Since the mid-'80s, John "Porcell" Porcelly has been a mainstay of the hardcore scene. One of the most influential figures from the second wave of the musical movement, the 51-year-old currently plays in Youth of Today, Judge, and Shelter, touring sporadically throughout the globe. Porcell's discography also includes work as a member of Young Republicans, Project X, Ray & Porcell, Never Surrender, and Last of the Famous.
I don't know you can run a hardcore-centered website without having a Porcell interview on it, so I recently hopped on the phone with the man to discuss his early years. With such a deep discography, it was never going to be possible to cover it all in the span of one phoner, so stay tuned as I'll work on getting some more time with Porcell in the future. For now, enjoy a walk down memory lane with the guitarist.
Tell me a bit about your upbringing. I know you grew up in the New York City area, but wasn't sure where.
I grew up in Westchester, about an hour from NYC. So, yeah, Westchester is upper middle class, you know, rich people. I went to a high school with a bunch of affluent kids. There were BMWs in the parking lot, it was the '80s, and it was all very preppy. If you had the wrong shoes, you weren't cool, and you were shunned. I was super into hardcore music and didn't fit in. I dressed like a punk, and if you could understand how dressing at my school like that was back then, it was practically like looking like an alien. I would come to school with combat boots on and a crew cut and people thought I was nuts [laughs].
So, I learned from that early experience to have the guts to live my life the way that I want to, and not give a crap of what other people thought of me. That lesson that I learned when I was 15 really helped me navigate through my entire life. If I hadn't gone through that experience, and I would have listened to my father's career advice, I would have never played in the bands I've played in, and alson not gotten into Krishna conciousness. That high school experience fostered a lot of qualities in me that brought me outside of the box and defined what my life would be like.
From what you're saying, your parents must have been pretty open-minded if they allowed you to dress like a punk kid in high school.
[Laughs] Actually, not at all! I lived with my dad and he was a very strict Italian guy. He just couldn't wrap his head around what I was into. I would be walking around in Dead Kennedys shirts and would practically lose his mind. I had a leather jacket with the Suicidal Tendencies logo on the back of it and you can only imagine his face when I would wear it [laughs]. So, getting past whatever ideas my parents had for my future was another obstacle I had to overcome as a kid. We just had very different values and outlooks on everything.
Did you discover punk music in high school?
No, I got into it before that. I was literally 12 when I got into it. I went straight from KISS into the Sex Pistols and never looked back. I had a great record collection and spent all I had on that. I was 100% dedicated to punk and hardcore from an early age. But I had never been to a show, and I didn't really know anyone that was really a hardcore person. There were a couple of kids in my school that were into it, but not as much as I was. I really wanted to go to shows, but there was no way my father was going to let me go to some crazy punk show. So, I had to sneak out of my house with some preppy-looking clothes so that I could sneak back in and not have him know I went to go see Negative Approach, or whatever [laughs]. It was always a battle.
What was the first hardcore show you went to?
Well, it changed my entire life. I was 15 and all I knew about slam-dancing was what I had seen on TV [laughs]. One of my favorite bands was MDC and my friend told me that there was going to be a hardcore show during the day in NYC. It was a Rock Against Reagan show at the Central Park band shell and MDC were on the bill. So, I told my dad that I was going to White Plains [a city in Westchester] and then went into the city to Central Park. I remember getting there and seeing all the punks and feeling like my dreams were coming true [laughs].
Anyway, the Crucifucks were also on the bill, and they were this weird, arty, semi-hardcore kind of band. They played and no one moved. It seemed like no one liked them and I was so disappointed because I expected people to go nuts at a punk show. But then MDC went on, and from their very first chord, the place went nuts. I was like, "Oh my god, they're slamming!" I had been watching from the back, so I ran towards the stage and into people. I had no idea what I was doing [laughs]. I could not believe that people were getting on the stage and sang along with the singer. It blew my mind! I had found my tribe.
Your name is John Porcelly, so I'm curious to find out how you got the nickname "Porcell" that we all know you as.
Well, I was totally into football and when I started playing on my high school team, I had this old Italian coach that had also coached my brother. So, the coach was really excited that I was going to be playing for him because my brother was really good. But little did he know I was a complete punk rocker [laughs]. I remember showing up to football practice in combat boots with fucked up hair and all that, and the coach looked at me and asked, "Are you Jim Porcelly's brother?" I told that I was and he looked at me like I was from a different planet and yelled, "Look at you! You're a disgrace! You're going to show up to practice looking like that? I'm not going to even call you John Porcelly! I'm going to take the vowel off your name so that no one knows you're Italian!" [Laughs] So, he started calling me "Porcell" and I sort of wore it like a badge of honor. I didn't want to be part of his world.
Though you were diametrically opposed, does your dad at least know the impact you and the bands you've played in have had on a musical movement?
I don't really think so. My dad passed away a couple of years ago. He had been really sick for like a year and had a bunch of heart attacks. One day, I get a call from one of my dad's doctors down in Florida telling me that he was literally going to die any hour, and that if I wanted to see him, I should hop on a plane and get to the hospital. I get there and my brother and sister were already there and it was strange because he was coming in and out of conciousness, but he seemed very lucid. When I got there, he was very mentally together and he said to me, "You know, John, I never understood what you wanted to do with your life and that whole punk rock and Krishna thing. It made us very estranged. But you know, when I've looked up things on the Internet about you, I'm really proud of you and what you've done." For me, that was a real sense of closure with my dad. For my whole life I had banged heads with him, so in the end, I think he had an appreciation for me. It was really nice.
