Saturday, March 10, 2007

INTERVIEW: Donna Damage of No Thanks

No Thanks were one of those bands come to mind as one of those late, great NYHC bands who could have released a great LP had they had an occassion to. Their most well-known vinyl appearance on Big City's first 7" compilation. In spite of the frustratingly shoddy recordings on most of those Big City comps, No Thanks is arguably the stand out of that record (even though the No Control and Ultraviolence songs are pretty sick as well, they suffer from some shitty mastering) as their energy is barely containable. They stand in contradiction to the stereotype of NYHC as lunk-headed, right wing goons as they have more in common with the politically-minded punks of their day. Their sole 7", "Are You Ready to Die" is some prime NYC hardcore, 1983 style. Musically, they sometimes remind me Cali-punks Mood of Defiance, but with an out-of-control edge and grittiness that is the undeniable hallmark of New York, and puts them in a category with the likes of Urban Waste or Heartattack. In addition, No Thanks members are life-time musicians, with members going on to such noteables as Virus and Missing Foundation, and even the early 90's hardcore/ noise band Gin Mill as well as the countless bands detailed below. Thankfully, No Thanks' Donna Damage has an archive of the No Thanks material and is in the process of making it available herself via Mr. Modorreefer Records. She's still active in the music scene and is proactive in maintaining No Thanks' legacy. She was kind enough to do this interview with us on March 9, 2007.

MATW: Could you give us the story of how No Thanks got together?

Donna: In Spring of 1982, I answered an ad in the Village Voice; a band called NO THANKS were looking for a singer. Rob of NO THANKS gave me a chance to try out. I nailed the audition. Rob, Jimi and Seth asked me that night to be their singer. I was looking for a band for awhile. I wanted to be a front person in a band of boys. The all girl thing didn't work for me, being a tomboy, i didn't relate to well with girls. I was delighted to front NO THANKS. It was exactly what I was looking for.

MATW:Since there wasn't internet or widespread media coverage of this music back then, people's stories of how they found each other and found their way to hardcore/ punk is always interesting.

Donna:People found each other through Village Voice ads, The Montclarion, a NJ rag (free classified) also was a source. I met mostly all my friends at shows or hanging out on Ave A. Ave A. was the hardcore punk open air free for all. Back then we all hung out on the street if there wasn't a show somewhere. You could drink beer, smoke pot or do anything you'd like on the LES, the cops didn't care. I guess they figured if you had the balls to roam around in alphabet land, you were on your own. The LES was a place where the laws of karma really worked. A person could get what’s coming easily, on those mean streets of the past.

MATW:How did you wind up becoming involved?

Donna:I was into punk since the late 70's and came into the city for shows at Max's and the old Peppermint Lounge. I would wander around the village. If I saw a flyer that looked interesting I would go check out the band. I would go see the Bush Tetras, James White and the Blacks, Teenage Jesus at venues around the LES. One night I stumbled upon an Undead show at a old theatre somewhere around 3rd street...I can't remember the name. I met so many people that night. After that I went to all of the hardcore shows.

MATW: It seems like if you were a "big" band like the Dead Kennedys or Black Flag you could have had intentions of becoming a career musician and "making it" somehow in music. It doesn't seem like most NY bands around that time had those kind of intentions. What were your aspirations in No Thanks, and what did you hope the band would achieve? Did you think that 25 years later people would still be interested and listening?

Donna: Not everyone was in the scene for the same reasons. No Thanks was about anarchy, political activism, protest and rebellion. We were pissed off at the world we got handed. Our motivation was to spread the word of revolution. I remember we opened for the Bad Brains at CBGB sometime in 83. CBS news crew showed up to get some footage of this punk thing and my band was on stage when they came in. We refused to let them film us. Jaime kicked at the cameras. There was a lot of spitting at the news crew. They gave up and retreated. Next the Bad Brains are on and they let CBS film them dog and pony show style. I lost alot of respect for them that day. We would perform behind defaced American Flags. This was the real deal for us. We lived in the L.E.S. Our parents were not supporting us. The last thing any of us wanted was to be rock stars. Hardcore was a rebellion of the dinosaur rock star generation. There were several sub-sections in the early nyhc scene. When I retired from NO THANKS in 1985, I thought hardcore was dead and moved on. If we only knew that our music would affect the children of the me generation...(the offspring of the zombies I went to high school with) maybe we would have stuck around longer and recorded more songs. It's funny how life is. I have learned that artistic work is never a waste of time. It will always surface again somewhere else. I think kids now are looking for the truth and the truth does set us free.

