An Interview with Jesse Katz

Very few people can say that they showed up to their local NY Hardcore band’s practice with cupcakes and brownies for everyone. At first glance with my pink shirt and glasses, I stuck out like a sore thumb at Metal and NY Hardcore shows. But I belonged there. I got “it” immediately. What teenage girl couldn’t relate to the lyrics of ‘Friend or Foe’ on Madball’s Set it Off? I heard something magical and magnetic in the lyrics of these local bands, and hearing their tracks performed live ignited something in my soul that I felt with every beat of that double bass. To the unappreciative ear, this music can sound angry, insulting and satanic. But it’s beautiful. It’s real. It’s raw. It makes you feel not only the energy and angst, but the love. It’s a disorderly utopia, and watching people mosh and throw down to the ebbs and flows of the sound is enchanting.

This community was, and is, an amazing family of people who came from all walks of life to fill some sort of void besides musical expression, be it family, friendship or an overall sense of belonging. I lacked all of the above, and I found it in these bands and among these friends. I found a fun place to come and hang whenever I wanted to be there, and I was always made to feel welcome.

Yes, we sometimes ragged on the emo guys with their eyeliner and chopped haircuts, but as soon as musical influences starting being thrown around and a similarity was established, the ragging got worse which was the true sign that you were loved. That you were “in.” That you had proven yourself. You see: most of these people got no easy passes in life, and they weren’t about to give you one, either. You earned your place here. Love was given freely here in this space, but it was given firm and with clear guidelines: don’t cross me or my friends. The fragile line between friend and foe was palpable, but unless you’ve been there to experience that brotherhood firsthand, it’s difficult to put to words just how powerful that feeling of belonging really was in this space.

Growing up in Rockaway, Queens, New York, I lived just two houses down from the basement studio of Jay Martin, the OG drummer of Sheer Terror. If it were not for his psycho dog attacking the fence every time I dared to get too close to the house, I would’ve stuck my face against that ground level window each and every time I heard that chaos erupting from that basement. I learned years later that the bands I came to love were the very bands walking down there to practice: Sheer Terror, Biohazard and Candiria, just to name a few.

One of my first “real” jobs besides babysitting was at the 101 Deli, where I met 36 Deadly Fists guitarist John Glick who burned me countless CDs of Metal and Hardcore bands to taint my teenage mind. Years later, my local bartender would be Mike Palmer, the 36DF bassist. Rockaway is like that: you just sort of know everyone! I also happened to live right across the street from Christian O’Leary, the 36DF vocalist, whom I also became friendly with. Christian was instrumental in constantly giving me another band to lookup every time we passed one another on Rockaway Beach Blvd.  What’s really ironic about Christian is that I often heard people point to him and refer to him as a “freak” and a “drug addict.” Christian is not only one of the most loyal, giving people in my opinion, as well as the biggest friend to animals known to man, but like myself, he actually has a zero-tolerance policy for drugs in his personal life and space. If people took the time to get to know him, and to see past his septum piercing and green hair he sported back in the day, they would’ve been one of the lucky few to be the recipient of his giant, cheesy smile and his corny jokes.

This parallel between what NY Hardcore actually is, versus what people stereotype it to be, is exactly what drove me to create this column. I want to tell the other side: the story of the “softer” side of the NY Hardcore scene, which I feel is often glossed over in documentaries and books. Sure, it’s juicy and interesting to talk about the brawls that went on back in the day between NY and Boston, and to talk about all of the constant drama that goes on, but what scene doesn’t have all of those elements? There’s an untold story here, and I intend to tell it, one artist and one band at a time. I want to highlight all of the beautiful aspects of this enclave of people who create some of the most “offensive” music out there to show the ironic beauty in the organized chaos of the mosh pits, the synergy felt in those break downs and the spark behind those guttural lyrics which speak intelligently about life, relationships, politics and philosophy.

I couldn’t think of anyone better to start off this NY Hardcore Never Dies story than to start with one of my very first hardcore friends that I met at age 14, Jesse Katz. I hope you’ll see what an immensely intelligent and talented guy he is. For those of you that have judged this scene by the cover: I challenge you to read this interview and broaden your perspective just a bit. Take the time to understand and appreciate what this brotherhood is all about. Take the time to really give this scene credit for not only recognizing social constructs, but for rising above them. Take the time to appreciate that if one of these guys (or gals!) were driven to deck you right in the face one day, it wouldn’t be because of the color of your skin, your socioeconomic class, your sexual preference, or your peculiar choice in clothing: it would be simply because you’re a jerk.

