Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Interview: Porcell

This interview was originally printed in Fuck You Fanzine (issue 4, volume III) back in April 2003. Along with Ian MacKaye, Porcell has to be one of my all-time favorite interview subjects. He is an absolute gold mine when it comes to war stories, he is very generous with details, and he's just a really nice and pleasant guy to boot.

If hardcore had a Hall of Fame, Porcell would be a first-ballot inductee.

Porcell was born John Kevin Porcelly on February 3, 1967 in New Rochelle, New York.

What is the alpha omega of you punk/hc record collection?

First record, "Never Mind the Bollocks" by the Sex Pistols, bought it in 6th grade with my paper route money when I got tired of Kiss. Most recent, I didn't buy it but Bridge 9 sent it to me, the Terror CD, one pissed off piece of plastic.

The first time I saw Youth of Today was the band’s first show back after the break-up. I remember the occasion in vivid detail. It was at Oliver J's in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The stage was packed. Walter almost fell over me 3 different times because I wouldn't get off the side of the stage. It was with local bands Forthright and Youthful Aggression and took place I believe late winter/early spring 1988. Two of the WNITA pictures (Ray and Sammy) were taken at that show. Being that it was your first show back, do you remember any scattered details about the night?

That was Sammy's first show with YOT. He was nervous as hell the whole van ride down. He was only 13 at the time so for him it was this "big out of town show" and he was practically shaking. It was an awesome show though, there was some bad blood when we broke up that first time but that show wiped it all away. I loved Oliver J's.

A few years back, you were in a terrible van wreck while on tour with Shelter. Since that event, what is different for you about getting in the van? Has the experience made you do anything differently on a road trip?

Honestly, it took a few months before I could really relax in a car again. We fell 150 feet off of a cliff, and the rescue team said the van was so pummeled they couldn't believe anyone survived, so it was pretty traumatic. We definitely were more careful after that about making sure drivers had enough rest and tried not to do too many overnight drives. The real difference in my thinking from that accident though was the sober realization that death is certain and can happen at any time, so I use the time I have left to become detached from the temporary material body and focus on the eternal soul within.

You have spent a lot of time traveling with Ray Cappo, which means you probably know a lot about each other's breaking points. In the confines of a van, what are some of his hot buttons? What are some of your own limits?

People think living in an apartment with others is hard, but touring is like 1000 times worse! It's rough because you're in such close proximity to the same people for literally 24 hours a day for months on end. There's no sense of personal space and that can cause people who would ordinarily be good friends to be at each other's throats. Cappo's a great guy but he's also messy, loud, plays really bad music (we're talking anything from the Pippin soundtrack to Journey!), and won't stop if anyone has to go to the bathroom. I'm equally as bad, I'll play the Smiths for 8 hours straight, singing along at the top of my lungs, driving everyone crazy. I also demand quiet time whenever I want to read, beat up whoever's smaller than me in the van, and will stop and search for health food with total disregard for getting to the show on time. What can you do, no one's perfect I guess.

On the sole count of bootlegging an SSD record, I Porcell:

A. Enter a plea of Not Guilty!
B. Enter a guilty plea.
C. Would like to invoke my Fifth Amendment rights, as my answer may incriminate me.

A. I am 100% not guilty! I didn't even know about it until I was walking down St. Marks in Greenwich Village with my girlfriend and none other than Dave Smalley came running up to me and got all up in my grill about it and started screaming how Al was gonna kick my ass and I better stay out of Boston. I was so pissed, it almost came to blows, and my girlfriend was practically in tears trying to break it up. The crappy thing about it was the person who actually did it lied to me that he didn't (bootleg the record) and I spent months defending him only to find out in the end that he really did it.

A few months back, you had your Les Paul on eBay. Did you find a buyer? Were you happy with the price it fetched?

Yeah, I ended up selling it to the guitar player for The First Step, which I was psyched about because they are a new up and coming straight edge band and it was sort of like keeping it in the family in that sense. I was happy with what I got for it, although guitars can be very personal so I was a little sad to see it go. But then I remind myself that I've collected a bunch of guitars over the years so, I mean, how many Les Pauls can one person own?

You've received a lot of criticism in the past over your spiritual beliefs, which I think is unfair, as people should be able to choose whatever path suits them best. But at the same time, when you found Krishna, you weren't exactly John Q. Public. You were John Porcelly, guitar player of one of Hardcore's most influential bands ever. I guess my question here is, even though you were on the receiving end of a lot of unfair criticism, was there any point where you understood where some of that criticism was coming from and why you were a target?

