Lead photo by Rob Coons with graphic work by Paul Turano.
Oakland’s Powerhouse got started in the early 90’s and were a very influential hardcore band on the West Coast. Playing a NYHC inspired style of hardcore got them noticed on both coasts and it wasn’t long before Powerhouse was playing with the biggest names of the day in NY and in their home state (and beyond). Their founding member and bassist Ernie Cortez’ passing put an end to the band in 1994 and there wasn’t much else to say after that except to reminisce about the two full lengths, 7” and demos that came out during their heyday. About a year or so back we began to hear some rumblings of a comeback and we are now happy to report that Powerhouse have returned to action playing shows armed with a brand new 6 song EP titled “Renegades” put out by Pitchfork and Upstate Records. Powerhouse was the first non-NY band to be interviewed in our old In Effect Fanzine and when we heard they were running it back we wanted to get the full story, especially why it took so long. Cris (vocals) and Eddie (guitar) were interviewed in early June, 2022. The rest of the Powerhouse lineup is Abe on guitar, Casey on bass and Walter on drums.
IE: What’s up guys? I still can’t believe we are here in 2022 and Powerhouse is back with new music and are out playing shows again. Can you start us off with how amazing it must feel to carry on the Powerhouse legacy?
Eddie: It is very cool to be back and be able to play shows and travel and see old and make new friends.
Cris: I've missed it dearly… music has always played a huge part in my life. It feels great to be creating and playing music again.
IE: Where and when did the idea to restart the band get hatched? Going up and down your current day lineup I know all of you were and still are involved with the hardcore scene…. So why did it take so long to put the machine back together?
Cris: Walter spent years working on me, I would see him at the BNB Bowl in NYC and he would pull me aside and tell me how important he felt it was to do the band again. He missed Ernie and missed playing the songs. I spent a long time mourning Ernie's death and just didn't feel right doing the band without him. For me, it was a respect thing. The idea of being on stage with someone else playing his parts just didn't seem right. But over time I realized it was more important to keep his memory out there and the best way to do that was to keep playing the music we created together.
Eddie: It was all Cris and Walter. He felt he couldn’t do it without Ernie. I continued playing in hardcore and punk bands. I was in Resist Control which turned into Massacre Time for a few years then joined Guantanamo Dogpile and later Trouble Maker. I needed music to keep me going. It was and still is my therapy. Plus I wanted to keep seeing friends within the scene. At some point Walter wanted to get the band back together so we could play Black N Blue Bowl. When he would see Cris he would ask him to get the band back together. At some point in 2017 or so Cris asked me if we wanted to do it again. I never hesitated. We got a local drummer named Max who was interested in playing and also a fan. We began practicing the old tunes and began writing the new tunes. Max is a great kid but he didn’t work out. At that point in 2018 the pandemic began. Walter was planning on moving back to the Bay Area from Florida and Cris somehow talked him into it. Once he did we jumped into rehearsing the old tunes and once we got the muscle memory of the old songs tight we introduced Walt to the new track “It’s Been A Minute”. From that point on Walt and Cris were roommates for a bit and wrote songs while there.
POWERHOUSE 2022 (FROM LEFT) ABE, CASEY, CRIS, WALTER, EDDIE
IE: I wanted to get into the 2022 lineup where everyone except for Casey I believe has played with Powerhouse in the past. So who is in the current day lineup and can you give us a little info on each member?
Cris: You have it right, Eddie and I have been at this since '93. Walter recorded "What Lies Ahead" with us and spent about 3 years playing shows and Abe came in on second guitar in 2002 and played with us until the band ceased in 2004. Casey has been around forever in the Bay Area hardcore scene and was the obvious choice when we decided to start playing again.
Cris: Powerhouse OBHC/Doomsday Device… vocals in both. I spend my days living gluten free and wearing sensible shoes.
Eddie: Yeah, Cris on vocals, he loves long motorcycle rides, gluten free stuff, loves to paint houses and tacos.
Walter on drums… he likes the Yankees and Nike Air Force shoes and tacos. Walter has been in DRI, Subzero, Madball, Machine Head, Possessed, amongst others. We figured out he has played drums in 19 bands including Testament, Merauder, Stigmata, Lordz Of Brooklyn and the list goes on! What a band hoe! Haha!
