Harshforms – We only exchanged about record covers until now, but obviously a record sleeve is more than that. Does anything come to mind when hearing back cover, booklet (it depressed me when labels started to insert CD inlets into vinyl sleeves) or vinyl (colors and messages scratched into it)?
Anthony – A lot of the people I went to college with had some type of punk or hardcore background—it’s not that random, as it was art school and in the ’80s and ’90s, if you were into underground shit, you probably dabbled in punk. A few of us were sitting around one day, spinning vinyl after a day of record shopping and talking about layouts. These were some heavy designers, who were light-years past cut-and-past flyers.
Two of them (Josh Hooten and Tony Leone) created a fantastic, but short lived fanzine called Commodity, that featured some of the best design ever to exist in punk / hardcore zines.
This was 1994 and we were talking about how package design—not just the sleeves—were being neglected with CDs. At that time, there were a lot of bands doing really ornate, handmade designed record sleeves, printing on paper towels, gluing shit everywhere, screen printing over old covers and creating new works, but CDs were so one dimensional and not interactive.
Eventually people would push that medium a lot more, but it’s just kind of a shitty format to begin with. I guess the Septic Death “Crossed Out Twice” CD / 5″ Pushead released is the best example or adding some life to CD design.
That idea of a record, tape, or CD as an object that you interact with was really important to me. It’s more than just an image to sell the music. It’s those little touches like the matrix etchings or how Dischord would write messages on the flaps of their 7″ covers before gluing them together.
 seekingthesimple.wordpress.com,  revhq.com,  “The best poster-insert” from: seekingthesimple.wordpress.com
It was always such a bummer to bring a record home and find out that the band or label didn’t even care to include a lyric sheet. If you got a mail order form, poster, or a booklet, that was amazing, especially when you’re young and broke—it’s more value!
I think Ebullition went a little over board with the inserts, not so much as the Downcast LP coming with a mini-book for an insert, but with all the little mini-zines and literature. I know the bands didn’t care, but I got turned off by how much Kent McClard was using someone else’s music as a vehicle for his musings.
I learned a lot talking with those guys about design and it really made me have a larger appreciation for the albums that used the cover as more than just something that the vinyl is housed in. That doesn’t mean that you have to pack some unnecessary shit in there, it’s more about the little touches.
Fugazi’s Demo which was just pressed on vinyl came with postcards—I thought that was dope—or it’s as simple as being creative with the direction of the images or type, so you have to pick the record up to really see the entire image and digest it. And who can get mad at a big fold out poster? That’s always a win.
Harshforms – Leaving the records aside, you choose not to concentrate on record sleeves (as loads of other authors do) but rather to include them among other material objects—the cover of Radio Silence is quite telling in this respect. Letters, jackets, t-shirts, Krishna beads and skateboards—why this broader approach?
Anthony – Hardcore is a very unique genre in that the music isn’t the most important component. It doesn’t live on classic rock radio, isolated from its original context. Sure, if someone asks you what hardcore is and you play them The Fix, they’ll get it, but they wont GET it. It’s an entire language that’s so visual, to tell the story we needed to show more than flyers or covers.
There were so many things we wanted to include that we either couldn’t find, weren’t ever documented, or didn’t reproduce correctly, but they all told the story to us.
In the mid-’90s modified phone dialers were a big deal. You’d get these things from an electronics store for $15, mod them out so that they could reproduce the sound of a coin going into a payphone, and be able to make calls for free. That meant that phone bill you’d normally rack up booking a tour or just gossiping or whatever was now free—that was huge. Now a photograph of one isn’t too exciting, but that was such a part of hardcore and part of the story.
Skateboards were a no brainer of course, but we never got good pictures of “hardcore cars,” which were big with the suburban set. It might have been as simple as putting stickers all over your bumper and rear window, but you wanted to let other kids know what you were into. I remember seeing a Uniform Choice sticker on a car in my town’s mall parking lot and tripping out, because no one in my town was really into hardcore. Whoever was driving that car knew something and I wanted to know who the hell they were.
