Thursday, August 26, 2010

CRUCIAL TIMES FANZINE #1 The First Step interview

CRUCIAL TIMES fanzine #1 - Wim


The First Step was a fucking fantastic band. I loved everything that surrounded that band. They played great music that made me pumped every time I was listening to their records. Their lyrics were always inspiring and made you stop and think about stuff. I always admired the attitude presented in those words – rather than saying:”You’re a loser for doing that! Stop doing this!”, those guys said: “Hey, look there’s this other way of looking at and doing things. Think about it OK?”. I really liked that about TFS. Every time they visited Europe I made sure I saw them at least once. I travelled to Sweden, Spain and Belgium to see TFS. I met few wonderful people who also shared my love for the music and message that TFS were bringing to the hardcore scene. Finally I had a chance to interview The First Step during their last European. That interview you can read somewhere below on this blog. I hope that you will enjoy reading it almost as much as I enjoyed doing it. It was so great to talk to those guys and find out more about them.

Thanks to Ati for doing this blog and keeping the memories about this amazing band alive. Let’s hope we all will have a chance to see them on stage again in the future.

Love, Respect, Compassion

Sunday, August 8, 2010


- We All Die
- As It Is
- Whose Life
- The First Step
- More Than Fashion

THE FIRST STEP West Coast Tour 2001
- The Higher Taste
- Something Inside
- As It Is
- Betray

- Take Control
- Pursuit of Happiness
- Get Wise
- No Good Reason
- Cutting Through
- What We Know

THE FIRST STEP The What We Know Sessions
- Take Control
- Pursuit of Happiness
- Get Wise
- No Good Reason
- Cutting Through
- What We Know

IT'S FOR LIFE Blog / The First Step interview

Wojtek: For those of you who know me personally it's not a secret that I dig The First Step a lot. It's definitely one of my top 5 bands in today's hardcore. Even top 3 I think. That band has anything that I'm looking for in a hardcore band. Great music with is rooted in the late 80s bands sound and amazing, well thought lyrics that, every time I read them always find something new in them that catch my attention and makes me stop and think for a while. While being in Barcelona for a few days I had a chance to catch their show, which sadly might be one of the last of theirs shows on the old continent. I decided that it could be a great opportunity to ask Stephen (vocals) and Aram (guitar) a few questions. I'm pretty happy with how this interview has turned out, even though I didn't prepare myself very well for it. I love the last bit of it when Stephen, Aram and Fred (who joined us later) start talking about Youth Of Today and just totally forget about the tape recorder. It almost makes you feel like you are with them in that room listening to their conversation. I wish those guys all the best with their future and I only hope that there will more bands like that in hardcore.

Interview by Wojtek

Q: Let’s start with clarifying the rumour about The First Step breaking up this summer. Is that true and if so what’s the reason behind this?

Stephen: That’s the way it’s looking right now. Everything is great with the band but we sort of came to the point where we feel that we did everything we wanted to do as a band. We’ve made so many good friends and have so many good memories. We want to end the band on a really high note instead of sticking around for too long. Not that we’re really afraid of that, because we’re not a band that care if people like us or not. We just feel that it’s really time for us. It’s not the same thing when we broke up the band before. It was because things got really shitty with some of our close friends and we just didn’t want to do it anymore. We were losing more friends than we were making. Now we just know it time to stop it. If we all still hang out together in like 3 or 5 years or something like that, somebody will say “Hey let’s play a show”, maybe we will.

Q: You’ve gained Aram from Champion on a second guitar. Did you approach him or he approached you about it? How did that change the band?

Stephen: We’ve known Aram for a really long time. We toured with Champion a bunch of times and around the time when “Promised kept” was coming out we had a period when we didn’t see them quite as much. Once we were doing a tour with Go It Alone, we toured from Seattle down the west coast and then back up to the Rivalry showcase which was going to be second to last Champion show. Aram asked “Hey guys can I come along with you?” and we said “Sure”, because he’s a good friend and it’s always great to hang out with him. We’re always really bad about bringing too many people with us, because we just want to bring as many friends of ours with us.

Then, at some point Aram asked “Hey would you guys be into me playing a second guitar for this trip?” and since we never had a second guitarist we agreed and it worked out really awesome, it sounded very good and so it stayed that way.