Abe on guitar loves his family, loves hang time, loves to forgetfully leave things behind and tacos. Abe plays in Lowlife also.
Casey on bass loves the weed, hang time, smashing Walter’s cymbals, and tacos. Casey has been in Never Healed, Look Back And Laugh, Cro-Mags and most recently Old Firm Casuals. He is a professional weed smoker and graffiti bomber.
Me… Eddie on guitar… I love mushrooms, beer, tequila and tacos. Since Powerhouse took time off I have been in Trouble Maker, Guantanamo Dogpile, Massacre Time, and Resist Control.
IE: In the press release that came with the new EP it made mention of Casey as “graffiti legend’ AND musician which led me down a rabbit hole of articles about his graffiti exploits… something I was not aware of as I simply knew him as a musician… From playing and hanging out with Casey you must have heard some crazy stories.
Cris: Ha...it's something we've never really talked about. I only know that the long list of charges Casey has accrued ensures Powerhouse will never play Canada. The last time he went through as a guitar tech they told him he was no longer welcome in their country and to never try entering again.
CLICK BELOW TO STREAM OR DOWNLOAD THE "RENEGADES" EP BY POWERHOUSE
IE: Can you talk about now having literally decade’s worth of experience playing your instruments versus back in say ’94 when you were writing the first Powerhouse songs? Maybe back then there may have been more anger and youthful angst but the trade off now is you have years of playing experience. What’s your take on all of this?
Cris: I feel like my lyrics have gotten better for sure. I've also come to realize I still have a lot of rage in me but maybe that's why my lyrics are better… ha! Eddie, Casey and Walter all kept playing... and with some great bands/musicians. I think that can only make you better but they also all had the talent and dedication to music as well. I feel fortunate to be doing Powerhouse with these guys.
Eddie: I think the main thing is we gel good together. There’s a certain energy when Walter, Cris and I started jamming. Then the addition of Casey and the talent he brings adds fuel to the energy level. And when Abe joins the mix, the peak energy level spreads like a wildfire to all of us. Such a great and fun feeling.
IE: On this next one I was hoping Cris could break down the lyrics and meanings of each of the 6 new tracks on the new EP…
Cris: “It's Been A Minute” is my apology/explanation for Powerhouse being gone for so long. It was important to me to own it. I was the one not willing to do the band, everyone else patiently waited for me. I'm glad they did.
“Renegades” is about the family we found in the street, through music and hardcore, a family we can rely on, the family that always stands by us.
“Stand By Me” is about the moments when you feel utterly alone and you just need to hear a friend's voice. The light hearted, shit talking conversation that saves you from the dark corners of your mind.
“Outlast” is a very personal song for me. It's about my relationship with my mother and the freedom that came with her death.
“Back In The Day” is about two things. First, recognizing Ernie for the important person he was to me and keeping his memory out there. Second the idea that even though this was taken away once before we can possibly achieve something great again.
“The Resistance” addresses the fact that our phones have made it dangerously easy for media to gain our attention and that the traps are set for all of us and that good, bad or indifferent… someone or something is always trying to influence our thoughts and emotions.
IE: This EP was produced by Lars Frederiksen from Rancid. What is it like to work with him and what kinds of insight or knowledge did he bring to this record?
Cris: Lars is one of my closest friends. I (we) have known him almost 30 years. He has always been a fan and staunch supporter of Powerhouse. We have been fortunate to have his input on the “Pandemonium” 7", “No Regrets” and now “Renegades”. It's always fun working with him and he captures things that make the recording. This time he focused on the sound of the recording. He brought a shit ton of guitars and mapped out which ones would be played on which songs. He had great ideas for the mix and gave great direction as we moved through the songs. For the sake of tradition we made sure we had a BBQ at the studio with shit tons of food and made multiple taco truck runs. We invited friends and bands to come hang out to keep the energy and vibe upbeat.