So it’s the music, the zines, the inserts, the graffiti, venues, even the instruments. It was all so different than what was happening in arenas or in some rock n’ roll venue and was so much cooler to me. It felt authentic. For real, what kid actually wants to buy all that shit that a Mötley Crüe fan would have to own back in the ’80s? It was such a pain in the ass and I never thought it looked cool at all. Hardcore was easy, I had a pair of Vans, I wore blue jeans, and I’d buy a band’s shirt if I dug them. Done and done.
Harshforms – Getting back to what you mentioned before, that hardcore is not an aesthetic but more than that: I just talked with someone about nostalgia & objects (she is a DJ and into jazz/rap). When I read your last answers in which you mentioned the “hardcore cars,” the phone dialers, etc., I immediately became nostalgic and started to think about other objects: wallet chains, patches and pins, but also mix tapes gifted by friends who spend hours on making them and creating the inlet.
So, of course, I’m curious which other objects you didn’t include in Radio Silence? Which were the ones you couldn’t find?
Anthony – It was tough to find those banners that bands would hang up as few really survived. The Token Entry necklace or Dag Nasty “Dag Tags,” would have been killer too, but we couldn’t unearth any. Then again we got the Teen Idles jacket, so fuck it! We actually photographed some silk screened arm-bands that Jeff Nelson made way back of some Dischord bands, but they didn’t make the cut.
We started off with a pretty ridiculous list of ephemera—anything we could think of. So you could imagine what was on it: A hat from HR, Mike Judge’s construction gloves, the skateboard and Drug Free Youth jacket from the Abused 7″, Springa’s homemade Meatmen shirt, etc.
We got pretty close on a lot of it and really should have been able to get the Judge gloves and Abused jacket, as they’re pretty accessible, but travel was a huge issue and we couldn’t settle for having someone take a crappy cell phone pic—it all had to be done in one consistent manner.
There were also a lot of things that are cool in theory, but don’t really tell a story when you reproduce them. For example, we came upon several recording reels for seminal albums, but they aren’t that exciting to look at. Some tape with some writing doesn’t really do much and when you have to cut images, you need to go for what’s more exciting.
One last thing I thought of that we never found was an original, hand drawn Suicidal Tendencies marker T-Shirt, which surfaced a few years back on eBay. Dan from Excel was selling his and I did a little write up on it for VICE.
Harshforms – Radio Silence is a project focused on North America —as its subtitle (A Selected Visual History of American Hardcore Music) already indicates—; kind of as if hardcore only existed there. Now I was astonished when you told me somewhen else that you also have Japanese stuff in your collection and touring with Ten Yard Fight and In My Eyes should have acquainted you also to some “overseas” stuff. How come you decided to limit your book to North America?
Anthony – By reading Pushead’s Pus-Zone column in Thrasher I’d learn more than just US releases and everyone was always interested in UK punk of course, but then you get little bits that trickle down, Sore Throat, Concrete Sox, Discharge, Larm, Gism, bands you’d hear through other people or just by recognizing their names from a review. Also, when Todd Burdette from Tragedy lived in Boston in the early ’90s and was playing in Arise. He was such a collector and student and turned a lot of people onto international bands and obscure stuff.
