Reagan SS is warheaded by the ever-busy Matt Average, who puts out Engine Fanzine and runs Some Strange Music, one of the best distros for getting your mitts on choice hardcore. I've known Matt for years and he's always been an articulate, motivated, and artistically right-on guy. His roots and interest in true, unperverted fast music runs as deep as I've ever witnessed in anyone. To say he's a lifer who fled Oklahoma to be in the thick of the music that he loves doesn't quite sum it up, either. He's been bottling up his rage on a daily basis, and this band is the perfect release. There's one large element in Reagan SS that's missing in a lot of music today: pissed-off hate, heavy with heart, big on exploration. When Matt screams, Danny slices his guitar, and Apeface abuses his bass, it's not a show, per se, but a exorcising of demons. It's opening up the blast furnace to lives that are still living in the margins and being forced into uncomfortable situations. Their shows rarely last over fifteen minutes. They end drenched in sweat, and even solely by the power of the playing, it's hard not to feel tackled the entire time. Think back to the assault of Black Flag or N.O.T.A., where tough in punk didn't mean football tough, but a full frontal lashing back on all the things that never stop fucking with you. That's the power of Reagan SS.
Interview and photos by Todd Taylor
Parts of this interview were previously run in Thrasher Magazine.
Todd: Where did the name Reagan SS come from?
Matt: I like historically significant names or names you can look up in an encyclopedia and reference.
Todd: Someone like Dorothy Hamill?
Matt: Or Mark Spitz, or the Kennedys. With the Dead Kennedys there's a historical significance to the word Kennedys. But I also want something that'll piss people off. The SS thing. This guy, Nate Wilson (ex-Devoid of Faith, Monster X), we hung out one time working together in Daytona Beach for Spring Break handing out promo items for web site. Nate kept saying he wanted to start a new band and everything was "We should start a band called Blaster SS or blah, blah, blah SS." Everything was SS.
Todd: To clarify, we're talking the specially trained World War II German SS (one branch was called the "Death's Head Organization") and not the Chevy Nova SS? Right?
Todd: I didn't know if you guys were specifically anti-Ford and pro-Chevy.
John: We want to be historically correct when we shock people.
Matt: We also wanted to start a band called "March 30, 1981," when Reagan got shot. I told Nate that and he said, "That name's too long." So then one morning, I was laying in bed. "Reagan SS." That was it.
Todd: Are there any other SS bands that you know?
Matt: Dearborn SS, Crude SS, SSDecontrol, Hitler SS, Genocide SS, and I hear there is a band out there called Jesus SS.
Todd: Have any of your families been opposed to the SS in Reagan SS? Do they find it offensive or do they get the joke of it? Because Hitler probably would have wanted to kill all you guys.
Danny: I don't think my dad knows, but he's like, "What the fuck are you doing, playing in a band?"
John: My grandma, I always tell her the names of the bands I've been in, and she's like, "OK." And I told her about this one. She raised an eyebrow and thought, "You fuckin' idiot." She didn't say that, but the eye roll said volumes.
Apeface: My family doesn't care.
Matt: My family knows nothing about this. When I started doing fanzines in junior high, they flipped out. I was hiding all of my punk records and zines in really weird places in the closet because my mom would flip out. Even to this day, I don't tell her that I do a mailorder and a fanzine and I see punk shows. She doesn't know anything about that world. I just feel like I don't need to tell her anymore. I don't need to listen to it. I'm an adult now. I live halfway across the country. I used to buy Thrasher when it first started coming out and she was even upset with that because there'd be a punk picture somewhere in there.
Todd: What do you think drives you the most to be in this band? Would it be anger? Disillusionment?
John: All of the above and I think the most important aspect of this band is to play loud. Volume.
Apeface: And I'm bored.
John: Two volatile mixes.
Danny: Anger and poverty.
Todd: Give me your most graphic fantasy of hurting a co-worker and why'd you want to do it.
Matt: [to Danny] You want to answer this one first? I have to sort mine out.
