Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Welcome to My World! Dead Nation.

11:55 PM ET, July 4, 2017: Trying to get this out before the clock strikes July 5, so no intro for this one. Actually, no intro needed. This is Dead – Dead fucking Nation!
PS: This is a first draft, don’t mind the typos. And a huge thank you to Dave Ackerman, Matt Wechter, Matt Molnar, Paul D’Elia, Jon Collins and Swank White for sharing such a personal story with me. Many, many thanks.

Matt Molnar (Dead Nation) I was best friends with Dave Ackerman who I would eventually do Dead Nation with. We were literally grade school metalhead kids.

Dave Ackerman (Dead Nation, Tear It Up) I didn't really want to do a band. It was just a matter of confidence. I liked going to shows, I thought if it's not broke, don't fix it. My friend Matt who I've known since I was 10 had done bands the whole time. He’d been in bands honestly, since we were like 11 or something like that.

Matt Molnar When I was 12 I tried starting a band called Dead Nation. I was getting really into all the "three-initial" bands. So I wanted to call it Dead Nation of Anarchy, so it would be DNA. We actually booked a show, but my appendix burst and I had to go the hospital for a week.

Jon Collins (Dead Alive/Manic Ride Records) Matt started playing all this fast hardcore for Dave or wrote it for Dave so Dave could sing in the band.

Matt Molnar I think my shortcomings of being really young and trying to be a frontperson for Uprise helped inform Dead Nation. I wrote most of the music and lyrics for Uprise. I wanted to have a band where maybe I didn’t have to front it.

Jon Collins What made bands like Dead Nation want to play fast, it wasn’t Mouthpiece, it was Crudos. It was Drop Dead. If you look at pics of Matt from that era, this is straight edge Uprise Matt - Floorpunch wrote a song about him - and he’s got a Crudos patch on his pants.

Matt Molnar Right around this time, my friend played me Negative FX and that was the musical straw that broke the camel’s back. Some days I was like, “I can’t do this anymore, I don’t want to be into punk and hardcore, I just want to do other kinds of music. I don’t want to be involved in this, it doesn’t speak to me anymore, it wasn’t what I thought it was.” I felt disillusioned. And then I heard Negative FX and I’m “welp, back in.”

Dave Ackerman Randy, the original drummer of Dead Nation, did the song “Screwed.”  He recorded on his four-track himself. He played guitar. He played the top strings of the guitar to be like a bass. He played drums and he sang it. He recorded the song himself.

Matt Molnar He gives me his Walkman and goes “dude I wrote this song.” I listened to it, and I’m like, “alright, that’s it, we’ll do it.” I was just like “Holy fuck!” I took the Walkman with me all day in school and I listened to it over and over again.

Dave Ackerman Matt was like I have all these songs that I didn’t know what I was going to do with, let's jam. They recorded like two or three songs after school that day and then he played it for Frank and I think Frank came down and they recorded some more songs with that line-up being Matt on guitar and vocals, Randy and drums.

Matt Molnar There were these four-track sessions, we call them “First Four Days.” Day one is Randy on “Screwed.” I hear it the next day, I go to his house right after school. We recorded three songs. I play guitar and fake bass and sing, and Randy plays drums. Day three, Frank comes over from Uprise. He wants in on it. We do “Morris Plains Kids,” “Stand Apart” and “Skate or Die.” I’m still singing, Frank’s on bass, I play guitar, Randy plays drums. Day four, Dave comes. We write “Retaliate” that day. Dave writes the lyrics…Those plus another song or two becomes our first set list. So we’re talking a couple days into January ’98. We get asked to play a show that week.

Dave Ackerman Our first show was in Yonkers, New York with a band called the Banned, they did not play “The Weight,” it wasn’t that one. They were like kinda spiky hair punk, kinda just like hardcore punk band from Yonkers.

Matt Molnar It was at this place called the Smokey Tooth, which was this underground weird thing, kinda’ run by kids. It was called the Smokey Tooth because in the holocaust, when they burned the bodies, everything would burn except for the teeth, which were kind of smoked. We knew that there were all these kids in Yonkers, New York that couldn’t come to the city as nazi skinheads because they’d get their asses kicked. They couldn’t do it. So they started this little sub-scene. Punk bands would play there because these kids would just want to play to other punk kids. So I’m like, “we’re gonna go there and we’re gonna be ready to fight them, I don’t fucking care, I don’t want this shit going on.” We already had one anti-white power song…We’re gonna play Nazi Punks Fuck Off. I wore a Destroy Fascism shirt.

Dave Ackerman I think we played “Ready Fight” on purpose because the room was filled with nazis and we assumed we're going to fight at said show. Honestly if there were 30 people there, there were eight nazis.

Matt Molnar We thought it would turn into a brawl and these nazi skinheads are singing along to our covers. That was our first show.

Dave Ackerman We probably played two shows with demos and then by the next show our 7” was out.

Matt Molnar We recorded in April and the record came out a month later.

Dave Ackerman It was on Slaughterhouse which was Molnar and me, it was mostly Molnar.

Matt Molnar I had a fire burning out of my ass, I really wanted to do it, so I just did it. We had only played three shows before we recorded and the record release show was our fourth show. That was with Los Crudos and Drop Dead at Paperweight Fest in New Jersey.

Jon Collins Matt always knew the right thing to do when it came to putting out records.

Dave Ackerman I was going to ABC No Rio pretty much every Saturday just for whatever was happening, whether it is good or bad. I was friendly enough with people that booked there, so I gave one of the Airplane demos to ABC No Rio, because you'd have to submit lyrics and a tape of your music to play there. We played ABC as our third show.