Ultimately, what I was the most passionate about was US hardcore. I was so obsessed with finding all those LPs and singles, that caring about Lip Cream records or whatever KBD thing was hot at the moment wasn’t what excited me, plus that shit was so hard to find. At that time in Boston, there were so many stores and it was common for college kids to sell off their collections, because college kids are broke, so you could find tons of records. I was lucky enough to have a lot of people turn me onto different things, so you’d just venture out and see what you came back with. When I moved into my second dorm room for the last half of my Freshman year, it felt like everyone was so diverse. There was the jazz guy, post punk dude, psych rocker, indie rock guru, riot grrrls, and just all types of sounds happening, so you could pop into someone’s room, hear something new and then make a mental note when you went shopping. Sometimes you’d return with an Unrest 7″, Ornette Coleman LP, some random promo cassette for Archwelder or whatever indie band had a record coming out, a beat up copy of a Dickies LP, and a Side by Side 7″ that the store owner didn’t know was rare and priced at $3.00. Nostalgic tangent, right? It was just a different trip, because you had to go buy music and there were so many stores, some were good for just one thing or whatever, so we’d make these day-long missions just to learn about music in general, not just punk.
For Radio Silence, we had to set up some guidelines or we’d still be working on the book and no one would have published it. Print is hard to sell. Even those who are passionate—the people who will spent $1,000 on a Misfits record—will say, “Oh man, $50 for that book…. that’s steep” and never buy it. Sure it would have been cool to do an 800 page encyclopedia, but it’s not really feasible and certainly wasn’t then.
The narrative I came up with was that this was a book about the evolution of American Hardcore, pre-digital. That’s it. It gave us a storyline and framework to follow, in order to make it purposeful and not just a bunch of images thrown on some pages without context. If you read the opening essay, I think it’s pretty obvious why we kept those parameters. When you’re talking hardcore, everyone scene and time frame can and has filled its own book, so if we added in Europe and Asia one of us would have had a nervous breakdown—it’s just too much. Plus, can you imagine the scrutiny we’d be under to document overseas bands, where most of the stuff never made it to the US? It would have been amateur and difficult to really capture it. Instead, we wanted to document something we felt and saw, even if we weren’t going to the Gallery East in 1980.
This post is part of a series on hardcore(-punk) layout. The complete series so far can be found here.
Radio Silence, published by Anthony Pappalardo and Nathan Nedorostek in 2008, is hands down the best book on hardcore. What makes it different from all other texts dealing with hardcore is that it starts with objects to unfold stories on what hardcore was/is. Interview excerpts enhance the story the objects tell. But you’ll never have the feeling that you miss out on important portions of the narration as in a lot of other books. Also, Pappalardo delivers one of the best short histories of hardcore out there in his introductory text. More obviously, Radio Silence served as a huge inspiration for my series on hardcore graphism and a source I always go back to.
It was quite a surprise that none of the authors have been interviewed on the content of the book. “Hell, yeah!,” Anthony answered to my interview request. And I jumped right in.
It’s a quite long exchange we had. I had a blast. There was a lot to think about and learn. Here’s the first part.
—Part  is just here.
Harshforms – Let’s start with pre-computer layout in hardcore – the core of Radio Silence. What are the typical characteristics of that for you, i.e. how did that mold hardcore graphism into what it is now?
Anthony – Without circling back to every band, label, designer, or style of early punk, I think there is a simple divide you can draw aesthetically: label driven design and DIY design. Whether you’re talking about the Ramones, Television, Stooges, Pistols, or the Clash, there was a label and a designer/photographer involved. Richard Hell might have taken a pair of scissors to his T-Shirts to create the look that informed punk, but he wasn’t cutting and pasting the layout and sleeve for Blank Generation. The early and proto-punk bands had recording contracts and were still operating off the standard record industry model. You had Robert Mapplethorpe shooting the cover for Marquee Moon—actual photographers and designers were involved.
The best example of the opposite of that would be C.R.A.S.S., who formed their own label, did their own sleeve design, and often included those fold out posters that were so fucking cool, but in stark black-and-white. Everything was driven by cost and limitations, but that actually drove the creativity. The typography was stripped down, stenciled, and simple. Appropriated images were collaged, often of raw political atrocities, never sexy photographs of the band against a “cool wall.” And of course you have the UK picture sleeve punk singles that Dangerhouse and later Dischord replicated. But once it all hits the US and hardcore really starts to break off as Punk 2.0, there’s a big change in the aesthetic.
