25 Years And Counting

1 May 2012 | 7:58 am | Mark Hebblewhite

More Sick Of It All More Sick Of It All

Re-recording material is an extremely tricky proposition. Often it's done for the wrong reasons – to get out of contractual obligations, or as a result of intra-band strife when there is a desire to wipe one party's previous musical contributions off the face of the earth. But even when the intention is good – say a desire to update classic material for a new audience, or to make right some technical problems that marred the original recording – a host of things can still go wrong. Most often the new recordings simply fail to match the spirit of the original. How can you recreate the magic of a time and place long gone? Sometimes it's the adversity and unfortunate circumstances that make a recording great. Just ask Black Sabbath, who recorded their seminal debut in a day, for a measly (in modern terms) $1200. All this makes Sick Of It All's Nonstop – an album full of re-recorded material from across their career – all the more amazing. Think you can't make the likes of Injustice System, Ratpack and Clobbering Time sound better than the originals? Then think again, as these versions simply kill.

“We knew we were taking a risk going in and re-recording these songs,” frontman Lou Koller admits the nervousness the band felt when embarking on the project designed to celebrate the band's 25th anniversary. “Some bands do it and they're full of themselves. They try and make the songs reflect what's hip at the time and they just end up ruining them. Our reasoning for doing this was nothing like that. We've always felt that these songs are freight trains when we play them live, but on the old recordings they sound like crap. At one stage we played around with just re-doing the entire [1989 debut] Blood, Sweat And No Tears album, because that's the one where we really didn't know what we were doing and our inexperience shows in the sound of the record. But as time went on we each of us got the idea to do certain tracks and so we just ended up doing an album that covered a wider spread of our albums.”

Koller credits producer Tue Madsen for Nonstop's vicious sonic punch. Madsen is the wunderkind knob twiddler who was responsible for breathing new energy into the 'Alleyway Crew' when he took the helm for Sick Of It All's 2006 masterpiece Death To Tyrants, an album that ended up heralding a creative renaissance for the veteran punkers.

“Tue has done such a great job on every record he's done with us, including the new one,” says Koller. “When we came to work with him we'd just left Fat Wreck Records and were at a bit of a crossroads. Everything was great on that label but we felt we'd fallen into a rut. Fat Mike would let us do anything we wanted, but that led us to sort of drift a little because we did have that total freedom.

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“So we took some time off and thought about what we liked with all the old records and really re-focused on what makes Sick Of It All what it is as a band. So we had the songs; Tue helped us make them sound as good on record as they did when we rehearsed them. For Nonstop he said to us that if we were going to re-record all these songs we had to do it in an old school way. He wanted the songs to have the energy they have when we play them live. So he gave us four days to do twenty-seven songs and we only got through twenty of them. We must be slowing down in our old age [laughs], but there's no doubt that his approach worked because the songs finally sound how we want them to on a record.”

In many ways Sick Of It All are the most high-profile example of the venerated New York hardcore scene. But do the boys really relate at all to the metalised offerings of Sheer Terror, Cro-Mags and mid-period Agnostic Front? “In the beginning we were known as being a very 'metallic' hardcore band – or so the punk fanzines thought. But over the years a lot of other New York hardcore bands really did embrace metal a lot more than we did 'til it got to the point where we weren't considered that kind of band in comparison. It's funny, we grew up listening to the whole New Wave of British heavy metal, but as musicians we had limited ability – in the beginning at least – which made us more 'punk' than a really proficient metal band. And of course we also grew up listening to all the Oi punk bands and the West Coast punk rockers like Face To Face and Bad Religion, so that was also an influence for our band's sound as well.”

So does the term 'New York hardcore' even mean anything to a band like Sick Of It All? “It really is a beast of its own at this point,” Koller reckons. “I think it goes beyond what bands sound like – it evokes different things in the minds of different people. To this day I have friends who can't convince friends of theirs to come and see us play because they think, 'Oh Sick Of It All, they're NYHC and that whole scene is full of violent people and gangsters who'll beat us up.' Thing is, yeah, we did come out of that scene, but we always stood up against that sort of thing. But for other people it's the opposite. The label evokes great respect – and that's not only among hardcore fans, but punk rock fans and metal fans seem to love a lot of the bands. So, yeah, we acknowledge where we come from but we don't allow ourselves to be completely defined by the label.”

With 25 years under their collective belts, Sick Of It All could be forgiven for easing off on the intensity levels, but according to Koller that's the furthest thing from their minds. “As you get older you do mellow a bit,” he laughs, before going on to note that many members of the band are now 'punk rock parents'. “But when it comes down to it we love what we do and the energy and excitement is still there, whether it be touring or making new music. So we've got no plans to ease up. We're playing plenty of shows and are in the early writing stage for a new record that will hopefully come out early next year. This is all we know – and it's too late for us to get nine-to-fives.”