Friday, February 20, 2009

Unpublished Powerhouse interview 2/20/98

How quickly people forget that Powerhouse was probably the band that did more than any other to lay the foundation for today's local "hawrdcore" scene, which didn't always exist on the level that it does now. When Powerhouse started in the mid-'90s, hardcore was about as un-hip as could be in the East Bay scene, and playing their NYHC-influenced style wasn't going to get them anywhere near a club like Gilman Street at that time. Instead, you'd see Powerhouse opening for bands like Machine Head at the Trocadero in San Francisco or at the Berkeley Square. From there, that scene began to grow with bands like Second Coming, Redemption '87, Lockjaw .44, Rely, the Sacramento Oi band Pressure Point, as well as "the Sacto" Hoods, and undoubtedly others that I'm forgetting. In the summer of 1997, the focal point of this burgeoning hardcore scene was a warehouse space in East Oakland known as The Bombshelter. Members of Powerhouse in conjunction with Cold Front Records' Brett Mathews opened this place up just in time for stalwart New York bands like Agnostic Front and Murphy's Law to play there on tour. The Casualties also played a packed house there, as did the reunited Fang, serving a purpose for bands that either couldn't or didn't want to get a Gilman Street gig. It didn't last for very long, but the result was a solid and loyal scene that wasn't about to go away. During this time, Powerhouse released a seven-inch as well as a CD titled No Regrets that will probably be considered a classic of that era of the local scene in the future, if it hasn't been already. This interview was conducted at Gilman on February 20, 1998 while Powerhouse was still at their peak as a live band. Also on the bill were Strife, Fury 66, Straight Faced, and Built to Last. Powerhouse was in the co-headlining position and rendered all of the preceding bands irrelevant. My favorite point of their set was in between songs when both Chris and Ernie demanded to see a circle pit ensue for their next song, despite a few heckles of derision from those more accustomed to "pickin' up change." But surely enough, the biggest circle pit I'd seen in quite some time erupted as the band blazed through the rest of their set.

This evening would not be without its share of problems, however. At one point, it had been announced that a white power skinhead had entered the club and wasn't too keen on the concept of leaving. After Powerhouse's set, the guy got rushed by about fifteen to twenty people and beaten down in front of the radiator shop next door to the club. After the fight was broken up and Strife's set began, so did the interview. Sammy the Mick also had some things to say in the interview, but otherwise this is Chris Hower at his best.

Ernie Cortez passed away in 2004 at the age of 37 after losing the battle against cancer, and I hope what he and his band have done for their scene isn't forgotten. No regrets.

LOKI: We've had a little bit of excitement tonight, but what the fuck. So how long has Powerhouse been around for now?
CHRIS:
Ah, let's see…Powerhouse has been around since right around the end of '93, I guess. So, over five years now.

LOKI: And is this all of the original members, or have there been lineup changes?
CHRIS:
There's been a few lineup changes; I'm not even the original singer. Ernie started the band and they had one guitar player that didn't work out and they got Eddie in the band, and this was probably all in the first two months of the band. Eddie got in the band and then they had this kid Gene Jones that was playing drums for a while, and they got Kevin Reed from Attitude Adjustment to sing. And Gene Jones and Kevin Reed I guess didn't want to do it anymore, whatever, they lost interest. And so they got a second guitar player named Scott, and Crackhead Scott is who I knew from back East. That was my in with the band. Scott was already in the band, I got in the band, we got Eric Thomas who used to play for Special Forces back in the day, and he played drums for us for a while. And then I guess he wasn't too interested either, so we ended up getting our boy Jay right now, and then we got rid of Scott right before the Madball tour because he went to jail and didn't tell us what happened. We got Garcia from Fresno, and Garcia flaked because I guess he wanted to watch more pornos or whatever. That's all he does is watch pornos, he watched 'em from beginning to end, he doesn't fast-forward through the shit. He watches the whole thing. (Meanwhile me, Sammy, and some dude from ZBS are laughing our asses off.) And then we just decided to be a four-piece and we've been a four-piece for three years, something like that.
LOKI: Why don't you tell us what OBHC is all about?