So now we have two guitarists which is really cool. In my opinion Aram is really good at playing guitar. I’ve always liked the way he played guitar. Over time he went from being a rhythm guitarist to a guy who wants to try different stuff but still keep it really hardcore.

Also having Aram in a band has been really great because with me and Aaron is like... We are the only two left from the original line up. We’ve known each other for so long, which is good in a way, but also we kind of pigeonhole each other, like “I know what this person is like” and “I know what this will come up with”. So it was nice to have someone like Aram, who is very strong willed and he’s not afraid to tell you how he feels. So he comes in and gives us a third set of eyes on a situation. He helped a lot and he’s a very positive addition in every way. This is my favourite period of the band.

Q: What do you do besides being in TFS? Do you study or work?

Stephen: I teach language of arts (which is reading and writing) in middle school. I teach kids who are around 11, 12 years old. I really enjoy it, I get a lot of time off work and stuff. Other than that I’m a practising Buddhist so I spend a lot of time studying, reading and meditating. It’s hard sometimes to work and have other responsibilities and find time to do that stuff, but it is my real goal and motivating factor of my life. Also I just try to hang out with my friends as much as I can. I’m just a simple dude you know.

Q: I want to ask couple of questions regarding Buddhism. I read an article a while ago that said that Buddhism is slowly and quietly becoming a huge thing in North America. Have you noticed that maybe? And what do you think about it? Is it real or is it just a trend?

Stephen: It does seem to be growing in a lot of ways. I think - and this is just my opinion on things – it feels like a lot of things in America are changing. A lot of people can blame that on George Bush and present stuff. People are starting to question things that they’ve never questioned before.

This is going to sound weird and I don’t feel this way, but there’s sort of a mentality that a lot of Americans have grown up with, that America is a good, great country. Not in a nationalistic way though. And I think that in the last 6 or so years, with the war in Iraq and America as a country started look at itself and realize that there’re a lot of things that we don’t like about it. So from that perspective there’s a certain amount of people who say that this old way is working so much. So I think if you’ve seen an increase in people looking into other philosophies for life I think that has something to do with it.

One of the ideas in Buddhism is karma, which in a nutshell says that the actions that you perpetrate will come to fruition, whether they are positive or negative, at some point. That doesn’t mean that if I hit someone they will do something to me right away. It could be 10 years from now. So in a sense, the idea is that if Buddhism is to grow anywhere, there’ve been causes and conditions from karma that have created that situation. So if there’s a large amount of collective good and that karma comes to fruition then you’re going to see better things happening. I don’t know if that makes sense to you.

I don’t think it’s becoming trendy, I think it’s slowly growing. Unfortunately, in any religion that has good idea you have people that want to attach their identity to it. For example, Christianity gets a lot of bad reputation in a lot of ways but there are people who follow it very devotedly and there are people in Christianity who are scumbags. So you can find people like that in any religion.

Aram entered the room so I focused on him for a little bit.

Q: I asked Stephen about you joining the band and how it changed The First Step. So I want to ask you how do you feel about being in TFS? How different is it from being in Champion?

Aram: I like being in The First Step and it’s a lot different than being in Champion. Champion was really set on touring all the time and really trying to get our message out and going full force all the time. It was super intense all the time. It was intense love but sometimes it was intense frustration. In TFS we still try to get our message out but it’s the vibe is a little bit different. We would be an hour late for the show because we stopped somewhere to get some vegan food. We would eat so much ice cream that we feel sick before we play but we still play really hard. It’s super fun and really relaxed vibe but it’s also compassionate. It suits me well with where I am in my life right now, when I feel so much conviction about straight edge and vegetarianism but it also allows me to be more relaxed and have more fun.

Q: You guys are so spread around the country. How do you manage to practice and get together to play shows? That must be kind of difficult to organize all that?

Aram: We still manage to play more shows than most bands that live in the same city. We play 3 different shows every month. It’s either me and Greg flying to the east coast or Stephen, Aaron and Fred flying to the west coast and we’ll meet in some location and we rent a van and go to the shows. I’ve been n a band for 2,5 years, during that time we’ve been to Guatemala, Europe twice, toured both west and east coast like crazy, we’re going to Japan in June.

