Photos courtesy of Chris Stover
Washington D.C.’s Void are to hardcore what Motörhead are to heavy metal: Everyone wants to wear the shirt, sow the patch on the back of their jacket and declare them their all-time favorite band from that oh-so-glorified early era of American hardcore. But when you ask people to name one song by the unit, they normally give you a look like you just took a steamy bowl winder onto their mothers’ finest china. But can you blame them for wanting to be down?
Forming in 1979, Void were an oddball beacon that stuck their middle fingers high in the face of conformity when the hardcore scene became quickly regimented in its initial run. The fifteen tunes they released on the Dischord label truly showed they were working from their own cathartic plain. In many ways, they are the true essence of hardcore: four fucked-up kids expressing themselves in the most direct way possible, talent or proficiency be both damned and fucked dry.
After breaking up in 1983, not only did Void leave a clutch of unrivaled tracks for us to marvel at, they left legendary stories behind of broken legs, Van Halen covers and acid trips. They also left behind an unreleased LP entitled Potion for Bad Dreams that people have bootlegged the shit out of for years. I’ve always wanted to know more about all of it, so I tracked down Void bass player Chris Stover down in his adopted home of Northern California and he was more than gracious to answer all my nerd boy questions in a polite manner.
Noisey: What was your portal into punk rock and the local Washington D.C. scene?
Chris Stover: It was via a band called the Bollocks from Maryland. They played this place called Odd Fellows in Baltimore. I don’t remember how, but they got the Teen Idles to open up for them. It was pretty earth-shattering. They came in like a motorcycle gang. This is just when the Teen Idles came back from California, so they had all the Huntington Beach approved attire on, the bandanas wrapped around the boots and stuff like that. When they played, it was just chaos. We thought we knew what punk rock was and all of a sudden, we were like ‘What the fuck is going on?’
After the show, we became friends with them and starting going down to D.C. a lot to see shows. It was something new and crazy and we wanted in. Up until then, I read about stuff like this going on in California in skateboarding magazines. I didn’t know something like this was going on so close to me.
I can’t believe you brought up the Bollocks. I found both their 7”s in the import bin of the record store in my local mall in 1983. They were some of the first punk records I bought with my own money when I was twelve-years-old. I never really knew too much about them. You’re saying they existed before or even at the same time as the Teen Idles?
Oh yes, they totally did.
Then it confuses me even more that they aren’t talked about more in the history of American hardcore. You would think being so close to D.C. and putting out their own records at that time would interest people. I always wondered why they weren’t more part of the Dischord scene.
I don’t know. They were all brothers and they eventually spun out into the band Law and Order; I know that. I guess they just had their own thing going on.
So what was it about the early D.C. hardcore scene that inspired you to start Void?
Living in Columbia, Maryland we were more aware of the precursor stuff in magazines. We knew about 999, the Damned and Devo. Then we started hanging out with Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins and Bert Queiroz (bass player for Untouchables, Youth Brigade, Double O, Second Wind, Meatmen, Rain, etc). Bert especially turned me onto a shit-ton of music. We’d sit around his house for hours, and I’d make tapes of stuff. They turned me onto things like Sham 69, and it was this quick discovery process.
Was there a specific show in D.C. that made you guys want to start Void?
Besides that Teen Idles show I mentioned, the other show that really opened our eyes was this showcase at D.C. Space. It was Minor Threat’s first gig, maybe S.O.A’s first gig and the Untouchables last gig. It was called the Unheard Music Festival. It was after that Sean (Finnegan, Void drummer) and I said, ‘Oh shit! We should really get a band together.’
But even before that, in late 1979 I got together with Bubba (Dupree, Void guitarist) and we started jamming. There was a guy that was supposed to be our drummer, but he flaked on a practice or two and we tried out Sean. John (Weiffenbach, vocalist) was our friend, and one day he was acting crazy on the bus ride home as usual so we were like ‘John, you’re loud and crazy, you should be the singer.’ But it was seeing that Unheard Music Festival where we got serious about it.
When you traveled out of town, would people assume that since you were from D.C., you were straight edge and anxious to shove something down their throats?
Not really. When we started travelling with the band, we had diverged off of straight edge by then. The first time we played at CBGB’s we were still straight edge, but by the time we got to play the Rock Hotel in New York, we were drinking beer. But Bubba was straight edge through most of the history of the band. Shawn and I were straight edge for about a year or so, but John never bought into the straight edge thing.
After doing a ton of interviews for my book NYHC 1980 – 1990, the general consensus among the early New York hardcore dudes is that Void were the only D.C. band that wouldn’t come down to New York with an attitude. Everyone said you were just down to earth, chill guys.
