Sunday, January 27, 2008

interview: Hardcore band "108"

I conducted this interview last year for my good friend Lb's Fanzine The Heat. The paper issue has been released in summer 07. Its next issue is in the making. Since it's a good and interesting read as I believe, I wanted to share it with the people that didn't have a chance to read it. Any answers/feedback is welcome.

I was a 15 year old kid when I discovered 108s just released phenomenal album “songs of separation”. I remember I convinced one of my friends from school to buy it, because I didn´t have the money. Yet I had to have it, since I heard so many good things about it.

Two years later the band played a local venue where I saw them for the first and unfortunately the last time. They had just released their milestone “threefold misery” on Lost & Found, which at the time I personally found somewhat awkward considering that at the time it was “chic” to be anti-Lost & Found if you considered yourself a real hardcore kid.

I had mixed feelings about 108. They conflicted with some of my ideas about what hardcore should be. One the one hand they were a group of individuals creating some of the most powerful hardcore I have heard. They were a socially and politically motivated band and educated enough to give a bunch of 18 year olds a few things to truly ponder on. But on the other hand some of 108s members were part of an organised religion, the ISKCON. This conflicted with some of my basic beliefs. But as an 18 year new jack, you are also sometimes easy to jump to conclusions about others, especially when you are part of the hardcore scene.

108 was a band that made people feel uncomfortable, they were critical and direct, touching on subjects that weren´t being spoken about in the scene much at all. They were a band that wouldn´t allow themselves to fit into the narrow box of what some of the scenesters were calling hardcore.

To me they were and still are a band that dare to think outside of the box, that touches subjects any band has hardly dared to adress before which is a bold and powerful thing no matter where you are, what scene you belong to what or which society or culture you are a part of.

Simply put, 108 confused me. I couldn´t figure them out.

Today some of the general confusion of my troubled teenage years disappeared and sublimed into a stable foundation. I wondered what has changed for the individuals in 108 since their break up in 1996. This was reason enough for me to ask them a few questions.

Questions and text by i.Integral

First of all, I would like to tell you guys, how glad I am that you got back together. You are one of a small number of bands which keeps me interested in hardcore. To me you are a group of people that still is able to inspire me musically as well as through performances and through your very thoughtful spiritual and socio-political approach. But guys, what I really care about is how many krishnas does it really take to change a light bulb?

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: Very cool.

Vic: Ha! Depends on what type of Krishnas! I'm glad to hear all that.
Thank you so much.

What made you guys consider and actually get back together again?

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: It just felt right. Nothing more, nothing less.
Vic: Just feelings, that's all. We just felt like doing it.

Musically I sense a definitive Black Flag or Bl´ast influence on the new self released demo. Regarding the lyrics I seem to notice less vedic impact but a clearer socio-political direction. I might be mistaken, but the choice of words or language seems to me as if changed. (Well, more than 10 years passed by…) What would you say are
the most significant differences between the old and new incarnation of 108 in terms of musical, artistic and philosophical appearances and agenda compared to ten to fifteen years ago?

Vic: That's all fair! Today lyrics are written more as a group than
just me writing. Rasaraj is quite socially oriented. Triv is quite
spiritually oriented. And me, I'm a bridge between the two of them,
interested in both - though primarily spiritual, and also in a lot of
occult type stuff.
Ras is really into Black Flag. Maybe that comes through. I'm not sure.

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: I would say there are a few major differences.
The first is that we are all involved in the writing process from
start to finish. Initially Vic wrote just about everything and Triv
and I would simply adjust things or add our influence. The new songs
have us all equally involved in creating the songs from start to
finish. Musically I think that is why you may hear more of a Black
Flag or Bl´ast influence as those are the bands I grew up loving so
that artistic sense has stuck with me.

In terms of the lyrics it is much the same regarding the creative
process. I probably write the majority of the lyrics now but everyone
is very involved and although we come from different angles the flow
of ideas and inspirations are similar.

