Red Invasion interview – Boston punk rock’n’roll!

“The right band at the wrong time” is how young Boston punks Red Invasion refer to themselves. With their straightforward Dead Boys-meet-Heartbreakers 70s sleaze punk they might not be in the process of reinventing the wheel, but their songs are infused with a passion rarely found in music these days. Underneath their aggressively nihilistic surface, songs such as Tomorrow Never Comes contain a subtle melancholy akin to the greatest Hanoi Rocks material.

Red Invasion’s terrific debut album I’m Not Too Young To Die was released on Pelado Records and is a must-buy if Young Loud and Snotty is your bible. The follow-up should be out any second; until then, enjoy my interview with frontman Joey.

What inspired the name Red Invasion? Any communist leanings?

The name has been kicking around longer than the current band has… if that makes any sense. In about 2003, Red Invasion became what we basically will always be known for. But when I named the group, I was really intrigued by McCarthyism and shit. As the years have gone by, the reactions are always funny. We are not political, and if you’re still pissed off by the name… good, cause you’re ignorant and I enjoy making ignorant people angry. If anything, the name just stands out… and it somehow works with us as a band… there’s obvious irony.

What do you think of communism?

As for me personally, I tend to have a very slight socialist view on things. I think there should be a salary cap in this country at like 500 million dollars or something. I just don’t think that there should be multi-billionaires and poverty-stricken people living in what is supposed to be a free country. But I’m not naive, this shit will always be the same. Call any government what you want, there always be peasants and royalty… and unfortunately for me, I was born into peasantry. But to me, pure democracy (not what we call democracy) is the best way to govern, if I had to choose.

The “influences” section on your myspace profile reads like you guys are very angry and depressed. What are you so angry and depressed about?

Everyone in the band, even past members, has some sort of demons they struggle with. Personality defects, self medication, prescribed medication, depression… the works. Being the lyricist, I just decided to keep it all very personal, but at the same time, broad enough for anyone with a fucked up life to relate. I’ve dealt with abuse, depression, dysfunction, substance abuse, paranoia, being poor, all while trying to maintain a certain amount of stability. I’ve had to learn all my lessons through my mistakes and never had anyone looking out for me, so my realizations (mostly negative) are conveyed with this band.

I’m just trying to turn all this misery and shit into something productive. The world is going to shit, I don’t believe in God or heaven, I’ve been dealt a shitty hand in life… and nothing is going to change that. I’ve been stabbed in the heart and back by girls I loved, best friends, and even family… so that definitely has inspired me lyrically… trying to make sense of it… or finally admitting that no sense can be made from it, whichever you prefer.

You carry influences from both 70s American punk, especially the NYC stuff, and 1977 UK punk. NYC punk was more of a bohemian scene all about drugs, cheap sex, and poetry while UK punk had a more social, often political conscience. Which one do you feel is closer to your mentality?

Great question. Over the years it would go back and forth. This sort of loyalty to the UK punk ethic but at the same time, we’re all open-minded and realistic enough to understand the freedom and street-art sensibility of the original NYC scene. I’d say overall, we relate more with NYC. We’re Americans, and I have an obsession with 1970’s NYC, not just musically, but the whole Martin Scorcese thing and whatnot. But Iain and I grew up on a healthy dose of UK punk, especially the UK 82 stuff, so we always carry that with us as well.

I read somewhere (probably Please Kill Me) that Johnny Thunders focused on his pain and John Lydon focused on his anger.. We would be somewhere right in the middle, but leaning more towards the pain. The pain in my life has caused a healthy combination of depression and anger. But anger can fuel you… depression just cripples you.

Joe Strummer of The Clash hated Generation X for being an apolitical punk band. He said: “Bands like Gen X make me sick. They’re just a bunch of wimps who stand for nothing, say nothing, mean nothing” Do you agree with him, and do you think politics and music mix well?

Well, having learned as much as I have about Strummer, you have to take every judgment of his with a grain of salt, especially in the punk days of The Clash. He was trying too hard to start his revolution and used politics and art in an almost opportunistic way to pop stardom. Is there anything wrong with that? No, as long as the artist is being genuine. Just like Billy Idol singing about girls and just being young and crazy is just as acceptable.

