'Out of Step' and My Year in Minor Threat: An Interview with Steve Hansgen
"... This was aggressive aggressive! Ian ruled with an iron fist. What he said won and he made sure it did. "
This and all photos via DoubleCross XX
This country is full of people who feel they have been lost in the cracks with regard to their place in the history of American Hardcore. Normally, these are the types who will drunkenly bore your ear off about how their band opened for Black Flag in 1983 just so you’ll buy them a beer. But sometimes you hit upon someone who had a legitimate stake in the whole grand scheme of things back then who is intelligent, egoless and not afraid to tell it like it was. That someone is Steve Hansgen.
Hansgen joined Minor Threat on bass in the summer of 1982. Within the year-long span he was in the band, he recorded the iconic Out of Step, toured the country and got a ground-level view on the inner workings of a band that many took as a complete enigma.
I was always intrigued as to why Hansgen was always skipped over when it came to the history of Minor Threat, so I stalked the bastard down and jumped on a call with him a few mornings ago. He let loose on his indoctrination into the D.C Hardcore scene of the early 80’s, joining Minor Threat and the woes involved and how Minor Threat’s Lyle Preslar is a really sweet guy.
Noisey: How and where did you enter the D.C. Punk scene? Was it still being referred to as simply Punk when you got in there, or was it ‘Hardcore’ Punk?
Steve Hansgen: I got in when it was transitioning from it just being the D.C. Punk scene into the D.C. Hardcore Punk scene. There was a definite transition period there from where The Teen Idles broke up to when Minor Threat and S.O.A got together; that was sort of the delineation right there. I got into it because of an older band that was in the area, The Slickee Boys. They were the big New Wave band in D.C. at the time and their lead singer is my cousin, Mark Noone.
I was out in suburban Virginia getting into this kind of music and he was feeding me information about this really cool scene in downtown D.C. where there were kids my age playing Punk Rock in clubs. I was just so fascinated by that concept because it seem so foreign to me. I was allowed to roady for The Slickee Boys and that’s how I first saw Bad Brains and Teen Idles. I was completely captivated by this burgeoning scene going on. It was only twelve miles away from me, but it might as well been two hundred miles away.
I started going to shows sporadically in the summer of 1980 and by the fall of 1980, I was completely indoctrinated; I was a punk rocker. Right around that time, The Teen Idles broke up and the D.C. Punk scene became Hardcore. Immediately, my friends and I identified with that. It was all kids our age and we didn’t necessarily relate to ’77 British Punk. So, that was our identity at that point.
You always read about how Ian MacKaye’s first band The Teen Idles went out on tour to the west coast in 1980 and saw The Circle Jerks and Dead Kennedys and came back fully informed by that scene. You hear about how they brought back slam dancing and stage diving and that whole vibe back to D.C. Is that what brought the D.C. scene into its’ Hardcore phase?
Absolutely, there’s no question. That was the dividing line between us jumping up and down in front of the stage and jumping off the stage and into one another.
They came back from the west coast with this thing they got from Huntington Beach. Ian (Mackaye) and Henry (Rollins) definitely filtered that through their own ideas, but it all came from that stuff. Wearing bandanas around your boots and the slam dancing came from The Teen Idles going out to L.A. There’s no question.
But once they brought it into D.C, I think that’s where it became more of a culture. That’s when Hardcore morphed an aesthetic for itself.
Sure. The other thing was a huge influx of new kids from the suburbs in the summer of 1980. So the combination of that new energy as well as what The Teen Idles brought back with them along with the concept that they were thinking about releasing their own record did a lot. It was like ‘Wow! You’re going to put out your record?’ It was awesome because it established that we had a scene. We had a record label and a visibility and an identity and it coalesced in that period of time. This was all happening in the fall of 1980 and going into 1981.
When the Teen Idles broke up and Minor Threat formed, was it obvious that this was the band that was going to plant a flag and make people pay attention to D.C.?
