Interviews

In Conversation: NY’s screamo / post hardcore act HUNDREDS OF AU

HUNDREDS OF AU!
One-and a half year since their debut on Middle Man Records, Albany, NY’s 90s influenced emotive screamo / post hardcore band HUNDREDS OF AU (members of You & I, NY In 64, Hell Mary, The Assistant, What Of Us, Capacities) are back with their first proper release, their first full length called “Communication Link Re-established”. Brimming with emotions and filled with conscious lyrics, the album unveils a sharp insight into the band’s meaningful political stance, and refuses to be contained under just one label. Seriously enchanted by its feel, I sat down with them to learn a bunch of details about this project, explain its lyrical content, discuss the NJ and Albany punk scenes, talk some politics, old school punk networking versus modern community engagement, and more.

The band is playing two shows in NY and NJ on the 20th and 21st, so be sure to check them out if you’re near!

“Communications Link Re​-​established” is out now digitally, and on cassette and CD from Middleman Records.

Hey guys, thanks for taking some time with us! First of all, congratulations on your amazing new record. I really love how it’s intelligently arranged, but also in thrall to the energy and swing of chaotic hardcore, post hardcore and screamo tradition – there is plenty of rhythm and power inside and your potential is just expertly displayed here. I love the way how it distils what all those styles and sub-genres do best, so honestly, hats off to yoou guys. Please tell us about your backgrounds and the path that led you to this fine accomplishment.

Tom: Thanks Karol. Your compliments on the album are much appreciated. In terms of background, I started playing this style of music in the late 90’s and took a lot of influence at first from bands like Inkwell, Lincoln, Converge, Reversal of Man, Portraits of Past, Bleed, Groundwork and others. Being a musician there is always that challenge to translate what you have in your head into actual music. I spent a good amount of time not getting that translation right or getting it right only about 25% of the time with various bands that I played in over the years. With Hundreds of AU I had a bit of a specific plan about what I wanted the music to convey. On the new record John, Justin and Paul definitely inserted their own approaches of playing which took my plan and really expanded on it. We were really only able to arrive at what we got because of what each person contributes musically.

John: As Tom said, thank you kindly for the compliments. I grew up listening to all kinds of music, but really resonated towards punk/hardcore when I started playing drums in high school. I played in an indie rock-ish bank for quite awhile, but never lost my love for heavy music. After my old band stopped playing, I jumped at the opportunity to play with these guys. Although I have to admit that I needed to learn blast beats before joining the band!

Justin: I appreciate your thoughts and reaction to what we’re doing. This sound has always been with me in an innate sense…Tom and I dabbled in it for a while back in the 90s but never truly achieved the intuitiveness we had desired at that time. Our shared love for mid to late 90s Canadian hardcore/punk inspired our recording sound…not so much the style, but simply the rawness of the recording. Think one eyed god prophecy and union of uranus…after the two ‘last’ shows in July of last year, we decided to keep it going and Tom’s vision propelled us to where we’re at.

Paul: Thanks so much for those kind words! A few things lead to my teaming up with the rest of HOA: At Tom’s wedding, Justin and I were talking music and being in bands and we both agreed it would be cool to do something together. I had played with Tom in Hell Mary and at the time we were talking about doing something completely new as I believe HOA was only going to do two shows and stop. However, Tom decided to keep HOA going in NJ with Justin and John. After a few phone calls with him and Justin and a couple guitar play through videos, I went to practice and then kept going until eventually we all wrote a bunch of songs together, booked a few shows and recorded the 9 songer. They haven’t asked me to leave yet, so I’ll keep showing up. Jokes aside, it’s nice to play with like-minded people on the same page who share a similar vision.

Continued below…

HUNDREDS OF AU by nicolespangenburgphotography

HUNDREDS OF AU by Nicole Spangenburg Photography

What inspired you to create this scientific and cosmological aesthetics and how does it link to the general lyrical concept of the record?

