To say the hardcore scene in New York City in the mid-1990’s was a rough place is an understatement. Mosh pits sometimes had more in common with a prison riot than they did with the “united & strong” mantra that was given to us a decade plus earlier. Places like The Wetlands and Coney Island High had become the venues in NYC that were the go to places to play for bands like Madball, Crown Of Thornz and 25 Ta Life. In 1996 Billy Club Sandwich put out their first demo which was basically the start of a 14 year ASSAULT on the world of hardcore. Although primarily based in the Bronx BCS made a name for themselves at a small club on Northern Boulevard in Queens called Castle Heights and along with bands like Irate, Everybody Gets Hurt, Eye 2 Eye, and Sworn Enemy made up a scene within a scene that featured some of the hardest hitting NYHC around. BCS went on to build worldwide appeal with tours in Europe, Puerto Rico as well as Japan with multiple releases over the course of their career including a documentary style DVD of their 2009 Japan Tour called “Japan Suspects” which came out just last year. Things fizzled out in 2010 with some personal issues within the band but 2016 brings new life to BCS which includes their long awaited return on May 14th in NYC at the 2016 Black ‘N Blue Bowl. BCS returns with their last and most familiar lineup which is: Martin Gonzalez – vocals, Tony “Malone” Ranalli – guitar, Gary Muttley – bass, and Glen Lorieo – drums. We caught up with Glen and Tony in this April 2016 interview. Photo by: Rich Zoeller Photography, Graphics by: Bas Spierings.
IE: What's up guys? 2016 marks 20 years since BCS first started out and you guys are making your return on May 14th at the Black ‘N Blue Bowl. Why now? What kinds of things came together to make this upcoming show a reality?
Glen: Well, we broke up in 2010 because of certain members’ personal issues. They have been resolved and the time seemed right to get back together. And this year is the 20th anniversary so it just made even more sense to do it now! I know that personally, I have missed playing these songs and I am looking forward to playing them again!
Tony: Well, yea we are all on speaking terms again, so the timing felt right, and this is who we are, ya know? I mean a lot of things had to occur, for us to come together as a band. I had a lot of things I personally had to overcome. Once those things were no longer an obstacle, we could begin the process of speaking again. There was a long period of time where we were not on speaking terms, these guys were pretty upset with me and rightfully so. So, a lot of talking and listening and hashing things out had to happen, I'm grateful these guys gave me a second chance. I've learned some pretty hard lessons over the years, and one of them is that you don’t always get a second chance.
IE: Besides a benefit show for Lil Gregg like 2 or 3 years back do you recall when the last BCS show was and who else played? At that time was it supposed to be your last show or did things just dissolve sort of?
Glen: Our last show was on July 2nd, 2010 at the Red Star Bar in Brooklyn. It was a birthday show for Jay from To The Point Records. The other bands on the bill were Line Of Scrimmage, Heartbeat Still, Not Without Resistance, Red Eyed Devil and Unstable Foundation. There may also have been “2 more bands TBA” as that’s what the flyer says. Haha It was a wild ass show! People were dancing with couches in the pit! It was a good send off although we did NOT know at the time that it would be our last show. We had more shows booked that summer but then in late July, Tony had to get emergency surgery on his shoulder which had been injured since the 90’s and then things did more than “just dissolve sort of”- they completely fell apart!
Tony: No, it dissolved directly because I was a drug addict and I couldn't keep my shit together, with the band, with my job, with my family or in any capacity. These guys put up with a lot of bullshit with my addiction for a long time. Longer than probably most people would. It was all pretty typical addict behavior, lying, being unaccountable, dropping out of sight for weeks at a time, a lot of denial on my part. After we broke up I wound up homeless, living out of my car, and sleeping here or there, until March 19th, 2012 when I made it into detox, and then onto rehab for almost 6 months in Kent, CT. So, yeah there was a direct cause for the band breaking up and I'll take responsibility for that.
CLICK BELOW TO WATCH THE VIDEO FOR "SUCKERPUNCH"
OFF OF BILLY CLUB SANDWICH'S 2001 EP TITLED "SUPERHEROES AT LEISURE"
IE: Where is everyone living these days and if playing more shows after the Black ‘N Blue Bowl is planned how hard is it going to be with everyone not living close to each other?
Glen: Well, I’m still in NYC and Gary is close by in NJ. But Tony is living outside of Hartford, CT and Martin is up in Albany so yes, it’s gonna be difficult to get us all together as they live 2 to 2 1/2 hours away but so far everyone has been dedicated to making it down here and we have been able to practice a bunch of times so that much is working out. So there is hope that BCS will be coming to your town sooner or later!
