Regardless of the fact that Cleveland has been an epicenter for punk rock since its early days, it has remained but a footnote in most books, blogs, and documentaries. For a lot of people, Cleveland is the butt of some ill-formed joke, but for others it can be the wildest date on tour. Having grown up in the city, it never really felt that strange until I started going to shows in other places. No one where else was fireworks, bottles, garbage, and debris being hurled past your head not only common, but encouraged. It’s a unique place that has always managed to carve a place for itself outside of the greater trends.
Arguably, the strongest remnant of Cleveland style to work its way around the world is seen in Integrity and Ringworm’s metallic hardcore, what is commonly referred to as the “holy terror” sound. What most people don’t seem to realize, however, is that Cleveland was not this segregated place. At the same time that Integrity was going strong, both of their guitarists, Aaron Melnick and Chris Smith, were also playing in Inmates; at the same time Bob Zeiger was playing drums for Ringworm he was also in Cider. It is this meshing of styles and personality that defines Cleveland.
Cleveland is a city of crazy stories; the only difference is that our stories are all true. That is why when I heard that someone was making a documentary about Cleveland hardcore called Destroy Cleveland I was an immediate supporter. Over the next two years, I sort of fell in and out of thinking about the project, but last week when the filmmaker Matthew Greenfield dropped the first trailer, I was floored.
Destroy Cleveland is the first attempt to thoroughly document this element of Cleveland’s history, the first to take bands like Inmates, H100s, and 9 Shocks Terror as seriously as Integrity or Ringworm. With the documentary slated for release in the upcoming year, Matthew Greenfield and I talked about why Cleveland deserves a film and the process of actually getting it made.
Noisey: I first caught wind of you surprisingly not through going to shows or in Cleveland at all, but through your website RustBeltHammer. At what point did you start realizing you wanted to document Northeast Ohio punk?
Matthew Greenfield: I was already living in Austin Texas when I decided to start Rust Belt Hammer. I should have done it when I lived in Kent and Youngstown but never even thought about having my own site. The blog was originally going to be called "Jack on Fire" after the Gun Club song but I decided on Rust Belt Hammer for some reason. My first interview was with Tony Erba and that same week I was working on a column for Maximum Rock N Roll about NE Ohio punk and hardcore. Seemed like a good idea at that time to just write about stuff happening in the rust belt region. I always loved music from Cleveland and right then and there I sort of decided someone really needed to document the punk, hardcore, and weirdo music.
Cleveland is kind of this mess of a place, I can't quite ever describe it. I feel like I am always making excuses for it. In your opinion, what do you think makes the Cleveland scene so unique and worth discussing?
I have been listening to punk music for the better part of my life and I'll never forget the feeling I got when I first heard 9 Shocks Terror and H100s. I could feel my bones tingling right away. Here were these working class, out of shape, wrestling loving dudes, who shot off fireworks and played like they seriously wanted to murder someone. The singer of 9 Shocks Terror was a skinny guy with a plaid shirt, glasses, and a shit-eating grin that just seemed unhinged. It just felt like I had found something to identify with. The music in Cleveland is always darker, meaner, and more pissed off but with a sense of humor. It's obvious that bands like Cider or Inmates don't take themselves too seriously even though the music is violent and aggressive. People from Northeast Ohio don't need to fit in with other scenes or the latest cool fashion. The music is just really honest and raw.
Did you get a chance to catch these shows during their prime? I started coming around towards the tail end of 9 Shocks, before they disbanded and briefly reunited. I remember being actually scared during their shows, bottles, mic stands, fireworks all flying past my head.
I never got to see Integrity or Ringworm until my late 20s, but I was going to see 9 Shocks Terror as a teenager. The first time I saw them was at Mr Roboto Project (in Pittsburgh) as a teenager and they cut off the band after four songs. Erba became completely fucking unhinged and started throwing around mic stands. Some girl tells him to chill out and he responds with something like, "listen here missy, I'm too old for this shit." It was terrifying, inspiring, disappointing, and hilarious simultaneously. After those four songs I just knew I needed more. A few months later I was at the last Gordon Solie Motherfucker's show (Erba's other band) that they did with Boulder and some other people. It was the best night of my life and probably the reason I am making Destroy Cleveland. Fireworks galore, blood, tree branches and phone books in the pit, and a vibe that was just completely cathartic and fun. I saw Cider a few years later and thought to myself "these guys are assholes". They wouldn't get off stage after some of their sets and I even saw them all wearing yarmulkes during one show on Rosh Hashanah. I thought they were truly deranged and twisted individuals.
I think I first got wind of the documentary about two years ago; when did you first have the idea to make it and how long until you were able to actually begin the process?