CHRIS:
Well, when we started doing hardcore shows, there weren't too many bands around here. There was us, our boys ZBS, and that was it. And we'd play shows with I Madman from Fresno, but we weren't exactly welcome here at Gilman, there was not a niche for us to fit into. The hardcore scene was almost nonexistent at that point. Basically, it became a crew just out of, not necessity, but just because it was like yo, these are the people that are down with us, these are the people that believe in what we're doing. There was no real justifying anything people said about us. It's a family. It's not like a crew, we're looking to flex on people. We don't want people to be scared if they hear, "Oh, these kids are rollin' up…," it's not like that. We want to have fun, and I hope every kid at this show tonight had a fuckin' great time and had a big smile on their face when they left At the same time, this was our way of saying this is our family, these are the people we know that are gonna look out for us and never let us down.
LOKI: Speaking of OBHC, you had the guy John from Lockjaw .44… (now I'm getting "goddamn it" looks from both Chris and Sammy) …you knew I was gonna ask you that…and he went on to join One Life Crew, and I'm sure a lot of people in the scene know all about this, but as for other people reading this, why don't you give us the lowdown?
CHRIS:
Basically, we're friends with a lot of guys back in New York. Integrity and One Life Crew are friends; basically, I guess John really liked One Life Crew. He loved them. And basically we said that as a crew, we ain't down with those guys. All those guys in New York are our friends, and those are the people that we look out for. Basically, if they've got beef with them (OLC/Integrity), we don't want no part of it and we don't want to have nothing to do with those guys. Plus they got some sorta whack lyrics. Eddie's from Mexico, born in Mexico, and they got some pretty ill shit on their record about sending immigrants back, get the fuck outta here, and all that shit. That's directed right at our band. Eddie's one of my boys, I know he would fuckin' bend over backwards for me in a second. John decided that he just HAD to go play with this band and it was just like all right, whatever, go and do it, but you ain't down with our crew anymore and cover up your tattoo. By that point in time, we started to see what he was really all about anyway. He talked a lot of shit; he didn't really know what he was about. He was always contradicting himself in his songs and his beliefs and what he was saying. He'd never fucking come correct with his shit and we started to call him on that stuff, so he got upset and it was easy to bail out there. And now he can tell people about however he wants to be. I'm sure he's built some image for himself that's pretty far from the truth. He talks all sorta of shit, but it's real easy when you're 2000 miles away.
LOKI: I saw an interview that Jimmy Gestapo did in Chord magazine with Chubbie Fresh, and their photo has them sitting there holding guns and shit. And someone representing something called the "Positive Hardcore Alliance" is writing to MRR talking about all the shit OLC says on the Internet and shit. But I don't know, do you think all the shit they talk is merely for shock value?
CHRIS:
I think a lot of it is for shock value, but at the same time, they're also going to offend a lot of people. It's funny now, because they've caught a lot of shit and I guess they're backpedaling. I don't own a computer, but I guess some of those guys do and I know kids out here that own computers. They let me know what's going on a lot and shit, and I hear how… (Some dumbass drives by and yells "Hey, FUCK YOU!" We snicker at the idea that it could be the Nazi guy somehow driving home.)
SAMMY: There goes John now!
CHRIS:
…they're talking shit, but you find they're backpedaling now, where they'll get on the computer and say, "Aw, it's just for shock value, we just want to get a rise out of people." It's like, whatever dude, but at the same time, there's consequences for that kind of shit.
LOKI: There's better ways to piss people off.
CHRIS:
There's a difference between talking shit and goofing around and having fun with it and talking shit to offend people.
LOKI: But this isn't a One Life Crew interview, so let's get on with the Powerhouse shit…
SAMMY: Aside from the music, you bring a lot of bands out here from the East Coast, you're involved with the Bombshelter, what do you do besides sing in Powerhouse?
