It’s not often where we get to interview people who pre-date the entire NYHC scene but we found one here in Alex “Uncle Al” Morris who many of you probably remember from being a founding member of Murphy’s Law as well as playing on their 1986 classic debut album. Who else had it on green wax? These days Al is down in Brazil but a return to his old stomping grounds in NYC is in his immediate future along with some live sets showcasing original and cover tunes that run the course of a few decades. Besides music Al has been behind many album covers, shirt designs and flyers which you may recognize as well. So without further ado we bring to you this brand new February 2017 interview with the one and only Uncle Al.
IE: What’s up Al? I wanted to start off with the fact that you have been based out of Brazil for some time now. How long have you been living there and what made you make the move from being a longtime NYC resident to being a resident of Brazil?
Al: My adventure in Brazil was supposed to be a business venture in 2006 that ended up becoming a lifeboat for my family. I was supposed to live both there and NYC, but the recession hit, I lost my job, had to sublet my apartment and live on the farm full time. My financial situation wouldn’t allow me to return for years, I was kind of shipwrecked. I am still 100% a US citizen.
IE: From talking to you I know that you are not living in the city out there but pretty much the opposite. What is your day to day like outside of your musical projects?
Al: Yeah, I’m a total hick now. I run a ranch and farm (ranch means cows and horses, farm is fruits and veggies). I’m a real lazy bastard though, I hire a guy to do my work, my wife is the actual boss. My day consists of hanging on the internet, looking for storyboard work. The last two years I’ve finally crawled back to financial stability, so I’ve been making trips back to the US and restarting my American life. I do want to add that my wife Ligia has built an organic agro-forest farm, totally self-sustaining and ecologically feasible way of living. She's doing more for the world's survival than anyone I know.
IE: Getting to your musical projects can you start off with Lei De Murphy? Give us some background as to the name, the set list, and how you went about putting together this lineup?
Al: While I was in the hospital I put out a call for musicians to make some music in Sao Paulo through Facebook and got a couple of guys into playing. I made a trip down there, hooked up and we jammed a lot of tunes, some of mine, some covers. The bass player Filipe started playing “Malfunction” by the Cro-Mags. It totally rocked my world to hear them doing that song. I gave it my best John Joseph. The phrase Uncle Al is actually hard to pronounce in Portuguese, so to translate it it would have to be Tio Al, so I decided why not just give the band a new name for Brazil, so I named it Lei De Murphy, which translates to Laws Of Murphy. I doubt the Dropkick Murphy’s would object. We do a wide range of songs, either my own “Gangway Stupid” songs, plus a bunch of covers.
IE: How often does Lei De Murphy play?
Al: Pffft, we played one show so far, but it was great. A lot of rehearsal and recording studios down here put on weekend shows that fit about 100 people at the most and sell beers. We played a Sunday matinee type show and they saved me for last. It was chaos but everybody seemed to know the songs, sang along and moshed it up. A real fun day. Getting shows is a little tough for me here. I don’t have good connections. I think I’d have to spend time there more, get to know the right people My bandmates are in a lot of bands. Felipe is in this Decendents style band called Fear Of The Future. They got this hilarious song titled ''I Hate Brazil!''. Emiliano is an awesome drummer… so awesome that he's in a million bands, Skarnio and Braindead among others. He and Philipe just did a show with members of Rot, a famous Brazilian death metal band from the 90’s.
IE: What is the punk and hardcore scene like in Brazil? It is a massive country so probably hard to give complete details on everything... but try to give us some observations.
Al: Sao Paulo is the closest major city to me, a six hour bus trip each way. It has an active punk, metal and hardcore scene, very much styled on the US. The folks down here are pretty up on things, like Europe, and occasionally I hop down there to soak it up, see some shows. I’ve seen Agnostic Front down here, as well as H2O. Sick Of It All were here recently but I couldn’t get away that week, I was in the hospital getting operated on.
IE: You have also aligned yourself with musicians here in the US who you have done some shows with while you have come back to visit. Tell us a little about Loud Fast Rules and their set list.
