Interviews

Todd Swalla (Necros, Laughing Hyenas)

Photo: Eerie Von

For the latest entry to his A Hardcore Conversation interview series, Anthony Allen Begnal chats with Necros drummer Todd Swalla, an OG member of the punk community who went on to also play in Laughing Hyenas. There's some great stuff included within this one. —Carlos Ramirez

You are Todd Swalla, drummer from Necros and Laughing Hyenas, correct? 

Yes, that is me. 

What made you start playing drums to begin with?

My mom was a music teacher in the Toledo Public Schools, I started taking piano lessons at age 8 and started playing drums a few years later. I used to set up garbage cans in our garage and play them like a drum set with screw drivers. My parents got me a drum set after a few months of that. 

You’re one of the earliest hardcore drummers. Who were you referencing for how to play like that? Do you have any favorite drummers from those early hardcore days?

My favorite drummers pre hardcore were Tommy Ramone and Jerry Nolan. I would play along to Ramones and Heartbreakers records with my headphones trying to mimic what they were doing. I progressed fairly quickly apparently and moved on. Chuck Biscuits was my punk rock drumming guru. We opened for DOA a couple times and he was very encouraging when he saw me play. 

How did you get turned onto the Ramones and the NY Dolls/Heartbreakers?

My brother had the Dolls records, I discovered the Ramones on a compilation called New Wave. Suzy is a Headbanger I believe.

How did the Necros form? Were you guys already friends or you found each other via the band?

All the Necros knew each other from skateboarding way before punk rock happened. We basically started our band in the back of my mom’s car on the way back from the skate park but we didn’t know how to play and we didn’t start rehearsing for another year. 

Photo courtesy of Todd Swalla

Who came up with the band name?

[Necros vocalist] Barry [Hennsler] definitely, his vocabulary was very advanced and he had a clear idea as to what he wanted to call the band. Circle Jerks was also thrown around way before they even existed. 

Since you were a teenager when Necros started out, what did you parents think of it all?

As I said, my mom was a music teacher, so she encouraged us to be creative. She had no bias against rock music or punk. We practiced in my basement for a couple years until we finally got asked to find a rehearsal space. 

What was it like growing up in Maumee, Ohio? Did you get a lot of shit from local rednecks and cops (since Barry references Maumee PD in “Police Brutality”)?

I grew up in South Toledo on the border, my church was in Maumee and everyone else in the band lived there so I hung out in Maumee a lot. The cops were bored and didn’t have much to do except give speeding tickets and hassle kids. We saw them kick the shit out of some kid behind Barry’s parents’ carry out (deli) one summer, he lit off a firecracker and someone called the cops and the entire force showed up. Punk rockers and skateboards were the perfect target for them, we got harassed all the time. 

Since you were also a skater, did that go hand in hand with hardcore and punk or did one come first?

I started skating in 1969 first wave, on a pink piece of wood the shape of a hot dog with roller skate wheels nailed to it, skateboarding existed long before punk rock but when they collided it was a perfect match. 

There was a Necros interview in Flipside fanzine where one of you guys said that all your songs were just KISS riffs sped up. Any truth to that? And clearly you guys always had a rock influence along with punk stuff, where did that come from?

We were into heavy music before punk, everyone had a rock influence. I was listening to the Stooges and the MC5 when I was 9-years-old, Grand Funk were my favorite band in ’72. I don’t remember the KISS reference, probably [Necros guitarist] Andy [Wendler].

Photo courtesy of Todd Swala

How did songwriting work with you guys? Was it a collaborative effort or did one or two guys write most of the songs? 

Andy or [Necros bassist, Touch and Go Records founder] Corey [Rusk] wrote most of the riffs and I would do the arrangements. Barry wrote most of the lyrics with a few exceptions.

Who did most of the band’s artwork? I know you guys had a 7” with Pushead artwork (Conquest for Death), how did that happen and did you ever meet him? 

Corey did some of the early photo work, we all did flyers. Brian Pollock did the logo. I think DS (Dave Stimson, Tesco Vee’s partner at Touch and Go mag) took the cover photo for I.Q. 32, Barry found the Houdini skeleton on the back. Later, we got Big Daddy Ed Roth to do a cover. Mark Dancy did the art for the final fake live CD. I remember meeting Pushead but I probably didn’t say much. He was a fan and he wanted everyone to use his artwork if they dug it. Punk rock whore. 

Brian Pollock was also the guitar player in Necros for a while. What’s the story with that?

Andy didn’t want to play anymore so we had Brian for about a year and then he left to go to college and Andy came back.

I saw you guys at CBGB in the early '80s and you guys had Misfits skulls all over the place, on your shirts, hoodies, amps etc. is it safe to say you guys were obsessed? What was it like to play shows with them back then?

We were the Misfits’ little brother band for about a year, we were huge fans of theirs so we were in awe to be playing with them. It was never a dull moment. 

You actually played drums for the Misfits a couple of times. Did you rehearse at all or did you just kind of know the songs? What was that final Misfits show like?