MATW: You've been outspoken against "the skinhead infiltration" of the New York hardcore scene; what was that like and how did it change the atmosphere of NYHC? Since a number of the same folks who were around before that were the people that became the prominent skinheads, what changed in the scene or in people's attitudes that caused this to happen?

Donna: We were all punks in the beginning, we had a nice little scene and everyone got along. We'd hang out at A7, smoking ganja and listening to reggae, when bands weren’t playing. My sister made love beads and passed them out. I don't remember exactly when the tide turned and NO THANKS got the Peace Punk label. The thing was that everyone in bands still got along it was the kids coming in to the scene from the burbs who adopted this skinhead thing that did the damage and started the violence. I was in a band, so I was not a real target for people trying to fuck with me. There was a comradery among those of us in bands.

MATW: Another thing I've heard you sound off about was the portrayal of women's roles in the hardcore scene by the book American Hardcore. What specifically bothered you about it?

Donna: The misogynistic slant and god like atmosphere of a person (author) who was not there, and left out so many bands. I know a lot of folks from the old school also hate that book/film. The book was so inaccurate and did not capture the heart of the movement, or what we had in NYC before 1984. It was BULLSHIT...but history usually reflects the ruling classes story, and unfortunately the people who became the rulers of NYHC were only a few of the bands who started the scene on the LES, and unfortunately the diversity of bands from the early days decayed tremendously, as so many of us fled when the violence became reminiscent of a mainstream sports event.

MATW: It seems like there were a good deal of NYHC bands with women members back then. One thinks of Killer Instinct, Scab, No Control, Rapid Deployment, AntiChrist Newsboys, etc etc. Yet most of the women on the scene from back then I've spoken to agree that they've had to work a lot harder as women to get recognition/ respect than they would have had to as men. How does that measure up to the claim that the hardcore scene was somehow misogynist or somehow more "masculine"? In that respect, how was the hardcore scene different than mainstream society?

Donna: Rapid Deployment Force did not have a women in the band, but were totally cool anarchist dudes on the same page as No Thanks. Matty from Rapid Deployment was one of the first to OD and die. Scab was awesome, but an all girl band and was not around in the early scene...Killer Instinct had 2 women. XKI, 3 women and we played out with them all the time. I was a fem frontperson in a band of boys. The only other woman at the time with the same role was R.B. from Even Worse. People were more critical of that. I never wanted to be liked in the first place. I was not in a punk band for that. There was a message. How could the hc scene resemble mainstream society? Back then, punk rock was a place for artistic misfits who didn't fit in anywhere. There was nothing typical about it. Though I realize people were in it for different reasons. Hardcore was not PC, there was no such thing of that sort of FASCIST thought control back then. You had to think outside the box to even find your way to it. The misogyny came later with the violence. Hardcore Punk was a the place for the kids from my generation to go that accepted you for what you were. This is where the thinkers went. This is where the kids who shopped at thrift stores and put together their own style. Kids who read books. Kids who hated the government and Ronnie Reagan. HC was a rebellion. I stopped participating when kids got hurt for not being in uniform. I was done with it, the night I watched a tranny guy get his brains stomped out in Tompkins Square by some later to be rock star skins and their followers. That is why I call it an infiltration.

MATW: Aside from maybe Rat Cage or Big City, there weren't too many record labels in New York, which seemed to contribute to not as many NYHC records coming out compared to other scenes elsewhere, aside from when bands put out their own records. What was Deadspace Records, the label that released the No Thanks 7"? How were they involved with the band, and did they wind up doing right by you guys? How many were pressed and how were they distributed?

Donna: Deadspace were A7 collaborators who ripped off the band. They moved back to Europe after the record got pressed, gave us 50 copies and we never heard from them again. In addition to running off with our contacts since Cleo 7 started to manage us. They did us in, probably caused our break up. 1000 records were supposed to be pressed but other versions popped up here and there making the band realize that so many more were out there. I think at least 5000. Deadspace ripped us off but the result of that is the fan base we have now in 2007. 1000 records would have not produced this result 20 years later and because we were so robbed is the reason I created Mr Modoreefer Records to get out our recordings out there, so people interested in what we had to say can have access to our music. I have a hard time trusting an outside label with our catalog.

