About Me

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Detroit, Michigan, United States
I'm a punk rock guru from Detroit. Part skinhead, part crusty, part metalhead, part hardcore kid, part party kid, 100% punk rocker.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Interview with J. Voltage from Aggro or Die!

Interview with J. Voltage from Aggro or Die!

1. What was your first introduction to punk rock? What was that like for you to experience?

Well I guess that would depend on your definition of "first experience". It's funny really but as a kid I had no idea the music I listened to was punk rock at all. Like most kids growing up I just listened to what my parents listened to. And children just like what they're parents like because we look up to them. But I had really cool parents and people in my life especially in my teenage years. My step father Gary was one of them. So in sorts you could say my first punk rock experience was seeing the Ramones play the Michigan State Fairgrounds. But I was way too young to fully wrap my head around that at the time.

So, I feel my first real punk rock experience was in high school. You see I got in a fight with some kids over this Black Flag shirt I wore to school that day. I stole this shirt from my step-dad’s closet before school that morning. Ya know, so I could be "cool" and wear a sweet ass punk shirt seeing as I had the attitude to match. And it back fired. All that day kids called me "Black Fag" until I just couldn't take it anymore. So I tried to kick their asses even though I failed they never called me "black fag" ever again. So I ran all the way home and as I approached my front door I realized that in the fight I had gotten blood and rips on his shirt. And I knew he'd be at the table next to the front door waiting for me to come home so we can shoot the shit.

SO I flipped it inside out. And as soon as I got the shirt back on he opened the front door. What was I thinking? How was I to hide a white shirt with black letters on the front now saying "galF kcalB" across my chest? And not to mention the fact that it was pretty much destroyed. He just stood in the door way looking down at me. He took off his ball cap, wiped the sweat from his fore head, twice, and smirked.

Hiding his laughter he said as stern as he could "dude, we need to talk". "SO you like that band?" he said. So I was like "umm yeah dude, they're pretty rad?" He knew I just wore it because he liked them, and talked about them all the time. And all the kids in my school had no idea about music unless it was on MTV and it would make the kids think I was cutting edge or something. Dude we all start off as posers, right? He thought this was like the opportunity of a lifetime. He said "Kid, have I got a surprise for you, Mr. punk rocker!" He brought out four huge ass crates of records, reels, and note books. You see, he used to book and interview bands back in the late 70's up to the mid 80's. The man had tons of cool shit and just gave to me. Most kids get into punk rock because their parents or society doesn’t understand them. But for me it was very different, like I said my parents were very cool.

And as for my first taste of a "real punk rock show". That next weekend my step dad was reading the local rag or ‘zine. He was laughing out loud as he said "tomorrow I'm taking you to a real punk rock show". "but I'll let you choose, seeing as you like punk bands based on the name of the band alone, so Butthole Surfers or Jack Kevorkian and the Suicide Machines, what’s it gonna be?" I chose the Suicide Machines. I can remember being there with my step dad and all the kids calling me a poser. And he told me we’re all posers at one time or another. He said "Fuck ‘em; none of these assholes have parents cool enough to get in the pit with them". And ya know, he was right. I jumped in the pit and never looked back.

2. What band were you in (including high school bands) before Aggro or Die! became your primary project?

Well I tried to start a band in high school. But a majority of kids I went to school with just did not get me at all. Well, With the exception of one dude I tried to make a band with. But he told all the kids we toured across country with Rancid, which never happened. That pretty much ruined my chances of starting anything serious while I was in high school. But in the summer of 98', I was asked by a friend of mine to start a "project of sorts" and after months of asking he finally lured me to his parents’ house to start Nuke and the Toxic Offenders. That band played its first show on Halloween night in 1999. We were a band until December 2002.

It started as a cure for our boredom and to have an excuse to get off the couch and do something on the weekends. We didn't really have a lot of friends, and weren't particularly cool or anything. We never really knew the potential of that band until that potential outgrew the band. We were also a bit naive as well, but that band would eventually be the driving force behind the things Nuke and I do today. To this day he is one of my closest friends.

3. When did A.O.D.! really begin to come to fruition?

You mean like how Aggro or Die! got started? Okay, well as I was saying in the last question, after Nuke and I had parted ways in 2002. I was devastated; I had basically locked myself up in my basement for almost two years. Yeah you could say I took it hard. I did. During that time I wrote some very angry music. At first I was just going to do The Toxic Offenders minus nuke with all new music. I was originally going to do the vocals for this band. But all in all, I just wanted to step away from the Toxic Offenders thing all together. In hindsight I felt too bitter, but didn't want it to show. And besides if I was to do a band like nuke at all I'd have to be able to compete with his vocals. No chance dude! I'm no singer for sure. So I dropped that all together. And besides as the two years went by, my anger towards Nuke was beginning to fade. So I proposed the idea on the guys.

