During my college years in Boston, MA I’d spend entire days walking the entire city and its nearing suburbs hunting for records, ultimately spending the entirety of my savings account in one semester. At the time Boston had so many record stores that only a psychopath would try to hit them in an entire day but when you’re young, wired, and hunting for grails, logic rarely factors into anything and besides, there had to be a copy of The Kids Will Have Their Say mispriced at some used shop, right?
Well, 6 years later I did find a copy of Kids on the cheap but through that entire stretch I became as interested in the “New Arrivals,” used bins, and imports as I was the local sections at stores, learning the history of Boston underground music retroactively and also, buying a lot of crap that I’d immediately swap out. So it goes.
Nuggets in Kenmore Square had a mystery bag deal where you could get five records—at least that’s how I remember it—for $10 or whatever. Being green, I bit and purchased a “Local Band Mystery Bag,” on a brisk October day, walked outside the store and ran into a friend who said, “Fuck, why the hell didja waste your money on that? Those things are a scam.”
He was mostly right.
Out of the stack, the only record that immediately looked promising was Forever Never Came by XS, simply because the cover featured a slouching skeleton punk and it had an X in the name.
I went home, sampled the LPs including Chain Link Fence Positive who featured Dickie Barrett’s brother Billy on vocals and was nonplussed until I spun the XS LP. What struck me is that the album felt like it jumped around from thrash to post-punk to snotty punk and back. It had some rippers, it had some grinders, and a little sludge. I pestered a few elders but no one knew much about the band other than “they were from the ‘80s and never really played.”
Like Jeff Spicoli’s shirt, something happened to my XS record and at some point during the early days of lockdown I fished around Discogs and Google for intel based on a random memory of owning said LP. I ended up finding an XS YouTube account with some tracks and messaging the owner. He replied a year later. That led to a lengthy phone conversation and ultimately, a bit of closure for me on who XS were and how they fit into the Boston hardcore scene. Spoiler: they kind of didn’t but I did learn that one of their members went on to play in Big Dipper who put out some fantastic power pop albums.
XS’ music is now streaming for you on all platforms and what you’ll find are some interesting tracks that are charmingly disconnected from the brawny Boston hardcore du jour of the early-’80s. As I suspected, they were fans of both hardcore and post-punk and the LP showcases that.
Is it flawed? The band would agree but while it’s not a lost Boston hardcore classic, Forever Never Came doesn’t need to be as, like hardcore itself, the recording is just the document and sum of all the pieces—the personalities, the shows, the sweat, and the youthful energy that fuels it all.
Here’s my conversation with Glenn Angell of XS along with some one-liners and insights from the rest of the band.
FROM THEIR BIO: XS was a Punk band formed in 1982 by three high school friends while seniors at Concord-Carlisle High School, Concord, Massachusetts, U.S.A., The original band lineup was Hank Lynn (vocals), Glenn Angell (guitar), Greg Hogan (bass), and Jeff Oliphant (drums). This was the lineup that performed at the high school talent show in 1983. Peter Harvey (vocals), joined the XS in 1984 after Hank left the band. XS recorded their Forever Never Came LP in 1984-5 with Peter on vocals. XS broke up in 1986.
What was everyone's entry point to punk rock?
Glenn Angell (guitar): It was listening to radio stations in and around Boston, going to record stores, friends lending me records or punk fanzines, and seeing movies. Radio stations on the left side of the dial at the time were amazing and the DJs exposed me, a kid way out in the suburbs, to a whole other world.
Stations such as Emerson College’s WERS (DJ Shred had a great show), Boston College’s WZBC had a whole bunch of great DJs playing punk, hardcore, electronic, etc. and WLYN in Lynn used to have this great punk show but I don’t remember the show or DJs name.
I used to listen to these shows and make tapes from my radio at home. I still have them somewhere I think. I used to call into the stations and request songs and record them on cassette, one of my favorite hobbies. We used to go to the Harvard Coop, Newbury Comics and other local record stores to look at, buy, and hear punk. Seeing import records from the UK was fascinating to me.
