Interviews

Nihilistics Frontman Ron Rancid: The Man, The Music, and the Madness

Nihilistics @ Tompkins Square Park, NYC, 2018. (Photo: Matt Eo)

Ron Rancid is the punk rockin’ hardcore hero that we all never knew we needed or deserved, but we got him. Ron Rancid does not give a fuck. Not even kind of. He doesn’t care what you think of him or his band, the Nihilistics, at all. He’s a first-generation punk rocker who’s from the school of punk and hardcore that was all about provoking and pissing people off and he hasn’t changed one bit in the last 40 some years. 

If you’re easily offended I recommend that you do not read this interview. I’m not joking, close this page and scroll on elsewhere if you’re feint of heart. If you can take it, read on dear reader and remember, if you’re not now you never were. 

It’s only rock' n’ roll, as the saying goes.

Hey man, how are ya? I’ve got some questions for ya.

How am I? How can I possibly be? I am me? Thank you for the mock concern and all, but I guess I am ok? Just getting off a 3-day self-imposed mental tune up. Some people go to rehab, I go to a Psychiatric Center. A little talk and a little med balancing. Not that I have any issues now. Contrary to popular belief. I have no issues. I have spent this so-called life and lifetime trying to acclimate myself to this world. I’m not of this world. I’m not long for it. Yes, questions, ok, I’ll try to focus.

You are Ron Rancid, singer of Long Island’s favorite sons, the Nihilistics, correct?

No, but partially correct. We are no one’s favorite sons. Not geographically nor in the family sense. No one likes us in any way shape or form. Most hate us. In reality or shall I say in “Our Reality," hating us is much better than liking us, and its preferred. But yes, I am Ron Rancid, singer of the Nihilistics. If you can call that singing? Your readers must listen to and peruse the lyrics of our song “Blacksheep” that kinda says it all.

You know they wanted to induct us to the Long Island Rock N Roll Hall of Fame? Most don’t like or love the Nihilistics, but most like or love to hate the Nihilistics.

You infamously worked (work?) at a morgue. What did you do there and did being around a bunch of corpses all the time inform your world view and lyrics in the Nihilistics?

Before the Embalming and my jaunt in the Death Care Industry, I was a hospital morgue attendant. I was making minimum wage at the time, maybe $2.75 per hour? Not a union type position. Cleaning up in the same hospital, and I was approached for this vacancy due to as I was told, “blood and guts don’t bother you”. I said yeah, they don’t. Prior I cleaned the OR, ER, and other areas as you could imagine. So, my first task was cleaning out and organizing the morgue. It was a mess.

The hospital also wanted to start doing autopsy’s there as well. Keep in mind this was a small hospital or shall I say slaughterhouse. It consisted of 125 rooms. It was basically a way station to those who are headed to a county run nursing home or to the cemetery. Even I wouldn’t even wanna die in that place. The gutter is more welcoming.

So, I had to scrub down and clean everything. I mean there were body parts from amputations, diseased organs and aborted fetuses in what looked like Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets and when I lifted them the bottom fell out due to fluids soaking into the cardboard waxen bottom [laughs]. I also would drive the body parts and organs to another hospital for they had a small furnace somewhat like a mini crematorium and that’s where we disposed of them.

So getting back to the hiring process, they said and explained what I would do. "Ok, no problem," I said. "How much," I asked, they said, "We will pay you $6.00 per hour." I said, "$6.00 per hour!" I mean, I never thought I could ever make this much money. They thought that I was declining. They said, "Ok, $8.00 per hour." I said, $8.00!?" They said, "listen, final offer $10.00, ok?" I said sure. This is 1978/1979. Imagine making that much money? Its an easy job!

So, I would disconnect expired patients from machines, IV’s and so on. I would depress the lungs to remove air, and that was funny and I’ll explain in a bit. Bag and tag, tie the hands and feet, wrap a towel around the head so it wouldn’t get bruised during movement a few other things. So, I had this cart on wheels that looked like a laundry cart. When you took the top off there was a metal pan like a bed for lack of a better term. So, I slide the bodies on it after I wrapped them.

The pan would crank up and down to make easy sliding from the bed or gurney on to the pad. Pop the top on and I would wheel around the hospital, through the halls and no one other than the workers knew I had a body. Down to the morgue we go!