MATW: No Thanks members went on to a number of different bands. What post-No Thanks projects were you involved in?

Donna: Jimi went on to play in Virus. Seth formed the MONEY DOGS with Rob, the original No Thanks guitarist. Jaime went to Missing Foundation. I formed Bad Tuna Experience with Carolyn from XKI, we had Adam from Sacrilege on bass. I played drums, Carolyn sang, Carol Kendrerski on guitar. Bob from Dog was also one of our bass players. I left the band to live in SF for about 6 months and BTE continued in various forms. I also was involved with Missing Foundation for a gig in a lot on Ave C where we burnt an effigy of Ronald Reagan when Jimmy Carter was touring the area. His limo pulled over to watch us banging on metal. Pete screaming into a bullhorn. Ronnie on fire!!! LES punks were kind of incestuous when it came to people borrowing each other for projects. When I returned from California, Bob Dog and I started a project called the Mad Godz. I played drums in this project. R.B. Korbet(Even Worse) formed a punk metal band in 87 called Bubba Zanetti that I fronted. She played guitar and Andy Malm from the Reverb MotherFuckers played drums, Jaime from No Thanks on Bass. We had a great show terrorizing the TOMPKINS SQUARE ARTS FEST in 1988. From Bubba Zanetti, Jaime, Rob and I formed Navigator. This band recorded 3 demos, played gigs all over Manhattan and in 1992 was courted by Geffen Records. I flipped out and moved to California at that point, I still did not want to go pro in the music biz and hated all it stood for. By the time Navigator got to the level it was, I hated being in a working band. The other problem was everyone was fucked up on drugs. I was so tired of living in NYC and wanted to move to Cali for years and finally did.

MATW: No Thanks continued playing and recording well into 1985, and when I think about what the NYHC scene was like in 1985, it seems like a world of difference from 1982 when you started. Did that contribute to the band calling it quits? Since a lot of post-No Thanks projects were quite a different style of music, how did the change in the hardcore scene contribute (if it did) to you guys wanting to play different kinds of music?

Donna: The last phase of NO THANKS was just Jaime and I with some new members and we were playing what I would identify as post-punk. That line-up didn't last long but we produced a video which you can check out on You Tube and the No Thanks my space page. There is an unreleased demo from that period. The scene was a lot different in 1985. I personally was bored with the style we were playing and for me it is very natural to move on to another art form after several years.

MATW: You got into a lot of different kinds of music after your involvement in the NY music and NYHC scenes. Do you still keep up with any hardcore today? What made you want to check out the hardcore scene again in the past few years?

Donna: I have never checked out of my life to raise a family or become a s conservative American. I have always been involved in some sort of expansive artistic pursuit. I never checked out of hc or any other music that I was a part of. I always had broad musical influences. I like it underground and radical. My collection expands from Jefferson Airplane, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Yes, King Crimson, Orbital, Mozart and GMS. My list continues the longer I live here on Earth. I still hang out. I go to PsyTrance raves and an occasional punk show. A tradition is Mozart in SF every New Years Eve. A favorite local bay area punk band I have seen many times around here is The Sick, totally awesome band. One of the best shows I have been to was Prodigy at the Warfield in SF. I love Voivod.

MATW: It seems like you guys are playing again with No Thanks? What are you plans with this? Will there be any new No Thanks recordings that will pop up? If so, how will they compare in style to your old stuff? Who is involved in NO THANKS 2007?

Donna: I am trying to put together the band for one memorial tour to honor Seth, our drummer, who passed away in 2004 and Jimi our guitarist who is missing as we speak. Keifer Modoreefer, a very talented soundman, has remastered all of our recordings and now has taken on Virus (Jimi's other band) in collaboration with James Kontra. Keifer will play drums. So its all a matter of finding a guitarist and bassist who can play NO THANKS. Who knows what form we will appear in. My recent collaboration with Kontra from Virus has us mulling over some plans to tour in a NO THANKS/VIRUS radical as fuck project with room for new material in the same vein as the original.

MATW: NYHC sometimes has a reputation as being a bit reactionary and right-wing, which might have something to do with the role of skinheads in NYHC. Yet, No Thanks almost comes across as having a lot in common with some of the british peace-punk bands (Crass, Conflict, etc). Would you disagree with this comparison?

