telling Josh Grabelle (Trustkill Records owner) that we were just gonna play our one song “The Continuum” 5X times in a row so they can get a lot of good footage to edit together. He was freaking out just shaking his head saying “You can’t do that! You’re seriously not going to do that are you, you can’t do that!”

Then we got up there and opened up with a Misfits cover and kids were a little confused but into it, then we went into another Misfits song, and another, and another [laughs]. Definitely saw some people scratching their heads. We didn’t even play one Brother’s Keeper song. Hey, it entertained us and that’s more important than anything sometimes! It’s a fest, it’s supposed to be fun. I was the only ahole in the band who didn’t own black Dickies so that’s why we all had to run to Walmart! 

[Laughs] That is hilarious! I don't think the video does that set justice. Maybe I had a different perspective because I knew it was coming, but once everyone else figured out what was happening, they were singing along and having a good time.

It was fun to do. We liked keeping people on their toes. As with anything with that band, some people loved it, some people hated it.

Fast forward a couple years later and you would end it at Hellfest with The Continuum (whilst stage diving into oblivion and nearly killing yourself).

Yeah, man, that was weird playing final shows. I was pretty moody that day in Syracuse. I just drove up there, played, and bounced. It sucks because a lot of other awesome bands were playing that weekend, but I just wasn’t in the headspace to enjoy it and be around it. It was kind of a funeral after all. We were putting something to rest. I remember Mike kinda shoved me off stage at the end there and then I threw my bass back up on stage, I was kinda pissy about it and I contemplated throwing a punch his way. That woulda been a bonkers way to end the set! For a little dude, he was scrappy though and probably woulda wiped me up.

Besides being in a great band, another reason I admire you is the fact you have your hands in a little bit of everything. The band, a record label, tattoo shop, record store and all started within a few years. I think you mentioned recently that you didn't move to Erie until 1995? Tell me about how all that came about. 

I started a straight edge hardcore zine called Surprise Attack in ’93 with a friend of mine and we loved the Sumthin' to Prove “Shallow Grave” track on the Victory Records Only the Strong 93 comp.  I was always into punk/hardcore, but I also loved late '80s and '90s hip-hop. The vibe, attitude, flow, and bounce was my shit. So, when hardcore bands would incorporate some of those features into them, I was hooked. We lived in Harrisburg, PA—which didn’t really have a scene at that time—so mail correspondence was a huge thing for us.

We had been in touch with STP and in 1994 we drove up to Erie (which felt like the other side of the world) and saw an early incarnation of Brother's Keeper live, which was basically all of Sumthin' to Prove as they had just changed their name. I stayed in touch with the guys and would travel up and do weekends roadieing for them.  

Mike Ski was initially playing bass and singing, then Nate Black (Abnegation) was filling in on bass with them when I went on a short summer tour. I had just graduated from high school in 1995 with no plans for work or college. They asked me if I wanted to come up and try out and I was all about it. The tryouts went well so they said I could join, and I went home, told my mom and friends, loaded up my 1981 Datsun with all of my belongings and moved out a week later. It was all a blur and kinda nuts to think about now.  

Mike Ski’s dad had previously said I could live with them but when I actually got to Erie was like, “He can’t live here!" So, I had no idea what to do. I was 18 and had my whole life in my little car. Our guitarist Roger said I could live on his sofa which I did for some time until I was able to get a job and my first apartment. My first show with the band was at the Grog Shop in Cleveland with Integrity and Ignite (who didn’t show up). There were a ton of skinheads moshing when we played and then during Integrity someone maced the crowd (rumored to be Tony Erba). It was a wild night and I loved every minute of it. I reference that night in a brand-new Human Animal song “Bastards of the North."

Oh yeah? Maybe we can get a No Echo exclusive on that track? 

I would love to do any partnering up with No Echo, I’m on that site almost every day! Unfortunately, we still don't have everything final mixed or even know who is putting the record out yet. I’m honestly super, super proud of this new Human Animal stuff though and think it will turn some new heads.

Can you expand a bit on the ventures outside of Brother's Keeper in the Erie area? How Ink Assassins Tattoo Shop and Surprise Attack Records/store started? 

For a lot of 1998 and 1999, I worked at Pier 1 Imports and even helped get our drummer Zach Hudoch a job there too. It was a chill job, they let us leave and go on tour whenever we wanted and would “rehire” us when we got back. I just didn’t feel super-fulfilled with it though as it didn’t really pay shit. I had a huge distro back then and a VW Jetta I had gotten as a hand-me down style from my sister. The license plate said her nickname “SHUF” on it so I got to inherit that too. Anyway, I wound up not going back to Pier 1 and just focusing on my distro and the label for a year or so. It got really big. Mail-order was decent, my living expenses were super cheap as I had a huge apartment with Bobby Williams, who was then doing Problem Solver Revolver, I think, then. I’d just travel all over PA, NY, and OH and set up at shows and sell tons of shit.