I rehearsed twice for the Irving Plaza show. Last show in Detroit was spontaneous thanks to Brian Damage being drunk. Those songs are easy to play and memorize, they’re pretty basic 1234 punk, right? Mimicking Googy was boring so I would elaborate a little bit, nothing too fancy. Detroit was a crazy night, Necros played great and kids were insane! 

What do you think of the recent Misfits reunions? Have you gone to any of the shows?

I waited 30 years for the gig and get bumped by the dude from Slayer [Dave Lombardo]. Fuck you, Satan. 

Necros were one of, if not the first hardcore bands to tour with major label metal bands (Megadeth and Overkill). How did that happen and what were your thoughts about that at the time. Did you guys consider yourselves to be “metal” at that point?

Our manager booked Megadeth on that tour so they inserted us in the bill. We were a punk band leaning towards a more rock ’n’ roll sound, teenage Motörhead. 

I saw that tour in Pittsburgh and I remember Dave Mustaine said some of the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard any band say on stage [laughs]. What did you guys think of him and Megadeth and Overkill in general? Did you hang out with them at all? I remember the Megadeth drummer at that time used to wear a Necros shirt in band pics so at least he dug you guys. 

That Pittsburgh show was amazing for us, the kids really came out for it and went nuts. Mustaine seemed like a bitter egomaniac who loved to get fucked up. By the end of the tour everyone was pals. Chuck Behler was Megadeth’s drum roadie and he ended up being the drummer after Gar [Samuelson] got sacked, and he wore a Necros shirt on the next album which was pretty rad. 

I always tell people to re-visit the Tangled Up LP because not only have I always liked it, there’s actually a few hardcore tunes on there. What are your thoughts on that album?

I like it, it’s a good punky rock album. Half of the record was written a year before the other half so it’s firmly rooted in hardcore. 

What did you think of some other hardcore bands at the time that “went metal” like SSD, DYS, Discharge etc? 

Everyone had learned to play and hardcore got formulaic and boring, it was time to rock out. 

Let me ask you about any memories from some old flyers:

The Damned
(I also asked OP Moore about this flyer in my interview with him and I wanted to get Todd’s perspective): I did this one, great show. The Damned watched both NA and us and were slightly impressed. Their bouncers were out for blood that night and the kids were not having it. Stage dives were like a game of cat and mouse with the kids winning in the end. 

Misfits/Necros: Pushead. They wouldn’t let us play because it was a 21 and over club so we went with some kids to skate a pool and Corey broke his leg. He played the rest of the tour with crutches and a cast. Andy and I went back and watched the show from outside and skated around with some kids. 

Necros in Harrisburg (your humble author is the artist of this one): Great show, we skated a cool ditch after sound check and had pizza. 

Necros/Void in Philly: Great show, Void were our kindred spirits as they wanted to rock out as well. Love Hall was always fun to play. 

Megadeth in Sacramento: I honestly do not remember this show [laughs].

Motörhead at the Olympic Auditorium: A punk rock concert, we played great and people went nuts. All the bands were good this night, especially Die Kreuzen. 

How did Necros end up splitting up? And are you still in touch with anyone from the band? 

After touring most of 1986 and we had gotten rejected by Elektra, so it just felt like it was time to pack it in. Everybody was moving on, progressing. I still talk to Andy and Ron. 

You, Andy and Ron did a pseudo Necros reunion in 2010 called SorceN (get it?) with Eric Oblander on vocals, what’s the story with that? 

Barry didn’t want to do it, he gave us his blessing and suggested Eric. It was fun, we did two shows and that was that. Andy has since retired from the guitar. 

SorceN (Photo courtesy of Todd Swalla)

What did you think of Big Chief (Barry Henssler’s post Necros band)? 

They were good. 

You eventually reunited with Ron Sakowski (Necros bass player) on bass as the Laughing Hyenas rhythm section. How did that end up happening?

I was already in the Hyenas and we fired our bass player, I called Ron and he was down for the gig. 

You were then in Laughing Hyenas, a band with John Brannon from Negative Approach. Were there any rivalries from the hardcore days with Negative Approach and Necros?

Negative Approach was our little brother band for about a year and then we started touring and they broke up. No rivalry. 

I saw Hyenas at Jabberjaw in LA in ’95 and I remember John and Ron getting into an argument where they actually had to leave the stage for a bit to resolve it. Do you remember that and did that kind of thing happen often in that band?

Near the end Ron had lost patience with the heroin thing, he never used so he was the odd man out. Tensions were high especially when scoring junk takes priority over sound check and things like that. 

Laughing Hyenas (Photo courtesy of Touch and Go)

How did Laughing Hyenas end up splitting?

Everyone got burned out. 

What are you doing now? 

Nothing at the moment. 

And lastly, I know it’s been asked over and over again but when’s the Conquest for Death LP going to get a proper reissue? Perhaps with the Hyenas stuff coming out on Third Man, who knows? And does anyone know where the master tapes are at this point?

It’s being worked on, so stay tuned. 

Oh, sweet, you heard it here first folks! Anything you want to add?

I’m good. 

Tagged: a hardcore conversation, necros

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