There’s no generalization to make here, because some albums were really complexly designed and others looked like a Neanderthal ripped up some paper and scrawled out some letters in animal blood, but hardcore started to have a look. Part of the charm was that no one really knew what the hell they were doing, kinda. I mean fuck, everyone knows the lineage of this shit by now. You can read essays or watch cute YouTube videos talking about the Black Flag logo , but what it really meant to me was creating a visual identity with what’s around you. And in that process, it was so direct and cool, that it perfectly played against the ‘70s/’80s fantasy shit that was getting boring to me as a kid. Skulls and all that stuff were cool too, I mean, you can’t say Pushead’s art isn’t a huge part of hardcore, but so were the sans-serif fonts—often odd ones that weren’t common, because they were rubbed off a sheet of press-type found in a graphic arts class, laying there since the ‘60s.
If punk sleeve design was the Clash’s reimagining of an Elvis album sleeve or simply pictures of four humans standing somewhere, posing for the camera, hardcore was about misspelled song titles, blurry live photos, images so blown out that you could barely tell what they were, let alone where they were taken, and somehow much more iconic. You can say a photo of Iggy Pop is iconic or Sid Vicious, but to really say something is an icon, you can look no further than hardcore’s most popular logos and how they are as popular as the Nike Swoosh.
None of this means it was primitive or unskilled, it was just more direct and naive. There’s some great design on hardcore sleeves and flyers, but the way to execute then was so different. Now everything goes from your computer screen, directly to a printer, but back then there were several ways the whole thing could get fucked up. You take a photo, someone else develops it, another dude halftones it so it can be printed, you’re setting type on some paste up, showing another human how to place shit on the printing press, is there any surprise why some of this stuff got fucked up, like Crippled Youth’s 7” having a ruler printed on the sleeve? That’s the charm.
Then everyone got computers and suddenly decided they were great at using Photoshop, and it became flames and shiny type. Gross, but it was a necessity. Now we have every type of design at once, but rarely is actual design being pushed, because there are so many people doing it. It’s harder to do something unique, so instead we have 30 year old men, intentionally trying to draw something that looks like it came out of a 15 year old’s notebook in Yonkers, NY circa 1987. Or you ape whatever genre that came before that you’re into, so people know what to expect. And of course, you can use one of three approved fonts, throw a live photo in the mix and have that cover too.
Everything is just rebooting something else at this point. It’s not a criticism, but something gets lost when you’re intentionally trying to make art look a certain way, instead of your art looking a certain way, because it’s a product of the time.
Harshforms – Nathan and you both also highlight the hand drawn-aspect of pre-computer layout in your book. Maybe you can say more on this as it seems that it was something that really stood out.
Anthony – I’d be lying if I said I didn’t grow up with computers around me: of course I did. But these were almost useless and cumbersome compared to the worst cell phone you buy in 2014. We are talking a Commodore 64, that took 20 minutes just to turn on and didn’t do much else. Even in college, few kids had a computer capable of designing anything other than something that looked like shit. It was easier to lay things out by hand, instead of relying on technology that wasn’t there yet, but it was important to get the skills so you’d be able to take advantage of tech when it did catch up.
What got me so psyched about the early punk and hardcore records I was buying, was that they looked like they were touched by another kid—that they came from someone like me. Just knowing that I could design something that someone else was going to sell was pretty fucking insane.
The magic of laying out a fanzine and not really knowing what was going to happen, until you ran it through a photocopier—that’s the best. I could sit there for hours, enlarging and reducing photographs on a copy machine, seeing what happens to the image. Seeing a crystal clear picture of a band is nice and all, but what the hell is going on in the cover of S.O.A.’s No Policy EP? It looks like some surrealist alternate reality, one where some heavy shit is happening. Certainly not the inside of some New Jersey club where a band called Night TriXXX would play to 20 people or some other rock cliché.