The whole idea is that people always have those limitations on what you can do in hardcore, like “oh I can only be in a band until I’m this age because of collage” or “I can only do this because I have this much money”, but the idea is to go across this. If you’re willing to be really passionate about your band and work hard on it and figure out how to do things you can do all those things. I literally live almost as far away, geographically in North America as I can live from the other guitar player but we always play shows every month.

Stephen: We don’t really practice tough. In the last 4 or 5 years we only practiced maybe 3 times. Going back to what Aram said. I remember when our demo had just come out and we played east coast constantly, every single weekend we were in the van. And we thought “Let’s go to west coast”, so we contacted some people we have met and... It was actually Todd Jones, a guy who we became friends with, was like “Dude, your band is really good but don’t come out here on a demo”. We were like “Fuck it, let’s do it anyway”. We wanted to play and it was one of the most fun trips we’ve ever had.

A lot of people get to a certain point after they played in a band but they have other responsibilities, are married or anything else and they say “I can only do this and anything more”. But maybe you can do all that but you need to find other way. Maybe you can be in a band that tours 8 months out of the year but maybe you can do some really awesome stuff and really satisfy yourself and give something back. Sometimes people have those blinders, I have that a lot. We have that song “Greater Vision” that’s kind of about that.

Aram: I get as much satisfaction as I got from touring with Champion or playing with Betrayed. We never see each other apart from when we’re playing shows but I talk to those guys on the computer or on the phone every day. I feel more connected to these guys then to some people that live down the street from my house, because we just refuse to put any boundaries on ourselves. It’s not just hardcore kids, but people in general are so willing to accept boundaries. Look at your scene in Poland, you guys were like a pretty isolated place when hardcore/punk first came around and you guys ended up with a pretty, fucking crazy hardcore scene, especially in the 90s, you guys had all those vegan sxe bands and all.

I think that hardcore and straight edge is so much about overcoming anything like that. Not letting anything to hold you down.

Q: In that song “Something Inside” there’s a line that says “I know it’s easy to care when the scene is on top and there is so much there...”. Did hardcore scene seemed dead to you at that time? I guess you may say it has grown and has change since then. Do you think it’s changed for the better?

Stephen: You know hardcore always goes in cycles. I think more than anything, my perspective might have changed. At that time when I wrote that song the American Nightmare thing was really big. I liked AN for what they were but I couldn’t stand all the posers and everybody jumping on that hype. It just felt so foreign to me, all those razor blades and stuff. I’ve learned to be more compassionate towards whatever people will do in hardcore. I will always prefer certain things over another.

At the same time, since we’ve been in a band and we’ve written that song we had periods that I really liked and we connected with people very well and shared a lot of good stuff with them and there were times that I felt that there was nobody. Right now to me it feels like there are a lot better bands coming out and a lot of possibilities. People started to learn from the past, take the ideas from back then and make them their own and start to actually reinvent hardcore. They starting to do something very original and at the same time very traditional hardcore sounding, which is something that I definitely prefer. There’s this band Mindset that we’re good friends with and being around them makes me feel that things are going to change in a positive way.

Aram: In hardcore a lot of bands sing about the cold reality of life and all those things and majority of people in hardcore bands are fairly young, you know. I’m not saying that people don’t know that because of their age, because some of them definitely do. But I think it’s kind of cool thing to sing about at the moment. It gives people a lot of credit too. It’s weird because people now tend to like the harder bands now. Look how many people is hyping The Icemen now. Literally 10 years ago nobody cared about that band. Their records are cool, I’m not a dising that band but what I mean is that it’s always cooler to have that dark outlook and I don’t really have a problem with those bands. But I’m like “OK, but what are you really saying?”. Everybody knows life is hard. Nobody in the world, doesn’t know life is hard. Some people know how hard life can be and another people just observe how hard life can be. I think it’s weird to get up on the stage and yell “Life is hard, I come from the streets, blah, blah, blah...”. I’d rather get up on stage and say “OK, all this shit is happening and this is how I’m working on it and how I’m overcoming it and maybe you could do that too”. Talk about vegetarianism, veganism or creating some sort of change in the world. It’s kind of fucked up, sitting around and complaining how shitty things are because it doesn’t do any good for anybody.

