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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Brian Peterson interview

A couple of years into writing Post, I heard from Dan Sinker at Punk Planet about a book in the works on nineties hardcore. Details were scant, but I had heard it was about heavy hardcore bands. So my book on non-heavy post-hardcore bands would probably not conflict with it. A few months later, I got in touch with its author, Brian, and we've kept in touch ever since.

When you're writing a book, it's a really, really good idea to be friends with someone who has written a book or is writing a book. As supportive as your friends and family can be, knowing somebody who has gone (or is going) through the experience can offer all sorts of insights and advice. Brian and I have talked a lot over the last few years. I thought it would be nice to let people in on the conversation.

Brian's book is called
Burning Fight: The Nineties Hardcore Revolution in Ethics, Politics, Spirit, and Sound. Here's the official page for more details.

Was there a particular moment when you decided to write Burning Fight?

I don’t recall there being a specific moment I decided to write the book. I do remember reading American Hardcore and being really impressed with the fascinating stories told by the members of those classic bands. But I remember bristling when I came across some statements about hardcore supposedly dying in 1986. I agree that the first wave of hardcore perhaps ended around then, but there have been other eras since. Like anything else, hardcore progresses, changes, morphs, continues on, all the while being influenced by its progenitors.

Anyway, I read the book and remember having conversations with friends who got into hardcore in the late eighties or in the nineties. They all felt the same way I did. I started to think, “Huh. It would be cool if someone wrote a book that documented the nineties scene.” I thought about it for a while and then on a whim just started talking to people about it. I didn’t know what it would become at first, but I started to envision it being a book of some kind around 2003 or 2004.

Roughly, how long did it take for you to write the book?

From those first conversations to the recent final edits and layout, the whole process took about six years. I never thought it would take that long. [laughs] Don’t get me wrong. I’m really happy with the book and the way it turned out. The whole journey of interviewing, writing, and editing taught me so much. But, man, it has taken up nearly every moment of my free time the past few years. [laughs]

Given the time and effort, I considered writing my book like going to graduate school, but a graduate school that was actually fun. Would you agree?

[Laughs] Yeah, I can see your point. I went to school for Journalism and then I also went back to get my English/Education certification. As much as I learned in my Journalism classes, writing the book was a chance to really delve into all those skills my instructors helped facilitate in me. But I also learned a ton from other writers during the writing of the book, as well as things I figured out on my own. It was a great, practical experience to go through. I learned just as much about writing, interviewing, and a host of other things as I probably did from my coursework.

When I started writing Post, I already knew a couple of people I wanted to interview. When they said yes, I just kept going until I interviewed as many people as I could. I didn't think I'd interview over forty people by the end of the process. Did you have a similar experience?

Yeah, it sounds like we had a similar process. I just wanted to start talking to people at first. So I contacted some people I knew from the nineties scene and found some others through the contacts I already had. But when I’d talk to new people, they would say, “Hey, you’ve gotta talk to this person.” So, they’d recommend a couple of people. And then those people would recommend more people. I would also start to track down other people on my own just by doing some research on them. I came across websites for current bands or whatever. Again, these conversations started in 2003 and the final interviews took place toward the end of 2008.

I interviewed over 150 people. I never thought I would get that many interviews done, but I found that there were so many people worth talking to. Of course, there were hundreds of other people I would have loved to talk to as well, but I just had to cut it off somewhere, you know?

Where does the book's title come from? Were there other titles you considered?

The phrase “Burning Fight” comes from the Inside Out song of the same name. I felt like that phrase encapsulated the feeling that I felt best described nineties hardcore, or hardcore of any era for that matter. People are often attracted to hardcore because they are frustrated with their lives, their communities, their government, the people around them. It’s not that people in the scene want to physically fight others; it’s just that they feel this anger about so many things—an overall frustration with their environment or their lives. Burning Fight to me captures those emotional feelings that were, and still are, so prevalent in hardcore. The phrase also makes me think of all the interesting ethical, spiritual, and philosophical debates that fueled so much of the music and scene dialogue in the nineties.

The song “Burning Fight,” of course, also amazingly captures all those same feelings in the form of a cathartic musical expression. I still feel like singing along when I hear the song to this day.

Originally, there were more band profile chapters in Burning Fight. Which ones were cut for space and why? Were they redundant in content compared to the chapters that ended up in the final cut?

Well, if we would have printed the book in its original form, with all the pictures and everything that people sent to me, it probably would have been 1,000 pages. An amount way too large for a book about almost anything, let alone hardcore! [laughs] Right there I knew we had a lot of work on our hands.

The past year or so has been a pretty intense process of editing, cutting, fine tuning, re-explaining, reading, and editing all over again. I chose to cut some of the band articles for a few reasons. First, several of the bands like Lifetime, H20, Outspoken, Shai Hulud, and others had really amazing oral history articles in A.P. or longer and more in-depth interviews in other books like The Anti-Matter Anthology. I felt like I’d be mining the same territory by running the ones I'd conducted.

On top of that, for some of the bands I was only able to talk to one or two members. Though what that person had to say was insightful, the overall “feel” I was hoping to get from each band article wasn’t there as compared to many of the ones I chose to run. I’m sure people will take a look at the ones that made the book and feel that perhaps others should have been cut too, but ultimately I felt like the thirty-one that ended up in Burning Fight addressed a pretty broad range of perspectives, opinions, and sounds.

