Standing out in a crowded room can be a very hard thing to do but Rule Them All do just that with a hard to label style of hardcore that holds on to aspects of the music’s roots while also having a modern feel. Their third EP titled “Dreams About…” came out late last year on Flatspot Records and with it came a sense that the band was on a steady rise before the Covid-19 pandemic put a total shutdown to live shows at venues. This interview was originally scheduled to happen on March 28th at a Long Island show that they were on but due to current circumstances we took this one to cyberspace. This April 6th interview was conducted with: Jon Gusman - vocals and Richie Armour – guitar. Rounding out the Rule Them All 2020 lineup is: Danny Smith – guitar, Andy Laurino – bass and Abbas Muhammad – drums. Lead photo by: Danielle Dombrowski, Graphics by: Bas Spierings. Additional photos by: Carl Gunhouse, Tim Daley and Steven J. Messina.
IE: What's up guys? This is one of my first ever interviews during a worldwide pandemic so the first thing I'd like to ask is how are you making out as far as your day to day life?
Richie: I’ll admit at first I didn’t really think we’d get to this point and figured it would’ve all blown over by now. The fact that it’s still happening and seems to be getting crazier by the day has definitely started getting me a little freaked out. I don’t know entirely what to make of all this but I’m just hoping it ends soon. As for my day to day life I’m not able to work right now so I’ve just been holed up playing guitar, watching movies and taking walks when I can. I haven’t lost my mind yet so we’ll see what happens.
Jon: It's hard to shake the feeling that we're living in some kind of weird dystopia that I thought only happened in shitty action movies I saw as a kid but we're here and have no choice but to navigate it. I'm a full time student and an artist so staying inside is sort of business as usual for me. In fact, most of my classes have shifted to being online so it gives me that much more time to work on art/cartoons/ and figuring out ways to get my work out there once this is all done. I also have a full stack of comics and books that I'm slowly plowing through. Within the band, we're keeping the gears turning any way we can and it's been exciting to hear the material that Richie/ Danny send out every day.
IE: Is it funny, ironic or prophet like that “Dreams About” is a song where Jon asks when he will be free of dreams about the end of the world?
Jon: Honestly I think it's a combination of the three. I was really just writing from my own experience but I think collectively, we all knew something was bound to explode eventually but if we spread some kind of rumor that I'm a prophet and actually saw this coming then that would be sick.
IE: Can you break down “Dreams About…” for us a little? If someone reading this just heard the name Rule Them All for the first time today what can they expect?
Jon: It's like the edge of NYHC mixed with the emotion of DC Hardcore and the spontaneity of LIHC. There's fast parts, groovy parts, MOSH parts (if you're smart) etc.
Richie: I hate calling it melodic hardcore because I feel like that comes with a connotation that doesn’t exactly represent what we’re about but for arguments sake I’d say it’s melodic leaning with the aggression/energy of “traditional” hardcore. We just like all the weirdo Rev/DC/Long Island bands and try to capture that.
IE: You guys are from Long Island which is known more for pumping out bands that play a more heavier and metal influenced style of hardcore and with that often comes more guttural vocal approaches. Jon's vocals are anything but that and are one of my favorite aspects of what the band is doing. Jon, where do your vocal inspirations come from and was it hard at first to try and learn how to do vocals the way you wanted them to come out? Who are some of your influences vocally?
Jon: I'm a drummer first and I think that sort of helped me as a vocalist with word placement and what not. I've also never been afraid to put myself out there and fall on my face. Some of the big ones for me are CIV, Ray Cappo, Walter, HR, Raybeez, Roger Miret, Ian Mckaye, Henry Rollins (Black Flag AND Rollins Band era), Andy West and Tommy Corrigan. There's also some not hardcore related people like Rob Pollard (Guided By Voices) and John Frusciante that really influenced my approach on melody/being musical with my vocals. I still struggle with pushing too hard out of sheer adrenaline and blowing my voice out but I've learned a few tricks along the way to push back the inevitable loss of my voice. Jay (Mindforce) recommended drinking Pedialyte before a set and that's been my go-to ever since. Tea with honey helps and also eating clean, at least the day of the show, also helps. I definitely suck at that though.
PHOTO FROM THE FRONT COVER OF "DREAMS ABOUT..." BY CARL GUNHOUSE
IE: What's your process for writing lyrics like? What kind of topics do you see yourself getting drawn to when it's time to write?
Jon: I usually wait till the song is fully fleshed out and we have a phone recording of it. After that, I drive around and listen to it on repeat until I hear some sort of melody or string of words. I'm pretty bad at sitting down and writing stuff down so I'm usually putting it together on the way to record them but having said that, it's usually brewing in my head for a long time before that. Most of my lyrical content nods to spirituality, positivity, significant experiences from my childhood and or significant experiences I have present day.
