Interview: E Town Concrete

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E TOWN CONCRETE
interview by james wright

[quote_center]”I want people to respect what we’re doing. That’s all I can ask,”[/quote_center]

says E.Town Concrete singer Anthony Martini. Respect is something that his band has earned all across the board from bands, labels and fans alike. E.Town Concrete has logged more months on the road before their first major label release than most bands get over the coarse of a career. Playing shows anywhere that will allow them to play has given the band the chance to develop a strong fan underground following that they hope will increase with the release of, “The Renaissance”. Combining elements of hardcore, metal, hip-hop and pop, E. Town Concrete have released an album so diverse that it defies categorization.

I caught up with lead screamer Anthony Martini as prior to the band’s short stints with Anthrax and Ozzfest 2003 to talk about “The Renaissance”, being on the road and how to cope during tough times.

You guys are from the Elizabeth, New Jersey area, right? (Same area as the Soprano’s takes place.)
Anthony: The area that we’re from, Elizabeth, New Jersey is like an inner city area. We’re about ten minutes away from Manhattan. We’re right in the middle of the whole mix, the whole city environment. New Jersey has all different areas, down south is the farmland, up north is where we live and it’s urbanized. That’s where we come from. That’s kinda what helps shape our music.

How much of an influence was the environment you grew up in, on your music?
I think with the different styles of music that we have with the hip hop and the latin, that all definitely comes from where we live. We’re surrounded by so many different cultures that it’s bound to come out in our music.

The album runs from hardcore to hip-hop including metal and acoustic ballads. Did the band always just merge musical styles into a song?
Basically. When we started off, we didn’t have any set plan of what kind of music we wanted to play. We just kinda just wrote what we felt at the time. Ever since we first got together when we were like, fifteen years old, we’ve been playing whatever music came out of our hearts. It’s basically been the same thing. It’s just evolved over time. We’ve gotten more mature and better as a band but it’s basically the same degree as when we first started.

Is it frustrating knowing that you’ve been doing this since 1995 and some people that think your jumping on a bandwagon?
Anthony: It is frustrating but not that people call us bandwagon jumpers. Its just that the whole rap/rock explosion that happened kinda ruined things for us because once one band gets really popular, all the record labels scramble to try and find a band that sounds just like that. It just so happened that the labels signed so many bands that it became more about quantity than quality and that created a backlash against the whole genre. Now, we’re fighting that stigma all the time, but that’s just how the music industry works. Before people even listen to the record they’re like, “Oh, these people have some hip hop influence,” and they don’t even want to listen to it. People who haven’t heard our music before come in with a biased opinion. We actually have to win them over and prove them wrong off the bat. It makes things a little harder, but in the end, I think people realize we’re a lot different than the other bands. We’re something that’s more real and we’re not trying to follow trends or anything, because we don’t really care.

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So you get a “No! Not another rap/rock band!” kind of attitude, before people even know you guys?
We get that all the time. Based on everything, the way we look and all that. I just dress the way I dress, but if I have my hat a little crooked or something, people think, “Oh, these guys are wannabes.” I think whatever, this is who I am, this is how I grew up, I’m not gonna try and pretend I’m something I’m not because people are going to judge me. That proves people’s ignorance right there.

Is it like you say on the album, “a rock and roll singer with a rap mentality”?
Yeah, kinda. (Chuckles) I grew up listening to a lot of rap but I did listen to a bit of everything. I listened to a lot of classic rock in my house because my mom listens to a lot of rock and roll and stuff like that. When I’d go to school, my friends would be listening to rap. That’s just the environment I grew up in. I think I could relate to a lot of things in rap more than the things that the rock people were talking about. I like everything, so when we started the band, naturally all these different influences were mixed in there and they show through a little bit.

What’s your take on the current rap scene?
I like it. I like the new guys, I like 50 Cent, and stuff like that. I think the reason that I listen to a lot of rap is because we play hard music. If you’re on tour every day, and all you hear is screaming and loud guitars, ten hours a day, you want to hear something on the opposite end of the spectrum than what you play when listening for leisure. So I’ll listen to rap, I’ll listen to Tori Amos, Bruce Springstein, stuff that’s not loud or aggressive.

You guys have toured your asses off since the very beginning. What was the hardest part about touring as an independent band?
It’s just basically, the lack of money to support yourself and make things a little more comfortable. We’ve been touring since we’ve been in high school. We’d have a show on Friday, and then play as far as we could so we could be back for Sunday, so we could go to school Monday. Once we got out, we all went to college for a little bit, then we kinda just said that we wanted to totally focus on the music. That’s when we really started hitting the road for longer periods of time. It’s kinda hard supporting yourself out on the road because you’re not really making a lot of money at the shows. If we make $50, that’s all we have for gas. We’re sleeping in the van, and on floors, so it’s kinda rough. We are still kinda self-sufficient now, even though we’re on a label that has some money. We can get tour support and stuff but all the money you take, you have to pay back anyway, so we’d rather try and live below our needs a little bit so we don’t have to owe more money to the label. Any money that we make on tour, we can actually bring home and save it, rather than blow it on the road with a bus, or hotels every night. We kinda conditioned ourselves to be used to the shittier conditions. Now, it’s not really a big deal.

So it’s safe to say you’ve paid your dues sleeping on floors with the rats and roaches?
(Laughs) Yeah, man.