As far as I know the both of you broke with ISKCON. Vic, you used to
be a well respected capacity, theologist if you want, within the
ISKCON. Could you describe what made you consider to drop out of it
after such a long time. What were the most valid reasons for your
exit? And Rob, can you give us an idea of how you personally saw the
development and process of Vic that led to his departure from ISKCON.
** [The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), also known as 'the Hare Krishna' movement, was founded in 1966 in New York City by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. While some classified the sect as a new religious movement, its core philosophy is based on scriptures such as the Bhagavad-Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam, both of which date back more than two millennia. The distinctive appearance of the movement and its culture come from the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, which has had adherents in India ever since the late 1400s.

ISKCON also experienced a number of significant internal problems, the majority of which occurred from the late seventies onwards, and especially within the decade following Prabhupada's death.

In 1976 a case involving allegations of brainwashing involving a minor named Robin George and her parents, went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. The conclusion of the trial was that in 1983, a California jury awarded the family more than $32 million in damages for false imprisonment and other charges, which was later reduced to $485,000 in 1993.

Stories of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children at the society's boarding schools in India and America began to emerge in the 1980s, with cases dating back from the mid-1970's onwards. Some of these cases later appeared in print, such as in John Hubner and Lindsay Gruson's 1988 book Monkey on a Stick. In 1998 an official publication produced by ISKCON detailed the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children at the society's boarding schools in both India and the U.S. during the 1970s and 1980s.]

Vic: It was a gradual retraction from ISKCON that took 2-4 years in my
case. There was no single deciding factor, it was more like gradually
realizing what was good in my life and what was negative in it.

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: To be honest I didn't really see Vic's evolution
too closely in terms of his exit from ISKCON. We kept in touch and had
mutual friends and such but I was always rather aloof, even though I
actually managed a temple for 4 years, so I wasn't all that aware of
where Vic was going. Coincidentally I think we both "left" at the same
time although we left for different reasons and like I said we weren't
collaborating on our departures; it just happened that way.

Would you want to elaborate on some of the reasons and phases you went through as you mutually departed from the institution?

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: Personally the big thing was transitioning from a person who needed answers to help me through many of the fucked up things I went through as a kid to a person who understood that i didn’t need answers rather I needed to simply address the things I went through. Once that happened then my past involvement with Gaudiya Vasinavism seemed irrelevant. I didn’t „need“ it. So I dropped out of sight regarding Vaisnavism and my circle of friends, etc. Little by little I found what was truly important to me and what was merely an attempt to avoid myself. Gaudiya Vaisnavism and its esoteric being and the ultimate aspirations it draws one towards are something that has somehow found a home in my heart. I don't claim to have "truth" at my beckon call and I certainly don't fit in with the framework of any institution or theology. I am what I am and who I am and will embrace that which brings me hope and happiness and leave the rest for others to wrestle with and debate over. The changes I experienced were not so much in what was important to me; simply why they were important to me.

I have been following 108 since 1993, when I was about 15 or 16, when "songs of separation" was released on Lost and Found. I saw you guys play live back in the day in Karlsruhe, Germany, where I lived back then.
108 always was a very appealing band to me. I felt there was a fascinating aura surrounding the band in terms of
your powerful musical and philosophical appearance. On the other hand I remember I felt pretty intimitaded by your strict agenda and to me die-hard krsna politics. Vics monk outfit or Robs appearance seemed so serious and at times maybe even too direct, while explaining his or 108s opinion on philosophical and spiritual topics. Today I see less harm in this, because of my own spiritual and personal growth and capability of cognitive
understanding. But I believe for a bunch of teens and twens, furious and mostly raised in a material and secular understanding of the world, it was like being accused of living a bad life. I remember feeling looked
down or even guilty. Were you aware that you provoked these sorts of feelings and impressions in the crowd? Did you hazard the consequences? Or was that even a calculated risk? Did you want to provoke through a more hegemonial choice of language?

Vic: "Calculated" is not something that describes or described 108
very well at all. We rarely calculate ANYTHING at all. Our intention
is just the opposite, just to let what is outside come roaring out. I
think you are right and I think a lot of what we said and did and how
we said and did it was quite harsh and zealous and maybe made people
feel scared or bad or un-included. Still, i wouldn't change a thing.
It's what happened naturally.