The magic of an Iron Maiden album cover is how stylized and professional it looked. It probably took Derek Riggs months to do one. Hardcore records looked equally powerful to me by what they often didn’t show or what they communicated with so little. Whether we’re talking about the first 20 or so Dischord releases, Touch & Go’s early work, Revelation’s early years, or some weirdo hand made shit released on Gravity, I love it all. There are plenty of records that were done solely on a computer that impressed me and continue to have me staring at every inch of the layout, but those design trends that existed in a smaller universe were the ones that I always go back to and trip out on.
Harshforms – Do you have any examples of records done only on a computer that impress(ed) you?
Anthony – Sure, I don’t think computer aided design is bad at all–that’s a broad statement. As with anything new, people went a little crazy with it. When I first got to use a Mac as a senior in high school, I overdosed on all the fonts and tried all these terrible scanning techniques: it was awful.
Jason Farrell is someone who knows how to use a computer as a tool, but not the sole component for his design. He’s always adding in something that has a hand made element or an illustration.
As for an example, I’d cite Aphex Twin’s recent album Syro. Purposely generic with a great concept, but still visually interesting.
Harshforms – So if I understand you right, you are saying that the change to computer-based layout made hardcore layout become
 slicker, (too) elaborated and is now made by (near)professionals (i.e. looking at it, it’s hard to think: I could do that, too!) – [or: hardcore became label driven design?]
 a one-man-show (instead of an active collectivity) that can rely on a well-functioning production line
 an explosion of different styles – loosing its coherence
 a mimicry of hardcore layout of the 1980s instead of responding to an actual lived reality and thus forging the visual expression of hardcore in the 2000s?
Anthony – It did many things, from overly manipulated images and type, to blood splatters and paint effects or simply making it easier to use City Bold and a live photo.
It eliminated a lot of the accidents that become so interesting in hardcore design. Instead of a photo becoming ghostly, because it was blown out on a copy machine, the danger was things becoming pixelated and that’s always gross.
There were more people designing sleeves, more albums being released and that means there is more junk. Without limits, things went a little crazy, but it didn’t last too long luckily.
Suicidal Tendencies or Pagan Babies used different types of graffiti as a reflection of what was around them. It was regional expression. So when I talk about mimicking and why it doesn’t resonate with me, it’s because it’s not as genuine: it lacks insight.
When I see a random band from Michigan recreating the style of a band in the New Breed compilation, it’s doesn’t say who they are other than a fan of Fit of Anger or something. Back to graffiti, the styles were indicative of where you were from and that right there told a story. So when you just employ that as a design element something gets lost.
Think of a few albums from relatively the same time [1981-1983]: Poison Idea Pick Your King, Minor Threat Filler, Black Flag Six Pack“, SS Decontrol The Kids Will Have Their Say, and the Negative Approach 7″.
They couldn’t be more different and all told a unique story-they have intrigue. You can take a pic of a kid sleeping at a show or have Raymond Pettibon do your artwork, but it’s not going to tell me anything about your band.
Not everything needs to be arty or strive to be original, but what made so many ’80s records so iconic, was that they were part of the story. So if you’re just expanding on someone else’s idea, without adding anything new, you’re not going to capture that same spirit. It might look rad, but it’s hitting the same notes. It’s the same with art. I could tell you when I was a freshman in art school, who everyone’s influences were, because few students had really dug into the canon of art. You like Warhol or Basquiat or De Kooning, and maybe do a sucky version of that. Then you really immerse yourself in ideas and artists who were lesser known, while your skills get better, and suddenly you’re doing YOUR art. If you just keep trying to make a portrait of Marilyn Monroe, you’ll probably be able to make a pretty sweet one after four years, but that’s not an idea, it’s just reproduction in a sense.
Harshforms – Taking up the four ways how hardcore graphism changed post-computer above, I totally agree with the first and second point, its slickness and well-functioning production line it can rely on. As for the third point – the explosion of styles in hardcore graphism – don’t you think that this development is also linked to the way hardcore grew and split in so many sub genres and scenes over the past two decades – a lot of them hardly communicating and building up their own aesthetically repertoire?