Anytime people see which bands are included in a book, there's always people who ask about the bands that aren't in the book. In the case of Burning Fight, why were bands like Botch and Zao not in it, but Threadbare and Unbroken were? In my case with Post, I had to focus on telling a compelling story instead of covering every single band from every single scene. I would have loved to feature more on bands like Sense Field, Mineral, and Texas is the Reason, but there were bigger stories to tell, at least in my book.

The thing is that I could have probably written about forty or fifty other bands too. But either due to not being able to locate certain band members or just wanting to keep the book to a reasonable page count, I decided to cut several articles that I felt were told better by other people. There were also many bands that I loved but I just didn’t know as much about. I felt their stories would probably be better served by someone who knew them a bit better.

I also tried to keep most of the articles about bands that were either only around in the nineties or bands that seemed to have their peak years in the nineties. For instance, you mentioned Zao, and there are other bands like Converge, Madball, Sick of it All, and others that have been pretty influential on other decades, so I didn’t want to lump them into the category of being a “nineties band.” You mentioned Botch…they were a band I really liked – I saw them play once and had a few of their records – but I didn’t know how to find the members nor did I feel as comfortable writing about them because I didn’t know their story as well. There were also bands I just couldn’t locate members for: Ashes, Still Life, Econochrist, Bloodlet, Lincoln, Frail, Falling Forward…I could go on forever.

And as I mentioned before, some bands’ stories have already been better told elsewhere. I’m thinking about putting together some “bonus chapters” for bands that I wasn’t able to include in the book for various reasons, as I’d like to keep trying to document this era and bring attention to even more of the amazing bands that I wasn’t able to include in the book.

Were there any books in particular that influenced the style or format of Burning Fight?

American Hardcore, as I mentioned before, spurred me into wanting to put this book together in the first place. But I also liked how it had a lot of oral history with some narration by the author to tie ideas, perspectives, and stories together. I also love this book about hip-hop called Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies by Brian Coleman. I grew up listening to hip-hop and was equally inspired by the social, philosophical, and political dialogue expressed by many of the classic hip-hop artists. Coleman interviewed a bunch of hugely influential hip-hop artists from the late eighties and early nineties and had them tell the story about one of their particularly influential albums. I felt like the conversations brought up a lot of interesting ideas and I hope that the chapters in my book are able to capture a similar feeling.

Looking back at the 1990s (especially the late 1990s), it's easy to paint a black and white picture with straight edge, especially with what was in the America's Most Wanted piece, but your chapter on straight edge doesn't paint a black and white picture. Was this intentional?

Of course. Just like any movement or idea, there are a multitude of perspectives. Sure, straight edge has been linked to some violent incidents over the years, but so has every pretty much every other political, sociological, or personal idea. People obviously have their own perspectives on straight edge. Some see it more negatively as they feel it creates rigid rules for one to live by, while others see it as a solid foundation for creating positive change in oneself and the world. I think the commentary by many of the individuals interviewed in the book shows that people definitely had strong opinions about it in various ways. Personally, I know people who have been straight edge for 20+ years who find it to still be an essential part of their lives, but I also know others who tried it out and found it wasn’t for them. Like anything else, people will disagree about what straight edge should be or should mean, but ultimately it’s up to the individual to make up his or her own mind.

As much as I still like the music from the bands I covered in Post, I think their stories have made a bigger impact on me, in terms of relating and understanding as an adult. Would you say you had a similar experience?

I think the interviews offer a great chance to reflect on the time period, the ideas that were often so prevalent, and the motivations for the musicians who created the music. The music still inspires me to this day, but the stories about how the bands came together and were able to create such amazing music are quite compelling as well. I’ve always been kind of a seeker—trying to find the story behind artistic, social, political, or spiritual movements and what influenced them to take shape. I hope people who love hardcore will get a sense of the blood, sweat, and tears that went in to the making of this music. In turn, perhaps people will be inspired to make their own mark in whatever it is they are interested in—film, music, writing, politics, whatever.

Do you hope that people who read your book will be introduced to bands they had never heard of before? I had never heard of 108 before, and I must say, I'm really, really glad I was introduced to them.

Yes, definitely! I’m guessing most people who initially pick up the book will have a pretty broad familiarity with hardcore. But I also hope younger hardcore kids and people just generally interested in alternative music and social, musical, and political subcultures take an interest. Obviously, longtime hardcore people will already know all the bands, but I hope that people who aren’t as familiar check out these amazing bands and the stories behind their music.

Were you surprised that the book release shows sold out so quickly?

For sure! Originally it was going to be a smaller show with just a few bands, but I had my friend Jim Grimes help me set up the show. He and I asked several bands to play, thinking that most of them would turn down the offer so it would be better to overshoot. To our surprise, most of them wanted to do the show! So many, in fact, that it turned into two days. We were in for another surprise when the tickets sold out in eighteen hours! I still can’t believe it! But I guess it proves the power of the music these bands created is still so important to people to this day.

1 comment:

Eric said...

Great interview. I'll have to pick up this book. I think Brian has also booked shows in Chicago forever as long as I can remember.