Danny: I no longer have a job. Mine was to stick a 12 gauge up my supervisor's ass and pull the trigger… and skullfuck him later. But that never happened. But I wanted it to happen.
Todd: Why were you feeling anger?
Danny: I hated his ass. He treated everybody like shit and I think he deserves to die. Scumfuck of the earth.
John: I think my way of killing a boss - my boss is Armenian but she's from London, so after I would have sex with her and impregnate her with my demon seed, I'd call immigration and have them take her ass back to England.
Apeface: I would slice in between their toes with a razor blade until, you know, they just fucking died.
John: I think Ape would make them watch Small Wonder for fucking hours on end.
Apeface: GI Joe, too, man.
Matt: Mine would be to break the guy down mentally, just ruin his life - all his friends turn their backs on him, his family turns their back on him. There was a co-worker that I had who was a snitch. I hate snitches as much as I hate bosses, 'cause they work for the boss even more. Then I wanted to skin him alive.
John: I think we should make him the roadie for the band.
Todd: Just a little history, how long have you been together with this lineup?
Matt: Since August, 2001.
Todd: Can you keep time on the drums? The last guy was having problems with that.
John: And I can count to four.
Matt: And he can remember which song is what.
Danny: And he keeps his sticks in his hands.
Matt: And he showers.
John: I'm very up on hygiene. That was a step forward in my joining the band.
Danny: Plus, the dreadlocks are sexy.
John: There isn't a cloud of funk that follows me everywhere I go.
Todd: Name your skate and the last move you pulled off.
Matt: I still have my Duane Peters Think deck. The last skateboard move I pulled off was a power slide, two weeks ago, on my Alva mini, Bill Danforth model.
Danny: I ride a brand new Alva Bigstick with old Bones and the last skate move I pulled off was called "not falling and breaking my wrist or my head."
Apeface: I ride an old Vision. The last time I rode it, I fell off.
John: I'm not cool enough to have a skateboard. I ride a bike.
Todd: At least you didn't say rollerblades.
John: Fuck that, dude. I ride a Mongoose.
Todd: Hardcore, as a genre, is extremely difficult to be progressive in. What steps are you taking as a band to not be a throwback? Because your name suggests a slight revisitation to the '80s, to Anti-Reagan Rock.
John: I think we're trying to do more than just play four chords and singing about the government and how my mom doesn't want to pay for my college and just whining about shit you don't have any control of. It starts from within. You listen to these bands, "Well, I don't want to do that." And then try to not be the formula and move forward from there. I think that's probably the most conscious thing I can think of that we don't want to pigeonhole ourselves to.
Matt: You can't keep on putting the same record out, over and over, otherwise people will just get tired of it. "Oh, do they really need to do a fifth record when it's the same record as the first?" The stuff that we're doing now, that's not even recorded yet, that we're just working on in the practice studio, is more noisy. It's experimental but not like an avant garde musician with, "OK, here's this space then two seconds of blast."
John: There's no eight minute guitar solos or anything. Most of the songs are under a minute. More the effect of sound instead of just blastbeats.
Danny: Or just your typical breakdowns.
John: The formula hardcore song, dude, I'm seriously over it.
Matt: I don't want to put out records or do music anymore where I just listen to it. I want you to react. "Oh, fuck, my ears. Ahhh, that is unpleasant." We're planning on doing certain things with low frequencies that will cause the listener to react in ways they don't want to react that will make them uncomfortable. It will be a physical reaction. That's our concept EP.
Todd: What's the worst audience interaction you've ever gotten, physically?
Danny: It's got to be the one with Agression.
Apeface: I think they were expecting an older-type band and we came out there and played all fuckin' fast.
John: That was one of our best sets and people were looking at us like, "What the fuck, dude?" They were just not having it. That's the biggest compliment. They don't know what to think of us. We shocked them so bad that they were speechless. Dude, as far as I'm concerned, mission accomplished.
Matt: Their beer went flat.
John: They couldn't even talk between our songs because we were so loud and we didn't stop.
Matt: They were hiding in the shadows. I couldn't even see them. "I know you're out there. I can hear you breathing."