Oh yeah. It was obvious from the first show. S.O.A and Minor Threat came out at the same time and as much as we loved S.O.A, it was really obvious Minor Threat were special and there was something different about them. Henry was always a great front man – there’s no question – but Ian was arresting. He was putting it forward as a leader.
When the Straight Edge thing came up in D.C. how was it looked upon by some of the older people and bands on the scene? How did a band like Black Market Baby take it?
Black Market Baby always got a pass because they were such a great band and such an important band in the history of D.C. Punk Rock no one cared. It was a thing where they wrote great songs and they are what they are, so who cares? They thought it was silly, but then again, they were twenty-three year olds and we were sixteen; they thought we were silly period! I’ve played in a band with Mike Dolfi and Boyd Farrell from Black Market Baby in the past few years and they’ve told me point blank they thought we were a joke, but then realized we weren’t.
Well, I think it’s like you said, the age difference certainly played a part in it. When I did my first book Why Be Something That You’re Not, I learned there was a huge gulf in the Midwest between a band like The Fix who were older and more Rock ‘N’ Roll in their thinking and a band like the Necros, who were kids who wanted to establish something in their area akin to what was going on in D.C.
The Fix were a great band. I guess they were the Midwest’s version of Black Markey Baby. Every town had one around that time.
There were tons of bands like that who were anomalies in their town in the late 70’s. They weren’t record collectors or guys reading fanzines keeping up what was going on in California or the U.K., but they played fast and were weirdos. Bands like The Fix, Black Markey Baby and The Worst from down the Jersey Shore. It’s all super fascinating to me.
And I’m sure these band were inspiring kids who really took off on the Hardcore thing without knowing it. They were bands that could write great songs and were good musicians. I know Black Markey Baby were something we aspired to be.
What’s the time frame on joining Minor Threat?
Brian Baker and I had been friends since we were children. My dad was the anchorman on Eyewitness News in D.C and Brian’s dad was the producer. He ended up moving to Gross Pointe, Michigan for a couple years and we lost track of one another. Then, I ended up bumping into him at a punk show in D.C years later when Minor Threat first started. A lot of people were intimidated by Brian and his superior attitude, but I had known him since he was nine, so I didn’t give a shit. I would go up to talk to him and all my friends would be like “Oh my God! He’s talking to him!”
So, one afternoon in August of 1982, I happened to be in Georgetown and I went to go talk to John Stabb, the vocalist for Government Issue. He worked at this record store around there. When I was walking up, Brian was standing outside the store talking to Mike Hampton from The Faith. They were talking about guitars and I interjected myself into the conversation. Brian said “Do you play?” and I said “Yeah”. Then he asked “Do you play the bass?” and I said “That’s actually my main instrument” and he said “Oh really?” and ran into the record store.
Now, what I didn’t know was John was on tour and Ian MacKaye was working for him that week. So, all of a sudden, Ian and Brian come out and they’re talking to each other at the top of the stairs. When they’re done Brian comes up to me and says “Hey…do you want to come over to my house and hang out and jam?”
We went over there and the first thing I said was “Look, I know every single Minor Threat song” and I played a bunch with him. The next day, I went over to Dischord House and played with the whole band and that was that. But they would never come out and say “You’re in the band”, though.
So, I asked “Can you tell me what’s going on and most importantly, why?”
I was told that Brian, Jeff and Ian’s first idea was to kick Lyle out of Minor Threat and form a whole new band and have Brian on guitar and me on bass. But now, they were deciding to make it a five piece because Lyle probably couldn’t handle it if they kicked him out of the band. So, I was in the band from that day in August 1982 until about a year later.
So was the infamous Buff Hall show Minor Threat played with SSD and Agnostic Front in New Jersey your first out of town show with the band?
My first Minor Threat show was an out of town show technically because it was in Baltimore, but Buff Hall was my first northern area show I played with them. I just remember standing in front of my amp with my back right up against it thinking “Well, I guess this’ll be where I’ll stay for the rest of the night”. If I moved anywhere out of that range, I was going to get clocked. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fun type of crazy, but it was crazy. It was right in your face; there was no separation between the crowd and the band that night. They way you see it on the DVD is exactly how it was. And Lyle (Preslar, guitarist for Minor Threat) made no friends that night.