CHRIS:
I do a few things, but I don't do that much. For the Bombshelter, I put in a little bit of loot, helped build the stage, I helped build the back wall behind it at the time to build the sound up. I try and help bands coming in from out of town booking shows and shit. I'm actually booking the 25 ta Life tour right now. We've got a lot of family all over the country, there's a lot of good people out there. I do it because these people are my friends and they mean a lot to me. It's more out of mutual respect for people who love the same thing as me that I do it. I do what I can. I wish I could do more. I wish I had time to do a fanzine, but to be honest with you, I hate to fuckin' write. I like to go hand out flyers if I can, but my hours suck.
LOKI: You guys have been touring a lot lately, what's the response been on the East Coast?
CHRIS:
East Coast, we do all right. There's a bunch of kids out there that know our shit and stuff. Our best response was probably up in Brockton, Massachusetts. It was great, a lot of kids came out, we had a great time, and I got to watch my band drink six 30-packs in six or seven hours and get really REALLY drunk. I love 'em though. It's never a dull moment with my band. They're some of the fuckin' greatest guys in the world. I was just telling someone today how it took me 3000 miles to find some people that are real with me. For a long time, I disassociated myself with a lot of people—people I had known back in the day back east—who either went to jail or they died or were just really fucked up on foul drugs. I couldn't be a part of that shit no more and I moved out here and found a bunch of really good people that give a fuck about me. I don't care what my band does. I love them because they will look out for me.
LOKI: You guys have a new album and a new seven-inch out, how are they doing sales-wise?
CHRIS:
Real good. In Japan and Europe we sold a ton of records, and in the States we've sold a good amount of records and shit. The seven-inch sold out at two pressings. I guess Bill's on his fifth or sixth pressing right now of our CD and this is without any major touring whatsoever, we've had great reviews. We're getting ready to record another record again; we're going in in about a month or two and putting out another record on Blackout, which'll be cool.
LOKI: Do you guys see yourselves moving on to a bigger label, or maybe being on MTV like what H2O is doing? Because I caught a line in one of your songs that's like "we just want to keep our scene underground."
CHRIS:
When I wrote that song, that's "Nothing Sacred," that song was like when I started going to shows and shit, there were a lot of skins and they all wore suspenders and Docs and flights and it meant something to them. Not necessarily white power kids, but it represented something to them. Maybe we would move on to a bigger label, but I don't think we'd ever be a band to do videos. I don't know, to say something like that, you sort of curse yourself and end up doing it and looking stupid. I really don't know. I would feel really dumb mouthing words to my own song to a fucking camera. I think for that reason alone I would have a problem doing a video. To me, it seems like if a video was going to get kids interested in something that they might not necessarily know about, rather than expose yourselves to people that could really give a fuck or don't even want to know. If a video was going to turn more kids on to hardcore that really truly believe in it and really got into it, then I could see that a video would be great. You'd almost still keep it true and not be exploiting your scene or whatever. It's kind of a tricky situation; I know I wrote myself into a corner with that song. We don't write anything catchy enough. I don't know if we could put together a record that would be mainstream. I'm gonna tell you what, too…I've got a job and it pays my bills. I do this because it's fun. I love to get up there and know that I wrote some lyrics that mean something to someone else. That's like the coolest thing in the world. For me, because now I'm sober, this is my drugs…this is how I get off. Jumping around and acting like a maniac onstage. If I was ever to expect this to pay my bills, I think it would totally become the most miserable thing for me because it'd no longer be fun. It'd be my job that I'm relying on to pay my bills and become my income. I don't know if I want that. That's definitely not something I'm looking for right now. I'd like to keep it the way it is. I just want to come out and see my friends and hang out and fuck around for a while.
LOKI: As for keeping it true, how many of the kids at this show and other hardcore shows would you think would still be here in 5-10 years?
CHRIS:
To be honest, not too many. It sort of goes that way. It's hard for me to say how many of these kids have been coming around here for a long time, only because of the fact that I've been living in San Francisco for six years. I've been going to hardcore shows since 1985. I know how it is back East, there's still some dudes that come out, but a lot of people get old, they get tired of seeing the fights, or all of a sudden a bunch of new jack kids trying to tell them how it is. It gets pretty insulting, so it's easier to just not come around. In the same respect, there's a lot of kids who jump in feet first, gung ho, all about whatever they're all about. To no end, this is how it is and they grind themselves out so fast. Honestly, I'd probably have to say that there's a good 75-80% of people that you won't see them again.