Q: Another lyrics related question. “Not trying to save the world, just doing my part”. Does it mean you don’t want to change it? hardcore bands always have been singing about making a change in the world. Maybe not on a large scale but at least those little changes. Can you see those little changes happening?

Stephen: I actually wrote that lyric as a response to a comment that someone made “man those dudes just trying to save the world” that meant to be like a dis. That lyric came out as an exact thought because nobody in this band is trying to save the world. It’s not our mission, but at the same time as human being I think we have a responsibility to do the best we can with the time we have. I think we all individually know what our best is, what we can give and what we can do. That’s really simple, it’s just that, we try to do our best with what we’ve got. Maybe it will help to change the world in a positive way or maybe it will help change just one person but we gotta try. That’s the most we can do.

Q: Hardcore bands always have been singing about making a change in the world. Maybe not on a large scale but at least those little changes around us. Do you think that’s possible? Can you see those little changes happening?

Aram: I think it’s totally possible and I see those changes. Let’s say somebody writes a song about straight edge and is not straight edge anymore, right? 20 years later people are still singing that song, covering it and are excited about it. So even if that one person who wrote that song and maybe wasn’t really feeling it anymore but the song has actually created a change. So every time you write a song about making a change and doing inspirational things in life and even if you give up on those things, that is still there. The more people are out there doing positive things, putting good vibes out in the world, supporting each other, those things are real and even if you’re gone afterwards those things still exist. I think it’s weird that people have this final view of good dibs and good thoughts and good actions. Like “oh I helped and got nothing in return. I should care just about myself...”

Stephen: People want to see results right away. If they do something good they want to see a result next week or something. If they help a person they want to see their life changed and if it doesn’t happen they say “oh fuck it, it’s not worth it”. They are impatient. I think the idea of changing the world is that it has to be a domino effect. You change one person’s life, you help them in some way, that changes something in them and then later on the line they help someone else and it goes on and on. If you had like the vision of someone to step back and look at this whole thing you could say “wow from this one thing that this person did it had this huge effect”. But we can’t see that.

Aram: We need a greater vision dude. For real. For example I do a drug and alcohol counsel for people and that’s the slowest process you could ever imagine. I’ve worked with people for 5 years that are still using drugs every day but they still made huge changes in their lives but only we can see it because we’ve been with them for that time. You gotta be patient and kind. I honestly think that even while walking on the street we should try not to be rude and stuff. Perfect example of that is that dude at the airport today I was ready to just blow up at him because we were going to get fucked over. I totally restrained myself and he ended up actually helping us and was really cool. So, if I yelled at this guy and put that bad attitude out there that would be fucking hard but also he would be bummed out and would be in a bad mood. So these little things actually make things better.

Q: A friend of mine made a comment about the song “Pursuit of happiness” where you sing “There’s nothing wrong with material taste, just see it’s true worth and understand it’s place”. He said that for him it seems like an excuse to be allowed to buy more and more stuff and at the same time to be seen as a spiritual person. What do you think of that?

Stephen: Well that part of the lyric was admitting that I and the other guys in the band are just human beings. We buy a pair of sneakers that we like but we don’t actually need. Fuck, we’re hardcore kids. We own more stupid t-shirts than we ever could possibly wear and...

Aram: I don’t need 11 copies of “Break down the walls” but I have 11 copies of that record.

Stephen: The thing is that this song is about the idea of the attachment to things. You don’t have to Ghandi or some kind of monk to have no possessions. You can still be so attached to things and not have anything. You can be attached to one t-shirt that you own. It doesn’t have to deal with things is has to deal with you and your relation with those things. If things are just things to you then they are just things, material objects. If you can freely give them to people and they are not the source of attachment and frustration and anger for you then that’s fine.

Aram: I think it’s like the difference between obsession and appreciation. If you appreciate something, you can appreciate it but you’re not obsessed with it. You can live without it, not have it. You appreciate it, you like to have but if you’re obsessed with it you have to have it.

Stephen: I look at myself and I went through a period of really collecting records and t-shirts as a straight edge hardcore kid. But over time I myself realized that I love Youth Of Today but I don’t need another YOT t-shirt and if I have 4 of them then maybe I’ll give one to a friend. And that actually feels really good to do that. All of us after a while start to see that you can buy things but they won’t truly give you happiness. After we realize that we can own things and we can give them away.