At the time it was Dave Bones and "then" Mark Evil of the Toxic Offenders. I tried to sing for my first time and the boys suggested that we look for another singer. So, I took that as defeat and just gave in. But my brother Mike stepped in. Just as I threw in the towel he was right behind me to snap me right in the ass with it. He made me a bet that he could get some dudes that not only get my music, but won't give a shit about the Nuke stuff. Even though we had been trying various musicians for the last two years, they all ended in "You don't wanna sound like nuke?" to "Dude this shit is way too fast! You never played this fast in Nuke!" But that was my whole point! I didn't want to. I was trying to do something that said more about who I am. My brother Mike found Eddie later that week. Now, I had named Aggro or Die! long before this, I was just unsure on how to explain the name. So I just used the acronym. "A.O.D" and told everyone who ever tried out that the name is up for debate but "A.O.D" is not. I had a purpose with that but with new band mates coming in, I didn't wanna scare ‘em off with a name they might not get.

Eddie got his friend Eric to play bass and knew a guy named Matt who was interested in singing, which was good for me cus' I'm a bit of a chicken shit. Not soon after, I got with guys and had to explain "A.O.D". This bits a little on the personal side but I'll tell ya. Aggro or die! means many things. On one side, it's the name of a song by my favorite band, 7 Seconds. On the personal end it was my way of reminding me of where I came from. And while I may be able to many things with this life, to quit is not one of them. So the name Aggro or Die! is my analogy for how I live my life. It's like do or die to the very fullest of the term. Or simply shit or get off the pot.

They all had ideas for "A.O.D." but I just wanted to use Aggro or die! and since then I've yet to run into a kid that doesn't say "what is an Aggro or Die!?" and cus' I like to explain how I came up with the name. It feels personal to me. As well as to tell it. And I never get tired of it. After all, naming a band is supposed to be personal, it don't get more personal than that. And ironically enough, Aggro or Die! played its first show with Nuke and the Living Dead on January 21st of 2006. Aggro or Die! took four years to happen.

4. What was playing in Nuke and the Toxic Offenders like?

Ummm, a blur. I'm kidding. It was over way too fast though. I had some very cool moments being in Nuke and the Toxic Offenders. At first the scene for the kind of music we played hadn't really hit Detroit too hard yet. Plus I'm pretty sure we just wrote what we were capable of at first. We were no musicians at the time we started out. But as time went on we really pushed the whole "punk rock and roll thing" mixing up old style rock and roll with surf and punk. In the end I think we were very capable of crafting the sound we wanted. And before too long, bands were

following in our footsteps. I won't lie about it, it felt pretty cool. That band catapulted me into music so hard, it's all I known ever since.

Nuke had very strict practice and show routines. Nuke was a very well organized front man. I've learned a whole lot from him. The one thing about the Toxic Offenders I really liked most was not really having a scene to answer to. We kinda carved our own path. And we just did not take shit from anyone. The best part of being in the Toxic Offenders was living by our own rules. That and well, being offensive to those we thought were dicks anyway. Some highlights that I remember most are seeing great bands like the Koffin Kats, V8 Nightmare at first, playing many of their first shows with Nuke and the Toxic Offenders. Shit it's downright surreal having Vic Victor hold the Toxic Offenders as highly as he does. In many ways he has kept the spirit of my first band alive and well. Nuke and I poke around at the idea of doing a reunion show every so often. Who knows maybe we'll actually do it someday.

5. Does punk rock mean as much to you as it did when you were younger? Why?

I'd say more in every way possible. I mean while you’re a kid, punk is kinda a place of belonging or something different to get into that kinda separates you from the pack. But as I get older, I realize how much more than that it is. You begin to realize its potential as a vehicle for your generation’s voice. When I first got into punk all I cared about was going to shows or what band was playing and with whom, never really paying attention what went into getting bands into the shows and the kids into the music.

And now it seems as though the kids have become numb to music at all, or at least enough to feel it directly, in the scene that is. Scenes have pretty much dwindled away. And well, let’s face it, Michigan is broke and so are half the bars and clubs. So that plays a factor in lack of places for bands to play. And that causes a lack of interest in the kids. And I think if the kids don't see this as a huge problem. Punk as you and I know it will die. If we don't care enough to raise our voices, or think in radical ways, the music and scene we all say we love will vanish into obscurity. So yeah, it means way more now than it did then. I think I owe it myself as well as others to keep this thing going. Or at least give it my best shot.

