Elston Gunn Interviews NEW YORK HARDCORE's Frank Pavich!!!
Published at: Nov. 13, 2006, 5:20 p.m. CST by quint
Over ten years ago Frank Pavich documented a scene and style of music in underground New York dubbed "hardcore" by its participants. It's based on the hardcore punk and metal music that was born in the city in the 1980s and willfully immune to the mainstream. I watched NYHC (NEW YORK HARDCORE) recently and went into the documentary completely hardcore-ignorant, but was left fascinated by the stories and passion of the musicians and fans of the scene. Pavich shot and edited together insightful interviews and live performance footage and will release the film, which was executive produced by Anthony Edwards (ER), for the first time on DVD on November 6 with plenty of extra features. Pavich recently took some time to answer questions for AICN.
[EG]: For those who are unfamiliar with "hardcore," how do you personally describe it?
[FP]: I guess that porn is what first comes to mind when people hear the term hardcore, but, unfortunately, that's not what this documentary is about. Get your mind out of the gutter! As one of the people in the film says, Hardcore is a style of music but it's as much of something behind it as well. It's basically the craziest music that I know of; a faster, meaner version of punk rock. But, more importantly, hardcore is really the scene that exists around those bands.
[EG]: You shot this film in 1995 when the door wasn't as widely open for documentaries as it is today. What was the genesis of making the film?
[FP]: After growing up in NY, I moved to Los Angeles when I was 19. I found that in LA there was really no scene to speak of, aside from cheesy leather-pants-wearing glam bands still hanging around on the Sunset Strip. Once removed from it, I really saw that there is nothing in the world like the NYHC scene. The way there's really no line separating the crowd from the band. The way that anyone is allowed to come up on stage and the singers share the mic with them. The way a fight can break out at any moment between two of the most ridiculously huge and tattooed human beings that you're ever seen in your life. The way that this music only exists here and cannot be found on the radio or MTV. Once I woke up to the fact that no one had documented its existence before, making a movie seemed the only way to go.
[EG]: How did Anthony Edwards get involved?
[FP]: I worked for his production company, Aviator Films, for many years and even produced a Sundance award-winning film with them called DIE MOMMIE DIE. He was totally behind this project once he realized what I was working on when I would go home at night. He understood exactly where I was coming from and what I was going for.
[EG]: How did you shoot it?
[FP]: Well, this was 1995, well before the advent of HD or 24p. We shot it all on Beta SP with the tiniest crew you could imagine. Just myself, my producing partner Stephen Scarlata, and my cameraman, Henryk Tzvi Cymerman (who was also on sound duty). That's all it was for the interviews. For the live shows we added a sound man and a second cameraman. Sometimes I would shoot the 2nd camera, like for the VOD & 108 footage. We crammed our entire shoot into one very jam-packed month. I had to come back in December to get one last interview since the subject flaked out during the initial shoot. But the real bitch was editing it. The post process was something like four years long. These were the days before affordable linear editing systems. Horrible. It was cut using a ¾ tape to tape system. I don't think they even make that stuff anymore. It was constantly breaking down because the decks basically dated back to WWII. Once the system died for good, I resorted to editing on index cards. Seriously. I took each shot that I liked and gave it its own 3x5 index card. Then I lined-up the cards on the floor, up and down the hallway of my house. Editing basically became re-ordering the cards while trying to keep my dog from walking all over my work. I didn't really allow anyone to come over during that period of my life, because I'm sure someone would have called the guys in the white coats. I believe I actually went crazy for a year or so.
[EG]: Many of the people you interviewed were pretty interesting and rather charismatic. Were they always eager to talk candidly about their lives?
[FP]: They actually were. As you know, one guy admits that his father dies from AIDS. Another talks about his brother's suicide in his apartment. Heavy stuff that they were really open to disclosing. I wasn't friendly with any of them beforehand, so I'm very grateful for the fact that they trusted me with that footage. I think they understood that I wasn't out to exploit anyone and I think they saw me as someone who loves their world and wanted to document it. Besides, these are some scary motherfuckers. I didn't feel like getting my ass kicked!
[EG]: It was interesting seeing one guy talking about his drug experiences and then later in the film another discussing being a Hare Krishna, which indicates the NYHC scene is less about lifestyle and more about just a common connection to the music. Do you think that's true?
[FP]: Definitely. Only in hardcore can you have a band whose logo is a 40 oz, co-existing on a bill with a straight edge band that is vehemently anti-drinking and smoking. It really seems to be the music that connects them and the fact that they exist as part of this little-known self-contained underground community. To this day, if I see someone wearing a t-shirt of a hardcore band, I know we're on the same page.
[EG]: I thought it was kind of funny that you had to use subtitles for the lyrics so the audience could understand what they were singing, yet many of the people at the concert were singing along as if they could make out every syllable.