The morgue was next to the employee kitchen [laughs]. So, one day in in the elevator with a body on the cart and didn’t depress the lungs. I did that on purpose to break everyone’s balls on the elevator that were going to lunch in the basement. Lunch was free by the way for employees. So I reach under the top, press on the lungs/diaphragm and the air goes up through the voice box and makes a deep guttural moan [laughs]. The elevator was packed and I said, “Its Alive!” It was kinda like Claude Raines in Frankenstein. 15 people were clawing at the elevator door to get out and screaming. They told me never to do that again or I’ll be fired. It was a great job.

It was normally 48 degrees in the morgue area. Just lifting them up was a pain at times. I would also get a customary $5.00 to $10.00 tip from the funeral home just for helping them load the body into the first call car. I did a lot more there as well and we can talk for hours about that. One night there was a car accident. ER was packed and it was a Saturday night. I was called to come collect a girl in her 20’s that expired due to her injuries.

At this time, they were doing autopsies. So, I prepared her for that. I mean even though half her face and head were missing, I found her to be so sexy and beautiful! After the autopsy I wanted to spend a little time with her. Cleaned up and bathed, naked, it was so arousing! So, use your imagination. 

But getting back to the question, yes and no. Many Nihilistics songs were written in the graveyard or morgue. I always knew life was a vapid joke, truly a futile existence full of misery, shame and degradation. In seeing death, I saw freedom … pure escape into nothingness … My death I will embrace as if it were a long-lost friend. One thing about Nihilistics songs, all are based in reality and are still relevant to this day.

Did I say that the smell of flowers, church incense and embalming fluid drives me wild? 

What’s the story with the hearse you used to ride around in?

Well, it’s much more comfortable that a van. It’s like a limousine inside. It has a TV, bar, refrigerator, casket swing bars, chandeliers, and restraints. Much more “comforting” I must also add . The average hearse carries about 4-5000 people to their just deserts before it’s sold... the comfort of the cold immortal grave. So, I’m sure you can just imagine that perverse feeling. I kinda like perverse feelings actually! Do you? The more perverse the better. My balls are actually tingling a bit thinking about death.

But getting back to the question, just like this perverse existence we all participate in like it or not. Plenty of room for our gear. Its difficult to park since its 24 feet long. It’s a 1972 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham and it was altered by the old hearse company Miller Meteor. It has a commercial chassis and a 472 double barrel that gets 9 miles to the gallon. Right now, it is resting in storage. It needs some work and a full off body restoration. It will be back on the road.

People always for some reason like to take their picture with it. The paint has actually been worn off on the sides and hood from that. We were invited to and drove it a few times in the Halloween Parade in Manhattan. It got to be a bore, so we stopped. Hearses are cost effective and sell on the cheap. Not that we were making a statement, just practical.

Did the higher ups at the morgue know about the Nihilstics?

Yes, they did. I never volunteered anything about it. They didn’t understand it. Remember I have worked in many hospitals and funeral homes. They would get calls all the time from people saying, “Ron is fucking the bodies!” After a while they asked me, “Ron, are you fucking the bodies?”, but in a more professional way. I said, "yeah, but some, not all, why?” “We keep getting these phone calls and it must be related to your band." They didn’t break my balls after that because they were all fucking the bodies too. I went on to freelance.

I did enjoy also working on restorative cases. I would just receive a call from an establishment that needed my services. Anthony, have you ever tried it? Its pretty good actually. I mean I can talk about it because the statute of limitations ran out a long time ago. I’m no longer a practicing Embalmer. No real money in it. One thing I must state is that I never ever had sex with dead children, or men. I need to make that clear. Wink, wink. I don’t want any of your readers to think I’m some kinda pervert now? I never robbed the dead either. Well once in a while I did?

I used to have willing living women lay in a bathtub filled with ice water until they turned blue. Just to get that feeling of cold flesh. But they would move or make noise and ruin it for me! Nothing beats a pre embalmed female corpse. The blank stare of the eyes … so defenseless … trusting … Oh the stories I can tell you! I need to put a condom on before I soil my pants! German WWII uniforms are a big turn on too! But again, getting back to the question for the most part they did.

Trouser Press said about you guys: “The Nihilistics were a stupid, obnoxious hardcore band from Long Island, New York. Their lyrics were predictable banalities, and their attitudinizing was irritating.” Did this hurt your feelings?