Angela:
Jesse! Long time no see! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us here at Vinyl Writer! Tell us about your backstory. What made you pick up your first instrument?

Jesse:
Angie! Thanks for taking the time to include my experience in your column! So, what made me pick up my first instrument? My dad’s influence. As you know, my dad was a music teacher and performer for his whole professional career. His love and passion for music didn’t fall too far from the tree. He gave my sister and I the same music appreciation lessons that he gave his junior high school students when we were just wee children. In turn, I was only 3 when I decided that he must also teach me to play the piano as beautifully as he did, and as he was teaching my older sister to. That being said, the piano was my very first instrument at the time, and writing my own new licks with very, very little knowledge of music was on my agenda. My second instrument was bass which I started at age 11, as I was very into the rich and round sound that bass contributed to my favorite music. In fact, I can remember exactly where I was and that it was the Beatles that I was listening to when I first was able to distinctively hear the bass separately from the rest of the sounds I was hearing in the composition. This influenced me to pick up the upright bass in junior high school as I was part of the strings orchestra. On the side I took a Classical guitar workshop and thus came to the realization that I wanted to play the bass guitar. The rest is history.

Angela:
You’ve been involved with a number of musical projects since you were a young kid, and you also balanced your ability to excel in school at the same time. What’s been your motivation to always be in a band, even when you presumably had no time to do so? 

Jesse:
Your question about balancing music projects while remaining stable as a student is a very important one indeed. This is a huge concern for many artists of all different crafts. Art is first done for the love of the art. If we can make it work, it can be a living. But it’s very seldom an easy living if that’s even possible. For many, it’s not a good enough living to provide for the life we would like to live. For many it is, but then it’s a tremendous hustle to get by well enough. And for many of those who accomplish this, being able to do so means taking away some of the gift to the self that art is originally about. It means “selling out,” as we would call it in the Punk and Hardcore scene. And that term fits all facets of music and art equally when one begins to create for the purpose of selling it to a larger audience rather than creating for the sake of making what the creator wants to hear or experience. This is a fine line often crossed and it seems to happen almost seamlessly for many artists. Understandably as such because it is often a toss-up between getting a day job or just sucking it up and playing for an audience instead of for yourself. Back to your question which goes back to my dad’s influence. When he used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I knew I wanted to be a “rock star.” My dad knew how difficult making it as a musician could be, so he said to me, “You can always play music, but you have to make sure you have a job with a pension as well.” And thus, the responsibility and further, the plight of the balance you speak of began in my mind. So, as you see, this “balance” you speak of is more like having two jobs. One of which is my passion, and one that helps me have the life I want to live. The bright side to this is that I never have to sell out and play a gig that I’m disinterested in which leaves that portion of my time open to take the music gigs that I want to. Great question.

Angela:
Your dad was my middle school music teacher, so I know that you grew up surrounded by music created by the most wholesome man in the world, Bob Katz. How has your dad influenced your musical career? Do you think there’s an interesting act of rebellion hiding in your choice to play hardcore music while your dad was at home teaching Chopin to neighborhood kids on the piano? 

Jesse:
My dad’s influence, as I previously stated was huge for me. I’m incredibly lucky to have him as a dad for seemingly infinite reasons. Music is only one, huge, single facet of my appreciation for having him as my role model, my mentor, my spirit guide, my therapist, and quite remarkably close to a deity in my perspective. He is the nicest person that I know, hands down. And that’s just about the least I can say about him. My interest in Hardcore stemmed from both my aggressive nature as a teenager and of course the desire to rebel. Yes, my dad was all about Chopin, Bach, Beethoven, and the Beatles, etc., and so, it was only natural for me to gravitate towards music of a different light. Rebellion is only natural to us all. However, it was only a matter of time before this energy of rebellion would be lifted from my shoulders. Ultimately, for me Hardcore music was mostly about the heaviness. It was a direct outlet for my aggressive nature. It was a way to channel our aggression into something that was bloody enjoyable for everyone involved. Out of all music genres to be into at this time in my life, this one was guaranteed to get the audience charged and moving as it didn’t take much to get people going. Hardcore was simple. It was rhythmic. It was ours. It was about the feels and it allowed us to express ourselves in this light undoubtedly.