It's human nature that people tend to fear what they don't understand. If you walk into a dark room, you'll feel anxiety because you don't know if there's anything in there that can hurt you or not, but as soon as you turn on the light and see that everything is fine, the anxiety goes. That's how I think it was with Shelter at first. People had no idea what the Krishna beliefs were, and unfairly labeled it a cult, boycotted shows, wrote inane crap about what they "thought" we were about in zines, etc. Over the years though people became much more accepting of it, to the point where practically every kid in the scene had neck beads on and "Krsnacore" became the rising wave. Basically I think kids took the time to read the lyrics and found them to be thoughtful and a lot of people actually agreed with the anti-materialistic message. Either way, I didn't really care, I was a punk rocker from very early on so I've never been one to care about the status quo, plus I actually liked debating people for hours on end, I should've been a lawyer.

Does anybody ever say to you, "I thought you were taller?" The first time I saw Y.O.T., before your set, I couldn't pick you and Ray out of the crowd because I was looking for, what my mind had perceived to be, the GIANTS that were on the cover of Break Down the Walls. You guys always looked like 6'5 linebackers in your pictures.

The first time we went to Maximum Rock and Roll house, Tim Yohannon opened the door and said "You guys are Ray and Porcell? I thought you were.... taller!" He then proceeded to physically pick each of us up and walk us around MRR house telling everybody "Can you believe it, this is Ray and Porcell, aren't they small, look I can pick them up!" It was funny. Photographs lie I guess.

Tell me a little about the time Tim Yohannon "busted" you stealing records from him?

That actually wasn't me, it was Craig Ahead. Ray had it worked out with Tim that he took a crappy single, broke it, and stuffed it in Craig's bag. Then Tim went through the house all day saying "Has anybody seen the Frenna Fenna single, it is one of the rarest records in my collection and I can't find it!" Then we left Craig's bag half opened with the broken record showing and Tim picked it up and screamed "What the eff is this Craig?! STEALING IS NOT POSITIVE!" Craig broke into a cold sweat and in his Queens accent kept saying over and over "Yo Tim, I sweah I didn't dew it!" We used to play practical jokes on each other all the time. One time Kevin Seconds got so sick of our pranks that he brought us to a house after a show and told us his good friends lived there so we shouldn't do anything to disrespect them or he was gonna be really mad. Then they made us a cake, which they had secretly put tuna fish in, and said "here, we made a cake especially for you guys!" And even though it tasted freakin terrible we ate it so we wouldn't hurt their feelings, while Kevin was in the kitchen laughing his ass off the whole time (side note: this was the first tour in Jan '86 before we were vegetarians).

Does it surprise you that the fashions Y.O.T. made popular in the late 80's are still popular in 2003?

Yeah! But thank god because I'm still wearing the same clothes from back then so it saved me a lot of time and money!

Shelter was huge in South America. What are the differences between the existence of a popular underground band in North America, and a top 40 band in South America?

That was the weirdest thing that ever happened to me in my life. We didn't even know it, but 3 weeks before Shelter toured Brazil, the "Here We Go" video hit big on Brazilian MTV and was actually the #1 video on the top 20 countdown for a month straight. When we first got off the plane, the promoter picked us up and had these 5 diesel dudes with him. They had suits, sunglasses and earphones in one ear. We thought they were Brazilian secret service but he told us they were our bodyguards. We thought he was freakin crazy until they drove us to a mall for an in-store appearance and there were 2000 kids outside waiting for autographs. Seriously we were so mobbed just trying to get into the mall that we actually needed those bodyguards! It was like the Beatles or something, to this day it still seems surreal to me. We then spent 3 weeks playing huge auditoriums to thousands of screaming fans, getting interviewed by MTV, listening to "Here We Go" on national radio every 10 minutes and had girls camping out in the hotel room lobbies. Then when we got off that tour we went on tour with No Doubt in the states! That's why we wrote "Beyond Planet Earth," we got big heads and were convinced we were gonna take over the world with Krishnacore/ska/techno. Boy did we get smashed on that one.

Of all of the messages Y.O.T. passed along to the Hardcore scene with its songs, which of those messages/songs have you most taken to heart in your own everyday life?

All those songs I live to this day, so it's really hard to say. One thing that I'm really proud of is that we introduced drug free living and vegetarianism to a lot of people, which are two things that are very close to my heart, and I'm glad that I could've been a part of that.