Matt Molnar Our third show was at ABC No Rio. Our whole story is, after that, we basically became a New York band. We played New York 10 to 1 over New Jersey. New Brunswick was kinda’ happening, but that wasn’t our home base either. ABC was like our home. I think our second show there, we headlined it.

Matt Wechter (Dead Nation, Tear It Up, The Rites, Cut the Shit) They let us play there every month. They had a firm once a month rule. They didn't want bands playing more than once a month. So once a month, someone would call us and ask us to play a show. ABC was a strong collective, very organized, for people, it was almost like their job.

Jon Collins They would play a pollical punk show at ABC or they’d get stuck on an Ensign show somewhere.

Matt Molnar The early momentum was mostly just in the city.

Matt Wechter New Brunswick had a scene going on. They were trying to get involved in that and nobody wanted anything to do with them. I’d go see Dead Nation before I joined them and loved the energy but they were sloppy.

Jon Collins The flyers we made and the posters said for fans of Agnostic Front, DRI and Jerrys Kids. They sound like none of those bands! But for us, what we were trying to say was it’s fast and it’s hardcore, but it’s not like youth crew and it’s not powerviolence.

Matt Molnar We started selling ABC No Rio out. That’s insane! Isn’t that weird?

Dave Ackerman In 1998 we put out a demo and two 7”s.

Matt Molnar We would play these shows at ABC early on and it would be packed. We’d sit there with our shitty shirts and our 7”s and not many kids would buy stuff…then they would come back into the city the next week when there wasn’t a show and go to Generation Records and Generation would sell out of our records.

Dave Ackerman I would drive Molnar to Edison for Fast Times practice and just like wait, hangout, watch them practice.

Matt Wechter We did Fast Times for a while. Chris Ernst was playing guitar and was writing the majority of the songs. I also played bass so I was writing riffs with him and stuff, maybe working on things together. When we recorded the first 7” we tried to have Matt Molnar from Dead Nation actually play bass on it. We had met the Dead Nation dudes at a show. We’d seen them around, they were the Morris County dudes. They’d be coming to our shows, we’d go see them…We were recording in Hoboken and it just didn’t work so I wound up playing bass on the 7”, playing drums on the 7” and there was one song on the 7” that I sang.

Dave Ackerman In the before and after periods of Fast Times practice, Molnar and I would jam with Wechter and play Dead Nation songs. Just like joking around he figured them out. So when we needed a drummer, we already had these super-secret, not planned practices with Wechter.

Matt Wechter The Dead Nation guys had lost their drummer and they asked me to play with them. I was playing with those guys. I was like, “man I really like this.” The style of music was very similar. It’s still fast, it’s still heavy, it’s still raw. The shit that Dave was singing and Matt was writing for Dave to sing was fuckin’ heavy. That's how I feel, I’m not smiling. I just couldn't really connect to the lyrical content that we were doing in Fast Times and I felt more of a connection to Dead Nation, so I left the Fast Times dudes and I went and I just did Dead Nation full-time.

Swank White (New Jersey scene) Wechter was a good drummer and Matt was very quickly getting better at playing guitar.

Matt Molnar In ’99 we did what we called the Southern Disaster Tour with Fast Times. That was supposed to be two and half, three weeks and go through the Midwest, but the van broke down after like two shows. So I think we only played Atlanta and Nashville. That was while we were recording “Dead End.”

Dave Ackerman I booked a tour that had holes where our first show of the tour was in Georgia. We had a day off in the beginning. When the van died, honestly, you have no idea how happy I was.

Matt Molnar “Dead End” started forming in a certain way because I was writing about what I was going through with depression…Before we had even practiced or played our first note together, I was writing some of those songs and I knew if we did an album, it was going to be called “Dead End.”

Jon Collins We put out the “Dead End” record and we put it out together. That became the thing where people were all of sudden interested in what I was doing.

Matt Molnar Dave knew Jon already from the punk scene. He had a comp called “Solidarity.” We recorded a song for that, “Bonehead.”

Jon Collins Chris Dodge also did that Short Fast Loud zine and he asked me to get a Dead Nation song. At the time Short Fast Loud, Slap-a-Ham, Chris Dodge, that was like the apex for me. So when he was showing interest in all of this, I mean, we put those records together in my parents’ house!

Matt Molnar Jon did the “Face the Nation” layout and the “Cenk” layout too…To this day, I absolutely love Jon.

Jon Collins It was a joke until that “Dead End” record came out. Then it was like, oh maybe we should take this more seriously. There became more bands that sounded like that. It made it easier to do something like that.

Matt Molnar I knew Dead End was going to be special when we recorded for two days, didn’t have any vocals, didn’t have the layers of guitars, and we had a tape and someone wanted to hear it. I’m like, “well man, it’s not very finished, there’s barely anything on it.” And they’re like “just play it” and then I’d play it for people and they’d go “oh my god!”

Matt Wechter We put the album out and it started getting positive feedback other places. I was like fuck New Brunswick, fuck the city. Let's just play, whoever wants to book us, let’s just do it, who cares? Because these people don't want us around anyway. We don't fit in this scene, we don’t fit in that scene.

Dave Ackerman We played two shows on the Southern Disaster tour. The next tour was just as stupid. We did a tour when the CD of the album was out. It was Dead Nation, we brought along Bill from The Pist and Caustic Christ. He drove us in his van and then Dave Hyde went as well as a friend, roadie. We played Minneapolis, which, if you’re keeping score, was a 20-hour drive from New Jersey. So we drove to Minneapolis and played with Code 13 and Calloused and then we drove to California, from Minneapolis we drove to San Francisco.

Matt Molnar We had the Lifes Halt demo and we loved it. Lifes Halt found out we were trying to book a last-minute tour during everyone’s Christmas break. They were like, “we’ll book it all.”