Did he ever?
No, he never did. If he had a microphone near him, someone was going to be pissed off.
I have this very vivid memory from the third of forth hardcore show I ever went to; it was a Meatmen show in the summer of 1984 in Florence, New Jersey. It was when Lyle and Brian Baker just joined the Meatmen. My brother was the DJ for the show, so I was there an hour or so before the doors opened and I saw Lyle really lay into the soundman during sound check.
I know the exact show you are talking about. I was roadie-ing for The Meatmen at that show. Lyle had a temper tantrum on the soundman.
Yeah! Oh my God! I can’t believe you were there!
Dude, I was standing right next to him when he did it!
That’s so weird you were there! I just remember everything I thought was so cool about Minor Threat just deflated right there before my very eyes.
(Laughs) In all fairness, the soundmen were being dicks, but Brian and I were trying to leave it alone and not make it worse than it already was. Then, all of a sudden, I looked up and saw Lyle walking towards the mic and it was just this slow motion thing like “Oh no…” (laughs) I’ll never forget that day!
Then, at the end of that show, I remember seeing him go off on London May and the other guys from Samhain over something they said about him in an interview in a fanzine. It really made me feel like ‘Wow, this guy’s a real jerk!’
He never made a good impression with people. When I look back on being in Minor Threat and think about how I went out on two full-length tours, I have no memories of anyone walking away saying “Wow, Lyle Preslar’s a cool guy!” and that’s very sad to me. I knew there was a side to Lyle that was not like that. I always kept my mouth shut when he would be rude to someone because I found the guy so gifted. He would come into practice and lay a song on me and I would just be like ‘Jesus Christ! What’s that?’ and he would say ‘It’s a song called “It Follows” and it goes like this”. But when we were on the road and some kid would walk up, I would just look at Lyle and think “Please don’t talk!” because he was likely to be an asshole to the kid.
What came first, recording Out of Step or touring with the band?
Recording. All the songs were written in the fall of 1982. We did pre-production for all of November and December of 1982 and then, right after New Years Day of 1983, we went in to record it.
It was my first time in a real studio and it was at Don Zientara’s Inner Ear studio. His kids play room was the tracking room. There were toys everywhere and it was a very small room. The drums were in the middle of the room. The amps were pointing into the middle of the room. Ian sang in the laundry room with a curtain between us and him. I think we did two takes of “Think Again”. Other than that, everything was a first take.
The very first time he ever sang “Look Back and Laugh” all the way through was that first take. We only had played that song at practice. We never even played it live. When we went in to record it, that was the first time we ever heard it sung. I remember just being flabbergasted that I was a part of that.
Why were you asked to leave the band?
We went on a two and half month tour and it was rough. I got scapegoated over a lot of problems the band had going long before I joined. Apparently by joining, I added to the problems instead of taking them away. I ended up becoming just as dysfunctional as they were just to survive. They asked me to leave after that tour and I was more than happy to go at that point because it became so volatile in that band. After they kicked me out, they lasted another two months before they finally tore themselves apart. It was a hell of an experience though; there’s no two ways about it.
So were these problems in Minor Threat just the normal passive aggressive behavior young men get caught up in amongst themselves?
No, this was aggressive aggressive! (Laughs) Ian ruled with an iron fist. What he said won and he made sure it did. I never saw him get physical with anyone in the band, but I did see an actual physical fight between Jeff and Brian when we were in San Francisco. They literally got into a fight over the last piece of deviled ham and the last two pieces of bread. That was the first time I looked at Jeff and said ‘Wow, you’re scary!’ It took a lot to get Jeff wound up, but when you got him there, he’d go nuts.
Lyle was just verbally abusive. You were an idiot if you hit the wrong note and he would call you out on stage and embarrass you. All these things happened on a daily basis and after a while, it’s going to get to you. And it got to me. No two ways about it.
