I first crossed paths with Nate Wilson in the '90s when I was in Black Army Jacket. At the time, he was a member of two Albany, NY-based bands from our scene: Devoid of Faith and Monster X. A music junkie from an early age, Wilson has also played in bands like Das Oath, By the Throat, and John Browns Army, among others. He has also put out quality releases by the likes of 9 Shocks Terror, Cut the Shit, and Toxic Holocaust via his label, Gloom Records.
Currently a member of a Black Sabbath-inspired trio called Green Dragon, Wilson is also an avid vinyl collector and writes a cool blog, True Punk & Metal, that I highly recommend. Since he's had such a deep history in the underground music scene, I figured it was about time I chatted with Wilson about his journey up 'til now.
You've been such a huge part of the Albany scene for decades now. Does your family have a long history there?
Not really. I was born in Manhattan and then my parents moved to a really small town in western New York state called Spencer Van Etten when I was 4. Spencer was this odd Finnish dry town... meaning no booze was sold in the town limits. My parents got divorced and my mom married my stepdad, who was a college professor from Albany, NY. He moved us to the Albany area when I was in the 8th grade. Honestly, if it weren't for him, I'd probably still be driving dirt bikes and shooting guns in Spencer.
What was the local music scene like there in the early to mid '80s, when you started going to shows?
I was a metalhead prior to discovering punk and hardcore. I got to see a lot of great metal there in the early '80s: Anvil, Dio, Maiden, Priest, Rainbow, Riot, Twisted Sister, etc.
Who were some of the local bands you looked up to early on?
Some local acts I saw back in the early '80s included China White, Stonehenge, Civilized Evil, Black Smith, M-16, Final Terror, and Horrid Blessing. I discovered punk through my younger brother, who turned me on to the Circle Jerks, Black Flag, etc. Black Flag was my first punk show, though I mistakenly saw locals Capitle at an outdoor street fest that later became known as Larkfest. They really were Albany's first hardcore band. There were plenty of local punk bands before them, but they were the first doing fast hardcore.
I looked up to many of the local bands: Capitle, Glee Club, No Outlet, Fit for Abuse, Albany Style, Wolfpack, Cranial Abuse, Final Terror, China White...
You have to tell me about Divine Malice, a band you played in in 1984. From the band name, it sounds like you guys were full-on heavy metal!
[Laughs] yup, I was in the early stages of a band prior to them called Horrid Blessing. I actually came up with the name. I'm pretty sure I got kicked out prior to a Battle of the Bands competition at Shaker High School. I formed Divine Malice with a friend named Pat Janidlo, and sang for the band. We put it together pretty fast, writing some originals that were heavily influenced by early Iron Maiden meets Cirith Ungol. We played some covers as well (Maiden, Priest, etc). Then we played the Battle of the Bands. I got kicked off school grounds before we were even done with the set. Our last song ended and the band members found out I'd been removed from the school, in typical metal fashion (the song was like eight minutes long). We somehow ended up winning the competition and used the money to record a demo tape that we sold and gave away to friends. We put the live gig at the end of the demo. I think the band would have gone on to do great things, but I moved to San Francisco to immerse myself into the Bay Area thrash metal scene.
The next project I traced to you is Romper Room Rejects, a Bay Area-based band, in 1987.
You did your research, buddy! I moved to the Bay Area because everything thrash metal was coming from there. It was the mecca in 1985. I moved out there without knowing a soul at 18. I got lucky. I saw everyone at small underground clubs: Metallica, Megadeth, Exodus, Sacrilege B.C., Death Angel, Vio-lence, Possessed, Death, Slayer, Tyrannicide, etc. I was already familiar with some hardcore thanks to my brother, but San Francisco was exploding with punk at the same time that the thrash metal thing was happening in the city. There were literally four to five great gigs a week back then.
I enrolled in a one-year vocational school known as the College for Recording Arts. At school for our final they assigned us a project where we were asked to write a song with a band, then our class would record and produce it. I wrote a song about the Challenger space shuttle exploding called "Challenger." My friend Zoran played bass and sang, I played guitar, and a classmate named Jon White played drums on the song. Jon wasn't into the music, he just helped as a friend and classmate. Zoran and I basically kept the band moving after my friend Erik Meade put our song on the Lethal Noise tape compilation with Stikky, Basic Radio (who were pre-Operation Ivy), NOFX, Corrupted Morals, Rabid Lassie, Crimpshrine, Sweet Baby Jesus, etc.