I hung out with my homie David Steele who was tattooing, and we’d discussed that we should open up our own thing. My distro was basically getting too big to take to shows. We talked about doing a true punk rock endeavor of a split record store/tattoo shop. We looked at like 30 different rental units and got turned away by everyone when we mentioned the words “music” and especially “tattoos." Eventually, one landlord on the corner of 26th & Peach Street said he didn’t give a shit what we did [laughs]. He was an old biker who also taught karate upstairs. 

Over the years, it’s grown and changed. I closed the record store part as I was away a lot on tour and couldn’t keep it up to my standards. We expanded a lot of the tattooing and piercing side. Lots of people have come and gone, but 19 years later we’re still in the same spot doing our thing. Now my current partner Ryan and I acquired all of the buildings about 8 or so years ago. We’ve got 4 commercial units and 6 residential units. Bonafide slumlords!

EMS and a customer with fresh ink at Ink Assassins Tattoo in Erie, PA

You're married with a family and still very active in the scene. How do you do it? 

My family is a super important thing for me. I’m really trying to be there for my kids. My oldest son is now in First Grade and around that point in my life my dad had already left our family. I never really had any male role models, so I’m hoping to break that cycle for my boys. I’m honestly just winging it because I have nothing to base my parenting off of in that regards. But yeah, hardcore and tattoos have always fulfilled my hobbies and passions. It just never wore off for me like it does for some. I seriously fucking love it.  

The Erie scene is a lot different compared to yesteryears but it’s still fun. I try to stay in touch with friends in other local bands and support them when I can. Everyone is doing pretty diverse stuff, but the DIY spirit is very much alive. I’d say hardcore is pretty small, though. Somehow, Erie kinda fell off the national touring circuit even though we currently have a really nice all ages spot, but it’s pretty quiet. There are a few hardcore bands but only like one involving younger kids. I’m not sure why it kinda skipped a generation.  

In recent years, my friends and I have gotten back into traveling for out of town shows a bit more. My kids are older and not babies anymore, so I feel like I’m able to leave for an evening and my wife or their grandma can handle them. It’s important when you’re married and a parent to still do things that complete you and make yourself happy. It might seem selfish but when you take care of your own body, spirit, and mind it trickles into all other areas of your life. 

I don’t really do the record label anymore which makes me super sad. The worst part is I could afford doing a label better now but instead of putting out shitty unknown hardcore bands, I have been putting my money into my Roth IRA, which isn't quite as thrilling. I was always good at putting out music but not the best at being able to sell 1,000 copies of something. The desire to do a label or open a record store again is always present in me, though. Who knows down the road what will happen?

Don't sell yourself short there, buddy. There are some gems in the Surprise Attack catalog: The Santa Sangre demo, which I didn't realize until now that Feast for the New Gods was on Eulogy and not Surprise Attack. Whatever happened to those guys? It felt like they were going to be the next Hatebreed and they called it quits, huh? Also, xDisciplex, Outcome, and don't forget Problem Solver Revolver.

Santa Sangre were way ahead of the game. Those riffs were straight sick. I was lucky to even fill in for a few shows with them when their bassist had a broken wrist. As with a lot of bands, I just think they didn’t stick it out long enough. They were also ahead of a lot of trends. The old drummer and singer of Santa Sangre are in a band together that we’ve played with a few times called Ego Destroys and I love it, I recommend their latest CD on Irish Voodoo. All of those other dudes also did tons of other cool stuff. So yeah, man, hardcore kids and punk rockers for life all around!

Two releases and bands I had really hoped would garner more recognition were Schoolyard Bully and Problem Solver Revolver. I felt like they coulda been part of that early Bridge 9 hype. Their sounds and live performances were right up there with the best of them. Kinda the same thing, though; the bands had problems and just didn’t last long enough to make their mark.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Take me back, where did it all start? Where does the drive and work ethic come from and how did you get into music/hardcore?

I had a slightly older sister who was always cool to me and she had some punk/skater friends that were from our neighborhood. I thought they were the coolest. We lived in a middle-class row-home style neighborhood. Many of us had single parents, you know that latch key kid style. So, we’d just all congregate and listen to music and skateboard in the streets. We were all pretty much left to ourselves Lord of the Flies like. Although I spent a lot of time alone as a kid. Many nights I would just sit with my records and cassettes and study them. I’d lay on the floor with a typewriter and type up lists of my music collections and alphabetize them. I’d even take photos of them to document them for whatever reason. I cut out articles in Thrasher and started diving deeper into hardcore and punk. That was all in the later '80s.