No, I/We have no feelings or emotions to hurt. Did you read the rest of the review? I can’t think of a more fitting response to us! Ira, Marlene, John and staff are good people in my book, and my book has very few pages. Trouser Press gave a lot of attention to punk and hardcore bands when others just slagged them off. We were also in Ira’s CBGB article in Spin regarding the history of CBGB’s and its closing. He went on about a Nihilistics shirt I was wearing, and I scrawled on it … “Fuck the Homeless, Save CBGB’s.”

People are under the impression that we are some kind of entertainers? In reality the audience is present as entertainment for us! We don’t give a monkey’s fuck what people thought then or now and even in the future. Nihilistics listeners are the best, they get it. Anthony, I’m gonna call you T-Bone from now on. I feel quite lucid answering these questions. 

Let’s go back to the beginning. Can you tell me how you got started in all this hardcore and punk stuff? Was there a scene out there in Long Island at the time?

How I actually got started with music in general, I’m a bit older than most and I was gong to all the clubs at the time, whether it was CBGB’s or any of the other clubs around. Music took a different direction and it was geared towards punk. I was in high school at the time and it was pretty boring. I liked the Ramones and some of those bands but you know, the anger wasn’t there, that hatred wasn’t there.

When I got “Anarchy in the UK” by the Sex Pistols I said to myself, "Wow, that’s something that for lack of a better term I could align myself with because that anger, the sound, was there." 

And not knowing too much about them at the time but just that sound and the anger which was totally lacking in so many of the bands that were playing at that particular time. And why I liked CB’s was, Hilly’s wife used to walk around with a pen and they had a two-drink minimum at the time and I would be 16-years-old and she’d just get in my face and you know, “Did you have your two-drink minimum yet?” [Laughs] It was great!

So there really wasn’t a scene in Long Island then is what you’re saying? And what was it like growing up out there in Nassau county? Were punk rockers accepted out there?

No, no there wasn’t a scene at all. And I wouldn’t go as far as saying I personally or a lot of other kids emulated a certain band or look or anything like that. Why did I have a leather motorcycle jacket? Because, working-class background parents, you got a motorcycle jacket because it would last forever. Why did I have engineer boots? Same thing. Back then there was no fashion really, it was basically out of need. You got one pair of boots and one pair of sneakers and a jacket that would last forever.

So when I started going into Manhattan to these clubs I started seeing people wearing that shit, and not that I wanted to fit in but I just felt a little more at ease. You know how Long Island is, it’s just strip mall, cemetery, strip mall, cemetery and you know, communities, shit like that. You used to get beaten up if you looked different or whatever or if you had a different mindset. A carload of guys would hop out and five guys would start fighting with you.

They’d jump you for no reason at all. They didn’t even know what punk was, you were a “fag,” you know? I’m going back to like ’76, ’77, ’78 and then we started playing in ’79. But there wasn’t really a scene. the first show the Nihilistics did was in January or February of 1979 in the parking lot of an American Legion Hall. The place was closed, I broke the window, went inside and we plugged in an extension chord for the amps and people would come by. That was our first official show, we hung up flyers and everything and some people showed up but then the police showed up and I got arrested. 

How’d the cops treat you when you got arrested?

They were alright. In retrospect, maybe 30 people were there and they just told everybody to get lost and either everyone gets arrested or someone owns up to it and I said, Yeah, I broke the window, I plugged in the extension chords, whatever. I’m sure they just wanted to get out of the cold weather themselves. It was nothing major. 

What did your parents think of the band and all this punk stuff?

Nothing really. I remember once my mother, she died at a very early age but I remember her saying to me once, “You used to have such nice hair.” I was cutting it myself and it was spikey. My father being an old tough guy he just said, “What are you a queer? Are you a fag?” That was the extent of it. They had no interest in what I was doing. It was totally different back then. You gotta understand, I’m in my 60s and parental guidance, was a little different, there was no internet, there was no cell phones, there was no nothing. When the siren goes off every day at 6 pm that meant go into the house and have something to eat. It was much better, I wouldn’t wanna be a kid today. 

How did you guys all find each other and how did the band come together?