[FP]: But they can! These kids know it all! But I had to add the subtitles in for everyone else. Believe me, I'm fully aware that the average viewer will have no clue what Rick from 25 ta Life is singing on stage. His singing style was once described as Cookie Monster Vocals. I didn't want the subtitles to appear too early because I wanted the audience to question it first. So it's the second verse that gets the subtitles. Kind of like, No way can there be words to this song oh wait, there are!!
[EG]: I noticed as far as the bands are concerned it seems rather male dominated but there were a couple female interviewees and audience members.
[FP]: Hardcore is definitely a male dominated, macho world. At base level, its groups of big tattooed guys who scream a lot. Of course, not everyone fits that mold, but I guess those are the guys in front mostly. It can be scary when a six-foot-something guy is swinging his arms and kicking in the pit. Believe me, there were many times when I feared for the cameras. Some guys were helping us to protect them, but others were aiming for them boots first!
[EG]: In one of your ads for the film you called it a "neglected" music community. Do you think that is in part a result of the decision to stay underground, reject the mainstream and major labels?
[FP]: Oh, definitely. A friend's band recently changed record labels when his current label got distribution through Sony. He was devastated to have a bar code on his CD. Look, I know that hardcore isn't going to be played on Top 40 radio, but strangely, a lot of other hard-edged music is. It unfortunately seems that a lot of these metalcore bands that are having success now don't really pay respect to what influenced them, namely the hardcore scene. It's like with CBGB's. All people talk about is the Talking Heads, the Ramones and Blondie. But right after that era came New York Hardcore. Amazing, life-changing bands came out of that club. Agnostic Front, Bad Brains, Cro-Mags. The list goes on. I think these guys just need to be recognized and need some respect.
[EG]: What's the difference between the NY underground music scene then (1995) and now?
[FP]: It's tougher for bands now, I think, but that's probably the case in New York in general. The clubs are gone. CB's just closed up a few weeks back. In fact, every venue that we filmed in is gone. Rents are too high for people to open up clubs that cater to that world. I guess it's just more lucrative to put in a Jamba Juice. So, if it's harder for bands to find a place to play, it just trickles down from there. But it's a cycle and hopefully there will be a positive re-birth. New York Hardcore will always exist, just sometimes you have to look a little harder for it.
[EG]: There's another film out now called AMERICAN HARDCORE but it focuses on different bands and other cities. Does the music featured in NYHC have its roots in the bands in that film?
[FP]: Oh, definitely. In fact, some of the guys in my film are in that one as well. Unfortunately, that movie states that hardcore only existed from 1980-1986 and that just isn't the case. I also think that the New York scene had a bigger hand in things that that movie lets on. Besides, there's a whole new generation of kids embracing it right now. I went to the final CBGB hardcore matinee last month and the line was around the block. So many people were turned away since it they just wouldn't be able to fit inside. A lot of older guys were there but a lot of young kids too. This documentary is a great way for these kids to see how it was just a few years back. Hopefully, stuff like this will influence them to start their own bands or their own projects.
[EG]: How many of the bands in NYHC are still together?
[FP]: Funny that you ask. A lot of that is covered in the DVD extras. Stuff like, who's alive, who's still playing, who's moved on, who has kids, etc. One of the bands just got back from a European tour and another just left to play a festival in Japan. But of course, while some have found success, others have fallen by the wayside.
[EG]: What other extras are featured on the new DVD?
[FP]: Oh man, so many things! I swear, my biggest fear right now is that I won't be able to fit everything in a 2-disc set. I've been putting updates up on our myspace page and the kids really seem to be into the direction that I'm moving in, so that's a good sign.
[EG]: What was the biggest lesson you learned while making NYHC?
[FP]: Don't do it! No, just kidding. Nah, the biggest problems we had were technical issues. Like the timecode for the cameras and DAT tapes for the shows would all drift which was nightmare-inducing for the editing process. So my advice comes down to making sure that you're prepared technically. That, and if you're using lavalier mics, please run the cord inside the subject's shirt. I don't know why but I see so many films where that cable is hanging down in front of people. So odd
[EG]: Any advice for young filmmakers/documentarians?
[FP]: Just start shooting. So many great years of New York Hardcore has passed by with no one to document it. With technology so readily available today, there's really no excuse for people to not be out there capturing footage of what's going on around them, whatever that might be. As long as you have a true passion for your subject matter, don't hesitate. A lot of people will be naysayers, but fuck them. It's always great to show people a world that they might not be aware exists.
[EG]: What else are you working on?
[FP]: The next project I'm developing is a feature film set in the world of straight edge kids. It's as interesting a world as the NYHC scene, both visually and conceptually. Although NYHC was a challenge to make, I guess I didn't get bruised too badly. I just can't get away from the hardcore kids!