As for the forth point – the imitation of 1980s hardcore visuals – I’d like you to elaborate a little bit more on this one: Do you have a rather recent example of a design in mind that is a “product of the time”, an identity build “with what’s around”? I also wonder if you can really so easily dismiss most of the newer layout as “imitation.” Isn’t building upon a preexisting formula also keeping a tradition (and thus hardcore) alive and also in the process making your layout legible and easily classifiable as hardcore?
Anthony – Hardcore is just a style of punk, not an aesthetic. I want to clarify something. I’m not dismissing newer design, I just think it’s easy–as it was in the 80s and 90s–to replicate something rather than do something new. I want a layout to tell me about the band: are they funny, serious, smart or cool?
I guess I touched on this previously, but if you’re using that sleeve, T-Shirt, or flyer to tell someone else’s story or even just use the impact of their visuals, it seems like a wasted opportunity to me.
What was cool about the post-computer design abuse boom, were new aesthetics and ideas being more. Whether it’s Jacob Bannon and Aaron Turner, Linas Garsys’ illustrations or later Michiel Walrave’s work, they did something different that could be personalized to the bands, instead of just “Hey, can you draw something that looks like a Breakdown sticker?”
I also liked how the Lockin Out releases had some fucking personality and spunk–they really seemed to be true to who the bands were and where they were coming from, even if they were steeped in their influences. I think that’s an example of homage without just re-doing what has already been done. Maybe they used some of the devices of the past, but it was their take on it.
I also thought a lot of what Jeremy Dean for Jade Tree along with Jason Gnewikow was refreshing at the time, and mainly done with a computer. They brought in a different set of tools and aesthetics, which of course got appropriated, but really gave a visual identity to the bands and label. It was bold to choose that image for the Turning Point discography and I’m so glad it was that instead of another “ripping live photo,” because the band was more than that and it really captured what was different about them, without being too tricky or flashy.
Harshforms – Speaking about formula, skimming through your answers, you actually mention as the two central building blocks of hardcore layout:  a sans-serif font and  an image [(live) photo/image/hand drawn art]. Do you agree with this?
Or asked differently: What has to be on a cover for it to be hardcore?
Anthony – Anything you want. That’s it. The Adolescents’ Blue Album is hardcore. The Trip 6 7″ is hardcore. Antioch Arrow In Love With Jetts is hardcore. If there’s a reason why you want to put a picture of bowl of fruit, that’s hardcore too. Fuck it. Think of some of the shit Fucked Up pulls off. You can’t say they aren’t a hardcore band. And some of my favorite covers are just a live shot, I celebrate it all really. Remember those ’90s Youth of Today reissues on Revelation? That was abuse of Photoshop. There was no need to “update” those layouts: they’re perfect. I don’t want some spray paint stencil font on We’re Not In This Alone, I want some dudes chilling there, with their heads cut off, so I can imagine that I’m one of them.
Harshforms – Also, could you elaborate on hardcore imagery? In Radio Silence, you ordered the records in the last part based on differences in imagery. I counted 12 different classifications and I wonder if you could talk a bit about this?
Anthony – Ha yeah! That was one of the last things we did and we were going fucking crazy about how we’d do it. At first we were going to just do it alphabetically, but we thought grouping them by “style” would be more compelling and interesting. Without grabbing a copy of the book, I know we had live photos, posed photos, B&W contrast images, type only, flames, suffering, appropriated images, realistic illustration, cartoons, graffiti, etc. When we were showing Ian MacKaye a draft of the book, he pointed at one of the suffering images, I think it was an Infest cover and said how he didn’t like images like that on punk records. He thought it was too easy, like “Oh look, someone in pain or something violent.” It was as if the image does the heavy lifting for the music. I really liked that comment and thought it made perfect sense.