The beauty of the 70’s punk scene was the diversity of the ideas and statements the bands were making. The Damned and their darkness, The Buzzcocks and their love songs, The Clash and their revolution, The Boys and their tongue-in-cheek attitude, and Wire was just being Wire haha….but it was all punk rock.
With Red Invasion, I think I’ve always tried to be more on the personal side of things… love, hate, pain, depression… but not doing it in a bubblegum way. The way post-grunge and emo have bastardised genuine emotions like depression and desperation into a fucking fashion statement or a shitty pose at that mall, makes me want to wretch.

See, I love how militant and ferocious The Clash were, but I also love how reckless and fun-loving Gen X was, so I always wanted that balance with Red Invasion. Joe Strummer wrote his lyrics because he felt had to convey these messages… he had to put it out there. He felt like it was his duty to connect with working class kids who were being fucked over. Myself, on the other hand, I desire to connect with the people of this world who feel abandon by things we all take for granted, friends, family, and love… and the consuming feeling of utter negativity. As I get older, I find myself paying much more attention to politics and social issues, and I know those things will creep into future songs. But I’m speaking on behalf of the band as of the second record.

As for politics and music… fuck, it’s so complicated. It’s so difficult for me to take modern day political bands seriously… especially when it’s almost become a good career for so many (I don’t have to name names). The key is to find the bands and artists who fucking mean what they are saying and are not just hating Bush to get on Warped Tour or whatever. A band like Rise Against, I don’t buy it. But when Tupac rapped about the war on drugs and the struggle in the streets or Joe Strummer spoke of working class desperation, you can’t help but believe it. These days, I do not trust many modern political voices in music… just because of the music industry itself.

You guys remind us of the Heart Attacks in the way you look very styled: straightened hair, new creepers, accurate clothes. It’s in fact a strong contrast to the original NY punks like Stiv Bators and Johnny Thunders. Those guys always looked like they’d just crawled out of bed and had thrown on any old man’s suit jacket and filthy pants they could find. Do you feel that the ‘Hot Topic’ visual style of the new generation of punk rock’n’roll bands reflects that they’re less authentic than the 70s originals?

I’ve always been into looking stylish ever since I was like 10, ha ha! We do have a similar style as the Heart Attacks, but that’s cause we came up at the same time as them and share some similar influences. In like ’03 the 70’s punk look was catching on and all of a sudden younger bands are spouting out looking like us and the Heart Attacks and whatever. It was pretty flattering and weird at the same time. Of course the Heart Attacks took off, so they’re sort of at the forefront of that look now. But I’ve always taken my style from the 70’s punk style of UK/NYC mixed with a little Cosa Nostra. But each member of Red Invasion really has their own thing going.

In terms of authenticity, most of today’s bands are laughable. But it’s ok, what are you going to do? Of course, there are people who look at us and probably question our deal, but fuck it…I’ve had Cheetah Chrome of the Dead Boys tell me I’m the real fucking deal after singing Sonic Reducer with him….Walter Lure really dug Red Invasion… I mean… I don’t have anything to prove to anyone. And if some ass clown decides to play dress up with a hair straightener and a leather jacket, that’s just great… he’ll get laid for a year and then start dressing like another townie. In the end, Red Invasion may have a look, but we walk the fucking walk… and clothes are not the most important thing to this band by any means. It’s about the fucking songs. Anyone that has had a conversation with any of us knows that to be true.

Boston had an excellent punk rock scene in the 70s and 80s: The Real Kids, Nervous Eaters, DMZ… even GG Allin lived there for a while. Has the Boston punk rock tradition been a huge inspiration to you? Do you bump into a lot of survivors from that era?

Absolutely. Honestly, we’re definitely more into the NYC thing, if anything, because Boston bores me a lot of the time, probably because I lived here my whole life….or maybe it’s because I grew up on NYC gangster movies haha. DMZ, The Real Kids, The Lyres, The Modern Lovers, La Peste, Unnatural Axe….those bands are all fucking classic. Members of Unnatural Axe, Billy Borgioli from The Real Kids, The Lyres, and The Classic Ruins are all fans of ours. This again gives us the stamp of approval from the original scene, which means more to me than record sales, Warped Tour slots, and any other punk rock-as-an-occupation accomplishment. The Jabbers are good friends with our bass player also. It’s great that those bands stuck around. We learn a lot from them in terms of keeping our music pure and roots based.