Tony: Sure Chris, it was hard for us to get our shit together when we all lived pretty close to each other! HAHAHAHAHA But yea I live in Manchester, CT like ten minutes east of Hartford so we all live in different states now but even though Martin and Glen live in the same state, they live 2 hours away from each other so it might as well be other states!
IE: I know it is still early but have you guys kicked around ideas or talked about possibly writing new music and even getting back into the swing of playing out some after the Black ‘N Blue Bowl? If not, is it something that you personally would be open to? Are you guys looking at doing this maybe for a few shows, maybe a few months, or maybe bringing it back to stay but making it work with everyone's schedules?
Glen: We definitely want to play more shows after the BNB Bowl! Nothing is concrete yet but we have had many offers already. We aren’t gonna be playing every weekend or anything like that but we do want to keep doing this now that it has started up again! As for writing new music? We have discussed it but right now we are just preparing for the Bowl- you know, just relearning all of our songs and then we will start to look into the songs that we had written just before breaking up and see what new riffs people have come up with in the last 6 years and take it from there.
Tony: I think we all WANT to play more, but determining what we can do and how often is something we're feeling out right now. As a musician I love writing and always would love to record new music, and I've gotten some ideas written for a few new songs, but we're not even looking at starting that process with each other until after the BNB Bowl. We have enough on our plate with getting ready for that right now.
IE: BCS shows became a regular thing at this club in Queens called Castle Heights in the 1990's into the 2000's. You had bands like Irate, EGH, and a bunch of others who all played a very heavy style of hardcore and you all kind of had like this Castle Heights Crew sort of. The club has been gone for a few years now but for some younger kids reading this who may not know, or people who never heard of the place can you give us a quick summary of what that club meant to the band and to the scene at that time?
Glen: It wasn’t a “crew sort of”- we were all boys and still are! “The Five Fingers Of Death” as BCS, EGH, Irate, Eye 2 Eye and Sworn Enemy were known, still talk and still miss the old days! Haha We all support each other but when it’s your time on stage you play to win! So it lead to some great, healthy competition between the bands to really step up night after night and bring the fucking pain!!
Castle Heights was open from 1992-2002 and was BCS’ home basically from 1997 until it closed. We played there many, many times and Gary was a bouncer there and I was one of the sound guys so we were very much involved! As for what it meant to “the scene”? It was its own scene that was solid and great! And I honestly feel that it was the last time that there were a bunch of bands who actually sounded different from each other and the last time of true originality in hardcore music. Things have gotten pretty homogenized since then. Most shows now seem to be the same sounding band from beginning to end. But at Castle Heights, Kevin Scondotto and John The Doorman fully supported us and gave us the chance to grow and build a following there. We went from opening shows (and always being late for them. haha) to headlining there. Our first show ever was at The Wetlands on May 19th, 1996 but we didn’t play there too many times and it took us SIX YEARS to finally get a show at CBGBs?! So Castle Heights was our main stomping grounds until it ended.
However, I also realize how Castle Heights helped to “ruin” the worldwide hardcore scene- people danced HARD there but the problem was that there was a drink ledge all the way around the dance floor so you couldn’t dance in the “traditional” way (like running around) so instead of everyone moving around and spreading out the pain, people ended up standing in one spot smashing whoever the one poor person was standing there next to them and dancing “ninja style”/”kickboxing” or whatever you want to call it and then video of it spread throughout the world via the “Guerrilla Warfare” DVD’s (the footage has also been stolen many times over on You Tube as well!) and now the whole world dances like that! This also mutated into “crowd killing” as it’s now called and now no one is safe anywhere at a show! Haha.
Tony: I can honestly say that the Castle Heights scene was the most ignorantly violent scene that I've ever witnessed in terms of dancing... Nothing I've ever experienced before or after really compared to those times. Just IGNORANT. But I loved it and I really appreciate all of our friends and our bands and the way we came up. It was special to say the least. I mean you were gonna have to be a warrior if you were gonna try and dance at Castle.
IE: Castle Heights had a run of 10 years and although just a small club had a big impact on the NYHC scene during that run. How many times would you say BCS played there and can you get into some of the crazier moments you experienced there whether playing with BCS or just going to a show to hang out?