There are like 20 different covers for Integrity’s Those Who Fear Tomorrow and they all kind of suck. Now visualize it just solid black with the name and title in spot varnish and their logo and suddenly, there’s some mystery. Take it out of the sleeve and get MICHA screamed at you and it’s more impactful instead of something that just looks “evil.”
Evil is so overrated.
Back to Radio Silence. Putting in that selected discography was really important to us and I wish we could have had the images larger, but as a concept it worked for us. Also, when we assembled it there was no Discogs or detailed Wiki entries about hardcore albums, so we had to rely on the records themselves if we still had them in our possession and the Flex! books. So here’s an important take away: Put all the historical info on your records folks. Some idiot might want to document it in the future and if you omit the year it was released and recorded etc., it’s going to be a drag. Oh, and put the fucking year on your flyers please too. That drives me nuts.
 Thai Temple Stone Rubbing,  Korean lady stone rubbing; image from oneclick.or.kr
A Thai buddhist figure printed on rice paper is what I came across in a thrift store the other day. The figure was stone rubbed; a printing technique that makes it appear in a warm black with quite a lot of shades of grey.
Invented in China before the use of the letter press, people there used stone rubbing to pass on information like historical events or sacred texts that were then carved into stone and couldn’t travel easily. Moistened paper was pressed on and into the carves on the stones. When the paper had dried it was tapped with an ink pad so that the stone-carved signs appeared in white on the paper. The so printed signs could then easily be transported to other regions.
Apart from keeping a tradition and a ‘traditional technique’ alive and preserving information because the stones start to erode in China but also Korea or Japan, today, stone rubbing seems to be mainly used either for commercial means (rubbing stone temple walls to sell the images to tourists in Thailand and Cambodia) or to (re)construct genealogies. ‘Tombstone rubbing’ or ‘grave stone rubbing’ is thus the term that is most used in the States when it comes to stone rubbing.
Chinese stone rubbings; images from  image from zgsd.net,  img15.artxun.com,  1stdibs.com
Thai Temple Stone Rubbing; image from meadowsfriends.org
Gravestone rubbings; images from smith.edu
Stone rubbing made by type designer James T. Edmondson; image from blog.jamestedmondson.com
Loads of people build loads of things – mostly some sort of seating or a bed – with paletts. I like this outcome above. These seatings are as simple as it can get; only a backrest added that mirrors the palette structure – but still they invite to dwell.
Image from freundevonfreunden.com
As simple as it can get. Like the exterior of their Manhattan location.
Sometimes I’m stuck in the 90s. Some PME.
Chain of Strength were not only hardcore hipsters, which earned them the nickname of The New Kids on the Block of Hardcore – they designed their logo, t-shirts and records with as much sophistication as they chose their clothes.
Clothes fanatics and merchandise kings, a t-shirt was also the first product that was designed by Chain of Strength. This happened to be the “True Till Death” t-shirt for their first show at the Yester Years Club in Pomona in August 1988 [photo above]. “We […] sold every one [of the t-shirts] in about 20 minutes. In any live shot from this show, a bunch of people all have them on,” remembers Chris Bratton.
This t-thirt design eventually paved the way for their now very classic logo and cover designs. This holds especially true for the True Till Death 7″ put out by Revelation Records in 1989 where Chain of Strength had free reign on the design and on which I will comment here the most, next to the same titled t-shirt as there is not much information out there on the two other outputs.
The design of the “True Till Death” t-shirt (that was also reprinted for the 10 year anniversary reunion show in 2013 and can basically be considered as their logo) was made out of a cocktail of different elements – most of them tributes to other bands: the SSD logo font Berthold City Bold, the bracket bars as “a common straight edge tribute to the immortal Run DMC,” as Chris Bratton explains in Radio Silence, and probably a little bit of Bold as well: “You gotta understand, that particular Bold shirt [t-shirt bassist Al Pain aka Alex Baretto and singer Curt Canales wear on the True Till Death record photos] was the coolest shirt in the country in a scene that’s really hyper obsessed with T-shirts,” so tells Chris Bratton Anthony Pappalardo at Vice.
