(a rerun of a phenomenal interview Peter did with DC legends in 2009. READ IT-ed)
Before there was a Revolution Summer, there was Scream.
Before crossover, and before emo, Pete Stahl and his brother Franz and Sketer and drummer Kent Stax and then replacement drummer David Grohl were using the best pieces of punk and metal to make emotional rock and rock.
Before there was Grunge, and after there was Grunge, Scream played incongruous music.
It didn’t make sense for a bunch Virginia suburban kids to play lickity split harDCore at barbeques and frat parties in 1982, and it didn’t make sense for them, once they got accepted by the scenesters in the city, to put metal and reggae beats and classic rock riffs into their sets while wearing sweaters and having long hair and wearing oversized white Nikes, or whipping out acoustic guitars to declaim protest anthems in front of slamming, teeth-gnashing hardcore audiences. But more than the lyrics full of complex, grown up emotions, or the blistering guitar solos, or the drum circle liberal positivism, what made Scream stand out was the sheer sincere joy they exuded together onstage which invested every chorus-pedal bar-chord and peripatetic drum fill with shockingly beautiful melodies. In a time of dour and macho shouting, they were a thoughtful and life-affirming song.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SGj2KuDcnM&feature=related
Since they broke up in the early 90s they’ve almost never been in the same place at the same time due to divergent careers and living situations. On FRIDAY they’ll perform together at the Black Cat with the original lineup AND VERY SPECIAL GUESTS—where you can expect policy wonks and recording engineers to transform, possibly right in front of their punk children’s eyes, into the chanting and thrashing mob twenty years bottled up. We chatted with singer brother Pete Stahl on a cold winter afternoon about memories, writing new songs, and why bands nowadays don’t stand for much. After we spoke I rode the metro out to Alexandria, racing the commuters and the wan light through the spokes on Memorial Bridge, and it came back for a second—that middle school feeling that everything is absurd so anything is possible. Let’s feel like that again.
BYT: Did I catch you on an airport run?
Pete Stahl: Yeah, I just got into town this morning and I had to pick up my brother.
BYT: So you’re back in Virginia.
PS: Yeah right in the old stomping grounds. Falls Church Virginia, right on route 7. Bailey’s Crossroads proper basically. It’s funny, there’s not that many places to rehearse in Virginia. We used to have to go out to Maryland to find a decent place. We would go to Drums Unlimited where actually Pete Moffet from Government Issue used to work at, but…this guy Richard Gibson opened up this place just down the street from Seven Corners right in our ‘hood. I think it has been going about ten years. A lot of people might not know it exists but a lot of big bands have practiced here, Pixies, Foo Fighters, tons of bands.
BYT: So you guys have been practicing out there?
PS: Uh, not yet! <laughs> We’re going to practice tonight and Ken’s got a gig on Friday, so we can’t practice then and Saturday we’re going to practice and Sunday we’re going to do it!
BYT: Eh you’ll be fine.
PS: I’m looking forward to it. Might be a little loose but, punk rock man!
BYT: So how did this come about what was the inspiration for doing it at this time, this year?
PS: Shit man I’ve been wanting to do something for a while. Stars just kind of aligned. The holidays are a good time to get away from work, you know. My brother and I have been working on some new songs over the last year or so and we wanted to play them with Kent and Skeeter and possibly record them. So we were trying to figure out a way we could possibly get together, so the show came about as a way to pay for the flights out here. But it’s coming out of us wanting to do some new music together!
BYT: So will you be recording this weekend at all or just practicing?
PS: Nah. Really Pete this is the first time we will have gotten together in 13 years. We email each other things, and Kent and Skeeter have been getting together recently as a rhythm section while Franz and I have been jamming back home in Los Angeles. So we’ve been working independently but we really have to work out the songs. I guess that’s what we’ll be doing on Sunday!
BYT: At the show haha…
PS: Yeah heh heh. We’re going to play a lot of old stuff too. It’s going to be a mixture of songs. Little bit from each record, probably leaning a bit more on the earlier records because that’s what everyone wants to hear. And since Kent didn’t play on the last couple records. But I expect we will play a few songs from Fumble. First we have to get together and see what works and what doesn’t and go from there.
BYT: I wanted to ask you about your first inclusion into the hardcore community…did you feel you had a lot in common with other bands in the area or…
PS: We definitely identified with the Punk scene that was happening in DC and that’s what we wanted to be part of, and our broader influences were garage and new wave, but we started out playing keg parties and basement parties in Northern Virginia so we had our own little thing happening. We got invited to play some shows in town, I think the Bad Brains got us our first show, and then we started being associated with the DC bands, but we had already done a tour of the US before Ian and them even asked us if we wanted to do a record for Dischord.
BYT: Even though they welcome you at that point, did you ever feel separated from the crowd by where you all came from and the different kind of music you played?
PS: Well there was always some fun stuff like that. There were little cliques like in any music community. We felt a little like outsiders but…they had their thing, we had our thing.
BYT: In terms of attitude or style did you have more in common with the looser, improvisational west coast punks or skate punk?
