October 5th, 2012 marked the great day when we conducted an interview with Vinny Panza, a great positive guy and a drumming machine that was, and still is, a part of line-ups of reunioned legends such as YOUTH OF TODAY, BOLD, and SHELTER. Vinny is a busy man with a lot of great activities going on around him. We talked his past and present projects, YOUTH OF TODAY, Revelation Records 25th Anniversary shows, his new band THIRSTY!, straight edge, veganism, his new clothing label, and a lot more :) Don’t miss this read. Check it out now!
Vinny, so good to have you here. I’d like to start with the old times and ask you to tell us about your beginnings as a drummer and your band SELF BORN.
Thanks for the interview! People usually don’t care much about the drummer, or the new kid in the old school band, so it’s cool to be recognized. I started playing drums when I was 13. I grew up playing piano, which I still love but don’t do much of anymore, but was always tapping away on things. Finally my parents agreed to let me get a set, so I saved for about a year and bought a used Ludwig jazz kit. I covered it with stickers from shows and drilled new holes for the hardware so that it could take the beating I gave it. During intramural soccer, freshman year of high school, I met a senior who was into punk rock and hardcore and he asked me to play in a band he was starting, which turned into SELF BORN. I lived in New Jersey at the time, so it was me and another three kids from surrounding towns. It was typical 90’s style, 80’s youth crew throwback, which means it was fast and aggressive, but with stompy mosh parts. ENSIGN would probably be the closest comparison. We only put out a couple of demos, but played a lot around the area with other Jersey bands like WORTHLESS, FURY OF FIVE, SECOND TO NONE, and the like. We opened a few bigger shows for Earth Crisis and One King Down at the Stone Pony, which was our CBGB’s at the time.
Great. Let’s move to your other project – STAY ALIVE [the link submitted by Vinny]. There’s literally nothing about this project available online [smiles]. I know it’s cool to keep it to yourself, but please be so kind and lift the curtain on this project [smiles].
There you go! STAY ALIVE was the precursor to THIRSTY!, my current local punk rock project. It was one of my closest friends from college, and a couple of his friends from high school. Simple, straight forward punk rock in the vain of BOUNCING SOULS and AVAIL, with an NYHC edge. It was us growing up, getting into our mid-20s, and beginning to chronicle the feelings of getting older and realizing that we wouldn’t always be living together in a punk house in Brooklyn.
OK. Let’s talk the newest project of yours, as you mentioned, THIRSTY! Made out of Queens and Brooklyn members you must be a pack of tough guys [laughs].
Yeah, THIRSTY! is actually the same members of Stay Alive, but with a new singer. Frank, Stay Alive’s singer, started traveling and teaching, while Chris (bass), Tom (guitar) and I still wanted to play. We brought our friend Brian in, whom we had actually met through Frank a year before. He hails from Memphis, but has been living in Queens for years. Once we recruited him, we started to solidify our sound, leaning towards Propagandhi and Strung Out, representing the 90’s melodic punk we grew up on. There is that NYHC element, though, that is pretty prevalent. We all played in hardcore and metal bands before (Chris was in Strongpoint and Tom in Craig, both from Long Island) so we brought that with us into Thirsty! as well.
No, seriously… fast, melodic punk rock straight from the heart. I love it. There’s been some time since you last released an official record. What are your recording plans?
THIRSTY! is pretty low key, since we all have jobs and are pretty busy with them, but we love playing and have just recently started to try and be a little more active. We’ve put out two records so far, completely by ourselves, called “Still Alive” and “Everything We Learned”. I actually recorded and did all the production for “Still Alive” (the first record), and then we got our friend Jesse from THE NUMBER 12 LOOKS LIKE YOU to record/co-produce our second record, “Everything We Learned”. We have some new material which we hope to lay down this winter, but again, its tough with time and schedule constraints.
Wow. The Number 12… Man, you just made my memories alive.
As THIRSTY!, have you played many shows throughout these 2 years? Any plans to hit the road with a string of dates?
