Sustaining for an astounding 18 years, Philadelphia’s Starkweather has been a cornerstone of modern hardcore since their pioneering sounds in 1989 to their most recent release, 2005’s Croatoan. With two new releases on the way, the band shows no signs of stopping or slowing down. Despite no national tour on the horizon, Starkweather has formed a unique bond with SLC–on Dec. 6, the band will be in Salt Lake for a one-stop show sponsored by Grudge City Activities. Succinct and well-spoken, Rennie Resmini and Todd Forkin sat down with SLUG Magazine to explain how the group has maintained their presence and relevance for nearly 20 years.
SLUG: To what does Starkweather owe its longevity?
Ronnie Resmini: Sheer stubbornness. We won’t quit as long as we continue to enjoy creating music and can evolve, ever so slightly, as musicians. Music is an outlet for us–it isn’t our job. We don’t tour, so we don’t rattle each other’s nerves by being confined in a van 24/7, 52 weeks.
Todd Forkin: I agree with Rennie that sheer stubbornness is the secret to our success. I also think that it’s a necessary and healthy way for us to exorcise our personal demons. Without this I’m not sure what I would do with myself.
SLUG: Despite outlasting several trends in hardcore, Starkweather never succumbed to imitating popular styles. How do you guys maintain and evolve your musical style over time?
RR: Probably because our influences were never limited or restricted to one specific style. We grew up listening to a diverse catalog of music. Growing up I was fortunate to have been exposed to a lot of different music. I just happened to be intrigued by the more “outsider” type of bands: Amebix, Voivod, Articles of Faith, Void, Die Kreuzen. Most having a more atonal, dissonant sound. Probably why I tend to gravitate to composers like Nono, Lachenmann, Varese, Xenakis. So, it translates to the overall sound and style of this band. I definitely agree that if you compare and contrast our early music to what we’re doing now you can tell it’s the same band. There is more musicality and broader palette of sound, but it’s the same group of barbarians.
TF: Like Rennie, I started listening to punk and hardcore a long, long time ago and though I hadn’t met Ren until the mid eighties, we were both drawn to and influenced by the same outsider bands. Any interview you read with us is sure to mention bands like Amebix, Voivod and Articles Of Faith as influences and I grew up listening to all of the above bands that Rennie mentioned. In later years I’ve been heavily influenced by Gorguts, who were the first band to create a sound that matched what was going on in my head. It was like the mashing of gears. We really have little to no interest in what’s going on in hardcore or mainstream metal these days. We get together in our bunker every Saturday and what we are as people is what comes out as the Starkweather sound. There are different positive and negative influences on us now, greater disappointments, and, speaking for myself, some personal demons that absolutely need a healthy way to come out.
SLUG: What do you think makes Utah such a hotbed of Starkweather fans?
RR: I’m baffled by the entire thing. We have little pockets of rabid fans while other areas are indifferent. I have no idea what is going on in Utah if this is truly the case. I’m curious to see how this show is. We knew something was up with SLC from a Hellfest show we were on. After we played a bunch of people from SLC introduced themselves to us. Then, when we did one of RalphyBoy/Dissassociate’s birthday bashes at CBGB’s another SLC group came out to catch this show with Dissassociate, Bloodlet, us and others.
TF: This is absolutely a mystery to me. I always pictured us an East Coast band, formed in a filthy city at a filthy time, and I’m not sure what ANYONE, let alone people from Salt Lake City, see in us. I know that while we have only a handful of fans, their commitment and rabid intensity is surprising and welcome.
SLUG: What, in your opinion, is the “golden age of hardcore”?
RR: Early ‘80s. Hardcore was urgent, honest sounding. It had yet to become stagnant and mired in ritual behavior and sound. The earliest stuff had a primal intensity that’s tough to rival. There was an air of danger about the scene back then that was authentic. A complete “Us vs. Them” feeling. For myself, by the mid ‘80s, things ran their course. Sure, there are some bands during the late ‘80s, early ‘90s that are vital, but for the most part a lot of stuff, particularly around here, hardcore was the equivalent of dumbed down metal or if it was going in a different direction, it was almost pop or emo – nothing to my liking. To me, hardcore was about ferocious energy over accuracy. My favorite early hardcore bands will always be Articles of Faith, Void, Germs, United Mutation, Crucifix, CCM, Die Kreuzen, Rites of Spring, Poison Idea. Later period stuff would be bands like Beyond Possession, Born Against, Rorschach, Antioch Arrow, La Gritona, Deadguy, Coalesce.
TF: I’m not really sure that there was a golden age of hardcore. If there was, I guess for me it was the early Boston bands (The F.U.’s, Jerry’s Kids, DYS and The Freeze), and the DC scene, which was a pretty special time for me. I remember the first time I heard the Teen Idles 7”, and especially the first time I heard Minor Threat’s “Look Back And Laugh.” There was a visceral reaction and a sense that I had finally found outsider freaks that felt the way I did. By 1984, I felt that things had pretty much run their course and bands were starting to sound the same, the lyrics were getting dumbed down, and the collective conscience had died. For a brief moment things were revived by the DC crew with Beefeater, Rites Of Spring, Embrace and a few other bands creating what they called Revolution Summer. By the end of ‘85, whatever I loved about hardcore had died. From that point on I was inspired and influenced by individual bands, but I started to feel unwelcome in a scene that I loved from its birth.
SLUG: How did you approach writing the newest album?
TF: If you’re talking about the album that we’ve recorded and not released, then I can tell you that those songs, musically, were born of mental illness and substance abuse. I wrote the vast majority of newer songs in one, two-week-long manic episode that I don’t even remember. I needed Rennie to drive up to NYC to help me figure out and arrange the shit that had spilled out of me. That’s really how the material is written these days, and all I’m trying to do is channel what’s going wrong in my head through my guitar. I’m grateful to have a group of guys that not only let me indulge myself, but give shape, power and raw emotion to the framework that Ren and I create. Without Rennie, Vin, and Harry, I’m just another douchebag with a guitar.
RR: The interesting thing is once we present the rough framework to Harry and Vince, it mutates further. Sometimes I’m never quite sure how Harry is going to get a feel for specific parts. He can veer into completely different territory than what I initially envisioned. So, it’s definitely an experimental process. Obviously being a four piece, how things are performed live is more stripped down and raw. In studio we can push a more layered, textured sound.
SLUG: Tell me about the new split you are recording.
TF: I’ve been thinking about this a little bit recently and the words that I can come up with to describe the new material are claustrophobic, paranoid, dense, sad, beautiful and honest. To get a painfully detailed description of what the recording was like, as well as some photos from the session, you can go to the MySpace blog .
The day I feel that we’re not surpassing our previous material is the day I walk away. I haven’t reached that point yet and love this band more deeply that I ever have. There you go, my emo moment.
Starkweather will be performing on Dec. 6 at In the Venue with Tamerlane, Reflect and Sleeping Giant. Pre-order tickets are available along with everything you’ve ever wanted to know, but were afraid to ask about Salt Lake hardcore on www. grudgecityactivities.com.