The problem with punk bands today is they form bands without doing their homework. A lot of punk bands today probably don’t understand the importance of the Stones, Chuck Berry, and the Dolls on what became punk… don’t get me fucking started. It’s sad and it’s why punk today is starting to sound like one big fucking video game commercial.

Name some contemporary American bands that you feel you’ve got something in common with. Is there a real nationwide glam punk scene in the US where people know each other, or are there just local scenes?

Eeek. This is a tough one, haha. We honestly can’t totally relate with a whole hell of a lot of bands, which is a good thing, in terms of being an artist. But I’d say similar bands overall would be The Heart Attacks, Vengeance 77, The Fishnet Stalkers, Richard Bacchus and The Luckiest Girls, The Sleazies, but then again, all those bands are different. We’re definitely darker than those bands (as of the second record), and definitely more militant in our own insanity, hahah. But if I had to name some bands we feel very comfortable on a bill with… it would be them.

We don’t really consider ourselves part of any glam-punk scene… I’m not sure there really is one. We’re just a punk rock band with rock’n’roll roots at the forefront. I think I was more into having the glam-punk label years back cause it differentiated us from the Boston punk scene. But then people start missing the point and they’re thinking you’re trying to be Motley Crue, instead of seeing the Dolls/T Rex factor.

What music were you into before you got into punk (be honest!), and how did you get into the stuff you’re into now?

Before punk? Well, like most kids of the 90’s, Green Day and Nirvana led to Rancid, which led to Bad Religion, Minor Threat, Exploited, and so forth.

In terms of punk rock, I was much more into the UK hardcore, but as I got older I started focusing more on songwriting… so then I became very into the 70’s punk stuff. The Dead Boys, The Clash, the Pistols, and the Ramones were the biggest influences for a while. Then I traced it back to the Dolls, The Stooges, the Stones, Bowie, T Rex… even back to Dion and The Belmonts and The Ronettes.

What can we expect from your next album – in what ways will it differ from I’m Not Too Young To Die?

Much darker, better songwriting, and more diverse. On the first record, we really accomplished our goal of paying honing our Dead Boys, Stooges, Heartbreakers sound… the reviews were great. What I do like about our new record is the diversity. Some songs are dark and haunting, some are melodic and catchy, some are just straight from Chuck Berry’s testicles, and we tried to keep the balance of snot, melody, aggression, and honesty. Our many other influences came into this record on top of the prerequisites, Hanoi Rocks, T Rex, The Replacements, D Generation, Generation X, Iggy’s solo stuff, The Stones… it’s a pretty broad spectrum… there’s powerpop, garage, glitter, punk, early hardcore, post-punk, and straight up rock’n’roll.

But with this record, life got harder, my past really caught up to me as well as everything… so the lyrics are even more dark and personal. On the first record, I wrote “No More” using a fake name to tell my story. With this record, I’m basically saying, “I’m a fucking mess, this is who I am.” The record is titled “Ugly To Know So” which is a play on words. People always say “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” referring to some pipe dream or whatever… and I’m basically saying…”Yea but isn’t fucking ugly to KNOW your dreams and 95% of the world is full of shit?” Hahah, I’m a happy guy. But seriously, I’m doing a lot better in terms of my perspective on life. But during the writing and recording of this record, I can’t count how many times I thought about being dead and wanted to be dead. It’s probably one of scariest and most trying times of my life. And this record is the document.

On your myspace profile you call your music “a celebration of the individual”. But in a Western society based on individualism and everybody ‘looking out for no.1’, how is that different to mainstream mentality? Wouldn’t it be much more rebellious to celebrate values such as solidarity, loyalty, friendship, even compassion?

Very interesting question, my friend, haha. Here’s the deal though: coming from a blue collar Italian background, I am the most loyal person I know. Anyone who knows me personally knows my compassion knows no bounds… which usually ends up with me feeling let down.

But in terms of art, society, and in punk rock. the group mentality is not something I support. Whether it’s social cliques keeping different bands out of the scene, whether it’s some tough guy/gang mentality which ends up turning rock’n’roll into a fucking frat party: that’s what I’m spitting on. I pride myself in listening to many kinds of music and having friends in all walks of life. I respect individuals. So when I see sheep out there in society or in any sub-culture, it makes me sick.