My mom would take me to record stores and I’d buy anything that looked “punk” or looked kinda “hardcore." I got pretty lucky with stuff that I picked up that I still cherish today. In the early '90s, I was introduced to my first fanzines and that really blew my mind.  The zines really opened up the idea to me that it was for us by us kinda DIY mentality. I started cutting and pasting zines together and had a ton of pen pals. I’d order demos and 7”s from every ad in the zines. It felt good to be a part of something that I cared about. 

I was really an odd man out in my middle and high school back then. It took having a community outside of my area to feel complete. Once I could drive, I’d spend my weekends staying at pen pals houses in New Jersey, Philly, Wilkes Barre, etc. Being around other likeminded people felt good and was inspiring.

I think just about everyone put out an issue or two of a zine, then I started seeing friends releasing 7”s here and there, booking shows, running distros, and I thought it was awesome. It was super-empowering to know you didn’t have to rely on other people to make things happen. Everything kinda snowballed from all of those experiences. 

Eric getting air with Brother's Keeper found on their Facebook page

You know the parallels to a lot of people's experiences of getting into hardcore is uncanny, but it’s always interesting to hear what people gravitate to medium wise. For me, playing music was always the outlet for expression. I never really got into doing anything else. I had a little distro, but once I sold everything I never restocked, tried doing a zine but never did anything with it, etc. I always appreciate the people that have the drive to do those things.

I have more of a craftsmanship approach to everything I do in life. I build off of what other people have done and the knowledge they have shared. I never thought that I was much good at anything specific, but I had the follow through and thoroughness to make things happen. As I’ve gotten older, I’m trying to narrow down what I dabble in so the things I am a part of get more focus, instead of juggling too many projects.”

At what point did you start playing? Did you start out on bass? Also, did you play in any bands before Brother's Keeper? 

I got a guitar around 1990-91, I think. I took like a summer of lessons from some rocker dude named Ray. I’d take him actual LPs and he’d show me songs and chords etc. I took in stuff like Misfits, DRI, Anthrax, and so forth. He thought some of it was wild. I learned a little bit but like any teenager my focus wasn’t the best.

During high school in Harrisburg, PA, I started jamming with my friend Chris Moody who had a bass guitar and drum set. He would use my guitar and sing, and I started playing his bass and doing backups. We did a band called Melee because we wanted a tough name. We played our high school battle of the bands (which was rigged). We were swearing on stage, got the crowd moshing, jumped around so much the stage was coming apart, and kids were getting thrown out. We loved it, we tore that place down.

Anyway, I just really enjoyed the low-end thud of the bass guitar man. I liked hitting the strings hard. You could feel the bass in your chest real deep. It felt right for me. So, I kinda just stuck with that. 

I have to admit, I missed the boat on Smoke and Mirrors. That’s right around the time my son was born. However, since we started this, I’ve been refreshing myself with your whole discography and I really like it. 

The night I moved back to Erie from Philadelphia my friend and die-hard roadie for BK Dave “Big Guns” Vogt (Problem Solver Revolver, Seven Stitches) was helping unload our moving truck with me because he’s the real deal. He said a week prior he had met with a mutual friend Jon Molnar about starting a band and wanted me to play bass. So, first night back in town I’ve got a band! 

I hadn’t done anything musically for a while. After Brother's Keeper was done, I chilled for a bit. I then wound up filling in on bass with Stretch Arm Strong for a year which was absolutely amazing. Those guys made me become a better player, for sure. Toured the US several times, Puerto Rico, and Europe again. But after that I laid low again. I decided to just work my ass off and try to pay off some old credit card debts I had from being in bands all of those years and running the record label. I think I was in deep like $20,000. So, I basically swore off all extracurricular activities and luxuries and just stayed the course on getting my shit together.  

Anyway, the timing was great. We did that band for a few years. Played a fair amount of shows. The Erie scene seemed receptive although after moving back most all everyone here wanted was beat down mosh crew stuff which wasn’t really my bag. I like listening to some of that but it’s not the type of music I like to make. We wrote a lot of great music and I think it was something special, but it got to the point where people just weren’t showing up literally and figuratively. I felt like I was treading water and not very happy personally, so I bounced because I didn’t want to take my frustrations out on other people. They kept going for a bit and wrapped up another great full length that has a few tracks that I participated on. I’m still very proud of the music I made with those guys.

Why did you shift from bass to vocals after Brother's Keeper and Smoke and Mirrors for Human Animal?

Man, it was only about a month or so since I had quit Smoke and Mirrors and was approached about this project. The basic concept was to switch up what we had all previously done for years. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to jump into another band, but I wanted to just do something that was fun and lighthearted. Bobby Williams had built a recording studio and wanted to work on his skills with that as an engineer (while being the drummer too). Adam had always played drums in all his previous bands like xDisciplex and Jesus Wept but wanted to be a guitarist for a change. And Nate Black wanted to just drop a bunch of raging solos all over everything. Bob wanted me to sing and play bass initially, which I did for a few, but told him for me to progress on the singing I needed to drop the bass as it was a distraction.  

