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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.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Interview with State

Interview with Art & Preston of State

1. What record got you into punk initially? Was there a record that inspired you to start your own band?

Art: Hmmm. Depends how you define punk. But probably when a friend played the Ramones’ "Commando" for me over the phone, and I couldn't hear any of the goofy words...just this great fresh SOUND.

I wasn't inspired to start a band by any one record, but I wanted to form an underground band, "like the Stooges". Little did I know!

Preston: Definitely the record that got me into punk was the Stooges’ first record, which came out, I believe in 1969, when I was about 14. I bought it the week it was released, and would listen to it over and over again during all my teenage years. Everything about that music was so enthralling. It sounded exotic, especially the dark, kind of modal guitar melodies, while at the same time it gave voice to the very streets of Ann Arbor that I wandered every day. Iggy’s accent and intonation, the attitude—it expressed teenage life in Ann Arbor so perfectly and beautifully. Especially teenage lust. “Can I come over tonight?” I was totally inspired, and still am, by all the Stooges’ music, which was so completely and unabashedly original, and truly ahead of its time—and of our own still. Like my other idols—the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix—no-one has ever matched it, and it keeps propelling rock-n-roll forward toward the greater potential they embody.

As for being inspired to be in a band, it was the MC5’s performance in West Park in 1969, from which point on I was stage-struck. I had seen bands, including the Iguanas with Iggy on drums, when they played a party at the frat house I lived next-door to, as well as the Prime Movers, SRC, the UP, the Amboy Dukes… But the MC5 blew them all away. The “high-energy”, the righteous indignation and anger, the psychedelia, the volume—it all just put a stamp on my soul to follow the path of rock-n-roll in that particular spirit which is at the root especially of hardcore.

2. Where did the band initially meet before starting State?

Art: Just around the neighborhood, around town. Ann Arbor 's pretty intimate.

3. Where did State play some of their first gigs (city and venues)? How well were you received?

Art: The first gigs were in Ann Arbor , and outlying areas like Saline and Hamburg . We actually went over pretty well, not too much bottle throwing.

Preston: Notably, Bookies in Detroit , which people trace Detroit punk back to. That was before I myself had joined the band. They also played at the VFW Hall in downtown Ann Arbor with Gang War (Johnnie Thunders and Wayne Kramer) and Destroy All Monsters (Ron Asheton, Mike Davis, and Niagara ). I saw the State at the Half Way Inn on the University of Michigan campus, affectionately known as “the Half Ass”. And I saw them at the Statehouse, which was the underground club Art started. Our first show with me on vocals was at an obscure bar called Shirley’s in Detroit City . Nobody was there except the other band, the Fury—also of Ann Arbor —and our friend Jamie.

But soon we were playing other Detroit clubs, both commercial and underground, and got a good reception at the Michigan Union Ballroom, at CBGBs, and around the Midwest and the East Coast. Like any band, some shows were to an empty room, while others were wild. We did shows at the Statehouse on State Street in Ann Arbor , which by then was just what we called whatever house Art was inhabiting.

The pre-hardcore State got a mixed reception. Some people were unimpressed, even scornful, while others really liked what Art was doing—chaos and all—including Ron and Niagara . And, of course, me. I especially liked Art’s rendition of “Ramblin’ Rose”, the MC5’s rocked-up blues cover.

4. When did State release their first 7” record? What label released the record first? Why did Havoc Records repress it?

Art: First record, No Illusions, came out in spring of '83. It was on our own label, which we called "Statement". Havoc re-pressed it 'cause it had become sort of a mini-classic, but unfortunately they put out an earlier mixing session, it wasn't the original record, wasn't the one Ron Ashton helped with. They don't think little details like that matter. But the real record is much better. I wanna put the real one out online, for the picky people.

Preston: Eventually we may well re-release No Illusions in its original form, on Statement Records, on 7” vinyl, etc.

5. What caused some of the internal tension that made the band break up in the late 1980s? What brought the band back together and when?