In any music scene, it is so difficult to find loyalty, compassion, and true friendship. Cause you actually have people who shit on other people because they like a certain band, have a certain haircut, or don’t buy into a certain uniform or mindset. I remember like 6 or 7 years ago, a couple of Boston punks were shit-talking me because my leather jacket had no studs on it and cause I wore Stooges shirts instead of Discharge shirts, hahah. Of course, that quelled fast, and I’ve seen so many of those kids change with each punk rock fashion trend.

When I’m in a group of like-minded people, it’s my natural instinct (or neurosis, haha) to have to somehow feel like I’m going against the grain. If I’m in a room full of liberals (which I consider myself to pretty much be one), I’ll find a way to stand out, using intellect. Maybe I’ll question their authenticity, their own experiences and knowledge, and if they’re just some sheep saying “fuck George Bush”, then I will call them out on it.

Bottom line, unity in any walk of life is complete bullshit. Whether it’s punk rock, a street gang, a corporation, whateverthefuck… in the end there are shitheads, there are selfish people, there are people with substandard morals. So if you blindly align yourself to something 100%, you will feel the ugly truth via a knife in your back. Be yourself, always find a fucking way to make your unique stamp on this world. That’s what I’m about. The first wave of punk was about being creative, questioning EVERYTHING, and just taking on bullshit with anger and intelligence. That’s the individual I want to connect with through music and in life. Unity through individuality perhaps? Is that possible? Hahah.

You also mention that you hate rock’n’roll cliches. Which ones do you hate in particular?

Well, there’s no avoiding cliches in anything. If you want to rebel with a mohawk, you can be called a sheep, if you dress socially acceptable, people can say you don’t have the balls to make a statement. So basically, it’s all bullshit.

But in regards to what I hate… I’d say when a band says they’re into sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, it just makes my head spin. NO SHIT YOU’RE INTO THAT! Most fucking bands enjoy that, but is that the only statement you wanna make? Is that it? Bands that ONLY exist to bang as many girls and do as much drugs as possible can fuck off. And I’m not trying to sound like Joe Strummer here, but in this so-called glam/punk scene, it seems like TRYING to live hard is the new trend. People acting like they have drug problems when they’re busting out lines of every 6 months, people saying they have drinking problems when they are wasted off a Bud tall boy. Come on now. I’ve done my shit and I continue to, but I don’t run around acting like I’m the second coming of Nikki Sixx or Johnny Thunders. Grow the fuck up. If you’re gonna do drugs, do it, but don’t fucking brag about it to me. Same with girls: I don’t care how many girls you’ve banged. It doesn’t impress me. These people should put on football uniforms and go fuck a cheerleader as far as I’m concerned.

It just seems so pre-fabricated with some of these bands. Whenever you have this so called punk or rocknroll lifestyle and you just see someone living it like it’s their bible, it’s fucking retarded. Then it becomes a cliche. Of course, the irony in this is that we have a look, we have a reputation for partying hard, and girls are also an issue in our lives… in some way or another. I guess it’s just that we don’t walk around throwing it in people’s faces, and we actually love music and have something we want to accomplish with it.

How high do you estimate chances to make it big with your type of music nowadays?

No way in hell, man. We’re too real and too unorganized, haha. We don’t sound like Rancid, we don’t play screamy/post-hardcore, we don’t kiss ass, we drink too much on stage, and frankly, I’m too tied down in life from debt to really have been able to do that. I put myself through college and shit… I’m in no shape to just be able to live off the fat of the land touring the world.

I’ve seen what bands have done and still do to get to that next level, and that’s fine for them. I’d much rather have my band’s memory curl up in a ball and die somewhere near bands like the Dolls, The Stooges, the Dead Boys, The Replacements, Hanoi Rocks and so forth. I’d rather be one of those bands that were real, didn’t make it, but made such a fucking impact while they were there. And what’s making it anyway? When Monoman from The Lyres tells me he’s excited to see my band, or when some kids from Europe start a band after hearing our debut record… fuck.. that’s success to me. If there’s one thing I hope people will say about us, is that we were real and honest and our live show conveyed that.

What is Boston like in general? Have you managed to establish a strong following in Boston, or do you feel you need to get out of there?

