When it comes to hardcore punk circles, Tony Erba's discography isn't one that's fucking around. Since the end of the '80s, he has been a member of such bands as 9 Shocks Terror, Fuck You Pay Me, Gordon Solie Motherfuckers, and the H 100s. That's some crazy shit right there.
Before all of those groups, Tony fronted Face Value, a Cleveland hardcore band that is an outlier in his musical history since they were more in the Revelation Records-styled bucket than the rawer punk of his later work.
I'm a big fan of the Face Value stuff, so for '90s Hardcore Week, I spoke with Tony about the band's 1991 debut album, The Price of Maturity. If you're familiar with Tony, you already know the guy doesn't pull any punches when he's being interviewed, so sit back and enjoy this walk through Clevo hardcore history.
Since Face Value was known as a straight edge band, I have to ask, when did you first declare yourself straight edge and how did you come to learn about that scene/sound? Also, how do you feel about that period in your life now?
Face Value wasn’t a straight edge band, ever. Nor did will bill ourselves as one. Although I personally was. I guess I went straight edge In probably '83-'84 although it was no big deal since I never really partied at all anyhow, besides drinking some beers in the park with the neighbor kids. Basically, I was into heavy metal and boogie rock and stuff in junior high and high school and was going to heavy metal shows as I learned about punk and hardcore. In early 1985, I started going to see local hardcore bands like The Guns, False Hope, and our "big brother" band, Domestic Crisis.
But I never got into drugging or drinking, so one night at a party, in the woods behind Normandy High School, my pal Jim Konya—who became a metal legend—and I decided we weren’t very good at partying after we kept bogarting a joint and pissing the stoners off so we said, "fuck it, let’s just go straight edge."
Jimmy stayed straight edge til he died [Jim Konya passed away in 2015 at the age of 44]. He was a great man and my close friend. He became a legend in Nunslaughter, Schnauzer, Apartment 213, and eventually ended up in my band, 9 Shocks Terror, and drove me fuckin nuts the whole time, and I fucking loved him for it. I really miss him. He died of a stroke about 5 years ago. He was a very honest man, you will never meet another Jim Konya in your life, God rest his soul.
I lasted about 8 years or so being straight edge. That era of my life was the best time ever for me. Kickass bands, enthusiastic, fired up scene ,cute girls and road trips. Didn't have much responsibilities besides work and hanging out and being punk. Before it became a commodity.
Take us back to the Cleveland hardcore scene of the early ‘90s. Everyone always talks about “hardcore unity” and all that, but we know how things can be clicky.
That whole "unity" thing is a laugh. If there ever was any it was in the early to mid-'80s up til about 1989. Back then, it was more of a "big tent" situation. A smaller scene but with way more participation and diverse lineups for shows. All you have to do is look at photos from that era in any town and you'll see a much more varied group of people hanging out together, before everything became neatly categorized and people started sticking to their own little tribes. I hate that shit. How boring and safe.
I prefer to be with like-minded people but not to the point of existing in echo chamber. The shows at JB's Down Under in Kent, OH were a perfect collection of freaks. Now it's cliquey to the point of being a complete and utter turnoff. I hate it.
Before we get to The Price of Maturity album, what do you remember about recording the 1989 cassette? Was that the first time you worked with Bill Korecky? What was it like recording with him? I know him from all of the stuff he's done in the metal world.
Ok, that cassette was done at the original Mars [Recording Compound] location in the back room of Mitchell's Music on Brookpark in Parma. It was tiny and he was all tape at that point, max 16 tracks. I joined this band The Bagmen in like January 1989 and we revamped the band and dropped the dumb name soon afterwards. That original location had an energy and it sounded awesome. I remember when The Price of Maturity got reviewed in Maximum Rocknroll the guy said the "production jumped off the turntable" and he was spot on.
Bill went on to subsequent bigger and fancier studios, but it never sounded as good as that first location. Bill Korecky was/is a taskmaster and a man who knows his shit and demands you give your best, have your material rehearsed and your gear in good working order and be prepared to work, not ass off. He had come from a rock and classic metal background but once he "got" what these hardcore bands were trying to do, he was all in.
Both me and Integrity sent a lot of business his way. It became a "thing" to go to Mars. I did records with Face Value, 9 Shocks Terror, and Cheap Tragedies there. The guy always got the best out of my outfits. He just retired, said the days of the big studio thing is over forever. I'm glad he got a couple gold records for his work with Mushroomhead and Donnie Iris. He deserves it.
OK, let’s get into The Price of Maturity. Conversion Records issued the album, and you had worked with the label before that on the Coming of Age 7 inch. How did your relationship with Dennis Remsing from Conversion Records begin in the first place?
I forget how I met Remsing. Maybe from this comp we did with him or maybe he wrote me a letter before that. I liked him originally, he was really into making our band as big as he could but then started putting all his time and effort into his own bands, which I'm sure I'd do the same if I owned a label and had a band, but it left us holding our dicks. People couldn't get our album and were writing me letters saying shit like, 'hey man, Dennis Remsing cashed my check but I never got the record, what's up with that?' and shit like that.
He did a good job on the 7" and with Price initially but then we got sideways. He kept pressing the shit out of those records and we never got one single goddamm copy of the record on CD or cassette and also I've seen countless different pressings of that 7" floating around, you can easily tell by the different cardstock he used, ink colors, etc. That's playing dirty pool and although I don't fancy myself a tough guy, that's some bullshit and he knows it, last time I saw him he couldn't get away from us fast enough in Pomona, not like we were going to fuck him up but c'mon man, you owe us records out the ass, dude.
