"I don't think we've ever felt any kind of pressure in this band to live up to any expectations people have had of us, and there definitely was some," Strife vocalist Rick Rodney tells me in between bites of his sandwich at a diner in Eagle Rock, CA. We're sitting in the restaurant discussing his band's influential sophomore album, In This Defiance. Released in the spring of 1997 by Victory Records, the album will be celebrated by the band in their home state of California on Aug. 23 and Aug. 24 with a special performances at the Roxy in Hollywood and 924 Gilman in Berkeley, respectively.
The pressure thing comes up early in our discussion because Strife were coming off One Truth, their hugely popular debut album, and I wonder if Rick and the band felt like they had a lot to live up to on Record #2. "We were so far-removed from the Orange County scene — and for that matter, NYC hardcore — in the geographic sense. We weren't in the thick of it, you know? I just think that we were our own worst critics. We figured we'd do what we want to do and not worry about what people thought."
"We were influenced by such a diverse palette of music that it reflected on the core metallic sound of In This Defiance. We were always fans of the crossover bands like Leeway and Cro-Mags. The Judge record was obviously a huge thing for us. But even still, Slayer was big one for us as well. We recorded at Sound City because Slayer did Divine Intervention there, but it sounds the way it did because we recorded it just after coming off a month long tour with Sepultura. Also, it sounds like it does because we had it mixed by Bob Marlette (Producer, Mixer for Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Marilyn Manson)."
Internal pressure is one thing, but how about Victory Records? After the sales success of One Truth, the label must have had their eyes set closely on the prize. "They didn't really get involved. I mean, they did give us money to make the album. I think we spent around $30,000 to make the album (One Truth cost $7,500), which leaked to the public and people started calling us rock stars [laughs]. It's funny because a lot people always had that perception of us. I've always felt like we were damned if we did and damned if we didn't. We were never straight edge enough for the militant kids, and too straight edge for others. People would also give us shit for playing $8 or $10 shows. I always felt like Strife could never win. Hey, but the shows were always fun," laughs the singer, who for the last two decades has also lead a successful career as a commercial and fashion photographer.
I tell Rick that one of the aspects I love about In This Defiance is how great everything sounds, from a sonic standpoint. It might be the metalhead in me, but back then, most hardcore records had a lot to be desired on the production end of things. "People gave us a lot of crap for the recording sounding as good as it did. I think the guy we worked with [Dave Jagosz] did a great job with that recording." Rick agrees with my estimation that the reason I might love the way the album sounds is because my ears are trained on classic thrash records from the late '80s and early '90s. "I'm with you on that. For example, I love the way Slayer's Divine Intervention album sounds. I like the later Slayer records because the production finally got awesome."
One of the standout cuts on In This Defiance is "Blistered," a song so good that it even inspired a hardcore band to use it as their moniker. "It's funny, but as popular as that one is, it was probably my least favorite song on the album at one time. [Laughs] I was outvoted by the other guys in the band on that one. We did a video for it, and I think that helped get it popular. Looking back, 'Blistered' was probably the most diverse hardcore song on the record. It sounded a bit different from the rest of the songs on the album. I mean, I like the song now, especially when we play it live. And you mention Blistered, the band that named themselves that, they're really good!"
Rick gives me some background on the video for "Blistered," which was directed by Darren Doane, a friend of the band who has also helmed music videos for such bands as AFI, Shinedown, and MxPx. "We shot it in a warehouse in Westlake Village [located in the Ventury County, California] and I remember Darren had this circular track set up for the camera, which gave it a cool motion thing. I liked that the video wasn't slick at all. There was a bare bones thing about it that I liked. For a hardcore video, I think it was a really good way to go. I think it's a great video."
Anyone who has heard In This Defiance already knows how hard Rick goes on all of his vocal performances. It turns out as easy as he might make that look in a live setting, the confines and pressure of the recording studio isn't something he's all that comfortable with. "It isn't like today where you could punch in each line of a verse," Rick says. "It was on tape back then, so it was a big deal to fuck up. I hate recording vocals. I don't even like the way I sound when I listen back to it. I'm not saying it sounds bad, but it's not the way I wish it sounded.