After that, I eventually started singing for the Romper Room Rejects only because we couldn't find anyone that we liked. Zoran moved over to guitar, and a young metal kid named Kenny played the drums (later he ended up playing in Angel Witch, Annihilation, and Cultural Warfare), and Michael Roi played bass. Michael was a young French illegal who was more punk than almost anyone I knew. Unfortunately, I've heard he's no longer with us. R.I.P. The band then recorded a 12-song demo tape at Gilman Street. Back in 1987, there was this guy named Brian who would record bands at Gilman on days or nights when they didn't have shows. He would record you live, straight to cassette, for like $40. We played a handful of shows in northern California. The band ended up breaking up when I moved back to the Albany area to be closer to family in 1988 - 1989.
Your next band was a hardcore outfit called Intent.
Honestly, the only Intent stuff I can stomach is the demo tape we did in 1989. I loved the guys in that band, and the memories, but the recordings after the demo all sucked, in my opinion. We played some amazing shows, and I have some great friends due to this band, but it's far from my proudest moments.
Adam O'Toole, who played bass with us, left to play in Factory with his brother, Jason O'Toole (Life's Blood), Brian Buono (Glee Club), and Mark Telfian. They didn't last very long. They were initially gonna call the band Life's Blood and play some new songs Mark wrote, and then some older classic Life's Blood songs. Luckily, Sam Vermiform told them that if they did it he'd sue them or something.
How did Devoid of Faith form? Your bassist/vocalist, Jim MacNaughton, had played in Affirmative Action before that, and your drummer, Kevin O'Sullivan, was in Intent with you. Was it a matter of you guys wanting to play a specific kind of musical style?
Kevin and I started Devoid of Faith with Jim when he moved to Albany from New Paltz, NY. Both Intent and Affirmative Action had broken up at the same time, and we had all become friends who shared like-minded ideas. We started off wanting to do something similar to The Unsane meets D.C. hardcore. None of that ended up happening with our sound. We just ended up playing fast, generic hardcore, which worked well for us. Jim would come to practice with Poison Idea riffs, while I'd come to practice with Jerry's Kids ideas. We started off as a three-piece but eventually added Mark Telfian into the mix on guitar. He lasted one record and a bunch of shows. After that, we added Jason Deleonardis, who was also in Monster X with me. Albany was an inbred scene, and still is, from my understanding.
Yes, Monster X was a straight edge band you played in during the '90s that performed a musical style that incorporated grind and more traditional hardcore with a singer that definitely listened to death metal. Did you guys stick out like a sore thumb in Albany back then? Was there a divide between the more traditional, Revelation Records-like local bands and what Devoid of Faith and Monster X were doing?
Hell yes. The Albany scene had become pretty popular as a sort of Syracuse straight edge jock hardcore clone town. Monster X were straight edge, but our friends all partied, and we felt more in tune with crust and grind bands. We had some followers in the area, but most Albany kids wanted to see One King Down and bands like that. It was all about basketball jerseys and windmill kicks in the pit. I didn't get it or really associate with it. We once opened for Shelter and blew the PA system. That's the closest we got to it.
Who were some of the bands from across the country you felt like were kindred spirits to both Devoid of Faith and Monster X back in the '90s?
Disrupt, Eucharist, and Dropdead on the east coast; Charles Bronson, 9 Shocks Terror, Crudos, and MK Ultra in the midwest. We were very tight with those scenes. Man is the Bastard, Spazz, and Capitalist Casualties on the west coast.
You lived a dream shared by many punk musicians in 1997 when Devoid of Faith released a record on Bacteria Sour, Pushead's label.
It was really cool. We ended up getting a letter from Brian Schroeder basically saying how much he loved our stuff, and how he'd love to release something by us on Bacteria Sour. Soon after that, I'd spend hours on the phone talking with him about the good old days, and Devoid of Faith's future. We would talk and talk and talk. After a few years, we had sort of a falling out with him due to us not being as patient as maybe we should have been. It was stupid in hindsight. His stuff really was beautiful-looking, and took time to manufacture due to the crazy packaging. Also, his art took him time to create. I think we were just in the mindset where we didn't understand why things took him so long. We wanted our stuff available to everyone immediately, not just to the 300 record collectors who were lucky enough to get the records we did with him. We did three records with him. Like I said, looking back I feel like we acted foolishly, and perhaps didn't show him the appreciation he deserved. He's a good guy, and did great things for us that I'll never forget.
Were you collecting and trading records/demos during those years? If so, who were some of your favorite distros of that era?
For sure, I was collector scum. Still am. I also did a pretty big distro as well, and I'd say Neil Robinson of Tribal War had a huge influence on me at that time. Vacuum was my all-time favorite mailorder distro of the '90s.
Tell me about Gloom Records, the label you started at the end of the '90s.
Gloom started off as a zine that I did in the early '90s. Jim from Devoid of Faith and myself did a bunch of split zines together (Dressed to Oppress/Gloom). After that, I decided I should do a label to put the Devoid of Faith stuff out on. We learned early on that we either wanted to do records ourselves or do things with our friends. I think getting an offer from Grand Theft Audio and having him send us a contract was a catalyst for me start a record label. I went on to release about 45 records with us and other bands/friends.