It seems like the entire Porcell catalog is being re-released. Can you give me a run-down of everything that's in the pipeline at the moment?

Bridge 9 is re-releasing the Project X 7" on CD with a CD Rom movie, plus it's also going to come with a book about Schism. That sounds very cool, I can't wait to see what Chris Wrenn puts together. He's been working on it for months now and it should be out by the fall. Revelation is doing a double CD Judge discography, one CD will have all the released tracks and the other will have Chung King, the never released demo with Lukey Luke on drums and CD Rom extras. There's also going to be a Judge DVD coming out some time this year, and the band I sing for, Never Surrender, has a CD ep coming out on June 10th on my new label Fight Fire with Fire Records. That will also be CD Rom enhanced with live clips and interviews. Check out www.fightfirehq.com. I also am doing a straight edge website, www.truetilldeath.com, it's up and running and I will be adding to it and updating it a lot over the next few months.

What guitar player made you want to first pick up a guitar?

I'd have to give credit to Johnny Ramone. I took guitar lessons for 3 months when I was in 7th grade, and I brought the first Ramones record to my teacher and said I wanted to learn Blitzkrieg Bop. He played the record, thumbed his nose and said "Are you kidding me? This song is so crude and simple I can teach it to you in 5 minutes." After that, I was so psyched that I quit taking lessons. I figured I had learned to play the Ramones, what else is there to know?

What was the scariest moment ever for you as an audience member at a CBGB's matinee?

One of the first times I ever went to CB's was to see Agnostic Front (before United Blood was out), Death Before Dishonor (Mark Supertouch and Mike Judge's first band), Balls (Don Fury's band) and Skinhead Youth (Alex Cause For Alarm's skinhead band with Raybeez on vocals). I took the train in from my nice upper middle class whitebread neighborhood and let me tell you, that was the sketchiest, scariest crowd I had seen in my life at that point. I was practically the only kid in the pit with hair! Skinhead Youth came out and played racist songs like "Black Plague" and had a song about fag bashing, which they dedicated to Harley (who wasn't even in the Cro Mags at that point but was somehow still the star of the scene). I was like "I'm not in the suburbs anymore man!" While DBD was playing, I was moshing and I felt something hitting me repeatedly in the back of the head. At first I thought it was random elbows until I turned around and saw Jimmy Gestapo in construction gloves staring me down, I guess he didn't like my skater cut. Then AF took the stage, and for some odd reason Matt Dillon (of "There's Something About Mary" fame) was in the crowd, he was all punked out like a poser with a trenchcoat, boots and a bandana around his head. AF dedicated a song to "that f'ing faggot Matt Dillon who better get his ass back uptown if he knows what's good for him!" Needless to say, he left. AF were so incredible, people were losing their minds singing along, it was all these sketchy inner city kids who lived on the streets and you could tell this was all they had, it was intense. Then to top it off, as I was exiting, a guy named Tony Ultraviolence beat up a skinhead named Steve Hate with a wine bottle, splitting his head open. High school seemed really boring on Monday morning.

Are there any Porcell band "misfires?" By that, I mean bands that you were supposed to do with other people, but they never got out of the practice space?

When I lived in California in 1990, working at Revelation, I was going to start a band with Zack de La Rocha. We actually got together a few times, just me and him, and started writing songs. He told me he wanted to call the band "Rage Against the Machine" and I said "no dude, that name is just too long." We never got it together because he started his other "rap" project of the same name. At first I was very skeptical until I saw Rage's first show, they played a house party in Orange County and were nothing less than incredible.

I've read interviews in the past where you said your Dad was really disappointed that you didn't finish college. Has he ever gotten a sense of how important Y.O.T. was (and still is) to so many people, or does he have the attitude that "John's wasting his life doing his little bands..."

The one and only time my dad ever bothered to see me play was when we played a huge auditorium with No Doubt. He came backstage and said "John, I'm so proud of you, you finally made it." And it really hurt my feelings because I felt like I had always "made it," maybe not monetarily or fame wise, but every band I had done I felt was important and had made an impact in ways that many "big" bands never will. What can I do, I guess I can't hate the guy for it, he was raised to judge success on an economic basis. That's always been our problem, we just had different ideas about what's important in life.

Do the math: 4 guys + 1 van = farting. The worst ass in the Youth of Today van goes to:

Al Brown, our roadie, for sure. Second only to Lukey Luke if he was there too.

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