Angela:
The first time I met you, you were a fellow teenager, playing bass for a band called Face the Enemy. I remember that when I moshed in my very first pit at age 14, I excitedly told you about it on AOL instant messenger and I was shocked when you told me that you’d been moshing for years already. I still think’s hilarious that at age 14, you were a seasoned mosher. What was it like in those early days of your musical career to be playing shows with the OG NYHC bands? How do you think it changed who you grew up to become? 

Jesse:
My experience as a teenager was nothing short of weird lol. I was psyched to be in a Hardcore band at age 14. I was so blown away to see people mosh to what we were doing. I had finally obtained my childhood dream of being a “rock star” even if it was short lived, lol. The shows felt like home. The Hardcore scene was small and always had a “for us, by us” type of vibe. This meant that having shows at the reputable heavy rock venues weren’t always an option, so we were often throwing them in some of the shittiest, dirtiest, and dingiest clubs in the boroughs. Often, they were at clubs that had no idea what they were in for and had to be shut down from time to time due to fear of damages or injury or simply fear of turning away regular customers who didn’t like the loudness and such. Being a part of this scene helped shape my open mindedness somewhat. It left me with a welcoming attitude for differentness that stemmed from this principle that is true of all art.

Angela:
You were just a teenager when you started your first band, Face the Enemy. What drove you to want to create Hardcore music and be in a band at such a young age? How have those early days of NYHC shaped the musician you are today? 

Jesse:
Driven to be a rock star with an aggressive expressivity, I gravitated to the hardcore scene almost immediately. I needed to be introduced to a lot of the music as it wasn’t on the radio or on MTV or VH1 at the time. This musical experience has absolutely left a huge influence on the musician I am today.  As I said previously, Hardcore music has a perfect simplicity to it that is exemplified and exhibited best by how rhythmic it is by nature. My favorite part of Hardcore music was the “beatdowns” or “breakdowns,” as people would call it. These sections were the most simplistic and rhythmically intense sections of a tune in which everyone involved would be expected to mosh the hardest, headbang the most, and simply feel the energy the most. These sections were intended to make sure you simply wouldn’t miss the feeling. A proper “beatdown” was as clear as day and night. This rhythmic portion to it, has stuck with me in much of what I do as a bass player today. I don’t play Hardcore much anymore, as I found my way into the Jazz, Funk, Hip-Hop, and R&B scene a bit more these days. However, a seasoned ear can hear the ways in which Hardcore beatdowns influence my bass playing in these other genres. I feel fervently that it allows me to amp up a tune without it being so obvious to the general public. Bass often sits in the background to many ears and it gets perceived by the subconscious, more than the conscious mind, and in turn, you may feel something but you’re not exactly sure where its coming from. It’s in this way that I feel I’m using the Hardcore influence best in my basslines today. Sometimes they’re questionably suited for the tune I’m currently playing but the ghost notes and thumps I throw in are heavy as shit and for a lot of people it goes perfectly over their heads while hitting them nicely right in the gut.

Angela:
The style of connecting with fans and getting the word out there today has shifted dramatically now that MySpace is gone and Facebook has taken over the world. How have the ways in which you’ve advertised your band’s music changed over the last decade? How are you telling the world about your music today?

Jesse:
Getting our stuff out there today is harder than ever. Social media is totally washed up with art and talent everywhere. Sticking out among it all is quite the task. I’m guilty of not doing nearly enough work in regard to promotion. The ways that my most active band leader is doing so is vigorously posting our activity on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. He also frequently writes to music magazine editors to advocate for articles to be published about our current work. Whether it will work and help us create a substantial following or not is something more time will tell. If it’s not Pop, it’s not exactly easy to get people to listen and follow. That’s a sad truth many musicians are aware of.

Angela:
After Face the Enemy ended, you became involved with other bands. Tell us about your other musical projects. What were your roles in those bands? How were these bands different than your early roots in Face the Enemy?

Jesse:
As far as Hardcore and Metal goes, after Face the Enemy, there was Settle For Nothing, and then there was Catalyst of Thought. That was my last Metal endeavor. I was asked to take a tour with Marauder and a couple of other projects but turned it down for personal reasons. Since then, I’ve played with bands that paid me all year round such as the Dave Kellan Band, Milestone, and Ace. My most current projects are the Patsy Trio and BOMBZR. These are more based on original music and gravitate towards RnB, soul, jazz, and hip hop.