I feel as though when I first started releasing records there were not very many labels releasing bands that were playing fast hardcore, etc. It soon changed and I realized that I didn't really need to be doing a label anymore. A ton of labels started fighting to put out the same stuff. Doing a label was fun early on, but stressful in so many ways. I'm honored I had the chance to work with bands like Cut the Shit, Toxic Holocaust, and so many others.
Why did Devoid of Faith and Monster X break up?
With Devoid of Faith, Jim became disinterested by the end of our run. He really got into mountain biking. I didn't understand at the time, as I'd become even more entrenched in the scene than ever. Looking back at it now, my thought process was insanely ridiculous. I should have understood what was going on with him. The band lasted for seven years. How much more can you do with one band anyway, right? We accomplished more than anything we'd set out to do at our start.
With Monster X, I actually can't recall why we broke up. It might have had something to do with our drummer moving away for school, or [bassist] Devon [Cahill] joining Dropdead and devoting more time to that then Monster X. It was time.
You then reunited with Monster X's singer, John Moran, in a band called By the Throat that also featured Mark Telfian (Hail Mary, Limp Wrist) on guitar.
John and Telfian had a weird-assed personal falling out that basically killed that band. There was no fixing that, and neither of them was replaceable. John is a hard guy to find these days. He legally changed his name, and is living off the grid somewhere in upstate NY.
Das Oath was a really interesting band you played in with Mark McCoy of Charles Bronson. How did two Americans end up forming a group with two musicians from the Netherlands?
Mark and I had become really tight friends over the years (pretty inseparable, actually) and we'd do a lot of traveling together. We ended up taking a trip to Holland to visit the Coalition Records guys, and on the trip we went to Denmark, where we wrote a bunch of songs that were completely inspired by Straight Ahead and Pandemonium in a hotel room. [Guitarist] Jeroen [Vrijhoef] suggested we meet a drummer friend of his named Marcel [Wiebenga], who played in a Dutch band called Oil. We met him and he was super young compared to us, but he had our sense of humor and could play well.
We practiced a few times and then went into a studio and recorded the first 7". After that, people became interested in the band, so we did a tour of Europe on a 7" record. We might have had 10 songs total, it really was only a 10-minute set. I recall playing our set twice in a few countries where the kids wouldn't let us leave without playing more songs.
What were some of the highlights from your time in Das Oath?
There were so many highlights, many of which are X-rated. We toured Europe multiple times. Toured in Japan once. We did multiple US tours. It was endless. I really loved being in that band. It was fantastic how it operated. Just a machine, really. None of us had real jobs, and we all really just lived for getting together again, writing a record, touring, and making enough money back to pay our airfare. It was nuts. I can't believe it lasted so long. Being in that band exposed me to so much culturally.
Around 2000, you sang and played guitar in a band called John Browns Army. I thought the Who Fucked the Culture Up? album was really killer.
That LP is one of my favorite records that I've ever played on (along with Das Oath and the Devoid of Faith/Voorhees split LP). John Browns Army was started from the ashes of Devoid of Faith, and my thinking that Devoid of Faith still had more to accomplish musically (in reality we had maybe one record left in us, at most). Robb was a great drummer, and Matto played some insane leads (he had played some live gigs with Devoid of Faith as a second guitarist when Jason couldn't make them). Eric was a friend and roommate that we had play bass. We were influenced almost solely by Bastard (who are still one of my all-time favorite bands ever). Towards the end of our run we actually ended up with Jim of Devoid of Faith in the band for a short time playing bass. We did a west coast tour with Reagan SS, and I think after that things just fizzled out.
2003 saw you, Eric Schou from John Browns Army, Dan Barker, and Mark Telfian form Deathsquad.
I loved playing in that band as well. During summer days I'd paint houses with Mark and Dan, then we'd jam at Dan's parents' house. Mark and I set out to do a band that was influenced by ABC Diabolo meets early Megadeth. Ridiculous, I know. There is a full LP that was written and never recorded. I can't recall why we broke up. Dan might have ended up moving away for school, or Mark might have moved to Virginia. Telf keeps trying to get me to record those LP songs... he's nuts.
Checking through your blog, I read a post on Haxan, a black metal project you recorded with Mark McCoy. You mentioned Beherit being a key inspiration behind Haxan. Are you a big black metal guy?
I was when it was in its early stages. I remember doing an interview with Mayhem's Hellhammer right after the murder and church burnings for Gloom zine, and what a total dick that guy was. He turned me off to a lot of what was going on. I'd been into most aspects of metal through the years, pretty much since 1980, and watched many different genres take shape. I loved the early death metal scene (up until 1992), and the early black metal stuff I dug as well. It's all gotten pretty trendy and just unlistenable to me now. I rarely hear much new that I feel is genuine.
