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.