We’ve Got A File On You: Walter Schreifels
We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.
Few New York hardcore luminaries have had a career as varied as Walter Schreifels. While he can claim to be a member of some of the scene’s most influential bands, such Gorilla Biscuits, Youth Of Today, Project X, and, albeit briefly, Warzone, he was never content to follow any sonic orthodoxy. With Gorilla Biscuits’ debut album Start Today, Schreifels created the template for melodic hardcore; the record would go on to become Revelation Records’ best-selling album. After helping define the sound of youth crew, he formed Quicksand, one of the bands that codified the sound of muscular, thoughtful post-hardcore in the ‘90s, before pushing that sound even further with Rival Schools in the 2000s.
Schreifels’ discography has become a testament to a musician, producer, and label owner who always found himself fascinated by what’s next while remaining reverent of his past. While running Some Records, he kept his finger on the pulse of new sounds and happily took up the role of producer for Hot Water Music’s landmark album No Division. His impact on the world of hardcore and its assorted sub-genres remains noticeable, as the now-legendary Title Fight tapped him to produce their first album, and the reunion shows his bands play continue to feel like vital contributions to the scene as opposed to pure victory laps.
That tradition of having his music and perspective passed on to new generations of hardcore kids will continue when, on Oct. 28, Run For Cover will give Rival Schools’ 2001 album United By Fate the deluxe reissue treatment, with a bonus disc of rarities and a 64-page booklet chronicling that era of the band. It’s the kind of package that’s meant for albums of distinct importance, and Schreifels has, conservatively, made five of those with five different bands.
With United By Fate’s re-release coming this week and Rival Schools shows planned for 2023, Quicksand having just wrapped up a tour in support of their newest album Distant Populations, Youth Of Today shows on the horizon, and the potential for a Gorilla Biscuits show always looming, this is perhaps the first moment in time where Schreifels’ projects have nearly all coexisted. With all that happening, there was no better time to discuss his varied, vibrant career.
Rival Schools’ United By Fate (2001)
Over the years, this record has achieved cult classic status. What brought about the reissue?
WALTER SCHREIFELS: Run For Cover was interested in rereleasing it and doing it right. The guys at Run For Cover are very tuned into Rival Schools and have been super supportive of a lot of the stuff I’ve done, so I think it’s a perfect match. I think there’s people that know it [United By Fate] and there’s people that have maybe heard of it, and then there’s people that maybe haven’t heard of it all, so I think Run For Cover saw the potential of doing something really special with it.
How hands-on were you in putting together the bonus material and archival elements for this? What was that process like for you?
SCHREIFELS: I was involved for sure, and our drummer Sam [Siegler] is an archivist and saved a lot of stuff and took a lot of great photos, and there were a lot of songs that I’d just forgotten about. They were maybe demos or B-sides and things like that that I hadn’t really listened to, and it was cool to take another look at this time and relive lots of great stuff. It was fun for me.
How does it feel to be stepping back into the band again? Does it feel like a more retrospective, celebratory thing just tied to the record or does it still feel like a project you’re still inspired by?
SCHREIFELS: I would say the latter. The feeling that this record we made has a quality that keeps resonating with people and that it sounds good to people who have never heard it, it’s really cool. That’s how it is for me too. There are the associations you have with it of what was going on in that time in my life, or collectively as a group, and there’s all that stuff you can hear in the music, but also having the distance to listen to it a little more objectively and be like, “Alright, what would I think about this if I didn’t know anything about it? What is this about?”
What are some of the things you heard in the record taking that step back?
SCHREIFELS: I think I really like how diverse it is. There are certain songs you can group together, and there’s an aesthetic, but there’s this kind of garage-rock kind of look with “My Echo” or something a little bit more, I guess you would call it electro at that time, like “Holding Sand,” then ranging all the way to what I consider the first quote unquote ballad that I ever wrote, which was “Undercovers On.” There are moments of reaching for things, or trying to interpret and regurgitate lots of styles and genres, while making them all our own, and I think successfully. Those moments were, for me, what I wanted to do, what I needed to, and have informed my songwriting moving forward. I started out writing very simple hardcore songs and didn’t really expect to still be doing this at my age and have this really long career, but it took moments of exploration like that to keep it interesting. I think Rival Schools was a pivotal time in that regard.
This is a pretty amateur level question, but since Rival Schools: United By Fate was the name of an arcade game that became a Playstation game in 1998, what about that game felt like a fitting title for your new project? Are you a big gamer?