Do do you remember the budget the band got for the album? How many days did it take to track and mix everything? Were you guys all business, or did you fuck around a lot?
Well, I think he budgeted $1100 to record it but we gimmicked the receipt for the studio, so maybe we ended up getting $1500 and we kicked back a couple bucks to Korecky for the gimmicked receipt. That may sound like a dick move but time and experience has proven my stance right insofar as thats almost always the only way you'll ever get paid from a record label, whether you're on a teeny bedroom label or a big indie. We never fucked around in the studio. Time is money! Chop chop! I think we did it in about a week total. Maybe 1 day for sounds, 2 days of tracking, 1.5 days for vox and backups, 1 day for doubling guitars and solos, then punches and fixes, then mix for 3 days.
Tell me about the background vocals. That was important shit back then!
Oh, I'm sure it was Jason Kuebler from Confront, my brother Chris, Dwid, Chubbie Fresh, maybe Charlie from Outface, this kid Jim Edge, this guy Noel (RIP). That's about all I can remember. I always loved the bratty backing vocals that AC/DC had, not the football team stuff, so that's what I went for in the recordings. I guess it was fun.
I really don't like making records, I mean you have to have product to sell and when it's done you listen to it repeatedly for a week, but then I hardly ever listen again. I need the immediacy of a live gig, the aggro and mayhem, so the studio to me is arduous. And costly.
How about the lyrics? What kind of themes did you take on in the material, and how do you feel about the lyrics all these years later?
The lyrics were just ok, rather naive and rote in theme, all this "rah-rah, we were friends, but you turned on me, you alcoholic asshole" stuff which as we know is not exactly Richard Meltzer or even Greg Graffin territory.
My lyrics got way better by [1993's] Kick It Over [album], which was a shittier record musically (by that era's standards—now it'd be considerably more palatable to the more diverse ear of today's hardcore fan) but far better lyrically. I could always turn a phrase pretty well, but the band and scene we were in demanded a certain style, so I tried to color between the lines.
I love the song “Outside Looking In” because I can’t think of another hardcore song with that kind of stylistic flow, with the “House of the Rising Sun”-like intro section, into the build-up and finally, straight-up hardcore part. Not to mention the moshy part that comes in around the 1:15 mark!
Well, "Outside Looking In" was [Face Value guitarist] Downtown Brown's [Anthony Brown] finest moment. One of the few songs in our catalog that I had absolutely nothing to do with writing the music for. Downtown is such a killer player, a boogie rock/NWOBHM/hardcore just guy like me, dude loves Frank Marino and UFO as well as Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, Motörhead, Discharge. He has the best tone and feel for any guitar player I've ever had and that says a lot since I've had Aaron Dowell in 4 of my bands and that guy's just as great—almost.
What’s the story behind the artwork on the album?
James Bulloch [aka Human Furnace] from Ringworm is my brilliant friend who's the [Frank] Frazetta of the Great Lakes region, in my opinion. I basically told James what the title of the record was gonna be and some of the themes on it and said, "make it black and white like the Dissension or Fair Warning record covers but with a more depressing, shitty Cleveland vibe to it." I think.
He asked me what kind of things bothered me and kept me up at night and i just tossed off some shit like "getting someone pregnant, working at this shitty cheese factory, wanting to kill myself every day, being broke, not having a car" etc. In any case, he showed me what he was doing and i went, "fuck yeah! This totally rules!"
And man is it a classic piece of hardcore artwork. James is the best. Over 30 years and he's always been a true blue pal. Ringworm still kicks ass. A lot of respect for him and them. I booked the first Ringworm show ever.
What do you remember the reaction to The Price of Maturity being like when it first came out? Also, do you feel that the Cleveland hardcore community embraced it back then?
Yeah, it was great, people went crazy for it. I mean it was like the progression from "Sex Boy" to (GI), just light years better. Raging songs, less dumb vocals, ripping guitars, kickass production. No band sounded like Face Value then, or really since. Certainly not in the SXE scene!
What kind of rust belt assholes would write songs that sound like Uniform Choice listening to Girlschool records at a Black Sabbath party with the Circle Jerks? Idiots like us, that's who.
Do you feel that the Cleveland hardcore community embraced it back then?
I mean—everyone and their brother was blowing Integrity and we couldn't sell out a phone booth here so we just said, "fuck this" and started playing out of town constantly, Erie, Buffalo, Detroit, Columbus and Louisville sometimes twice a month. When we finally booked a gig back in town for the first Cleve show in about 6 months, these kids in this band Speakeasy had gotten an in at this cool place the Babylon A Go Go.
So the singer Brian hooked me up with a gig there and the place was packed balls to the walls and it was like we totally made our bones at that gig and never drew less than enough to sell out the Babylon, the Empire or Flash Gordons after that show. I mean that show fucking made us in Cleveland. I have a VHS tape of it somewhere, kids are fuckin stage diving between songs. I had passed out tapes of the album around to friends and they were dubbing it and trading it around so after not playing here in 6 months, kids got hip.
If you had to pick your favorite song on The Price of Maturity, which one would it be and why?
Probably "Outside Looking In." I mean that's a song that stylistically I could never write, it's that "almost crossover but not quite" way that Downtown writes, but that was always the second to last song in the set and the crowd would beat each other's brains in to it and then they were in a frenzy to go apeshit for the last song, "Coming of Age." So I'd have to say that was a really great piece of writing by Downtown. "Blind Men" shreds, too.
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