Interview: Dito Montiel of MAJOR CONFLICT
I was really happy we were able to work with these guys and reissue a lot of their material on Mad at the World so there would be more of an opportunity for folks to hear this stuff. When we met Dito and worked with him, we were surprised at how enthusiastic he was about that time and how eager he was to talk about that time. I knew at some point, I wanted to do an interview with him for something at some point to shed some light on a segment of hardcore history that's otherwise pretty hard to find out about, if you haven't tracked down the people themselves to get it out of them. Here was a good opportunity.....
MATW: Since there wasn't such a glut of media outlets and resources for finding out about music back then, people's stories of how they got into hardcore are always very personal. How did you get into punk music and the hardcore scene? Do you remember the moment you felt drawn by it as something you wanted to participate in?
Dito: My friend Ray showed me a magazine in grade school called, PUNK. I was facinated with the pictures. We cut out of school to find "the Village" from Queens. Got off in Chinatown & as always got completely lost. Eventually we ended up (after many attempts) on Avenue A. It was 1982. The Punk scene was fading & you could count the amount of people into Hardcore in NY on two hands. We ran into a guy named Billy Phillips from Astoria Queens (where we were from). He was quitting a band called Urban Waste, and decided Ray would drum, I would play his guitar, and we would start a band called Major Conflict. That night we went to Johnny Waste's apartment in the Ravenswood projects, all plugged into 1 amp (including a microphone Billy had) & made a whole lot of fast, horrible noise. That weekend we played the A7 club & my life was changed forever. Corny as it may sound, when I look at all the moments that helped form me as a kid that was it. I believe there was something incredibly special about what it all stood for then & will always be a strong part of me.
MATW: What was the relationship between Urban Waste and Major Conflict?
Dito: Aside from me, we were basically the same band. John Dancy was our drummer and probably the best drummer I ever have seen. He played on garbage cans and was just great. It was a ridiculously crazy time.
MATW: Are there any particular Major Conflict shows that stand out in your memory?
Dito: The Rock Hotel with the UK Subs. The entire staircase got torn down & my friends lit the back room completely on fire when one of my friends didn't believe gasoline could ignite. We had a 40 oz. Olde English bottle full of it and he was proven wrong!
MATW: Major Conflict seems to be known as you and Billy Philips' s band. What did you guys hope to accomplish with the band? What were your aspirations?
Dito: Billy, in many ways, was my hero. He was so utterly anti...he was even anti-hardcore. Billy believed complete and utterly in individualism and was not interested in being liked or accepted by anyone. I always considered us the Reagan Youth for High School dropouts.
Major Conflict on the NY subway(Dito third from left) photograph courtesy of Karen O'Sullivan
MATW: Your book, and now movie, "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" seems to be, if not entirely autobiographical, at least extremely personal. What inspired you to start writing? Seeing as the NYHC scene was a big part of your life, was there any way that it had an influence on your writing?
Dito: I never got too into Hardcore in my book because in my opinion, it was something that came and went away. I see MTV and everyone always talking about the evolution of music seems to go straight from the Sex Pistols to Nirvana. If I see one more bad Heavy metal idiot say they knew the end was near when they heard "Teen Spirit" I'm gonna puke! When I heard Nirvana for the first time I remember thinking, "God, did Channel 3 actually get back together?" It sounded old and played out to me. For me to even attempt to write about it felt like a disservice. As far as it's influence on me, it is the single biggest influence on me and always will be. Back then everyone had a band. Some sucked, some were great, but either way, you did something. Be it a band, a fanzine, photographs, T-Shirts. It was an all inclusive, complete DIY attitude. No one was there to make money or obtain fame. You did it because you wanted to create. I've followed that path down many roads & have no plans to abandon it.
MATW: Were there any specifically "NYHC-related" incidents or people that wound up finding their way into "A Guide..." in some form?
Dito: Many. Paris from the Cro-Mags actually was the Steady Cam operator for the film and whenever I meet someone from back then it's always exciting.