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: Personally I have a hard time relating with your
perception. The lyrics and moods could and were certainly heavy but I
know that when I sang the songs and talked about them, besides maybe
Killer of the Soul or Pale, I always articulated that my meditation
was in how those songs reflected my inner demons. For instance when I
talked about a song like Woman I always focused on how those lyrics
were about me. If I appeared heavy about it then it was simply because
I was so disturbed by what I saw in myself and I tried to articulate
that in just about any interview or live show I could.

In terms of calculation? that definitely wasn't and isn't 108. We had
more member changes than practices. We never had pow wows to discuss
our politics or philosophies. If we did we probably would have
strangled each other before the first show. The songs and moments were
individualistic in most senses but we shared, as a group, the common
struggle to find our authentic selves.

One thing that might have added to my confusion is that there was quite a language barrier since my native language is German. I might have misinterpreted some of the lyrics and assertions or taken them out of context. Still, could you elaborate on the lyrics you wrote for „Woman“ especially „ is suffering...“? Most critics of 108 heard or read this quote out of context and assessed rather easily.

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: I think both of us will have different takes and inspirations on what those songs meant for us. Personally I was sexually abused as a kid and it really fucked up how I viewed sexuality in my life. So both Thorn and Woman really spoke to the dynamic of looking at sex as a way to connect with another and the frustrations I had in realizing that sexuality didn’t bring the connection I was looking for; that it just wasn’t that easy. Sex was a real negative to me because of what I expected from it... like it would fill me in. At the same time ignoring sexuality was something I saw as a negative too because you can’t separate yourself from your sexuality and be a healthy and happy human being. It has it’s place and it is a very important place that unfortunately most of us don’t understand due to social, religious or traditional taboos which help make sexuality, which is a beautiful and integral part of life, a real fucked up part of our experience.

VIC: “Sex is Suffering” – well, check the rest of the lines. Jealousy, heartache, envy. In a real sense it’s a very, very true line – “sex is suffering”. Not every statement has to be true from every single point of view at the same time. From one angle sex is a real pain in the ass (ooooops, there’s a pun) and causes a lot of distress and suffering.
Yes, there is another, equally valid angle in which sex is divine, beautiful and amazing. But that’s not what we were writing about in that particular song.

Today, do you think you could have possibly reached more people with your message with a more moderate way of presenting the philosophy of vedic culture?

Vic: Our intention was not to preach vedic culture - so it really
doesn't matter. The band was mostly therapeutic for the members, and
that continues to be true to this day. Thus, calculating what would be
more or less effective in spreading some specific agenda would have
been as completely disinteresting to us then as it is to us today.

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: It had nothing to do with vedic culture. It
didn't 14 years ago and it certainly doesn't today. As Vic said it was
a therapeutic way to express our spiritual aspirations, struggles and
so forth. We weren't Shelter and probably the only calculated thing in
our initial existence was to make it clear that we weren't Shelter. It
wasn't a preaching tool; it was expression. Simple as that.

I understand your intentions yet to me as an outsider and from the typical hardcore consumer point of view it seemed it had something to do with krisna spirituality at least. I understand it was used as a therapeutic means of expression, yet the use of vedic imagery and sanskrit presented a clear affection and promotion of a certain culture. But yes I agree, it was very clear, that you guys WERE NOT Shelter. :-)

Are those things you believe in all true or real? I mean the afterlife, reincarnation, the different universes, Krishna, Radha, who tells us that is not all just some whackos power tripping ideas to enslave peoples minds by holding the mentally captive? Is the human mind too weak and scared to see that there is nothing but materia and after we die all of it ends?

Vic: There’s nothing “power tripping” in Radha-Krishna theology. It’s a spiritual path far, far, far more than it is any social group or religious institution. Yes, the things I believe in are true and real, and unreal as well. People who think they know for certain that something is “unreal” are just as dogmatic as the fanatics they make fun of. Check out the song “Modern Hats” that is going to be on our new record. It’s written all about this.