We’ve played a bunch of shows, but mostly local and very DIY. We have friends in other local Brooklyn bands that we play with, and occasionally make it out to Long Island to play. We are trying to set up a few weekends with our friends in PLAYING DEAD, so that we can push the music and get it out into the scene. Sometimes its hard to break out of the “old guy punk rocker” mentality, but we realize that if we want to be an active band with a following, we gotta put the effort into putting our music in front of people, so that’s what we plan to do in the next six months. Just be more active.
What are the chances to see you guys live in Europe?
Right now, pretty slim, only because no one really knows us. BUT, we have friends in bands that travel Europe every so often, so its definitely a possibility. It would more likely be something like a bigger band that is from NY decides to head overseas, and then we jump on it for a week or so. It would be fun to come out with some of our NY bands, like AFTER THE FALL, UP FOR NOTHING, and PLAYING DEAD. Now you have me excited about the thought of it, and I’m going to contact them all [laughs].
Here’s another one: SAYONARA. I guess it’s a project put out by THIRSTY! And SLEEPCRIME members? Who’s behind it and what’s the story of this band? Do you still play together?
SAYONARA was actually the first band that the THIRSTY! members played in together. It was Frank and I, plus two of our college friends, plus Chris and Tom from THIRSTY!. This was before everything, though, back in 2004. We wrote really proggy, intricate metalcore songs, but from a hardcore perspective. Chris and Tom were actually both singing, with me on drums, Frank on guitar, and our friends Andy and Matt on guitar and bass. We put out a few songs, played some shows, but again, never really developed into anything. Those songs were fun as hell to play, though, because they were so involved. The band broke up in 2006 when Andy got a book deal (he’s a writer) and the rest of us felt wrong going on without him. All the bands I’ve been in have been more about creating something with people you love, than about the music itself. We love the songs, we love punk rock, we love playing in bands, but none of that means anything if we’re not sharing it with people we care about.
Tell us about your man DcMBR and his recent music video you were featured in [smiles]. Do you perform live together?
DcMBR is a friend of mine from my last job who is moonlighting as an aspiring hip-hop artist. Just this summer I started playing some live shows with him. He’s got a few other musician friends whom are really talented, so we go and back him up as a live band for some of the tracks he put out. There are plans to do more of this next year, with a warm-up show happening on Dec 1 (ironically enough). I’ve always been a punk and hardcore kid, but I love music, and I love playing my drums, so if you give me a chance to do it, and the music isn’t terrible, I will most likely oblige. He’s a great kid, too, and I just like working with him creatively.
Ok, let’s go back for a while. Tell us how did you team up with Ray Cappo and company for the SHELTER reunion? Which reunion shows you took part in?
My entire involvement with the old school, straight edge, NYHC scene started back in 2004. I was playing in a band called MENSCH with my friend Seth (one of H2O‘s street team leaders back in the day). Through that band, I met Tim from BOLD, because we shared a rehearsal space with another band he played in. When we met, he asked if I had played in any late 80s hardcore bands, saying that I looked familiar. I told him I would have been too young, since I was only 6 or 7 at the time. He then, very casually, mentioned that he was in BOLD and CRIPPLED YOUTH. I was super impressed, being a straight edge kid whom loved old hardcore, and we started talking. We instantly became very close friends, realizing we had a lot in common and had similar personalities. A year or so later, BOLD got asked to do some reunion shows, and Tim asked me to play, since Drew, their original drummer, was busy with other creative projects. From there on, everything else just happened as a matter of being inducted into the “crew.” I met Porcell while playing in BOLD, then eventually got pulled into YOUTH OF TODAY, and then into SHELTER. We played two shows in 2011, at the West Coast Riot Fest in Sweden, and then at the East Coast Tsunami Fest in Pennsylvania. There were plans to do more, and possibly record, but kids and work and visas and life, as they often do, came first.
How do you remember touring with this pack? How did the last year’s gigs turn out?
The shows were incredible. The guys in the bands have become some of my closest friends and we really have a great time together. They’re wonderful to hang out with, they’re fun as hell to play in bands with, and the shows are just as fun. West Coast Riot was pretty crazy because I had never played such a huge festival before. Huge stage, super professional production, and a really nice back stage area. I got a very quick and very small glimpse of what it must be like for real, big-time musicians, and it was great. If I could live that life every day, I definitely would. I consider myself lucky to have experienced it for a weekend.
Have you ever preached Hare Krishna religious concepts? What’s your opinion on its beliefs?