I was feeling kind of uninspired until I started Rust Belt Hammer. After doing that and noticing that people were paying attention it motivated me to take on more projects. A movie certainly was not the first thing to pop in my head, but one day at work I was thinking about all of the weird characters that have come out of Clevo HC and why nobody ever made a film about them. One day later I decided that I should be the one to take on the project. My friend's Jorge Matthew Delrosa and Colby "Triple f" Grimes had just made a documentary about our friend Frank Bochard that passed away. I knew they wanted to do more films, so I called them up and proposed my idea and they agreed to help. None of us ever thought we would attract the attention we are getting now.
There is so much to talk about. What were the initial challenges in planning how and what to document?
I really didn't know what a good starting point would be for the movie. There is a documentary called Cleveland Screaming that was supposed to be released that documents the early 80s HC scene, but it was never promoted right or given a proper release. I still didn't want to step on the filmmakers toes so I chose an era that kind of spawned the next generation. I chose to start it around '87 with unsung straight edge legends Confront — members of that band went on to be in One Life Crew and Integrity, False Hope — members went on to Inmates, Integrity, and Keelhaul — , and a band that I wasn't familiar with until the doc called Outface, which is actually fascinating because the singer is now the singer of Sepultura. The guitarist Charlie went on to form Quicksand, while Frank Cavanaugh played in Filter. Its really stuff people don’t know about. From there I, of course, talk about Integrity and Face Value, before moving forwards and sort of closing the story in the early 2000s with Upstab and briefly mentioning newer bands like Bad Noids and Cruelster. I don’t want to make one of these lame ass films with Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, etc that has some half assed ending proclaiming how great the past was and how punk is dead now. It's not.
It is interesting that you mention newer bands because that is the odd thing about Cleveland: nothing dies, most of the bands and people (or at least those that are still alive and in Cleveland) still come around, they still come to the bar. Did you get a sense of that while making the film? What place do you think the newer scene has in discussion with the past?
Everybody knows each other. You will find a younger guy like Richard Rodriguez playing in Fat Vegan with Paul from Inmates and a bunch of other older bands. Bad Noids are really the torchbearers though because I heard Mike Thrope, the singer, wasn’t even really into hardcore before joining Bad Noids. He just seems like this really weird dude that’s first natural instincts on stage are to do strange things, like set his hair on fire or just totally wreck his body. He’s not trying to be "punk," he just is. It's an originality thing. Cleveland bred those characters twenty years ago and they certainly still do.
It is kind of a feat in itself that you got Paul (Inmates, Cider, etc) to sit down for an interview. He is notoriously anti-interviews, so I think you are among the few to have the chance. How serious did he take it?
Paul was very open during his interview and also very honest. I asked him about stuff people always build myths around. He's a wildman. The story of him pounding some guy with a tricycle he grabbed off of the street is classic. Afterwards I think Paul became a little self-conscious and wanted a redo so we put him on camera with the Melnicks for a bit, but that first interview is just awesome. He has great tales to tell, and both segments will be included.
Other than what has already been mentioned, what do you think you are bringing to the table that has never really been seen or talked about outside of Cleveland?
Nobody has seen any of these guys really open up on camera. We interviewed Dwid from Integrity for two hours and certainly have to be the first people to capture an, in a video interview, both Melnick brothers together. We have hilarious clowns like Chubby Fresh and outspoken misfits like Tony Erba. What I think we are showing the world that hasn't been seen outside of Cleveland is that these are all good people who are just trying to get by day to day and punk rock is their release from an otherwise brutal and depressing city. Rock and roll saved many of these peoples lives. Unfortunately, there were some casualties. One very important thing to me is telling the world about Chard from H100s, Gag Reflex, and 9 Shocks. It's an intriguing, powerful, and tragic story of a guy with all the punk rock fury in the world that ultimately self-destructed. Lots of the people in this documentary have depression and Richard aka Chard turned to drugs and alcohol. We have footage of him just goofing off and being a charming guy. It's very human and very painful. The story is going to strike a chord with people that didn’t even know him. I feel honored to give his friends a platform and show his story to the world. Everyone has lost someone special to drugs and alcohol; it's a universal story really. Without ranting too much, I want to show that Cleveland breeds pain along with rock n roll.
How and when are you going to release this movie? I heard that you are trying to organize individual screenings across the country house by shows, is there a way that people can contact you if they are interested in booking?
It will be out in July with a shitload of extras. I am talking with a distributer right now but it will definitely be easy to get. I want to show the movie all over the country (and world) so get ahold of me on the Destroy Cleveland Facebook page or email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find out more information about the film on their Facebook page, or by following Matt via Twitter @mchomelesstwit and on his website, www.rustbelthammer.com