Interview with No Friends: I’m personally never too busy to rock. By Dave William

Jun 15, 2010

Stepping away from the proverbial pack in the modern hardcore climate is no easy feat. A genre that more-often-than-not prides itself on accuracy of imitation doesn’t exactly leave a lot of room for personality. Luckily, for those of us who desire something more than recycled Ginn-isms and predictable breakdowns, there are still hardcore bands who opt for less-travelled sonic avenues over regurgitation, who choose not to forsake melody and songwriting in favor of speed and simplicity, and who can look further than those first few years of hardcore’s heyday for inspiration—nodding to their influences with subtlety and taste when they do showcase them. There are bands like No Friends out there.
Born in the wake of New Mexican Disaster Squad’s dissolution and enlisting Municipal Waste’s Tony Foresta as frontman, No Friends have created two of the best true hardcore releases in recent memory: last year’s phenomenal self-titled LP on No Idea and the new Traditional Failures EP on Kiss Of Death. Taking cues both from their past and current projects as well the full gamut of classic and modern punk and hardcore, No Friends are a much-needed breath of fresh air in an otherwise generally stale setting—so take’er in deep.

No Friends is:
Tony Foresta –Vocals
Alex Goldfarb – Bass, Vocals
Sam Johnson – Guitar, Vocals
Richard Minino – Drums

Dave: Considering the fact that you were a bunch of already-busy dudes, what was it that made starting No Friends a necessity?
Alex: It was a chance to write and play that type of hardcore again. I think we’re probably better at that than anything else. Plus playing in a band with Tony was a bonus because we’re old buds.
Sam:I’m personally never too busy to rock.
Richard: It wasn’t so much of a necessity for me as much as it was a natural progression. We play hardcore. That’s what we’re good at. NMDS was calling it quits and Tony asked if we wanted to mess around on our free time; write some cool songs without trying to impress anyone but ourselves and just simply have fun. Besides, we figured if Tony would be in a hardcore band then we had a good chance of him getting a haircut. No luck yet.
Dave: I don’t know that a shiny new posi haircut would go over too well with the Municipal Waste kids.
Tony: Yeah, these guys are always on my shit about getting a haircut! I guess I’m a pretty busy guy, but I love listening to and playing hardcore. I was and still am really into NMDS. I loved how they played hardcore but also had a lot of melodic parts. I don’t think a lot of bands can pull that off tastefully. When this opportunity popped up, I had to make time for it. There was no way I was going to miss out on it. I love this type of music and I’ve always wanted to do a band like this. I’m also from Florida, originally. A large portion of my close family lives in the central Florida area, so doing the band based down here is a lot easier for me than most people would expect.
Dave: Was there also the attraction of starting from the ground up again—playing smaller shows, smaller clubs—that kinda thing? I mean, inevitably, the “members of...” thing is going to afford you a bit of recognition from the get-go. Did you grow to miss that “intimate setting” thing at all?
Richard: Starting from the ground is what we’re comfortable with.
Alex: I think we’re playing bigger shows now that we’re in a band with Tony! [laughs] I think part of that has to do with how little we actually get to go out and play. Starting from the ground up was good, too, because we don’t have this giant back catalog to worry about honoring.
Tony:  Yeah, No Friends is different for us because we’ve only played a handful of shows together. So that, and the fact that we have the “members of” thing going, has helped make our live shows pretty well attended and a bit more special than regular gigs we’re used to playing.
Sam: I like playing all sizes of shows. I guess, obviously, more people are better. I want people to enjoy themselves, but with the exception of The Waste, all of our bands right now are pretty new to us and that’s exciting. We just love writing and playing punk. Shit’s always been pretty intimate for us!
Dave: This is definitely a bit of a different style for all of you guys, too. I mean, NMDS were certainly a melodic hardcore band, but No Friends totally injects that Adolescents/Flower Leperds/D.I. thing into the hardcore formula, which is refreshing and rare in the newer hardcore climate. Was garnering those comparisons intentional or is that just what pops out when you dudes write?