Dave Ackerman January of 2000, we drove cross-country to do this tour and we played maybe five shows in California. The Lifes Halt dudes really set it up. The San Francisco show, they got us a show but it was with all rockabilly bands and us. We went over poorly…Matt got a Solid State Marshall head right before that tour. Maybe three songs into the set, it fried and then we stood on stage for a long time being like, “can we borrow a guitar amp” to just awkward, looking-at-your-shoes psychobillies that don't want to loan us any equipment.

Matt Molnar I think we only played with Lifes Halt once, but that was in LA at the PCH club. That was insane! They had us play last and it ended up being packed and kids went nuts. It’s hard to follow up Lifes Halt because they were the best.

Dave Ackerman I felt like I was playing with people that liked our band. People that were also doing stripped-down, fast hardcore, maybe a little bit of a message but not like an agenda – not like a vegan straight-edge situation - but having a good time. Politically aware, but not a soapbox situation.

Matt Molnar When we got home, the next month, every MRR writer that saw us put us in their top 5…All these people that didn’t take us seriously started taking us seriously.

Paul D’Elia (Dead Nation, Tear It Up, The Rites, Cut the Shit) Me and Dave and Molnar met up because they had just come back from the Dead Nation tour in California and I had just come back from a tour with Dillinger…I got a copy of the record right before and I was like, “you guys, this record is awesome!” Because I never liked Dead Nation. We used to play with them all the time when I was in an indie rock band at the time. I remember with their old drummer Randy, they sucked. They were not good. I remembered being at shows and being like he can’t even play drums, this is terrible. I always felt really bad for Dave and Molnar…I heard the LP with Matt playing drums and I was like “oh shit, you guys are great.” I was like if you ever want a second guitar player, I’d love to play guitar in a band again. I hadn’t played guitar in a band since I was 16 with a grindcore band.

Matt Molnar I think after we did “Dead End” and we realized how many fills and leads I do the whole time, that it would just sound cool if I could do them and not drop out.

Paul D’Elia Molnar looked at Dave and was like “we've always wanted a second guitar player, that would be really cool, learn the songs and come to practice,” so I did it and I went down. That was the first time I met Matt Wechter.

Matt Molnar There was no one asking us to make “Face The Nation,” but we just made it. There was no one being, “follow it up a few months later with another 7”,” but we made it. Now the dilemma we’re in after “Dead End” is people are starting to ask us to do stuff. It’s the stuff that people were doing a lot of at the time, like split 7”s, which I wasn’t really into, split LPs, but my next big focus was our next album. I knew it wasn’t going to be good in a lot of ways and that was bumming me out…and then a month later I just go so depressed. I got all this stuff out of me and there was nothing left. Where do I go?

Dave Ackerman Like every band, your last three months as a band is when you get popular of course.

Matt Molnar We heard wind that not now, but soon Felix Havoc’s gonna’ write us and want to do a 7”. He was still a 7” only label. I was like, oh my god, what the fuck are we going to do? I have the whole second album and I’m still trying to finish the last few songs for that. What are we going to do on this record? That would have been so important. That’s how Tear It Up had the Havoc 7”. We had already given Felix a verbal agreement.

Dave Ackerman Molnar had like 60 songs in his head. We would have hangouts where he’d come over to my house and sleep over, and he’d play me EP’s worth of stuff. If you were “I don't know how I feel about this song,” he would be like, “well, never mind then” as if everything was a concept record. If you're like, “let's do this song, but not this song,” it was notebook shut, “never mind.”

Matt Molnar One day Hank (from Kangaroo Records) hits us up and says “hey guys I really want to do a record with you guys and bring you to Europe at some point”…The goals were tour Europe, get a record out in Europe…A month later or a few weeks later, he hits us up again and he’s like, “oh hey I haven’t gotten your masters yet, what’s the deal?” …We didn’t write a single thing for it.

Dave Ackerman We went in and recorded “Painless.” Molnar basically wrote everything…We learned those songs right before recording.

Matt Molnar A lot of those songs are supposed to have a lot more layers of guitar. By the second day I was just depressed. It was hard for Dave a little bit in the studio. We had a lot of fights during “Dead End,” so I think being at the same studio, doing these songs that were so new put a lot of strain on Dave. He was really moody. Paul and Doug, these guys are like strangers to me. It just felt weird.  I was just unhappy with it. I don’t want to spend any more money trying to make this any better, so I didn’t put any of the extra guitar stuff on it. I wouldn’t even listen to it. The day we got the mixes back from the studio, the night we finished it, I gave that CD away. So I couldn’t even listen to it. I didn’t want to listen to it. I hated it. It was pretty quick. Instantly by the end of the night or next day I was like, “oh my god I hate this.”

Jon Collins It started off with “Dead End” and there was a little bit of it creeping in there and then you get to “Painless” and it was an entire record about “I just want to die.” I remember Matt playing it for me and it kinda’ felt awkward. I wanted to be like “are you ok, do you need to talk?”

Matt Molnar It was really coming to a mental head. What makes “Dead End” so good was the emotion is 100% real. The depression, the anger, the suicidal feelings, but I had to live that every day. It came from a real place and it came from a real place for everyone which is why everyone wanted to sing about it…We didn’t talk about it, so the songs were kinda how we all talked about it. But then I was getting resentful of everyone else, because I didn’t think everyone else was as depressed as me. I was like “oh they’re pretty happy, they’re pretty well-adjusted.” I didn’t really look at it as, “oh man they’re in this band doing all these dark songs too, you know.” Basically, spending a year writing those songs, playing them live, recording them, but having all these people into it, it just all of sudden made me even more depressed. I felt like there was no escape from my depression. I’m like what am I gonna do, play these songs for the next two or three years for these people? It got really dark for me.

