Maximum Penalty’s Joe Affe has been one of the most respected guitarists in the NYHC scene for many, many years. The Maximum Penalty demo came out way back in 1989 and since then fans of the band have seen and heard the evolution of one of the most unique and original sounding hardcore punk bands to ever come out of New York City. With rumblings of new MP music on the way and a recent European “fill-in” spot with the Cro-Mags we figured it would be a good time to check in with Joe to see what he has cooking on all his burners in this interview which happened in late November. Lead graphic by John Franko.
IE: Hey Joe. Where exactly are you right now and what do you think you would be doing if you weren't answering these questions?
Joe: I’m in my apartment in Brooklyn right now. What would I be doing? I would probably be either at work or with the family or surfing the internet for guitars that I can’t afford.
IE: I have been asking you about the status of a new MP record for a while now and I want to jump head in here on that very topic. Where are you guys at in the process and what can you tell us about whatever it is you are working on?
Joe: So we’re still getting this new MP record together, many obstacles have slowed the process down such as rotating drummers, shows, schedules, jobs and family obligations. We also took some time out to release our ‘89 demo on a collector’s edition 12 inch vinyl. There were new songs that we were working on but decided to scrap… a lot of different ideas going on lyrically as well as with the music. Different head space, different time, different drummers… so we started over. We just weren’t happy and we felt that there was no reason to rush. By the time you are reading this we’ll have a newer set of songs, completely in the view of where “Life & Times” left off. We are going to be tracking everything ourselves by the beginning of 2020 and looking to have it out in April/May of 2020 on Reaper Records. As of now it’s going to be a 5 song self-titled EP produced by Dan Korneff who also produced the “Life & Times” record with us.
IE: Getting away from MP real quick you recently did a short run of shows in Europe playing with Harley and the Cro-Mags as part of a “Best Wishes” anniversary run. What can you tell us about that tour?
Joe: It was great! Totally last minute, a short run with long drives and no sleep. I had a blast! Such a great experience. Rocky (George) couldn’t make those dates due to prior commitments and I had the time available so I jumped at the chance to play. Those guys are all nasty players so it was an honor and a real challenge for me to step in like that! No rehearsals!
IE: You have played with Harley in the past with Harley’s War. Can you talk about your relationship with him, and how you initially started playing music with him?
Joe: I’ve known him for years… he’s a friend, MP opened up for Cro-Mags and Destruction on the “Best Wishes” tour out at the Sundance on Long Island back in ’89 but it wasn’t until 2004 when a good friend (Sean Killkenny of Dog Eat Dog) had mentioned me for 2nd guitar for Harley’s War. At the time it was Harley, myself, Sean and Eric (Goat) Arce, I think Eric was starting to play with Jerry Only so at that time Walter Ryan stepped in on drums. We did a few European tours and some local stuff. We also played the last CBGB matinee with Agnostic Front, Murphy’s Law, Sick Of It All and Madball. It was a lot of fun (and kind of surreal) being the last time at CBGB’s. I mean records like “Rock For Light”, “Age Of Quarrel” and "Victim In Pain” were in everyone’s DNA already. It was kinda second nature with the songs… we were all already familiar so it was easy to walk in, rip it and have fun!
IE: It's no secret that the John Joseph led Cro-Mags (JM) and the Harley led Cro-Mags have had their differences and legal issues in more recent times. Have you ever felt caught in the middle with the whole situation?
Joe: I don’t, that’s between them. That history of the band has nothing to do with anyone but the original guys so there’s nothing for me to approach or comment on, I will always respect both those guys for the music they made together, I mean those songs are the staple to a lot of bands whether they admit it or not. I know I’m not the only one that feels this way but I would still love to see the original band play again in this lifetime.
MAXIMUM PENALTY IN TOMPKINS SQUARE PARK, NYC. JULY 23, 2016. PHOTO BY: JC PHOTO MEDIA
IE: Something that is kind of obvious with Maximum Penalty is that over the last few years the band plays less frequently than when you did “back in the day” which is understandable since the band is not your full time jobs. Do you ever think back to when you were maybe 21 or so and really hustling with the band and compare it to how you guys go about things now? You have the full speed ahead way of looking at it (then), playing local and out of state constantly versus playing a few bigger shows per year (now) with maybe a Euro run mixed in here and there. Can you talk about each way of going about it and if you could would you want to go back to the way things were when you were in your 20s? Which way do you prefer?