PS: No, we identified with DC and the East Coast vibe. We were way into the New York bands, Heartbreakers, Ramones, Dolls, all that stuff. It was much later than I started getting into Minutemen and X and the Weirdos and Germs. None of us were skaters too, to be frank. I had a board when I was little kid but…nothing with those ramps and shit. My brother’s son does…
BYT: <laughs> Was there a sort of punk versus classic rock antagonism that you were resisting?
PS: Our influences were pretty broad. When my brother and Skeeter were in high school rock bands they were way into Hendrix, way into Parliament. I was into Southern Rock, and so was my brother. Jazz fusion, Mahavisnu. It was the energy and attitude of the punk scene that attracted us. The fashion and the speed and the chaos—that inspired us and opened our eyes. Where were coming from, especially that first batch of songs had really wide influences. We actually had, early on, a whole period of the band that never got documented unfortunately. From before Still Screamin’ where we started wanting to be as fast as everybody else!
BYT: Well it’s not too late, you can record them now!
PS: If we can remember them. It was quite a long time ago. They’re kinda lost, though I can still remember the titles. Actually it’s funny you say that because there is a new song we have that has a bass riff from one of the first songs we ever wrote. My brother didn’t even realize it, but yeah.
BYT: It’s impossible to invent new things, right? I asked Grey Matter this question too: Looking back–is that 80s hardcore scene still relevant to you personally?
PS: For me it is. It was part of my shaping as an individual. I’m still in the music business, playing for other bands and working for other bands, and I’m always taking experiences and attitudes from that time and applying it to my life.
BYT: You toured with the Foo Fighters and fronted that awesome metal band Goatsnake…
PS: And I play in a band called earthlings? still. Foo Fighters was more of a friendly kind of thing, but I did learn a lot on that tour and ended up working for numerous other bands and I still do today.
BYT: So I was wondering how they stack up. The hardcore scene, especially around here, seemed to be about unity and integrity in a way that doesn’t seem to exist now, where it’s all business.
PS: It has always, always, always been business. It’s just a matter of how you conduct yourself within that framework. And that has never changed. It’s still like that. You’re still battling, like, the forces of evil! <laughs> and trying to be true to yourself and what you believe in, in the midst of it all. My father used to manage rock bands, back in the 60s and he got fed up with it. People do always backstab you, but…I certainly feel proud of what we accomplished and what that scene accomplished, especially what Ian and Jeff did with Dischord, putting our city on the map musically. Now the integrity in the music speaks for itself.
BYT: Scream was notable in that scene for me because you guys were one of the first bands around here to address very specific social issues, from broad ones to like, what was going on in the park around the corner…
PS: That was always important to me but, I think the only reason that was notable around here is that I’m a little bit older than most of the guys. Skeeter and my brother are the same age as Ian and the Dischord bands, so…I had done a lot of traveling and so I had a different perspective. I wasn’t writing so much about high school. Those kinds of personal relations and singing about growing up is great but I wanted to sing about broader stuff around the world and how it relates to us locally. Still do.
BYT: But it’s pretty rare to hear any band or musician sing about anything specific these days, particularly involving other countries or local politics…Why do you think that is?
PS: <long pause>. Man. I think people still do, they try. A lot of artists do it in their own way. They don’t fly their flag or toot their horn but they’re involved, and singing about it. One thing that always bugged me about the anti-war movement and the 60s generation is how the media turned it into a big cliché, almost a joke. It was a big transformation that happened in the 60s that we’re still feeling the affects of today so when looking back at that and at a lot of the bands that came later that were political, like in the punk scene here and overseas, it gets written off as a cliché. So people shy away from getting out front of an issue because you get pigeonholed so quickly. It’s almost not worth it sometimes, because you get perceived as doing it to wear it on your sleeve, like you aren’t sincere. So people hold back and are more abstract about it. That’s one reason. But we still live in a very conservative world too. People get shut down for speaking up and saying what they think. It happens all over. Right now you have to think twice about what you try to put on the radio or on your record cover, because you’re not going to get it into Best Buy or Wal Mart with the wrong thing on there. It takes some balls to get out in front of issues.
BYT: Good answer! Getting back to the Black Cat, is this show going to resemble a high school or college reunion do you think?
PS: Definitely. We were really surprised, I mean, we thought we’d do something loose and low-key in the small room and before we knew it we sold out. Talking to Dante we heard that a bunch of our old friends hadn’t gotten tickets yet, so we were put between a rock and a hard place. So we are going to see a lot of old faces.
BYT: Do you expect circle pits?
PS: <long laugh> Man I don’t know. It depend if we can play up to that tempo, that scientific formula that create them. It’s all about physics—volume, pressure—so if all those forces come together…YES I think it could happen.
BYT: If anyone can make a packed house of math teachers and recording engineers do the windmill and get thrown out for stage diving like they are 14 again, you guys can. Good luck and thanks!
Want more: Make sure you’re at the Black Cat on Friday to relive some serious DC music history.