Dave Ackerman He had a lot going on and personal demons, so to speak.

Paul D’Elia All of a sudden, none of us could get ahold of him. We’re like “where did Matt go?”

Matt Molnar My mom out of nowhere, with basically a month notice was like, “I’m moving.” At this point, I’m out of high school, I have no money saved up, I have nowhere to live…All of sudden it was all of this adulthood is hitting me right at once.

Matt Wechter He and Dave were best friends for years, since they were in middle school together. Dave had no idea that he moved.

Dave Ackerman His mom was moving out of New Jersey. It's one of those things that you can’t really fault someone for…He worked at a gas station at that point. He didn’t have money to say like “oh I guess I’ll just get my own place.” We were legally adults, but we weren’t responsible.

Jon Collins That was a real serious undoing. He and Dave didn’t talk for a real long time.

Matt Molnar I felt like I was liberating them…I didn’t play the last week or two of shows that they had.

Paul D’Elia At that point, I'd only played like three shows with Dead Nation. I knew the songs, but I was not confident in my ability at all because I hadn’t played guitar in a while and these aren’t my songs.

Dave Ackerman When we did the West Coast tour, we had CDs of the album but the vinyl wasn’t out yet. We had our Lifes Halt buddies that like us, but there wasn’t a lot of California kids that were dying to see us. When we played Chicago Fest right at the very end, we had like strangers singing-along. We played late in the bill and there was a lot of people there that knew us that we didn't know.

Jon Collins It was really bittersweet because Dave knew, we all knew, because Matt disappeared, you can’t do Dead Nation without Matt.

Dave Ackerman I didn’t want to be the only original member in the band, so when he said he was moving, we played the shows we had booked.

Paul D’Elia It was more Dave that made the call more than anything. I mean obviously we agreed.

Dave Ackerman The last show was advertised as a last show because I knew we weren’t going to do the band. The flyers I made for the last Dead Nation show have a back that had “Dead Nation played 69 shows, 13 were at ABC No Rio. We’re going out and I want to have our last show at a venue that we played a lot of shows at.”

Matt Molnar I’m glad we got to do it. It was a fun show, but it was miserable for me. I felt like I was playing in someone else’s band.

Paul D’Elia He came back for the show. None of us spoke to him. We practiced, he didn't come to practice. We were all pissed. We were all legitimately angry with him. I don't think I even spoke to him again until after I quit Tear It Up.

Dave Ackerman The final Dead Nation 7” “Painless,” I got copies in the mail the day of our last show.

Paul D’Elia The Gordon Solie thing definitely influenced our scene. We brought that back with us, the idea of just going crazy at shows. It was shortly after that, that it was “oh shit, we’re gonna get fucked up at ABC No Rio, kids are gonna fuck us up.” Wechter was definitely part of it. He stole a bunch of shit from work because he worked an odd job at some $0.99 store. He stole balloons and KY Jelly.

Matt Wechter Let’s make a spectacle out of this. We went to the store and bought a couple bags of flour, a carton of eggs and a bunch of fuckin’ water balloons. Some of the water balloons we filled up with Strawberry Quick. Let’s just make a mess, it will be fun, we’re gonna’ go out with a bang.

Jon Collins That last Dead Nation show, one of the girls from Witch Hunt lit off a smoke bomb inside ABC No Rio.

Matt Wechter Kids diving all over the place, shit being thrown through the air.

Paul D’Elia Water balloons all sorts of shit, they were throwing everything.

Matt Wechter That night, when the show was over and I went back home, I took the garden hose to my drum set…It took a good three to four years for all that stuff to finally come off.

Dave Ackerman It was a bad day. Super emotional in the sense of being like this is the band that I've been doing. I don't know what the status is of someone that I’ve been friends with for 10 years. Real mixed emotions on how I felt about him.

Matt Molnar I fly back to North Carolina. That’s it.

Matt Molnar I think I took everyone for granted really hard. I was so up my own ass being depressed, but also creating new stuff. I didn’t think I fully treated everyone with the respect for their time and their energy and their talent that they were putting in and even just the friendship.

Matt Wechter There was definitely some animosity towards Matt from everybody in the band. Everybody had to make their own peace with it.

Matt Molnar I became mega-co-dependent on Dave getting me out of the depression. At a certain point, it just became too much for me. I felt really guilty about it. That was eating me up the most towards the end of the band. I realized I’m making him miserable, I’m depressed but I’m also using him all the time...When doing the band, we both became pretty single-minded, the band above everything else.

Dave Ackerman Molnar got asked to join Kill Your Idols at one point but wanted to do his own band.

Matt Molnar People didn’t know how much trouble I was in, because I wasn’t asking for help.

Dave Ackerman Dead Nation if anything got more popular the second we broke up really.

Paul D’Elia Wechter and I were the ones who were most bummed. Dave was the one who was most hurt personally because he felt the most betrayed. Matt and I were the ones who were like “now we don't have a band.” We played our last show and I remember Matt and I just being like “I want to keep playing.”