MATW: After Major Conflict, your band Gutterboy was made up of some musicians that also came out of the early NYHC scene, and yet was no longer expressly "hardcore". Was there any motivation behind progressing musically? Had Major Conflict stayed together longer, do you think it would have morphed into Gutterboy?
Dito: Gutterboy was a great lesson for me. I was 18 and by then everything felt old. We were a great live band but unfortunately got signed for all the wrong reasons to a major label. I let them tell me what to do: “them” being the major label. I certainly don't blame them. I blame no one but myself. I remember them telling me things like, “you need to be like U2.” I was like "OK!" So, they brought down the philharmonic orchestra to play my songs and I was in awe. “WOW, the NY Philharmonic is here.” I was so starstruck I didn't realize I was making a bunch of GARBAGE! In the end, Gutterboy was an incredible live band that made 2 CD's that I'm not happy with. I told myself after that that NO ONE will EVER tell me how to portray MY art again! Allen Ginsberg once said, "1st Thought, best thought." I got into art (in general) because I love it. Had to do it. NO ONE knows what mine should look or sound like BETTER than me and I think this will be the way it is from here out. It's how I wrote my book. It's how I made my movie, and it will be how I play my music and anything else I do.
MATW: I might not know much about films, but it seems rare that a writer gets to direct the screenplay of his own novel. How did that opportunity arise?
Dito: Like I said, I was not going to let someone tell me it couldn't happen because of money. I don't come from money and therefore don't particularily need it. I was working a normal job and had decided (with my friend in a dub room who eventually edited it) that we were going to make it regardless. We'd do it on video with friends acting & record sound with a tape deck. Along the way my boss and friend brought down Robert Downey Jr. who was cool enough to look at a very strange video we were making and say, “Let's make that a movie!” This began an avalanche of ridiculous circumstances which led it all way beyond my wildest dreams. BUT, because of the old DIY attitude and the luck of a big star (Downey) who was cool with that mentality the seed was planted and grew into a very special thing.
MATW: Having cut your teeth at a few different artistic media by now (and worked in different media on the essentially the same project-- "Guide.." the book, and "Guide"... the movie), do you prefer writing or directing? How do either of these compare for you to performing music, and is it something you'd consider doing again?
Dito: Art to me is art. I can't paint but I enjoy these other 3 and always have. Once again, referring back to Billy's influence on me, Major Conflict and Hardcore’s influence...I was gonna make noise-- be it good or bad. I continue to and will continue to. A guy (Glenn Stone) approached me about a bunch of songs I'd written recorded on cassette tapes. He wanted to release them. I said I liked the quality of the cassette recordings he said OK. SO I guess that's out now on I-Tunes under my name. It's all a ridiculous trip I guess. All of it. I don't mean to sound like a jerk or arrogant or any of that. My reason I guess for being so blunt about a DIY mentality and not compromising is because I've tried it and it was a personal failure. I like the way some of the artistic world is going today. Strange enough the internet has almost ignited the strangest DIY attitude. With all the medias of showing you art out there there seems to once again, be less of an urgency to rely on some huge corporation to throw us all a bone and I think that's incredibly healthy. I'm very happy to see a bunch of stale record companies scrambling on how to stop pirating. FUCK THEM!
MATW: With movies like the "American Hardcore" documentary coming out, making the rounds at the same time as your movie (and getting it's share of criticism, especially from people involved in NY), do you have a position on how NYHC is portrayed in the movie (and the book)?
Dito: Trying to capture that incredibly special time to me is like trying to fit the Grand canyon on a postcard. I think the filmmakers are very nice and I look forward to seeing it.
MATW: "A Guide..." has been getting its share of praise, and a lot of people seem to consider it a great period piece for '80's Queens, so you're hitting roughly the same time period as that aforementioned "American Hardcore" documentary. What would you hope people walk away from the movie thinking about that time period?
Dito: My film is about 3 people who had a very hard time telling each other exactly how they felt. I'm sure it's happening right now somewhere.
MATW: What will you be working on next?
Dito: I have a Book coming out in Feb called, Eddie Krumble IS The Clapper and a CD out in a few weeks. Hopefully The Clapper will be my next film.