1986 was a rough year. The Challenger shuttle exploded, Chernobyl melted down, plus Lady Gaga and Shia LaBeouf were both born. Amidst these horrible events a young hardcore band surfaced from a nondescript alleyway in Queens, NY. Two and a half decades later, that band is still standing, and what’s more, they have never stopped. For Sick of it All, there’s no brakes. Nine full lengths, two live albums, a home video, a B-sides collection, countless compilations, tours, and fans worldwide; Sick of it All IS hardcore. Vocalist Lou Koller rapped with Metal Insider’s Joshua Bottomley about reunions, performing abroad, and SOIA’s newest effort Nonstop, a career spanning retrospective of re-recorded classics set to be released on November 1 via Century Media Records.
How was the Nonstop project conceived?
We did the Death To Tyrants record with [producer] Tue Madsen. When we got the end result we were saying how much closer it is to Sick of it All’s live sound. Then we were thinking back to the record we did previous to that, Life on the Ropes, and thought “God, wouldn’t it have been great to have Tue mix or produce that album?” Then we thought we should do the first two albums with Tue all over again, you know, joking around. Then it came down to the 25th year. They were asking us, the label and other people, if we were gonna do a “Best Of…” record and this and that, but we wanted to do more of a retrospective. A lot of the songs on the first two records, they’re good songs but we didn’t really know what we were doing at the time. So I don’t think the performances are very good at all, or the production. So that’s how it all came about.
How did you decide on the track listing?
Everybody in the band wrote a list of songs from each album, whether it was one or five from whatever record. But from every album you had to choose some song. Then we compared the lists with what we all had and we had some fans from Facebook and Twitter write in what they liked, which were pretty much the same ones we had, except for the more obscure ones.
Were there any songs that didn’t make the cut?
We ended up with a list of 27 songs, but we did this all in four days so we only got to record 20 songs. I wanted “We Stand Alone” which is a Sick of it All classic. At least our fans are always asking for that song, but it didn’t make the cut because of time. There were songs on the Yours Truly record that I wanted to redo, but when I brought it up the guys they were like, “No, they sound fine.” But it wasn’t just about sound. For me, it was also this record’s gonna appeal to newer fans of the band, fans that got into us on the last two albums, so that they can learn the older material that we have without having to go back and buy every single record we made back then. Yours Truly has the ugliest cover in the history of hardcore so nobody’s buying it [laughs].
Craig said that he didn’t want to do the big Sick of it All songs like “Scratch the Surface,” But I said you HAVE to include “Scratch the Surface,” “Built to Last” and “Us Vs. Them.” Because if I was a fan buying a retrospective and you’re not touching the bigger Sick of It All songs I’m gonna be disappointed. We left off “Step Down” purposely, because everybody in the band felt the original version that’s exactly what it should’ve been. Even Tue said that “Step Down” was fine. He didn’t even really wanna touch “Scratch the Surface,” because for him as a fan of Sick of it All it was perfect the way that it was. But he gave it his all and I think it came out great.
SOIA has been touring in more remote regions, like Malaysia and Korea. Do fans know more of the older material there, or are they more in tune with the newer albums?
It’s weird, they’ll know the last two albums and the first album. They all know songs off of the first record. It’s the in between stuff. They’ll know Scratch the Surface and a little of Just Look Around, but they’ll know ALL of the first album. It’s a lot of the Fat Wreck Chord years [they don’t know]. But some of them got into us in those Fat Wreck Chord years, because Fat Wreck Chords got us in the most remote places ever. It was insane. The first couple times we went to New Zealand we saw Fat Wreck Chords everywhere.
Is it still crazy to go to the other side of the planet and find Sick of it All fans, or is it just par for the course at this point?
It’s still exciting. You feel good. And it’s weird, because it won’t just be your typical, “I like hardcore and that’s it” fan. You get some of those, with shirts of bands that I’ve barely heard of, or they’ll have an old Floorpunch shirt and you’re like, “Where the hell did that guy get that in Malaysia?” They love Sick of it All, but they’re also the same people going to see Mastodon or Napalm Death. They just love aggressive music. It’s really good for us because the crowds are a lot bigger. We went to Malaysia and it was like 2,500 people, and we’ve never played there. But then you go to someplace like Korea, which is more like America. It’s generally a pop audience. We only did 250 people, but it was great. Just diehard hardcore fans that wanted to see Sick of it All.
American hardcore audiences are notorious for only wanting to hear “the old shit.” Is it more refreshing playing to audiences that are hungry for new music?
I can’t lie. Yes it is! We’ve never stopped playing the old stuff, we just like to integrate it. And I understand when they say stuff like, “The new stuff is good, but it’s not as good as the old stuff.” Material-wise and songwriting-wise and sound-wise, it’s better than the old stuff. It’s just not giving you that nostalgic feeling of when you first heard hardcore. I think people have to stop listening with their nostalgic ears. What I’ve noticed in hardcore over the years is that people will fall in love with a band for a few years and then not like their later material, but then like a band that sounds exactly like them because they’re a NEW band. That just weirds me out, man. I’m like, “It’s the fuckin’ same band! They’re just five years younger! What’s the difference?”
The cover for Nonstop is a remake of the first SOIA 7-inch. Did you go back to the old alleyway?
Yeah we did. We all went back to Queens, back to our old neighborhood. The alley separates a school and an apartment building. We asked the school, and they said, “Fine. School’s not in session.” So we did it. On the original cover the gate was open. The shot you see that’s the cover of the new record Nonstop, the gate’s closed. We did open the gate, but it just so happens that the shot that was used for the cover of Nonstop was better, but we did get them to open the gate. We showed them the 7-inch and the guy [from the school] goes, “Wow, you did this 25 years ago here?” He was really excited.
As the title Nonstop suggests, Sick of it All has played consistently for 25 years. How do you feel about the recent trend of hardcore bands reuniting for a quick payday?
Some of the bands I love to see come back and I’m happy about it, as long as they do it right. Like Gorilla Biscuits really rehearsed their asses off. Crumbsuckers was another one. They rehearsed their asses off and came out tight and amazing. Then you get other bands that come out and are in their mid-40s and overweight and bald and take it as half a joke. But the audience doesn’t seem to mind. They pay the $30 to see these reunion bands. The only thing that’s sad is when these bands get the starry eyes like, “Wow, we sold out two nights in Brooklyn! This is great, everybody loves us!” Then they stick around and the reality sets in that they’re playing to ten people on a Sunday in Connecticut. It kinda pisses me off, but whatever, you can’t get mad. Like my brother Pete [Koller, guitarist] always says, “When the smoke clears, you’ll see who’s still standing.”
I had the SOIA home video The Story So Far on VHS. I no longer own a VCR. Any plans for a DVD?
We’ve been toying with that idea since our 20th anniversary. It’s been five years now and we have a lot of footage of different live shows. We shot the 25th anniversary show on three different cameras and we’re still working on what we’re gonna do with that material. When we talk to the label they’re like, “No one really buys home DVDs of bands. It all gets leaked onto the Net.” So they’d rather put stuff as bonus material. Like for Based on a True Story we had a bunch of bonus material. Some was shot in New York. Some was shot in London. It’s just stuff like that. As far as doing a documentary on us, I don’t think we’re gonna do that yet. We’ll see what happens.
Nonstop will now be the third consecutive release produced by Tue Madsen. Are you sticking with him for the next record too?
As far as I know, and in my opinion, I’d like to stick with Tue, because Death and Based are both very powerful, but they have a different sound to each. We were talking as a band about how we’d like to combine different elements from each. Armand feels the drums are more powerful on Death to Tyrants. And I think the guitars and bass came out amazing on Based on a True Story. Early next year we’re starting writing. We’re going to Europe this October and that’s it. We’re doing a couple weekend shows, but everything else is just starting write for the next record.
You’re spending a lot of time overseas. Sick of It All hasn’t done a full US tour in a while.
Yeah it kinda sucks. It’s harder for us as an older band, because hardcore is very generational. Like I said before, kids will like a band that sounds exactly like us as long as they’re five to ten years younger. I guess they can relate to them more. You know, how hardcore is supposed to be more personal like that. But I think we’ve missed out on a lot. We have a huge following in Colorado, but we haven’t even been to Colorado off this last album the whole year or two years it’s been out. We’re always trying to go out with friends, but it’s hard to set up good package tours.
How do you guys keep up your explosive live show night after night?
My brother Pete, he works out nonstop, man. He works out all day every day. On tour. Off tour. Me, I’m LAZY. I’m used to it being how we started, when you wake, get on stage and go. Now I gotta go stretch for an hour, then I can move around. It’s all part of that. Craig and Armand, same thing, they all work out too. But me, I’m the runt of the litter so I don’t like working out. It bores the shit outta me. But I try to stay loose. I hurt my back a couple of times on tour. It was like 4-5 years ago. I REALLY messed my back up. We canceled two tours. I was bed ridden for a month. You gotta be careful man. It’s funny, we’ll take younger bands out on tour that we find exciting and it pushes us to step it up. By the third or fourth night the young bands are like, “How do you fuckin’ do this every night? You guys are nonstop.” That’s the way it is.
Is there an end in sight for Sick of It All?
We look at it album by album. We all start writing and we get together and we see what we have. If it sucks I’m sure we’re gonna just quit. We have a pretty good reputation. We’ve put out pretty solid material and I think the last two albums really shine. So I don’t wanna put out a crap album and then break up. I’d rather put out another good album, do a couple tours and see what happens after that.