Friends who liked punk would also lend me their records or make tapes for me. Seeing movies such as The Decline of Western Civilization and Urgh! A Music War made a profound impression on me. After I saw Urgh! In 1981, I bought a guitar since I wanted to be in a band like the ones I saw in the movie.
Greg Hogan (bass): I blame Pete. Our friend Harry had a yellow Mustang Mach 1 and a cassette with Never Mind the Bollocks on one side and Fresh Fruit for Rotten Vegetables on the other. I went to see Black Flag at Streets and it was all over for me.
Jeff Oliphant (drums): My first entry to punk was going to a hardcore show with my cousin in Boston. We saw the FU's, Gang Green, and DYS. The first Killing Joke record was amazing as well.
Peter Harvey (vocals): My entry to punk was the Dead Boys' Young Loud and Snotty but I was always a fan of trashy garage rock—Troggs, The Sonics, Trashmen etc. Radio was getting so bad, then you would go to the left of the dial, BOOM! WZBC WERS and a few more college stations, that's where you mined bands you never heard of. A best friend named Reid turned me onto the Sex Pistols. Gang of Four, and the Dead Kennedys, he was the one to steer me towards college radio. Thanks, Reid.
How did XS form?
Glenn: Me, Jeff, and Greg were seniors in the class of 1983 at Concord-Carlisle, High School, Concord, Massachusetts so we knew each other. We jammed at Jeff’s house a few times in 1982, if my memory is correct. We liked playing together so we continued. We played some cover songs and jammed and our sound naturally evolved to punk.
We did not have a lead singer until we put together a setlist for the high school talent show in 1983. Hank Lynn sang lead vocals with us at that show and was our lead singer briefly before Peter joined. One of our best friends, Katie Blodgett also sang with us at that show. You can see pictures of the talent show on our website.
Greg: I met Jeff in detention and he had known Glenn forever. We were the only ones we knew who were interested in punk rock and playing in a punk band.
We talked about feeling like outsiders to the Boston scene. Can you talk about why that was and why you think the band didn't play the Channel, etc.?
Glenn: We were outsiders simply because we came from the suburbs out in Concord. And also the fact that we never played any shows in Boston. We all went to a lot of the Boston hardcore shows at the Channel and other venues. I remember seeing tons of bands such as The Circle Jerks, DOA, Hüsker Dü, Gang Green, DYS, and The Proletariat. I still think that we would have been outsiders in that scene even if we had played shows in the city.
I think it would have been tough to break into that tight-knit scene with the Boston Crew with the biggest local bands and be a part of that, but we’ll never know! It’s only speculation on my part, but it didn’t seem very inclusive to outsiders. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. Who knows? I don’t.
I really don’t know why XS never played shows in Boston. Why didn’t we? Maybe someone else in the band can answer that better. I can’t. I would have loved to play at those shows. We really blew a big opportunity by not doing that though, that’s for sure. We needed to get out of the suburbs and into the cities where the action was!
Peter: We never got into the Boston scene, per say. XS loved all kinds of music and there were better scenes than Boston. XS broke up right after we put out Forever Never Came, that's the real reason we missed the circuit. I still don't think we would have aligned with that scene [laughs].
Because you were outsiders, could you talk about putting on your own shows or how you were networking, etc.?
Glenn: Putting on our own shows in Jeff’s basement, at friend’s houses or at a local youth center was easy and fun. We used to invite friends down to the practice space and it was like an open mic where anyone could play. We’d have parties too. We have one notable show that our bassist, Greg set up. It might have been Peter, but I think it was Greg.
Greg was always good at meeting people, bands, and making contacts. He met and invited DRI to play in Jeff’s basement and then called or visited some local Boston radio stations and a DJ talked about the show on the air. I think he put up flyers too. So, we opened for DRI in Concord! I remember some band members of local band Stranglehold came to the show. If I remember correctly, Dicky Barrett from Impact Unit and later the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, told me I played a “mean guitar” after our set. I think the police made us shut the show down.