I’m not religious at all, but philosophically I back a lot of the Krishna beliefs. Ray and Porcell are still pretty active in the Krishna scene and the rest of the guys in the bands are always supportive of it. It doesn’t get in the way of us doing anything, and the message is positive, which we all try to be, so it just “fits.” I was a little too young to be around when the Hare Krishna thing was really big in hardcore… I came into the scene a few years after that, so I guess it didn’t have as much influence on me growing up. Either way, I still believe in positive energy, community with the earth and ALL of its inhabitants, and a search for something deeper and more meaningful than a nice wardrobe and a shiny, new car, so on that level, me and Krishna ain’t got no beef! (pun intended! [laughs]).
[laughs] And what about mixing it with hardcore punk? How distinct was when you helped SHELTER to reunite? Were the ideas still there?
Yeah, Ray and Porcell are still about as punk as anyone I know, and not in the sense of spiky hair, or going to shows, or collecting rare records. Shelter and YOT are still run pretty much completely DIY, with the guys in the band managing all the arrangements, using simple equipment setups, and still sleeping on promoter’s floors from time to time. Sure we get hotels and sell as much merch as possible whenever we can; but, when a couple of guys in their mid 40s with jobs and kids at home will come play a show in a tiny basement venue and then sleep on your couch that night, I think it’s still pretty hardcore.
What are SHELTER’s touring plans now? What’s up next for the band, if there’s anything left? [smiles]
Right now there are no plans to do anything with SHELTER. It’s always up in the air, and we’re willing, but it’s really an unknown. I’m one of the most flexible guys in the band because I’m only 30 and have no kids. The other guys need to make sure that they can take care of their families and be around, so unless touring can support that, it won’t happen. With YOUTH OF TODAY, it’s a different scene, so we can run away for a weekend, do some shows, and come back. SHELTER, because it was a bigger band and requires a little more “production” (practice, coordination between members that live all over the world), it get’s trickier.
Ok, so let’s move on. You’ve been drumming for BOLD since 2005. Tell us about that part of your drumming adventures. Please sum this chapter up.
Well, I already gave the story of how I started with BOLD, and I just recently stopped playing with them in the spring, as they have gone back to an entirely original lineup. Drew went back on drums to do the Revelation Records anniversary shows out in California. But, up until then, I was playing, so I ran from 2005 till the end of 2011. It was a great ride, and I learned a lot about touring and playing bigger shows and became good friends with the whole crew. I love all of those guys and still go to their shows. It’s actually nice, now, since I can mosh along to songs instead of being stuck behind the drums.
[smiles] The next step for you was joining YOUTH OF TODAY. As you mentioned, I understand that Porcell recommended you for the new edition of the legendary act? Were you excited? How did it look like from your perspective back then?
Yeah, Porcell and I played together in BOLD and became really close friends. People tell us pretty often that we’re like an old married couple – I guess that’s what happens when you lock two hardheaded Italians in a van together for weeks at a time. Anyway, Sammy got busy doing RIVAL SCHOOLS, so Ray and Porcell asked me to join them, at least temporarily, for a tour in South America. That went really well, so I’ve stuck around ever since. I was suuuuppper stoked. I mean, how many straight edge kids grow up to get the opportunity to play with one of their favorite bands, and travel with them to places like Russia and South America? It was really an honor, but as was the case with BOLD, they took me in as one of the family and I never felt like a hired gun or an outsider. We’re all bonded by shared ideologies and experiences.
A story that a lot of drummers would fill for [laughs].
How cool were the reunion shows? Please discuss some of the most amazing crowd reactions during those tours. I bet you fell in love with Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil [smiles].
They were really great. South America, Europe, Russia, Norway, Texas, California…. everywhere we’ve been has been great. Kids are still stoked and still go pretty nuts. Sure, there’s always going to be haters that want to question what the band is doing and why, but it doesn’t phase us. We’re stoked to get the opportunity to play music with our friends to people that share the same love of hardcore and PMA as we do. That’s what the experience of these reunion shows has been more than anything else. Notable shows? Moscow was really nuts, with almost 100 kids rushing the stage during Break Down The Walls (there’s videos of it on youtube). Sao Paolo in Brazil was crazy too because I had caught a stomach bug and played the entire set with a puke bucket next to me, and actually had to run off stage a few times in between songs to hurl. Playing with DANZIG/MISFITS in Chicago was a blast too.
