Some people see the punk rock scene as a springboard to stardom, a means to an end. Others see punk rock as a fleeting phase that passes when "adulthood" calls. Then there are some of us who who aren’t going anywhere. "Lifers" who see a greater good in a scene than what immediately surrounds them. Kevin Seconds is of the latter persuasion. With 28+ years under his belt in the punk rock scene, he and his band 7 Seconds have solidified their place among the punk legendary. What’s more, he’s "still on it" . LFR! Caught up with Kevin @ Chicago’s Riot Fest.
Dorian – So it’s been awhile since we’ve seen you out on tour, what have you been up to?
Kevin – My wife and I opened a coffee shop in 2001. We ran it for about 3 years and then we had a weird thing with the landlord, he didn’t renew the lease. Then just recently (actually about a year ago) we reopened in another place. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing for the last year. Just kind of being the boss and running the place. We do live music there and it’s kind of an art gallery thing. I committed to 1 full year of being there, now it’s kind of running itself. But everybody else (in the band) has kids and stuff like that. A lot of family stuff.
Dorian – After seeing you guys here at Riot Fest tonight you’re as tight as ever. Do you still get together and jam or what?
Kevin – You know, we just love it. Honestly, we don’t get a whole lot of practice. We all love each other and get along really great. The shows, there’s always something really cool about them. I think we’re at a good place too. We’re not doing this as our career anymore. We never meant to do that in the first place, it just kind of went that way. Now we have our lives and we get to go out and play music. We do shows we really want to do and it’s for the right reasons. You know, we just love to play this kind of music to this type of crowd. It’s what keeps us going.
Dorian – 7 Seconds had a lot of down time, then Take It Back, Take It On, Take It Over came out of left field. What brought you back to the studio?
Kevin – I think a problem with taking a lot of time between albums.... we’ve never broke up as a band, so when we come back out again people say "oh, they’re reuniting". We had always been writing stuff. Our problem is we write more on the road, we’ll get the rhythm going then we go home and get comfy with our lives. All of a sudden a year goes by and it’s like we haven’t toured in a year. Chalk it up to part laziness and part getting busy with life. I don’t know, we had been working a lot of material and I really wanted to try and record an album with just us in the studio. I’ve got a little bit of an engineering background now and some experience. We made the record we wanted to make and we didn’t have anybody fucking with us. We got a chance to have Bill Stevenson help mix it. I don’t know, it just seemed like the right time.
Dorian – Over the years you’ve witnessed the scene grow from it’s infancy into the financially viable commodity it is now. That topic came up in a song on Take It Back, ....(Where Is the Danger?). What made you address the situation?
Kevin – When you take some time off and then you go back out you sort of see what’s going on in the scene, everything is always a little different. The one thing we did growing up as a band starting from 1980 and having to tour and record the way we did compared to now it’s almost like...... I hated all the violence and the danger aspect of it, it was scary. But it helped us all band together and become stronger and vocalize our opposition to the way things were. Anybody out there that had a rebellious spirit, it gave them a voice to go out and do these things and make their own world. It seems like a lot of the younger kids today are just living on MySpace. I’ve got nothing against MySpace, it’s this great promotional tool and all this other shit. But bands form and I don’t think they appreciate what it means to be in a band and work toward that and be a part of scene and help build a scene. And it’s not their faults necessarily. But being an old jaded punk rock bastard I’m going to reflect on it. My worry about that album is that I didn’t want it to come off negative in a way that it just sounded like I was bitching and jealous and the whole sour grapes deal. We said in the beginning we were going to make a record that was purely for kids, old and young alike, that just love old fast hardcore punk rock. We didn’t care how many records the thing sold. We told the label that "you know if it sells, we’re happy. But this is just for the punk rock/hardcore kids". And not hardcore like emo fucking hardcore. But kids that know what it means and even if it’s a small scene and it’s dwindling, it doesn’t matter if the hearts are in the right place and there’s still a few of us who really love it and are enjoying it. Sorry, that was a little long winded.
Dorian – Another hot topic (no pun intended) that comes up is the debate over vinyl versus digital. Where do you stand?