That must have been a great feeling. I guess since I have you on the line, I should ask you some stuff more band-related stuff. Who came up with the name Youth of Today?
I can't remember if it was me or [vocalist] Ray [Cappo]. But let me just say, both Ray and I loved hardcore. Minor Threat, Negative Approach, Urban Waste, 7 Seconds, Agnostic Front... we lived for that stuff. To us, that music spoke to us very deeply. But when Youth of Today started in 1985, it was really strange because fast hardcore, and especially straight edge, was completely out of style. Agnostic Front had gone metal. Minor Threat had broken up. It just seemed like that primitive style of hardcore was just not being played anymore, and not just that, it also felt like it was looked down upon.
Our whole agenda with starting Youth of Today was that we loved this kind of music and we wanted to bring it back. We didn't want a fancy band name. We wanted a generic name because we wanted people to know that we were there to play hardcore. So, we were trying to think of a super-generic hardcore band name. The words "youth of today" had been in a Cause for Alarm song. It had also been in an Abused song. It was kind of name-dropped in a few hardcore songs by the time we used it.
I wanted to ask you about Ray's distinct vocal style. Back then, especially, he would do that thing where he extends a word out and winds up in a very snotty kind of delivery. A great example of this can be found in the Youth of Today song "Shout It."
[Laughs] He was singing like that from the very first practice. You know how he is! He's always been a wildman. You couldn't contain that dude! So, I think that energy that he had also came through in his singing voice. It was uncontained. When we recorded Break Down the Walls, that was the record where he really did that [imitates Ray's crazy vocal sounds] kind of stuff. I remember he passed out recording his vocals during that album [laughs]. We heard a thud coming from the vocal booth while we were listening in the control room. Ray was pushing his voice so hard that he actually knocked himself out! That's a true story. We did Break Down the Walls in like two days. Anyway, I love how that record sounds.
What kind of jobs were you guys doing between the touring? You lived in NYC at the time, and even though it was nowhere as expensive as it is now, it still wasn't dirt cheap.
We would get in some shitty apartment and all live there. Ray and I put up flyers where we offered to clean your house for $10 an hour, or we'll paint your apartment. So, yeah, we would do odd jobs so we could have money for food. But it was pretty insane because we would tour and play anywhere. If someone offered us $25 to drive down to Virginia Beach to play a show, it was like, "OK, great!" [Laughs] We were driven. But every time we would go out on tour again, we would have to break the apartment lease and lose our deposit money.
Back then, we did whatever it took to make the band happen. That's why when I hear kids complain today, I'm just like, "Dude, you have no idea what the fuck we went through!" We did it just for the love of music and wanting to get out there and play shows. We would have done anything. It was our calling to do this.
I recently chatted with Todd Youth (Agnostic Front, Warzone, Murphy's Law, FireBurn) and he told me that back during the late '80s, many of the older guys he hung out with from the NYHC scene hated on the second wave bands like Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits, but that he felt that you guys truly kept the movement going.
Well, first of all, let me say that I have nothing but respect for Agnostic Front. Roger [Miret] and Vinnie [Stigma] were nothing but great to us and actually gave Youth of Today our first show, which was in Connecticut. Vinnie let me borrow his guitar amp many times. Let me also say that NYC was a very scary place back then. I remember when I first walked into CBGB's, there was a vicious fight where someone got their split open with a broken bottle. This was not something that I was used to seeing in Westchester County [laughs]. If you weren't accepted in the NYHC back then, you were a fucking target.
Straight edge kids were hated back then. They looked at our scene like a threat. So when Ray and I first started coming along to that CBGB's scene, things could have gone very bad for us, let me tell you. You want to know what saved us? Roger and Vinnie were friends with us and pretty much let everyone else know, "These guys are cool with us and we give them our stamp of approval." That respect probably kept us alive. No joke! But I will say when the whole Youth Crew thing happened in the mid to late '80s, bands like Agnostic Front and Cro-Mags didn't really hang out with us. Plus, they were always on tour. The only guy who really hung out with us from that older wave was Raybeez [Warzone, Agnostic Front]. Everyone else around were new kids like us. But it was very cool of Raybeez to embrace us, even though he was much older than us.
I love that!
Yeah, do you want to hear a funny Todd Youth story?
OK, during the early days of Youth of Today, I was at [Connecticut music venue] the Anthrax to see that Boston band the Freeze and Todd Youth was there. I think he was 12 at the time and he had just ran away from home. He was with these two skinhead girls and came up to me and said, "Hey man, I like your shirt, my name is Heap." I must have had an Agnostic Front shirt on or something. [Laughs] I was like, "Who is this kid with these two older skinhead chicks?" My daughter is 14 and I think she's super-young. But I remember he told me that those girls were gonna bring him to NYC and he was gonna find a squat to live in and find a band to join. I remember putting my hand on his shoulder and going, "Good luck, dude!" My heart went out to this little kid. You had no idea what the fuck was going to happen to him.
Anyway, a few months later, I was in NYC and I was going to a show and saw him! I couldn't believe it! I was like, "Heap, you made it!" He says to me, "I don't call myself that anymore. I'm Todd Youth now and I play in Agnostic Front now." I couldn't believe it! [Laughs] We became friends after that, but it was like miraculous.
Since Porcell was driving, and our connection was spotty, I decided to end the conversation there, but I promise to hook up with him again soon and talk about his other bands and musical experiences. Catch Porcell with Shelter on tour starting May 31 at This Is Hardcore. He'll be out with Judge after that in the fall throughout Asia.