Glen: Oh man, I just went through all of our flyers and according to them we played there at least 17 times! So many crazy times! But for me, having my drum seat break in the middle of a song not once but TWICE there has to be at the top! Haha I used to jump up during a tom part in the middle of “DEA” and when I sat down the leg on my seat just broke! I had to play the rest of the song leaning up against the wall! But then at another show the same seat broke again randomly in the middle of “Narco Cabron” so at the break in the middle of that song I just threw it into the pit and played standing up! It went okay except for the double bass parts! Haha Then, Chris Bee from EGH brought me a barstool!? It was so fucking high I was basically standing up for the rest of the show! It was like I was Chuck Biscuits! Haha That was wild. And as usual, there’s no video of either of those shows… which sucks because they were among my finest “Spinal Tap” moments! Haha
A Highlight there for BCS would have to be when we played in hospital scrubs! That was dope. That was also the first time we played “Pito Wilson” by Brujeria. We actually opened up with it in these surgical masks and scrubs and our boy Mark Catalina (of In Effect art fame!) was also dressed in scrubs wrecking the pit while we played! We blew the place apart that night. I remember seeing some of the guys from Indecision (who we opened up for) the following week and they were like, “You guys were like the fucking Beatles that night! WTF?!” Haha.
Tony: There were literally too many crazy moments. Too many fights too. I remember one time I was smashing the people standing on the side of the stage with my guitar and bashing into them, and I railroaded off the stage into that little walkway that led to the backstage area falling on top of Mike (GANTHAR) who was probably 15-16 years old and not even half my size. I crushed that kid. I wound up finishing the rest of "Slow With Your Hands" while crushing him underneath me on the floor. As far as BCS shows in general, the last Castle show stands out to me as just being over the top. I mean it was the end of an era and everyone was there and the place was packed and the energy was huge. We destroyed that place that night.
IE: The BCS sound and style is one that just makes you ball up your fist simply by listening to some of the killer breakdowns you guys have and the video you guys did for “Suckerpunch” kind of put hard dancing on the map. There was always hard dancing in NYHC but in the 1990’s things got turned up a little bit. Do you remember how and when the “kickboxing” style of dancing took over?
Glenn: Thanks Chris. We play the style of hardcore that we love! IE late 80’s/early 90’s NYC groove with breakdowns and plenty of fast parts! A style that, sadly, seems to have become passé for the most part. And like I said before, it IS Castle Heights’ fault that the dancing style “got turned up a bit”! It didn’t necessarily start there (NYHC dancing had gotten way harder than what you would see on MTV years before- I’m sure Rat Bones was doing it before the club opened) but that’s where it became the popular style due to the limitations of the club’s dance floor! And people like Chris Bee (EGH), Little Gregg (EGH), Jayrate (Irate’s 1st bassist), Phil Vibez (Irate) and Mark Catalina taking shit to the next level! Just getting totally acrobatic with back hand springs and “handstands of doom” and jumping off of everything in sight (including the aforementioned drink ledge) and I guess incorporating moves from capoeira (whether they knew it or not). Those guys were just doing their own thing and trying to elevate beyond circle pits and “creepy crawl”. It definitely got a bit extreme and violent at times but it was always impressive to see their moves!
Tony: Lil Gregg Heyward. Best/most insane dancer I've ever seen. Watch the old videos on YouTube, kids. RIP MY BROTHER. Thanks for the compliment, I think we just played some music we wanted to hear and this is how it turned out. I mean, New York has its own way and sound and also its own style of dancing. I can remember we would go out on the road or travel for gigs, and people would come up to us like "Yo, you guys are from NY right? We could tell by the way you dance". It's just the way it is I guess.
CLICK BELOW TO WATCH THE "NARCO CABRON" VIDEO WHICH
ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON BILLY CLUB SANDWICH'S DEBUT DEMO IN 1996
IE: You guys date back to a time when shows and the city were a lot more violent. It just seemed like a fight could pop up for many reasons and at times for no reason. Thinking back, what were some of the more scary or dangerous moments you experienced with this band? Either playing in NYC or on the road.
Glen: The scene and the city DID used to be a lot crazier! BOTH have gotten tame in comparison to when I first started going to shows- the fear was real but was also part of the “fun”! But I can’t think of any really scary moments for BCS- I mean, look at the size of these guys! Haha And then add our tour manager, John Franko into the mix and nobody is really stepping up. But we have had our share of run-ins with White Power assholes. Even close to home- the one time we played the Smokey Tooth in Yonkers (a short lived DIY storefront that served as a venue) some boneheads were talking shit about us singing in Spanish or whatever but these moments end up being quite comical as Tony will end up calling them “niggas” and you know White Power guys LOVE being called “nigger”. Hahaha.