Matt Molnar Even if only a small amount of people wanted it and only for a short period of time, maybe we could give them something that just no one at that time was going to give them. Something that Snapcase wasn’t gonna give them, but Aus Rotten wasn’t going to give them either.
What makes me a little happy was I really felt like getting into those old records was like a bait-and-switch. This is exactly who I am, this is what I believe in, this is the sound of everything that I feel and then there was just nothing coming out that sounded anything like it. It was like it had never happened. It was so weird. To be able to do something and maybe there were other young kids that get into “Damaged” and they’re like “what’s like this now? Oh there’s these bands.” It’s not as good but at least it will it least feel to you a little like that and they might sing about your alienation or your frustration.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

I Can't Get Enough: 20 Years of Vitamin X

I just cracked open a zip file full of Vitamin X flyers sent over by their chief howler, Marko. You know, if you flip through 20 fuckin’ years of flyers you can clearly see where this came from and where it’s going. The initial ones were plain, unassuming, not flashy, merely informative. The mid-90s. Then in the cut and paste job, you’ll start to see creativity as the 90s draw to a close. Finally, you get your requisite skulls, skeletons on skateboards, crucial live shots or horror movie imagery. Everything that just seemed to scream Y2K thrash revival. It doesn’t matter that it’s cheesy, it matters that it’s awesome. Jump forward another 10 years and the flyers are more often posters, real works of art. Some of them borrow John Baizley’s excellent album art, others are original creations. It’s pretty cool to see a band’s history in flyers as a testament to all they’ve done. It’s damn impressive. Here’s a little taste of their chapter and an even smaller taste of their whole story...

Big thanks to Marko, Marc, and Alex for sharing their memories!

PS: This is all in first draft form, so bear with me on the typos.

Marko Korać I used to live in Belgrade in Serbia. I had to join the army in 1993. There was a war going on back then. I managed to run away and it’s a long story, but I arranged a visa and ended up in Amsterdam. I actually wanted to get to the US, but I didn’t have enough money. I started selling my records in ‘93 to make enough money, but the war hit the country really hard. In September, I was supposed to go into the army, but I left in July with a 10-day visa and stayed here in Amsterdam for 23 years. I’ve legalized myself in the meantime.

Alex Koutsman Just like Marko, I moved to Holland in ’93. I was originally from Russia. I was younger than Marko. He moved by himself. I came with my parents. I was 12 or 13. It was after the wall fell and the situation was pretty shitty in Russia. We had the opportunity to move to Holland and we took it. Coming in from another country, not speaking the language, not having any friends, you immediately become an outsider.

Marko Korać I had a hardcore band in Belgrade called Spiteful from ’91-’93. We never really recorded a demo, just did some shows at that was it. I got conscripted in ’93.

Marc Emmerik  I asked my parents for a guitar. I was already at a young age interested in music. I was making tapes. I asked my parents for a boombox and I was making mix tapes and taping the music from the squat radio. I was always busy with music and a some point I asked my parents for a guitar…for years I was doing whatever on the guitar, not even knowing how to tune it, but I was constantly banging on it.

Marko Korać Vitamin X started in early ’96. At shows I was always jumping around. My friend Eric was like, you’d be a good front man, you want to start a band? He brought Marc to the first practice but he was actually drumming. I was like, who is this dude, because Marc was always a little bit in the shadows and background.

Marc Emmerik I was always asked to play guitar in bands, but in my first band I was playing drums. I wasn’t a real guitar player, but I could drum. I told him okay I can join, but then I want to drum. So I met up with them and we did a few practices with me on drums and it wasn’t very good.

Marko Korać He drummed for the first two practices, by the third practice he was like, “hey I wrote some songs.” He started playing and I was like, “dude, you can actually play guitar really well. How about you play guitar and I’ll ask somebody else to drum?” That’s how the line-up formed.

Marc Emmerik  I was always coming from behind the drums to show them what to do on guitar.

Marko Korać The first show was with Deadstoolpigeon, that’s with the Manliftingbanner guys. I was more in the crowd than actually singing. That was March 1997.

Marc Emmerik  Within a few weeks, we were already getting offers for shows. It went really fast. I knew Robert from Commitment Records and he heard about this band and that we were actually all straight edge. So he immediately asked us if we could play at some festival.

Alex Koutsman Robert Commitment was very supportive right from the start.

Marc Emmerik  I was studying with Robert and he really liked Vitamin X, so he suggested that we put out a 7”. In hindsight, you could say we put out that first 7” too soon…Within a few weeks we had shows and we were playing and we’ve been playing ever since. It’s never stopped!

Marc Emmerik  The band started in late ’96, but the hardcore punk scene was kinda’ dead.

Marko Korać One of the reasons why I moved to Amsterdam was I had this impression of the Dutch scene being huge because I knew all these bands from the ‘80s, BGK and Lärm. They had a huge scene in the ‘80s, but when I got there, everything was dead. Nobody was active except for Seein’ Red. Shows were really small.

Marc Emmerik  There was not a lot going on and that was one of the reasons why I thought it was good to play in Vitamin X. These guys couldn’t play well but they had a lot of energy and energy was what I was missing in a lot of the bands in the mid-90s.

Marko Korać It was the moment that the scene started growing in Holland and especially in Amsterdam.

Alex Koutsman There was a whole up-surge of youth crew bands in the mid to late 90s. In Holland specifically, with Commitment Records releasing a bunch of 7”s of all straight edge bands and organizing a full-on straight edge festival called Return of the X-men. It really brought together a scene of bands that otherwise might not have found each other – they would have found each other eventually – it was really a starting point. It lasted two, three, four years.

Marc Emmerik In the beginning we were playing a more late 90s type of hardcore punk, influenced by Youth Of Today, Turning Point, Judge, and Gorilla Biscuits. I liked all those bands, I saw all those bands, but I personally wanted to go faster in the beginning. The drummer was not good enough to play faster, so I had to wait.

Marko Korać Eric wanted to do youth crew. I didn’t mind. I liked all those bands. I just didn’t really like the whole generic 90s youth crew sound. There’s good straight edge bands though.

Alex Koutsman I thought that youth crew had gotten really boring and aged really fast in the late 90s.

Marko Korać Eric left the band in ’99 and the moment he left, Marc and I wanted to take it in a different direction.