SCHREIFELS: I’d been picked up as a solo artist and I was a bit uncomfortable going under my own name, so I was just looking for a band name and trying to figure that out. I couldn’t really think of anything cool, or anything that I was happy with exactly, and we were just at a point where maybe the record company was like, “What the hell are you gonna call this thing?” I was on Avenue A and 7th Street near the corner of Tompkins Square Park, and there used to be this little pizza place, and they would have a few video games in there. I walked in for a slice and the video game was called Rival Schools: United By Fate. I just thought, at that point, they’re really having to stretch for names. It used to be like Space Invaders or Defender — these are all boomer video games —but at that point I thought that name was just absurd and crazy but also fun. So I initially said let’s just name ourselves after this video game, not that I even played the video game. Ultimately, it was a lot for people to say, so we just went with Rival Schools and named the album United By Fate.
Quicksand’s Distant Populations (2021)
One thing that’s always struck me about your work is how you’re always finding ways to update your sound while honoring what the band was originally. When you step back into a band, does that free you up to not feel beholden to make a certain thing if you were to record new music?
SCHREIFELS: At this stage in the game, that’s just kind of on-brand for me. That’s why I’m more hungry than ever to reach out further and draw something out of me, my friends, my bandmates that people haven’t heard before or that we haven’t done before. I want to go out as far on a limb as we can because that’s usually when something really cool happens. There have been times where people have maybe liked something I’m doing and then I sort of react to that and do something different. That’s not always the best idea career-wise, but, in terms of sustaining me for all these years, that’s just been key to it. Now more than ever, I want to push those boundaries and explore those things as far as I can. Because it has become — essentially, it’s my life. It’s not just some fun thing I was doing in high school. I’m interested to see where I can go and, as a collective, with the bands I do, see how we can become our ultimate thing and push to do something unexpected that would surprise us but still make sense with who we are. When you find that balance, you can feel it. And I’m not above doing the same thing twice if it strikes me, but most of the time I just want to try something different and I think that’s served me well.
I find it a very interesting challenge because the cards are definitely stacked against you. People already love the thing you’re sort of messing with, so their expectations are distorted by that. Coming back to that, as far as Quicksand is concerned, after such a long period of time I couldn’t really authentically rip my work from the ‘90s. I just didn’t feel like I could do that. I wasn’t in the same place. So much has happened in all of our lives and, while we’re all evolved people from that time of our initial thing, we’re still those people. That’s still, in essence, who we are. It’s interesting to me how we’ve retained that energy and fire for playing but are now in a position to expand on that in a way that feels natural and good. It’s taken us a while to get to this place, but it’s exciting on a creative level.
I know there have been lineup changes too. You were playing shows as a trio for a while, and recently you’ve had Steven Brodsky touring with the band. Has that helped you figure out just how much room there is for Quicksand to take a different form?
SCHREIFELS: Absolutely. It wasn’t by design that we went to one guitar. We had this sort of episode or whatever where that became the necessity. Being thrown out into that, it absolutely drew the best out of me because I didn’t want it to be crappy. I’m not really a lead guitar player, but I absolutely understand lead and can play a little bit of lead, but it’s less technique oriented and more about the sonic landscape aspect of it. I had to jump up and create my version of that, which was super challenging as a player and as a performer to keep all those balls in the air, but it made us a lot stronger because we realized we can just do this and nothing can stop us in that regard. We can do it expansively or take it to its minimal elements and it’s still good. It’s about reliability, knowing that everyone’s present, and that made us stronger as a band. As a guitar player, in recording, it gave me a lot of freedom because I didn’t need to consider what another guitar player was doing, I could just do it and get better at that. I think when you’re the sole guitar player, that creates endless possibilities that might be trouble to recreate live, so I tried to do a lot with as little as possible. I got to do a Premier Guitar interview, because I never feel like I’ve been known as a guitar player, but I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good now. But the circumstances kind of drew that out.
By breaking it down to those basic elements, it allowed us to see the potential of it in different ways. So when we bring Steve in to play guitar with us we’re really able to recreate the records very accurately but the songs still exist whether or not all the little parts are hit or not. We just really love Steve’s energy and we have a great time playing together live, so it’s worked out super well.
Forming Quicksand (1990)
Making all these shifts and trying out new things — did it feel spiritually freeing in the way that starting Quicksand did? Where you took a bunch of hardcore guys and said, “Let’s start a band, but not a hardcore band”?
SCHREIFELS: That’s an interesting question. When we started the band I think it was to throw off all the beautiful constraints of hardcore. We felt the scene that we had come up in, like all scenes, needed to turn over and collapse on itself and let something else appear where it once stood. In that spirit, we were just letting go of those formulaic things, or the expectations, of that music on ourselves as players. When faced with going through all the trouble of getting an album together and going out on tour, but because we hit some sort of adversity, any sort of moment like that is potential to see what you’re made of and learn from that and expand on that.