Donna: No Thanks was totally influence by Crass, back in the day. Like I said before we stood for rebellion, protest and community. We had nothing in common with the skinhead bands except that we all started out as punks in the same scene.

MATW: What was it like for you guys to play in a scene that might have started leaning in that direction politically and what were the NY bands that you guys felt some sort of kinship with as far as your views went?

Donna: We had certain bands we played with all the time like the False Prophets, XKI, Rapid Deployment Force, Savage Circle, Drunk Driving(Missing Foundation), Heart Attack. I always loved Reagan Youth. We got to open for Husker Du, Dead Kennedys, Necros, Bad Brains The Replacements, Code of Honor and many others.

MATW: Has the political or social outlook changed for you or for No Thanks now after 20+ years? (I suppose we're in somewhat similar shit situations now... maybe even worse off now!)

Donna: We are fucked now. Our government is about to merge Mexico, US and Canada into one Union...the North American Union. Do you want to live in MEXICO, with no protections for the rights really unless you're a land baron....with the same standard of living...haha! The federal reserve has doubled the amount of cash out there since 9/11. Which created this last little economic boom. But that also means the dollar is worth half it was worth 6 years ago. We will be in a full out depression soon. Look up at the skies and note the large persistent contrails coming out of planes, carving cloud X's in the once blue sky. How have you been feeling? Not too good..maybe.. Our rights have been shattered by recent Patriot Act amendments. No one is safe anymore because we are all enemy combatants now. Has anyone read these bills? Things that make one an enemy combatant: protesting, squatting on public land, yelling at a government official. This means that Homeland Security can come and take you away without due process..shades of Stalin.... Yea!!! WAKE UP when you see the cameras...watching YOU!!!! We are about to attack Iran. That means a draft, yes kids, your asses will be over there fighting the nationalists for the NWO corporations. Do I see a nuke being set off.. do you know depleted uranium from the bombing in Iraq hung over North America for 5 months in 2003 ... we have been irradiated..... If you thought it was bad in the eighties, everything we said would happen has. It is all set in place. The detention camps are ready when the tornados blow down your anytown.

Look! This is so depressing. America is being taken down by the NEW WORLD ORDER. The recent elections were just a lollipop given to placate the masses while they set the other FASCIST agendas in place. THE DEMOCRATS are on the same team as the REPUBLICANS. This government is criminal. We live in a DICTATORSHIP...2 sham elections..anyway, do you think it would be any different with Kerry...hahaha..We are going to see some shit go down now.. to Canada.. run to Europe...there is no where to run in a one world government.. Soon the internet will be restricted and this is our last freedom of speech. Please spread the word...please wake up your friends..Start with the fact that 9/11 was a planned attack on US citizens by thier own country. Search YOUtube videos on building 7... check that out... Check out Alex Jones..... power to the people. True Patriotism is DEFENDING THE US CONSTITUTION........ wake up people from all walks of life... even if you don't agree on other levels...lets start as CONSTITUTIONALISTS!!!!!!

MATW: Any final words?

Donna: Check out the NO THANKS and VIRUS website:
Mr Modoreefer Records
No Thanks
Peace and good luck!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the very interesting interview. I share many of the political ideas as Donna, but I think that the whole 9/11 conspiracy theory is dumb. The US government doesn't have any problem to harm its citizens (at least those who aren't millionaires) but that can be easily proven by more tangible facts.

I'm really looking forward for a VINYL reissue of the No Thanks material...

12:58 AM  
Anonymous WL said...

Found this looking for comments on American HC and what the movie said regarding women in the movement. My experience in the LA scene (84-86) was quite different, and we listened to a lot of bands that included women, Sin 34 comes to mind immediately, and Red Scare, not to mention the Germs bass player (HC or not, certainly pertains). But there was that attitude creeping in where it was becoming increasingly macho and sexist!

1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

911 was an inside job are DUMB (which means can't hear) to beleive otherwise.....and Donna is an obvious psychic..if you listen to NT lyrics she predicts situations 25 years ago that others are only beginning to recognize..
The No Thanks Anthology 12" is now out on Lengua Armada records..i'd suggest checking it out..
i love Donna Damage!!!!!

6:31 AM  
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