IE: Outside of the Long Island and NYC areas where has the band played so far and how serious (or not) is Rule Them All about playing further away from your home area? Will we see Rule Them All tours overseas ever or is this a more weekend run of shows type of band?
Richie: We’ve done a couple of East Coast runs as well as some Midwest and Canada shows. Unfortunately due to school/work etc. we’re not able to tour as much and as often as we’d all like to but we’re for sure serious about getting out as much as possible. So if you’re an overseas promoter, hit me up!
RULE THEM ALL @ AMH, AMITYVILLE, NY JANUARY 11, 2020. PHOTO BY: TIM DALEY
IE: You guys opened for Gorilla Biscuits back in February at a Long Island show that was sold out and was a pretty big deal. How was that experience and did you get any feedback if GB checked you guys out or did you get to hang out with them?
Richie: Straight up the coolest show I ever played. Unfortunately I didn’t really hang with them too much aside from just “hey what’s up” but I have heard through the grapevine that apparently Walter likes us. I don’t know if that’s true or not but I’ve chosen to believe it is.
Jon: It was honestly one of the coolest shows ever. “Start Today” changed my life as a young teen and to be a part of that line up was a dream come true. It didn't feel like "opener plays really early to a quarter of the crowd then headliner plays hours later". It really felt like we were a part of something special that night. The Kill Your Idols set was amazing and they even had Ernie Parada come out to play "Reminder" by Grey Area as a tribute to Vinny Value (RIP).
IE: Another show that the band recently played was a live set on WNYU's Crucial Chaos radio show which is a college radio station in NYC that had a huge impact on the hardcore scene in the 1980's (pre-internet) and even so into the 90's. What was that experience like? Can you tell us more about it?
Richie: It was awesome. Aside from live radio sets just being a fun thing to do I feel like we got to carve our little place out in NYHC history by participating in such a legendary tradition. As a total hardcore nerd, it was also extremely personally gratifying to do. Something to check off the list for sure. Click HERE to check out that set and interview.
Jon: It was sick. We set up, rocked and then got some really good pasta after.
RULE THEM ALL @ E-BLOC, NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ 2019. PHOTO BY: CARL GUNHOUSE
IE: Why the name Rule Them All? What does it mean or is it one of those "it just sounded cool" types of deals?
Jon: I just cut the famous "One ring to rule them all" phrase from Lord Of The Rings in half and presented it to Richie. He was like "we'll keep it on the back burner just in case we think of something else". I knew it was weird and kind of different but in the right context, could sound cool and make sense for the style we were going for.
Richie: Yeah, Jon presented it and since I didn’t really have any other ideas I was down. People have said that they don’t like the name or think it’s weird or whatever but I think it’s dope so fuck it. Plus, LOTR rules!
IE: Rule Them All has one of the most unique Instagram pages. Can you give us some background to what makes it unique and has it created any confusion amongst yourselves or people following the band?
Jon: Well, The Fight are some of our best friends and I also fill in for Lil D on drums when he’s away on tour. We also both didn’t care for the idea of having social media for our bands and coincidentally shared members of Jukai. Honestly, it was just a big funny joke that stuck.
Richie: Yeah, basically Scanlon (The Fight) already had access to the Jukai Instagram for whatever reason and since we both shared members we figured we’d hijack their page and take advantage of all the followers they already had. Plus like Jon said, neither of us care to run our own band Instagram’s so it’s easier to just have it all in one place. It’s pretty funny but has definitely caused confusion but we’ve gone this far so why not stick with it.
RULE THEM ALL @ AMH, AMITYVILLE, NY JANUARY 11, 2020. PHOTO BY: DANIELLE DOMBROWSKI
IE: Something a little out of the ordinary for a hardcore band is the fact that you have three guitar players. When I saw you play at AMH late last year the six of you barely fit on the small stage. How did this come about and from a musical standpoint what does having a third guitarist add that just having two wouldn't?
Richie: Well we’re back down to two guitar players again but it originally came about because Danny (the 3rd guitarist) filled in for us once and then asked if he could just join full time. Danny’s the man and a great guitar player so we were all down. I feel like we have “big” sounding guitar parts so I think having 3 guitarists helped translate that better in a live setting. Logistically it was kind of a nightmare all fitting on stage like you said and trying to organize getting a third cab to shows. It was also probably annoying recording that many guitar parts for us.
IE: The band has put out EP's in 2017, 18, and 19... What can we expect next and is getting something new out in 2020 something you see as a realistic goal?
Richie: Well we originally said we’d never do an LP as we felt that it’s a pretty difficult feat to write an LP’s worth of songs without it getting stale. That being said, we’re gonna try to do it anyway so pandemic permitting we’re gonna write/record and have that out in 2020. I’d love to keep the one release per year streak going.
RULE THEM ALL @ SAINT VITUS, BROOKLYN, NY 2019. PHOTO BY: CARL GUNHOUSE
PHOTO BY: STEVEN J. MESSINA