Kevin – The vinyl thing, I still very much love but the digital thing has made it easier to put out music. I really think it’s great that people download music for free. I love that it’s affecting the big record labels and they’re admitting they fucked up by fighting it. I’m hoping these idiots, these big rock’n’roll musicians that have money coming out of their ass that took a stand against it and said college kids should be sued because they download music. It’s going to turn on them. The gist of it is of course if you put your time into a record and everyone should be payed for something they put work into. Why shouldn’t you make money like you were a bank teller or a construction worker. But the idea that these corporations that are filthy rich are going to starve to death or whatever is ridiculous. I think it’s great. I love the fact that I can... part of doing this last 7 Seconds record was we did recording ourselves and then shipped a hard drive over to Bill Stevenson in Colorado. You could have never done something like that in the 80’s. I love the communication aspect, although it has taken the personal thing out of it. I used to love writing letters but I’ve never been a phone guy. So for me to be able to e-mail or text message somebody is cool. I’m all or it. And the audio thing is great. I’ve learned a lot about recording because of working on a computer. I’m not as much of a purist as a lot of my old school friends. But I still get a kick out vinyl at the same time. I kind of straddle the fence there. I can see why it’s annoying. I still think CD’s sound.... there’s something different about them, comparatively. I love to be able to put my I-pod on and listen to like 4000 songs if I want.
Dorian – Shit. Don’t apologize to me, I’m digging this. 7 Seconds has always been an avid anti-racist band, almost more so than any other band. What made that such an important issue to you?
Kevin - For me, as a kid, I distinctly remember my mom getting into an argument with her father (my grandfather). It was a discussion about Martin Luther King being assassinated and him just saying some horribly racist shit and my mom just took a stand and said "you know what, this wrong and I don’t want my children near this". She didn’t speak to her own father for nearly 10 years until he finally had a change of heart in his life. But, I remember that being a big defining moment in my young life. You know I had black friends who I grew up with, and growing up in kind of lower-class-white-trashy neighborhoods you were always around it. Kids were always saying nigger and stupid shit. It just seemed so disrespectful and wrong. I couldn’t even imagine being the target of some derogatory term. It was just seeing all this ugliness. We were a poor family. We always lived in shitty neighborhoods and so I think the perspective was a little different. The thing with Reno was, as redneck and conservative as it was in 1980, the scene itself was very diverse and open. There were a lot of women involved, there were black kids and native Americans in the scene. We actually used to book shows with bands like Social Distortion right there on the reservation. So us being from Reno we’d go to shows in LA and there would be these white power dudes and we’d go "what the fuck is that?!? I’ve heard of that but I thought it only existed on TV." So anyway, it affected us in a big way. And early on we decided we weren’t content with just being a loud mouth angry band. If we’re gonna be an angry band let’s be angry about something that means something. Those are things me and my brother (Steve the bass player), got growing up with a parent that actually took a stand and said " no, I don’t want my children to be around that shit".
Dorian – Do you think 7 Seconds has had an impact flushing the neo-Nazi skinhead element out of the scene?
Kevin – Not really. I think early on we identified ourselves as anti-racist skinheads. But for us, I’ve always had friends who were skinheads and were some of the coolest guys in the world and they could be assholes just like anybody else. The whole idea of racism or any "ism" is just hard to accept. I don’t take responsibility for it at all. I think it’s cool. In the early days especially when our first couple of EP’s came out we got a lot of letters from people who were associated or called themselves skinheads and some of the oddest shit would happen, even white power skinheads would write us and say "We really love your band" and so on and I’d write back and say ’ if you love our band I hope you understand we have a song called "Anti-Klan" how much clearer can you be?!? We’ve got a song called "Racism Sucks". We’re against that shit and we’ve always been outspoken. There were times we’d go to like a redneck town in Florida and we’d get death threats and white power guys wanting to beat our asses or flatten our tires. There was a lot of scary shit. I would always look at bands like M.D.C and I was never a huge political band fan. I liked M.D.C and Dead Kennedys but they were a little too preachy than I liked. But, I really respected them because they would get out there and just keep talking about it and saying what they thought was wrong and they would walk the walk. They would get attacked and all. That takes a lot of heart and a lot of balls to just not let anyone silence you. I can’t even say that I’m that brave.
It’s an intense thing. In the world were in now there aren’t enough people who are willing to go through what it takes. And it’s not even a thing where what I have to say is so important. You can go out your door everyday and see so many forms of hatred or racism. It’s nice when you have a chance to be apart of standing up against it. Even in a small way.
*Steve Youth (Kevin’s brother and bass player of 7 Seconds) walks in, much friendly bullshitting ensues between the 3 of us. Steve is then called back into the other room*
Dorian – So how has it been being in a band with your brother all these years?