[Laughs] The first time we ever played at CBGB’s, we took a train up to New York. We had no clue where CBGB’s was or anything like that. We got out of Grand Central Station sort of looking around, like "Where is CBGB’s?" [Laughs] There was this guy hanging outside of the station and he was looking at us. We both were checking each other because we looked hardcore and we came up to him and said we were looking for CBGB’s and that we were playing there for the matinee. He said "Oh, I’m going to that show! Let’s all go there!" So he showed the way, and he was friends with the singer for Antidote, and we hung out with them. It was fucking awesome. Everyone there was super cool.
There’s this bit of hardcore folklore about you guys playing in New York one time. The story I always heard was you guys got thirty seconds into the first song of a set, John jumped off the stage, no one caught him and he broke his leg and the set was over. What’s the real story?
I would say we got through two-and-a-half songs before he tore his ACL. He was doing some contorted move as he normally did, and his whole body went one way and from his right knee down went another. I saw the whole thing, and it looked completely unnatural. Then he fell down, and I grabbed Bubba and told him to stop. The paramedics came, and the New York cops came and they were not friendly towards us. They had some assumption we were runaways since we were so young and asked us all these weird questions. It was obvious they were trying to figure out a way to put us in jail. But I would say we got a solid two songs in before he tore his ACL.
I heard you were doing a cover of Van Halen’s "Unchained" when John got injured?
[Laughs] No! We definitely wouldn’t have covered “Unchained”! We were all about the Van Halen song “D.O.A.” We did that a few times.
It goes without saying Void was one of the most unique bands from that first wave of hardcore. I don’t know how to put this and not sound like a dork, but was it a conscious effort to approach the music the way you did or was it truly a magical occurrence?
It wasn’t on purpose; that was just our style. On the tracks on the Flex Your Head compilation and the split LP with the Faith, you can see us changing and Bubba coming out of his shell. If you listen to those earlier demos that Dischord put out a few years ago as the Sessions LP, it was more straight-through without Bubba going crazy on the guitar. It was just an evolution.
I agree. When I first heard those early Void demos, it’s almost shocking how straight-forward it is. It sounds like Circle Jerks-inspired hardcore.
Exactly! Later on, I have to say we owe a lot to Ian MacKaye pushing us in the studio. He was really great at getting the creative juices flowing and telling Bubba to just go wild throughout a song.
The split LP with the Faith, was that a decision made by Ian? Were you tight with the guys in that band?
It was always supposed to be a split record. We didn’t have enough material for a whole record. If anything, I think maybe there was a talk of a Void 10”.
Was there any other band in the D.C. scene that would have rather shared the record with?
No. Void was one of those rare bands where we were just happy to be involved, you know? “You want us to play a show with you? Great!” We got along with everybody and didn’t really care. We took anything and everything that came our way, and sometimes we bit off more than we could chew. There’s a flyer for a show that happened at The Chancery back in the day in D.C. that has us on the bill, but we couldn’t play because Bubba was grounded.
You gotta love it! There’s no other music scene where a band couldn’t do the gig because a member was grounded!
Nowadays the parents would be like “What? You’re cancelling the show?”
Yeah! They would say something like “It’s good branding to play this small show!” Anyways, I wanted to ask some questions about Void’s later period. You know, the one where you see a picture of Bubba wearing a mesh shirt with a Mötley Crüe shirt underneath all glammed out.
Way before Bubba was doing that, I stole that idea from Brian Baker. I saw him wear his AC/DC shirt once at an early Minor Threat gig, so I decided I’d wear a Ted Nugent half-shirt when we play. [Laughs] That second half of Void was all about an evolution of our musical interests. But with Bubba, he was getting way into glam rock like Mötley Crüe and Hanoi Rocks. Sean was all about hip-hop then, and my go-to band was always Motörhead. So when we got tired of the thirty-second long songs, that’s where we went. Even outside of Void, the metal thing was catching up with other D.C. bands. Steve Polcari (vocalist for Marginal Man) started growing his hair out because he was a big Ratt fan!
How was the evolution of Void taken at the time?
Reed Mullin, the drummer for C.O.C., actually drove from North Carolina, picked us up and drove us down to a gig he set up for us back then. We specifically would do a hardcore song off the split LP and then a new heavy metal-ish song and then just went back and forth like that. It was pretty funny to watch people scratch their heads at one song, start thrashing on the floor to the songs they knew, and then be totally confused again.
Well, it just seemed in D.C. everyone moved along very quickly. Not many people from that first wave stuck with playing minute-long songs throughout the 80s. You know, the whole Revolution Summer thing.
When that second wave of stuff started in D.C. with Revolution Summer, I feel that was more adamant and flag-waving about straight edge then it was in the early 80s. It seemed more aggressive to me because it was steeped in more ideology and knowing the politics behind abstaining from certain things.