Much more so than Quicksand mach one, we’re way better at that. We’re way better communicators, our priorities are different and more focused on the whole of what we’re doing musically, and we put our hang-ups on the shelf and those things just don’t interfere as much as they might have before. That is a new thing about us that I really appreciate that allows us to feel more confident in what directions we can go and what surprises we can spring.
When you were on the Axe To Grind podcast, I remember you saying you considered starting a ska band. Is there a world where instead of Slip you put out a ska record?
SCHREIFELS: Oh yeah. When I was in high school the competing scenes were the hardcore scene and the ska scene, and the ska scene in New York was really big. By “really big” it was probably a few hundred people. I love two-tone ska, I love Jamaican ska, and I was a huge fan of the Jam, who brought that kind of stylistic aspect to it, this mod aesthetic. I just liked that kind of stuff, and, to be honest, the ska scene wasn’t violent, and it was a lot more fun. I think I could have made a ska band, and I think it would have been a good ska band. I think it probably would have been based more on the mod kind of thing, that probably would have been my approach, but I love the aspect of ska that’s just party music. I think there’s some of that in hardcore and I think that Gorilla Biscuits, if anything, brings that sense of fun to the game that maybe would have been in a ska band had it not manifested itself in a straight edge hardcore band.
There’s certain kinds of music that I’m trying to get more knowledgeable about, or just expand and consume, but I do have a wide interest in music. While I came out of this punk, hardcore world, and that’s what I was interested in at a certain time in my teenage years, it’s not like I was ever that character. The music had a lot of integrity and honesty to it, and it had no discernible technique to it, so that felt very accessible. People always say, “Oh, punk rock is only three chords that people can’t play,” and if you listen to the Sex Pistols, those motherfuckers play great. You listen to the Damned, those dudes play fucking great. You could argue that U2 don’t play as good as them, you know what I mean? So hardcore was legit like, these motherfuckers can barely play, and they’re making music. I can do that. I loved the sort-of shitty sound of it and that, underneath that shitty sound, was all this gold. There were these really raw, emotional feelings, and subject matter that, when you’re in that time of going into adulthood, those wounds from your early life are still really fresh, and I think that fuels a lot of that music. But, at the same time, ska was just fun and happy and I enjoyed that as well. But alas, hardcore took over.
While hardcore is not about talent, it’s always interesting to learn what songwriters in other genres have a background in it. The music is so immediate, I do think you can learn something important about valuing honest, direct expression over virtuosity.
SCHREIFELS: I think the most exciting thing about learning through that school was the immediacy of it hand in hand with the possibility of it. You have no band and then you go to rehearsal for two or three hours and write a whole EP. Then you could record it in a studio in one day, and you’d be listening to itm and it just jumped from an exciting level to feeling like magic. I remember the first time hearing my guitar doubled and just being like, oh my god, this is the best thing, this sounds so good. I remember just being taken on a trip with that, and it was all happening so quickly. It wasn’t belabored. And I’ve belabored things over the years because I just want to, in a way, get it right. I did learn to labor over things, sometimes for the good, and sometimes into the ground, where the thing doesn’t exist anymore. But it was a great way to learn.
I also had a really good peer group because at that time in New York there were all these bands that were really diverse from all over the city. It was kids like you but they didn’t go to your school because they lived in a different part of the city, and you’d all meet in this one place. You’d go to the matinee one weekend and maybe a band that you had seen a month before and were kind of alright, they’d have a new song, and that new song would be really, really good. You’d just hear it and I’d want to be like, I want to do what they’re doing but better — or in my own way. You’re creating this kind of healthy competitive group where you have all these people doing really cool shit and trying to top each other. That’s how I saw it.
Remixing The Killers’ “Somebody Told Me” (2004)
SCHREIFELS: Rival Schools was on Island Records, and I had great relationships with everybody at Island, and I’d be at the offices and stuff, and the Killers were this cool new band coming up. My A&R guy signed them, and so he just said, “Would you want to remix one of their songs?” and I went with it. I couldn’t engineer, so they brought in a great engineer Jonathan Benedict, and that was it.
I guess I wasn’t thinking of it in this massive way because it was a new band, you know what I mean? I wasn’t particularly nervous or anything, and I felt comfortable in that atmosphere, and it’s just an interesting moment of time.
I’m sure it was wild to watch that song and that band become what they were after that.
SCHREIFELS: I think the beauty of it was that my impression of the Killers at the time was that these guys were sort of really a good version of what’s happening right now and yet they had a lot more to them, which is why I think they still matter.