LOKI: All with Powerhouse records. You've just alienated your entire fan base! (Laughter)
CHRIS: It's not a dis, it's not an insult, it's just sort of reality. Kids go away to school, lose interest, they got a job, somebody gets pregnant, somebody goes to jail. There's so many factors that come into play and it's not like "Oh, we just stopped coming," there's so many things.
LOKI: In some circles, hardcore has a reputation for being macho and violent, and people saying that all hardcore kids are jocks. What do you think about that, because it seems like your lyrics and a lot of bands' lyrics aren't really like that?
CHRIS:
It's a stereotypical sort of thing. It's like saying that every emo kid has a fuckin' beanie and a backpack and wants to complain about everything in life. I know that's not the case. Kids come in and dance hard and so what if they wear a Lakers jersey? When you go to a show and there's three or four hundred kids jumping around and you're fucking soaking wet, it's nice to have that kind of gear on because it dries fast and it's lightweight. There's trends in fashion in just about everything, but it comes in handy to wear that kind of shit at a show. The music is the driving force. Hardcore's strong as fuck, it's aggressive, it's potent. The response you're gonna get from people is they're gonna go fucking crazy. They're gonna jump around and dance hard. It's not a macho thing, it's not like I'm flexing on you or trying to be a tough guy to you, it's like this is what I love, this is what I'm down for and I'm trying to have a good time. At the same time, it shouldn't be for clubs to knock it, because some hardcore shows are really going to support the causes. Like tonight.
LOKI: What's the past history between you guys and Gilman Street?
CHRIS:
For a long time, people objected to us playing here just because it was sort of the in thing to be against hardcore. We still had the Berkeley Square and finally, the Berkeley Square closed down and I ended up coming out here and talked to them and said "Hey listen, I think you guys got us wrong, but I'm gonna be honest, the Berkeley Square's closed and we need a place to play. I think we can bring a good crowd which will help you pay rent and it's gonna give us a place to play shows." And I came to the meeting and people were cool. It was a lot of years of no one actually talking to each other, like they said this or they said that instead of someone actually taking the time to talk to somebody and finding out what it was all about, so I finally made the move and came here. We've played here quite a few times and it's just getting better and better. I'm glad to see it. I think it helps the club. If we can help support the place, why not?
LOKI: I'm forgetting right now which song it is, but it's got the line about "your god is robbing the poor…"
CHRIS:
The name of that song is "Chokehold."
LOKI: Ah, okay. So I was wondering what you thought of religion in hardcore, like the Krishnas and NIV being a Christian hardcore band.
CHRIS:
Everybody's entitled to their opinion, I guess. I'm not too crazy about the idea. My beef is with organized religion. If they're comfortable with what they're being told, that's cool. But for me personally, to have blind faith, to believe in something that you can't prove exists and to give money to it and let people tell you how you should live your life in the name of "God"? I don't buy it. Basically, I got a bitter taste in my mouth from the church. I've got no love for these people. It made my mother's life miserable for a long time and it made my life miserable for a long time because in turn she took that shit out on us. I'm not for or against any sort of religion. My opinion is that you die, they bury you in a hole, and that's it. It's over. People tell you that a long time ago when people couldn't tell you what happens when you die, so somebody made up these stories so people would be flipped out and worried. And over two or three thousand years, you can really perfect a story. How realistic is it to think that you're gonna go somewhere nice and fluffy and cushy and you're gonna float around with a bunch of really nice people?
LOKI: And all the assholes get to go to the fiery pit…
CHRIS:
Yeah, I don't buy it. I'm totally prepared to get buried in the hole when I die and that'll be it. I've lived my life and got the best out of it that I could and that's it. Maybe some people will get pissed about me saying this, but this is how I feel.
LOKI: Any last words or "shout outs" or whatever?
CHRIS:
Shout outs to everybody that's been down for us or looking out for us from day one. Even all the new kids that come out and support and sing along and have a great time. Anyone that's gonna come and have a good time. All the zines that are out there that are helping keeping shit going. Anybody and everybody that comes into the scene and believes in what it's about.