6. Was it hard to adjust to doing vocals after Matt left?

I'd be a liar if I said no. Matt was a great singer and front man. As well as an amazing and dynamic personality for Aggro or Die!. When Matt announced his leaving Aggro, his last request as a member of Aggro or Die! was that he do a final record with us, and that I should pick up

after him as the bands lead singer, just as I should have when the band initially started. And his reasons were all valid. If I write most of the words and music, then having me sing them would make sense. If anything, I'd mean the words more than anyone else. And that's a huge part of Aggro or Die!. However, mixed feedback from friends, fans and family, having me sing and not play guitar just didn't seem like the thing for us.

And we've had great support in this transition. Jason (Hellmouth) had our back and suggested we try his friend Jeff out. And while Jeff was a perfect fit vocally, he was far too busy at that moment in his life, as well not wanting to support a record that he would not full be on. At that time we were still thinking having Matt on the record would not be a bad idea. In his words as well as our own, a singer should support and push a record if they plan to be on it. And well, that's a very true statement. So even though things did not work out with Jeff, he left a more than lasting impression on us. We then decided to lessen vocals for Matt on the up and coming record. Half Matt, half me. But unfortunately through poor communication, Matt didn't like the idea at all. And while I understand Matt's point of view, if Aggro or Die! were going to move in the forward direction, we should just start over.

So I took Jeff's advice and decided to front Aggro or Die! myself. And while it's been difficult to adjust to, my band mates have given positive feedback and are happy with this decision. No doubt it feels different not having a guitar do the talking for me. I am content on how things are coming along. Hell, I've never sung for anybody let alone front a band. But I like the feeling I get doing it.

7. Has Aggro or Die! changed its sound now that you’re singing?

I'm sure it may sound different on record. But that has always been a goal for us. Aggro or Die! really doesn't have a specific sound to be exact. Or at least, not in my opinion. We kinda just go with a general theme for the record side of things while focusing on live shows and maintaining our own sound for them. As for the vocals, that's up to the listener to judge. But I think things are a bit more fleshed out these days. We are very picky about things like that and so far the responses have been very positive and encouraging. So in a nutshell I'd say in some regards, yes. But in spirit, no. We didn't have to change musically to fit my voice into the mix. Instead I've worked my vocals around the music.

8. Do you listen to primarily punk rock from around the world, the U.S. or Detroit? Why?

I love music from all over the world dude. It's always cool to reach out and embrace music on a global scale. Be it punk, hardcore, ska, thrash etc. from all walks of life. We do heavily support Detroit and local music, mostly cus' we feel we are a part of it too. And I think it's easy to relate to because Detroit bands speak a common language that kids from Detroit see and feel on a daily basis. Because I live here, Detroit music is a soundtrack to my everyday life. But music is music, and wherever it comes from isn't so much a factor. I'm just happy knowing that kids everywhere are out there doing it. I'm always stoked to see young minds creating a voice through their music.

9. Have you played with any out-of-state bands? Who and when?

Yes, and I'd say too many to recall all of them. But there are a few that have stolen our hearts. Quarterlife Crisis is a band that we've grown very close to. They are from Long Beach, New York. If ya haven't heard of them yet, get to a computer quick and look ‘em up. We have been

friends since we first played with them in 2006 here in Detroit at the 2500 Club. We have taken two small tours with them, on the East Coast as well as the Midwest. Last summer was a great tour; short but powerful. We also played with great bands like the Alcoholocaust, Seasick, Iron

Minds, and the dudes from Thrashantos. Also keep in mind all the great out of state bands that come out to Keep it a Threat fest.

10. When did you conjure up the idea for the Keep It a Threat festival?

Well it's been a thought of mine for quite a while. Even in the first 7” that Aggro or Die! did, I mentioned keep it a threat at the end of my closing statement. That was more than a year from the first KIAT. But the KIAT we know as the fest was a collaboration between me and my friend, Dougie Tangent. He was playing with his band the Dewtons at Jamestowne Hall in Saginaw when we got together after he had played and talked a bit about the "good old days", when shit was D.I.Y. and you could go and see a shit ton of awesome bands from all over the place at one show, as well as find out about bands and how to start one as well. Nowadays, people horde info like that because they think that it's some kind of privileged information for them or their peers, like-minded as they are. And that they keep they're scene "poser" free by establishing a bullshit hierarchy. That they in turn feel like pillars of their scenes because they know "people". Fuck people like that! They are the reason the scene has dwindled down to just them.