Greg: We would play anywhere we could, which was pretty much house parts where a handful of kids might care. Mostly in the basement at 222, Jeff's mothers house. I talked DRI into playing there after seeing them at Rock Against Reagan in Amherst, Massachusetts we called all the radio stations to announce it and had a great turnout, entry was free and we sold cups to fill out of Matt's Beer Balls and gave DRI the $111 profit which was then most they had ever been paid before.
The band has a lot of influences from trashy songs to tinges of post punk and dirges--could you talk about the influences you had and what you were trying to do with the songwritin, etc.?
Glenn: My biggest influences at the time we were writing the thrash songs were Minor Threat, SOA, Void, Ramones, Bad Brains, Bad Religion, DYS, and The Proletariat. Also, around that time, a friend of the band from Concord, Soraya El Baz, lent me a whole bunch of the DC hardcore scene 45’s since she had just moved from there. It was amazing to have those in my hands on my turntable to listen to for a few weeks, all to myself! Punk 45’s! Thanks, Soraya! Soraya was a real punk rocker, that’s a fact.
Out in the suburbs, there were hardly any authentic punkers. Once, Soraya came to our practice space at Jeff’s house with Choke, singer from Negative FX. and XS played VFW with him after he watched us play our set. That was fun! Also, I saw a ton of local bands too and DYS and The Proletariat were my favorite ones and major influences on me. Then, there was the show that “changed my life” seeing Killing Joke at The Channel in 1982 using a fake id because I was 17 at the time. I went with Peter, my older brother, and some friends. I had never seen a band like it before up to that point.
Killing Joke were the most original, intense, and primitive band I’d seen. I was hypnotized by their music and couldn't keep my eyes off of Jaz and Geordie. Me and Peter met Jaz after the show too, which was interesting. After that show, I went through a long period of rejecting anything mainstream that wasn’t punk or post-punk. Seeing PiL the next year at The Channel was a very influential show too.
PiL’s first LP is one of my favorite records of all time. I love that one! As I listened to more post punk music such as Joy Division, Gang of Four, Pylon, and Native Tongue, I started to find that style a lot more interesting than punk and thrash. I think you can hear the change in our sound as XS started to show these influences.
I'm really interested in how you went about pressing your own LP and the process of recording back then---please talk about that
Glenn: Peter or Greg, possibly Jeff, know most of the details about pressing the LP since I don’t know everything about it. But, I do know that Peter had the good technical sense and instinct then to go for a very high quality product by choosing Europadisk, Ltd Direct Metal Mastering to press the LP’s. That was a very smart move and the high quality pressings of the discs then most likely made our recent vinyl transfer job sound much better sonically now.
In regard to the recording sessions, Peter got us a block of recording time through meeting Ed Goodreau, recording engineer at Blue Jay Recording Studios, Carlisle, MA. Aerosmith, Roy Orbison, Boston, and many other famous artists recorded there. And, so did XS! XS recorded live in the big room there during a few overnight sessions, if I remember correctly. It was amazing to hear us live with headphones on as we played and recorded our songs. Unbelievable sound and great equipment there.
I have to thank Peter for making that happen. What an experience! Recording our original music and making an LP was one of my biggest ambitions at that point, and we did it. It was also one of the best experiences in my life. Interesting fact; Peter told me recently that Ed Goodreau is now Director of Studio Operations at Interscope Records.
Greg: Pete got a Christmas gift of some recording time at Blue Jay. That’s how that started.
Pete: It took almost 2 years to finish and put out the LP. We were in the studio in December 1983 and again December 1984. The album took another six months to put out.
I know animal rights was popular in UK punk at the time XS existed but devoting the back cover to PETA and an anti-vivisection message was really interesting to me. Can you talk about that and who was fueling that message?
Glenn: I know that Peter felt strongly as a dog owner that this animal rights message should be on the back cover of our LP so that image was put on it.
Jeff: I love all animals, but I never liked the PETA back cover. I wish we had put a picture of the band instead. I had no input on the front or back cover.