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: You know I don’t know if it is all true or not and to be frankly honest I don’t care. Spirituality, to me, isn’t about being right. It is about experiencing, being inspired. People are valid. Thoughts are valid. Aspirations are valid. Fears are valid. Love is valid. Beliefs, no matter how far fetched, are valid. Feelings are valid.

Doctrine or religion is only as useful as it allows one to embrace the above. Religion or any doctrine as the supplier of “the answer” is bullshit. People, thoughts, aspirations, fears, love, beliefs and feelings are subjective to an individual so to place them on others as some sort of responsibility or duty is complete bullshit regardless of what you call it or what it looks like. Why people live their lives to dictate to another is fucking absurd. Think the person next to you lives in a fairy tale land? Good for them. If they are happy, content and leave me and the rest of the world alone why is that a problem? I'd rather a world of "those people" than what we have today: a world full of people thinking they know what others need to think, feel, live and die for.

108 don’t prescribe to any doctrine. We may find common inspirations in Gaudiya theology or in certain aspects of the theology but we are not the theology or uniform “followers” of such. We are individuals who have allowed the beauty or ideals of Gaudiiya theology to effect, to various degrees, who we are. We don't live by the rules of a book or words of another. We, like every other person in the world, are complex beings whose identity is as diverse, complex and conflicted as the world around us. Just as someone into feminist theory or socialism isn't defined or confined by the ideals and life of Josephine Donovan or Bob Black we are not defined by someone’s take on Gaudiya theology.

Simply put we don't claim to have "truth" at our beckon call which essentially means we aren’t religious types. We are what we are and who we are and will embrace that which brings us hope and happiness and leave the rest for others to wrestle with and debate over.

108 is about expressing thoughts, aspirations, fears, love, sadness and how we see the world around us.

Do we need religion? Do we need spirituality? Is there a difference between the two? Why do you need it or believe in it?

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: Religion, spirituality, who cares. Is there a difference? Of course. Religion is a pre defined answer whereas spirituality is simply acknowledging that all is not what we see. Intellectually I am agnostic... I don’t claim to have any answers nor do I care to obtain any. I have these beautiful aspirations and that is all that matters to me.

Vic: You need whatever you need. It’s up to you to decide. I don’t “need” spirituality – it’s just automatically an unavoidable part of the way I live, breathe, see, hear and think. There is certainly a clear difference between religion and spirituality – as religion is a social structure and spirituality is state of being.

How would your life look like today without spirituality?

Vic: It wouldn’t be my life. It’s like saying, “How would you look at yourself if you were a completely different person?”

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: Wouldn’t look any different. I didn’t apply for spirituality, I don’t have to work to have it or acquire it. It is a part of who I am and day to day, year to year it is what it is.

Can you guys tell us when you individually got into Krishna consciousness? And what happened along the way there? What were your major interests and fascinations about it?

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: I started reading about the hare Krishna thing when I was 16 years old. My initial attraction to Gaudiya Vaisnavism was rather stark: I was desperate to find something that could explain to me why I had gone through some of the traumatic things I had gone through and to help me understand why I felt so disconnected from everything around me. Theological tenants such as karma really hit a chord with me; it gave me an avenue to try to understand what I was experiencing and feeling.

Aside from that I was very attracted to the emphasis of theology/spirituality as an avenue to loving relationships to be lost to everything but selfless love, the mood of being for another, was extremely attractive to me.

Vic: I got into it with the intial wave of Vegetarian Straightedge Krishna following on the introduction of Krishna into hardcore by the Cro-Mags. What attracted me initially was the hardness and brutal reality of the Age of Quarrel LP that the Cro-Mags put out. Then I read a book called Sri Isopanishad and was blown away at the systematic, logical and methodologically scientific approach to the supernatural expressed in that book.

I know that Vic has been a monk for a few years. I wonder how you dealt with celibacy? I really never personally could follow the concept of it and how it would serve my personal and spiritual growth. I myself felt reminded of the catholic dogma. How did you perceive it in the past and how has it changed to what it is today?