Richard: We almost don’t even notice it because most of us grew up listening to early SoCal punk. It’s very rewarding when someone can actually pick it out, though. I think it just comes naturally for Sam and Alex when writing what we think is good hardcore.
Sam: Yeah, that stuff taught me how to write a certain way. You take what bands like Minor Threat did, which sent my teenage hormones through the roof, then add what the cool, quasi–psych stuff Adolescents did for my brain, and it comes out the other end like this! I guess Agnew’s writing and playing and Tony Reflex’s voice really left a mark on me.
Tony: Teenage hormones? Are you trying to say you were horny for Minor Threat?
Sam: Do you need me to spell it out for you? Yes, I was and still am! Does that make me a pedophile? Maybe a punkophile.
Tony: Umm...
Sam: I mean, they were like, uh, fifteen when they started.
Alex: I’d like to think Sam brings a lot of the Adolescents type stuff to the table and I bring more of the early D.C. stuff. The D.C. stuff is what I was obsessed with growing up. 
Tony: My only concern when we write is that it’s fast and not metal. [laughs] Not that I hate metal or anything; I just wanted to do something different and, honestly, I prefer this kind of music. I definitely feel that a lot of newer hardcore bands lack a certain melodic side. So, in a way, we’re bringing something a bit different to the table. Some people think that if a band’s not screaming their balls off for the entire song then it isn’t “hardcore.” Imagine if someone was screaming over a D.I. song. That would probably sound terrible.
Dave: Are there just piles of heshers at your shows, stoked to check out “the dude from The Waste’s” new band? I can certainly see more than a few people being confused by No Friends’ sound, and particularly Tony’s more “singy” singing, but it wouldn’t be too far-fetched for thrash kids to dig this band, too.
Tony:I don’t really care who comes to our shows as long as they don’t beat me up because we’re not metal enough for ‘em. [laughs] Most people are confused the first time they hear us because, I guess, they were expecting something more brutal. I love taking people by surprise.

Dave: Okay, so as modern purveyors of a sound that’s been historically linked to some serious pool-shredding and street-thrashing, can any of you dudes actually tear it up on a deck?
Tony: I can’t. Not whatsoever. I grew up surfing. That’s about the closest thing I can do to skating. One day I woke up and decided, “Fuck this. I’m going to learn how to drop in on a halfpipe.” Needless to say, that was over five years ago and my knees are still screwed up from that painful day. [laughs]
Alex: I skated for a couple of weeks in high school. I got good enough to ollie over a garden hose. Pretty impressive stuff. [laughs] Then I decided that it’s way too hot in Florida to be fucking around with that and gave it up.
Sam: I tried a couple of times. I had a deck and everything. I’m just not built for that sort of thing. I totally appreciate it, though.
Richard: I’ve always loved skating and everything associated with it, especially older skate graphics when Jim Phillips of Santa Cruz was on top of the graphic skate world. I was always terrible at skating, though. I loved and still do love to cruise around town when the weather’s good.
Dave: It might make me seem a little out of touch with the skate thing—seeing as I haven’t skated “seriously” in ten years and was pathetically bad at it when I did—but it doesn’t really seem like skateboarding is as tied to hardcore as it was in the past. All the skater kids I see look like hip-hop kids to me. Maybe that’s a Canadian thing? Maybe, up here, I’m just not close enough to the type of hardcore that ties into that world—the Grave Mistake/No Way/Sorry State bands—that kinda shit.
Tony: I would definitely agree about hip-hop taking over skateboarding. I enjoy watching a lot of skate videos and, most of the time, it’s hip-hop they play or shitty metalcore, and when they do play something punk, it’s usually something from the ‘80s that everyone’s heard a million times. I would love to see a skate video that featured some of the modern punk and hardcore that’s been put out recently. It’s the best music to watch skating to, in my opinion.
Dave: Are any of you guys family men? Between this band, The Waste, Virgins, Gatorface, and whoever else, how on earth are you striking a balance between your music and non-music lives?