Eddie: Working with Lars is amazing. He’s totally a mentor for us and he loves the band and he loves us as friends. He gives us complete support. The dude is hilarious to work with and also professional. We take most of his advice because you know, he’s a great composer and song writer. Whatever he can do to make the song or us better, he will do. As busy as he is we are grateful he can make it to the studio to provide his guidance and input. He’s a great friend where he comes to barbecues and dinners with us whenever possible. Amazing friend to have on your side.
IE: How important was it for you to have new music to go along with Powerhouse's comeback?
Cris: It was really important to me. I made the commitment to do this band again and I personally didn't want to just come back on some heyday shit. I think the new songs show that there is still a lot of good music in us.
Eddie: I kept busy waiting in the wings whenever Cris and Walt and Abe were ready. It wasn’t easy for me to move on without Powerhouse but I needed to play music as an outlet and for my sanity. There is no way I cannot play. I did some stints in Resist Control, Massacre Time which evolved from Resist Control, then to Guantanamo Dogpile which was a cover punk rock band and after that I joined Trouble Maker. After we all conversed and decided to do this again, the intention was to practice the old tunes and tighten them up and begin writing new tunes. That was in 2018. We did that with our friend Max on drums. I was sitting at home listening to Carnivore and the idea for “It’s Been A Minute” hit me. I presented it to the guys at practice and we tweaked a few things to make it what it is today. They loved it. I felt it was strong musically and then Cris said I’ll slap some lyrics and then he came in and we practiced it again and he killed it. The lyrics fit perfect to the song and the meaning of our return and the big reason we are back is presented clearly. Afterwards Cris and Walter worked on tunes and presented them at practice and we again tweaked a few things so that it made sense and the structure was what it was supposed to be. We all caught a vibe and felt the songs were strong and they represented our style and also complimented our influences, like Cro-Mags, Killing Time, Breakdown etc… all the while keeping it Oakland style. We hope you all like it and can’t wait to play them all live.
IE: How many shows have been played since you officially announced the band was getting back together?
Cris: We played two shows in San Francisco in November of 2021. We played Santa Cruz and East LA in February, Philly, NJ and Rhode Island in April and will play our record release show on June 25th. We had East Coast dates scheduled for January but had to postpone due to the big storm that hit at the end of that month. We will be back to play Albany, This Is Hardcore (Philly) and Boston in July.
Eddie: We have more shows in the works for September. August is off due to Casey going on tour with Lars’ solo work in Europe.
IE: I wanted to go old-school here the rest of the way and get some old Powerhouse stories. First off, Ernie Cortez (RIP), founding member of this band and from all accounts a true OG in the Oakland hardcore scene. For those who may not know this band’s history can you give us a little insight to who the man was and how instrumental he was in your scene?
Cris: They broke the mold when they made Ernie. I never met anyone like him. He was one of the most gangster motherfuckers I ever met. He was loved and feared. He rolled around knocking people out on a regular basis, he never had a job but always had money in his pocket, he loved to hustle and he loved the game. He always had wild ideas and a sucker to take the fall if it didn't work out. He thrived in drama, loved talking shit and could party with the best of them. He opened his doors to any band willing to drink and BBQ into the wee hours of the night. He was also an excellent bass player and could write songs with ease. I think of him often and wonder what we would be doing if he was still here.