Rick Rodney on singing for Strife in the studio and on tour:
"Recording vocals is an awful experience. It's also hard on the road. When my voice blows out, I fucking hate being in a band. When we're on tour, it's always shot by three days in. Then it comes back and it's really strong and I love it, but during those few days we're I'm struggling, I'm the crabbiest jerk ever. [Laughs] I wasn't even drinking or smoking at that time, I just didn't know what I was doing."
How many songs on In This Defiance and for that matter, One Truth, are about straight edge? "Not as many as people would think," Rick tells me. "Lyrically speaking, a lot of it was the 'you stabbed me in the back' kind of thing hardcore bands write about, but a bit more esoteric. I loved Quicksand and I used to think that Walter's [Schreifels] lyrics were so weird and cool. [Laughs] I remember thinking, 'Wow! I want to write lyrics like that! You don't even have to be that specific and it sounds great!' So, I would certainly have an emotion and specific concept in my head, but I would try to be more abstract about the lyrics I wrote.
"But yeah, there were songs Strife did that were definitely about straight edge. 'Force of Change' is a straight edge song. 'To An End' was for the most part a straight edge song, but that was more directed at people not being pro-active in the hardcore scene. 'Through and Through' from the first album was a song people thought was about straight edge, but that one was more about love and relationships. On In This Defiance, I was seeing a girl back then who was straight edge and part of the hardcore scene and a lot of songs back then were inspired by our relationship."
As I mentioned before, it's been over two decades since the release of In This Defiance, and Strife will be paying tribute to the album by playing it in its entirety with two special California shows this week: Aug. 23 in Hollywood and Aug. 24 in Berkeley. Since I'll be at the Roxy gig in a few days, I bring up Rick's propensity to bust his head open with the microphone and bleed down his face during Strife performances. "I just can't jump like I used to, so I bash my head with a mic [laughs]. It's just a dumb thing that I do intentionally. It feels good. Playing live is like a form of therapy and I just can't do some of the things I used to do on stage.
"People used to hate us for being so animated when he played live. We wanted to recreate what we saw in those Youth of Today and Chain of Strength photos. That energy."
But, does it hurt? "My head? Nah, I have a hard head and I hit myself on a certain spot [points towards top of his head] that is like calloused now. There have been times where microphone chips have gotten stuck inside the skin and they start coming out later. I don't want to do it all the time, because it's not like I'm going on stage and thinking, 'Well, this is when I'm going to bang my head,' or anything like that. It's not choreographed. It just feels good. It's a release. That said, my wife and mother-in-law hate when I do it. [Laughs] What can I say? I'm still gonna do it."
Before Rick and I part ways, I would be remiss if I didn't ask him what his favorite song on In This Defiance is. "There's a song called 'Wish I Knew' that we have rarely ever played live that is more of a reflective kind of thing. But to be honest, I pretty much love the record from start to finish. I think it holds up. I'll listen to it every now and then and think, 'Oh, this is cool.' I don't always feel that way about the stuff we've done through the years, but In This Defiance holds up really well. I can't wait to play these songs in order, something we haven't done till this year."
No Echo has teamed up with Strife for a special giveaway for their In This Defiance performance this Thursday night (Aug. 23) at the Roxy in Hollywood, CA. All you have to do is post the image below in your Instagram timeline with the #strifenoecho hashtag. One person will be chosen at random and win two tickets to the show. The winner will be announced this Wednesday (Aug. 22). The show will also include openers Crimimal Instinct, Dead Heat, Berthold City, and Fixation.
Strife will also be performing In This Defiance in its entirety on Friday (Aug. 24) at 924 Gilman in Berkeley, CA. Dead Heat, Berthold City, and Drain will also be on the bill. The band will also be part of this coming weekend's (Aug. 25) New Age Records 30th Anniversary festival in Garden Grove, CA. The event will also include performances from Trial, Mouthpiece, A Chorus of Disapproval, and Mean Season, among other acts.