Despite the fact that we’re straight edge, we kinda’ got fed up with the whole straight edge scene. It had become so generic and so uniform. We didn’t want to follow all these rules about how you have to sound or what the lyrics are supposed to say. I mean, in the beginning we already had a pro-legalization of drugs song. We had anti-war songs. There weren’t many you-stabbed-me-in-the-back bullshit songs. So Eric quit and Marc and I questioned whether we should change the name of the band. At that point though we already had a lot of contacts. We had our name out there. So we kept the name but changed the music a little bit. But it’s still hardcore and you can hear the youth crew influence on every record. Also, that ‘70s rock vibe from Marc was there at the very beginning.

Alex Koutsman I said when I joined Vitamin X, “We gotta’ play meaner, we gotta’ play faster.”

Marko Korać Alex joined the band in 1999 and you can call that the real beginning of Vitamin X because the three of us have stayed together since then. It’s just drummers we’re changing all the time.

Marc Emmerik  I already had enough songs to do an album. I wanted to get away from the youth crew sound and go faster. I was looking for a studio to get that specific sound and we ended up in a studio that almost all the early 80s Dutch hardcore bands recorded at - BGK, Nitwitz, The Ex. It was a small place a half-hour from Amsterdam. This was 2000, so this was almost 20 years later. The engineer had all these big analog tapes. So we finished recording and started mixing and I’m hearing between our songs some familiar sounds. I was like what is this? I know this band. The guy looks on the tape and it was the original, unreleased third LP by BGK and he had recorded over it.

Marko Korać Anton from Underestimated Records wrote to Robert Commitment that he was interested in doing a new record or he wanted to do a co-release.

At the same time, Code 13 was touring Europe in ’99. I already knew Havoc Records. At that point, Felix only had 7”s. Vitamin X “Down the Drain” was one of his first LPs. I was hanging around with him in Europe and I was like, dude I have a band, I’ll send you a recording. I knew from reading his column in MRR, that he was also into straight edge stuff.

We’re already doing an LP with Underestimated, so I suggested we do a 7” with Havoc. He asked me to send him some new songs when we have them, so after the “See Through Their Lies” LP, we did a demo and sent it to him. He was like, “whoa man, you guys speeded up!” That 7” became the “People That Bleed” EP.

Marc Emmerik  We actually almost recorded an album. We had 17, 18 minutes of songs. The other ones ended up on the tour 7” that Underestimated put out.

Marko Korać Ernie from Lifes Halt wrote us, which is a funny coincidence because we worshipped Lifes Halt.

Marc Emmerik  I got the Lifes Halt 7” and when I heard that, it was exactly the style that I wanted to play.

Marko Korać He heard our song on the Memories of Tomorrow comp. He said all these nice things but he didn’t identify himself as being in Lifes Halt. So we wrote him back and said “you live in LA, you’ve probably seen Lifes Halt, fuck, that band is awesome!” He wrote back, “I’m from Lifes Halt.”

We became really good friends with Ernie. He did the art for “People That Bleed” and “Down the Drain.”

Alex Koutsman There was one point before the US tour, before the first album. We just had the two 7”s out. Kill the Man Who Questions were on tour in Europe and they were playing in Amsterdam and I wanted to talk to them. They were like, “you play in Vitamin X!?” I was like, “hold on, you’ve heard of Vitamin X in the US? How?”...we had barely played outside of Holland at that point.

Marc Emmerik  We had contact with Anton and Felix and they both suggested that we do a US tour.

Marko Korać Anton from Underestimated Records actually invited us to tour the US. We were not a big band or anything, but he’s going to release our record and he’s going to book a tour. At the same time, I was in touch with Felix and he offered to drive us and he’s going to release a 7” for us. Ernie from Lifes Halt offered to do the west coast part of the tour and we did a bunch of shows with them. We did 12 or 15 shows on the east coast and midwest, then we flew to California and did shows there.

Marc Emmerik  In the meantime, we switched drummers. The guy that drummed from the beginning through “See Through Their Lies” quit and we got this other drummer from the Dutch band Betercore. He played guitar in Betercore. He was not the best drummer, but because he was also a guitar player, he had a lot of cool ideas.

Alex Koutsman We were going on tour without our actual drummer. We did one show in Europe before going to the US. It was a total disaster. It was one of the worst shows we ever played. We were coming to the US and we knew that the third show on that tour was CBGBs.

Marc Emmerik  We arrived in the US and immediately, there was a difference in the way of playing and the way of performance that the US bands had. All of the younger US bands hadn’t gone over to Europe yet. We were never able to see them and the hardcore punk bands in Europe, like 95% of them were just standing still during their performance, not moving. Nothing was going on.

In Europe, it was pretty normal to play 40 minute sets or 50 minutes to one hour. In the US, some of them were just playing like 10 minutes. It was a whole different world and different perspective and immediately we were like, we need to change things.

Marko Korać It was unbelievable. I’m going to the US and I’m going to play CBGBs! Wow! It was impossible to even think that a couple months before. It was sold out. Kill Your Idols were playing, Causalties were playing, Tear It Up was playing, Death By Stereo, Last In Line and us. I couldn’t sleep the night before.

Marc Emmerik  We arrived at CBGB's in our van and there was a huge line. I've never been to CBGBs before, so I thought it was for something else. Then Felix said “that's CBGB’s, that’s for the show.” I just couldn't believe it. It was sold out. We entered the venue and it took us like 15 minutes to get to the stage it was so crowded…It was a turning point in our career…Felix said “if you play this show well, then you’re going to have a good future. Everybody in the scene is going to tell each other about this show and if you play a bad show now, then it could all be over”…I was extremely nervous, I was shaking.

Alex Koutsman Playing CBGBs was already nerve-wracking. Playing with all these bands was nerve-wracking. You’re jetlagged as fuck and you’re playing with a drummer that has never played a good show with you.

Marc Emmerik  Musically, I didn’t think we played a good show, but we were extremely wild and going over the top. Everybody really liked the show.