Joe: Playing in Maximum Penalty back in the late 80’s was all about playing as much as we could, just between ‘88 and ‘89 we played close to 50 shows… no bullshit! It was great, we didn’t keep count, it was more about making friends with other bands and sharing bills all over. When I say all over I mean, Manhattan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and places close to NY. We were ON! and it was just GO! Zines, clubs, demo’s, graffiti, flyers, stickers, it was round the clock and on repeat. There was still a sense of urgency about that time for us and the scene in general. There were a few reasons why the frequency of shows got reduced for MP in recent times. You have to remember we had lost our long time drummer (Darren Morganthaler) who moved to Florida. We went through a few replacements along with family deaths, children being born, day jobs and just real life shit taking over. Despite the fact that MP never became a full on touring band, we did tour the States and Europe multiple times but never played ourselves out. It’s a blessing in a way over time because now we get to choose better shows. I think for a band like MP being a little more selective nowadays has worked for us, it has more meaning. Don’t get me wrong if MP had the chance to go full speed with this new record I’d do that!
TOP PHOTO CIRCA MID-1990's @ CONEY ISLAND HIGH, NYC, BOTTOM PHOTO TAKEN IN 2019.
BOTTOM PHOTO BY: DANIELLE DOMBROWSKI
IE: Yourself and Jimmy Williams (vocals) have been the face of MP since the earliest stages of the band but in more recent years you have assembled a great lineup of scene veterans who could fly under the radar if someone is not paying attention. Can you talk about the current day MP lineup and the resumes its members bring to the table?
Joe: Jimmy and I have been the foundation of Maximum Penalty since we started. We’ve had a few lineup changes and revolving members over the years but honestly this is the most solid line up in the bands recent history. Around 2005 we had Sean O’Brien (from Killing Time) on bass, right around the time we were releasing “Life & Times” he had moved to Texas. It was a chance meeting at a show that we met Jonathan Buske who was in (Terror and The Promise) who was also very instrumental in getting MP and Reaper Records together. We just hit it off and he was in and it has been10 years strong now. During the recording of “Life & Times” we lost our second guitar player and friend Anthony Trzesinski (Machine) to a tragic illness which was a huge blow but there was always a vision of bringing the band back to two guitar players…for years it was just me. It worked for a lot of the music up to that point but not for this new life we were breathing into the band. Jimmy had filled in on drums for a tour with Danny Diablo and Rey Fonseca (from Agents Of Man) was on the road with them. It was Jimmy that had suggested for him to become our second guitarist. Myself and Rey share a similar picking style and guitar tone so it was a no brainier… we had our double guitar to match the record! Right after our last European tour our drummer Darren had relocated so we were stuck without a drummer. At the time we were rehearsing out at Astoria Sound Works and were going through a few different drummers when it was talked about Eric (Goat) Arce (Murphys Law, Misfits) who worked at the studio to join MP. We had been friends for years from doing shows with Murphy’s Law to me playing with him and Harley back in ‘04.
IE: How did you and Jimmy initially hook up to be in this band together? What do you recall on how you met him and how things were at first in regards to making MP become what it is today?
Joe: In the late 80’s I went to Music & Art High School on the Upper West Side with my friend Brian Gocher who asked me to play guitar with him in a band. He was already playing with Jimmy who went to Humanities High School at the time. We meet up at Giant Studios on 14th Street and I walk into a Maximum Penalty rehearsal and it’s Mildred on bass, Brian on guitar and Jimmy Williams playing drums and singing. I first met Jimmy a few years before at a Sarcasm show in Brooklyn. We just started talking, loved the same music, and had a bunch of the same friends. Looking back the overall vibe of the band from day one was to do and be something different with a crossover punk/metal/hardcore style! So many stories from back in the early days… aside from playing in the band we hung out and went to other shows all the time! From CB’s to the Ritz to Lismar Lounge to the Music Building to Hell Park… for a few years that’s kinda what we did. I remember that Jimmy had a 1979 Chevy van and we would drive around in it blasting Bad Brains and Public Enemy stealing spare tire covers off other cars at red lights. You’re out of your mind when you're young I guess.
IE: How did you initially find out about hardcore music and specifically what was your introduction to the NYHC scene? What records, bands or shows do you remember from those early days?