Angela:
What artists have influenced you? Who are some of your favorites? Are there any albums in particular that have influenced you?  

Jesse:
Oh boy, so my influences…lol. Believe it or not, I got most of my kicks back in the day from more of a Metal sound than Hardcore so Between the Buried and Me, the Acacia StrainUnearth, the Black Dahlia Murder, Bleeding Through, the Red Chord,etc. Locally it was Billy Club SandwichShutdown, Line of Scrimmage, etc. Nowadays my greatest influences are Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles, Ghost Note, Jacob Collier, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, Tank and the Bangas, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Lettuce, Soulive, Jill Scott, Roy Hargrove, (Rh factor), Don Blackman, Roy Ayers, Hiatus Kaiyote, James Brown, etc.

My favorite album at the moment is probably The Big Bang Theory by Tank and the Bangas. Picking a favorite album is hard for me because albums are most often made perfect in a studio and that perfection for me, takes away the humanness that I love about live music. So, you will most often find me listening to live performances of my favorite artists. Hence The Big Bang Theory which is all live performances by Tank and The Bangas from my favorite music city in America: New Orleans.

Angela:
2020 has been a wild year thus far. What have you been doing to occupy the time during this pandemic? 

Jesse:
For 2020, initially gigs and shows died down altogether for social distancing. During that time, I’ve doubled up on school to attempt to finish my RN license faster in the meantime. At first, we (musicians) started busking live on social media platforms on pages like the Coronavirus Quarantine Virtual Bar or just our own accounts. After that, it didn’t take long for secret shows to start popping up and then for us to begin having shows at select locations during select times under select conditions. Live music has been a necessity of people and where there’s a will, there’s always a way.

Angela:
You’re a well-rounded individual. What are some of your hobbies and things you like to do these days when you’re not playing music?

Jesse:
Things I like to do while not playing music are hiking, backpacking, caving or spelunking, video games, skateboarding, snowboarding, frequenting concerts, traveling, spirit quests, and living life in every way I can. My lovely wife Christina is my adventure buddy and I’m thankful we have a lot of them together. I would say we are active adventure seekers within reason and remain open minded to the possibilities that present themselves to us.

Angela:
You’ve toured a lot of awesome places in all of your musical endeavors. What were some of your favorite experiences? What types of venues have you played? Do any of them compare to playing L’Amour in Brooklyn? Which show has made you most proud? What are some of your favorite memories from being a part of the NYHC scene? 

Jesse:
Favorite memories from the Hardcore days are playing at the Speakeasy on 5th avenue in Bay Ridge with Catalyst of Thought. The power would often go out from us pushing the circuits too hard with our power amps and speakers. The space was small, so the shows were always very intimate. The band would often get hit by the crowd on accident, and we could smell the blood, sweat, and sometimes vomit right up close from the band stand. Other clubs that were lots of fun was the Red Zone, CBGB’s, L’Amours, etc. Good times with like-minded people. Parties at John’s moms house were another favorite memory. If you were involved, you know what that meant. This was where adolescents were entrusted to make the worst decisions. Constant fun!

Angela:
One of the most admirable aspects of the NYHC scene is the brotherhood. I’ve hung around groups of people all my life, but I have yet to see a bond like what I saw in those bands. The way that each band supported one another is a comradery not often seen in other genres. What does being “NYHC” mean to you? Has this brotherhood and the art of being “NYHC” affected your outlook on life?

Jesse:
This brotherhood you speak of was very real. It stemmed from the “for us, by us” attitude in the fact that we were all nothing without each other. The scene was so small that throwing a show with only one band as the draw wouldn’t be enough to make a show. So, in turn every show was a compilation of bands that all supported each other and promoted each other. This is how we got by and this is how we packed out venues; by compiling the efforts of many. Without this “brotherhood” we wouldn’t have gotten very far from our living room and bedroom practice studios.

Angela:
If someone wanted to listen to NYHC for the first time, which early and contemporary bands would you recommend they check out? 

Jesse:
If someone wanted to get a taste of early hardcore music, I would say check out 25 Ta Life, and the Dead Kennedy’s. Hardcore evolved from Punk music and the music these artists made really exemplifies the early prototypes of the genre. You can hear the Punk influence clear as day and how it’s different from the rest. To get an idea of what it has continued to evolve into, I would say the commercial band Hatebreed would give a good idea.