Alex Koutsman I think every show on that tour was great in one way or another.

Marc Emmerik  The Vitamin X that we now know, was formed during that tour.

Alex Koutsman We came back and played a show at Fluff Festival in Europe which they actually shut down, they said “you guys and your crowd are going too crazy.” We were like “this is how we play.”

Marc Emmerik  We got a name in Europe for being violent, but we were only violent to ourselves. I was throwing my guitar around, but we were just going crazy. We weren’t fighting or anything.

Alex Koutsman We had learned how to play like that in the US – to really give it 110% and have a wild stage show and not stop between each song.

Marko Korać Anton is a cool dude, but he is all over the place. Felix on the other hand was very organized. He’s a very disciplined and organized guy. I thought a split release for the “Down the Drain” LP would make sense in order to satisfy everyone.

Alex Koutsman Both Felix and Anton were with us on tour. We were good friends. They had both put out records by us, so it was natural to go with both of them. In retrospect, when you work with more people, more things can go wrong.

Marko Korać The second press of that record was not on Underestimated Records. It was just on Havoc.

Alex Koutsman The second US tour was a lot longer. Our first tour was 3 weeks, 21 shows. The second one was like 45 shows. We drove all over the US and it was really brutal.

Marko Korać I’m really thankful for Anton for bringing us to the US in the first place. He did a lot for the band.

At Thrash Fest in Minneapolis, we played with Tear It Up and Total Fury, Amdi Petersens Armé and Nine Shocks Terror. That show was incredible! In my opinion that was the peak of the whole thrash revival.

Alex Koutsman That was a totally amazing show. For us, it was the end of the tour so we had 46 shows behind us, so we were tight as hell, but we knew we were going to have to bring the A game. All the other bands on the bill were killing it. Caustic Christ was there. Tear It Up was there. Total Fury from Japan was there. Amdi Petersens Armé was there from Denmark.
I remember Andy from Tear It Up came up to me after the show - we had played a bunch of shows together on that tour - he said it was the best show he’d ever seen by us. I felt dead after that show, I could barely breathe, so I was happy to hear that from him. Then he went on stage and they totally killed us.

Marko Korać The 2004 US tour was the longest one. I think we played 48 shows. But I think the tour in 2003 was at least 46. We also played shows and toured around Europe all the time…We had some really wild shows in Brazil.

Marc Emmerik  Boka organized the tour for us. We did a lot of shows there, 12 shows.

Marko Korać The Brazilian thing is also pretty funny. We were contacted by Boka, but we didn’t know who he was. He wanted to do a release for us and a tour. Turns out he was in Ratos De Porão!

We did almost the entire tour with I Shot Cyrus. We did a bunch with Discarga, bands like Infect, there were so many of them!

Alex Koutsman The one thing compared to the US that is different is equipment. Back then it was hard to come by good equipment. Some shows we played where the guitar amplifier was a 20-watt practice amp and that was what five bands were using.

Marko Korać When we went to Rio de Janeiro our car broke down so we had to take a bus. When we got to the central station the guys who were organizing our shows surrounded us as we walked because they were worried people were going to rob us. We had our instruments and merch with us and people were following us. The guys just surrounded us all the way to the van like a shield.

Marc Emmerik  Sau Paulo is pretty safe, but we went to Rio and people were scared that something would happen to us.

Marko Korać Police stopped us multiple times, searched our bags. We had to pay them just so they would leave us alone. It was ridiculous. It didn’t happen on our last tour in 2014 though. The economy is improved. It felt much safer.

Alex Koutsman Back then Brazil was still an upcoming economy so things were cheap as hell for us. Things like food were super cheap. They had a lot of great record stores, a lot of cool people. I have nothing but great memories of those tours.

Marko Korać While we were in Brazil, we got a message from a guy in Japan who wanted to release our “People That Bleed” 7” as a CD there and if we’re interested, a tour. With Japan you can’t really ask to tour. The culture is different. You have to wait until you’re invited. That’s what What Happens Next told us…What Happens Next went before us and they did this tour report in Maximum Rock N Roll. So we based all of our plans on reading what they wrote.

Marc Emmerik  The shows were really big. At that time, we still didn’t have the name that we have now, but we played really big shows.

Marko Korać  The scene was really good in 2003. We played 13 shows which is a lot for Japan. We played Tokyo four times…everything was way better than we expected.

Marc Emmerik  In 2003, we went to the Japan, then in 2004 we went to the US again and we wanted to back up that tour with a new album.

Marko Korać  Bad Trip” was, at that point, the most professionally played and recorded LP. We were better musicians. Marc was a much better songwriter.

Alex Koutsman Vitamin X is like Spinal Tap. Our drummers seem to explode or disappear all the time. At that time, we are on like drummer #6. It was Paolo who was from Italy. He was living in Italy so he wasn’t in Amsterdam all the time to practice with us.

Marko Korać  Paolo was drumming for us then, but he wasn’t a very good drummer. Marc and Alex came up with all the drum parts. Alex is actually a very good drummer.

Alex Koutsman With “Bad Trip” because Paolo wasn’t around that much, we did a lot of practices without him. We basically had the record. He came over and we started practicing and he just wasn’t cutting it. He couldn’t keep up the speed. He wasn’t fast enough. We wanted him to play double on the hi-hat instead of cheating, he couldn’t do that.

Marc Emmerik  At first, I actually asked Olav from Larm and Seein’ Red if he wanted to be the drummer on that album.

Alex Koutsman On some songs we had to do a lot of fucking takes, punch-ins and punch-outs. In the end, it was a big, successful record, but that’s not how we were looking at it just before we left the studio.