Joe: Around 1985-86 I was hanging out with friends here in Brooklyn and going to school in Manhattan… it was happening on both ends at the same time, the natural progression from thrash metal to punk to hardcore music just from mix tapes alone that friends would make me from home and school. So initially it was some Black Flag, Dead Kennedys and Agnostic Front songs that came on after some Maiden and Motorhead, My initial introduction to the scene is a funny story… 1985 my mother had a small salon on 5th Avenue and 14th Street here in Brooklyn, right around the corner was Sob’s (Merauder) father’s store along 5th Avenue. We would see each other passing first with Sob wearing his “Morbid Tales” jacket and me with my “Don’t Break The Oath” one. We just started talking music and became good friends. He introduced me to a whole other group of punk and skinhead kids from the next neighborhood over in Sunset Park. Minus (Merauder) was among them with his mohawk and Exploited jacket. These 2 guys were my introduction and we started talking records and going to shows. Animal Hall, Lamour and CB’s were the usual stops. We knew we were part of something that most people had no clue about! If memory serves me the records started up with DRI, COC, GBH, Suicidal Tendencies, Agnostic Front, and Discharge but then got into shit like Bad Brains, Crumbsuckers, and the Cro-Mags. The one show that really showed me where this movement was going was the Cro-Mags Ritz show in ’86 that I mentioned in the NYHC Chronicles interview but went to so many after that! Warzone at CB’s and Carnivore at Lamour were probably some of the most memorable ones for me.
IE: How did the name Maximum Penalty come to be?
Joe: So the story goes… we were at Jimmy’s parent’s house on Allen Street hanging out and listening to music and out on the floor of his room were a few records, the two that were on top were “Life Sentence” self-titled and “Public Enemy” Bum Rush The Show”. It was a play on both names which embodied the idea of a cross pollinated style that Jimmy was looking for. The name of the band was right there! It pretty much said it all and it was the punk rock/hardcore esthetic with the hip-hop delivery. Very New York at the time! There was no other name!
IE: You have been doing this Maximum Penalty thing for over 30 years now. Do you ever think about how much longer you can keep it all going? It seems like the band is in a good spot these days with a low pressure type of set up which to me seems like it could help prolong the band’s existence.
Joe: Speaking for me, I never really thought of a timetable on doing MP… it’s become such a part of my life that it’s just something that I will always feed and keep going in some way or another. It’s the glue to a part of a family that has gone on for so long now. It will just continue until we don’t want it to anymore. It’s tough to think about… sure other projects come up, people’s lives go on and in different directions but I still feel that this band has such an original style that (maybe isn’t the flavor of the month) can live on! Maybe if we would’ve went back to back records and tours the last 20 years we wouldn’t be even be talking about it because we might’ve burned out? But that’s not the case. I still believe in this band’s story and feel that there’s more to come! It’s that feeling that will keep the band going!
IE: When you think back over the history of this band what are some things that bring you a sense of pride or accomplishment?
Joe: It’s no secret that Agnostic Front put us on a few times in our career, They gave us our first CB’s matinee with them (“Live at CBGB” show) ’88. Sold out! Line around the corner and this was our first real show! Years later they put us on our first European tour (Unity Fest ’97) with them and Vision. Just an incredible time and such an amazing experience. We had our first real US tour with Agnostic Front, Dropkick Murphy’s and the U.S.Bombs in ’98 which was another game changer, a friendship that has lasted to this day… beyond words! Another milestone for MP was the touring we did with The Misfits (U.S. and Europe) both in ’97. For a band like us at the time to support Agnostic Front and the Misfits was amazing!
We’ve had a lot of small victories as a band. We have overcome many obstacles and situations throughout the years together. It makes for a sense of fearlessness and determination… just like most bands. Being a part of the Blackout Records compilation (“Where The Wild Things Are” 1989) is still very special but ultimately finding a home after all this time with Reaper Records is a real sense of pride! Not many bands can stay together for the better part of 20 years and put out what I think is our best record in “Life & Times”. It was Reaper that had the balls and vision to release a record that a lot of people turned down and slept on. Getting that record done and landing on our feet with our current label brought us our biggest sense of accomplishment at that point! On a personal note I feel there is so much untold history about MP and having had the chance to put together a package that embraced the birth of the band and the demo that put us on the map in our latest release with Reaper brings a real sense of pride. It’s not just another 80’s demo pressed on to wax, it’s a real piece of NYHC history, a time capsule of a period of Maximum Penalty in New York.
MAXIMUM PENALTY @ BLACK 'N BLUE BOWL, NYC MAY 21, 2017. PHOTO BY: RICH ZOELLER