Tom: The idea started out of homesickness. I had moved from New Jersey to Albany, NY. I barely knew anyone and was having a very hard time with the move. At the time I was reading a novel called “Revelation Space” by Alastair Reynolds. In the book a few characters are on a journey through space. One of them comments that Earth is hundreds of AU away. AU is short for Astronomical Unit, a unit of measurement equal to 149.6 million kilometers, the mean distance from the center of the earth to the center of the sun. The character’s expression of homesickness was a good representation of how I felt. My friends, support system and social life all felt so far away. The aesthetic of planetary landscapes that spread out on the horizon with no inhabitants seemed to be a good fit to the concept of isolation and loneliness. Of course, there can be a certain calming peace in this sort of isolation and at times the juxtaposition between the barren landscapes and the harsh, busy music is interesting to me as well.

So how was this journey for you personally? What prompted you to move there? Have you already settled in?

Tom: It’s ironic…I’ve been a musician in touring bands for about 25 years or so. Most places in the United States I could probably move to and know a group of people. Albany, NY was one of few places that none of my bands have ever played in that span of 25 years. My wife landed a job in Albany as a Wetlands Ecologist for a non profit. Her primary job is to do assessment and restoration of Wetlands habitats throughout the state of New York. It is her dream job. I reluctantly moved here and did my best to try to establish a social life, music, etc there but have had very little luck. I’m still doing the 3 hour drive back to NJ on a regular basis for shows and practices.

How was the initial contact with this new local scene? Have you embedded yourself well in the community?

Tom: Initially I had done some online research to see what was happening in Albany prior to moving. I met Dave Huffy, then guitarist for a band called Forgery, on a vinyl trading forum. He lived in Albany and we met up at a show before I moved up here. His analysis of the local scene was that there is a very big heavy-mosh-beatdown scene along side of a sort of 80’s punk scene. Neither of those sub genres are really appealing to me, so I had doubts from the beginning about whether I’d be able to find a place for myself here. Soon after I moved here I tried out to play drums for Dave’s band, Scavengers. We started playing shows in Albany soon after and, compared to what I was used to, the sense of community left something to be desired. I was accustomed to the strong DIY scene in New Jersey which is very politically active, welcoming and varied in terms of bands/people. Albany was offering shows, but they just didn’t have the characteristics of what I wanted out of hardcore. It definitely caters to a little bit more of what I refer to as the “Top 40 hardcore” crowd which is a scene characterized by bands with tour managers, on package tours, crowdkilling, etc. I’ve been making an effort to meet more people and from time to time there is a good show, however, musically it doesn’t offer me what I get from New Jersey.

There is a very strong animal rights community here. I’ve attended multiple protests and made some friends through that. As someone who’s been vegan for a long time one of my worries when moving up here was whether there would be accessibility to vegan food. Fortunately for me Albany is an excellent city for vegan options. There are so many places here where you can get great food, I’ve actually gained about 15 pounds since moving up here.

Ok, so tell us more about New Jersey and its local ‘delicacies’. Venues, labels, zines, local community actions, etc. What us the independent musical culture like in NJ and how do you feel it has evolved over the years?

Tom: New Jersey has had ups and downs, but unfortunately I moved away while it was definitely on it’s way up. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the United States (people per square mile) so just by default you have more people in one area. That means more musicians, more people going to shows, more of everything. This can be really effective when that mass amount of people start doing doing great bands, running venues, etc.

When I first started going to shows in the 1990’s there was a very strong scene for shows, animal rights demonstrations, labels and zines. Shows were extremely varied in terms of genre. I remember seeing shows were Assuck, Lifetime, Hot Water Music and Endeavor would all be on the same show. Nowadays that doesn’t happen all that often. I think with the advent of the internet the landscape of hardcore changed quite a bit. Today it seems to be a totally acceptable stance for bands to use the DIY scene as a stepping stone to get the next level, whereas in the 90’s people were more committed to building a thriving underground scene. When hardcore became more radio friendly in the mid 2000’s I think the DIY scene in NJ suffered. Bands we used to see in basements were now playing things like Warped Tour. This changed the mindset from scene/community building to brand/band building. As we move into the 2018 there’s definitely more of a divide between bands that are indulging in the Top 40 approach to hardcore (tour manager, booking agent, publicist, excessive merch, etc) and bands that are building smaller DIY communities.