Q: I want to ask one more question about the Buddhism thing. A lot of your lyrics are inspired by it and you talk about it in interviews. I wanted to ask if you’re not afraid that you may create like a trend in hardcore to be Buddhist. I know that it’s probably not going to happen on a scale like it was with Krishna stuff but I know at least one person that became Buddhist because of TFS influence. Wouldn’t you rather keep it low key so it was avoided?

Stephen: Hmmm... I’m trying to think how answer it... That’s a good question. Here’s the thing, I am just me and when it comes to Buddhism and the teachers that I listen to and learn from, those people in my opinion are genuine masters. They are literally enlightened beings and I’m not. So I have to be very careful with things, because I don’t ever want to come across, even accidently, like I know all about this, because I don’t. I’m simply walking the path and I have a long way to go. So I never want to come across as like I have an answer and you should follow me or something like that. That’s why I personally try to keep it low key. I’d much rather talk to someone one on one and I had, over the years couple of kids coming up to me and asking about it and about a book to recommend. Yes I can do that, but I wouldn’t want to get up on stage, ever and profess to have found the light because it’s not that simple and I’d also be dead wrong. I don’t have the authority to say that basically. I’d be kidding myself if I thought I did. From that sense I don’t think something like Buddhism would become a trend in hardcore like Krishna. At the same time any “ism” has that potential. Also a part of it is that hardcore kids in general, and I put myself in the same mix, I really quick to identify themselves with things like that. Like I am straight edge and that means this and I’m vegetarian and that means this. And that’s totally cool but when it comes to something like spirituality, that’s such a grey area. You can call yourself a Buddhist and you can be so far from walking the path that it’s not even funny. You could call yourself a Christian and be the worst example of the follower of Christ. When it comes to spirituality it’s not as white and black as things like straight edge and vegetarianism and other sort of isms that are in hardcore. When Krishna got so popular, people jump on this idea but then so many people over the years started to question it and see that they got into it because their friends got into it. That is one thing to be like really aware of and careful with when it comes to religion and hardcore, and with any kind of spiritual path, any kind of self awareness. Those things aren’t cheap. Accepting big spiritual type ideas, whether it’s Christianity or Buddhism or Krishna or whatever, if you take that in a really selfish way you can really take a horrible view towards life and to people. I went to college with a lot of people who were Christian and they took that thing about loving your neighbour and all that and made it a really perverted thing. I don’t mean perverted sexually, but just this thing that couldn’t be any further than what it supposed to be. So that’s something to really watch out for.

Q: OK now something lighter. What is the best Schism Records release?

Stephen: I’m gonna go for the underdog here and say Wide Awake. Most people would say that they are like second peer. They’re not like Youth of Today or Judge, but when I heard WA for the first time i was like “you gotta be kidding me, this band is so awesome!”. It just made me want to just jump on a base drum and hit the base pedal and I can’t play drums at all. To me Wide Away gets tagged as sort of cheesy, youth crew straight edge band but that record fucking kicks ass. And the name Wide Awake is awesome. You’re not just awake you’re wide awake. I think it’s an incredible record.

Aram: Judge. I have a Judge tattoo. Definitely Judge, man. That record just ripped my heart it literally ripped my heart when I first heard that. I think it’s so awesome, so furious and arrogant. I think that when you’re young you’re supposed to be that arrogant and it’s OK to be arrogant at the young age.

Not hating but totally believing in what you’re doing is the right thing. That’s what brought me to hardcore and straight edge.

Q: Last question. Can you list all Youth Of Today records from your most favourite to the least favourite?

Stephen: I think that a horrible question because they are all awesome. If you ask me on Monday it can be BDTW if you ask me on Tuesday it will be WNITA.

Aram: I think that’s an excellent question and I’m gonna lay it down for you. “Break down the walls” – absolutely my favourite YOT record it has everything I love about this band. It’s got that total “we can change the world” attitude, which is almost like arrogant and I totally dig it. And “Free at last” is almost my favourite Youth Of Today song. So BDTW, fuck yeah! It’s literally a flawless record. It sounds amazing, it looks amazing, the lyrics are incredible. Heads down!

“Disengage” seven inch – I listen to that seven inch, like literally, almost every day.