It’s taken Boston a long time to warm up to us, and even after a lot of help, promotion, a manager with tons of connections it’s still not where I would have liked it. We are just too different and we’re all socially moronic, haha. Boston’s punk scene is very divided, and any success is centered around the bigger bands, and it’s much more difficult than ever for a up-and-coming band to catch on (unless you have ex members of big bands). And kids from the suburbs aren’t looking hard enough for the bands below the Warped Tour radar. Plus we don’t fit the mold of a Boston band via our sound and style. We do have a young following, and a few years back, whenever we were given the chance we could draw a great all ages crowd. But as time goes on, it’s tougher to drag kids away from youtube, myspace, the iphone, or some 18+ dance night where they play shitty-ass fucking electro. Sad.

We have random followings in different pockets of the country, parts of GA, TX, Chicago… but touring is a whole other deal. We’ve gotten our fair share of radio play, some write-ups, and great reviews, so people sort of had to realize that we were here haha.

I wish we would have a little more acceptance in Boston, but at the same time, I’m proud of where we stand… we don’t kiss ass, we always put on an intense live show, and we walk the walk. We’re never gonna be a big Boston band… but honestly, I’m ok with that.

Have you ever been criticized for playing music that is retro, “outdated”, or “nothing new”? What’s your response to such accusations? And what do you think of bands that want to sound new?

Absolutely. But what’s new? Drum n bass? Hipster-metal? post-hardcore? Cookie cutter Rancid riffing punk? Moppy haired d-bags screaming and crying over awful “metal” riffs? Or how about ANOTHER garage band? Please… we do what we love. I don’t give a fuck if we’re not modern. After the late 90’s of rap/metal, awful pop punk, and the last piss dribbles of grunge… what was left? We do have a dated sound, but we’re also influenced by music that pre-dates punk by 20 years and music that came out of punk (goth, new wave, hardcore). We are part of a tradition that dates back to the blues and I’d much rather be part of something fucking concrete, something real, than be some ultra-innovative d-bag playing with machines or a band whose roots go no further back than 1997. Please.

If some whitebread, shitstain DJ with a pink polo shirt wants to think that he’s innovative with his drum n bass and jungle sound, that’s great. There will always be more stupid, plastic people out there than not.. and those people will flock to synthetic sounds of unjustified egos and retardation. And if that’s what modern is? Well, cool… I’m all set. They should all be fucking smashed into a fine paste and poured down the fucking sewer. It’s all trash.

How satisfied are you with the sales of I’m Not Too Young To Die and with your label Pelado Records? Will you be touring Europe any time soon?

Hey Pelado, mind telling us how many record we sold?? Hahaha. I know we did well. For a debut from a band that came out of nowhere just as the whole 70’s punk thing was catching on with kids… it was good stuff. The record sold internationally and I’m very proud of it. As for Europe…..ohh I’d love to. I’d like to think that down the line… it would happen… but I’m so fucked financially right now.

Name the 5 bands in music history that mean the most to you.

The Replacements – some of the best songwriting of all time, lovable fuck-ups, with deeply personal and heart wrenching lyrics… that also kept rocknroll fun. You just couldn’t be a meathead and like The Replacements. There was too much humanity going on.

Dead Boys – these guys got me through a lot of dark times with their desperation and intensity. These guys took what the Stooges did and rid it of any and all psychedelic or post-hippy vibes… a band that spoke directly to hopeless kids. Definitely my biggest inspiration on punk rock.

Sex Pistols – style, snot, thinly-veiled intelligence, and just great rock’n’roll songs.

Iggy and The Stooges – attitude, intensity, absolute recklessness, and songs that haunted you as they smashed your face into a wall. The first punk band, in my opinion.

The Clash – these guys changed my life with their style, their radical politics, but also with their traditional outlaw attitude. They wrote anthems, they never allowed themselves to be painted in a corner… they were extremely open-minded. This was both their genius and their biggest flaw.

You can say whatever you want now: last words, last thoughts, anything.

I want to thank you for this very thought-provoking interview. And keep on the lookout for our next record called “Ugly To Know So”. It should be out in early August ’08. And try to support some homemade rock’n’roll. As technology increases, as things get more and more watered down… you need to keep your hand on the pulse of genuine music. This doesn’t just apply to rocknroll… it applies to all art.
Thanks again.

(c) Zuri Zone

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