If you've ever owned a hooded Champion sweatshirt, then you probably know John "Porcell" Porcelly's hardcore history as the founding member of legendary and outright awesome bands like Youth of Today, Judge, Project X, etc. But what about the Young Republicans? Do you know them?
The Young Republicans were John's first hardcore band, way back when he was 15. They played a handful of shows and went kaput once he moved onto playing guitar in Violent Children. They recorded a demo that everyone thought was lost to the dust mites of time, but thanks to Facebook and a cigar chomping packrat guido, we can finally hear it in all its hardcore glory on a seven inch called Sabotage Your Cookout being released this week on the More Than A Witness label.
Vice: I guess before we get into the Young Republicans, I'd like to know how you got into punk up in the middle of Westchester.
Porcell: From the time I was just a little kid I was obsessed with music. I remember being six years old and going through my Dad's record collection. He had the worst record collection--full of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. records, but for one reason or another, he had a copy of Between the Buttons by the Rolling Stones and I became totally obsessed with it. After that, like every kid from the 70s, I got into Kiss, but by the time fifth grade came around, they came out with Dynasty and I was like "Goddamnit man! Now I gotta find something different!"
Hold on, are you denying "I Was Made for Loving You"?
You know, I actually saw them on that tour and they were pretty good.
Well, there we go.
Yeah, but Kiss just wasn't doing it for me anymore. I had this friend who had an older brother who was a pretty hip guy who bought the Sex Pistols record as soon as it came out. I had seen the Sex Pistols on the news by then, so I wanted to hear what they sounded like. He put it on and it was like the freaking sky opened up--the clouds parted and the sun hit me. By the time the record hit "Bodies" and Johnny Rotten was doing the "Fuck this and fuck that" thing, I was completely sold on punk.
How did the Young Republicans get started?
There were probably about three of four kids out of a school of 500 who were into punk back then. One of the three or four kids was Graham Phillips, and Graham and I were the ones who were the most into it. We collected every record, tried to go see any band we could--we were hardcore. Once you get as into as we were, the only thing you want to do is start a band yourself since hardcore lends itself to that sort of creativity. You see all these incredible bands that are just like you. They don't have a lot of talent, but they have an incredible energy and they get to say what they want to say.
In seventh or eighth grade, Graham and I decided we wanted to start a band. We recruited this guy Darren Pesce who wasn't into punk at all, he was a total guido kid. We just gave him Circle Jerks records and told him, "Play like this!" and he just learned to play how we wanted him to because he was friends with us and thought it would be fun. Originally, we only did cover songs; Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and Minor Threat. Our original singer was this kid, Eric Waldermore, who was more of a new wave kid. With that lineup we played exactly one show. We opened up for a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The whole school was there. All of our peers and all my older brother's jock friends were there, and we could barely freaking play and people were actually throwing stuff at us. Laughing at us, booing at us, yelling "YOU SUCK!" the whole bit. It was a humble beginning. The kid who was our singer wasn't into writing lyrics or anything like that, and we really wanted to start becoming a serious band and writing our own songs. We didn't become a serious band until we discovered the Anthrax and this kid named Sam started singing for us.
How did this kid Sam come into the picture?
One day, Graham and I were hanging out at school and somebody was like "Hey! I heard there's another one of you punk rock faggots over at North Salem High School. Why don't you go over there and throw up on each other or something?" Punk was such a small thing back then that you were trying to find anyone who was into it, so me and Graham drove over to North Salem High School and hung out in the parking lot waiting for this kid. It was incredibly easy to find the kid. He was the only guy to walk out of the school with his head shaved to the bone, a flight jacket, and combat boots. When we saw him we were in awe. We were both like "He has to be the singer for our band." His parents were well-to-do, educated, left wing people and they decided they had had enough of living in Manhattan and moved up to Westchester. He came up there and blew our minds. He had seen Minor Threat and knew about Harley and all these guys. You would go over to his house and he would be like "Hey! Listen to this Cause for Alarm seven inch," or, "Hey! Have you ever heard The Mob?" He wrote these great lyrics that totally described what it was like to be a punk in Westchester in 1983 and we thought we had it made.
I heard a story once that the Young Republicans played your high school battle of the bands.
Our school was very much like a John Hughes movie. You had the jocks, you had the preppies, you had the stoners, and none of these groups really mixed. The worst enemies of the punk kids were this group called "The Dramies." They were like drama school types who liked The Cure and wore skinny ties. The thing that really sucked was they thought they were like the alternative--that they were the real fringe element at the school--and we thought they were fucking posers! We were the punks! We were the guys getting beat up and having stuff thrown at us! You're just wearing your fucking skinny tie! Know what I mean? We hated them the most out of all the groups in our school. Those kids had a band and they very condescendingly challenged us to play with them at the Battle of the Bands. They probably thought, "We're going to play a bunch of Talking Heads songs and blow them away!" So when they came up to me and challenged me, I was like "Fuck you! We'll blow you away!" Fifteen minutes later I was in study hall with Graham and I was like "Oh shit! What did I do? We're gonna get punked out by this Dramie band!"