Running The Record Label Some Records
SCHREIFELS: It was my friend and bandmate Sam, who plays in Rival Schools, and our friend Matt Pinkus, who had played in Judge. And we just, at that point, thought we should do a record label based on the ethos of Some Records, which was a very teeny record store that sold hardcore records on the Lower East Side. We asked the former owner if we could use the name and he said, “Cool. Go.” So we started signing bands. There were a lot of really cool bands coming up, like this sort of screamo movement, but we were more interested in real musical kind of stuff, like Six Going On Seven, who I thought were super interesting. Errortype: 11 were really amazing. I think those records are incredible and they should have been a bigger band. Doing a record label isn’t a lark. You have to have a lot of things come into place, and the bands on the label being great is just one facet of it.
We put out so many good records with great artists. We just had a really cool energy. It was a great friend group with creative people. Some of the bigger moments were when we got Hot Water Music’s No Division record, which I also produced, which was really a great moment of everything coming together. I really loved working with Eric Mingus. J-Majesty, who I thought were such an amazing band and were criminally overlooked. We did a lot of great work with a lot of great people. As a musician, it was nice to sit back a little bit and work on other people’s stuff.
Whenever I’m working with other bands as a producer, but even in that record label role, I end up learning from the people as much as I share my experiences with them. The fact that this band is functioning to a level of making a record and being on that track, there’s something about it that’s working, and it’s always nice to be near that and gain some insight from it.
Producing Hot Water Music’s No Division (1999)
You produced the album but also sang on “Free Radio Gainesville.” What made you want to work with Hot Water Music at that time?
SCHREIFELS: I had seen them play and they were really amazing, and everyone around the office was really loving them. We were trying to do their next record, and they, in the negotiations to do that, said they wanted me to produce it, which was amazing. So that was not really a hard thing, because they were a band where I saw that their next record was going to be great, and I just wanted to be a part of it and to help them catch it.
It was a really fun experience. I was in Gainesville for a week or so, then I was in Richmond for a couple of weeks, so I really kind of got into their world. They were so tight with the Richmond scene, and I met so many cool people there, and in Gainesville as well, and they just had a really great energy. They’d write the music and then just kind of throw these lyrics on top of it, and these lyrics were these really anthemic lyrics that people really sing their hearts out to, and that was just happening as we were going. I think I played a helpful role in all of that in pointing out that we could do something amazing here, or we could flip this part, just making sure that the energy was good. They were great people and a great band, and I just wanted to lift that as high as it could go. They were firing on all cylinders at that time and I was just very fortunate to be there with them.
Producing Title Fight’s Shed (2011)
SCHREIFELS: Ned [Russin] reached out to me on MySpace, to give you some context for what was happening at the time. I was living in Berlin, and I was just amazed that these young guys were so knowledgeable about hardcore and were so inspired by it. Their music, to me, wasn’t so much replicating that in its style as much as it was in the energy of it. They were just obviously good. It’s always a very exciting thing when someone says they want you to be in the studio with them, because making records is so much about taste. You have your group of people and you have your aesthetic and then sometimes, for whatever reason, you have your fork in the road. It’s just nice to have someone where you trust their taste and sort of dial a friend. I think I played that role, because that’s what I look for in a producer as well. I want to do my thing, and I have an idea of what I’m trying to achieve, but sometimes I’m a little bit uncertain about whether I should zig or zag. Sometimes having a person whose taste you respect present in the room, it can get you past those blocks, especially if they are encouraging you to move forward.
Working with young guys is exciting, and it’s flattering for sure, but to work with them, to go back to something I said before, it was: Why does this band work? And for them, it was their energy, their chemistry, their story. It was soaking that up and understanding that, and it was interesting as a musician, too. That’s a lot of the payoff for me. They were all just such sweet, cool guys, and we’re still good friends to this day. Building those relationships and having those moments together, it’s just magic. It’s what life’s all about.
Producing Gogol Bordello’s Solidaritine (2022)
Did working on a record for a band that has so many instruments and layers feel like a challenge at all?
SCHREIFELS: I’ve known Eugene [Hütz] for a while, and he was into hardcore very deep. Even though he does this music that’s very connected to this European folk tradition, and is sort of world music in some ways, he pulled that all into this kind of punk context, and I think he wanted to go deeper into that with his love for hardcore. But he’s an ecclectic music listener, just like me, so we have this love of hardcore’s simplicity and energy, however you want to describe it, but we’re also doing music that has a broader vision. It was a great fit and a great hang, and the beauty of it is that Eugene is so talented, and Gogol has so much to it, so you’re never at a loss for something cool happening. There can sometimes just be no wind in a record at some points and you can struggle to know what to do, if you should write a bridge, change a part, put some secondary voice over it, but it was rare that we hit those moments. It was more about taking away and getting to the core of what’s important in it, because there are so many elements and everyone’s so talented. But it felt very loose and live.
When it came to the more hardcore tips of the hat — getting H.R. [of Bad Brains] involved, doing a Fugazi cover — Eugene knew that I understood that world and that’s why I think he asked me to be on board, to make sure that it was being handled properly. Eugene knows what he was doing, but it was just really nice to work together.