Originally, I was playing in a band called the Slime Buckets with Ajax and then he ended up going to Rhodesia. He was a mercenary in Rhodesia and he doesn’t like to talk about it. I can only imagine what he did over there when he was a mercenary in Rhodesia. So they paid him and he went over there. I ended up meeting Mike and Chris in a club and we actually physically bumped into each other and started grappling and then we started talking and we said, "Let’s form a band." And nobody had any talent.

Mike had $30 to buy a bass so he bought a bass, didn’t know how to play it. Chris had some knowledge of the guitar and he had a guitar and a little tiny amp and I became the singer because I had no many and I don’t need an instrument. We went through drummers to find someone who had the same mindset. We met Troy and he was 14-years-old at the time so it was a little rough playing in clubs. It’s not like Harley was the only young kid around, there were a lot of young kids around at that time playing in bands and everything. So Troy is in the band and Ajax has been in the band since ’85 and Doug been in the band playing bass for a long time. 

Found HardcoreShowFlyers.net

Were you welcomed into the NYHC scene when you first started? What was it like playing early hardcore shows at CB’s etc back then?

No not at all. It was impossible for us to get a show at CBGB’s for some reason. Max’s would have us and a lot of gay clubs would let us play. Like they might be closed on a Wednesday and we approached the management or the owner and said, “Listen, you guys are closed, we got a bit of a following can we play?” And with a little bit of trepidation they allowed us to play. And then CB’s we had to go in on a Thursday and audition. We had to fuckin’ audition to play CBGB’s. So they would do everything not to have us play. But Hilly liked it and we ended up playing there 200 times plus over the years. 

From the collection of Anthony Allen Begnal

Were you pals with any of the other early NYHC bands?

Pals to a certain extent. I mean, you know, I can count friends on my fingers and toes but we knew everybody and we played with all the bands. It was a different scene, it was somewhat supportive of each other and everything. But then people got the mindset that if you get a record deal you’re gonna make money and whenever money comes into the equation everybody gets stupid and fuckin’ jerky. If one band was doing better than the other or some bullshit like that then it just created a schism in the scene. I’m talking about original hardcore. In ’79 to ’81 that’s when punk was just dwindling down to nothing and, to play slow, it takes talent. We never had talent.

So we always thought to ourselves, "Let’s just make noise and play fast!" It was so much easier. That’s why we played fast. Some songs were blazing fast or 30 seconds long because it doesn’t take talent to do something like that, it really takes talent to keep a tempo going and everything like that. [Laughs] That’s how we discovered it, I mean it wasn’t even called hardcore then. And then it got the terminology of hardcore punk. Then another wave of bands came after that and then it was hardcore and then there was a metal influence and different types of influence like that and now we have what we have today.

But again, nobody welcomed us. We’d play Max’s Kansas City and it’d be, “Go back to Long Island you fucking hippies!” Until they got smacked with the bass in the head or they got a boot in the fuckin’ face. Then after a few incidents like that people either didn’t come to see us or they kept their fuckin’ mouths shut. We played venues where there was actual riots, like the Peppermint Lounge and things like that. 

Did you cause the riot?

No, no. At Peppermint Lounge I know a lot of magazines at the time chronicled it back then. We were playing and it was probably our last song. It was “Welfare for the Rich” and the Peppermint Lounge was packed and someone threw a full can of beer unopened and it hit me in the side of the head. It didn’t matter to me who threw the can of beer, I just disconnected the microphone from the mic stand and started swinging it and hitting people in the face, the head, in the body with the mic stand and all the bouncers jumped on me.

So, they’re carrying me they’ve got my arms, my legs and everyone’s pummeling me, punching me in the face and everything. A person was hurt pretty bad, so they called the police and the put this big overcoat on me and snuck me out. 

Were you and Jerry Only in a who could have the biggest spikes on their leather vests competition?

No, no, I know Jerry for a long time, not really as a friend. We hung out, we did maybe three shows together. Jerry hates me. When it comes to big things, whether it’s spikes or whatever, Jerry’s are made out of plastic. Mine are made of stainless steel and are real. Size wise, his wallet, which he believes is the most important thing in life, money, are about the same size. Maybe my wallet is little bit bigger than his. And my cock is definitely bigger than his. You can ask his fiancé at the time why he’s mad. Or maybe even his mother.