We made fliers for the Battle of the Bands and we took them to the Anthrax. Now, the Anthrax at the time was in Stamford, Connecticut, and we lived in Westchester, so we didn't really expect anyone to go. The night of the show the whole freaking Connecticut Hardcore scene showed up! These kids looked so punk--they had chains, mohawks, jeans so ripped-up they weren't even jeans anymore, that whole thing. So this army of punk kids descended on a preppy-ass Westchester school like in that movie Suburbia. The librarian at the door wouldn't let them in, so we complained to the principal, who was actually a cool guy. He liked us--probably because he thought we were free thinking individuals. I was like "This is discrimination! You're not going to let them in just for what they look like?" I remember him thinking about it for a second, then he turned to the librarian and said, "We have to let them in."
We played before the dramie band, and as soon as we started playing all the punk kids started moshing and stage diving and breaking stuff! We only had seven songs, so after we played them Ray Cappo got on drums, I sang, and one of the guys from Vatican Commandos got on guitar and we played Vatican Commandos cover songs until finally the gym teacher just stopped the show. By the time that other band went on, there was no way they could beat that. When Monday morning came around, people actually treated me with respect, because they realized that my crappy little band that they made fun of had actual fans. They must have realized "OK, this guy has a life that I don't know anything about, and that's actually kind of cool."
How long did the Young Republicans stick around for?
We played the Anthrax a lot, at least eight times. We played live on WXVI, on Darryl Ott from No Milk on Tuesday's radio show, which was sort of like a show because there were kids in the studio moshing and singing along and stuff. We were only together for about a year. I was asked to join Violent Children, and I thought that was sort of a step up because they were an established band with a seven inch out.
When you had a seven inch out at that time, you might as well have been Kiss.
Yeah, being a big band back then meant having a seven inch out.
Who eventually found the elusive Young Republicans demo?
I thought it was lost. I was trying to track it down for years. The first person to ask me about it was Tim McMahon over at Double Cross, because those guys are totally obsessed with that era of hardcore. I made a conscious effort to track it down for those guys, as well as myself, because I wanted to hear it! I just chalked it up as being lost, like Atlantis.
One day, out of the blue, Darren Pesce sent me a Facebook message and I was like "Hey Pesce! What's going on? Any chance you have that Young Republicans demo?" and he was like, "Yeah? Why?" He sent it to me, and hearing it was so weird. Have you ever smelled something and it takes you back to where you first smelled it?
Well, I was in my car--since I don't own a tape deck anymore the only place I can listen to tapes is in my car--and I was instantly transported back to being a kid. I remembered how new and fun it was to be in a band, it was so awesome to hear it. The first thing I thought was "Hey, these songs are pretty good."
Didn't most of those songs become Youth of Today and Project X songs?
"High School Rednecks" became "Straight Edge Revenge" by Project X practically note for note. "Respect for Authority" is pretty much "Stabbed in the Back" by Youth of Today. When Youth of Today started, we wanted to start playing shows immediately, so we just took some of that Young Republicans stuff and made it into our own songs.
It's kind of funny to think that these songs with titles like "High School Rednecks" eventually became these total straight edge anthems.
Youth of Today just came back from a week and a half of touring in Europe and we were playing "Stabbed in the Back" in Prague with five hundred kids singing along and losing their minds. If you told me when I was 14 that a song I wrote back then would drive people so crazy, I would have told you you were insane. It's been a hard thing to get my head around--hardcore becoming this classic thing, like Levi's or something.
It's weird for me as well. I've just started paying attention to it again over the past few years, and I'm not sure if it's a mid-life crisis on my part or what.
Straight edge always comes in waves. It's cool and then it's not. If anyone ever makes someone a CD-R or something, it's always going to have Minor Threat or Youth of Today or Chain of Strength on it. It's both flattering and humbling, know what I mean?
I'm not even talking about the straight edge thing. I have a nephew who really fell hard for hardcore after my book came out. He's really into Negative Approach and Necros and stuff like that, but I'm not too sure where to point him from there. If he was my age in 1986, I might as well have been the uncle that got him into Emerson, Lake and Palmer. You know what I mean?