Currently there are a lot of great bands in New Jersey (Masa Nerra, Bury Yourself, Permanent Tension, A Film in Color, Ides, Entia, Sunrot, etc) and a good deal of all ages venues (Meatlocker, Boontunes, various houses). There’s a social and political awareness that permeates the scene and keeps people accountable to be compassionate, understanding and constantly questioning pre-established notions. It’s a great time be involved in things.

What other US or perhaps international local punk and DIY, music-oriented communities have you experienced? Are there any places with people and thriving undertakings that you look towards for inspiration?

Tom: In the United States right now I’m really inspired by what some of the bands and people are doing. Richmond, Virginia has a lot of really great bands coming out of it right now (Ostraca, Truman, Majorel, etc) and they’ve been doing great action in support Planned Parenthood. In Brooklyn, New York our friend Dyami Bryant (singer for Locked in a Vacancy) is doing so much for DIY right now. He puts on great shows and works very hard to bring good bands to the area. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is home to so many great bands (Supine, Soul Glo, Disappearances, Solarized, Downtrodder, etc) and our friend Ruben Polo is doing so many DIY shows, basically keeping that scene in a very thriving state.

In Canada, Toronto has always been a hotbed of excellent bands. Currently Digest and Respire are two of my favorites from there. We’re basing our summer tour around playing New Friends Fest in Toronto, which seems to be shaping up to be great. Montreal and Quebec City both have local record shops that do shows regularly. It’s very inspiring to have small business owners open up their shops to touring bands.

I toured Europe in March of this year. This was my third time touring over there and each time I come back extremely motivated and inspired by the organization and commitment of the folks over there. The care taken for touring bands is so welcoming, we should use it as example over here in the United States. At some point I’ll probably start planning a Hundreds of AU trip to Europe.

Great! Can’t wait for that! What friend labels, bands and promoters have you made in Europe?

Jos from the Mulheim Fiducia Collective helped set up our tour. He’s been a great friend. I met him back in 2011 when my old band went over there and we’ve kept in touch. Him and his wife stayed with me in the US when they were vacationing over here. We got to spend a lot of time together, it was great. The last time I toured over there I got to meet Artur from the band We Watch Clouds. They are a great band from Warsaw, Poland. Artur was so welcoming and enthusiastic. His band played with us and they were absolutely stunning. That was actually an excellent experience because it was 4 bands (What of Us, We Watch Clouds, Sur L’eau and Barabbas du förtappade) all from different countries. I spent a lot of time with the band Sur L’eau from Germany. They are great people and a great band. Turns out an old friend of mine, Dan, plays in a band called I Recover. They are from Cologne, Germany. He also runs a screen printing shop there as well.

Awesome. I’ve been promoting most of them for some time now (Fiducia, What Of Us / Sure L’Eau, https://idioteq.com/german-post-hardcore-band-recover-premiere-new-ep-exclusive-stream-interview-available/), and WE WATCH CLOUDS are located in Warsaw where I am based in! I guess we we should catch up and hang out together one day haha!
Ok, so back to touring, you’ve done a short weekender run of 3 shows in PA, NY and NJ earlier this month. How were those shows? Also, what are your current touring plans? What gig do you have lined up next?

Tom: We’ve done a couple of weekend trips to play PA, NY and NJ in addition to some other areas. We were fortunate to play with great bands each time (Closer, Entropy, All Else Failed, Jennifer, Supine, Coma Regalia, and many more). We were also fortuante to play at really great spaces each time with friendly and enthusiastic people. This is really still the early stage of us playing shows together with this lineup, but now it just feels totally normal and locked in. We have a couple of shows in July set for New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island. We also have a tour booked in August, going up to Canada and into the Midwestern part of the US. Most of the shows on that run will be with Coma Regalia. I’m really looking forward to tour because we’re meeting up with a lot of great people and bands that inspire me and who I’ve learned from.

