For anyone that was around in the 90’s straight edge scene, you probably remember an upsurge of tough-guy hardcore. A more aggressive attitude spread from the East into the rest of the country. New Jersey’s Floorpunch was one of those bands that garnered a lot of love and a lot of hate for their lyrics, on-stage commentary, confrontations with others in the scene, and outspoken interviews.
Words said in public can haunt someone for decades. I think this is the case with Chris Zusi’s infamous quote in a zine in the 90’s. Don’t know what I’m talking about? That’s OK. I’m not going to repost it. It’s out there on the Interwebs. Suffice to say, there were some rather ugly, mean-spirited statements.
Since Chris took the time to do an interview on fatherhood for this website, I thought a follow-up could be a chance to clear the air on some of the old beefs. Full disclosure: I’ve considered myself an LGBT advocate since the ripe old age of 11, and it was with a combination of hope and trepidation that I asked Chris to comment on his words.
Beyond this reflection, Chris gives some very interesting insight into the straight edge scene following the glory days of the Youth Crew movement.
I’m really happy Chris decided to do this follow-up.
Chris Zusi, Part 2
In many ways, the 90’s was an amazing time to be interested in straight edge, hardcore, and independent music in general. A lot of great hardcore seemed to rise from the ashes of a mid-80’s New York-centric scene, and smaller cities around the country began developing their own thriving scenes.
You were part of the vanguard the post-‘88 scene. Karl from Earth Crisis has talked about wanting to pick up the torch where Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits left off. Is that in any way where Release, xResurrectionx, and Floorpunch were coming from?
In general, I think that is true. I feel fortunate that I did get to see Youth of Today plenty of times. They are one of those bands that unless you were there at the time you don’t realize the power and impact they had on Hardcore in the Tri-State area (NY, NJ, and Conn), nationally, and then internationally. I think that each band that I was involved in had a different motivation behind them so I’ll take them each individually. With Release, we were contemporaries with Youth of Today, so they were definitely an influence on us. However, we were also influenced by a lot of other NYHC bands – namely Judge, the Cro-Mags, Beyond, Leeway, etc. With Resurrection we formed just as all of the big NYHC bands had broken up, were in the process of breaking up, or “evolving”. We all loved YOT, but we were intentionally trying to do something different than “NYHC” or “Youth Crew”. We wanted to try to do a straight edge version of Black Flag, Blast, or Absolution. Finally, with Floorpunch it was purely a reaction to what was going on in the scene musically at the time. By 1995 everyone had spend the past 3-4 years trying so hard to distance themselves from the Youth Crew sound that it got to a point where I couldn’t relate to a lot of the bands of that era. It was like a pendulum that in 1988 was swung all the way in one direction, and then by 1994 had swung all the way in the opposite direction. And, while I contributed to that swing with Resurrection, we never turned our back on the bands we grew up with. I don’t know how it was in other parts of the country, but in NJ I definitely knew kids who would not listen to YOT, Judge, or other “Youth Crew” type bands because they started to feel embarrassed to be associated with that type of hardcore and they had to prove how “open minded” they were. With the exception of Mouthpiece and then Cornerstone a little later there were no bands playing faster straight edge hardcore. So it was Floorpunch, if any of my bands, that was trying to pick up musically from what YOT was doing. It was a case of saying, if you’re embarrassed to listen to YOT or Judge then we’re going to shove that sound and attitude down your throat at shows.
Being a Midwesterner, I’ll admit to never been to a show on either coast. How violent were the NY/NJ/PA scenes in general in the late 80s/early 90s? What effects did the violence have on the lyrics and music of any of your bands?
NYC was a very different place (up until the early 90’s) than it is today. It certainly felt more dangerous, gritty, and unpredictable. I understand that some of that may be due to the perspective of being a teenager, but I think if you ask anyone they’ll back that up. There were neighborhoods that I definitely wouldn’t go through back then that are now completely gentrified. Even just walking to CB’s you always felt as though something bad “could” happen to you. Now as far as violence within the scene, yes there were some incidents, but I think that in the late 80’s there weren’t that many issues. I mean, I was at CB’s most weekends from 1987-1989 and I don’t recall more than a couple of issues.
I think the bigger problems came in the early 90’s. Things changed around 1990 and there were definitely more fights and violence at shows. You had a big element of suburban kids from NJ and PA who wanted to associate with NYC factions and felt the need to try to assert themselves at shows. Add to that the fact that you were starting to have shows in clubs that weren’t accustomed to having hardcore shows, which meant more meathead bouncers. My friends and I kind of took a stand at shows that we attended, that we weren’t going to be intimidated. We weren’t going to tolerate kids/bouncers acting out of line and trying to ruin a scene that we were actively a part of (through bands, zines, doing shows, etc). By the mid/late 90’s most of that had died down, but again, my group of friends felt as though we’d been supporting the scene for 10+ years at that point so if an issue did come up we weren’t going to back down from it.