BACK IN THE DAY WITH ERNIE CORTEZ (ABOVE) & BELOW PERFORMING NEXT TO CRIS POWERHOUSE
Eddie: Ernie and I go way back to the early 80’s and we met up through the homies that hung on the Avenues on 36th. I lived and hung out with them all the time and Ernie would come through once in a while to kick it with his cousin who was also a homie on the Ave. One day he came up to me on cause he knew I loved punk rock and would go to shows and all and he came through with his motorcycle punk jacket with DK’s, The Exploited, and GBH logos and he said he was starting a band. I auditioned for him later on in the week at my place and I played along note for note to Dayglo Abortions “Feed Us A Fetus”. I played a couple songs and he said I was in. From that point we began practicing in my basement at my house on 36th. We built a practice room and that’s mainly where we hung out. This was ‘87/88. We practiced with one of my old elementary friends Benji who played drums and we were only really into it so we could play house parties. Eventually as we wrote over 20 songs we began playing shows at local clubs whenever possible. That’s where the ascent began. After a while we went our separate ways and I joined another band called Point Blank that had Jay on drums. After they asked me to join we did some songs and a demo and played local clubs and house parties. Ernie had started Powerhouse with Kevin Reed on vocals, Gene Jones on drums and Rick Fitzimmons on guitar. At one point Ernie got in my ear to play second guitar and he gave me a tape to listen to and I ended top catching some of their practices and eventually brought my gear over to jam. Everything was in motion and we were playing local shows and house parties. Not sure what happened with Rick but eventually I was the only guitar player. We did that lineup for a year or so from ‘91 to 92 and eventually Kevin and Gene left. Afterward, to add more volume again to the band we recruited Scott Rudner who was from the East Coast and he was a hell of a guitar player. He is the one who introduced Cris to Ernie as we were looking for a singer. Ernie gave Cris a tape of the songs and told him to learn the lyrics or make up whatever fits. Classic! From that point on Gene had left on drums and we got Erik Thomas on drums and we recorded the demo with him. Not sure why Jason got credit on drums but it was all Erik Thomas. After that Jason came in from Point Blank/KY Jelly Donuts. He was in probably the longest until 1998. Anyway, at that point we began setting the foundation locally with other local hardcore bands like Second Coming and Redemption 87. There were hardly any hardcore bands coming through so we started our own shit. We did play with metal, Oi, and punk bands mainly. We ended up expanding and playing shows in Central and Southern Cali. Then to the Northwest in Portland and Seattle. Oakland had and still has a thriving scene and we played there whenever possible. I went through all phases of life with Ern. The Cholo, The Rocker, The Metalhead, The Punk and The Hardcore guy. That’s where he was most comfortable. He wrote the best music and lyrics. Totally a guy like no other. I was proud to have been in a band or two with him. He definitely made any project or venture way better. Dude loved to BBQ and party and have friends around. He was the glue that kept everyone together. He is extremely missed as a friend and as a bandmate.
IE: The Powerhouse dude from the ’94 demo… Who drew it and who came up with the idea? Was it based on anyone you knew or maybe what an average hardcore kid looked like back in ’94?
Eddie: Karl Fisher an old friend who tattoos and used to work at Sacred Tattoo which was a shop Ernie and Cris owned came up with the idea. I believe Ernie asked him to draw something up and this is the iconic demo cover. Later on he designed the skull one for us too. Good to have friends that are amazing artists.
IE: What can you tell us about the first show you played with Powerhouse?
Eddie: My memory is hazy as I partied a lot. I remember playing a house show in Oakland on 34th Street. There were other punk bands there but I don’t remember who. I think it was 92/93. Typical house party in Oakland with the band playing in a backyard or in the living room. We were playing in the living room and I remember it being super hot and people going crazy. I don’t think anyone even knew who we were but there were close to 100 people there going in and out of the house to eat from the BBQ and fill up from the keg. That line up was Cris, Ernie, me, Scott, and Erik. It was a fun show as people were digging the tunes. From that show we made some long lasting friends whom we still see around at shows to this day.
IE: When you think back to all the crazy shows you have played over the years which ones still stand out and not just from having a ton of fights at them. I recently re-read our 1995 interview and there was a show Powerhouse played with Madball and it was all of you versus 20 or more white power skinheads.
Cris: Ha, that's almost 30 years ago now... it's all a blur at this point. I don't know if I remember the first show I played with the band. Ernie had us playing a lot of house shows early on. I think it could have been in East Oakland at Big Jay's place before he was playing for us. Yes, we played at the Roxy in Hollywood with Madball in ‘95, last show of the tour. A charter bus showed up with 20-30 nazi skins. It was a tense show and then shit popped off while Madball was playing.
Eddie: Wetlands, May 1996. Madball “Pride” video premier and the Agnostic Front reunion. We were fortunate to be a part of the video and then be a part of the Wetlands show too. It was hot while they were filming the video in Brooklyn with Drew Stone but we got to be in the video with all the other homies. Then we played Wetlands with Billy Club Sandwich, Indecision, One 4 One, 25 Ta Life, the Agnostic Front reunion, and then Madball. Those were the best of times and I finally got to see NYHC live and direct. I was not disappointed at the crowd and from what I had seen in the “Anthem” video by Agnostic Front. Exactly as I pictured. Wild and energetic. And again, we made lifelong friends with most off these bands and individual people.
