Up until only a few months ago I never even noticed the name SCARBORO who are a 3 piece based out of NYC. They lined themselves up with WTF Records based in the Netherlands and released their debut full length titled “Here Comes The Hangover” on February 3rd playing a great blend of catchy punk rock mixed with a harder edge. What also caught my attention was their hustle as they really pushed this record and its release. Whether warranted or not there is a feeling out there with some that many of today’s bands simply don’t put the time and effort in to get their name out there and to those people I present to you… Scarboro. The fact that this is probably the best release I have gotten sent in to In Effect so far in 2017 doesn’t hurt either. We caught up with their main man Shi in this March 2017 interview. Graphics by: Bas Spierings.
IE: For people reading this who have never heard the name Scarboro before can you break down who you guys (and gal) are and what type of music are you putting out there?
Shi: Scarboro is myself (Shi Heng Shi) on guitar and vox, Jack Counce on bass/vox and Gayla Escoda Brooks on drums. I guess the umbrella under which we fit would be hardcore punk, but in all honestly we never really gave it much thought as the songs were written over time. We've always wanted to just write and play music that got us excited and were just honest, and let the chips fall where they may.
The short version of our history is I started the proto-Scarboro with my buddy from college who originally played bass and encouraged me to get back into playing music a few years back. Eventually he and his wife bounced to Maryland, and we had a few lineup changes in the interim as life kept pulling members out of state. Jack joined the band in 2014 -- he actually worked on our E.P. “The Safeword is Yes" along with Francisco Botero at Studio G Brooklyn (also where we recorded the new record), and when we had an opening shortly after the release, he took over the bass duties. Gayla recently joined the band when our drummer Taylor Nathe retired to pursue his own business and after hearing the new record she went from part-time subbing to wanting to do it full time.
IE: I have to give you guys a ton of credit for the push you made leading up to the release of your new full length. There was a period of about a month before it came out where everywhere I turned online there was another Scarboro advertisement promoting the new record. Even with a label backing you in WTF Records from the Netherlands it seemed like you went way above what the average band in 2017 does for promotion. Do you feel like all the promotional stuff you have done has paid off?
Shi: Thanks man, if you noticed it must have worked! Joking aside, we are really proud of this record and wanted to do our best to get it in people's ears. There's a lot of great music out there, as well as not so great music out there, and with the way the industry works today you're competing with everyone from the kid in his garage to the folks in the big leagues. So that meant a lot of work on our end to let people know Scarboro and this record exist. We're really happy with the response and coverage we've gotten, as well as the really positive reviews, but most importantly the responses from random folks we've never met who will shoot us a message on Facebook or an e-mail giving us props on the record. So for me it paid off because never in my life did I expect to be sending out thank you notes to someone in Germany who loves the record, so we really can't complain.
IE: A unique aspect of Scarboro is the fact that you guys straddle both the punk and hardcore scenes at the same time. You call yourselves the Scarboro Punx and many of the songs have that punk feel. At the same time there are songs that have more of a hardcore feel to them. What are the benefits and drawbacks to not 100% fitting in on either side of the fence sorta speak?
Shi: I think the main drawback is dealing with folks when trying to get stuff booked who've never seen us live before. I think depending on which side of the fence they're on and which set of songs they listen to they think "oh this isn't hardcore enough" or "this is too aggressive for our punk bill" and this was sort of a similar issue when we started approaching labels with this record as it has the same diversity in it. Overall though I think the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
We've opened for my good friend Jeff Berman who used to play in bands like The Boils, V.P.R. and the Rites, but now does a singer/songwriter project called Divided Heaven, and on the other end of the spectrum we opened for bands like Sheer Terror and Agnostic Front. So we get to play a really diverse range of shows and the response is always really positive, and it's cool to be able to be an entry point into the opposing camp for some people in the audience.
There's a diverse spectrum of bands that influence our songs and I don't think we've ever set out to be one thing or another. It's really been about what is this song trying to say and does this music carry that energy across? That said, all of that means shit if you play a room where everyone is standing there with a blank expression on their face. Luckily we haven't had that happen so far.