Kevin – It’s pretty fucking great actually. When we were younger it was harder because we were always clashing. But now, as adults we’ve learned how to steer away from each other’s bad moods. Troy are drummer, he’s like our brother too. He joined in ’82 originally, then he was out for a tour because he had to do other stuff . So we all kind of get how we work.
Dorian – Maybe it’s a common misconception but 7 Seconds name always comes up in conversations about the straight-edge movement.
Kevin – Personally I’ve never been comfortable with the tag of straight-edge. I don’t do drugs, I don’t smoke, I don’t smoke pot, I don’t drink. I’m not into into it. Whatever. But for me I was never into it as an action or a movement. I was never trying to prove a point. I’ve just had a really bad experiences with it. I’ve had a lot of alcoholism in my family. I’ve seen some really horrible things. I’ve had friends turn on me for no reason other than the fact they were just drunk. And then later they’d say "I love you man, I’m sorry". Then they’d do it again. Being younger your like " you can’t keep on coming back saying ’I’m sorry’. You have to change or fuck you." But we’ve never been comfortable with the straight-edge thing. I think that happened because some of the early stuff had some lyrics and people affiliated us with Minor Threat because we were friend s and we’d play together a lot. We were very influenced by them. But some of my best friends have been a big deal in the straight-edge scene. The message is pretty cool but it got so out of hand. I’m not into militant anything. I just think if you drink and you’re cool and don’t hurt anybody, who am I to tell an adult person that’s wrong. And at the same time if you don’t drink and it’s good for you, cool. For my life, I don’t think I have the personality. In high school I tried smoking pot, and I tried drinking but I didn’t get anything out of it. It wasn’t fun for me. I’m not comfortable with being called straight-edge though. I’ve turned down... I swear to god.... probably 20 straight-edge documentary, independent films and interviews because I don’t know what I could possibly say to strengthen the straight-edge thing and I don’t ever feel like I was a big spokesman for it. There’s other things I’d rather be known for.
Dorian – I’m sure some of the association comes from 7 Seconds being such a positive band.
Kevin – Which is fine. The positive thing I’m okay with.
Dorian – How have you kept on the positivity tip for so long in light of all the bullshit that goes on?
Kevin – It’s odd because I’m a pretty cynical person and I can be pretty judgmental but I think for us the whole idea is coming up from the background we’re from we just wanted to make our lives better. Steve and I had so many friends and people in our family that died way too young. Pretty bright people that let shit take over you know. So for us, getting to be in a band and all of a sudden people around the country knew who we were it was like "this is great". It’s almost like the kid who learns how to box or play basketball. It was our way out of a shitty situation. But at the same time it was really important to us to try and keep our heads together and stay humble and never to think we were bigger or better than we were. It’s a struggle when you have people going "your band changed my life" or "I love your band. Your the greatest thing..." when your young. You know it fucks with your head. I think going back home and working jobs and having Reno say "You guys aren’t shit", I think that helped out a lot. Or having your mom say "I love your band, but, your not that special". It keeps you humble. I don’t know if I’m really that positive but I’ve always said I didn’t want to be this 60 year old man saying "Ah, you fucking kids" or "When I was young..."
Dorian – How old are you now?
Kevin – 46.
Dorian – So how much longer do you think you can do it?
Kevin – I don’t know. Our last big US tour was about 2 years ago. We really pulled it off. For the longest time we’d go out for 2 – 2 and half months. That was our thing. This last one was about a month. It took it’s toll on us. We’re all older, none of us are incredibly fit. Luckily, there hasn’t been drug abuse or alcoholism. I think that’s helped. But it’s hard to say. I think we’ll always keep it open. I don’t think you’re ever going to hear us say we’re breaking up. Because really, we’ll do it as long as we love doing it. Like I was saying before, once you realize you know "hey, this isn’t our career". For a good 10 years this is all we did and it stopped being fun. It was almost like we had to put a record out and then do the tour. So it’s just open. As long as there’s a desire and we can all stand being in close proximity, we do get along great. There’s not a feeling of like... you know some bands make great music but they can’t stand each other. I never understood that. I couldn’t be in a band like that, even if we were making a ton of money and everything was going our way. I would hate it. I know we have an album in the works. We’re really wanting to get a record done. There’s probably 8 or 9 songs that are complete and another 20 that are waiting to be completed. So we’re definitely going to plan around doing some more stuff. We’re all going a little crazy because we don’t do it enough anymore. It was actually embarrassing when we were talking about it earlier. "Our last gig was last year playing here at Riot Fest. Man that sucks." That’s ridiculous, we have to play more.