Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Punk Rock Could Be Your Life: An Interview with Robert Collins

If you know anything at all about recent hardcore punk, you've probably stumbled across and/or love some of Robert's bands: What Happens Next?, Artimus Pyle, No Statik, Conquest For Death, and the list goes on and on. He also runs the too-cool-for-skool Terminal Escape cassette blog. His work stands on its own, but he was also cool enough to answer some annoyingly long-winded questions I sent him via email. Check it out if you give a shit about punk, where it came from, and where it might be going:

Drug Punk [DP]:    Looking back from the media-saturated, completely connected world we live in currently, it’s hard to imagine what it was like growing up as a punk in the early 1990s, before the ‘80s HC revival of the early ‘00s and especially in a place as isolated as Oklahoma. How did you get into punk? What were some formative experiences growing up in the scene back then?
Robert [R]: I actually guffawed a little at the thought of a punk scene where I grew up. I don’t know if there actually were punks in Ponca City, Oklahoma when I was growing up because honestly I wouldn’t have even known what to look for. There were a handful of skaters, one of whom had a girlfriend who sometimes gave me a ride home from school and she played me MISFITS once, but she had only heard them because METALLICA covered them. There were a couple of dudes a grade ahead of me who jammed CIRCLE JERKS, and I bought SUICIDAL TENDENCIES’ first LP at the record store after their Miami Vice appearance, but there was no connection of these things to any greater scene.  The closest I came to knowledge of any kind of Oklahoma punk was a girl from Tulsa that I met at competitive drama functions around the state – we traded mix tapes and I heard NOTA, CONCEPT OF NONSENSE, BUNNIES OF DOOM (as well as CRASS, DESCENDENTS, and other starter bands),  but I had no way to find out about shows in Tulsa or Oklahoma City and couldn’t have gotten to them even if I had (I also probably would’ve been terrified) – and the only way I heard about new bands was in the pages of mainstream mags. The start of my descent was a visit from my step cousin in 1985 – she bought me Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death and that was a huge portal into underground punk. But it wasn’t until I had moved to Norman, started a band and gone on a couple of bizarrely organized tours before I grasped the real DIY scene – before that it was an amalgamation of new wave, well known punk bands, metal and grunge[.]

DP:    What was your local scene like in Oklahoma?: Most non-Okie natives reading this will have heard of NOTA and Brother Inferior, but are there other undeservedly forgotten Oklahoma punk/HC bands we should know about?
R: I was living in Norman before I played in bands (or even saw bands), and most of our scene was in bars and college clubs. My first band played more shows at the massive nightclub by campus that anything even approaching DIY venues, we just simply didn’t know anything else. We played house PARTIES, not house SHOWS, and it wasn’t until we toured in ’92 and ’93 that I started to get an idea that there was a DIY scene that connected cities across the country (the rest of the world didn’t come for a few more years).
Forgotten Oklahoma bands….?
DEATH PUPPY (Norman), FACE FIRST (Norman), ILLEGITIMATE SONS OF JACKIE O (Tulsa),  FYRCE MUONS (Oklahoma City), HOSTAGES (Oklahoma City), MEMLUKS (Oklahoma City), CONCEPT OF NONSENSE (pre-BROTHER INFERIOR, Tulsa), RANDYS (Oklahoma City)…there are actually tons, with many flirting in the weird art/punk world, even more impressive considering the cultural climate in Oklahoma.

DP:   WHN? Toured Brazil in the early ‘00s, correct? What was that like?  And how does it compare with CFD’s trip there in 2011?
R: It wasn’t really that different. I mean, the WHN? tour (in 2002) was in a van and with CFD we mostly flew between regions, but I felt a similar vibe from the scene and the punks on both tours (“similar” as in they were both amazing). The punks in Brasil are fukking alive, and I really like being there and playing there.

DP:  The only time I saw Artimus Pyle was in Chicago in 2007/08 with Dropdead and Bloodyminded, and I distinctly remember how much of a mindfuck Bloodyminded was for the hardcore kids-are you into noise and drone music?  I remember you saying that some of us wouldn’t understand why Bloody Minded was on the set before AP started theirs, and thought it was a great way to tacitly critique the narrow-mindedness that afflicts hardcore these days: What are some of the problems you see with the punk/hardcore scene right now? Regardless of wider political aspirations (or lack thereof), do you think that our scene has anything to teach American society at large?
R: I think everyone in ARTIMUS PYLE would agree that that show was just about the best we ever played (maybe part of the reason we haven’t played another one since?), and the vibe set by BLOODY MINDED played no small part in that. They are a political hardcore band, their assault is just based on electronic noise rather than guitars - the energy, the attack, the approach all have more in common with hardcore, even though most of the crowd was either put off or confused. That’s the only time I’ve seen them live, and it was mind melting. I’m quite into noise/drone/electronic sounds, but that world is SO vast and my experience is more listening and less involvement or really diving deep into the scene (maybe I’m afraid I would never make it out!). “Some of the problems with the punk/hardcore scene right now” is a whole separate set of questions…briefly I would say that since punk generations seem to last not more than a few years, we seem to be learning the same lessons over and over (and over) again. But I think that punk knowledge (and I’m talking about knowledge gained from involvement in rather than casual observation of) can teach “society at large” quite a lot. I also think that society at large will never listen….or learn.