IE: February saw Scarboro do a 10 date tour around the Northeast and some dates into the Midwest as well. Can you tell us where you went, the high and low points of that tour and how you put it all together as far as booking it all?
Shi: So the plan was to hit Jersey, Philly, NYC, York, Baltimore, Richmond, D.C., Ohio and Indiana where we did two dates at the end. Putting it together was probably the most challenging aspect just for the amount of work it took over a few months time to put together 10 days, helping find locals when needed etc. Just the administrative side that you don't see in the rock n' roll documentaries. DIY sounds awesome until you're the one doing it, but at the same time you have your eyes set on that moment when you take the stage so it keeps you fueled.
As far as low points, I would say, and for the sake of not getting the venue in trouble because it wasn't their fault so I won't get into which state or specifics --was having some asshole slip something into my drink at one of our stops. It was like the song “Blackout” on the record, except there's no guilty sex and a lot of vomiting/paranoia and a night in the hospital. Second low point was the night we played Philly we left for the show at 3pm in the afternoon and didn't make it out of the Holland Tunnel until 8pm which was when doors were opening. Luckily we drove fast and only missed one band, but still 4 hours stuck on one block in Manhattan sucked.
For high points number one was definitely the weather. The week we went ended becoming early summer, so our mid-February tour got to see some 75 degree days on the road which was dope. D.C. was a great show and we got to see a lot of old friends from when I spent a few years there. The Skidrow Garage in York, PA was also another highlight, for one I turned 35 on that stop and we had some friends from New York drive down with us so it was the best birthday you could as for. Indiana was probably a big highlight for me personally. We got to close out the tour to a really raucous crowd at a really cool venue, Be Here Now, with some really dope ass people and it made the downer moments of the tour worth it.
IE: Was it just the 3 of you in the van or did you bring a friend to help with merch and stuff like loading and unloading the equipment?
Shi: It was a split. The first few days we had a brother of mine from the USA Shaolin Temple along who came along to do some photography and work merch and keep us sane. But after the York stop we went at it just the 3 of us.
IE: Was this Scarboro's maiden voyage as far as touring goes? If not what else have you done? Did you break even or lose money over the course of the 10 days?
Shi: I mean we've done spot off days out of town in the past like York, PA at the Skid Row Garage for instance, which is one of our favorite places to play. We did a four day thing I think in 2015 or 2016 that took us up to Rhode Island, PA, and Trenton if my memory serves me correct. But this was our first run at a bigger string of consecutive dates. Luckily we were able to make money on this tour once we accounted for the expenses which was definitely a plus.
IE: Being a 3 piece within the hardcore and punk scenes seems like it can have its drawbacks as far as getting the crowd involved in your live sets. Do you see this as well and have you ever thought about expanding the number of members you have and maybe taking over just the vocal spot? Or is it a case of if it ain't broke don't fix it?
Shi: I've definitely toyed with the idea but the current dynamic is like a well-oiled machine, and live we're rolling through 12 to 14 song sets in about 25 minutes so it doesn't leave a lot of room for error. As far as crowd involvement it's sort of the opposite. Once we take off, if the audience is feeling us, they wile out and have no qualms about yelling in our mics.
The first few days of this tour we played stageless, and three days in a row there was somebody who came crashing through and splitting my lip open with the mic. At the New York show we're playing and I see Jack looking at something in the crowd and it's just this kid getting lifted off the ground and got tossed like a rag doll. He got up with a smile on his face and went back at it, but then we had to cut a song short because these dudes just started swinging off and pulling at a steam pipe. So we're pretty okay with us doing our thing and letting the audience respond naturally. Safety first kids!
IE: How did the marriage between you guys in NYC and WTF Records from the Netherlands come about and what kind of support have they been giving you? If you had friends in bands looking for a label would you recommend WTF and if so why?