Speaking of the H.R. contribution, what was he like to work with? Was he in the studio with you?
SCHREIFELS: We didn’t work with him directly. He was in DC, he went to the studio, and we’d given him some rough ideas of what we’d like to hear. It’s sort of tricky, as H.R. is a really established and important artist, so we just gave him some ideas of what we thought would be cool, but we encouraged him to ad lib. He just sent us back a whole bunch of gold and we just went to the parts we thought were best executed and served the song the best. But we definitely all took a deep breath because we weren’t there to work with him or coach him in any sort of way, so he could have sent back a whole bunch of stuff that we maybe couldn’t use, but he really came through like the star that he is.
He’s definitely someone that you’re both in awe of and a little nervous to see what’s he’s going to do.
SCHREIFELS: Yeah, he’s enigmatic. He’s going to come how he wants to come. And we didn’t expect him to be giving us backflip, 1981 performances. But I think he gave such a beautiful performance; it gave me chills. You hear his whole story. I don’t want to over-dramatize it, but this is just how I felt. I can hear his whole story in just these few lines. And he just just made interesting choices. He’s just still got it somehow, which is amazing. The weight of it, and the beauty of it, was not lost on me. We were just buggin’. We were listening back on the speakers and just so excited to thread that needle with him.
Producing And Secretly Writing CIV’s Set Your Goals (1995)
You were listed as co-producer on this record, but it came out later you really wrote it. I assume contractual obligations kept that from being more public knowledge at the time?
SCHREIFELS: Yeah, I was on Island Records at the time, so I was trying to kind of get around that. Because if I was writing for CIV, it would have limited the band in some ways, and I also think the perspective of it would have been limited in some ways. So it wasn’t a big deal for me to not be credited in that way. But yeah, I wrote all the words and all the music, and there were riffs the other guys in the band wrote, and I couldn’t have done it without that group, because we were all just so down and having so much fun. I think that’s why the record’s great, it’s that spirit of fun, and we felt free to do this more poppy material alongside of really, really good hardcore material that could have been a follow-up to a Gorilla Biscuits record.
In the context of what was going on in the ‘90s with all this sort of punk rock breaking, I thought it was really cool to put hardcore into that mix in a major label way, to have hardcore on MTV. We had so much fun, and they went on to do the second record, Thirteen Day Getaway, which I was not very involved in — I wrote the music to one song — and I think it’s also a really great record.
Playing The First Warped Tour (1995)
SCHREIFELS: It was amazing. We were headlining it, so it was kind of an honor in a way. At the time, the only tour that was doing that was Lollapalooza, and while, of course we would have taken the Lollapalooza gig, there were only eight spots on Lollapalooza for 1,500 bands coming out that year. While we were holding our breath to get that call, it was great that this Warped Tour thing came along. The year we played, there were so many good bands on it. The first year, Deftones played it, Sublime, No Doubt, besides bands like Sick Of It All and Orange 9MM and CIV. It was a very interesting lineup and a really cool experience
How did it feel to go out on this big tour and the bill had a bunch of bands and people you came up with in the New York scene playing it?
SCHREIFELS: I appreciated it, but I think I’d always want it to progress. The fact that we were doing that was a sign of that, but it didn’t feel like “now I made it” by any stretch. The bands I mentioned that were on the tour, they were all doing great stuff, but, to me, I’m thinking we’ve gotta up our game for the next time around. There are a lot of cool bands and a lot of cool things happening, so how do we remain in that conversation and continue to innovate with what’s going on?
I do think there was a bit of a crossroads, because pop-punk was so popular at that time and we just weren’t that kind of band at all. We were more in the line with…we weren’t competing with Green Day, let’s put it that way. We didn’t have those pop hooks and choruses like that. It wasn’t about the melody. There was a certain aggression, or a certain catharsis, that was there. It was interesting to be mixed with all of that stuff. Even a band that was kind of doing purely hardcore — though I think Sick Of It All were really progressing at that time as well, they were taking their formula and doing something interesting with it — it was just a very creative time for everyone. I remember it as a really cool experience.
This is one of your “lost” projects, where only bootlegs of the music have been released. What were you going for with Moondog, and what made it such a short-lived thing?
Walter: Initially, I had done the Gorilla Biscuits album Start Today, and because I was writing the lyrics, I’d write a vocal guide to get a basic element so Civ [Anthony Civarelli] could get what I was intending it to sound like, then we would work together to get it where it’s his. That recording got out and people were like, “Oh shit, I really love the way he sang.” So that gave me the idea that maybe I should be singing in a band too.