I was friends with Jerry to a degree. We did a couple shows. What sent him over the edge was, we were playing the Knitting Factory (in Manhattan) and there was all these young kids up in the front and they all had Misfits shirts on. Hey, Jerry’s a smart guy, Glenn is smart, they’re all smart. What they did was they took the Crimson Ghost logo and it was basically public domain, no copyrights were enforced at the time and they incorporated it as their own logo. Me, I like to break balls, ya know, and I’m going on about the band and I said, “They’re not a band they’re a fuckin’ T-shirt company.” 

I was good and fuckin’ drunk and I said, “We’re playing a benefit next week for the Jerry Only defense fund.” And the kids were like alarmed and everyone got alarmed and the kids were like, "Why?" And I go, "He was arrested." And they were like, "For what?" And I go, "Pedophilia."

So, two days later, someone told Jerry and Jerry calls me and he’s yelling and you know, “I’m gonna sue you!” You know, bullshit like that. Jerry Only sues everybody for every little fuckin’ thing. But I love him, he’s a nice fuckin’ guy. I always got along with him, I like the guy. I told him, “Jerry, you’re gonna sue me? I’ll break your neck, how’s that?” He was quiet and he goes, “That’s it! Ron you always resort to violence as a solution!”

I’m like, "OK this is what we’ll do." I think it was 2007 at the time. I said, “Let’s rent out the Nokia Theater, we open for you.” I go, “We play, you play and then we’ll have a ring and me and you are gonna swing it out in the ring and we’ll see, we’ll settle the score once and for all.” He goes, “You always resort to violence, fuck you!” and he hangs up. 

That would’ve been a show people would still be talking about today! I don’t exactly condone saying something like that about somebody though but… 

He’s a nice guy. He had his concerns about a comment like that but ya know what? If you don’t like it don’t fuckin’ play. Don’t be in a fuckin’ band, you’re a public figure. I get abused constantly, I don’t give a shit. I couldn't care fuckin’ less. 

You guys played with Black Flag in I believe ‘81 at My Father’s Place in Long Island. What do you remember about that show? 

Yeah, I was reading recently where people said that show never happened. That show fuckin’ happened! My Father’s Place used to have cover bands and I remember going to see the Police there in the late '70s and there was maybe 20 people there. Mike Epstein (the owner) said, You know what, Thursday nights we’re closed, how about you guys play. So we started doing shows there with other New York bands and any bands that wanted to travel out to Long Island or Long Island bands.

It was $3 to get in and it was a big venue and the place was packed. You had easily 5 or 600 people eventually in that club. It took off and then other bands started playing there as well. He was a really good guy. Coked out of his fuckin’ head most of the time but he was a really good guy. He always paid the bands. Then it gravitated to weekends. At that particular time, had to be ’81, ’82, the punk scene really started taking off on Long Island. A lot of punk bands. Like the Headlickers, who really don’t get the credit that they deserve. Hellbent, the Lust, and Satan’s Cheerleaders. Lots of good bands. 

Did you guys Hang out with Black Flag at all at that show?

No, no. Again, I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s an urban legend because at least more than 50% of what you hear about us is true, but nobody wanted to hang out with us. In conversation, I mean, what could I talk to these people about? What could I talk to anybody? I mean, me and you we share the same mindset so we can have a good fuckin’ conversation but the reality of it is, what could I really have a conversation about with any other human being? I would talk to girls at clubs and 10 minutes later they’re going on about their lives and they’re in cosmetology, they’re gonna do this, they’re gonna be a nurse. 10 minutes later they’re crying hysterically because I convinced them that their lives are totally based in futility.

So yeah, nobody really enjoyed speaking with us or whatever. Still to this day. You know who were like real friends? Nick from Anti Nowhere League and a couple of the UK bands, they’d always come to visit and say hello when they were in town. People don’t get it. Everybody’s into a good fuckin’ time and having fun and everything. Our band started because we had a message, nothing about fuckin’ music, zero about music, we didn’t know to fuckin’ play. We had an axe to grind and I can’t think of a more perfect vehicle than being in a fuckin’ band and the sick perverse aspect of people paying to come in and see you and be fuckin’ abused and spit on.

So that was the whole thing, a message, we had a message and it rings true to this day. I mean the songs are relevant. Whether its a political song, a social song, there’s truth in it, there’s a story to it. I mean “Love and Kisses” about necrophilia. I was reading the newspaper one day and I was reading a story about a guy on Long Island that used to fuck his dead mother for months and months. OK, let me write a little story about that.