The original idea was just to throw a big ass show that involved skateboarding, punk rock and its community. And throw a show in a place where kids could skate and thrash at the same time. And do it here in southeast Michigan, where we are from. All the good fests are never in Southeast Michigan anymore. So why not have one of our own, right? And a place to get kids into music as well as creating it. To me the "Threat" is how society views opinionated and socially aware young kids, and the impact they have on their structure. And if kids no longer express that threat, or stand up and voice themselves, then punk music or whatever it may be called in the future is pretty much doomed. The fest I remember that conveyed that message to me was Michigan fest.

Michigan fest was really cool back in the day. I remembered everything about it. The bands, the booths that all the D.I.Y. and local bands had showcasing the how-to's for copyrights, making your own merch, and even booking your own tours. And it was the first time I saw Los Crudos too! That show changed my life, and Dougie's too, cus' we shared countless stories about that same show. We just felt that was lacking today. So we just wanted to do our part in preserving something that gave us so much to look forward to and give it to kids who don't have that much to look forward to these days. On a personal end, to me, KIAT was also my way of keep up with my step dad Gary, who did plenty of shows in his time with bands like Negative Approach, Black Flag and countless others. Without him in my life KIAT would have never happened. He passed away just a few weeks before first taste of what it was like to walk in his shoes. I could totally see him out there, that "old dude" moshing with the kids. He would have loved it.

11. What bands do you have confirmed for the second annual festival? Where can people go to find more information about it as it approaches?

Well, Dave. I just can't spill all the beans just yet. But you can bet on Aggro or die! and D.A. to be there. As well as Iron Minds, A.T.G., and the A-Gang are all confirmed, and have been. But it's way too early to give any more details with how things go. The actual line up will no doubt change as it did last year right on up to the last minute. So not being a dude to write a check my ass can't cash, best way to stay informed is to check with the website. www.myspace.com/keepitathreat. We are always talking to bands from all over, as well as taking advice from bands and kids alike. We are doing this for all of us: young and old, hardcore and poser. Keep it a threat is about bringing music to kids of all kinds.

12. Do you feel the first Keep It a Threat festival was a success?

Absolutely; if you’re asking questions about it, or other kids are asking about it, then yes. There were lots of things I wish we could have done better. But we'll learn from it and carry that over in years to come. I'm having fun with it and that's what counts.

13. What is the primary message you want to communicate with this festival?

Stand up and do something! So many out there will bitch cus' they’ve got no place to play or see shows, or there aren’t any bands out there anymore and nobody does it like they used to. It's the same excuse, but really it's because people lack creativity and ingenuity. I say, start your own bands, make your own places to play! Fuck, kids did it in empty warehouses with generators hooked up to car batteries and shit, or in abandoned houses with kids pressing their own t-shirts and patches, or young aspiring journalists out there, putting in tons of hours at the local copy house making ‘zines. Fuck! Make your own labels for crying out loud! If you create it the only one that can kill it is you. With all that we have at our disposal these days, it's a shame that most kids don't even lift a finger. So, in short, the message I want to communicate is: Get off your ass today and make a history of your own! And while back in the day is great to remember, if our minds rest on yesterday, we won't have shit to look forward to tomorrow.

14. What your regular ‘adult’ lifestyle, do you still go to shows? How often?

Not nearly as often as I'd like too. But I do get out every once in a while. Aggro plays tons of shows, so in that light, I see plenty. But I do like see other bands, especially ones that don't play near me often, or bands that I hear about a lot. And with Aggro making a new record the last few months have been largely spent away from shows. And being a full time parent of a two and a half year old can slow down shows a bit. But all in all, as long as Aggro keeps playing shows, I'll always be able to catch shows. I just can't wait till my son is old enough to go to shows. I hope I don't embarrass him. I thought it was cool going to shows with my step dad.

15. What’s your favorite local band to watch/listen to?

I guess that depends on my mood. I love lots of local bands. But some of them really get my motor going at the end of the day. If I'm particularly in a shitty mood from work Hellmouth is an awesome stress reliever! The Hand-Me Downs have a way of making me feel good too. They are fun as hell to see. And if I'm feeling down, they are always there to pick me up. D.A. is an awesome band too. They rip it up fast as fuck and some of the best times I've spent at shows recently have been at theirs. D.A. was also the first band Aggro played with that made me turn to the dudes and say "We gotta tighten shit up dudes! These guys are way tight with each other!" I've been turned on to some other bands very recently that blew my mind. Trace the Veins are the shit; high energy dude. They came out of left field to me dude. They are like my new must see band. Them and Against the Grain, who are both amazing as hell to see. And of course all these bands are in my cars CD player, always!