Luke [Abbey], the drummer of Gorilla Biscuits, and I got together, and it’s kind of like I was saying before, we had a rehearsal or two and we wrote an EP. We went down and recorded the EP, we did one show at CB’s [CBGB], then we were invited to be on a comp. I finished the lyrics for a song, maybe two, and there are three or four that have lyrics to them but they weren’t even to my idea of completion. They were still a work in progress, and then that tape got out.
Moondog only played two, maybe three shows, one at CB’s with Armand from Sick Of It All playing drums, which was really cool, and then one at ABC No Rio with Sam Siegler playing drums and Sergio Vega playing bass and Tom Capone playing guitar. So it wasn’t with Luke anymore, and I was using maybe a couple songs from the thing that Luke and I had done, and then Alan joined the band, so it just felt like a different band. I don’t think they were too keen on playing my songs from Moondog, they wanted to do something else. We kind of dumped those songs, I don’t think any of those songs really ended up as Quicksand songs. One of them ended up as a CIV song; “Blessed” is on the end of that record.
It was the first thing I did as a singer, and I think it’s really cool, I just wish I had completed it and followed through on it. But it was just a time where things were happening quickly and I wasn’t thinking of it in any sort of career way. It was just a creative thing I did at some point in time, so I didn’t really think of expanding on it. Once I had Quicksand going, I thought, shit, we’re good. So we made our EP and I think our EP was very realized.
You were just a hardcore kid from New York City doing a new band. You didn’t think in 30 years someone would be asking you about Moondog.
SCHREIFELS: Oh no, not at all. That’s not to say I wasn’t caring about it, I surely was, but it was also like working in a health food store or going to college or having a girlfriend. It was just a thing that was happening. There wasn’t a career plot. Once Quicksand manifested itself, that idea just didn’t seem to make sense. I’m happy with its place as something for the people that really want to dig, that there’s something there to get into.
World’s Fastest Car (1996)
Similarly, there’s World’s Fastest Car, which is another band that had an unreleased EP. That came just before Rival Schools, so how did that help set up what you did on United By Fate?
SCHREIFELS: That was more directly post-Quicksand. As I said, the record label had picked up my option as a solo artist, so now I was a solo artist, and I didn’t feel confident about calling it my name. I wasn’t a singer-songwriter or anything in that sense. I put a band together. Artie Shepherd, who was in Errortype: 11, which was a band on Some Records, was on bass, and I had some other revolving members. And we recorded some demos for World’s Fastest Car, and they were really good, actually. I actually think World’s Fastest Car would have been a thing, but the record label at that time had just been bought out by this other conglomerate, so a whole shitload of people got fired, all these bands got dropped, but I was still there. I didn’t get dropped, but they weren’t ready to put out a record. I kind of got put in this demo holding pattern that served to burn everybody out and burn me out completely. I was making these, what I thought, were really great songs, and then the label would just say, “Okay. Make another demo.” I wasn’t playing live anymore, so I wasn’t connecting to my audience in any sort of way. Once that communication breaks down, it’s not good for your creativity.
World’s Fastest Car went to Japan and played a few shows in Japan. We were supposed to play in New York, and we had a show in Philly booked the night before, and the show in Philly was so terrible. We had this drummer, and he was an amazing drummer, but he was in five different bands and I probably worked him too hard in a sense, trying to cram everything into this set to make it really great, and he just had a brain fart. He didn’t even know what song he was playing. It was just a nightmare. We were supposed to play CB’s the next night, and the show was so bad, and my manager was there, my A&R guy was there, and they were like, “You should cancel the show tomorrow. You’re not ready to play.” I don’t blame anybody, but I think that was a big mistake, honestly. If we had played, I think we would have been better. And even if we sucked, it would have at least been us doing it. Because I know people who went to that show in Philadelphia and no one really says it sucked, but it sure felt that way.
After that, it just didn’t feel like it was a thing. The record label wasn’t going to put out our record yet, so we were just stuck. It would have been for me to say, “I want out of the deal.” That would have been my only solution. I just carried on with it, because they were paying my rent and giving me opportunities to record, so I just held onto that. That eventually led to Rival Schools because, at that time, CIV fizzled out, so Sam was available. So I started playing with Sam and that became Rival Schools. I took the best songs, or the ones that I felt comfortable applying to the new thing, which were “Used For Glue,” “Everything Has Its Point,” “So Down On,” which were songs I maybe played for Quicksand too but maybe didn’t quite fit. So World’s Fastest Car is the Moondog of Rival Schools in a way.
You’re probably one of the few people whose band toured in Japan but didn’t play their hometown. That’s an interesting thing to get to say.
SCHREIFELS: The way that happened was, I knew promoters in Japan and just that it was me doing it, that was enough to get over there and get to do it. That was a cool flex, I guess. I got to have a really fun experience, because playing in Japan is amazing, and I thought we could develop the band in Japan then come back to New York and be really tight. The problem was, we didn’t have our show in New York when we came back from Japan. That would have been smart.
