INTERVIEW: Tony Erba of Cheap Tragedies
I was rather psyched at being able to do an interview with Tony Erba to talk a little bit about his current band Cheap Tragedies. At the risk of riding his nuts a little bit too much, I'll tell you why in a few points:
1. Hanging out is always a great fucking time and you can always talk some good rock n roll.
2. His current band rages.
3. His past bands have been at least awesome; at most really fucking important.
MATW: Cheap Tragedies has been together for under a year now; can you give us a rundown of how you got together? You've also managed to get an awful lot donein the few months you've been active as a band. To what do you attribute your efficiency-- experience, wanting to hit the stage right away, boredom, all of the above?
Erba: Yeah,all of the above. They players in the band had the band together before I joined and good songs written but no vocalist and a vague direction in which they wanted to proceed. John Millin (guitarist) is a natural leader and someone used to making things happen yet has played exclusively in Youth Crew styled bands that were all very good, but I think my addition has reinvigorated him and he seems to be having fun with being freed from the shackles of an admittedly confining style of hardcore. Now he can write whatever the hell type of hardcore/ rock he wants and have a good time in the band without cowtowing to the dress and narrow sound of a Youth Crew situation. At least, thats MY perspective on it. I may be wrong and they may be just putting up with me through clenched teeth.
9 Shocks Terror broke up in 2006, and Amps II Eleven bit it in April of 2007, so I started literally having night terrors at the prospect of no more band practices, no more money pit, no more tours, no nothin'. I just so happened to be bullshittin with Jeff Grey, guitarist, and he mentioned that they were doin' a semi Youth Crew/'80s HC band, and mentioned the personnel involved. I knew everyone except the drummer, who turned out to be such a completely kickass surprise, anyway I knew who was involved and I said to myself-- "shit yeah, this sounds like it could fuckin' RAIL." So I called 'em.
I've always been someone who gets involved in bands to travel and take them as high up the food chain as we can go, within reason. I hate sitting on my ass, and the other guys in the band are seasoned vets who want the same things out of a band that I do--minus the blow and the felching.
MATW: Cheap Tragedies is a big departure from a lot of your more recent bands. When putting together the band and the first songs, was there an intention or a concerted effort to adhere to a particular style?
Erba: Ehh,to me it's almost just like heyday-era Face Value-- catchy,anthemic hardcore with a solid rock underpinning. Not all that different for me. Amps II Eleven was straight boogie-punk, so the rock thing I totally embrace. I see us playing fast yet catchy rock-oriented Hardcore.
MATW: For folks that have yet to see you guys play, what can one expect from a gig? Will it have the over-the-top, aggro approach some of your past bands had reputations for? If so, does that just come with the territory with Clevo bands?
Erba: Uhh... yeah,I cannot and will not be tamed or mellowed out or controlled. I'm a fucking animal. I want to force the music down the audience's throat. If I'm not having a good time and being fulfilled at a gig,I think I oughta charge the audience a SECOND time on the way out the door for being boring. I only know one way to play live-- that's to go out and get after it and play loud as fuck and wild as hell. The other guys are freaked out a little but i love the blood, sweat, and mayhem. I'm upping the ante every show. Diving off PA's, breaking bottles over my head, jumping on the bar, and abusing my body til I throw up after the show is typical. Think a 'posi' Blag Dahlia crossed with Evel Kneivel.
MATW: Speaking of Cleveland, for a lot of years, continuing well into the 90's, there was some major drama between some folks from New York and Cleveland. It seems that, although you were in a real popular band back in the late 80's to early 90's, you didn't get too wrapped up in all of that. With a good amount of hindsight now, do you have any thoughts on that stuff?
Erba: Yeah it was fucking ridiculous then, and equally retarded if it still goes on now. I never was involved, we played everywhere for an average of 4 months out of the year with Face Value,and worked it pretty hard with 9 Shocks. I never got involved with what those idiots like fatass Chubbie Fresh or Dwid were doing.
MATW: You've been playing in active bands for the better part of the past 2 decades. Have your reasons for playing changed throughout those 2 decades? How about your aspirations for you bands in general?
Erba: No,i need an outlet for my frustrations and depression and I love playing non-commercial aggressive music, same as I always have. I love traveling and seeing the friends I've made over the years and seeing that band that you never heard of and having them knock your dick in the dirt.
MATW: A good number of your bands are quite respected in the "DIY circuit" of hardcore wherein punk "business" has typically looked suspiciously on profit, particularly when it comes to record companies and the like. You've been in some quite popular bands that have sold a good amount of records over the years by hardcore standards. It's no secret that recently a good portion of the record industry is sounding the alarm over decreased record sales, downloading, and other issues. By today's standards, selling a few thousand copies of a release is no small feat, even for bigger, established labels (hardcore or otherwise). Given that a lot of your past bands have been in that league where you could expect to sell a couple thousand records, how do you stand on the whole business of these current "issues," and on making money in the record business in general?