DP:  You and your wife were were mainstays of the Milwaukee and Midwest punk scene when you lived there-what’s the Milwaukee scene like? And, if it’s not prying too much, why’d you return to the Left Coast?
R: Milwaukee scene is killer – so many great times there. Karoline is from there, and was involved with setting up shows in Milwaukee and Madison in the early ‘90s (not only did she refuse to book my band in ’93 because our name was stupid, she was responsible for the show that really opened my eyes to the DIY scene). She moved to SF in ’97 when we got married, and we moved back in 2003, partially to be closer to her family and partially just to give it a try. Bought a cheap ass house and started tending bar. Community (punk and otherwise) was awesome, basement shows are the best, and we were fortunate enough to have the space (and time) to treat touring bands the way that we think they should be treated, something we are not able to do now that we live back on the West Coast. We moved back in ’08 for a variety of reasons (weather and work were factors), but mostly there’s just something about San Francisco and we missed it. Living here is more difficult in some ways, but I don’t see us leaving anytime soon (unless we are priced out, which is a very real possibility).

DP:   Whenever I’m up in Oakland, I hear more and more that “the kids” or weirdoes like us in general are getting priced out of the area, and SF in particular.  What’s the state of the punk scene up there? Is there much of a unified scene, or has it splintered into sub-scenes (anarchopunk, gothpunk, neo-post-punk, etc. etc.) as in some other American cities like Chicago?
R: The problem with having so many bands playing so many different styles of punk is that people have the luxury of only going to see that kinds of bands they already like. In a smaller scene, you go to the punk show, whereas here you can go to the raw punk show or the queer punk show or the post punk show or whatever. It’s a bizarre problem to have – but there are so many bands that it sometimes makes the shows smaller. The money thing is ridiculous – it’s a more sinister version of the late ‘90s tech bubble that invaded this area, but basically you have multi-millionaires working 40 miles south of here who want to live where it’s cool. Stories of people literally knocking on doors and saying “I’ll give you $10 million for your house.” And obviously there is no way a normal person with a normal job can compete with that. Punks move to Oakland, sure (and the scene there is definitely bigger), but there are still enough weirdos entrenched in SF to keep it rocking, even while space and spaces are at a premium.

DP:     All of the projects you’ve been involved in have been thoroughly and resolutely DIY and committed to the sort of independent ethos a lot of us grew up on, but probably have become disillusioned with. Especially with your posts on Terminal Escape, there’s a clear sense of historical and scene vet perspective, without the jaded cynicism that too often comes with making DIY punk a central part of one’s life. What are some things that keep you involved in the punk scene?  
R: Not trying to evade the question, but “the punk scene” is what keeps me involved in the punk scene. I fukkn love playing in bands, love watching bands, love talking to punks (well, some of them), and this is absolutely my family. I’ve met my best friends through this world, they are the friends I will have forever and I look forward to making new ones. Last week I popped in a demo by a band called DASHER and Karoline and I listened to it 6 times in a row, just putting the whole day on pause and digging the sounds. The history is important, sure, and context is a huge part of why I personally think particular bands are important (or at least important to me), but without the new shit the history might as well be in a book. Punk is a breathing and evolving thing, and I am a long way from disillusioned. Frustrated? Yeah, and often. But only because I think we can always do better.

DP:  I got into punk just before the advent of the internet, and to me it seems like a gulf has opened between the pre- and post-internet punk scene, if only because of the onslaught of information now available to any kid in rural Saskatchewan who’s heard of the Sex Pistols. What are your thoughts on what the digital age has done to the DIY scene? Or am I placing too much importance on technological factors?
R: It’s completely different now. Completely. All those bands I mentioned at the start of this interview? One evening on the internet and you can get from SUICIDAL TENDENCIES to THE STALIN and ESKORBUTO. Obviously the internet is an invaluable tool for connecting punks around the world, but I honestly think the instant exposure to punk’s entire musical legacy from infancy to today stunts creativity.  It’s easy to ape shit, and certainly great bands come out of the manipulation of other bands’ ideas and always have, but the mystery and excitement are key factors that I’m afraid we might be losing, and probably forever. I had heard of WRETCHED for a YEAR before I ever heard the band. I just knew they were fast. That is unfathomable now.

 DP: Gotta ask you this one-what are a few of your favorite tour experiences? Coolest places to play abroad? In particular, what are some changes you’ve noticed when playing in Europe (if any)? All we hear about in the US media is “austerity this” and “austerity that,” are the Europunk scenes hurting, from what you’ve seen?
Again, that’s a separate interview. I’ve been touring half of my life, and don’t plan on stopping. Different places have different things to offer, so I don’t want to say that one is “cooler” than the other, but there are very few places I have toured that I would not love to return to. I haven’t been to Europe since early ’09, and that was before a lot of the current shit started to really hit the fan.

DP: What are some of your recent projects, musical or otherwise? What bands or labels should I rant and rave about to people who check out the blog?
Other: Terminal Escape, MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL shitworker
Check out: Chondritic Sound, Iron Lung, Prank, Break Up, Rhinocervs, Nostilevo, Shogun, Drunk With Power, TOUCHED BY NAUSEA, HERO DISHONEST, STILL SUIT, ON ON ON, METH SORES, REPLICA, IVENS…the list is thousands long.


  1. Thanks for doing this, I really enjoyed it.

  2. Truer words...

    "knowledge gained from involvement in rather than casual observation of) can teach “society at large” quite a lot. I also think that society at large will never listen….or learn."

    Awesome interview with one of my favorite staple punk artists. Thanks !