I’m not bitter about that at all, but that’s just the way things happened. I do realize, in retrospect, if you don’t produce stuff, even if it’s not your best work, you’re not in a conversation with anybody, so you can’t improve. You’re not putting yourself out there to potentially fail. When you fail, and it doesn’t seem that way at the time, but your failures are also important. Where you go from there is really important. And at least by failing you’ve lowered the expectation of what the next thing is. [Laughs] Then you can surprise people with something better. In retrospect, I would have not been so precious about that band and maybe that would have been the band and not Rival Schools. But ultimately, it all comes together when it comes together.
Hosting Vans’ New Direction Livestream Series (2021)
During the pandemic you did the New Direction show that was livestreamed by Vans. How did that come together, and what made you want dig into hardcore, both old and new, during that time?
SCHREIFELS: That was a lot of fun. Vans wanted to put together something to promote music during the pandemic. Since they couldn’t do live events, they thought they’d livestream on this channel. I don’t think I really understood the brief, so I just took it to mean it was going to be some kind of talk show sort of thing. I took on the idea of it being some sort of Eric Andre mutated talk show about hardcore.
They wanted it to be about punk and hardocre, which was not really — although I’m known in that realm, at the time, I was not up to date on what was going on. I said sure, but I knew I didn’t want it to be about all the bands that everyone knows already. I wanted to find the best young bands that were coming up and try to introduce them to people. I just did research, I talked to people like Sam [Yarmuth] at Triple B who was really helpful, I called up Ned from Title Fight to get who he thinks is good, to have him tell me who I should be checking out. That’s how I put the plan together, and I would mix it up with stuff that I liked and things I was discovering. I had live bands play, and they all got paid when they played, which was really cool. I met all these really awesome people and now have all these friends who are doing cool hardcore. I also got to see how hardcore remained the same but how, in many ways, it’s in tune with how people feel now. I love to see how women are so involved, and I love to see how open it is in terms of social consciousness. I think that was always there, but I think it’s on another level. I love to see how it speaks to kids in the same way it spoke to me.
Being a host, that was fun but also super awkward and cringey at times, but it was also really good. There were a lot of shows where I wish they’d put it on Youtube because I think it was really good. There were some great performances, and we had great bands on. Those bands come in to play at the studio, you’re hanging out with them, I was doing all the logistics of booking them, I was very hands-on. It was really perfect for my pandemic life. That was a really nice part of it.
Watching Hardcore Merch Become Expensive Vintage Clothing
Going back to Ned from Title Fight, in 2015 he was interviewed about his favorite old hardcore shirts and there were Youth Of Today and Gorilla Biscuits ones in there. How has it been watching the shirts your bands sold on merch tables for $5 become these $500 vintage pieces?
SCHREIFELS: The money part of it I don’t particularly get off on because I’m not selling any of my stuff, and I think it irks people in a way, but I guess they are these sort of artifacts. But the thing behind it that is really, really cool to me, and I’m thinking of seeing Minor Threat, the X’s on Ian’s hands, and he’s wearing Dickies and Vans and a T-shirt, and it’s this sort-of skater aesthetic that leads directly to Youth Of Today and Revelation Records and it sharpens its focus. With Youth Of Today and Gorilla Biscuits — I’m crediting a lot of Revelation and Wishingwell stuff — but there are also these graffiti elements that come into it. It’s basically all of the building blocks to what we call streetwear today, and it’s probably a lot of the same people doing it.
Wishingwell, for example, put prints on the sleeve and had all these different aspects to a Uniform Choice T-shirt. It just said so much and yet was indecipherable to normies. That aesthetic is the thing now, and it should be. I always thought hardcore and all that kind of stuff, althought there were other really cool things going on, that was all legit cool. Kids were designing these shirts and printing these shirts and then selling them. It was all run independently of these corporations that were trying to tell you what was cool. We didn’t need them; we didn’t even care. We weren’t competing with them, we just didn’t give a shit, it was just for our own people. I think there’s a premium on that right now. I think it was all very prescient, not that it was trying to be, it was just trying to be cool and be aesthetically on-point. It’s really nice that it’s played out that way. The fact that people can sell a Gorilla Biscuits shirt for $400, that’s not what we were thinking about at all, but we definitely wanted people to buy them and look cool in them. The fact it’s become this aesthetic is awesome. It makes me feel like me and my friends were onto something.
Riz Ahmed Wearing A Youth Of Today Hoodie In Sound Of Metal (2019)
In the movie Sound Of Metal, Riz Ahmed’s character is seen wearing a YOT hoodie in it, and that movie went on to win an Oscar. How weird is it being kind-of, sort-of in an Oscar-winning film?