Al: Loud Fast Rules is one of my alt bands. It's a tribute to not one band, but a whole slew of bands from NYC from the 70’s punk scene to the early NYHC scene. It's kind of telling the timeline through songs. We start out with the Ramones, who were actually the first hardcore band. Punk was experimental music and the Ramones were Queens kids who wanted to play hard fast music in Manhattan, at CBGB’s… sound familiar? Then we do the Dead Boys, the Cramps and Johnny Thunders. These were the bands I used to go see when I first ventured downtown in seedy little clubs in the East Village. Then on to the Misfits. I opened for them on St. Marks back in ‘81 with my band The Attack, a band I played a bunch of times with at A7. Next we do the Bad Brains, then Reagan Youth and finally some of bass player Nick Marden's band The Stimulators, which had Harley as the drummer. I wanted to play these songs because they were great and shouldn’t be lost and buried. The Loud Fast Rules lineup is Nick Marden of the Stimulators and Suicide Kings on bass. Nick is solid old school NYHC and NY punk. Jason Meraz from FTW on drums and me singing and playing guitar. We have a second guitar player as well with various people in that spot. Now here is the thing with me. I have different sets of material for different audiences… a hardcore set with “Gangway Stupid”, a NY punk tribute set with Loud Fast Rules, I have a set mixed with ska, reggae dub, country, red neck stomp under the moniker “U.A. Morrison”. I could put on a two hour concert of my music when you add it all up.
IE: You mention “Gangway Stupid” which was a CD you put out awhile back under the name “Uncle Al”. For those who may not have heard of it can you tell us some more about it?
Al: “Gangway Stupid” came about in 1999, just as things went cold for NYHC. By 2000 there were not many shows happening. I had put together a lot of songs that I had on ice and newer material and wanted to put down tracks. I based the music on early 80’s hardcore, like Minor Threat, Black Flag, Misfits, Dead Kennedys, Suicidal Tendencies, that kind of energy and attitude, plus oi and ska from England. It was a great musical era. I wanted to reconnect with it. It's like in my mind the kind of band I should have put together back then. I want now just to blast it out there, doing it live. (Check out the video for the track "Fists Of Fury" off the "Gangway Stupid" CD by clicking HERE.)
IE: You have put out the word that you will be coming back to NY for an extended stay and plan on playing out as well. What is the time frame for all of this and can we expect a slew of Loud Fast Rules shows while you are here?
Al: I’m coming back in March and staying for at least a month, possibly more if necessary. I’ve been in touch with my band members to reactivate Loud Fast Rules, but also to do an Uncle Al set… a separate show for that material. Realize I’ve written dozens of songs in different genres besides straight up hardcore. I predate Murphy’s Law and NYHC… that was just a brief time in my life. I’m getting up there in years and want to showcase what I have before I’m beyond the ability to do so. I don’t have any industry backing. I’m still a relatively unknown oddball, so I’m carrying this whole thing on my back. I feel if given the exposure I can prove that I got a goldmine of work.
IE: You put out feelers to play the Punk Rock Bowling Festival this year. What was the final outcome on that?
Al: Yeah, they chose Pennywise over me. I guess they wanted the thrill of “Bro Hymn” reverberating in their testicles. Fuck 'em. You know, guys like me and Harley and Eddie Leeway have to self-promote ourselves as artists. It's against my nature to have to blow my own horn, as in ''Hey! Look over here! I deserve attention and respect!'' but the truth is if we don’t, who else is going to do it?
IE: Your history within the NYHC scene dates back decades and your work on the first Murphy’s Law album is one of the things people from all over probably recognize most from you. When you think back to the early days of NYHC what are some of your most fond memories?
Al: Oh jeez, where to start? A lot of it was about just being there, living the life. What made it work was we self-entertained ourselves. We invented, experimented. You see those old videos of A7, a crappy little room with 50 people squeezed into a dingy backroom, watching Agnostic Front in their formative phase, and we were all one, living thing. It was pure, boiled down into to the essence of what was real, what it was about. We didn’t know at the time we were making history, we were just being there. That's why 35 years later people who were there still talk about it. You don’t hear anyone saying ''Wow, remember 1995?'' or 2003 or 2010, but for a short era between 1980 and 1986 people are writing books about it, documentaries. So much came from that time, both musically and style wise, and it's still reverberating around us. Buzzer cut hair, mosh pits, piercings, tattoos, all that stuff was the result of that time. Not to say we invented tattoos, but we drove it into the culture. Some of my favorite memories were going to Mike Perfetto's tattoo shop in Brooklyn with a bunch of us skins. We'd call him up and he'd say ''Yeah, come by around 3am”. We'd be there with bikers and guidos getting panther tattoos, and it was a ball. Finally he'd get to you around 6am (tattooing was illegal then in NYC). Instead of flash, I would bring him my own drawings and he'd do me up. Was there craziness, violence? Yeah, came with the territory - literally. The Lower East Side was a warzone back in those days. Gangs, drug dealers, crazy bums. We hung together for self-protection, but some around us also caused shit. That's kind of a schoolyard mentality, that if you showed toughness, you ruled.