Alex: It’s a juggling act for sure, but that’s part of the fun. I’m in three bands right now with No Friends, Gatorface, and Virgins, but none of those bands are exactly touring machines. When we did NMDS, we were on the road for six months out of the year and there was a struggle to hold down a job or keep relationships going at home. Now, between the three bands, I’ll probably be gone half that amount of time, so life at home has actually gotten a little easier for me.
Tony: I just love playing music. If I wasn’t busy all the time doing what I love, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. It takes its toll on relationships sometimes, but, for the most part, my friends and family understand and support what I do. No Friends is a lot more laid back than any other band I’ve been in, so it’s not really a time-consuming or stressful adventure. We write songs at our own leisure and play shows whenever we’re all free. I like that.
Richard: It’s definitely getting harder finding time to do band stuff because I’m in three bands as well—Gatorface, No Friends, and None More Black. My passion lays more in art, but without music I’d be dead. I love playing in bands, but after playing in them for so long, if they’re not fun then I don’t have the patience anymore. It’s easier to take off time to write and play shows if you know it’s going to be fun. No one wants to think of their band as a job.
Sam: I don’t even really think about it. I have a long-time girlfriend and I have a full-time job as a screen printer, but my free time is pretty much loaded up with band shit. I guess I’m a lifer. While I try to keep my normal life in balance, I still want to just write, record, and tour as much as possible.
Tony: I’m in a weird situation because my other band is my job. But I don’t think of it like that. I have a blast with The Waste. If I ever looked at it like I was forcing myself to get up and go to work, I would get the hell out of there really fast. That’s just how I’ve always been. I think that’s why I relate to these guys so much.
Dave: So what’s the plan, then? Lord knows the Waste will be on tour! Is No Friends gonna squeeze a tour or a new LP in there somewhere?
Tony: A 12” EP on Kiss Of Death. Seven songs. I’m really stoked on them. It’s really one of my favorite things I’ve ever done musically. We also have a split 6” with Off With Their Heads that’s coming out really soon. We cover a Dag Nasty song and they do a Pegboy cover. Pretty stoked on that, too.
Sam: Not to mention a new Virgins LP on Kiss Of Death with Alex on it! We are total sluts! I think we can all find a little time in there somewhere.
Alex: We’ll probably play a couple of festivals this year and see what else pops up. That’s the great thing about this band: the lack of stressing about it.
Tony: As far as another LP goes, we have a couple songs in the works but we haven’t really been focusing on another LP. I’m sure that will come.
Dave: Aside from some serious Gainesville rump-kissing, you never hear a ton about Florida as any kind of punk rock mecca or anything. Was there a vibrant enough scene going on that you guys grew up on local bands and stuff, or did you rely mostly on out-of-towners?
Alex: Yeah, central Florida was a pretty weird place to grow up in, but there was never a shortage of shows or DIY venues. Tampa had a strong hardcore scene, Gainesville had the No Idea thing. Orlando sort of got a trickle-down effect from all of that. Orlando never really had a strong identity as a music scene and I think that’s still the case. There are a million bands and a million genres, but no cohesive whole. Everything is more segregated now than when I grew up, but that’s the nature of our city. People come to visit and rarely stay. I’d like to think that some of our bands have given the city a more respectable rep, but that’s probably wishful thinking. [laughs]
Sam: I feel like there used to be more DIY venues, though. At least there were more that actually functioned, stayed open for a relatively long period of time, and weren’t too painful to deal with. Sometimes they had national bands, too, bands kids would consider today to be kind of legendary. I mean our friend Chris Sapone ran many of these venues and brought in all sorts of bands. But I pretty much met all of my current friends through the Orlando scene after I could drive across town to go to shows.
Richard: You don’t hear about it as a punk rock mecca because it’s not, at least not for the type of hardcore we play. We have our scene, but it’s nothing compared to other scenes on each coast. We have a really good record store called Park Ave CDs that contributed to a huge part of my record collection when I was younger, so I’m super grateful for that.
Sam: I’ve also heard central Florida is like a time warp from the outside world. We still have a pretty kickin’ goth scene! We would deal with a band every so often from South Florida, but for the most part, that was a different scene and really a different world.  Other than that, punk could get kind of lonely around here.
