Rain On The Parade: An Interview with Billy Rubin of California Hardcore Band Half Off

More on the divide between the band and Youth of Today, the history of Hardcore in Orange County, California, and the influence of Bon Jovi on later period Uniform Choice.

by Tony Rettman
Apr 16 2015, 7:35pm

In the late 80’s, a lot of controversy surrounded the Southern California Hardcore band Half Off. Initially, it seemed like they were part and parcel to the positive Straight Edge scene sprouting up around the country at the time with bands like Uniform Choice, Youth of Today, Insted, No For An Answer and dozens more. The band’s vocalist, Billy Rubin, seemed especially gung-ho on the whole thing by drawing artwork for Youth of Today, releasing the debut seven inches by Bold (then named Crippled Youth) and Underdog and editing the fanzine, Think.

But at some point in 1987, Billy and his band made a conscious effort to distance themselves from that scene via their lyrics and denouncing bands like Youth of Today in interviews. Suddenly, there was a ton of trash talk being slung back and forth in fanzine pages between Half Off and Youth of Today. Billy believed the band didn’t back what they said and were ‘obsessed with anti-obsession’. The Youth Crew guys would claim Half Off ‘posed hard’. Yes, it was all very silly, but highly entertaining.

Since I’m a total loser, the whole aspect as to why Billy all of sudden cut ties with the Straight Edge thing still intrigues me; even though I’m hardly Straight Edge at this point in my life. I decided to give a call to Mr. Rubin where he currently resides in Arizona and ask ‘What gives?’ or rather ‘What gave?’ While mining to find out his actual, factual gripe with the Youth Crew, we also talked about the history of Hardcore in Orange County, California, how I feel the Crippled Youth seven inch is still a kick ass record, and the influence of Bon Jovi on later period Uniform Choice.

Half Off

Noisey: So, first off, were Uniform Choice more or less the flag holders of Straight Edge in Orange County at that time?
Billy Rubin:
They were the only ones. There was no flag and they weren’t leading anything because there wasn’t anything else yet. The only thing that was close to them was a band called Doggy Style and they weren’t Straight Edge. They were party guys who played Hardcore rather than Punk Rock. It wasn’t until a lot later that bands like Insted and Half Off came along. But the only thing that differentiated all these bands from what else was going on in Southern California was they were Hardcore bands rather than fashionable Punk bands.

What about the band Justice League?
Justice League were always around, but they were always intermittent. They were from Pomona and were outsiders to the scene. They didn’t get to play a lot of shows, so they didn’t get as much as exposure as Uniform Choice. But, to be fair, Justice League were around way before a lot of other bands. Justice League might even predate Uniform Choice; I’m not really sure.

There is a period somewhere in the mid-80’s where the whole Straight Edge thing becomes more than a song or a thought and it starts to become codified into a look and style of music and all that. Youth of Today definitely had something to do with this, but do you think Uniform Choice did as well?
A little bit, but not in the way Youth of Today did it. I always thought Uniform Choice had more of an appreciation for diversity within Punk Rock. Those guys grew up going to shows in Hollywood and seeing bands that were in no ways Straight Edge. Someone like Dave Mello, the bass player for Uniform Choice, was a complete outsider. They could have cared less about that Straight Edge crap. They just wanted to be in a band and have fun. They were just stoked Pat Dubar (Uniform Choice vocalist) was motivated to get them shows rather than be in the average punk band of the time where nothing happens because they’re all on drugs. Pat Dubar had a vision and wanted to do things.

So, no, I don’t feel Uniform Choice had anything to do with that. Maybe they did in the way that a lot of young kids were enamored with Pat Dubar because he was in shape, was an athlete and was charismatic. No one knew at the time he was stealing all his lyrics from Hallmark cards. They thought it was impressive that this kid was writing these motivational lyrics. The other thing was Pat Dubar was a pretty big, tough guy people and kids wanted to go to punk shows and not get beat up and he would take care of any trouble that happened. It was nice to know if you went to see this band play, someone from this band will stop the show and handle it. I think that was another reason people were attracted to Uniform Choice. It wasn’t about Straight Edge being a movement or a look at that point.

Half Off

So how did you initially get to know Ray Cappo and the rest of Youth of Today?
On one tour 7 Seconds was doing of the west coast, Youth of Today was along with them. Kevin Seconds was playing drums for Youth of Today on this tour. I interviewed 7 Seconds on that tour for my fanzine Think and that’s when I met Bessie Oakley (The Wrecks, Positive Force) and Ray Cappo. Shortly after that, Bessie and Ray came back through town. They were doing this whole little vacation together and they ended up staying with me at my parents’ house for a night or two. That’s when I became friends with them at that point in time.

It was exciting when Youth of Today came out west the first time because I had heard records by Agnostic Front, Cause For Alarm and Antidote by then, but never seen it played at that point. So, when these little bald heads with funny accents came out and started playing songs with breaks in it for moshing, it was really thrilling.

Later on, I went out to the east coast for a very long period of time and hung out with a lot of those people. I got to witness stuff they did and I just thought ‘I got into punk to get away from this stuff’.