Tony: Probably the riot in Norwalk when the punk ass bouncers at the Globe didn't know how to handle it so they started randomly pepper spraying everyone inside the club. As if that wasn't bad enough, the pepper spray got into the air conditioning ducts and the entire club got evacuated and so many people got second hand pepper sprayed from inhaling it.
IE: An image that always comes to mind is Martin in his yellow Charlie Brown shirt often holding a billy club while you guys play. How did the shirt initially come into play with him wearing it at what seemed like every show?
Glen: Well, according to pictures he didn’t start wearing the Charlie Brown shirt until 2000. It was just his idea to do it and it worked and eventually became his signature thing to wear it for EVERY show since. I have no idea why he started to wear it? Before that he wore a Fat Albert shirt a bunch of times and I think he wanted THAT to be his thing but then he came across the Charlie Brown shirt and the rest is history. “Charlie BROWN” was born!! Haha I think what helped to solidify it as a thing was one of our shows at Castle Heights in December 2000 that the No Redeeming Social Value guys were at. They saw Martin in the shirt and thought to themselves, “Well it’s not a ‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ without a tree!” so they went down the block and bought a medium sized Christmas tree!? They then brought it in the club and hid it in the girls bathroom while we were setting up! Telling girls that the bathroom was out of order!? Haha Then, when we started playing, Dean from No Redeeming jumped up on stage and handed it to Martin and dove off! Martin than started bashing the tree around and the crowd then just totally killed the tree in the pit!! It was awesome! And again, no video… But there are some pictures of it at least!
Tony: It's Martin, that's all I can say. Fits him perfectly.
IE: Hardcore shows for a frontman can be rough with the crowd grabbing at you and the mic. Do you know how many of those Charlie Brown shirts Martin went through?
Glen: Haha, no idea but when we went to Japan he did bring 4 of them and gave them out to fans after each show. One fan (Tats from the band, Creepout) actually wore it all sweaty right after one of the shows?! It was pretty funny (and gross) as he was a little Japanese guy wearing this big ass, wet Charlie Brown shirt! Martin has actually printed his own shirts at times so there’s no way to know how many he’s gone through?!
Tony: I'll say this. Hardcore shows can be tough on the CROWD when the frontman carries a billy club.
IE: Where did the name Billy Club Sandwich come from? Whose idea was it and when it was first brought up was it a thing where everyone loved it right away or was there some discussion about it?
Glen: Well, Rod, the original guitarist, wanted to name the band “Billy Club” but then the original drummer, James “Psy” Kocsis, who is a weird dude, said “Naw, Billy Club Sandwich!” and they went with it! haha
Tony: Glen answered the question pretty well, but the other thing I'll add about the name is that I mean if you know us it's fitting.
IE: Were there any other names used in the early stages of the band or were there other names kicked around before you settled into BCS?
Glen: Well after rolling with BCS for a while (and by “rolling” I mean just playing in my basement for years without a singer) we thought it was too long and too weird so we changed it to “Madcap” (we even have logos and artwork for that name that Mark Catalina did for us back then) but then Madball became more than just a side project and blew up so we thought, “It’s too close to Madball” so we went back to BCS and that was that! I love the name and think it’s perfect for us- it’s a hard sounding name but it should also make you laugh when you hear it! Which is how our live shows usually are! I always think it’s weird when I tell someone the name and they don’t immediately laugh?! Or when they ask something like, ”Who’s Billy?” Haha. That has actually happened multiple times?!? Weirdos…
Tony: Yea that Madcap thing wasn't going to work HAHAHAHAHA!
IE: If you could go back and have a do over or change anything with the history of this band what would you like to go back and change?
Glen: Well, I wish that members of the band didn’t have kids so early on so that we could have done more but that was beyond my control. Haha I don’t really like to think about “what could have been different” because we managed to go pretty far considering the limitations that we’ve had. We never toured the US but we still went to Japan, Europe and Puerto Rico and not many bands have done that so that’s cool. I’d still like to play Madison Square Garden but what are you gonna do?
Tony: I mean knowing what I know now and going through what I've been through, I would have definitely sought help in my addiction earlier, but I mean hindsight is 20/20 right? But I guess I had to go through things to get the perspective and the gratitude that I have today so who knows? I probably would've quit my job and tried to do this harder than before...
BILLY CLUB SANDWICH & FRIENDS ON TOUR IN JAPAN, 2009
IE: I have to bring up the “Japan Suspects” DVD that Dead City Records put out about a year ago. It chronicles the band’s history but focuses mainly on a tour of Japan you guys did in 2009. The thing that comes across the most from this DVD to me, is the fact that although you guys are playing this intense heavy style of hardcore, that you all seem to like to joke around with each other. There are many times on that DVD where embarrassing moments are caught on there, practical jokes against each other and just that you guys are real and seem to get along really well with one another. What are some of the funnier things from that DVD that stand out to you and was there even more embarrassing stuff that was left out?