Continued below…

COMA REGALIA tour!

Awesome. How could you not love these guys and Shawn?
Ok, so let’s go back to your new record for a while. I’m curious about the lyrical part of it. Can you give us a quick tour through each and every track and a brief track by track rundown tackling the themes you brought up?

I’m pretty bad at this, but I’ll try my best.

“Deflection Arts” was written with a few different experiences in mind that all stemmed from me attempting to confront my own male privilege. In the wake of the #metoo movement, one of the reactions from the right wing was to post statistics on men’s mental health, to create a narrative that men “have it worse”, a reaction which basically took the much overdue scrutiny toward sexual assault and tried to turn it into a competition between “who has it worse”. While I think men’s mental health is an important discussion, and should be given attention, I found it strange that it was being used as a rebuttal or a way to deflect from the accountability that men need to take in the #metoo moment. I would prefer a conversation on men’s mental health to come from a place of vulnerability, a place that challenges hetero-masculine norms and gender binaries, rather than used as a way to deflect from confronting an epidemic of sexual assault against women. I would prefer men take this opportunity in the #metoo moment to listen, learn and make some foundational changes, exchanging deflection of our inherent sexism with a long overdue confrontation of our language, behavior and culture.

The idea for “Sanctuary City” came as the mayor of Albany, NY (where I live) declared that the city was now a sanctuary city for undocumented people while simultaneously complying with federal law and cooperating with Immigration Customs and Enforcement authorities. In this sense the use of the term just seemed to be used as a buzz word for the mayor to seem more aligned with her voting base and not an action to confront the detainment and deportation of undocumented people. The song was an expression of asking for a definition and an accountability to the mayor to truly break ground on what it means to be a sanctuary city.

“At The Intersection” is a brief synopsis of years of experience with intersectional politics. I agree that systems of oppression are interwoven in a way that creates commonalities and overlap throughout class, race, sexual orientation, etc. The tough part is when the ideological differences are so diametrically opposed to one another that they outweigh the commonalities. For example, can fundamentalist religious cultures who face systemic oppression grasp their commonalities with feminist and LGBTQ struggles or simply see them as opposition to their dogma? It’s not an easy thing for anyone to navigate, but I want to make an effort.

“Runneth Full” was a song that originally appeared on our demo which addressed the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a large oil pipeline that ran through Native American territory and posed environmental concerns for the land and waterways which it would be built on. “Runneth Full Part 2” was written a year later, when the pipeline was damaged and spilled 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota.

Both “Observer” and “Signature” are about my struggles with mental health, anxiety, depression and self-care.

The concept of “Sharing the Spotlight” was first inspired by my love of comic books. In the past 5 years there’s been a huge growth of non-male/non-white/non-hetero writers, artists and main storyline characters in the medium. This is a real sign of progress for an industry that was largely represented by straight white men for such a long time. This development was met with backlash from the largely white male readership that was so accustomed to seeing only themselves and their antiquated values represented. This phenomena is happening throughout many aspects of American culture right now. As the representation of non-white/non-male people increases throughout media, leadership, workplaces, etc where they were not represented before, we see a large backlash from white folks who are interpreting this as an attack on their culture. To share representation is a relatively new concept for White America that has left them unjustifiably insecure. The notion that all representation should reflect white culutre is one of the foundations of systemic racism in America. Trump harnessed and emphasized this insecurity and paranoia, framing himself as a figure that would restore White America as an unquestioned culture leader.

PAUL: “Tell Us” centers on a generalized theme stemming from the incessant arguing that bombards us every day via social media where change or even civil conversation isn’t the goal. Derivative thoughts are mixed with made-up stock terms thrown around loosely and it becomes a contest to see who is the wittiest with meaningless back-patting to follow. Similar to Tom’s lyrics for “Deflection Arts,” I believe this is done to deflect the real issues at hand and does not foster anything positive or thought-provoking as people merely talk at each other and not with each other. To be able to do that in itself comes from a place of privilege and I recognize that I am not free from guilt here. There are better ways to use the social platforms we all have access to. This one isn’t about those ways.

