Not Just Another "Old Guy Band:" Aus Rotten's Spirit Lives on in Pittsburgh Punks The S/cks
"You can be a hardcore band or a punk band and still write killer songs. We wanted to get back to that."
All photos by Samantha Stowe
Despite boasting an all-star line up from Pittsburgh’s best punk bands of the past thirty years, The S/cks don't exactly pass the eye test of what one expects from a brash, new punk band. While loading in for their set tonight, singer Rob Henry, a graduate of the late 80s hardcore scene and most recently vocalist of local death punk act Kim Phuc, ceaselessly paces about with a shaved head, clean cut and bespectacled. Guitarist and bassist Eric Good and Corey Lyons, who look as though they could be fresh off a bid in state prison, both shared decades in pioneering political punk band Aus Rotten and later the menacing Caustic Christ, quietly go about their business expressionless and silent. To the right of the audience is guitarist Sam Matthews, founder and eldest of the group. Wiith long grey hair and disarming smile more fitting of a Grateful Dead fan, it is hard to imagine the senior member was a participant of the snarling and aggressive early years of the US punk and hardcore scene with his band The Bats. Somewhere in the mess of amps and tangled cords will be a rotating cast of drummers, nearly changing from gig to gig.
Appearances aside, The S/cks have managed to form a powerhouse of classic punk fury, loaded with riffs and shouted choruses. Their debut 7" single released on Austin's Fair Warning Records will undoubtedly have fans of the notorious Killed By Death comps holed up in their mother’s basements, flipping the record over and over before and after their shift bagging groceries at the supermarket. We sat down with Rob and Eric to talk about the new band, debut single and their place in the annals of punk history.
Noisey: First and foremost, how did you guys get together? This is just the biggest collection of weirdos to be in a band together. It almost seems like you picked names out of a hat.
Eric: I think Sam was a huge Kim Phuc fan, and he wanted to play with Rob and other members of that band. Sam and I would just dude talk at Mindcure (local record shop) and Gooskis (greatest bar in the world), joking how we need to form an old guy punk rock band and everyone in the band has to be forty or older, and just play classic punk rock style. None of this newer hardcore "raaaah" type stuff. Then the next week we’d forget and have the conversation over again.
So it was more of a lingering threat than actual plans to form a band?
Eric: Pretty much. Then one day out of the blue I get a call from Sam, saying, "I talked to Rob, I talked to Corey, yadda yadda, this is gonna happen." And all I was thinking is "Who is this? How did you get my number?"
Rob: Eric said it in the first couple practices, we all wanted to be in a band that had songs. We were tired of the whole formula of "let's just play as fast as possible from point A to point B without any melody or tunes." I mean, you can be a hardcore band or a punk band and still write killer songs. We wanted to get back to that.
Eric: The whole modern hardcore thing that started in the Nineties where it just had a long verse and you never got that hook. You never got that "rise above, rise above."
Rob: I would never be into punk if the Ramones sounded like..I don't know...King Crimson.
Going off something you said earlier, you mentioned this was intended to be "an old guy thing." All of you guys are on the wrong side of 40 at this point, so what is it like to start a new band at your age?
Eric: It's kind of weird, but it's a natural thing. I've been starting and playing in bands since I was 13 or 14. This isn't a foreign thing to me. The age thing is there and evident, but at the same time, you could be forty-something or twenty-something and there's no difference. I don't think the age factor matters when starting a new band
Rob: It's also a thing where we're a bunch of old guys, and you have to start at the bottom again. You can't rest on your laurels. It's kind of nice to be in that position. We're out there to do this.
You guys managed to put out a record pretty quickly, and by Pittsburgh standards you've fired one off almost immediately.
Rob: Kinda, it was a year and a half.
Eric: I think our age, or should I say "experience" [Eric made the air quotes hand gesture for a full minute while he said this] may help too, we have so many years of playing music under our belts we know what to do here.
Rob: When you add up all of our years of experience together, that's like a hundred years of experience. That's insane.
So, is there a goal for the band? Did you decide from the beginning to put out records and tour the country, or is this just something Daddy does on the weekends?
Eric: Somewhere in between. I think our goals are more of what we DON'T want to do, than what we want to do. We're not going to tour. Maybe if we can play a show out of town on the weekend, awesome, but we don't have a plan to put X amount of records out by next year, and tour Japan the year after.
Rob: I really can't foresee me touring in a van again for two weeks, sleeping on floors; I'm 46, my sciatica will act up. Even though I'm in better health now, in a better frame of mind, I'm just happy playing shows.
Eric: For as much as I say "I'm done with bands. I'm getting too old for this shit," that's bullshit. This is what I do. Since I've been a kid all I've wanted to do is play music. Now, reality sets in and I realize I don't need to tour the world, and be in a dead serious serious band to enjoy it. Having said that, if we got an offer to play something really cool, I'd consider it. I'd just have to talk to my doctor make sure I have all my prescriptions filled.
Rob: Yea, we'd be traveling with a suitcase full of pills, but not to party with.
Eric, what's it like to be "the guys from Aus Rotten/Caustic Christ" and show up to play rock music. Has there been a reaction at all? It has to be a little foreign to show up and not try to level the place with distortion and screaming.
Eric: A little bit. you would think by now people would not expect my new band to sound like Aus Rotten, it's been 20 freaking years, but there's still people expecting that. I can't help but think "really? You're still expecting that?" I'm flattered people still care and like that, and I appreciate it, but to me it's not much different. It's still punk rock- it's not like i'm playing country or jazz. I think the average Aus Rotten or Caustic Christ fan doesn't like us (laughter), but I think the average music fan who listens to the full gamut from Crass Records to the Buzzcocks to whatever hardcore stuff, gets it. In Caustic Christ, people didn't like us because we weren't Aus Rotten even though it wasn't that different. Now this is even further removed. Whatever, I don't care.
So what the fuck is wrong with you guys that you can't keep a drummer?
Eric: Wow, well that's the age old question. If you go back to Aus Rotten, we were around for maybe 10 years and we went through 10 drummers.
Rob: If you have everyone in a band, the drummer and the singer will always be the biggest pain in the ass. Myself included. With us having older guys involved, people have lives and thing going on. With Sam Pace (the band’s second drummer), he's in a hundred bands, and just had a baby. With the new guy Nick, he's great. He's younger, he's excited about it. He's a well versed music nerd, so it works with us.
Have any parting words or plans for the upcoming year?
Eric: Play some shows, hold onto a drummer, write some new songs, see what happens.