A band member is quoted as saying that I couldn’t handle the pressure. The pressure never bothered me. It was how cruel they were to each other that bothered me. It was hard to step into this band where all they did was mess with each other for no good reason. I never understood why they did it. It just seemed there was a certain level of antagonism that went with being a member of that band that I didn’t understand.
It got to a point where it was only fun for that hour I spent on stage. That part was amazing, but the five or eight hour ride I had to take with them to get to that show was usually not much fun.
I remember a quote from one of the members somewhere where it said “When Steve was in the band, it always felt like it was Minor Threat plus one more guy”. What do you think he meant by that?
I don’t know because I joined the band full-on. I was part of the philosophy and I helped with the songs that ended up on the ‘Out of Step’ twelve-inch. I always felt I was one hundred percent a part of it and Brian and Lyle were behind me. I think the problem was decisions were supposed to come from the top – which was Ian – and go down from there. The only decision with that band that didn’t come from Ian was to get me in the band; that came from Brian. It was not Ian’s decision or idea and I don’t think it ever set very well with him. It was his decision to get rid of me, though.
Someone pretty close to the SST camp once told me there was some weird competition between Minor Threat and Black Flag at some point. Do you remember that at all? Was it just something between Ian and Henry?
There was some weirdness between Ian and Henry because Henry started dropping acid when he joined Black Flag. He was exploring stuff that was outside of where they both came philosophically.
As far as problems between both bands, I don’t recall anything, but it was always awkward when we were around them and I don’t know why. We stayed at the SST offices for half a day when we got to Los Angeles on tour in the spring of 1983. I remember it being really uncomfortable and really weird. Ian was trying to talk to Chuck (Dukowski) and Henry about the tour and they kept talking over him. I had never seen anyone speak over Ian and interrupt him like that and not get the shit pounded out of them. But Ian just took it and I remember being ‘Well, that’s weird’.
I have some crackpot theories on why there could have been weird vibes between the two. I think maybe at some point, Black Flag might have felt weird that all these people who they inspired were rising up their level and maybe Greg Ginn thought ‘Oh crap! These guys could usurp us! Maybe we shouldn’t have been so encouraging!’
I think that’s absolutely true. They were very encouraging to everyone on that first tour. Minor Threat opened for Black Flag the first time they played in D.C. and they were frighteningly good, so I’m sure Black Flag were like ‘Woah! Where are these kids coming from?’ But by the time I got out to L.A. in 1983 with Minor Threat, we were as big as they were. We didn’t want to be them. It was plenty enough to be Minor Threat and we had our own thing and we didn’t need to be anyone else.
Would you agree with the party line which thinks that the first wave of hardcore really died out in ’84?
The end of ’83 and the beginning of ’84 was definitely a bad time to play hardcore in D.C. When I started my next band, Second Wind, we couldn’t get arrested. The only band anyone cared about was Marginal Man, and I couldn’t blame them, they were a great band. Scream were heading in a new direction as well. Government Issue made that leap too, but it was a very depressing time. There was this huge build-up in ’82 that culminated with the Out of Step tour in ’83 and down the toilet it went! Once Minor Threat broke up, it felt different.
After you were asked to leave Minor Threat, was there any weird feelings?
No. I was in the front row for every show they did in D.C. after that. I’m all over the 9:30 Club portion of the Minor Threat live DVD. I’m in every picture from their last show too. The band I formed after Minor Threat – Second Wind – the vocalist for that was Rich Moore, who was Minor Threat’s roadie and he lived at Dischord House. So, I was in Dischord House practicing twice a week just like they were. There was no time when it was like ‘Fuck You!’
Thanks for talking and being so honest. Usually when you talk to someone who is so forthcoming as an ex-member of a band, it seems pretty obvious they have an ax to grind. But I don’t get that feeling at all.
For me joining Minor Threat will always be worth it. I was a fan who got to be in his favorite band. It was like joining The Beatles between Rubber Soul and Revolver. I got to be there for the height of the band. In the end, it was always about the music and it was always incredible to play that music.