FOR MORE OF AL'S ART CHECK THE SCROLLING COLLAGE AT THE END OF THIS INTERVIEW
IE: Do you have an all-time favorite show you played?
Al: The first Murphy’s Law show, New Year’s 1982. Working at A7 I asked Jimmy if he wanted to start a band, he said sure. So the next day I drove to Astoria to pick him and Adam Mucchi up (we were borrowing Adam from Agnostic Front). We went back downtown looking for a drummer when we spotted Harley walking along Ave. A in front of Ray's Egg Cream Emporium, told him to get in the car, he's playing drums. Then we went over to my apartment on Spring Street, drinking beers and smoking weed, making up songs sitting on amps. Jimmy said he knew a place we could play that night because it was New Year’s Eve. So we had to come up with a name. Harley kept coming up with weird, metal type names like ''The Ax Murderers'', then we all looked at this poster on my refrigerator that listed Murphy’s Laws and looked at each other and said ''Murphy’s Law!'' So we showed up at the door of the Plugg Club and told the guy at the door we were the band playing and he said ''Uh, ok'' even though we weren’t actually scheduled, and walked in. We asked Jesse Malin if we could borrow their equipment, he said ''uh, ok'' and we jumped on stage just at midnight . Jimmy yelled into the mic ''Yo, we're Murphy’s Law, and this is called Fun!'' and the whole place went nuts. Everyone attacked the stage, diving, piling on, people started tearing up the foam seat cushions, turning the place into a foam blizzard. After two songs there were so many people on the two foot high stage that it collapsed, but we kept playing. Finally, when we were done, the owner of the place came running up to us and we thought he was going to throw us out, but instead he said 'You guys wanna play here next week?''
IE: I am guessing you have been back to NYC a few times in the last 10 years and have seen how much the city has changed. Even with that said what are some of the things you miss most about NYC and the things that are here? Food spots? Bars?
Al: Yeah, NYC has always been like that, it was never a static place. I heard it from people older than me… ''NY was better back in the 40’s, 50’s, now it sucks, its changed, so we moved away'' I’m part of the crowd who look back at the 70’s and 80’s as an awesome time in NYC, seeing it now is disappointing, so I’m like those older types in that way. But it's still my old home. I know some of the ins and outs, so I’m looking forward to returning. Food wise, I’ve been following English Nick's food columns where he has a guide to all the best sandwich and burger joints in town. I’m definitely gonna sample his suggestions when I’m there. Bars? Someone is gonna have to take me on a tour as I’m out of that loop.
IE: Another thing you are noted for is your artwork involved with the NY punk and NYHC scenes. Can you tell us more about that?
Al: I’ve been an illustrator going back to being a kid. I made my own comics and logos for bands, painted album covers and rock stars on denim jackets, anything that needed a drawing in the 70’s. I did a few covers for Good Times music magazine. I had this ability to draw something really fast. I had this country swing band in ‘73 called Jamboree and I made up a logo and screen printed it on t-shirts bought in Flushing, beginning my journey into art, music and merch. Then when I moved downtown in 1980 I began playing in the clubs with The Attack, making up flyers to be xeroxed, and handed out or pasted up on walls all over the place.
MOSH PIT THE I-PHONE APP BY UNCLE AL. FIND OUT MORE ABOUT IT BELOW
IE: A few years back you crated a phone app called Mosh Pit. For those that don't remember it please give us a brief breakdown on it and can people still download it?
Al: Yes, I just renewed my license and upgraded the app (only available on iPad and iPhone). It is lots of fun, almost like you're there in the pit! Stay in the circle, don’t get slammed out, life is hard down there! (NOTE: In Februaru 2013 In Effect did an interview with Uncle Al specifically on this app. Click HERE to read that old interview)
IE: So Al, what other projects you got going on in NYC, besides the music?
Al: In case you didn’t know, I also wrote and illustrated a graphic novel called Roadkill, and I got a spot on Artists Row at the Big Apple Comic Com March 11th and 12th . I'll be sharing a table with another NYHC luminary Tony Bourne, who also has his own comics he's done. Everyone come on by and say hi.
CHECK OUT SOME OF AL'S ART BY CLICKING THE BOX BELOW (FLASH PLAYER REQUIRED)