Peter: I love animals, PETA not so much. When we put it out I thought PETA was far more effective than they really are. I was wrong. I still want to help any animal that would be put through vivisection, it's wrong. I just don't support PETA in any way.
I know there are some regrets about the LP. Can you talk about that and also, would it have been better served as a 7-inch?
Glenn: Yes, I have some regrets. But, overall, I am very proud of what we did! We were 19 or 20 years old at the time, and we recorded some excellent, original hardcore punk and punk, in my opinion. I think there are some great songs on it. It’s our sonic statement of that era. We gave it our best, raw effort from the heart and soul and what more could you ask for? We were just young, creative kids inspired by punk doing what we really loved to do.
I don’t have any regrets about the cover artwork for the LP. That is amazing artwork and it really catches your eye, doesn’t it? Peter’s friend, Jack Carrigan, created that and it is one of the best punk LP covers I’ve seen. I love the cover!
I also don’t have any regret about the songs on the LP except the songs "All You Need," "Destiny," and the awful Wire and Sex Pistols songs cover versions. None of those songs should have been on the LP, in my opinion. The song order on the LP seems like it is very mixed up, not in the correct order of our live set list. What happened there? What’s the reason for it? I don’t know.
We always opened our set with the hardcore and ended with the post punk. So, the LP track order is not right. When I posted our tracks on digital platforms, I made sure to put them in the correct order of our live set or, at least what I remember it to be. That is what the track order should have been on the LP. So, it flows as our set did.
Yeah, we probably should have done a 7-inch first with the hardcore songs and released that and then went on tour like normal bands. We should have done what Jeff did with Big Dipper; practice a lot, gig locally a lot, record an EP and go on tour. You know, put the work in, the grind, so to speak. XS didn’t do that. That would have been the best thing to do.
In talking to Greg and Jeff recently, they told me that band friend Reid Christen did book a tour for XS for a month sometime in 1984 or 1985. I actually don’t remember that, strange. I’m not sure why we didn’t go on tour, but I’ve heard a few reasons. What happened there? It’s still a mystery to me. It’s a shame really that we didn’t do at least one tour, another big opportunity lost!
In regard to the LP, I wish we had tighter quality control and full band input on the entire process of making it from start to finish, but there wasn’t. Plus, we didn’t have a band manager or label behind us, which would have provided that at some level. In any case, we were just making the LP ourselves in true punk D.I.Y. fashion, improvising things as we went along and the Forever Never Came is the result. We paid for and made the LP under our own record label Bird Of Prey. I also don’t remember there being present during the mixdowns or production session either. What happened there? I would have liked to be there during the song mixdowns with the whole band giving input on our sound together, but it didn’t happen.
Also, the Forever Never Came LP was not actually ever released! Why not? I know the band broke up after we recorded it, but the LP should still have somehow been released or distributed by us. We weren’t signed by any label, so it would have been up to us to do that on our own. Maybe we had all moved on at that point and were tired of each other or the band. But, it makes no sense to not distribute the LPs at all, even if we had broken up and brought the entire process to completion. We had done LP promotion too.
We should have hand delivered some boxes and copies and mailed others out to record stores in NY, DC, LA, Chicago, San Francisco, and the UK, for starters. The original songs on the LP were an honest artistic punk statement that we worked hard on to write and record, so I’m not sure why that never happened. Boxes of LP’s have been in storage for decades and only recently a few years ago did I get my own box! I was the guitarist in the band too! Talk about being shocked and happy at the same time! For years, I had to scrap to get my own copies. Better late than never, though right?
If there are more boxes or lots of copies of the LP’s out there, I’d like to get them and sell them online or even give them away to young kids or collectors who love vintage punk vinyl. Are there any left? What good are they doing sitting somewhere? Music is meant to be shared, so let’s share any original LPs if we still have them. Vinyl is really interesting to young kids or others too who never interacted with that format before, especially vintage vinyl. And some collectors love obscure bands with mint or very good condition vinyl.