“Unsolicited” explores the imminent conversation to follow when one reveals that they want to live without children.

How much so you follow politics? What are the main topics currently in America, both locally and nationwide?

TOM: In America today I think everyone has no choice but to follow the poltical rollercoaster pretty closely. Even people who attempted to take a neutral or indifferent side of things (which is in and of itself a political stance) in the past are engaging. There are a myriad of things that come up daily and depending on what community one is from, one will prioritize what meets the requirement as a “main” topic. When I think of a question like that my response is really that there are so many things to give attention to that it would be hard to condense a brief list into “main” topics. Immigration, trade, police brutality, environmental diseaster, foreign policy, campaign corruption, sexual assault, etc, (I’m leaving a lot more out) are all on the forefront every day here.

One could easily write pages and pages on any of these things. I’ll do my best to give a brief synopsis of the two issues I’ve heard most about this morning on my ride to work.

Immigration is at the forefront of many people’s minds due to Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy which entails separating children from their parents as their parents await trial. Detainment of immigrants also happened under the Obama administration and worked hand in hand with many of the same for-profit prison contactors as the Trump administration does. The newly constructed facilities to exclusively hold children have recently refueled public anger over the treatment of immigrants and have mobilized a large movement demanding everything from reformed immigration policy to the abolition of ICE all together.

Three of the members of this band are public employees (two work in public schools, one works in a public library). The number of mass shootings in schools and public places in the United States this year alone have outnumbered any other country. At one point the president was introducing ideas to arm public school teacher with hand guns as part of their job requirement. This morning a small newspaper in Maryland was subject to a mass shooting in which 5 people died. Since the National Rifle Association (NRA) donated a generous amount of money to Trump’s campagin we will not be seeing any reform in gun control laws, despite these high numbers of public shootings.

JUSTIN: I, like Tom, read the news probably too much…the barrage of stories are too relentless at times to even keep up with. The one thing that concerns me the most in our current political/social climate in America is the dissolution of civil discourse among individuals and groups/communities. As Americans, we’ve always had an issue with divisiveness, but I have never experienced a climate as divisive in my nearly forty years alive as I do now. Partisan politics get communities nowhere…all they do is contribute to the growing, and albeit terrifying, need to be ‘right’ regardless of the facts and perspectives of multiple individuals. This is an extremely slippery slope in regards to the direction of the global community. The effect of arrogance, pretension, and narcissism have been studied and explored for years…it has been penned into some of the greatest works of literature, been seen in the fall of governments, in the denial of basic human rights, etc. The finger pointing and denial of an objective reality can cause (and has caused) a populous that can only react to soundbites without considering the larger, more significant implications. The legitimately under informed constituents react based solely on emotion from one liners that lack the context necessary for understanding, contemplation, and a mutual consideration of the best way to move humanity, not one sole country, forward in a way that leaves future generations with a chance at living happily and without fear.

What media and sources of information give you new insights to your understanding of the crazy happenings in US politics?

Tom: I’m huge proponent of National Public Radio (NPR). Much of the mainstream media in the US (CNN, FOX, MSNBC) is so focused on sound clips, ratings, controversial guest aruguements, etc, whereas NPR is still very much an objective news source that is publicly funded.

There’s an American journalism news broadcast called Democracy Now that is based in New York City. It’s been running for 22 years and covers more obscure stories that are not covered by the mainstream media.

I also found the perspectives of news sources from outside of the US more objective as well. Al Jazeera news and the BBC are the most common outlets I read.

Are you aware of some underground, independent press, perhaps zines, that offer an interesting perspective on non-music related topics? I really miss those days when, in Eastern Europe for instance, there were a plethora of politically and socially conscious zines blending punk records with stuff that mattered in the early 90s era and the new dawn of freedom that materialized back then. And to extend my question a bit, do you think young people are less conscious of the political stuff than their predecessors before the Internet and digital media era?