Shi: So when the record was done and it was time to shop it, it was kind of a challenge. As I mentioned earlier, there's some diversity in the record that doesn't fit neatly into a lot of label rosters and the labels have their own idea of what they are or aren't willing to take on. When I came across WTF I saw their roster, and noticed for a label in Europe they gave New York bands a lot of love over the years, so I had an inkling we might be a good fit on the punk end of the label's spectrum and sent over a pitch along with the tracks.
Tim at WTF genuinely dug the record, and to me that was the most important aspect because, let's be honest... what falls under the punk and even the hardcore umbrella these days really isn't what we do -- but at the same time it's not classic throw-back shit either. So when Tim got back to me and was like this is raw and catchy and was just 100% sincerely feeling it, I knew we had found a home. WTF has been really supportive. They're currently working out logistics of getting us over to Europe later this year, which is also our number one priority touring wise. On top of that they have done an amazing job at getting us publicity overseas which has been really cool to see our band getting written up in print mags in a foreign language, and luckily positively. Originally the record had distro in Europe and digitally obviously, but we were sort of on our own stateside. WTF was able to work out getting Rev distro to pick up the record so we were really stoked on that, as it wasn't part of our original discussions but it showed us that they were gonna go the extra mile to figure out where stateside gaps existed.
I would absolutely recommend WTF. Look I have no illusions about how the business side of the "industry" works, which was why having a label that understood and was excited by the record was my main concern. To me it feels that WTF has put in as much as we have to get the record heard and to just be supportive of whatever we're trying to do. They'll check in with us about goings on and stuff, but beyond just "hey how are sales?" They've been really receptive to listening to ideas that we have and being a good sounding board that way, based on their previous experiences. I think what makes our relationship successful is that we're putting in the work to get things done and they're meeting that level too. I think a lot of folks walk into a label situation with the expectation that it's all gonna be taken care of now, and sure if you're signing with some major I'm sure that's a possibility. But what we do is a labor of love and you gotta put your heart and sweat into it and show that, so you can get that same level of respect back. If you don't believe in your shit no one else will. So yeah, that's the long way of saying WTF has been good to us and we're proud to be part of that family and hope some other of our counterparts around the scene end up as label mates.
IE: Being that you are a NYC band I find the name Scarboro as well as the Warriors movie font that you use intriguing. How did the name Scarboro come to be?
Shi: We made an oath when the band name came together to never reveal it to outsiders, so we can't tell you unfortunately unless you end up in the band. I will till you though that you have a good eye and in the early days our love for the Warriors spilled into a lot of stuff. If you listen to the song “Part Of Society” on our “Rubber Tracks” demo you'll get a little Warriors snippet at the end of the song.
IE: What gang in the movie the Warriors could you see yourself fitting in with the most?
Shi: Honestly it's the Warriors. Sometimes, to throwback to your earlier question of straddling the punk and hardcore world, as we go around playing all these different shows and scenes it's very reminiscent of the Warrior's trip back to Coney. It feels like along every stop we gotta prove ourselves. To me the Warriors were just minding their own business before they get thrown into a mess just by showing up to the party and now have to fend off every other gang in the city just to get home. So I don't know, I feel like we'd fit in best with them just because we're trying to survive and do our thing and will do whatever we need to in order to accomplish that.
IE: Who drew the cover to “Here Comes The Hangover” and is it meant to tie in with the song’s lyrics? Please tell us about the lyrics to this song which to me look to be about depression. Is this written by you about you or someone else?
Shi: Okay so this is a long answer but it's the easiest way to answer it honestly. So the cover was done by this amazing artist Pablo Mustafa Albilal who my wife introduced me to. He had done some really awesome pop art stuff in the past and I had really dug his art I had seen on the web from Five Points and P.S. 1 where he had an exhibit once. So when the record was done I was really hoping he would be down to take it on, but he had one caveat: he wanted to listen to the record first. So I was a little apprehensive because I didn't know him personally and the record kicks off with a string of expletives that ends in "suck our cocks!”.