Images from (2) upload.wikimedia.org (3) xshirtsx.blogspot.com
Chain of Strength’s “green theme,” how Bratton calls it and that can be found on nearly every Chain of Strength release, also debuted with this first t-shirt. It was inspired by Justice League’s “Reach Out” 12″ that was printed with a green border in 1987. Actually, this record made fun of the “anti-theft devise” used by Maxim Rock’n Roll editor Tim Yohannon to protect his records: green duct tape on the borders of his records. But the green theme was also influenced by the forest green used on the The Smiths’ records “Meat is Murder” (1985) and “The Queen is Dead” (1986).
However, it was only when Chain of Strength made the layout for the “True till Death” 7″ in 1989 that they definitely decided on green, white, and black to be their colors. Since then, they identified so much with these colors that drummer Chris Bratton still hates the blue “What Holds Us Apart” 7″ cover put out by Foundation Records in 1990. For him, it “looks like some other band.” Also guitarist Paul Hertz aka Frosty Crunch tells DoubleCrossXX that he had always considered this dark green as “Chain’s color.”
Image (1) MRR green tape from mbasic.facebook.com/maximumrocknroll, (2) part of Tim Yohannon’s record collection from maximumrocknroll.com, (3) The Tenants’ “The Submind” with MRR tape from maximumrocknroll.com, (4) from ebay.com
Not only the green but all the ingredients for the record layout of the “True Till Death” 7″ were very similar to the ones from the same titled t-shirt. Next to the green (that is, with white, also one of the vinyl colors), the bracket bars are there in a lighter version and the font (most likely Stymie) is very similar to Berthold City. Also, The Smith’s records played a huge role, again. In an interview with DoubleCrossX, Frosty also makes reference to Revelation Records aesthetic in saying that this record “really looks like a classic REV release.” However, the whole cocktail of influences is best summarized by Chris Bratton in his interview with Pappalardo: “The idea was simple: Glen E. Friedman/Philin Flash styled live shots with X-Claim! meets Revelation Records graphics, blended with the Smiths The Queen Is Dead and Meat Is Murder aesthetics.” The latter was not only appreciated for their forest green but also for their minimalistic typography and bleed-off illustrations that were basically copied by Chain of Strength going as far as taken up the composition of these two The Smiths records which becomes evident when comparing them:
Last but not least: photos. When talking about the “True Till Death” record, it is impossible not to mention its photos. Everyone has a take on those. Actually Chris Ortiz, part of the Justice League crew at that time and now a skateboarding photographer, was asked to take live shots at Chain of Strength’s first show. But the deception set in right away: all negatives were scratched and not usable for the record design. One image still ended up on the back cover (scratches included). Without photos and without shows to play in the near future, Chain of Strength decided to organize their own show at Trojan Rehearsal Studio in Garden Grove, California. “We played a show just to get some pictures for our record,” as Chris Bratton summarizes.
This is also the reason why a lot of people are convinced that the photos for the record were staged. Whatever the stance is on this, one thing was not staged, but a real coincidence: both Bassist Alex Baretto aka Al Pain and singer Curt Canales showed up with Bold shirts on for the photo shoot and both Bold shirts ended up on the booklet – you know those t-shirts that were the coolest in the country at that time.
Image (1) True Till Death 7″ back cover with scratches, Image (2) True Till Death 7″ photo shoot, photo courtesy of “Rev Vault” taken from doublecrossxx.com, (3) original photo collage from the “True Till Death” 7″, photo by Tim DCXX from doublecrossxx.com
All record cover images in this post, if not otherwise mentioned, from discogs.com
This post is part of a series on hardcore(-punk) layout. The complete series so far can be found here.