TOM: In Albany, NY we have a local newspaper called The Alt which has a critical and objective focus on local politics as well as highlights on art and music. It’s available at local coffee shops, libraries, etc. I don’t see zines or underground publications at shows like I did in the 90’s.

Hardcore and punk in the United States was pretty overtly political thoughout the mid 90’s. There was lots of zines, literature, benefits shows, etc. I grew up seeing bands like Los Crudos, Zegota, Earth Crisis, Endeavor, 108, My Lai and others that were very political in content. By the end of the 90’s a backlash was happening and the general atmosphere was turning very apolitical. “Screamo” music started getting a large following by the late 90’s/early 2000’s and it coincided with the backlash. As a result many of the bands of that genre were largely apolitical or just adopting shock tactics to offend. A lot of them were very uninteresting to me, as they didn’t really have any focus on critical thinking or challenging status quo.

In 2018 I am much more inspired by the attention that bands in this particular genre have to social and political struggles. I’m inspired by the level of attention that’s now being given to politics in music again. There’s no tabling or zines anymore, but the general collective consciousness of people is definitely more politically engaged. This is represented in the lyrics, in the policies at venues, as well as the fundraising online and at shows.

JUSTIN: I’m beyond completely in agreement with Tom. Apparently, for better or worse, everything happens in waves…things in the late 90s/early 2000s left a bad taste in my mouth that I, unfortunately, distanced myself from because I couldn’t understand the feeling or motivation. Not that politics was always the driving force…for the bands Tom and I grew up with, it was generally a 50/50 mix of political influence and personal exhuming…but for a while it was too much about fashion, who knew who, and what band was ‘in’. To be honest, it disgusted me and I no longer felt a connection like I did when I got into all of this nearly 27 years ago. I would like to believe that after the wake of ‘screamo’ bands ‘hitting it big’ with sounds they thought they could cash in on, or may have or not felt passionately about and believed in subsided, the new wave of bands are believing in a sound that is larger than them as we have always understood. Idealistic as it sounds…bands like this are being realized everyday. I’m in awe at the current state of hardcore/punk music…and, as I’ve always been, happy to simply contribute in whatever way I can.

JOHN: Tom and Justin nailed it all. I do want to add that I really miss the days when you went to your local record store, or a local show with local bands, and there was always a variety of hand made zines that covered a variety of topics. Sometimes they were free, sometimes a dollar or two, but you always left with a handful of them. In the pre-internet days, those were gold.

PAUL: Tom and Justin covering it all once again. I want to piggy-back John’s sentiment and say that a re-infusion of hand-held literature would be refreshing to see at shows. About a year ago, Tom and I’s other band played a show at this pizza place in NY and the fellow running the show interviewed each band and gave every person that came to the show a copied zine of said interviews. I thought it was cool and I left that show with more than just a fading memory of some live music.

I totally get you. We get a lot of zines here in Europe though. Both in Poland and other countries, I see a lot of printed little zines that put a huge smile on my face. Fests like the almighty Fluff are probably one of the best places to find literally hundreds of amazing printed zines and punk oriented printed publications from all around the world. Shouts out to No Exposure, Wygrać Nowe Życie, Razorcake, Trust, Chaos W Mojej Głowie, Ściana Wschodnia Zine, Our Future, A Network Of Friends, Ox Fanzine, Girl Crush, Girls To The Front, Illuminati Girl Gang, HotDog, From The Root, Chiller Than Most, Shining Life, Straight & Alert’s zine selection, xclusivxNo Spirit mailorder, Sorry State distro, Reaction Fanzine, Cheap Toys, Prejudice Me, Lights Go Out, Safety Pin, Mind The Gap, Gadgie Fanzine, Maximum RocknRoll, Pasażer, Refuse Records distro, and many many more.
Ok, but anyways… guys, Tom, so thanks so much for your time and all the detailed information on so many stuff we managed to touch on. Please leave your final words and take care!

TOM: Thanks so much for getting in touch with us and taking interest in our music. Hopefully we’ll get to Poland one day and meet in person!

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