Todd: Matt, when you started singing for this band, how long did it take before you no longer had dots in your vision from screaming so much? Because, when you sing, your eyes look like hard-boiled eggs popping out of your skull.
Matt: I used to feel the blood rush through my head… Actually, at almost every practice I almost faint. It feels like I'm either going to throw up or I'm going to faint. When did the dots stop? I'd like to say the DS 13 show, which was in September. We started playing our first show in May. Five months. Long time.
Todd: So, Danny, how long have you been playing for?
Danny: Guitar? Since we started the band.
John: Danny did a classic move. He started a band, then he learned how to play.
Apeface: But his fingers are too fat so he can't do solos.
Todd: Which, actually, works out for the best for everybody.
John: I try to teach him solos, but he looks at me like I'm trying to teach him a new language.
Apeface: We were supposed to have two guitarists at first, and we were supposed to be called Enemy Of Order. We went through a couple bassists in the beginning, so I decided to take over on bass.
Todd: [to Apeface] So, when's the last time you smiled?
Apeface: Fuck, five months ago.
Matt: He smiles when he plays.
John: He smiles when Small Wonder's on.
Todd: What's Small Wonder?
John: You remember that TV show with the robot sister, V.I.C.I. (Voice Input Child Identicant)? You know what makes him happy? The Playboy with Tiffany. Well, it made me happy.
Todd: OK, some philosophical questions. What would be the first concrete thing you would do to go towards utopia? Lyrically, you keep on saying, "This place is pretty bad, let's raze all the highways," but what would be the first thing instigated? Chocolate milk in the drinking fountains?
Matt: Public transportation. Seriously. I know that sounds cheesy, but public transportation creates jobs, it cleans up the air - I'm talking about rail systems.
Todd: Are we talking LA, mostly?
Matt: Yeah, because that's where we live right now. I got caught in a traffic jam the other day. It took me two hours to get through it. This city is unreal on how fucked up it is and no one seems to care. This could be a perfect city, but there needs to be a lot of work done to make it that way. There's no excuse for it to be the way it is.
Danny: My utopia would have skateboards, skateparks, and burritos. A world for fat boys.
John: Extra wide toilet seats.
Matt: No more car alarms, either.
Apeface: 99 cent burgers on every corner.
John: I'd have to agree with Matt. I ride a bike and I don't drive a car and I can't tell you how many fuckin' times I've nearly been run over by some dipshit driving too fast or on their cell phones. Clean the air, clean the traffic. Those would be my first steps.
Todd: Right now, you guys only have one seven inch out, correct?
Todd: Is it true that you're already being bootlegged?
Matt: That's what I'm hearing.
Todd: But it's readily available at a reasonable price…
Matt: And nothing else is out. Eight songs on our half of the seven inch.
Apeface: And we made about 150 demos, with pretty much all the same songs. People just started burning it, which is cool, you know.
Todd: [to John] What's the weirdest thought you've had when you've been drumming?
John: I'm prone to play naked.
Matt: Really? Oh, no.
John: Yeah. My weirdest thought is that I won't slide off my drum stool with my ass sweat. That's my primary concern.
Todd: You need some grip.
John: Exactly. I need some grip tape for my ass. Everything else is a blur.
Apeface: I just think about not falling down because I've seen Matt fall down. It was pretty embarrassing. I started laughing.
John: We thought he was doing his Jim Morrison thing.
Danny: What's the question?
Todd: What's the most arbitrary thought you've had when you've played? "Oh yeah, I like pansies." Or, "I should really get some red shoelaces today."
Danny: I try not to think, 'cause then I can't play.
Matt: It's like chewing and walking at the same time… One time we had this really rotten show and the whole time I kept thinking, "Man, I could be at home watching The Tick right now." I honestly thought that.
Todd: Where does your passion for this music come from? We're standing in a stinky alley, some guys with bike reflectors are trying to rip us off for parking, and there's a venue with bad acoustics. Why are we all here?
Danny: A lot of bands suck and I want to be better than them and I know that we're better than them.
Matt: Oh man, we just slashed our throats.