So I didn't know if he'd understand what we were getting at, or just assumed it was some cheap juvenile trying to sound punk thing and not make it past the first song. While it's not a concept album by any means it does have a story it's telling if you pay attention. Now there was one review that though positive, took the record to be juvenile and sophmoric and about drinking and partying. That's cool, if you're the average listener and that's what you get out of it by all means, I want people to enjoy the record on their own terms.
But the record from my perspective from front to back, and I'm glad you asked about the title track, is about depression, death and anxiety and the self-destructive ways that can be dealt with. The album kicks off with “Scarboro” which is the feel of seeing us at a live show and up until “Downward Spiral”, can pretty much play as a party record sonically. But “Disassociate” is about dealing with the deaths of a bunch of people that helped raise or were close to me. The lines "this is for the misfit toys, the broken girls and the broken boys put away your razor blades tonight we'll rage and we will own the night" in “One Night Last Stand” came from a late night scrolling Twitter and seeing some kid talking about listening to some god awful band and how they were the best band to cut yourself to. And as someone that suffers from depression I wanted to write a song, that knowing how fucking harrowing depression is, that even if just for that minute and a half, --could make you have a rager in your head and feel alive and like you could take on the world and take that kid out of that mindset for a short time. “Life Like Any Other” which was written by Jack, is about a friend of his who succumbed to a drug addiction, lamenting the life he was denied. As the record winds down, “Panic At The Cisco” is pretty self-explanatory and “Blackout” is not about all the awesome stuff that happens from a fun night of drinking, from the opening chord it's disorienting and somewhat nightmarish as you stumble through the song. It's the moment where it all catches up to you leading into the final song.
Which yes, that song is autobiographical and it is 100% about depression, so as cheesy as it sounds I appreciate that you caught it in that light. On its face it just uses the analogy of a physical hangover to describe that moment where your actions through your depression catch up to you. When you wake up and you've left a trail of destruction behind, either by dealing with it poorly or shutting out from your life entirely and leaving everyone that counts on you to fend for themselves. The song ends kind of abruptly and it's somewhat open-ended because it doesn't go away. We struggled internally on whether or not it would end up on the record since it sounds so different from the rest, but ultimately it was the perfect period on the end of the sentence that's this record. I figured whether people understood it or not, at least that energy would carry because the record is so fast and hard and upbeat and then out of nowhere it just shifts tonally. I knew going from "go fuck yourself!" to this crescendo of cello and violins and piano was going to be risky but I think it worked, and if it didn't well, I'd be okay with it because it's just the truth and I'm not gonna run away from that.
So to wrap it up, when Pablo listened to the record the next day he rung me up and was like this is what I hear, it sounds like this is about anxiety and depression, and it's a wild night, but it's like night and day and there's this path of destruction the character leaves behind is that right? And I was stoked on it, and we got to work on it right away where we envisioned the character as the personification of the ID and to the right of him is this weird abnormal looking cityscape but it's pretty much tidy and on the other side it's the cityscape in chaos.
IE: So what's next for Scarboro over the next few months leading into the summer? Have you written any new songs and when can we expect a follow up to this new album?
Shi: So in a week or so we're actually going to start shooting a proper video for “Here Comes The Hangover” which I'm pretty excited about. We have some shows lined up and are working on a few dates in June to hit the road again and figuring out the European run. As far as new stuff, there's a good backlog of stuff I've demoed for the band that we've already started working out. There's a chance we might release a brand new track in the months ahead that will stand alone most likely from the follow up album. Ideally we'd be ready to have the next record out by 2018 but a lot of that depends on how the rest of our schedule goes and making sure that we're not rushing stuff. There's no shortage of songs but we want to make sure that we're making something we care about and that has an energy to excite people and not just a re-hash of what we've already done.
SCARBORO "WATCH YOUR BACK" (LYRIC VIDEO)
CLICK IMAGE TO WATCH!
CLICK THE SCARBORO LOGO TO HEAR "BURY IT"