POKEY MO is known within the hardcore music scene mostly for his work with Leeway and Agnostic Front. His debut on wax came on Leeway’s “Desperate Measures” album which came out back in 1991 and his recording debut with Agnostic Front was on their 2011 album “My Life My Way”. From a media standpoint Pokey has kind of flown under the radar for many years and with this interview I was hoping to change that a little and help us all get to know the guy a little better. This interview took place in early December, 2019. Thank you to Agnostic Front's Mike Gallo for making the introduction, Joel Dowling and Tim Daley for the photos used above, Rod Orchard Photos and to John Franko for the graphic work.
1: What’s up Pokey? Where exactly are you right now and what do you think you would be doing if you were not answering these questions?
Pokey: I’m presently getting ready for our next and last leg of our U.S. tour this year.
2: Here at In Effect we love nicknames and the backstories on how people got them. What is your birth name and how did “Pokey” come about as the name you are known by within the music scene?
Pokey: My real name is Jimmy Mo. Pokey came from the cartoon/claymation series, Gumby & Pokey. In one episode, they play in a band, and Pokey is the drummer.
3: Where did you grow up and what was your introduction like to heavy music such as metal, punk and hardcore? What bands do you remember finding out about first? What about the earliest shows that you remember attending?
Pokey: I was born in Manhattan. My family moved to Flushing, Queens where I’ve lived ever since. My first introduction to heavy music was in Junior High School around 1979-1981. My older brother and his friends were listening to Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, etc. Then, I heard the Ramones “Road To Ruin”, and my taste changed. Later, in high school, I was exposed to more metal bands as Ozzy put out “Blizzard Of Oz” and new wave of British bands like Maiden and Priest became a thing. While first learning my instrument and jamming covers in my first (band), which included Craig Setari on bass, I was introduced to Dan Lilker, bassist for Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, M.O.D., Brutal Truth. John Conelly… singer/guitarist for Nuclear Assault was living in Dan’s tool shed in his backyard. Either it was there or in his basement, Dan would play us tapes of various hardcore bands, one of which was Agnostic Front. One of the first shows I remember attending was Raven, Metallica, and Anthrax at the Roseland Ballroom. I also remember seeing Cro-Mags open up for Anthrax at the Beacon Theatre, which is where I first met Harley Flanagan popping out of a cab with his bass.
4: What made you want to start playing the drums? What drummers or musicians did you look at back then that inspired you or made you think that you could do it as well?
Pokey: My older brother started playing drums first. I used to sneakily play his drums when he wasn’t around, until one day he caught me, and instead of throwing me a beating, he encouraged me. Drummers whom first inspired me to play include David Robinson from The Cars, Clem Burke from Blondie, and Marky and Tommy from the Ramones.
5: You have to have around 30 years or more of drumming experience under your belt now. How would you rate your own playing skills?
Pokey: I think I’m competent, a 5.
6: Your debut on vinyl came via Leeway’s “Desperate Measures” album (1991) which is a highly regarded album within the hardcore music scene. How did you land the gig with Leeway and what can you tell us about your early days with getting to know the members of Leeway?
Pokey: Around that time I had been working for IRD Record Distributer in their warehouse, picking records and tapes filling out orders to various record stores. They distributed records from all the independent labels, as well as Combat, their in-house label. I was hanging out on the Lower East Side every night and going to all the shows including CB’s Sunday matinees. I was getting pretty familiar with the Lower East Side music scene as well as the NYHC scene. One of those bands that I noted with exception was Leeway. I had seen them around 3 or 4 times and thought they were really tight. They parted ways with their drummer, and next thing I know, I was being introduced to AJ and Eddie.
7: Did you have to have a tryout to get into Leeway and if so what do you recall from that session?
Pokey: I think I was one of 3 drummers who tried out for Leeway. By the time I was called back a third time, I knew I had the gig.
8: “Adult Crash” and “Open Mouth Kiss” were the final two Leeway full lengths that I really liked when they came out. Overall though the reviews were sort of mixed with some people not really getting into the experimenting that the band was doing with their sound. What is your take on the final two Leeway albums all these years later?
Pokey: By that time we weren’t trying to make hardcore music anymore. We were just trying to make music from a hardcore perspective. I think everyone was trying to break out of hardcore at the time, or just evolving. You listen to any hardcore band’s records from that same time period, you’ll find it sounds very different than their earlier stuff, or their members started new bands with a different sound. It was a wonderful time for diversity in music, and looking back, I’m very proud of what we accomplished.
9: Eddie Sutton (vocals) carries on the Leeway name these days going by the name Leeway NYC who have released new material this year. Have you checked them out either live or the recorded material and what are your thoughts on the new stuff?