Danny: And I know we can be more better than we are right now.
Todd: I think the word you were looking for is "good-er."
Danny: And the fact that I just hate the state of the little punk scene, especially in LA, has become, which is some little clique-ish, posi-core, pussy, watered down group of little shitheads that have nothing better to do but cry about mommy and daddy not giving them money. A lot of people have taken the anger - that positive/negative energy that was there - and isn't anymore. Plus, I'm pissed.
John: The thing that drives me, in the same kind of length as Danny, punk, as far as it is now, it's so safe and watered-down. Dude, my mom knows who the Ramones are. That's cool and all, but it's kind of like, hey, this is my music to be pissed off with and no one else I knew was into it, so it's just a matter of taking it back. Reappropriating it and making it louder and harder than what they've seen before. In effect, you can't make volume or loud guitars pretty. You can't make us pretty. And that's what drives us. We're pissed because we're ugly.
Danny: I'm a pretty motherfucker.
Matt: Yeah, that's what you tell yourself.
John: To destroy and rebuild. In a nutshell, that's what drives me.
Apeface: Personally, I just want to play. I'm fucking bored. I'm tired of shit. I just want to play fuckin' fast. The shit we're playing now, some people are just scared of it. I played it for people and they don't like it. But a lot of people dig it, too. I have friends who just listen to KROQ shit and I played it for them and they fuckin' love it. It's cool, you know. I still haven't played it for my mom. She wants to hear it but I can't because she'll probably start crying. She probably thinks I'm playing rock en espanol and shit.
Matt: Or ranchero thrash.
Apeface: She wants to hear it bad, but I can't play it for her.
Matt: Why do I do it? I'm going to get emo for a minute. For years and years, seeing bands on stage, I was like, "I want to do that." And finally the opportunity's presented itself, so that's one of the reasons. Also, it's just a good release from being pissed off and negative all of the time. After practicing or playing a show and screaming my ass off for fifteen minutes, I'm in a good mood. I can't be mad because I just screamed for fifteen minutes. All of that negative energy is out of me, at least until the morning. I'm a pleasant guy to be around, I guess. If I had a demolition job, then I probably wouldn't be in a punk band, 'cause I could take out all of my negative energy out at the job. This is my therapy or catharsis or whatever.
Todd: Going off of that, when's the last time that you snapped? You know, violence.
Matt: Like screaming?
Todd: Open-ended question.
John: The time that I snapped, I was in a band called The Icarus Line and my van broke down and this was after we got ripped off for hundreds of dollars and my brain was just shot and I couldn't take it anymore, and I left and I started kicking my van. Eventually, we had to sell it and we got a crow bar and started bashing up the windows, because there was no way to fix it, and I went crazy. I was so fucking shot in my brain. I didn't even talk anymore. I just took it out on an inanimate object. Usually, it happens when I'm on my bike and I just spit at cars if they cut me of. I'm a pretty calm guy and I play the drums, so I get my shit out from there.
Apeface: For me, it was probably at work. I work at UPS, the same shit that Danny was doing. A box with a computer fell on my head. Sucked. I started tearing packages up, dude. Started breaking shit. They're insured and all, so you know, it doesn't come out of my pocket, so I was like fuck it… I wouldn't ship through there.
Danny: Once, I got underpaid and I got shit for it, so I threw a thermal printer across the warehouse and started kicking in drawers, so I destroyed three or four drawers and rammed into a fucking little electrical cart. Then I destroyed a bunch of shit because I didn't care.
Matt: I can't really snap anymore because I have a kid. It's not a good example to set. You know, you've got to be a positive role model. I was at a show a couple weeks ago and this guy kept on pushing me. Whatever. If you need to get past me, you need to get past me. So he walks past me and pushes me again. Alright, you know. He comes back and pushes me once again, so I get up and went bam, put my elbow in his eye. That was the end of it. He stopped. That was just like sending a message…. Don't push me.
Reagan SS c/o Engine, PO Box 64666, LA, CA 90064; www.angelfire.com/ca7/reaganss/>