Vic: Celibacy was an interesting thing to deal with. In retrospect I think it’s fairly retarded. I was 18 years old. Never had sex before. And decided to spend another 8 years being celibate. We’re talking no jerking off either. Looking back it’s like, “What the fuck? Reality called and wants you to call back and get in touch.” It has more ramifications on me to this day, being that I am pretty sexually young still – and that doesn’t quite fit so well with my existential situation.

I think celibacy is a viable tool on a certain path of self-realization which involves sensory control for the sake of strengthening the mind and focusing it inward. However, I think that attempting to use it as a practice being a 18 year old Italian American is a wild notion – and am surprised I lasted 8 years and did not kill myself or anyone else along the way.

Does Krishna bone? And if yes, why does he get to have sex and monks don´t?

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: Krsna is not some symbolic god figure who rules over creation. The name Rasaraja is a name for Krsna which means Raja – king and Rasa – relationships or taste. Krsna is the king of rasa because of the depth and soul bearing relationships he has. Some are amorous in nature. My spiritual aspirations are directly connected to the relationship between Krsna and Radha and their sexual union is not a hidden dynamic.
As far as celibacy goes it certainly has it’s place. It isn’t an unnatural or dirty thing rather a natural part of life and existence whether in the material or spiritual plane.

Vic: Krishna is the supreme being. So yes, he better “bone” and he better be the best boner in all of existence, right?
Krishna is not a monk on the path of self-realization through sense control, so comparing him to a monk is like comparing “apples and oranges” – the two entities are just not analogus.

For a few years I work as a clinical social worker and systemic family counselor. Therefore I read Robs lyrics on THE JUDAS FACTOR lp with lots of interest and admiration. „Stealing Away“ is breathtaking in many ways. I have highest respect for that. Have your kids changed you and your father role over the years and if so how do you perceive yourself as an individual and your relationship to others and yourself in comparison to when you wrote on „ballads in blue china“ and „suicide kiss“?

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: Well they certainly bring a sense of being that i didn’t feel I had them. Sometimes people ask me what spirituality is and they expect some acid like dream scenario. I site an example of this one evening when my eldest son was a new born. I was up one evening with him late at night and was almost delirious as I was so tired. At one point I was just looking in his eyes and he looked right at me, his hand grabbed my finger and he smiled slightly. It all may have been simple physical reactions but it meant the world to me. It wasn’t just a touch or a smile but a connection deeper than I had ever experienced before. Since that day there have been many similar experiences with both my sons. I am a rather melancholy and depressed person by nature but they bring a sense of balance and perspective to my life that has kept me alive and really allowed me to experience things I never thought I would experience. The other things I discussed on those records are still apart of my life but thankfully they are somewhat minimized whereas when i was recording the record they were at their height.

Smashing things can be like a catharsis or an outlet for the frustration and pain accumulated in certain past and present experiences. Psychological theory tells us that there is fear and pain behind the patterns of anger and aggression. What do you do when you are really upset or mad? How much do think coping with childhood plays a role in your life?

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: I don’t think those things will ever go away but my kids bring a perspective to it all. Their innocence and loving simplicity brings perspective top me in that I aspire to have that same simplicit honesty in my life and exchanges with others.

Vic: I don’t really get aggressive in that way I get more frustrated and withdrawn than angry and aggressive.

What inspires you two as individuals in your private, spiritual and artistic life? Who or what are the sources of inspirations that accompany you as musicians, lyricists, workers ect.? Any other artists, writers you want the readers to check up on?

Vic: Anything beautiful and heartfelt inspires me. I love fantasy video games, anime, music, people. I love talking to new boys and girls. The new movie Pan’s Labarynth looks inspirational. I heard an interview with the director and was very inspired and now I want to see the movie really bad.

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: I don’t know. Spiritually I am inspired by my aspirations and the privacy and simplicity of my spiritual life. It is mine and mine alone and doesn’t have to stand up in some public forum. Musically and otherwise everyday it is something different. I go through periods where I want nothing more than to stay in bed and never get out... just sleep life and feelings away. Other days I can’t wait to get up and do what I am supposed to do that day. I am excited about music, about making new music, about my kids and about where I can go in my life.