SCHREIFELS: I think it’s cool for sure. It’s 100% great. You look at Youth Of Today, even then, the first time I saw the Youth Of Today fist and the way it was drawn, I was just like, “That looks cool as fuck.” It’s just super stark and is like, “Why the X on the hand? What does that mean: Youth Of Today.” Those three words just sound super powerful. The print is super strong and iconic. I’m not just trying to hype us up, but think about how many billions and billions of bands there have been. Then take that and ask how many of them have gotten people to change their lifestyle to be vegetarian, health conscious, straight edge — bands that have this sort of ideology attached to them. I think of Crass. Not even Minor Threat was that way, it was very loose. Youth Of Today is very, very special in that way, and controversial for the same reasons.
For it to be brought into a film that dealt with addiction in a lot of ways, Youth Of Today is a force for good in that world. People who are teenagers, people trying to find their identities, especially when I was a kid, the identity that the culture was feeding you was: Go to a party, get drunk, lose your virginity. That’s what you’re supposed to do, and it’ll be really funny and crazy. It’s a real dumbed-down idea of who you should be. Even punk movies like Suburbia, it’s like, okay, be a punk, spit on people, take drugs, be a menace. That was also a crazy false message. You’re being sold some dramatic idea of something, whereas Youth Of Today was very stark and to the point and bare bones, but it also had great mosh parts.
Well no one can deny that.
Walter: It wouldn’t work without the mosh parts. It checks all the boxes.
Youth Of Today’s “Break Down The Walls” In The Girl Next Door (2004)
SCHREIFELS: I don’t know how that happened. I’m guessing the people who get in charge of these things were into hardcore. When I think of great songs that are anti-racist, pro-human songs, “Break Down The Walls” by Youth Of Today is one of the best ones ever. It’s strong and to the point and amazing, but barely anyone knows it. To put it in a movie — and I didn’t see this movie that you’re talking about, so I don’t know what the intended effect of it was supposed to be — but the song rules no matter what.
To me, “Break Down The Walls” is what the world needs more than anything, to recognize each other’s humanity and to respect each other and celebrate those differences. To look beyond the way you’re being grouped and be tricked into having something against somebody that you probably have more in common with than you really know. That’s still happening, and the song is just as relevant as it was then. It came out right as the Berlin Wall fell, within a couple years of that, and that was the sort-of bigger, arching other that was being created for you to be afraid of and hateful toward. Right now, in the United States, everyone is supposed to hate their neighbor and that’s what needs to be broken down. I love that song, and if it’s in a teenage rom-com, right-of-passage, lose-your-virginity movies, I didn’t approve that one. [Laughs] I hope they used it tastefully.
Fall Out Boy Covering “Start Today” For Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland Video Game Soundtrack (2005)
SCHREIFELS: Anything like that, it’s just nice. Whether it’s Fall Out Boy or some band you’ve never heard of. I just saw some hardcore band doing a cover of “Big Mouth” by Gorilla Biscuits and I thought it was an awesome version. And not all of the versions are awesome. Sometimes they play them wrong and it’s frustrating. [Laughs] But the fact that a band like Fall Out Boy, who are so huge in the culture, is influenced by something I was a part of, it’s not like I’m lording it over anybody, but it’s a nice feeling. It’s flattering that something I’ve been a part of could resonate on that level. When those things come, I always appreciate it, especially from a really successful band like Fall Out Boy. That’s just nice.
We talked about the Killers, and I remember talking to them, and they were all Gorilla Biscuits fans, and one of the guys used to cover “Unfulfilled” by Quicksand in one of their former bands. You find these connections to different people, and it’s just interesting how a lot of us are intersecting on these different things. If you’re coming from that era of music, hardcore provides a world where you can get that direct feeling. You might not be meant to be in a band like the Killers, because the Killers touch on so many different things that make sense to the larger culture, but that doesn’t mean they’re the best band, they are just speaking to that. In hardcore, you can be the best band just by speaking to the 200 people in your town that could possibly care about it, and you’ve completely succeeded and you don’t need to prove anything. That’s a pretty nice world to participate in, to have all the good of being a musician and being a member of a community.
I don’t want to stand for hardcore so intensely, but I think that musicians want to know about it on their way up. When something like that happens, and it’s happened with Rival Schools, where that record was with people the same month they were getting Jimmy Eat World or Fall Out Boy records, and they picked up Rival Schools on a lark and it took them on some other journey that they wouldn’t have experienced. There are bands like that for me. There’s this band the Three O’Clock. They never got big, but I mined them for songs, and they really meant a lot to me. If I ever meet somebody who’s into the Three O’Clock, we can have a cool conversation about it. There are just records and bands that play that role, and when it gets large like that, it’s just so cool.