“My Dog He Licks Me to Keep My Body Clean”, I’m standing outside CBGB’s I’m talking to this homeless guy who was sitting on the curb, sharing some T-Bird. I’m talking to him and originally he was a doctor from Boston and he has this dog with him and he’s down and out. His wife left him, he started drinking. He was a fuckin’ doctor, like a surgeon I remember. I said to him, “Where do you shower? How do you stay clean. You look pretty good.” And he said to me, “My dog licks me to keep my body clean,” and then chuckled. And that was a song.

Everything he told me is in that song, verbatim. Things were different then. People talk about unity of the scene, there was no fuckin’ unity. I did this interview for NYHC Chronicles and it got taken down and I was told, “Oh it got lost, it’s on my cousin’s hard drive, I’ll put it back up.” Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit after bullshit. I love it, I mean I love when people fuckin’ lie to me and tell stories because I know what the truth is and I will always speak the truth no matter what.

Here it is where people were watching that, were listening to that and Jerry got offended ‘cause I mention the Misfits and contacted them to take it down. Bad Brains got upset, contacted them to take it down. Bad Brains? They watched us record our first single. I know them, I knew them very well but as people, they were a great band but they’re not good people. I’m not gonna candy coat anything. They wanted me to do that series about punk on Epix. They offered me a thousand dollars just to do the interview like they were paying everybody else. I said, keep the money, I don’t need the money.

Roll it back into the production costs or donate it to a fuckin’ charity, I don’t need the fuckin’ money. I do the interview and everything, of course they can’t put it up, they can’t show it because [the documentary producer and fashion designer] John Varvatos is looking for something and [the other documentary producer] Iggy Pop is looking for something that’s commercially viable. They wanna hear that everything was beautiful and candy coated and hunky dory and everyone got along together. That’s not the fuckin’ truth. 

Nihlistics @ CBGB's, 1989. (Photo: BJ Papas)

They also wanna sell $1000 pairs of skinny black jeans at the John Varvatos store…

[Laughs] Exactly. That’s what I’m saying, when money comes into the equation, whether it’s a venue or a band or an individual, things get fucked up. You gotta separate the two. If you have a message or something like that fine but unity in New York? All these people fuckin’ stabbed everybody in the back. The Bad Brains were like the pied pipers, everyone followed them but no one wanted to take it a step further and find out what’s on their minds, how they are as people. Again, I don’t fault them, anyone can have any opinion they want, good, bad or indifferent, hateful, offensive, I don’t care. Everyone has a right to an opinion and to espouse it. I don’t care. But I know and I care not to say kind things about them. I just say the truth, just like people say the truth about us, I don’t give a shit.

In punk, hardcore, whatever you wanna call it there should be nothing but pure honesty. That’s what the music is about, pure honesty. Not songs about, "Ooh my girlfriend left me I’m all fuckin’ jaded." That’s why I can’t stand this fuckin’ straight edge. These people used to come to our rehearsals and I’d send them to 711, “Go get me a case of fuckin’ beer!” and I’d be banging their girlfriends. I could name names but that’ll come out in my book. [Laughs] But the whole thing, it’s ramming shit down someone’s throat and I don’t know, maybe Ian MacKaye’s a nice guy but still, don’t ram shit down my throat. I don’t like that. Isn’t that what punk’s supposed to rail against? 

How did it go when you played with Boston’s kings of straight edge SSD and DYS at the Rock Hotel in Manhattan?

I remember driving home, one of the wheels on my car fell off, it had no lug nuts. We got along fine. Our reputation was probably worse then that it is now. People are very careful in what they say so the conversation didn’t revolve around social issues or politics. It was just very normal, you know, "Hi, how are you?," things like that, blah blah blah. But everyone was very standoffish. 

Any memories from when you guys played Max’s Kansas City? Was it still sort of an artsy Andy Warhol type of crowd or was it fully punk by then?

Yeah, but I give those people credit. What they would say is, “Go back to Long Island, fuck you” or whatever but they wouldn’t take it any further. They might not have been into it but they didn’t throw as much garbage what happened later on. 

Did you guys play with the Misfits at Max’s?