Art: I realize now it was pure bullshit ego, essentially. But lots of things played into it, involving words like prison, drugs and death. A bad time for us. What brought us back together was I think the fact that we realized No Illusions had some legs, somebody besides us was interested, there were new punk fans who were liking that record.

Preston: As I am sure anybody in a band knows, it is harder to hold a band together even than a marriage. Tensions within any serious band are enormously powerful and destructive. The trick is to manage that stress for the sake of the outcome. And we continue to do this, and to get better at resolving conflict. It isn’t simply interpersonal tensions, but it comes down to difference in opinion like whether we should have two or three choruses in a given song, how long the lead break should be, whether we should repeat a hook, what drum beat is best, etc. etc. etc. We have gotten a lot better at keeping these issues in perspective by keeping in mind that we are all interested in the same thing, which is maximizing the power and impact of the song in question.

We reformed in 2003 when asked by State Control Records—an Ann Arbor record store—to do a reunion/benefit show at their store. Keir and I had been in the Bitter Pills for ten years, while Art and I were in a new band called the Blackletter Saints with Jeff Navarre on bass. Keir filled in one night at the Elbow Room in Ypsilanti when the Saints’ drummer (Shuoen Ballard of the Cult Heroes) was called away for a Heroes gig, and so three original State members were playing together again, including some State covers, so Josh Redd Sanchez of State Control thought we should reunite for real. Actually, Art used to cameo in the Bitter Pills occasionally. Anyway, after our packed and insane reunion show, being the State again seemed our best option.

6. How many albums/EPs did State release before breaking up the first time? How many have they released since reforming?

Art: The No Illusions EP, an LP called "False Power", and a track on an Ann Arbor compilation called "Cruisin' Ann Arbor", I think. Since reforming, jeez I really don't know. I'd have to tally 'em. There's been a lot.

Preston: Since reforming there are: Nixed Life (CD on Grand Theft Audio, 2006); All Wrong (LP/CD on Underestimated Records, 2006); and the following 7” EPs from 2007 through 2009: State/Fuck This split EP (Punksbeforeprofits), Sanctimony (Punksbeforeprofits), Verboten (Statement), Nihil ex nihilo (Punks beforeprofits), W├╝ste Deutschland/Dregs of Detroit (Gossenwelt), and Excommunicated (Statement). We have a couple new tunes which should be out sometime soon on Puke-n-Vomit Records with Grand Rapids ’ Attention Span. And we have records of new songs in the works with Arbco Records of Ann Arbor.

7. When did you form the Bitter Pills? What kind of music was that?

Preston: I think it was 1993, when Keir showed up—literally—on my doorstep asking if I wanted to form a band. He had been in a metal band called Anhedonia, and I had broken with a rock band called Destruction Ride a year or two earlier. Keir and I decided to play nothing but punk rock and to play with punk bands only, which at the time was a bit of a novel idea. Pretty much every song was fast thrash. The lyrics were about life on the streets, with titles like “Runaway”, “Streetwalker”, and “Troublemaker”.

8. What did the Bitter Pills release? Are any of those records still available?

Preston: The Bitter Pills recorded a studio album, which I don’t think we ever mixed. We had some pretty crappy CDs we used to give out. I plan to do some kind of Bitter Pills website eventually featuring some of our better stuff. Josh Redd Sanchez will be releasing some Bitter Pills songs on an upcoming retrospective of various artists’ different band incarnations, including myself and including Art.

9. What happened to the Bitter Pills? Did they break up or simply go on hiatus?

Preston: The latter. Jeff Navarre had joined the band and played some shows with us, and I think Jeff and Keir and I have plenty on our plate with The State alone.

10. What makes State able to crank out records on a frequent basis?

Art: We do them very cheaply and don't finish them. It's easy!

Preston: We have had interest from various labels, as the above thumbnail discography shows, which doesn’t include the various compilations. We work very hard at continuing to write new songs, and have put some of the records out ourselves, on our own dime. Most of us in the band are pretty happy with the production despite a limited budget. Rock City Studios has also been extremely flexible and generous. As for “cheaply”—well, not really. But the in-house, D.I.Y. approach has kept costs down.