Was there ever a time when you thought, “Damn, this sucks, I wanna go home and get a 9-5 job.
There are still times like that because it is hard. People think of the advantages, like every day’s a party, we go from one city to the next, we get to play in front of all these people, but it’s not really like that. Sure, sometimes it is like that, but a lot of times, like say a Tuesday night, we’re in the middle of nowhere, and there’s like three kids there and the promoter can’t pay you. It’s times like that, or when things go wrong. On our last tour, the air conditioner broke and we were going through the desert at about 115 degrees and we had no air conditioner for the rest of the tour. For like two weeks, we’re driving through Los Vegas, Texas, Arizona and it’s over 100 degrees every day. We also played a couple of shows that were badly promoted, so the turnouts weren’t good. You have to keep things in perspective and not let it get you down. Sometimes you find yourself saying, “Damn, this fucking sucks, man.” Then you think about it and you realize that we get to do things that people working nine to five jobs, wish they could do. So we can’t take anything for granted.

You have a job that a lot of people aspire to have.
That’s what I’m saying. When you put things into perspective, it’s like, “What am I complaining about?” But when you see other bands with things that you wish you had and kinda wonder why you don’t have it, you get jealous a little bit and that can get you down.

Any tips for someone out there reading this wanting to tour as an independent band?
It depends if you have a booking agent do your bookings for you, or if you’re doing your own bookings. Try and get as much money as you can, but you’re probably not going to get much more than $100. That should be enough to get you gas and to get you to the next show. Keep your expenses low and don’t spend money that you don’t have. You can survive with six or seven people packed in a van, sleeping in there, so you don’t have to get hotels or anything.

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What do you eat on the road if you have no money and you’re playing for $50 a night?
You don’t eat. The thing is, a lot of places are supposed to feed you when you get there, and if they don’t have food for you, they’re supposed to give you money for food. Those are the main times that bands eat. That’s the only time I eat. When we get to the club, if they have food, we’ll eat. If they give us money, say $10 each for food, you spend five, and try to save the other five for later. You gotta budget it out.

Independently you garnered a fan in the form of Fred Durst who wanted to sign you guys to his Flawless label?
Not really, but kinda. We played a showcase for his label. They had this show in New York, I think it was a whole tour actually, from city to city. They had the bands that they had invited to play, that was when he was searching for bands to sign. We ended up playing in New York. We didn’t really know what it was. There’s some people that we know that work for a promotion company who got us on the show. We were like, “Yeah, whatever.” We played it because it’s kinda our home area and we had a lot of kids there to see us. When we got there, it was a bunch of bands that we’d never heard of, that had never played a show in their lives, trying to believe that they’re somebody. Meanwhile, we’d been playing shows, so we had actual fans there to see us. Fred Durst and the AR guy came up and told us we were only allowed to play 15 minutes, so we kinda had an argument with him about that. He was being a dick, so we argued it out and ended up getting a longer set. It was a weird situation.

The album features guest appearances from Jamey from Hatebreed and Christian from Ill Nino. How did they come into the recording process?
We were friends with those guys since forever. We’ve always known them. When we were toured with Hatebreed, right before we went in to record the album, we just kinda brought up the idea of writing a song together in passing conversation and we were all up for it. When we actually went into the studio, we wrote a song and got Jamey it. So I flew out to the Phoenix Ozzfest show to record that, and we were actually recording on his bus. Ill Nino was on that tour too, and their bus was right next door and I’m friends with those guys, so I was like, “Christian, why don’t you get on the song too?” He was like, “Alright.” It was kinda a spur of the moment thing.

I’ve noticed you have a sort of community with yourselves, Biohazard, Hatebreed and Sworn Enemy. Is that what you’re trying to do, bond together, stick together, and help each other out?
I don’t think that it’s something that we planned. We just look out for each other because we’re good friends and came up together. We played shows before anyone knew any of our bands. All of us, except Biohazard, they’ve always been big. I remember seeing Hatebreed when they first started out, playing for just five kids and we played shows together for years. Now all of us are starting to get a little recognition and it’s funny because we’ve all been friends with one another. We just try to support each other’s bands.

Is it encouraging when you get bigger tours like the Anthrax tour that’s coming up?
Yeah, the Anthrax tour is going to be awesome. Getting tours is all politics; who owes who a favor, who’s manager is bigger and we’re kinda like nobodies right now. Our band isn’t that big, we’re not on a huge label. Other bands are like, “Why should we take them on tour?” Every tour that we’ve gone on, we’ve fought for and the tours been getting bigger and better. We started off with Hatebreed, then we did some Kitty dates. We did the Soulfly tour, which was actually really good. Then we did the 40 Below Summer/Unloco Tour and that was actually better than we expected. 40 Below have a really good, loyal following throughout the country. I think the Anthrax tour is going to be the biggest one yet. I know a lot of people are excited about it. They have a new album that’s doing really good. It’s selling well and they’re legends, so people are always going to come out and see them. I never really grew up with Anthrax, like a lot of people, but when I saw them recently at a show in the New York area, I knew almost every song. Anthrax has hits, so people come out for that.

I read that you’re a fan of Motley Crue’s book, “The Dirt’. What was your favorite Motley Crue moment from the book?
I love that book. I can’t recall my favorite moment. I just like reading about that time in rock and roll. My favorite part of the book is when they were young, and struggling to come up. The story about them living in a house around the corner from the Whiskey, bringing girls over and throwing parties. They didn’t give a fuck, and people just thought they were crazy. It’s amazing that they became one of the biggest bands in the world. Even they wouldn’t have thought it.

How do you want people to remember E-Town when they think of you guys? Either after you’ve played a show for them, or after you’re gone.
I don’t know, I want them to respect what we’re doing. That’s all I can ask. They’ll have their own opinions about whether they like the music or not. They’ll see that what we’re doing is real and from our hearts, even if they don’t like what they hear. It’s impossible for everyone to like the same band because everyone likes different things, but as long as people can respect it…