Looking back on the first Uniform Choice LP Screaming for Change and the first Youth of Today LP Break Down The Walls, it’s easy to separate the two at this point in time. You look at Screaming for Change and say ‘OK, these guys wanted to be Minor Threat’ and you look at Break Down The Walls and say ‘OK, these guys wanted to emulate the Boston crew of the early 80’s more’. Would you agree? I know that might be over simplifying it all, but do you agree with that statement at all?
Maybe to some extent. Guys like Pat Dubar to me were successful jocks who were rejecting their athleticism by going towards punk. With Youth of Today, I felt they were unsuccessful jocks that were using Punk to fill the void of their lack of success in sports. That locker room attitude that dominated Youth of Today and their close circle of friends where they thought they were all ‘brothers’; that never went on with the crew around Uniform Choice. We didn’t have secret handshakes and a certain way you were supposed to dance. We didn’t care.

But with both Uniform Choice and Youth of Today, everyone’s egos got so gigantic and so intoxicated with their own personalities that it was all destined to fail.

Half Off

But at some point, both you and your band Half Off get very well known for pushing against what you saw as flaws in the then burgeoning Straight Edge scene.
I’ll admit I got into Straight Edge the way a lot of other people do where it comes from a herd mentality, but it turned me off quicker than it did a lot of other people. It became very obvious it was more about intolerance than anything else.

After I had come back from the east coast, Youth of Today came out again when Richie Birkenhead was in the band and I’m pretty sure Break Down the Walls had already come out. They more or less moved to Southern California living in the home of Dan O’Mahoney (vocalist for No For An Answer, Carrie Nation, 411, Speak, God Forgot, Done Dying, etc) It was a whole crew of people who were just there all the time. They would spend a lot of time at the beach and were totally fascinated by the fact there were girls walking around in bikinis. That’s when people who were later into the Orange County scene like Joe Nelson and the guys that would become the Sloth Crew really latched onto that east coast character the Youth of Today brought out there.

So was that the breaking off point? When they wouldn’t leave Huntington Beach?
It was just when people started sucking Ray and Porcell’s dicks; and of course I mean that figuratively! It became a strange cult and I thought that was lame. It wasn’t punk rock anymore to me. Ray Cappo became the center of the universe of that scene and it destroyed any semblance of diversity on the Hardcore scene. Everything fell into factions after that.

Half Off did a song called ‘What Seems Right’ that talked about being obsessed with anti-obsession. When that song came out, I think we became targeted because we weren’t playing along. It was almost like social media; if you ‘liked’ something and wore the t-shirt, everything would be OK and if you’re weren’t doing that, you weren’t going to fit in. That’s when we fell out with some people, but luckily, the scene was big enough that we were still ok to play shows.

A few years ago, I saw some movie about Straight Edge on line. Someone was interviewing Ray and he was doing handstands on a lawn somewhere in downtown LA and I thought ‘How sad’. He’s still performing and trying to fill an empty void with something that really doesn’t matter.

I just remember back then there was all this back and forth between you and the Youth Crew guys in fanzines. Something would be said about Half Off in Schism Fanzine and then Fred from It’s Alive Fanzine out there would retort back. It was hilarious. I remember that first issue of Boiling Point fanzine where every band interviewed had something bad to say about Half Off.
First off, I just want to sayFred at It’s Alive did that stuff on his own accord. But we did take petty, stupid little shots at each other. I heard that the band Project X had a song about me. I can honestly say I’ve never heard a single song by Project X, so I don’t know. Whatever any of those people ever felt about me, the fact still remains the Crippled Youth seven inch wouldn’t have come out without me. Sadly, that’s something that can’t be erased.

I love that Crippled Youth 7” still.
It’s right up there with The Young and The Useless seven inch.

Oh come on! It’s better than that!
It’s a novelty at best.

Anywhos, is there anything else from that late 80’s Straight Edge thing that made you say ‘You know? That’s enough for me’
I’d say when Insted came out with their first LP Bonds of Friendship. It had that picture on the cover of those little kids with their arms around each other. That made me want to choke on my own vomit. But listen! Steve the drummer for Insted is someone I have high regard for and I think is a wonderful person, but that was just silly. It just hit a point where I just didn’t care about any of that stuff. I didn’t care if someone hacked off those little kids’ hands and stuffs them up their asses. I just didn’t care and I still don’t care..

In regards to Uniform Choice, when they started going in the direction they did with their second album Staring into the Sun, do you think it was a conscious effort to separate themselves from what was going on with the Youth Crew thing?
They weren’t trying to separate themselves; I think they were just simply growing up. I think the idea of having shaved heads and emulating Minor Threat wasn’t as interesting anymore because they were going to college and were trying to fit into that part of their life without trashing the music they made. They were really into Bon Jovi at the time, too.

I always thought U2 were to blame!
U2 were to blame too I guess. But the real thing was Pat and to a lesser degree, Courtney, his younger brother were businessmen first and foremost. They got a taste of what could happen if you sold a thousand t-shirts in a night and they didn’t want to lose the opportunity that represented. I don’t think they made a conscious effort to sell out or anything like that. I think it was just fifteen year olds pumping their X’ed up fists wasn’t doing it for them anymore..

I don’t know…I’m still sitting here blown away that Bon Jovi had any influence on later Uniform Choice.
They were really into that song ‘Dead or Alive’. They were going for that long hair, pretty boy cowboy look. That’s for sure.

At the end of the day, are you still happy you were a part of the Hardcore scene?
In some ways I feel very positive about what I learned from the Hardcore scene in that it was of a do it yourself mentality. But, I also learned a strange sort of arrogance and self-entitlement. I thought what I said was more important than what someone else thought. It made me think my voice should be heard more so than another’s persons just because I had the confidence to speak. I don’t know if in adulthood that has served me well. Looking back, it would have been better to sit back and take note instead of stepping forward and pretending like I knew everything.