Tony: I can answer this question, too, because I lived in St. Petersburg, Florida since I was around seventeen years old. That’s kind of central Florida, right? Although I wasn’t as aware of the punk scene like I am now, I did get to see a few pretty good shows. I saw DRI at the Ritz in Tampa and got to see the Pink Lincolns completely trash a record store one day in Ybor City. I wasn’t aware of how easy it was to be a part of the scene back then and really didn’t start to get into contributing towards it until I moved to the Richmond area.
Richard: Growing up, I mainly hung out with Sam and he would show me a lot of bands and records that his older cousin would introduce to him. That was the first time I ever heard Minor Threat. When I was fourteen years old, I was at my sister’s sixteenth birthday party and Sam’s cousin TJ brought over a tape and he was blasting “I Don’t Wanna Hear It” on my parents’ stereo system. I thought to myself, “Hmm, this is way more straight forward and aggressive than Primus.” [laughs]
Tony: I was definitely a late bloomer as far as that goes... what I’m trying to say is that I dug Primus, too, man. It wasn’t really until after I moved that I started getting into the older Tampa area hardcore bands like No Fraud and the Belching Penguins. Speaking of Belching Penguins, I got to attend their reunion show a couple years ago in Tampa and had a freaking blast. Such an amazing band—a big influence on my early Waste years.
Sam: I think part of the charm of punk in central Florida is that there was never a focus on it, so it tends to act as an incubator for interesting bands. If no one is hyping up bands or giving them any attention, cool stuff can happen because it feels like nobody is looking. Like dancing with yourself! Except awful, hideous things happen when I dance with myself. You might need anti-bacterial hand soap.
Dave: I’ve always been really interested in punk bands and scenes from the southern U.S. On all of my drives to Florida, it’s impossible to miss billboards slowly getting more religious and churches getting sketchier and more plentiful. Is that kind of pervasive Christianity and conservatism something that drove you to punk in the first place? Like, was that presence formative as far as your ideals and lifestyles go?
Sam: I never went to church growing up. My parents did, but they didn’t think it was necessary for me to go. My Mom’s church was Unitarian. Some Christians think that church is a cult! I still tend to write a lot about that subject from growing up in the South, though.
Alex: I was brought up in the least religious household possible. My dad is Jewish and my mom is Christian, but we never went to church or temple or anything. We just didn’t talk about it. I didn’t start learning what religion really was until I was much older. It took me noticing protesters outside of abortion clinics and stuff like to realize that I wasn’t the weirdo in the situation.
Richard: I’m a Chilean vampire, so there is no god. Honestly though, my mom is Catholic and still tells me to pray every day. I kind of just nod my head in a weird circular motion in an attempt to make her not think I’m satan. I was raised Catholic but soon after I got into punk, it opened up my eyes and pretty much answered all my doubts about religion.
Sam: My girlfriend’s stepdad is an Episcopalian preacher, which is kind of weird. I think some of the shit I write would piss him off. I guess that means I’m doing it right, eh? My parents tried to keep punk away from me. My cousin snuck it to me and I’m sure that has something to do with the appeal.
Alex: Not believing in God might have put me in the minority, but it also put me in a place where I didn’t feel like some mindless, gullible idiot. I realized that they can call me a freak or tell me I’m going to hell all they want, but I’m not the one who’s dumb enough to believe a talking snake tricked some lady into eating an apple or that dinosaurs didn’t exist. I feel sorry for the people who were stuck growing up in super religious homes, because I don’t have that weird guilt of “turning my back on God.” I never knew the guy.
Tony: Wait a minute… are you saying snakes can’t talk? [laughs] My family was Roman Catholic when I was growing up. I remember being at church twice a week when I was a kid. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to. Right around the time I started high school, my family just kinda stopped going. It was really weird. I think it may have had a lot to do with my parents starting to split up. Whatever the case, the older I got the more and more contradictions I would see with it. I guess that built into a deep frustration, then frustration to anger, then anger to mohawk. [laughs] No, really. I used to have a mohawk.