The last thing I want to be is a jaded person, so I really don't want to be jaded against hardcore since it has brought me so much. I'm sure kids are out there today listening to every band on Bridge Nine and they're completely freaking stoked. They're emotionally connected to it--they sing along and mosh until their heart's content, and that's what matters. But for some reason, to me, the fact that punk has become so mainstream, and so much a part of the fabric of society--something has been lost. You didn't get into punk to be cool, you know? If you get a mohawk these days and go to school, it's nothing. Maybe kids can still capture that whole underground thing of being an outsider, but I'm not sure.
I'm with you in the not wanting to be jaded thing. I hated all the older jaded people when I was a kid getting into this whole scene. I've gone to a few hardcore shows in the past few years and, even though I was still way into the music, I felt like these kids were going through the motions, like they were doing what was expected. Sometimes I felt like I was at a jousting contest!
(laughs) Well, think about something like the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin in the 60s. That stuff was coming out of nowhere, and hardcore in the early 80s was just like that. In the early 80s there was no blueprint--you were doing it on your own for good or for bad, it's just not like that anymore. I'm really psyched that I was a young kid during that era, because now you listen to some band and you say "OK, cool, this band sounds like this band or that band," but I remember hearing SSD for the first time as a kid and thinking I had never heard anything like that before in my life. I remember picking up the Black Flag Damaged record and staring at that cover to the point that I couldn't move. I'd like to think kids still connect to things the same way these days on a level we can't comprehend.
I remember being really young and the local mall had a copy of the D.Y.S Brotherhood 12", and I stared at the back cover everytime I went in to the record store and I thought "Holy shit. This is my favorite record and I haven't even listened to it!" I didn't hear it until much later, but I already knew I loved it. A long time later, I talked to this guy, Byron Coley, about that and he told me he had the same situation with the Fun House record by the Stooges.
[laughs] That's the other thing, everything is so assessable these days. If you wrote a band and they sent you a record within eight months, you were like "They didn't steal my money, great!"
In Southern India, there are these temples that are built way, way away on a hill, and there are miles of stairs you have to go up just to reach the temple. The reason they do that, is because if you take the time to walk up all those stairs, you must really want to get to that temple. If you have to work for what you really want to know; you'll appreciate it. That's the way I look at it. To find out about shows in your area, that took a lot of effort. To find out about some band you might like, that took a lot of effort. You learned to appreciate what you had since it was such a rare thing.
Backtracking a bit here, why did you and Ray want to put an end to Violent Children and start Youth of Today?
The end of Violent Children happened when Johnny Stiff [notorious 80s hardcore show promoter] called up Cappo and asked if we wanted to open up for the Circle Jerks at CBGB's. Ray and I couldn't believe it and the singer for Violent Children was like "Eh, I don't know… I have a frigging softball game that day and I think I'll be too tired afterwards." We said "Are you fucking kidding me? You don't wanna play with the Circle Jerks at CBGB's?" and he said he couldn't "really be bothered with it." That's when we decided we had to break up the band. Cappo and I really wanted to tour and start a hardcore recruitment thing![ laughs] We wanted to know what hardcore was like in, like, Virginia and all over, you know? We wanted to spread straight edge all over, you know?
So since Graham and Pesce were the initial rhythm lineup for Youth of Today, were they just lying in wait while Violent Children fell to pieces?
Yeah, sort of, they knew all the songs already.
I heard somewhere that Pesce was an avid cigar smoker and, even though you and Cappo insisted he didn't, he smoked cigars at the very first Youth of Today shows.
[laughs] Pesce was never straight edge. His dad smoked cigars and he smoked cigars and he was never the type of guy to put up a fake front. We were always so embarrassed by him. We were like "Please! Please! Just don't smoke cigars at the shows we play!"
When I heard that story it wasn't so much the cigar smoking that bothered me, I was more like, "Who the hell in their late teens smoke cigars?" Cigarettes maybe, but cigars?
I know! Right? At that time, he was the equivalent of The Situation from that Jersey Shore show, you know?
That's truly frightening from where we're coming from today.
Back then, you really had no time to question it. If someone wanted to be in a room with you for more than five minutes and try to play music, you were happy with it. And I think that's where a lot of the style of hardcore came from--kids who didn't know what they were doing. They were just trying to play as fast as they could while holding it together.
Well, to me, that's where hardcore got interesting. There were tons of kids across the country who saw Black Flag on some weird whim during those first tours in '81 and thought, "I can do this!" The greatest thing about it was they couldn't do it.
The lesson I learned from seeing Black Flag the first time was to put every bit of heart and sweat and blood and energy into EVERY SONG. Black Flag were a big blueprint for Youth of Today. If you were a member of our band, you gave it your freakin' all.
Well, I think we covered it all for the Young Republicans, unless you can think of something else.
Since we only existed for a year, I think we covered it all.
You can order the Young Republicans' Sabotage Your Cookout 7" from More Than A Witness.