I don’t think so but we played with them at Irving Plaza. That Halloween show, that was the first time that Jerry’s brother was playing guitar. What’s his name, Doyle? It was packed. I like the Misfits, I always did. I don’t know why they ever gravitated towards the whole punk end of things, though, ya know. I think they would’ve done better in rock 'n’ roll but I mean they’ve done very well for themselves. For us, it’s more about the message it’s never been about money. We just have a very simple formula where 50% of the shows we get paid for, the other 50% we play benefits. Same with merchandise. So, with us, it’s just a little bit different. I just can’t see making money from what we do, I think that would just compromise everything. 

But you wouldn’t say no if they wanted you to play Madison Square Garden.

No, I would definitely play Madison Square Garden. It’s better to lambaste 10,000 people at one time than 200 people in a smaller venue. So again, my mindset and methodology is totally different. More bang for the fuckin’ buck.

It was always a fantasy of mine as a kid to land a fuckin’ plane on Times Square at New Year’s. When I saw 9/11 I said to myself, "These motherfuckers stole my idea." 

Holy shit…

We did the song “Al-Qaida Detonator," people said, "How can you use words like that in a song?" I was like, "It’s not racist, it’s a story." You read the whole lyric sheet for that song, it’s not racist in any way, shape or form. It’s reactionary. I mean, almost 3000 people died in the World Trade Center. Do you know, not one of them is a piece of shit cocksucker? Everyone that interviewed about a mother, a brother, a father, a sister, a friend that was lost in that attack, they were the wonderful people on earth. How can you fit almost 3000 people that are all wonderful, god-like saints in one fuckin’ building? Not one is a cocksucker. If I was there it’d be, “I’m glad that motherfucker is dead!”

No, that would’ve turned you into a saint! It would’ve been, “Saint Ron, that guy was the best!”

[Laughs] Yeah right! But here it is people send me, back then it was letters then it was emails, now it’s social media posts. They said, “We can’t wait til you die to come to your funeral!” So I think to myself, Wow are they being kind? And then the next line is, “We wanna make sure that you’re dead.” You know, so they wanna see me laying there in a casket, dead. To me it’s a very perverse, wonderful feeling, that you have such an effect on people.

And that’s what I like about Chesty Malone and the Slice ‘em Ups (your humble interviewer’s band), when we played together that time, look at how people were looking at you, listening to you and everything because you give them so much and it’s original, right? You’ve taken punk, you’ve taken metal, you’ve taken rockabilly or psychobilly and horror and combined it and honed it into something wonderful. And it’s new, it’s not that you’re following what somebody else does, you created something and that’s what music should be about.

From the collection of Anthony Allen. Begnal

That’s where the effort is and it doesn’t take talent it just takes real guts and fortitude to make something like that happen and stick with it, the longevity of it. Not just start a band for a few months or a year or two and say, “Eh, we tried to get a fuckin’ record deal.” I mean, granted, we recorded our first single at 171-A and nobody knew what to do, how to put out a fuckin’ record. So you learn as you go along and it took a long time before it was released and then two of the songs were on the New York Thrash tape (on ROIR Cassettes) and then the single came out and we printed a thousand of them and put it all around in the record shops.

[Label owner] Jerry Williams, we traded him, I think it was some whiskey or a couple bottles of Scotch, some weed, we had like 20 something dollars on us and he’s like, “OK, you can have two hours of recording time.” And who was there? Bad Brains were there and [music journalist, record label executive] Tim Sommer and [The Big Takeover zine founder] Jack Rabid was there. Jeff Magnum and Stiv Bators from the Dead Boys were there. They wanted to see us record. It was just a four track recording live. 

How did that New York Thrash comp come about and how did you end up being involved (and thanks for the super kind words)? 

That was planned for a long time too and Tim (Sommer) had a show (“Noise the Show” on WNYU), I give Tim and Jack (Rabid) a lot of credit for helping out a lot of bands a lot of people might not have looked too kindly on, they really kept the scene going. They did a lot for our band as well as far as gigs and things like that. It was a bit different back then. There was a bit of camaraderie or people actually helping other bands. But now when people sing about, united and fighting in the streets, these motherfuckers would stab each other in a second for a fuckin’ dollar. I know all of these people, they’re all so full of fucking shit. They’re all looking to be the next Slayer or whoever the fuck, Metallica, that’s what they wanna do. It’s totally different now.