Stephen: If I had to take one YOT record to a desert island that would be “We’re not in this alone”.

Aram: Dude I’m not done. “We’re not in this alone” and then “Can’t close my eyes”. They are almost tie. I love both of those records. The thing that kind of hurts my ears about WNITA is the drums. I heard the rumour once that when they recorded that record...

Stephen: It’s true.

Aram: Is it? Ok, so when they were recording this record they did the drums first and then when they recorded all other instruments the drums got erased by mistake so the drummer had to go back and re-record it one more time after the guitars and everything was done which should be never done. It hurts my head sometimes when I hear all those weird little things.

Stephen: It always depends on my mood. In certain mood “Disengage” just scratches me right in my itch you know. Like my man Fred would agree, I think “WNITA” is my favourite. There’s something about everything from “Flame still burns” – people counted us out but here we are, fucking back. And then “Chose to be”, oh my god! If I was a violent person I’d just mosh everyone to it. Then a song like “No more” it’s just incredible the way they brought across vegetarianism.

“Break down the walls” is the second. The song “Break down the walls” – I don’t know how Porcell made that noise in the beginning of it. It sounds like something mechanical. And the drums on it are so NY hardcore.

And then after that probably go “Disengage” and “Can’t close my eyes”. “CCME” was probably the first YOT record I heard and I’ll forever love the song “Crucial Times”.

Aram: I think you should ask Fred that question.

Q: OK, Fred you want to say something?

Fred: I went to a show in Connecticut and there was that guy at the table selling YOT records and I asked him which is the best one and he said that probably “We’re not in this alone”. That was probably my sophomore year of high school I’d wake up early every single morning so I could listen to that record before my friend would pick me up for school. I couldn’t believe a record could be this awesome. It was just purely, insanely awesome. I still get the chills when I listen to “Flame still burns” when he says “it’s gonna take more than you fucking got” and he’s just growling. I could never get sick of that record.

And the drum thing? Being a drummer, I notice that but sometimes you let things go.

Then I talked to my friend and was like “Dude the YOT record that I got is the best one”. And he said that “BDTW” is the best one, because he got it at the same show, from the same guy. So I went to his house listen to it and was like “Oh my god! This a totally different vibe!”. Every riff is like upwards, well not everyone but you know what I mean. Still you can tell that’s it’s the same band with the same message.

Aram: Let’s talk about the “Disengage” seven inch for a second.

Stephen: When you listen to the song like “Envy” you don’t think like “Hmm, I wonder who Ray Cappo is talking about?”, you know that Ray Cappo is talking about Ray Cappo. He’s like “I am fucking envy”. It makes me wonder what exactly happen that he’s singing about. That’s the coolest thing about this 7 inch is that it’s so brutally honest as far as Ray goes. He’s not talking about the fucked up dudes in the scene, he’s talking about the fucked up Ray Cappo that he wants to change!

Aram: Dude, what about the end of the song “Envy”? “When the damage is done! No one...” ( here Aram imitates playing the drums). So heavy man! And then it goes like “Enough, enough, enough...”. And that’s the last Youth Of Today song and you’re like “Holy shit!”. If YOT ever recorded an LP in that era and all the song were like that I can’t even imagine what a record would that be. I don’t think a record that amazing could exist.

Fred: But if you’re in the mood to mosh...

Aram: Right, which I am.

Fred: What could be better than listening to “Expectations”? That is the perfect song to mosh to.

Stephen: I had this friend who was so whipped by his parents. He told me that after a week of practising for the show that his parents wouldn’t let him go. Like a day before we were supposed to leave. His favourite YOT song was “Expectations” because, like that part when Ray sings “Your expectations are too much. Get off my back, get off my back!” He always thought that towards his parents but he never actually said that to them. I always think of him when I hear that song.

Aram: We had this total head banger dude. He loved bands like Agnostic Front and he always laughed at us for listening to bands like 7 Seconds. But he loved “Disengaged” seven inch and unexpectedly his favourite song was “Modern love story”. And that song made him rethink his actions because he was like a total jerk and had no respect for anyone. And we were like teenagers then. So I thought “What band can do that?!” Fucking fantastic band!

PHOTOS Belgium / 2007

Photos by Bart Van Mulders