And that’s funny because at the same time, that second wave of straight edge that sprang up in New York was a direct reaction to the way the D.C. people were heading with their music. The guys in bands like Youth of Today were coming from this viewpoint of “You guys forgot where you came from! We’re sticking to the program!” So one side was being aggressive about abstaining from things to further some worthy cause while the other was just being diehard traditionalists to sort of show up their heroes.
So, I want to delve into the unreleased Void album Potion for Bad Dreams. What’s the story with that? I heard that it was supposed to be released on Touch & Go, but owner Corey Rusk wasn’t into it and shelved it. What’s the deal?
Well, the reason we decided to go with Touch & Go over Dischord was Sean. I don’t know if you’ve seen pictures of how big Sean’s drum set had become, but it was on par with Neil Peart at that point. He had this thing in his head that we had to work with twenty-four tracks or something obscene like that. Corey had a studio in Detroit that had twenty-four tracks, so we went up there to do it. We had all the tracks written and recorded it. After recording all the music, John said “I don’t have any lyrics.” So, we scrambled to write lyrics. We were up to three or four in the morning writing lyrics. On top of that, John threw out his voice.
My understanding of it was at the same time we were recording this, Corey was looking to sign the Butthole Surfers, and he was focusing on them a great deal. So when we came to him and said we were breaking up, he didn’t really pursue releasing our record because he was focusing on the Butthole Surfers and probably didn’t see much worth in releasing a record by a band that’s broken up.
Have you ever thought of releasing it? People have bootlegged it on cassette off and on over the years.
The idea has surfaced, but with the internet these days, you can listen to the whole record for free if you want and I’m fine with that. Am I personally really proud of that record? No! Just hearing John’s vocals on that thing reminds me of fingernails on a chalk board. It kills me! Everyone else in the band is adamant that it will never be released.
I remember in the early 90s when I found out there was an unreleased Void LP. I was just so overjoyed because you guys were my favorite band, you know? “There’s more of this stuff and no one told me?” When I eventually got a copy through tape trading, I wasn’t necessarily bummed, but I was definitely confused. It’s funny you mention you wrote the lyrics in a hurry because I remember that was the one thing that threw me off. I remember thinking “Did he just sing something about a castle?” I remember the lyrics were very Dungeons-and-Dragons-like.
[Laughs] Yeah, they were totally sword-and-sorcery type lyrics! My favorite Void song is the first one off of that called "Blood Lust." That was the pinnacle of Void. We fucked with John’s vocals enough in the studio that it didn’t sound like fingernails on a chalk board. We jammed that song pretty thoroughly, and it gelled together really well. The usual way Void wrote a song up until then was Sean would come up with a drum beat and then we’d say “Bubba, do this,” and I’d play something, and that was it. That song shows how we melded together more as musicians than anything else.
So what were the reasons for the band eventually breaking up?
Sean and I were going away to school. Bubba was into doing something more glam rock. We weren’t practicing as much, and we weren’t getting along as much. Just a natural ending.
Did you play any music after Void?
No, Bubba’s the only one who fulfilled the dream of being a full-time musician. He lives in Seattle now and works with the guys from Kyuss. He travels a lot, and he’s stoked.
It seems every day I wake up, go over to my laptop and see some announcement in my inbox that some band from the 80s hardcore scene is reuniting. It’s not even shocking anymore to me. Has Void ever been approached to do something like this?
Yeah, we have. Obviously, we’d have to do it with another drummer due to Sean passing away a few years back. We believe in leaving it as it was; let’s not tarnish the memory. Bubba and I jammed on a few Void tunes at a small release party in Oakland when the Sessions album came out, but that’s as far as it went, and I’d prefer to keep it that way.
I appreciate that. Personally, I’d rather have a band be a big question mark in my head that I can play around with for the rest of my life, you know? I’d rather have that than watch a band I never got to see and afterward feel sort of dirty with this idea in my head of “Was that worth it?”
That happened to me about a month-and-a-half ago when I went to go see the Replacements. It didn’t tarnish my love for their music, but it wasn’t as great as the story my friend told me of seeing them at George Washington University in D.C. when they were completely hammered and did a set of Kiss covers. When I saw them they were backed by studio musicians and everything. I’m sure they’re making good money, but I think you’re right in regards to how it affects you as a fan personally. It’s a fine line that I’d rather not pursue with Void. I’ll take the low road on that one. [Laughs]
All of Void’s recordings are available through Dischord.
Cassette copies of Potion for Bad Dreams can be found here.
Tony Rettman's book NYHC 1980 – 1990 can be purchased here.