I'm not just speaking for myself when I say that my Facebook timeline has become one big bum out filled with an endless stream of politically-charged rants and corny viral videos. That's why whenever I see a post from The Hard Times appear on my timeline, I get all giddy like a 10-year-old again. Since you're reading No Echo, I probably don't have to explain what the Hard Times is about, but in short, it's an Onion-like website that makes fun of the different styles of music I cover here (hardcore, metal, punk, etc.), but with nothing but love behind every jab. Yep, the folks prove that you have to have a true admiration for this stuff to be able to write such hilarious and engaging content.
Though it's only been around for a few years, the site has exploded and not surprisingly, branched out into everything from promoting live events to merch to TV-related projects. Matt Saincome is the founder of the Hard Times, and in this new interview, I chat with him about his upbringing, punk roots, and the evolution of his brand.
I guess the best way to begin would be to get some info on your childhood. Where were you born and raised, and were your parents artsy types?
I was born and raised in Danville CA, a nice safe suburb of the Oakland/San Francisco Bay Area. My parents weren’t artsy types. They come from working-class backgrounds, no college degrees, etc., but they always supported artistic stuff I did.
Growing up, my dad had an entire wall of the house dedicated to his massive record collection. He was mostly into jazz records, but he also had a lot of rock, soul, pop, and even some rap stuff, that he would introduce my brothers and I to. We had a jukebox for a while as well that he would fill with 45s. I remember being a little kid, really young, and my dad gifting me a plastic, portable turntable and some records I could play.
He didn’t like when I cut my hair into a mohawk, though. My mom did. She was a hippie and was always pro-expression. When I had drums in the garage she used to tell me the rhythms were naturally healing her, which is hilarious because I was playing retrograde D-beats and shit like that. Actually, now I remember my mom telling me my dad had very specific art hung up around the house and wouldn’t budge on some of the weird paintings she wanted to take down (scary clowns and such), so maybe he is a little artsy? I think he just likes cool stuff. He’s a collector.
When and how did you discover hardcore music? Also, who were some of the bands you fell head over heels for early on?
My older brother got into punk before me and then showed me the way. So him and my dad would show me stuff like the Ramones in elementary school and I just immediately thought it was the coolest shit ever (‘cause it is). Later on, my brother would hand me his old iPod or send me links to download his entire music collection. I think he would sync my iTunes to his or something, and he had done a crazy amount of research and got all the cool shit off Soulseek.
"I think the first proper hardcore band I heard was Minor Threat. I remember being a kid and my brother was driving me around and talking about music and we got to the house and stayed in the driveway and he played them for me."
What was your first hardcore show?
I don’t know if I remember my first hardcore show. I started off as a street punk/Oi! kid following around local bands like Whiskey Rebels, Monster Squad, Pressure Point, Dcoi!, etc. I got into the hardcore and straight edge scenes a little later.
At what point did you begin writing for a living? Were you a Journalism major in college?
I was a Journalism major. My first job out of college was music editor of SF Weekly. I also freelanced for Vice, Noisey, and Rolling Stone. I had a fanzine before that which was called Punks! Punks! Punks! That was a precursor to Hard Times in many ways. It was a punk comedy zine and then a punk comedy website. It just had a much smaller, local focus.
When I learned how to write news (via journalism school) I thought “Hey, maybe I could make funny punk news stories for my zine?” Hard Times was originally just going to be a section in my fanzine.
Since we’re both nerds, I’ll word it this way: what is the origin story of Hard Times?
I was an intern at SF Weekly and interviewed a man who fucked a dolphin. The story went viral. Someone made a documentary about him after reading my article. My bosses loved it, asked for a follow up. It was the most viewed post on the site that year.
I thought to myself: “Hey, it’s my comedy that’s going viral. Why don’t I just own the site?”
So, I had it in my head I wanted to own all my own success. Then I had this idea for punk comedy news stories in my zine. My friends said it wouldn’t work and that The Onion already existed. I researched that, fell in love with the Onion, but also thought: “This isn’t for punks or hipsters or alternative subculture music people like me.”
"I then settled on the idea of creating “the Vice Onion” and here we are."
How did you go about putting together the writers behind the site? Did you hit people up through social media channels, or was it more of a recommendation kind of thing where writers came in through other writers?
The first person who seemed to believe in the concept as much as I did, and who had the comedic chops to help out, was Bill Conway, a fellow hardcore straight edge dude who I had met through being a guest on his podcast, Edgeland. I showed up to his podcast in character as "The Champ," which was a satirical bad guy frontman I created for my old hardcore band, Zero Progress. Bill liked that. We’ve got along ever since. I couldn’t have done the site without him.
I then reached out to the funniest punk people I knew. Most of them didn’t want to be part of it. Not many people believed in the idea, but I did. And so did Bill.
We found some other people who believed in it. A ragtag group of punk kids, writers, friends from the scene. I coded the original website myself and sunk all the money I had into making it look professional. We wrote up some starter stories and went live.
"And then it took off like wildfire, and millions of people enjoyed it, and now it’s a huge, living, growing beast of a brand that is a real part of the subculture that shaped my entire life. People all over the world read it. Heroes of mine growing up now tell me they enjoy it. Cool!"
How does the article pitching process work at Hard Times? What would you say is the accept/reject ratio like? Is it a committee process, or is there one editor handling that?
Hard Times is built with the freelance writer in mind. I didn’t like how disconnected I felt to the publications I freelanced for, so at Hard Times, freelancers are clued in to company objectives, what we are working on, and even get to vote on which articles they want to run on the site. An editorial group makes the final decisions, with me having veto power on everything, but it’s still way more democratic than any other publications I’ve heard of.
We reject probably close to 1000 or 2000 headlines for every one we publish.
Do you find that one style of music (hardcore, ska, punk, classic hc/punk) generally does better in terms of traffic, or does it just come down to how funny the piece is?
It just depends if you really nail the topic. Any of the genres can be ground for good satire. The thing we have noticed is that zine and flyer jokes always bomb but we run them anyways.
How much backlash have you guys had from bands you’ve included in your pieces? I would also think a lot of people have reached out saying how much they enjoyed being included!
We booked a band once and they were furious with us. We didn’t know why, but they were just pissed, flipping off some of our people and such. One of our people then approaches them about it and gets word why:
We ran an article titled “Fun Date Night Ideas You’ll Never Experience Because You Date Band Dudes” and apparently all of their girlfriends had read it, shared it, and then confronted the band about wanting to be taken on more dates. They were just about to leave on tour. So they got to our show with all their girlfriends upset at them because of some too close to home satire and that made me really happy to hear [laughs].
What’s next for Hard Times? TV? Podcasting? What’s on the horizon for the brand?
Yes to all of that, just in various stages of completion. When we’re clear to announce them, our fans will know. We are putting together teams, developing ideas, and negotiating contracts for a TV show, book, podcast, tour, and several other things. If you like Hard Times, be prepared for lots to come in 2019!
Is there any individual or band from the hardcore scene that you’re afraid to touch on Hard Times?
Tagged: the hard times