Although the LP wasn’t released, Reid Christen did promote the record prior to what was supposed to be a release and sent out LP pre-release cassettes to college radio stations all over the country which we should thank him for. That’s a lot of important promotional work and one way it got done back then. You can see some pictures of one of the cassettes and promotional flyers he made on our website. Reid also used to record XS on his 4 track portastudio a lot. So he was very involved in the band.
Jeff: We recorded in 1983 and then again in’84 Peter put the money up for the album, and I'm just thankful we got these songs recorded. At 56-years-old I envy the fact I could play the drums with speed and energy. The recording process was fun and exciting. We were very lucky to have had the experience to record our songs, where most bands didn't have that opportunity.
OK, the big one: What led to the break up of XS?
Glenn: For me personally, I began losing interest when some band members considered band practices optional. I also wanted to play local shows in Boston too and the fact that we didn’t and couldn’t somehow agree to do that as a band was not a good sign. I wanted to get out there, play and be heard. So that began to affect my morale negatively. Why didn’t we do that? What happened there? I mean, were we going to be a basement local gigging and recording band only? If so, that wasn’t going to be acceptable to me in the long run.
However, we did play out of the suburbs and did one show in Vermont with Peter and played live on Brandeis University's radio station WBRS without Peter. But, that was as far out of the suburbs we made it. Some of the band breakup had to do with band chemistry and communication clearly, like always. But, that’s bands for ya, right?
Also, we had different ideas of what direction to take the band style-wise and how best to do that. If I remember correctly, Greg and Peter wanted the band to go in a crossover metal-punk rock style, but I was not interested in that at all then. I liked that style, but didn’t want to play it. At that time, I also started feeling a lot of pressure in the band to be a flashier, more shredding, and showy guitarist than I wanted to or even could be. I was just not that kind of player.
So, I started to question and overthink and even doubt my guitar playing (something I never did before) and I struggled internally with that and started to feel like I didn’t fit in the band like before. Anyway, the crossover route just wasn’t for me and wasn’t a path I would go on. That being said, Black Dawn was as heavy or as metal as I would go and that is pretty heavy. I’m very proud of that song!
My musical tastes were changing then too. I started listening to much more interesting music than punk, post punk or metal that I wanted to play instead. I wanted to play music that was more melodic with singing rather than screaming. I even wanted to do ambient, electronic music too, and play and write songs with different instruments. I took an electronic music class at college and absolutely loved playing a vintage Moog and making recordings. I wanted to play music that expressed other moods than aggression, anger, and darkness.
Music that expressed moods such as beauty, optimism, and light, different things. I was starting to listen to albums such as REM’s Murmur, Big Country’s The Crossing, Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, and Kraftwerk’s Man Machine a lot. (I was surprised to find out later that Stuart Adamson, singer from Big Country’s previous band, The Skids, had its roots in the punk scene.)
At a certain point, I just didn’t want to do the in your face punk stuff anymore. I was losing interest. What direction was the band going in? We didn’t know and things started to drift apart and then the spark just fizzled out eventually. Also, we were not a straight-edge band at all. “Crooked or very bent edge” is more like it [laughs.! We drank, smoked, etc. These recreational pastimes started to take up more and more of our time and distract us from the music a bit. It affected our band negatively in my opinion, especially me after a certain point.
Some band members might also say that when I went to college, it broke up the band. But, I was in the New England area the whole time. I was never that far away. I don’t remember any band member calling me, visiting me or writing and telling me with any urgency that we have to get the band back together and go on tour or anything. I just don’t remember that. For almost two years, I was living at home and going to local community college, then to UMASS Amherst, about an hour away. So, although me going to college was a factor, in my opinion, I just lost interest and wanted to move on and play a different style of music. I think maybe everyone did. Also, Peter moved to Maine for a while around this time and this was probably a factor in all this too.
Greg: Jeff and Glenn went to school to get ”smaht.”
Jeff: The album never hit the stores and we didn't play live shows. That's the kiss of death for any band.
Peter: Honestly, two-words: Late Puberty.
In digitizing the music and finally having it out in the world, what do you all feel that XS means to you—not necessarily to punk but as a place in your lives.