11. How do you feel about the general vibe that State is “one of the best and most important hardcore bands you’ve never heard”?

Preston: We were never as good at publicity as some other Michigan HC bands. We did not have the support of a publicity machine like the Necros did. Truthfully, I think we did not want to be more famous than we were. And we don’t care to be known outside of the punk diaspora. As for myself, I am very content with meaning what we do to those who know and like us.

12. How do you balance family life, work life, and band life?

Art: No problem, the wives rule everything! Glad I don't got one.

Preston: Actually, I myself am very grateful to Keir’s wife Kathleen who has generously hosted our rehearsals in the basement of their house for 18 years now, being a perfectly gracious hostess the entire time without fail, first the Bitter Pills and now the State. My wife Aviva is a dyed-in-the-wool punk chick who supports the band and understands the music. When luck prevails, she goes to State shows with me and we have a blast. Keir has two young daughters and I have four young daughters plus a ten-year-old son. So balancing is exactly the right term for it. The State should be on a perpetual tour, but the regular jobs we all hold, plus the family thing, make that impossible, so we hold it to two or three shows a month, including one out-of-state show per month. And we rehearse once a week for exactly two hours!

13. What makes Ann Arbor a great community for people and for music?

Art: The oppression of complacent pseudo-hippie capitalists. It drives the ragged fringe of desperate survivors to extreme forms of creativity sometimes.

Preston: I like the diversity of Ann Arbor . It also draws punk youth from all over Michigan and the U.S. But a great music city like Austin it ain’t. We do sometimes play memorable shows here, like the Ron Asheton tribute show in February of 2009 and the outdoor Punk Week show in August of 2010. The State has always focused more on, and done much better in Detroit , which is much more a rock-n-roll city. The U of M makes Ann Arbor a better environment for more artistic, poppier music. Garage does well here, but we are so way not that cool.

14. What inspired, the dark, anti-authoritarian sound that was, at that time, brand new and untried?

Art: That was the part that was just naturally us. Do you really think it was new?

Preston: I am glad it strikes you that way. Darkness is our thing. I even hear people used to refer to me as “De-Preston”. And anarchism is in our bones. And there are real forces at work even in the U.S.A. conspiring to rob us of our freedom—which are greatly succeeding.

15. What’s your personal favorite song or album you’ve ever written? Why?

Art: I like No Illusions 'cause we took some care with it, within our humble budget, and it's a true record of the band. Preston was fabulous on it.

Preston: My current favorite is “Vixen”, because it is dark, and kind of wicked.

16. How do you maintain such a stage presence despite being more of a veteran in Michigan punk rock? You seem to have more energy than most of the younger groups do.

Art: Thanks! It really doesn't feel very different to me when we're actually playing than it did in the 80's, though I think we're a little sharper now. The music buzz, unlike other things, hasn't decayed.

Preston: I dunno. Check out the U.K. Subs sometime, or the Buzzcocks. Where does rock-n-roll energy come from, anyway? Solving that riddle is the key to any great rock band’s success. Watch Bones or Ron Asheton in concert sometime—they never move, never flex a single facial muscle. But they blow you away.

We came up in the era of “high-energy rock-n-roll”. You know, “E = MC5”. So maximum output is our singlemost objective. It is unachievable, however, without dynamics, without the motionlessness. It’s a fine art.

17. Why do you prefer to release you music on primarily vinyl?

Art: That seems to be what the people putting out our records do, though I think our 2nd LP, All Wrong ('06?) came out on CD as well as vinyl.

Preston: Vinyl sounds warmer, darker, hotter, better. It lasts. And it’s a physical object. It’s a better platform for artwork.

18. Anything else you’d like to include personally?

Art: Thank you for your interest, and for getting up and doing something. It can be a lot of work, but it's a lot of fun too. Right?

Preston: Just our gratitude to you and your readers.

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