What about this year’s performances? I mean both past and future. You must be pretty busy during the Revelation 25th Anniversary shows, right? [smiles]
The Rev25 shows have been killer on both coasts. We just finished this weekend at the NYC show, which went really well. The California shows were incredible too, with SICK OF IT ALL and GORILLA BISCUITS. I mean, shit, if you would have told me when I was 13, that one day I’d be playing for YOT, co-headlining shows with those bands, I would have laughed in your face. But now I get to hang and be friends with these guys I grew up admiring. It’s really pretty rad.
Who were you looking forward to seeing and singing along with during the October edition of the Revelation party? Are you an active mosher? [smiles]
I was super stoked on seeing CHAIN OF STRENGTH and SHAI HULUD with Chad singing. There are a bunch of photos of me climbing on top of people during CHAIN’s “secret” show at the Acheron. I just turned 30 this summer, but am sure I will be moshing for decades to come. I try to control it, and occasionally show up to a show telling myself “okay, I’m going to take it easy tonight,” but I’m usually overcome by the music and feel myself getting pulled by some unseen force to the middle of the pit. It’s that inexplicable feeling of connection and catharsis that has kept me involved all of these years.
So Vinny… They might say you’re a full time reunited bands drummer [laughs]. What legendary band will you be drumming in next? [smiles]
[laughs] Yeah I know. I’ve become that guy. So many of those old bands shared members, so it’s logical that they’d continue the tradition with me. I love playing my drums, so if they want me to do anything else, I’ll most likely be into it.
OK, let’s go outside those bands for w a while. How’s Porcell ‘s yoga studio doing? [smiles]
Govinda Yoga is doing really, really well. It just opened up this summer and has a consistent student base, with more classes being added all the time. Ray is starting to teach there regularly and will eventually add intro Jiu Jitsu classes. I saw the space a few months ago, and its a really nice facility. Really happy for him.
Did you fall into your friends’ ways to connect discipline, health and spirituality?
I’ve actually done martial arts and various forms of fitness my whole life, so I kind of found my own way there. Martial arts and yoga are very similar in the sense that they focus on connecting the body, mind, and inner-energy to find balance and eventually give us the power to manipulate our bodies (i.e. kicks, punches, yoga poses) and minds (discipline, positive thought, forgiveness). I’ve taken a handful of yoga classes over the last few years and really dig it, so it’s another form of exercise and meditation I’d like to develop further. I was a runner in high school and college, too, so that’s one of my go to exercises.
How long have you been straight edge? What does it mean to you after all these years?
I’ve ben straight edge my whole life. Never smoked, drank, or did any drugs. It was just never something I was interested in. I remember first learning about straight edge from an older edge kid at my high school (one of maybe 10 hardcore/punk kids out of 800). He saw some of the patches on my backpack and asked me if I was straight edge, and I said “Yeah, I’ve heard of that, what is it exactly?” Once he explained it to me, I responded with something to the effect of, “Oh really? That’s awesome. I guess I’m straight edge then, cause I don’t do any of that stuff.” It might have something to do with my karate training early on, or the fact that I never saw my parents drinking (outside of a glass of wine with dinner, which is expected for an Italian immigrant), or just that I worked at a young age and was always doing some kind of physical activity. Whatever it was, I just wasn’t curious about substances and liked not feeling the need to have those things in my life in order to “relax” or have a good time. All these years later, even though I’ve grown up and matured (somewhat [laughs]), I still feel the same way, so I guess my “edgeness” is just innate to my being. I’ve grown more attached to it, I’d say, if anything, because the strength I found in those ideals helped me deal with other difficult times in my life. Also, I found that a lot of other kids who thought about life the way I do were straight edge too, so having that in common helped me find really great people.
Uff, it’s good you’re not a hard line warrior, I’d be dead by now [smiles].
Tell us about your new vegan t-shirt label you’re about to launch.