I had always dabbled in singing for bands at times but nothing this real deal. I got to do a few guest spots here and there too. I had tried to start a few side projects over the years that dissolved quickly as everyone always had their “real” band to focus on. But yeah, this time it kinda stuck.

Human Animal (Photo: Vincent Gonzales)

I always thought I had sweet song lyric ideas in my head like “this would be sick” “I gotta remember this cool line”... but man actually sitting down, writing a song, then singing it in front of your friends when you’re 35 felt nuts. I felt very vulnerable. But I kinda liked it. I like the pressure; I like that we all stepped out from our comfort zones and switched it up a little bit. That’s how we grow and become stronger people. I’m still nervous as hell every time we play or when we record.

I used to have a bass guitar I could hide behind, it was comfortable, I did it pretty good, and I knew my job. I wasn’t the focus point of the band, but now I’m out in front doing my thing. Fortunately, I just take my glasses off so I can’t even see the crowds’ faces. I just lose myself in the moment and make sure that I’m enjoying myself as I’m headbanging and shaking my ass around the stage. If other people latch on to that vibe than even better.

Human Animal (Photo: Trevor Vogt)

You have a farm now?

Nah, not technically a farm. We designed and built our home on a couple acres of land that we bought over 5 years ago. We had sold our house and were looking for something outside of the city to raise our kids. I wanted a couple of acres so I could roam the woods and talk to the trees. My wife randomly drove by one day and saw a little sign for this lot on a dead-end street. It’s in the rural part of a little town called North East which is 15 miles outside of Erie and right near the New York line. It’s on a hillside which was an old orchard and vineyard. So, a bunch of the houses on our street still have a ton of old apple trees and grapevines. Our lot was completely unkept and once we started clearing away trees and brush, we found a ton of old concord grape vines underneath it all. They’re probably 100 years old or so.  

The shores of Lake Erie are built on an escarpment near I-90 and slopes to the lake. The way it captures the temperature and also the soil are ideal for grape production (Welch’s plant is in my town), which is odd when Erie is in the same category as Italy and California. Not 3 places I would really think had anything in common! We slowly rehabbed the vines and I put in new posts and cables and cleaned them all up. So yeah, now we have like 30 or so concord vines and make our own juice and jellies.

We grow corn, tomatoes, strawberries, lettuces, and herbs, and till a huge garden. Each year I’ve added a few more trees and this year they started to bare fruit. I’ve planted several of each cherry, peach, pear, apple, and plum trees. It’s so fun and exciting to watch and show the boys the process. We have blueberry and blackberry bushes we’ve planted and tons of wild raspberries we pick. It all sounds a little more impressive on paper than it probably is.

I do enjoy the work. There’s something really rewarding about being outside, sweating my ass off, with my bare feet on the ground and working in nature. I’m super-happy just being outside having to dig a hole [laughs]. It’s funny with kids because they would never eat this stuff if I brought it home from the store but when we’re outside just playing, they gobble this stuff up right off of the vines. Having grown up eating a super-poor diet, I’m also trying to expose them to different stuff. I’ve changed a ton of my habits around just to be an example to them because they seriously pick up on everything you do. I’m trying to put my best foot forward in front of them hoping it rubs off in some ways.  

Our neighbors at the bottom of the hill have a huge pot belly pig named Pumba that roams the neighborhood. We have tons of deer and wild turkeys, foxes, snakes, groundhogs, etc. but we don’t have any farm animals of our own. I think that’s an undertaking that I just wouldn’t have the time or upkeep for. My in-laws in West Virginia have chickens and it seems like a lot of work. Hopefully next spring I can start digging up and building my koi pond. I had a small one we installed at our last house and I really miss it. I want to build a massive one and have been reading more books on it. It’ll be a huge project but it’s something to look forward to. It’ll be a nice spot to sit, meditate, soak up some sun, and listen to the water.

Photo: Rebecca Schauffele

Sounds good to me, man. Thank you so much for the time, Eric. Any closing statements for our readers?

Thanks so much for letting me ramble on. Anyone who made it this far can come to one of our shows and I’ll sell you the new Human Animal LP for full price, can’t beat that! Get outside more, get moving, put your phone down, enjoy your time with family and loved ones. It all goes by too quickly. Try to embrace the love.

***

You can find Eric on Instagram and via email at ems@inkassassins.com. Human Animal social media pages: Facebook | Instagram

Tagged: brothers keeper, human animal

comments powered by Disqus