Angela:
One of the themes I interpret to be present in NYHC music is the idea of “sticking to the mold.” I recall one time specifically that I went to see a show at Redzone on Metropolitan Avenue in Queens and the booking agent who created that lineup most definitely did not listen to the music of each of the bands. The show opened up with an Emo Punk band, followed by a Counting Crows type acoustic guitar player and closed out with a local Hardcore band. The group that came to see the Hardcore band completely roasted the other two artists and those who are there to see them. I get it, because it was a really weird lineup, but the reason I bring the story up is because you are an eclectic musician whose roots begin in NYHC. Do you think you’re any less “Hardcore” today now that your style of musical expression has evolved? What exactly do you think a “Hardcore” artist should sound like? Do you still identify as a NYHC? 

Jesse:
Good question. I don’t love the idea of adhering to any one genre. I identify with many scenes and genres, but I wouldn’t strictly define myself by any of them. As the time has gone by, none of that has changed. I identify with the NYHC scene just as seamlessly as I have back then. When I run into folks from the scene and meet new ones, it’s like I’m talking to the same family all over again right off the bat. We related to each other in all the same ways that we relate to each other currently. Like-mindedness is a very unifying factor among people and especially in music. It doesn’t matter what political view you maintain or what religion you believe in or what you did yesterday or what you plan to do tomorrow. When you’re into the same music and you have a musical understanding of each other, you’re friends. That’s all there is to it. I believe this phenomenon is true of musicians of all genres. Music is in itself a type of universal language. You don’t have to speak the same tongue for you to have a deep understanding of a person’s expression and feelings through music.

Angela:
What advice would you have for any new artists looking to get their start? Is there anything else you’d want all of us here at Vinyl Writer to know?

Jesse:
My best advice for aspiring musicians would be to stay true to yourself in everything you do musically. What I mean when I say that is, always be sure that when you prepare, perform, and create, that you are preparing, performing, and creating something that you love, for your own love of the art, for its expression of you and for what you will enjoy to hear and experience. I don’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t ever allow music to be your job, but in other words, make certain that in everything you do, you do for you first before anyone else. If it’s meant to be, your audience will enjoy what you’re playing, creating, and performing from the heart. And if they don’t, well screw them because music was first before anything else, done for fun and for the love. Once you begin to act on behalf of what another person wants you to do, it has become a job. That’s not to say I haven’t taken gigs that I wasn’t crazy about, but when I did and sometimes still do, I’ll do it “my way or the highway.” I have a day job. I don’t need another way in which to feel like a servant. The music I play is first and foremost for me, and if you want to make music, make it first and foremost for you as well. If no one else likes it, then you can still rest assured that when your music career is over, you got what YOU wanted out of it even if it only happened in your own bedroom. If you act on the behalf of others, you’re taking the risk of never feeling that self-fulfillment. So, in short, try not to “sell out”. If there’s any piece of the NYHC idealism that’s fervently stuck with me throughout my music career, that would be it.

Let’s allow music to bring America and the world back together again ASAP.

Dig this NY Hardcore Never Dies series? Lucky for you, I’m just getting started! Fan girling real hard over the interviews to come. Check ’em out here:

Published by Angela Daly

Angela Daly has always been passionate about both music and writing. She grew up in Queens, NY, USA, and immediately felt at home in the local Rock and Hardcore music scenes as a young teen. Angela works as a Registered Nurse in Cardiovascular Research by day, and as a freelance journalist in music and public health by night. When she’s not busy drinking chai lattes, trying to pet every animal she encounters and attempting to save the world, Angela dedicates her time to educating her friends and family about health and music, one article at a time! Angela has been a Board Member of Nurses Who Vaccinate since 2012. She is also the admin of several groups on Facebook dedicated to music, vinyl collecting and public health. Angela lives on Long Island, NY with her husband Andrew, their four fat cats Oliver, Patrick, Charlie and Kevin, and more than 4,700 vinyl albums (plus several hundreds tapes and CDs) which span every wall and inch of their one-bedroom apartment. She enjoys all things science, painting, crafting, doing puzzles, forgoing human social plans to spend more time with her cats, and singing the wrong lyrics with strong conviction to her favorite tracks.

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