Glenn: For me it was a real rush to be part of that punk and post punk scene, even in our small way on the fringes looking in, so to speak. XS is a very important part of my life now when I reflect and look back on it! Although for many years after the breakup, I thought it wasn’t. I was very angry and bitter about the breakup and the wasted potential we had. I wouldn’t listen to XS for years.
Now, I’m very proud of our music and share it now with others! For years it really bothered me though that our music was barely accessible and very obscure. Music is meant to be shared, played for people, accessible, and available for others to discover and listen to, right? Not stored in closets or collections or just played for a few at home or friends. At least, that’s my opinion. Now, with the internet and digital platforms like Spotify and YouTube, and Soundcloud, people can find and listen to XS at least.
Plus, I’ve been very motivated over the last 15 years or so to get our music online and out in the world. I was the one who put up all the XS websites starting with MySpace and more recently, I bought and paid for our own domain and website. Now, I encourage Peter, Greg, and Jeff to join me now on these modern digital formats as administrators of our music and websites. I could use some help, especially with promoting the band! I’d love your help since it was our band. You know, it’s also been very satisfying to connect with both former bandmates and online with former members of local bands such as The Proletariat, DYS, and Native Tongue.
Also, it’s been satisfying as well to connect with others who discover us either in a used record store or online and like our music. I’ve met some people in person to give them our LP a few times as a result. One of them was a young singer in a punk band from LA on tour in Boston who likes our music. She was so excited when I gave her some copies of the LP. We are such an obscure band and we love to get our music out there more.
For years, I’ve been trying to get the LP master reels to do a digital transfer and remaster of the LP, but the reels are in storage somewhere I think. Peter might have found them recently. So, feeling a real sense of urgency lately, I paid for a vinyl transfer restoration and remaster and posted the original tracks of the LP on all digital platforms. The LP is released now! Seriously, this may just be as far as it goes. But, that’s OK. It’s been very gratifying for me to do it. I’m glad to do it. It’s also been very therapeutic since it’s given me a real sense of closure about the band since I was so profoundly disappointed and depressed that it never went anywhere.
That being said, I take personal responsibility for being a factor in the band breakup, whatever it was, but the band breakup and fizzle out still made me very sad for years. But, I’ll be glad to take it further yet again with the band if they want to and digitize the master reels and release those tracks, reprint original t-shirts or make some stickers. We’ll see. What do you want to do guys? Let me know!
Lastly, can you talk about any other musical projects you've been involved in and possibly some lineage of XS people aren't aware of? I'm a huge Big Dipper fan so that was a huge surprise to me
Glenn: I was in an original alt rock band called Deapan Sally in Providence, RI, about 10 years ago and played with local Boston band The Milling Gowns on bass about 5 years ago. More recently, I co-wrote, recorded and released original music in projects such as the songs "Deep in the Night" and "Erika" in the recording project Have to You with singer Geena Fontanella. The song "No More Looking Back" in the project Drowning Mind with singer Ivy Marie. And finally, the acoustic pop song "Hold On" with singer Shelby Noble. You can find these projects on digital platforms such as Spotify or Apple Music.
I’ve got some electronic music coming out soon too. Recently, I just started playing bass with a singer-guitarist in a melodic alt rock/post-rock style. So, just like many decades ago, I’m inspired to play original music in different styles and moods, dark and light. It’s always been about self expression for me. It always was.
Greg: So many bands—so much fun in Boston. Moondogs, Krushr, TV Eye, Warblers, Psychopaths, and in Salt lake City: Bloodworm, Nurse Sherri, Massacre Geezers, Retoxicants, Toufh Tittle and I just joined S.L. Spitfires.
Jeff: I went from a hardcore punk drummer to joining the pop band Big Dipper. I used the “Black Dawn'' beat in a Dipper song called "You're Not Patsy.” The Killing Joke beat from the song “Tension” on the song "Younger Bums,” and the 21945 beat in the song “Wrong in the Charts,” so I was able to use my XS influences to cross over to Big Dipper.
Find out more about XS on their official website.
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