Marc Emmerik  We had a deadline. We had to finish it before the US tour. The production is cool, but I hear all kinds of stuff that I would have done differently, but the songs are really good.

Marko Korać  We really worked hard on that record. It took us more than a year to finalize everything…That record really opened the door for us.

Marc Emmerik  That 2004 US tour was 48 shows and it was way too long. The 2002 tour was 42 shows, that was still doable. 48 shows, with every day a show, it was just too much! We all were at the end of the tour kind of going crazy.

Marko Korać  We nearly broke up in 2004 towards the end of the US tour because I got in a fight with the drummer.

Marko Korać  We we’re getting so much mail from South East Asia. I didn’t know how the thrash scene could be so popular there!

Marc Emmerik  We were doing Japan again so we started checking the prices for flights to Southeast Asia.

Alex Koutsman We did four shows in four different countries in four days. We did Singapore, The Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
In Indonesia, there was maybe 1200 people at our show. They broke down the doors of the club. There was no air conditioning, so after every band they would kick people out in order to get some air in. We were on stage tuning up, the promoter comes running up, “you have to play, you have to play!” We were like, “hold on, give us ten more minutes and we’ll be ready.” “No no no, they’re going to break down the doors!” “What do you mean” and then bang! We just see this huge stream of people running in. Ok I guess we are playing now.

Marko Korać There was probably 1,000 people there. I couldn’t breathe. There were a couple of times in the middle of the show I had to stop and go get some air. I was losing it. I was drowning in the heat.

Marc Emmerik  Marko couldn't sing. He had to crowd surf outside to get air and then he was crowd surfing back in after every few songs. I remember I was playing and I thought, if I die now at least I will die on stage.

Marko Korać We were about to play a second encore and Alex screamed “stop, don’t play, Boka is dying!” We looked at Boka and there is white stuff coming out of his eyes, nose and mouth. So we stopped playing right there. If someone had played hot shows before, it was Boka. Even for him, it was too much. After the show we were outside and it was probably 40 °C, but it felt so nice. The organizer told us a death metal band played a week before us at the same club and the singer died from the heat. He had a heart attack. They told us that after the show, not before the show.

Marko Korać  We started playing more festivals and even getting more recognition in Europe. But then we were alone because all the bands we had been playing with split up. The thrash bands from the era were gone…It was a pity and I was disappointed at the time, but there were other good bands out there.

Alex Koutsman We had just released our most successful record to date. We had done a lot of tours. We had gone all over the world. All the other bands were breaking up. We had discussed this. We had discussed whether or not it was time for us to also stop. We were missing a drummer again. It was, and always is, hard to find good hardcore drummers.

Marko Korać  2005 was just a year after “Bad Trip” came out, so a lot of our touring in Japan and Southeast Asia promoted that LP.

Marc Emmerik  We made some money on those tours, so we were like okay what should we do, should we divide this money, or should we just do something crazy with it? We chose the latter. I said let's record with some crazy producer guy. I came up with three people, Ian Mackaye, Rick Rubin and Steve Albini. Rick Rubin didn’t work out. Ian MacKaye, he said he wanted to do it, but he didn't have time in that period. He wanted to record it. Shellac was doing a show in Amsterdam and after the show we just talked to Steve Albini and he said he was down.

Marko Korać  Marc always has these crazy ideas.

Marc Emmerik  In the meantime we had a new drummer Wolfi, who also played in Tangled Lines. That's how we met him, because of Tangled Lines. Extremely good drummer. We practiced with him for something like a year in 2007. January 2008, we went to Chicago.
We recorded the album in Chicago with Albini, then we went to Detroit because we had a show there anyway. After the “Full Scale Assault” recording, we did a short tour. I rented a studio for a 1/2 day and then John Brannon came. He had to get his voice ready so he said, “I'm going to go across the street to the bar and have a few drinks and then I'll come back and sing.

Marko Korać  There was a gap of 3 or 4 years before we finally released “Full Scale Assault”. We were playing too much.

Marc Emmerik  Our style is rooted in the thrash, fastcore style, but it has crossovers to several other styles, hard rock, but also ‘77 punk, but also early 80s US hardcore and mid-80s crossover style and also ‘80s Discharge, Motörhead style, all these different styles. I like all these styles and I also try to incorporate them into our songs. You also see that in our audience. Our audiences are really diverse at our shows. You see mohawks, you see metalheads, you see thrash guys, you see crusties.

Alex Koutsman I don’t think it was a clear break. If you listen consecutively to the first 7” to second the 7” to the first album to “People That Bleed” and “Down the Drain,” there’s a clear a progression there. It’s not like we were all of a sudden deciding we’re not gonna’ play youth crew, we’re gonna’ play thrash. There was no such thing as thrash or it wasn’t as clearly defined as it became later.

Marc Emmerik  You cannot write a 150 30-seconds songs. It's too much. I always try to make an album diverse and make each song different. My ideas never dry up and it’s stayed interesting because of that.

Marko Korać We’re a close group of people, me, Marc and Alex. We take it very seriously. Doors opened for us and it was fun, so automatically by inertia, we just continued.

Marc Emmerik The “People That Bleed” 7”, I think it sold like 9000 copies. The “Down the Drain” LP also sold really well and “Bad Trip” as well. Felix always thought that we were going to be one of the first bands to be on a bigger label, but it never happened.

Marko Korać I really felt like we were part of the beginning of new era in hardcore. We were real lucky we ended up in this whole moment.

Alex Koutsman Hopefully we were able to inspire kids and show them what’s possible. Before us and before DS-13, I can’t remember European bands going to tour in the US or Japan. That wasn’t common. Not at all.

Marko Korać Every year brings us some new shows, new tours, new experiences, new friendships, so what’s the point of stopping? We’re all into this music. Why would we stop?