Glen: With Martin around there’s always more embarrassing stuff! Haha. A lot of it IS represented in that DVD in various ways though! I guess the funniest moment was the day we were walking in a rest area in Japan and Martin asks us, “How do you call that toilet that licks your asshole?” (meaning a bidet!) That was great and is in the DVD in the form of the interview in the hotel room where he talks about his love of the Japanese toilets! Haha And also the footage of Martin wrestling in the street with members of the Tokyo hardcore scene! They were trying to sumo wrestle him and Martin went straight regular wresting and just pinned them! haha That was our first night there and we were thinking, “Oh boy, this is gonna be one of those tours…” But Martin actually was on his best behavior in Japan as he was so excited to be there!
Tony: So I think you have to keep it light, but I would imagine these guys would say I'm not always the most fun person to be around, HAHAHAHAHA. I can get pretty intense especially back then before rehab and when I was on drugs 24/7. But I think we genuinely like each other's company and I like to joke around most times. Hey, look man, if we wanted to be miserable we could just work shitty jobs and not do this thing. When we were discussing getting back together we said, “This is only going to work if it makes our lives better in some way. If it doesn't it's not worth doing, ya know? So, let's have some fun and play some shows and see if we can't get people to beat each other up while we play some songs.”
IE: Can you talk about your band mates and how you remember meeting each other? Going back to the Japan Suspects DVD and from knowing you guys it seems like you guys have relationships with each other that are a little more brother like than say bands that may meet each other through an ad or something like that. It just seems like you guys get along super tight and the fact that all of you are back for this reunion supports that a little too…
Glen: We have all known each other a long time. Tony and I went to high school together (which is when the band started) and Gary and Martin knew each other from going to shows and taking the train from the Bronx together and we ALL know each other from going to shows at the Bond Street Café and The Wetlands going back to the early 90’s. We’re like brothers at this point and can fight and laugh and tell each other to “fuck off” and usually it doesn’t cause a schism. Tony and I already had the band going and we were in a band called Setback for a couple of years too and when we left that and tried to get BCS going again Tony was at Orchard Beach Labor Day weekend in 1995 and ran into Martin on the boardwalk and told him that we were starting a band and that we were looking for a singer who could do something “different” (IE sing in a different language or something) and Martin said he was down with that and that was it! The following May we played our first show at The Wetlands here in NYC. There have been some bumps in the road- partly that is what lead to the 6 year hiatus- but we are all cool again and ready to support one another and do this some more! Here’s to 20 more years of Clubbin’ The World!! Haha
Tony: Look after not speaking to these guys for some years, I had a huge void. These guys are my family. Glen pretty much summed up how we met, but you know there was a reason why we went so long without breaking up, when so many of our friends bands were dropping off and shit. And I have to say, if I can be a little candid here, these three guys, through all of the shit I put them through, really stood behind me and never aired out any of my dirty laundry. These guys are my brothers, through it all. Sure, we weren't speaking but they didn't trash me or bad mouth me publicly, and even now like with this interview, they're like, “Look, whatever you're comfortable about talking about is up to you.” Like he said, the first 2 minutes of us finally speaking again, “We're friends 20 years I can't tell you to fuck off?” I give Glen a lot of credit too, because most of this is due to him. I'm fucked up so I could live with shit being fucked up forever, but he's an incredible friend. And for these guys to forgive me and move past all the fucked up shit is more a testament to them, than to anything I've done. I'm really grateful to have these guys back in my life, just as my boys, let alone to be doing BCS again.
IE: Anything else you wanted to add before we wrap this up? Thanks for your time and good luck going forward.
Glen: Thanks for the interview Chris! In Effect has been with us since reviewing our first demo back in 1996 and we’ve known you longer than that! I’m just glad that you are still doing your thing and we are back doing our thing and that you cared enough to take the time to do this interview! If people want to contact us: billyclubsandwich.com we’re on Facebook too and you can get merch at DeadCityRecords.com
Tony: Yea Chris thanks for all the years of support, you've always had an incredible zine and have always been one of the coolest dudes in the scene out here. I just want to thank all of the people who supported me through my ups and downs and all the people who support BCS.
JAMES BROWN & BILLY CLUB SANDWICH, BRUSSELS AIRPORT, 2004