16. What can others do to support their local punk rock scene? Is there something they shouldn’t do?

Well, dude. I think what you are doing is very cool. Writing about bands, music, and the scene is a very productive and lasting thing, especially if it comes from kids with a non biased agenda. Not talking about reviews or anything like that. That's important in putting your opinion of a band out there for kids to read about. But the thing I'm talking about is capturing the experience of what it’s like to be there. Not to mention that it’s important in creating the images or capturing

the memories that can be shared when were all dead and gone. If not for active kids like yourself, punk would have died long time ago. So thank you. What's not cool is pushing other kids away from it. Like I've stated before, we are all posers at one time or another. If we segregate other kids based on musical tastes, we thin out the scene, furthermore destroying what it means to be a punk. I think it's all of our responsibility to create a lasting impression on the youth. After all, they will be doing it way after we do and so on. If we are to survive, we have to get over ourselves.

People being assholes to kids for not being in the know will leave a nasty taste in my mouth; it's just not necessary to be that way. Also, being inventive as far as how we do shows or how we create or put out music is imperative to survival in this day and age. Seeing how things are here in Detroit with our economic situation, D.I.Y. is the way to do it. And the very most important thing of all is talk about it. Make the kids aware of it.

17. Is it a little bit ironic that punk rock, which is mostly liberal, is inhabited almost entirely by young white males? If that’s a bad thing, what can be done to change it?

I think..., Wow! Dave that's tough! Myself, I'd love to see all kinds of kids from every walk of life into what I do. But it's in what people have made it out to be. I think that girls don't come to shows too often because most kids aren't aware of them in mosh pits, or in the worst case scenario, are too aware of them. And take advantage of them not being able to defend themselves from grabby teenage hands. It's completely inappropriate but it happens all too often to girls.

As far as say, kids of other ethnic backgrounds, I'd say that's up to the individuals themselves. Again, it's in what people have made punk out to be. But if we continue to see it as black or white, boy or girl we are only walking in the wrong direction simply by acknowledging a difference between them. It is simple, a kid at a show is still a kid at a show regardless of race and gender. I think the right thing to do is create a positive and lasting experience for those around you regardless who it is, and if we continue to emphasize that type of mentality, we'll get

there. It takes all of us to make things like that happen. Communicate that and it will happen.

18. How is your new full-length coming along? When do you think it will be out?

As of this time, we're about 75 % done. But we want it to be perfect. So it's kinda like a "It'll be done when it's done" situation. We do everything D.I.Y. So money and getting shit recorded during shows and work schedules have played a role in the lengthy process of putting this thing together. But I'd say it should be out no later than late summer. We have a reason for that, but you'll have to wait to know exactly what I mean.

At this point only three tracks need vocals, art is being produced, and money has been saved up. So there's still hope of getting this thing done for Keep it a Threat fest. Fact is, we just want this record to be special. It's a huge turning point for us, and kids who listen to us deserve nothing but the best out of us. I can tell you I'm very proud of it thus far. And we hope you dig it too.

19. How much time and effort goes into managing a band?

Well, let's put it this way, you really gotta love it to do it. It can be enormously tough at times. And while it may be easier to have someone else do it for you, it always feels 10 times more rewarding when you do it yourself. Working with bands and venues can be stressful, cus' you

never want to step on toes, and someone almost always seems to feel screwed out of something at one point or another. But when you get things rolling in the right direction there's no better feeling on earth.

I'd also say that reaching out to a community of like minded people is a must. Nothing can truly be done alone. Things like word of mouth, advertising, and just getting kids into it. It takes everyone to do that. I'm sure you know that. Putting out a record or comp isn't all

peaches and pussy dude. But seeing it in a kids hand, or hearing about it through other kids is an awesome feeling.

20. Anything else we missed that you want people to be aware of?

Yes. Each other. And by that I mean in the pit or in other social settings. Kids don't get into punk or any other scene because they want to be disrespected, beaten at shows, or hurt by those they think are on their level. I speak from a lot of my own personal experiences. I know and very much remember what it feels like to be an outsider looking into something I thought I belonged to. Hate is just ignorant.

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