Interview: Born Against

interview by pr!


Not sure what to say about Sam and his (past) band, Born Against. They had the same influence in my musical hardcore pubescence that Minor Threat did to punk, Operation Ivy did to ska (?) and Guns N Roses did to rock. You know what I’m talking about; everyone has that one band that kicked your ass into a new genre of music. Born Against drew the line between hardcore and punk, whatever the fuck that means. Sometimes political, always asshole’s, a reputation was created by the I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude that fueled scene gossip. Born Against’s first release, a seven inch in 1989, pushed the band into a 21 (as much as I can count) release discography that wrapped up in 1995. Pausing to hum a tune off of “Battle Hymns”, I thought about Sam McPheeters, vocalist of Born Against. What the fuck’s he up to?

Hey Sam, what are you up to these days?
Lately? How far back lately?

Like, what are you doing now?
Lived in California for three years. Lately, about a month ago, I kinda dissolved the label. Well, not shutting it down completely but more of a hibernation. Born Against catalog is going to Kill Rock Stars and Crank! Records, and I’m trying to find homes for the other titles. At the same time, an old label that Neil Burke (band mate of Men’s Recovery Project) Lungcast records, will be reformed in January, putting out a monthly seven-inch series. It’s just a simpler deal, no hassles with royalties or anything.

Gotta ask, no CD’s?
Um, just to keep everything nice and simple. CD’s sell well, and generate a lot of money, but I’d rather not deal with money problems. I’m using IMZ distribution instead of Mordam, so it’s a smaller distro anyways. Probably in 2004 we’ll put out a CD with all the material.

I hear vinyl is more costly then CDs.
Yeah, it’s a pain in the ass all the way around.

Sounds like you’ve had some problems with royalties and the such.
I know a lot of people who run labels and don’t pay royalties, which is totally fine; they just pay in product. I also know some labels that don’t give the bands anything.

Did you get royalties from Lookout from the BA/Screeching Weasel split?
Yeah, we did. Actually, every once in a while I get a check for like thirty dollars in the mail.

The weird thing about the record is that the artwork sucked. I struggled with it, and it’s embarrassing for me to look at it now.

“Battle Hymns” was pretty nice looking.
Yeah, but it was during a pathetic period of my life. That insert took me an entire summer to create. I really slaved over it, and had no friends, no life. It was sad.

Seem pretty down on yourself about it.
(laughs) I have a life now, sort of.

Is it hard to run a label now?
Yeah, economically. We’re not really a popular genre, plus dealing with distributors suck. There’s also too many labels.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the way that bands will have multiple releases at numerous labels affect things? Not really sticking to a single label? Seems to hurt the fan dependency that some labels survive on.
Yeah, I think that affects things. Go to Virgin Megastore. There’s a huge mall by where I live, where you have to literally walk thru Virgin to get to the other side of the mall. There’s just so much music out there now, and record companies don’t seem to care. What’s sad about my record label is that I’m happy about it’s performance. I’m happy I don’t have to deal with the Born Against stuff too. I really haven’t done an interview in eight years, and that’s cool. It’s nice that people cut me slack because of Born Against, but I don’t think I deserve it. It’s been a while.

Can you gauge the popularity of Born Against now?
Well, sort of. Since I got online, I get a lot of e-mail about that. Some fan letters, sometimes its weird, abstract letters. It’s not a bad thing, I guess. I’ll get an email from some 13 year old that’s just getting into it.

Is the message in the lyrics viable for today’s youth?
For what they are, they’re good. The genre has some limitations.

So, you called Donahue. Was that a setup?
No, that was totally live. We used to watch a huge amount of TV… I can’t imagine doing that anymore. So, I was packing boxes and just called them up.

How’d you get the tape? Ordered it?
Yeah, it was $80! On a VHS tape, but what a rip off. It was a Radio Shack tape. After the show, the producer called my house. I thought she was going to chew me out, but it turns out she wanted us on there, which was funny. When I called, they put me on hold, and had me tell them why I was calling. Then they called back about a half an hour, and I just started rattling off anything I could think of. It was pretty funny. Wasn’t his show canned, by the way?

What’s your last mistake?
Uhm, like on what scale?

What was the first thing you thought of?
I made a list when I moved to California with all the mistakes and regrets I’ve ever done. Forty-one big ones! They’re all pretty awful, and most are far too private to relate in this conversation. A couple of years ago we went to go see show, and we stopped at a gas station on the way there. When I pulled up, I took a picture of something at the gas station, and the attendant comes out and tells me I cant take pictures of the station, and that he needs my film. I had three friends with me, and we could of done anything, but my brain froze up and I handed it over. What an act of cowardness that was.

How’s life in Pomona?
Very nice. I like California.

What’s your opinion of the emo/indie scene?
I’m not really up on music. I think all those bands are boring; it’s hard to tell the difference. I went to New York and Hawaii this summer, and a lot of that is incomprehensible. I don’t even know the names. Name a couple.

Uhm… New Found Glory?
Blah. That shit is just not even around me. I don’t even pay attention. The music industry can be pretty gross. I remember getting a fax from Alternative Press asking about my bands, and I was so disgusted I just had to get that paper out of my office for fear it would contaminate my label.

For or against drug decriminalization?
For it. That was the first thing politically, that I’ve tried to get involved with since Born Against. Political activists are, well, they can be hard to deal with, and can come with a lot of baggage. Just different thought processes. But yeah, I’m down with that and think that it will be decriminalized. Man, I am so sick.

Hopefully it’s not the west Nile.

Was Born Against straight edge?
Kinda. Me and Adam were, but that was kinda the reason we got popular. We were also into antagonizing people about that also. We’d play a show for straight edge shows and know how to piss them off, and then the next night we’d play at some squat and piss those guys off.

Think there should be a war?
No. Man, I listen to NPR and it just sickens me. The whole time Clinton was in office, I was amazed at how people reacted to him. People hated him. And now I know the hate, listening to Bush Jr. And God forbid, he’ll get reelected, serve his eight years, retire, get a library and die.

Do you like Michael Moore?
No, he bugs me. I don’t like him. I liked “Roger and Me” a lot, but he just really bothers me. I respect him.