It’s called Pure Apparel, and it’s going to be vegan and vegetarian themed shirts, and then maybe some straight edge shirts down the line. I have a background in graphic design and, even though I’m switching careers, want to put it to good use. Tshirts are a pretty straight forward business venture, and I got kind of tired of seeing all these crappy, hippy-designed graphic tees. I wanted to do something simple and straight forward for anyone into healthy living, whether a straight edge vegan kid, or a vegetarian yoga instructor.
What made you become vegan?
It was really pretty simple. I love animals and one day realized that my love of animals and support of conservation efforts for endangered species was in conflict with my eating habits. I came to it late, in 2006, and didn’t consider it till after the first tour I did with BOLD. A month after I got home, I was making scrambled eggs and got grossed out and went veg right there and then, never looking back.
Can veganism achieve animal liberation? What (else) can?
I think the key lies in education and inspiration. Most people don’t question where their food comes from, or the conditions it is made in. Even I didn’t think to question it for a long time, but I’m glad I did. Vegans and vegetarians can continue to lead by example, and inform, not convert, the people around them. I think all you need to do is plant a seed in people’s heads and let the information speak for itself. That’s what happened to me. No one converted me, they just gave me the information, which I checked for myself, and I eventually felt inspired to lead a vegetarian, and then vegan, lifestyle. Little by little, I think the world will do the same.. As people become more informed about nutritional needs and what eating animals does to the earth, I think they will abandon it. People once thought the world was flat, and that keeping slaves was acceptable. The insanity of both ideologies is apparent to us now, but wasn’t at one point. One day, people will look back and say “What???? They used to raise animals for food and chop them up? That’s crazy!”
Ok. But it’s definitely not the end of the list of your activities [smiles]. Are you still involved in developing the MusicSkins.com success? Please tell us about the story behind this project and its current status.
Nah, I left MusicSkins back in the spring. I helped build the company from the ground up, first running the Art Department exclusively, and then eventually managing general operations as well. I spent four years there trying to help the start up expand and become a legit business. Towards the end, though, I just didn’t agree with how it was being run and realized it was time to move on. There was only so much time I could spend photoshopping Justin Bieber‘s face before I went crazy, anyway.
[laughs] That’s what I thought.
What else? Are there any projects with you behind the console in the works? [smiles]
I just released this solo project I’ve been piecing together over the years called Vinny Hooliganz (my “scene” nickname). It’s a few Rock & Roll songs that I wrote, recorded, and produced myself. One of them I wrote when I was 16! You can check it out at www.vinnyhooliganz.bandcamp.com. I think they’re pretty fun, so hopefully you guys dig em too.
How was the Tim Brooks’ (BOLD) wedding? Did you enjoy the party? Was there alcohol at the party? [laughs]
Tim’s wedding was great!!! So much fun. I love that guy like a brother and I couldn’t be more happy for him. Porcell and I drove up a couple of days before and hung out with Tim and the family and the BOLD guys all weekend. It wasn’t a dry wedding, but there were plenty of kiddie-cocktails for us edge kids.
[laughs] I wish you could try to live through a Polish wedding [laughs].
Since I’m Polish, I wonder… do you have any Polish friends, enjoy any Polish Brooklyn places/venues, etc.?
Actually, my best friend Stan Horaczek is half Czek and half Polish, so yeah, I love the Pols! There’s a good Polish grocery store by me in Bensonhurst. Its called something like Polski Sklep? Not a huge polish population around me, mostly Ukranian/Russian/Chinese/Italian, but I know its there!
Do you travel a lot? Have you visited some European countries for vacation?
I travel mostly with the bands now, but I have traveled before as well. I have family in both Italy and Puerto Rico still, so I’ve been to both to see them, usually around local festival seasons. Otherwise, I took a trip to Thailand this summer with a close friend. I had a free trip from all of my frequent flyer miles, so we planned a trek around the country, with a few days in Cambodia. It was really incredible and really inspiring. Great food, great people, great nature, great art…. great everything.
Vinny, thanks so much, man! It was a great pleasure talking to you. I wish you the best of luck with your future projects and activities. Feel free to add anything you want.
Thanks for the posi vibes! Glad to get a chance to share some stories with you. Love to my friends and family who helped me along the way – without them, I wouldn’t have all these cool experiences to talk about. Till next time!
Porcell photo by Iago Alonso.