Erba: It is a very interesting question. The pressing of the Face Value 7"s were 1000 a pop... at LEAST ten pressings of that that I know of. Then, the LP, with probably 8,000 pressed. Then you had the CD with both the 7" and 1st LP on it (all on Conversion Records). Plus, the cassette single (now there's a retarded format!). Then, about 5,000 pressed of the live single (Nemesis Records). Then, the 2nd LP ("Kick It Over," Doghouse Records)... probably when it was all said and done, 5000 total pressed of LPs and CDs. The band NEVER GOT ONE FUCKING DIME from any of these sales. Not to mention that Conversion sold their rights to Revelation, who quietly kept that shit in press for years. I can't stand to think about it. Dennis Remsing, you cocksucker. Not too mention that that shit's on Lost and Found in Europe, bootlegged as hell.
With 9 Shocks, Stepsister and Amps II Eleven, it varied. 9 Shocks never got paid from Sound Pollution, and got royally FUCKED by Devour Records, but with with Havoc he took care of us real good, drove us on tours, went to Europe; Felix is great. Totally stand-up yet still able to make money,albeit in a punk, ethical way. Smog Veil is great too, they pushed Amps and we had a publicist, I-tunes money coming in, Amazon money coming in, shoe sponsorships and shit, good promotion, decent distribution, etc. He's a good dude. I hope people download the shit out of our stuff on Soulseek or wherever. I will hopefully be involved with ethical people who treat the bands well and promote their labels properly-- everyone wins, that way. I don't want to put bounties on people's heads-- but I will, if I get fucked over.
MATW: It seems that Cheap Tragedies could very well bridge a little bit of that gap in audiences between the DIY-hardcore crowd and the more mainstream hardcore crowd. How do you feel about that, considering that your loyalties seem to lie firmly in the DIY- camp?
Erba: I think we're indeed very versatile and I think you're right on the money-- we played kind of a 'professional' HC Fest called "This Is Hardcore" featuring Bridge 9 bands and Agnostic Front and whatnot that was put on by the FSU people in Philly, and they couldn'tve been more pleasant. There was no fights, it was well-organized, we had a great time slot, and they didn't say a word about my antics, which were typically outrageous. A totally different scene than what I'm used to, but we went over well and were treated fine. Later that night we drove to NYC and opened for Drop Dead at the Cake Shop, and that was jammed-packed with the crustys and bike-punks, and they were of course raging and we got over with the crowd and it was kickass. That made me feel great about the potential of this band.
MATW: I remember finding it refreshing that your take on the punk and hardcore thing was that it was part of a larger history of rock n roll. I'm pretty with you on that, and think it's a straight-on, open minded approach to the genre. You'll see a good amount of folks who will almost exclusively listen to hardcore/ punk, or if they do diverge from that, to bands that have been accepted as being "close enough" to hardcore/ punk. Do you think it would change the hardcore scene much if folks listened to and checked out other kinds of music on a more regular basis?
Erba: Hell yes, then you'd have more bands like Annihilation Time rising to prominence. If you only take influences from one particular background then your band will be one-dimensional and generic as hell.
MATW: With respect to the last question, I've got some music-nerd questions for you. What are those 5-10 current faves you'd need to be stranded on a desert island with? I guess in the days of iPods, a question like that makes a lot less sense, but whatever....
Erba: Current faves? Stupid Babies Go Mad, Glucifer "Basement Apes", Drive-By Truckers "Decoration Day", Living Stereo demo, Wolfdowners demo, Malabar Brothers demo, the Tough & Lovely "Tough and Lovely" CD, Collinwood Soul Group demo, Broken Needle LP, Hell's Information demo, the Kids reissue, Midnight "Endless Sluts", UV Rays CD, GC5 "Never Bet The Devil Your
MATW: I think we've chatted on a couple occasions about some killer 70's rock shit like Atomic Rooster and Mountain that you were keen on. There's as much a reissue industry for that 70's rock and weirdo psych shit as with hardcore and punk bands of yore. Do you follow those releases at all? If so, what are some recent gems you've been exposed to?
Erba: HELL YES. I am glad that you are so up on this shit! I just got some great reissues by Buffalo (amazing Australian 70's hard rock), Flower Travellin' Band (Japanese freakout/ psych), Leaf Hound ('70s English Sabbathian filth), High Tide (late '60s Brit boogie/ blues movement) etc etc.
MATW: You don't really seem to take a break from music much. GSMF broke up, and you were still doing 9 Shocks Terror (and Step Sister). In the interim you were doing Amps II Eleven (right?), and as soon as 9 Shocks broke up you seemed to have started this band. What can we expect from Cheap Tragedies in the coming months and do you have any other projects lined up on the side (Upstab or anything)?
Erba: C.T. has 2 singles coming out on Livewire and High Anxiety records, and the LP on MATW. Then touring and 3-day weekends as much as humanly possible. Hitting the Fests as much as we can, and we totally want to go to Montreal, so I'll be callin' you soon, dig? Also I am talking to some pretty good-sized labels about getting a proper reissue for Face Value--the 1st single, the first LP,the live single and live and radio cuts. The Face Value stuff has been sought after by a whole new generation of HC kids and they can't get their hands on it. Are you interested, Dan???? I'm working on a 'solo' LP with different friends playing on different
songs--styles are pretty much Kids/ Dwarves/ Pretty Things/ Saints/ Birdman/ GG and the Jabbers/ Rose Tattoo punk rock 'n' roll. Hopefully my brother and I will do an Upstab reunion one of these days, but he's in Arizona now. I also think the final chapter has not been written on the Nine Shocks saga...stay tuned!