Pokey: All the more power to him. He should carry on the name. However, I haven’t had any interest in checking out his new material.
10. You also played on Merauder’s “Five Deadly Venoms” album back in ’99. How long were you a part of Merauder and what was your time like when you were playing with them? Did you do any touring with them?
Pokey: I played in Merauder off and on for a couple of years, mainly in support of my late friend, SOB. The time I spent with them was chaotic but worthwhile. I really got back to some metal roots playing with them. The line-up at the time was SOB, Anthony, Jorge, myself, Mike Maciver, who later joined Candiria, and later, Rick Lopez. It was a combination of their classic line-up and a bunch of great players.
11. When and how did you end up in Agnostic Front? How did that whole thing go down? When I look over the list of albums you have played on there is a noticeable gap of maybe 10 years there between Merauder and Agnostic Front’s “My Life My Way”. What was going on back then and how did you get back into it and land in AF?
Pokey: Around the same time I was playing in Merauder, or soon after, I was playing in Murphy’s Law. A few years after I departed Murphy’s Law, I hooked up again with guitarist/songwriter, Ben Shapiro, and recorded a couple of demos and did a couple of shows under the name High Tigers. We were being scouted by major labels, and there was a lot of smoke, but no fire. Soon after that, I gave up music and became a restaurant manager for about 5 years. During this period, we did a Leeway reunion European and U.S. tour in 2006, which ended up breaking the band up for good. After I was burnt out running a restaurant at JFK airport, I was unemployed for a year. That was when AJ, with whom I’ve stayed close with over the years, recommended me for a position at Astoria Sound Works, a rehearsal studio where he works. I gladly accepted the position, as I wasn’t doing anything anyway. Two weeks later, I ran into Mike Gallo and Vinnie Stigma at the studio, telling me Mike’s brother, Steve was leaving the band and that they’re looking for a drummer.
PHOTO BY: ROD ORCHARD, TAKEN SUMMER, 2019. TORONTO, CANADA
12. How has your time in AF been? The band is obviously one of the biggest hardcore bands in the world and with that said much of the spotlight is shined on (deservedly so) Roger and Vinnie. Do you like the fact that you can be a part of an all-time great band in this genre of music yet almost fly under the radar at the same time?
Pokey: My time with AF has been tremendous. I feel like everything I’ve done in the past was just preparing me for this. I’ve played more shows with this band in the past ten plus years than I have the previous twenty. Actually, I’m very grateful that I get to somewhat fly under the radar because I would not be able to deal with all the attention they get.
13. Agnostic Front just dropped “Get Loud” a few weeks back and you guys are obviously out there on the road supporting the new music. What is your favorite song off the new one and what can you tell us about the time and effort that goes into making an album like “Get Loud”?
Pokey: This question is like asking someone who their favorite child is. There was a great amount of effort put into recording this record, but the one song that stands out to me is “I Remember” for its passion and it’s nostalgia.
14. What are some of your favorite AF memories or achievements from your time in the band?
Pokey: One moment that stands out is finally getting to Waken Metal Festival (Germany) after our tour bus broke down just in time to take the stage to be greeted by 75,000 fans.
15. What is your favorite AF song to play?
Pokey: "Gotta Go" for obvious reasons. Hopefully, soon it will be “I Remember".
16. Playing in hardcore bands for as long as you have has maybe not made you a rich man but has certainly made you a well-traveled one with probably a ton of stories and experiences to look back on. If you never got a chance to play and tour with bands like AF, Leeway, and Merauder what do you think you would have been doing with yourself as far as an occupation and more?
Pokey: I would have done whatever would have made me a rich man!
17: With touring comes a lot of down time before shows. What kind of things do you usually do to pass the time when you guys roll up to a gig and there is a lot of time before you have to get set up?
Pokey: This is probably the most difficult question you can ask anybody who plays in a band. How to kill the boredom? Easiest answer is do whatever you can to kill time. Eat, walk around town, if you’re close to town.
18. Favorite cities or countries to play in? What makes them favorites?
Pokey: NYC, Los Angeles, Vegas, Berlin, London. We have a lot of friends in these cities.
19. City or country you have NOT played in yet that you would love to get to?
Pokey: Hong Kong and Beijeng to reconnect to my Chinese roots.
20. What types of things do you like to do in your spare time… like a hobby when you are not out on tour?
PHOTO TAKEN BY: JOEL DOWLING PHOTOGRAPHY AT THE 2019 THIS S HARDCORE FESTIVAL
POKEY ON THE CROWD AT AGNOSTIC FRONT'S DECEMBER 11TH, 2019 SHOW AT
NYC'S BOWERY ELECTRIC. PHOTO BY: TIM DALEY