IE: Eddie, anyone who follows you on social media knows you are a big time foodie and Oakland area food truck insider. Can you give us a rundown of some of Oakland’s best food spots and what you are ordering from each?
Eddie: We practice near one of Oakland’s best taco trucks called Tacos La Perla. They do have the best carne asada, chicken, and al pastor tacos. The combination plates are also incredible with chicken enchiladas with beans and rice. My go to is this fried maza dough or like a thick fried tortilla topped with the pork al pastor, beans, lettuce, salsa and avocado. The best in all the Bay Area. Great quality and great price too. I go there even when we don’t practice. Gotta have it regularly. For vegan food for the travelers I go to Souley Vegan. Great southern soul food. All vegan and extra fried. You really can’t tell the difference. Another spot is Timeless Coffee for pastries and Oakland’s best hot coffee. All vegan pastries and for the coffees they do soy, almond, cashew, or rice milk. You can’t tell the difference and the coffee and pastries are some of the best I have ever had, and I ain’t vegan. I usually get a chocolate donut or a chocolate croissant with an iced latte or hot latte. Super delicious. I also love love love Dim Sum. I hit up most of the Dim Sum spots in Chinatown. You can’t go wrong and feast on their food. Ha Gau Shiumai are my favorite along with steamed Pork Buns.
IE: Being Oakland through and through I know you have a passion for both the Raiders and A’s… Question here is have people abandoned the Raiders since they moved to las Vegas and now with a threat of the A’s moving to Nevada as well what is the feeling about Oakland sports?
Eddie: I myself vowed to never buy anything to support the Raiders. If anyone bought me a ticket or gear, I wouldn’t turn it down but it can’t say Las Vegas. I ain’t down with that. I am still faithful though, I will watch them until I die. I am pissed but I get it from both views. Oakland has other issues other than trying to support a billionaire cry baby who wants the city to fund a stadium. Granted we have some of the best fans in the world. The city didn’t want the taxpayers to foot the bill. I get it and we lost them. I mean it was convenient that they played 10-15 minutes from where I lived. I feel the city and the fans feel the same way. Although the A’s have made threats to move it does hurt attendance. I know they want to remain in Oakland and we hope they do. Current talks are positive for a new stadium and its making progress for the new ballpark… which is not totally to be put on the tax payers. Only partially. I still go to games as much as possible. At times we go solo or with the fellas so we can get out and enjoy the game and the hangout time.
Cris: Frustrated best describes the sentiment, I still hope the A's will stay. I went to a Raider game in Vegas wanting to hate the stadium, hoping to come back telling everyone what a piece of shit it is… fuck, that stadium is sick. I hate even saying that... lotta people are bummed about the Raiders leaving but you won't catch any Raider fans switching to the 49ers.
POWERHOUSE @ THE MET, PROVIDENCE, RI MAY 1, 2022. PHOTO BY: TODD POLLOCK
IE: All-time top 3 Oakland A's?
Cris: Ricky Henderson, Mark McGuire, Rollie Fingers only because of the moustache.
Eddie: Rickey Henderson, Dennis Eckersley, Mark McGwire.
IE: All-time top 3 Raider players?
Cris: Tim Brown, Ken Stabler, Marcus Allen.
Eddie: Lester Hayes, Charles Woodson, Tim Brown.
IE: OK, now that we got the sports shit out of the way I wanted to say congratulations on putting out a great comeback record. Now that it is on the verge of coming out what are the band’s plans going forward for the rest of 2022?
Cris: Hope to gain momentum with the new release and get back to playing shows regularly. I look forward to recording more music too, I like being in the studio.
Eddie: Definitely play a lot of shows and meet new people and see some old friends. Play the new stuff, party with friends, BBQ with friends and travel as much as possible. Thank you Chris, for the interview and for the long time support. Glad you like the new stuff. There will be more.
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