Mark really got fully into black metal around 2003 - 2004. I was already familiar with it (and honestly kind of bummed on all that had transpired in Norway). We were living together in Albany and had a drum set in the basement, so we just wrote a bunch of songs and hashed them out in our dungeon. Then we drove to Massachusetts and recorded the tunes with Will Killingsworth at Dead Air Studios. I'm pretty sure this was Mark's first recording that he'd done with Will. Mark did the guitars, vocals, and bass. He originally wanted me to play the bass, but I just wanted to pound on the drums. The band was his brainchild, I was just there to have fun and support what he was doing. I was really happy to see him getting involved with metal.
You're currently drumming in a band called Green Dragon, along with Zach Kurland, a guy I remember from his days in the NYC band Sweet Diesel. Now, Green Dragon is very different from Devoid of Faith, Monster X, and most of the groups most people would know you from.
I live in a town called Maplewood now, which is in New Jersey. It's a commuter town, and is about 17 miles from NYC. I met Zack at the local Jiffy Lube. He was wearing a Sleep shirt, and had no control over his children [laughs]. We talked and had much in common, so we exchanged contact info and both decided we wanted to play Sabbath-inspired music. I was way over playing guitar in bands at that point, and only wanted to play music again if I could play drums in a band. My wife and I had bought a house, and the first thing I did was really teach myself how to play drums pretty decently in the basement.
After a few practices with Zack, I suggested that we bring in Jenn Klein on bass. She played in The Plungers and Your Adversary years ago, plus she also lives in Maplewood. Jenn was fun to hang out with, so I knew she'd be a great addition to what we were doing. We are a slow-moving work in process. We recorded a demo a year ago, and have a 7" coming out in April 2016 on Gern Blandsten/Gloom. It's perfect for all involved, because we are all parents with families and real jobs, but we are able to get together once or twice a month to escape life a little and write some cool '70s-inspired jams.
Are there any other projects you're involved with right now that we should keep an eye out for?
Nope, just raising my daughter and playing drums. Ryan from Unearthly Trance moved into town not too long ago, and we were talking about doing a project together, but he and his wife recently had a baby. Maybe in another three or four years we'll get together.
I know you're a big vinyl collector. What are some of the records you used to own that you wish you still had? What are some records you would kill to own?
I've sold off large parts of my collection at least three times over the years, and I definitely have some regrets. I bought the first Nirvana single when it came out and sold it for $100 back in '92. It's become a very rare and pricey record. I wish I still had that, and the first Bad Religion 7". Records I'd kill to own are mostly '70s hard psych records: All the Toad LPs, all the Buffalo LPs, the Poobah LP, Jerusalem's self-titled LP. That list could go on forever. My punk list is pretty short, though. I've been trying to find the Identity Crysis Tied to the Tracks 7" for a decade with zero luck. I can't imagine it's even that rare, I just can't find it. As far as metal goes, I just scored a big one off my list: Stonehenge's Cats Eyez 7". That was a local Albany band that I'd seen live in the early '80s.
What is the most underrated record and/or band from the '90s punk, powerviolence, grind, or hardcore scenes?
That is a tough one, but I'd probably go with the No Comment Downsided 7". It is flawless, and compared to Infest and Man is the Bastard, it's sort of overlooked.
Before I let you go, I wanted to get your thoughts on something. I was just having a conversation with a friend who was also part of the same scene Devoid of Faith and Black Army Jacket played in during the '90s. He felt that there was too much of a "PC Police" vibe going on at times. Would you agree?
I do agree, although it seems to have gotten even worse over the years. People have become even more critically radical in their witch hunts. There are folks out there that are looking to tear others down just to benefit themselves and make themselves look like martyrs or something. If I were involved in what is currently going on in hardcore today, I think I'd be banished from the scene. It seems like a high school popularity contest with all the drama and bullshit that I hated in school.
A quick PC story from the '90s... Devoid of Faith played a gig in around '95 at ABC No Rio. A dude I sort of knew approached me after the gig by our van and complimented me on our set. I jokingly said something like, "Thanks, baby," and touched his ass. He went back and told a bunch of people that he was hurt over the ordeal. My friend Derick approached me before we left and asked me if I was going to apologize to the person. I asked him why, and he went on to tell me that this person had just recently come out as transgendered and thought that what I did was inappropriate. This person was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, I knew them as a him. It was strange to me that they would take my actions as hurtful, mean, or insensitive and not even have it in them to talk to me about it.
Head to Nate Wilson's True Punk & Metal blog for interviews and obscure music downloads.