As far as how that atmosphere impacted any of the bands that I was doing, it’s kind of funny – during the period where there were the most issues (early 90’s) I was doing Resurrection, and none of that tension ever filtered into the band. If anything we felt the need to try to antagonize the issue by not playing “mosh” parts, playing slower, or not addressing it lyrically. Now, when you have someone as outspoken as Rob Fish as your singer you can never ignore what’s going on around you; but Rob would be on stage and make fun of that tough guy attitude, and act as an antagonist. Keep in mind, he knew that he had a lot of muscle backing him up at the time, but you never knew what he was going to say or do regarding the crowd or bouncers. I respect him for that. With FP, we wanted to be in your face and over the top. Again, musically and lyrically things had gotten so “ambiguous” that we decided to be as generically straight forward as we could. There would be no nuance when it came to FP.
What did Floorpunch make of the “jock-core” label?
I’ll speak for myself on these, I like sports. I grew up playing sports as a kid up through high school. But, I was also really into heavy metal growing up, so I think I was definitely more Kelly Leak than Stan Gable (that reference is going to mean a lot to the older readers and absolutely nothing to anyone born after 1980). I was also attending Notre Dame when we formed FP, so obviously sports were a big part of my life. But as far as the “jock-core” label, I’m not sure it fits. We were definitely a band who’s members were into sports (not so much Bill), but again, I don’t think FP as a band went around picking on kids or trying to put ourselves above anyone. I think the image fit more than the reality, with Porter being this big ex football player out in front. But if people took the time to speak with us I think that label would be dispelled pretty quickly.
That’s the thing that’s always been hypocritical about the hardcore scene, especially in the 90’s – there was a big push for equality, be it racial, gender, sexual, religious, etc. But at the same time kids were so quick to label anyone who didn’t fit into that “progressive” mindset. I’m not talking about in a political sense. But, take Porter for example, I’ve seen tons of pictures of him in Jr High and High School skating, but because he also played football he can’t possibly fit into what some people think of as a “punk”. If there is anything I’ve learned over the years it’s that people are complicated. It’s convenient, but ultimately self serving to try to define them with some singular term or idea.
Floorpunch lyrics were aggressive and in-your-face, especially toward people who stopped being straight edge. Zines far and wide spread the story of a member of Floorpunch punching a member of By The Grace of God. Floorpunch took heat for shouting words like “faggot” during sets. Then there was your own infamous quote in a zine, which many took to be homophobic.
In the roughly 20-odd years since those days, how has your outlook evolved (or remained the same) on people who are ex-straight-edgers or homosexual?
Again, I will speak for myself on this and add my perspective rather than try to speak for anyone else in the band. Like everyone else, I have made (and continue to make) mistakes in my life. If anyone wants to judge me by my mistakes then that’s their prerogative. Amazing that I’m talking about something almost 20 years ago, but such is life I guess. I could talk about how the scene had changed and turned its back on straight edge, which was definitely true. But more personally, I had a lot of frustration building up when we first started the band. My best friend at the time stopped being straight edge, I was struggling with life after college and not knowing what I was going to do, and I also had a long term relationship end. The way I dealt with all of those things was to just get angry at everything. Focus on the one thing that was the most important aspect of my life that, to me, seemed to be coming under attack – being drug free. It would be very tempting for me to turn to drinking when my life isn’t going the way I want or hope. As a result, I swing things in the opposite direction and deal with the frustration by narrowing my focus. It’s essentially a coping mechanism that I use to stay away from drinking and drugs.
To this day I still struggle with dealing with anger or frustration, but all things mellow with age. I don’t concern myself with what anyone does or doesn’t do in their lives. If it doesn’t affect my family or friends it’s none of my business. Everyone makes their own choices in life to do what they think is best for them. I’ll still give my opinion based on my experiences, but everyone has to do what they gotta do. Bringing it back to FP, I will just ask people to be consistent – there are a lot of other bands (and people) in the scene whom have said, done, and sang a lot worse things than we have – I am not saying that as an excuse, or an apology, just pointing it out. As I’ve always said, if anyone has an issue or question regarding anything then ask us about it. Wouldn’t you rather find out first hand?
You’ve been a stalwart of hardcore music and a clean, ethical lifestyle. To bring it back to fatherhood, how has being a dad mellowed you out and/or made you more intense?
You really can’t prepare yourself for what it’s like to have kids until you have them. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, but at the same time it’s the most responsibility you’ll ever have. I joke all the time with my hardcore friends about our lives before getting married and being parents. It’s hard to believe that we took road trips and went to/played shows almost every weekend. I couldn’t imagine doing that now, God bless those that still do it, I know I couldn’t – physically or practically. Absent going to shows, you try to focus your energies into other outlets. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I’m not sure anything will compare to the release of going to or playing a show – but a lot of that pent up energy is the result of youthful frustration borne out of trying to change your life and the world around you when you don’t really have a voice. As you get older there are other opportunities to positively affect your immediate and extended environment, as well as other things that occupy your day to day thoughts. Everyone just has to try to do the best they can.
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