What contemporary hardcore bands are you guys listening to?

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: I don’t listen to a ton of contemporary bands. Mostly I find it hard to relate to them lyrically. I’m just in a different head space. I enjoy Rise and Fall, The Hope Conspiracy, Lifetime, Look Back and Laugh and Blacklisted but I don’t know that they will ever be on heavy rotation on my I Pod.

VIC: Lion of Judah

Did Punk/Hardcore become mainstream? How challenging or „threatening“ do you see the big vehicle nowadays. Since you can buy the scene in the mall and watch it at the MTV Music Awards. Do you care about that?

Vic: You can’t buy the scene in a mall or watch it on MTV. Don’t be silly.

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: I find that kids and bands don;t want to be different. There tends to be a lack of diversity in terms of what bands stand for, what they say and how they present themselves aesthetically which is sort of disappointing. Yet, I think it is cyclical and that bands and kids will start to push the envelop again and am excited to be a part of that.

On to the more band oriented topics....
To my shame I have to say I couldn´t attend any of the shows you performed in Germany last fall. But I was told by a few friends how incredible and intense your performance was. It seemed very geniune, true and unforced. What makes „old dudes“ like you still tour foreign countries in stinky vans, playing in front of your typical 100-150 people so you hardly break even?

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: Because we love the music, the songs, both new and old and the people. It is great to put yourself out there and to meet people who are interested in what you are doing and just exchange moments together. Plus touring with these guys is seriously amazing. I love them to death.

Vic: “old dude”??? probably because we aren’t very old dudes. We are young girls.

You guys signed to Deathwish Recordings. For some it was somewhat of a surprise you are not continuing working with Equal Vision. What were your reasons to take that step? How conciously did you want to emphasize the change to the „new 108“ or were you even thinking of that?

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: There were a few reasons for the move the Deathwish. First and foremost it was really important for us to ensure that we worked with a label who understood that we are, essentially, a new band. People know the name but outside of that we are an unknown commodity. So it was very important for us to work with a label that understand that and would be willing to push us as such. Help us build our base not simply think people will flock to us because of what we did 10-14 years ago when most of the kids in the punk scene today were 12 and under and hadn't heard of punk music. EVR is an awesome label but that isn't where they were with 108.

Another thing is that I think each of us feels like people sort of misunderstand 108 or the ideals behind that band. So as you said working with EVR seems logical but would, in some ways, keep things status cuo in some respects. Simply put working with Deathwish would help challenge those assumptions and misunderstandings, at least subtly. So yeah that was a big incentive.

Finally we all liked the aesthetic of the label, the people involved with Deathwish and the work ethic which was obvious in talking to the bands that work with Deathwish and the way they conduct themselves. From the day we announced the move it has been obvious that it was a great move.

How are the people responding on your words and expressions on politics and spirituality in between songs these days? Do kids come up to you to ask questions? Or are you eventually critically confronted with prejudice?

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: People seem stoked because we are one of the only bands doing it and I think people want to experience something different. Who wants to be surrounded by poeple who look the same, act the same, think the same and sound the same?

I am pleasantly surprised that people don’t assume they have us figured out and do ask us questions about what we are into and such. We aren’t a simple band with a simple message.

You have added another new drummer into the line up and started writing on the new record. How is writing coming along? When can we expect the new album?
Can you give us a details of how the songs are going to sound like, who is going to produce/record it, any special artwork artists you would like to work with? (I always really enjoyed the 108 artwork, there is quite a high standard to live up to!) Any more touring in the plans?

Rasaraja/Robert Fish: We are finishing up writing material for the new LP and will begin recording in less than three weeks with Kurt Ballou (Converge) and God City Studios. We will record between 14-18 songs. Sounds like 108 I guess. Heavy, chunky, noisy, fast, slow... who fucking knows. We will work on the layout with Jake Brannon. Don’t expect it to look like old 108 or like Jake Brannon... it will be different.

No comments: