If you live along the coast of New Jersey, the Jersey Shore, you’ve probably heard of Rumson. It’s this uber-affluent (call it, fucking rich) town. But what you might not know is that a little unmarked bridge between two giant-ass houses leads to a tiny island of modest, salt-of-the-earth folks. Mostly the island serves as home to little summer cottages along the Navesink River. But some folks live here year-round. Ian Thompsen did. That’s where he grew up. It was in his tiny two-room house that many fast, DIY hardcore bands played in the 00s - hell, Municipal Waste played there – in this tiny house, on this tiny island, in the middle of a river in one of the richest towns in the region. The reason I’m describing this unlikely scenario is because I think it’s symbolic of another unlikely scenario, Ian’s band Down In Flames. How the fuck did four very young teenagers come to inhabit such a respectable space in the whole thrash revival, all while writing consistently intense fucking hardcore?! It still doesn’t make much sense to me. But here’s their story…
Thanks to John, Pete and Ian for sharing their personal stories and the story of DIF!
PS: Plenty of grammar mistakes below. This is just a taste of a first draft, so gimmie a break.
Pete Hilton (Down In Flames, The Rites) My mom passed away when I was in 5th grade. Everyone’s like “I’m sorry, I’m sorry blah blah blah.” I remember being so angry. I was an angry kid. I got into punk music and it struck a chord.
John Devlin (Down In Flames, The Rites, Tear It Up) (I was) an angry fuckin’ kid. Really fuckin’ angry.
Ian Thompsen (Down In Flames, Snakebite) I was at really rough point in my life during that time. I was living in this very affluent area, but also being this mutant from the island. My mom had also passed at the time during a really confusing suicide. So life didn’t really make much sense for me and I didn't really see much positive energy around me. In fact, anyone that I talked to, any sort of authority figure, anything like that, was only feeding me negative energy and telling me how much harder things were going to be when I grew up.
Pete Hilton Everyone in Down In Flames had some sort of fucked up family situation going on. Ian’s situation was really similar to mine. I think, John’s parents had an interesting relationship, Anthony’s parents had an interesting relationship. We found each other not because we were into the same kind of music, but because our family situations were somewhat similar.
John Devlin We started a band in the middle of all this. We started Probable Cause. This is me, Pete and Anthony who were later in Down In Flames. I had to have been a freshman in high school, so they were in 7th grade. I would take my guitar to school, take it on the bus, walk to their school which was around the corner from my school, take their bus home twice a week, have band practice and my parents would pick me up.
Pete Hilton We had zero interest in school, it was all about making it to the practice space.
Ian Thompsen Summer of ’99 they recorded two songs for a CD compilation called Appropriate Response. During that session is when they decided that they were going to change the name to Down In Flames. That session was the first actual real recording session and they felt that they found a new sound at the time, which they did.
Pete Hilton We played all these new songs and I think it was Bob Shed, he came up to me and was just like “dude, it’s a whole new thing, it’s good you changed your name.”
John Devlin I remember how we got fast. We wrote a couple of shorter songs even on the first 7” and somebody was told us “your shorter songs hit me pretty hard” and it was like “ok, shorter songs – check.”
Pete Hilton I was learning how to play fast and eventually just kept pushing myself further. It’s like if you listen to Slayer records, they just get faster.
John Devlin Pete was playing that fast because it was in his blood to jam on the drums like that. We were just kids in our most aggressive ages just going off.
Pete Hilton Band practices were intense, live shows were intense. We wanted there to be no breaks ever.
Ian Thompsen I joined Down In Flames when I was 14 and we broke up when I was 17.
John Devlin We were playing every show that we possibly could. I was pretty dogged about getting on the internet and trying to get us into other towns.
Ian Thompsen We played this show with Kill Your Idols on August 19, 2000 and that really kicked things into high gear for us. The response was crazy, attendance was awesome. We were like, “oh man, we’re in a band now!”
John Devlin It was crazy. At the time, I didn’t realize I was in a band that was getting so much attention.
Ian Thompsen We really just wanted to be a punk or a hardcore band and all of a sudden, we were a thrash band. All of sudden, all of these awesome thrash bands wanted to know us.
John Devlin The 7” that was eventually called “Start the Fucking Fire,” I originally wanted to call it “Down In Flames vs. the World.” It didn’t happen for whatever reason, but that’s kind of how I felt the band was.
Ian Thompsen We didn't have any money to record so what we did was we bootlegged all these demo tapes that we got from just going to shows in the area from bands that started to get popular. We started selling them on eBay and we generated hundreds of dollars this way. Saves the Day, Catch 22, New Jersey bands that we saw early on and had their tapes. We bootlegged them, sold them and made enough money to do our own session. We did the session and it came out really well. It would eventually be the “Start the Fucking Fire” 7” and the split with the Gatecrashers.
Pete Hilton We kept writing songs and we just got faster and angrier.
John Devlin At the time, I saw it as an uphill battle, because we didn’t want to be viewed as the kids, we wanted to be taken seriously, a real fucking hardcore band. In retrospect, it helped us in certain ways.
Ian Thompsen When I was 16, I thought that was annoying, because when I was 16 I wanted to be a cool, bad-ass front man and the fact people were calling me a kid meant they weren’t getting it. It was really frustrating. I was a kid wanting to be a man and everyone kept reminding me that I was a kid.
Ian Thompsen Really early on, the guys from Tear It Up were really cool about getting us on shows and trying to help us out.
Pete Hilton We were always the Tear It Up, Jr band. It was an interesting relationship. They were a little bit older than us. At the time, it seemed like they were a decade older than us, when they were actually only three or four years older.
Ian Thompsen Tear It Up wasn't actually a band during the time that we wrote a lot of our key songs. We were influenced by them really only because were friends with them, we were hanging out with them and we were all into the same stuff, but we never intended sound like them.
Pete Hilton At this point, I don’t give a fuck about it. We were playing the style of music that we wanted to play. We were playing it before Tear It Up were even a band…It was this perfect combination. It worked out well. The perception was that we were riding their coattails, but that just wasn’t true. We were all really good friends.
Ian Thompsen Before I was the age of 16, Tear It Up was taking us out to play in Chicago and Pittsburgh and Massachusetts.
Pete Hilton We did so many weekends together. We did one US tour together.
Pete Hilton John came to practice one week and was “625 wants to put our record out.” “Oh shit, that’s awesome!” He’s like “no, I’m just joking.” He was totally fucking with us. He comes back the next week, “yo, 625 wants to put out our record.” I was like “fuck you!” and he was like “no, seriously.”
Ian Thompsen We recorded an album in November and it was about a week after recording the album that things started to get really strange and we started to realize the band was going to come to an end.
John Devlin Our west coast tour was crazy! We definitely had some of our best shows on it. We played with From Ashes Rise the first two days. We played at the Che Café, we played at the Smell. We played with Iron Lung at their house. Played with a lot of cool bands. Our show at the Smell was probably our craziest show from start to finish.
Pete Hilton That show in LA…That was the moment for me. We fucking made it. We played the Smell in LA and people knew the songs and there were tons of people.
Ian Thompsen We flew out to California and did a West Coast tour with Scholastic Deth to promote the album. It was really awesome and I was hoping it would re-stimulate the band.
John Devlin The day that I told everybody else that I was joining Tear It Up, we almost broke up that day and on the spot. Then we had to hold it together to finish our west coast tour and go on the next summer tour with Tear It Up. It was right before the LP came out that we almost broke up.
Pete Hilton He wanted to pursue music and Tear It Up could offer that in a much more sustainable way than Down In Flames could.
John Devlin It was basically decided when I told everyone I was joining Tear It Up. Anthony wanted to quit right then and there. Ian was like “I’m game.” Pete was like, “I could go for a while, there’s no reason to throw it out the window now. We basically agreed at that point to hold it off until the end of the summer.
Ian Thompsen It was a slow death.
Pete Hilton We wanted to do a tour with Tear It Up because we were already playing so many shows together.
Ian Thompsen By the time the tour was actually booked, we had acknowledged the fact that the band was going to breakup when it was done.
Pete Hilton What I remember most about the Tear It Up/Down In Flames tour is that there was that tension. John was travelling in the Tear It Up van most of the time. He was part of their crew now.
John Devlin The second tour I didn’t go in their van very much because I was in the Tear It Up van.
Pete Hilton We broke down in Death Valley at one point. Ian, Anthony and I were running around naked…we’re in the desert, we have 8 hours to kill, let’s do something dumb.
John Devlin When we played at Gilman Street, that was crazy because we had played two shows that day. So for me it meant four sets that day, because I doubled up. I remember being in the van after the Tear It Up set at Gilman Street and laying down on the second row in the van and physically not being able to move.
Pete Hilton We all pretended that there was no internal bullshit going on, but there definitely was on that tour. As much fun as I was having, our time was up…We had two or three days left on the tour, all of us, Ian, Anthony and I just went up to John and were like “we’re done, this is it”...Let’s have our last show in August. We were done before senior year.
John Devlin When I think of Probable Cause and Down In Flames, it’s one big band that started from 12 and 14 year olds just roughing it and trying to figure out how to play music. Up until the end, just going for it as best as we could. We were never that refined even when we were refined.
Pete Hilton I look at those records and they’re so fucking earnest and serious. There’s nothing funny about it.
John Devlin I had something going through my veins that it just kinda’ let out.
Ian Thompsen We were motivated by really unfortunate circumstances in our lives, but we really made the best of it. It’s insane to me that this group of little kids traveled the country.
Pete Hilton The fact that my dad let me travel around with a bunch of strangers at 15 years old is fucking crazy!
Ian Thompsen You know, it's hard to find people to play music with at this point in time, to the have that kind of time and passion and commitment. We had all the time and all the passion and all the commitment, which is what made the band so cool.