But I’m not slagging off these bands, I’d like to see hardcore go on and on. Yes, it changes and it gets influenced by other things, whether it’s heavy metal or whatever but it’s a natural progression. Hardcore, in my opinion, started around 1979 or so. Time goes by, kids watch bands, they start bands. We had nothing.

People ask, "What was an influence?" There is no influence, we didn’t even know how to fuckin’ play. Anger was the influence. Hatred was the influence. We had something to say.

So you got four like-minded people together that wanted to stick with it. All these years later.. You know, we put out records, our first record we pressed 1000 copies and then we stopped pressing copies at 10,000. And that’s when we ended up getting a record deal, we were the first band to get a record deal (out of NYHC). So eventually Braineater Records goes belly up and I go to the bankruptcy hearing and it turns out we ended up selling over 100,000. I never knew that. 

From the collection of Anthony Allen Begnal

So Brain Eater was an actual label? I always thought that was your label.

No, no it was a real label and they put us out first and with the money they had they put out the first Queensrÿche EP.  See, they had Braineater and then they had Mongrel Horde, which was heavy metal bands. But they ended up putting out, with the money we made them, Queensrÿche, they put out Sisters of Mercy, they put out a lot of fucking bands. Barry was the owner, he lives in Florida now. He started out by selling used records at flea markets and he built it up into a good business.

He ended up buying, I think it was Cherry Red Records as well. He did very well but Barry was a funny kind of guy. You know, I’d see one of our singles on a different color vinyl and I’d be like, "Motherfucker!! So I’d buy it and I’d be like, “Oh Barry, here’s the record on red vinyl, I didn’t know it came out on red vinyl.” ”Oh you didn’t know? I didn’t tell you?” No you didn’t fuckin’ tell us nor did you pay us for it. “Oh I’ll write a check now!”

[Laughs] So I remember going to Gem Distributors in New Jersey to get money, and we gave them 1000 singles and basically on the phone it was, "Fuck you." "Fuck me?" Ok, I drive to New Jersey and I go into the office and I’m like, "Who do I talk to? I wanna get paid." They point to this fuckin’ guy and he’s like, "Oh, we have no money and I can’t pay you." So I pick up this old IBM Selectric typewriter, this big giant typewriter and he said, “Are you gonna take that in lieu of payment?” and I said, “No I’m gonna crush your fuckin’ skull with it til I get fuckin’ paid.” I got paid, we always get paid.

One way or another we always get paid. If you make a deal with us to get paid we’re gonna get fuckin’ paid. But again, Braineater put out so many bands, they put out Thor, they put out Nico. When they went belly up I bought the rights to all our stuff because I didn’t want them to have it. 

From the collection of Anthony Allen Begnal

Nihilistics played in Nazareth, Pennsylvania in the Spring 2019 at the Jacksonian Club with the Undead and Chesty Malone as part of a Joey Image from the Misfits benefit. How did that go and what were your thoughts on the Nazareth scene? And how were the pickled eggs they were selling at the bar?

Did we try them? Where they good? I wouldn’t try them, they looked like aborted fetuses! Ajax ate some! He later puked them up and didn’t re-eat the chunks so I guess they weren’t that good?

From the collection of Anthony Allen Begnal

What’s next for the Nihilsitics, what are you guys doing now?

We’re negotiating with a record label, I can’t say who it is right now but we’re very close to finalizing the deal. They’re gonna re-release the entire back catalogue and merchandising and everything like that. And again, it’s not to make money it’s just that in our old age we’re just lazy bastards and we’d rather hand it off to somebody else to do shit like that. But we always do something different as a band. Like we would do music for Lloyd Kauffman from Troma Films, different things, you know. I’d rather do things like that as opposed to just being lumped into hardcore shows all the time. 

Anything else you wanna add?

Can you also please add, if possible, that I am not the Long Island Serial Killer? They question me about that because I like to fish and met a few people from the NYHC and punk community and I’m sure they must have mentioned I fish just to break my balls. Fox 5 were interviewing people on the dock and I walked away when they tried to talk to me and detectives were there. Fucking People! [Laughs] Thanks again, bro!

Ron Rancid today

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Tagged: a hardcore conversation, nihilistics

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