Greg Bennick of Trial
Trial were one of those bands in the mid-nineties, that just oozed energy, encapsulating the hardcore spirit of the time.
The scene may have evolved and grown exponentially, but it is because of bands like Trial and the legacy they left, that paved the way for hardcore, as a movement to grow.
Tell me about Trial’s formation? How did you all know each other?
Trial formed in 1994 when Derek Harn (later of Himsa), Timm McIntosh and I were talking about forming a band that took the energy of the late 80's hardcore sound and infusing it with intensely personal and political lyrics. At the time, there were not many bands exploring that fusion, and we wanted to give it a try.
Timm had come through Seattle in 1993 with his band Blindside and we had met on that tour, and Derek and I had met after returning from the depths of Africa while we were both hunting for poachers. I wish the second part of that actually happened but it didn't.
Derek and I met through mutual friends in the hardcore scene and bonded over a profound love of Youth of Today. It took Trial a few records to hit the mark we'd been looking for, but we eventually got there. Where did you grow up, and did any of your upbringing have an influence over the sort of music that you wanted to create and write?
I grew up in Connecticut and the hardcore scene there had a huge influence over me. My friends and I got into hardcore in the late eighties when the Straight Edge explosion happened in Connecticut.
There were new bands every week, and they all looked and sounded exactly alike. I decided then that I wanted to do something different, rather than just rehash the same Nike hi-tops fast part --> mosh part --> fast part --> mosh part --> end style songs that every band seemed to be playing with their bleached blond flat-top haircuts.
I started gravitating towards music that was different: Code of Honor ("Beware the Savage Jaw" LP), The Proletariat ("Indifference" LP), and exploring what it was like to try and emulate those bands. I loved the NYHC sound but wanted to try something different or at the very least, unusual. I think that effect is still with me today because what I appreciate in the new Between Earth and Sky material is definitely more what is unusual rather than what would be typical. I always wanted lyrics to be challenging too. Not just meaningful, but poetic and challenging to read and interpret at the same time.
What did your parents do for a living and were they influential in your direction and did they encourage your musical endeavours?
My mother has worked as a hypnotist, an aerobics instructor, a school teacher, a motivational speaker and a personal physical trainer. My father worked in business. They were very influential in the direction my life took because they both, as independent thinkers, eventually decided to work for themselves after working for larger companies.
They supported my choice to be a punk rocker, juggler, world traveller, and social/political activist.
They have always loved hearing the stories of what my friends and I were doing with the band. I have sent them a copy of every record I have ever been on and every zine with an interview in it.
They definitely encourage the musical direction I took, though they never wanted bands to practice at our house, and they were happy when I stopped playing drums in the basement and took up vocals, though they never understood why I was screaming all the time.
What bands first spoke out to you and why?
The first bands that spoke to me were Uniform Choice from Southern California. The Proletariat from Boston Massachusetts and Youth of Today from New York.
I quit drinking because of the Uniform Choice song "No Thanks". I remember the moment, the day, the experience of hearing the lyrics to that song...really hearing them...and deciding once and for all to make that change for my life and not be like those around me who were absorbed in mindless alcohol and drug use.
I was 17 years old and that commitment to myself has never wavered. The Proletariat were completely out of the ordinary for the time I discovered them. The world around me was listening to Straight Edge hardcore and the NYHC sound, and the Proletariat, with their anguished melodic vocals and odd layered music were an anomaly. I loved how intense they were emotionally and how biting their social criticism was. The song "Homeland" still resonates, even after all this time, and has inspired a lot of the work I still do, such as One Hundred For Haiti http://www.onehundredforhaiti.org
Youth of Today impacted me as well because they - also to this day - are one of the best hardcore bands ever. They were just relentless and intense without having to delve into a tough-guy sound, as well as being energetic, positive, emotionally driven and socially aware.
How many people became vegetarian from listening to "No More", during a time when vegetarianism wasn't at all popular? Now it is, and so much so that it is even seen as not an extreme enough position on behalf of animals and the earth.
Veganism is the way for sure. But then, vegetarianism was a huge jump for a lot of people and Youth of Today inspired them. And I cannot let myself forget too that their Straight Edge message inspired countless people too to become or maintain their edge, me being one of them.
I loved the way that bands in the nineties always had a sense of urgency to their lyrics, the songs, the energy, hardcore as a force, I guess that has not been lost, but hardcore has changed, how do you see the changes that have been happening within the scene?
Remember that hardcore of the nineties was born of the relentless punk/hardcore fusion of the eighties’, which was an incredibly politically charged time for punk rock. Under the Reagan administration, both punk and hardcore - and especially political punk and hardcore - went through a tremendous growth period.
This is due to the political climate of the time demanding that. Conservative politics inspire a backlash from the opposition, and in the case of punk, from those who wanted to put their ideas and emotions into words and songs and let their voices be heard.
Later in the early nineties, the Gulf War and what was seen as a more heartless and uncaring presidential administration inspired a continuation of that eighties backlash of conservative values as well, but in the mid to late nineties, Clinton ushered in times of plenty, financially, the intensity of the political situation in the world (and especially in the USA) didn't seem as urgent [at that time].
It is fitting that during this time and shortly thereafter, political punk lost its edge, and turned soft if it still existed at all (it became cool to not have something to say) and bands championing the cause of looking good with eye shadow, fashion and style came into the genre more and more. It is a good general rule to follow: when the government is more conservative, punk/hardcore tends to flourish with political intensity. And when fashion and style win out over substance, you can be assured that people have let themselves become lethargic, self-centred, lazy, and generally uncaring about anything other than expanding the outward manifestations of their own narcissism while the world around them withers.
There also seems to be a more violent aspect to hardcore now, what are your takes on the gang / crew culture that has really infiltrated hardcore? (An American thing)
I think there are really two different things to consider here. The first being whether or not hardcore really is more violent now, and the
second being the gang/crew concept. I would like to go out on a limb and suggest that hardcore is actually much less violent than it was years ago.
The gang/crew mentality is largely an exception rather than the rule. Years ago, when hardcore was more fringe than it is now, it had a sense of being more lawless, less socialized, and therefore, more raw.
It was a melting pot that failed in a way for all the degenerates and outcasts who ended up trying to blend there. We didn't blend that well, which is why the scene became factionalized into punks, hardcore people, Straight Edge, and so on.
When it was more "one" group, things felt more intense and the fighting element seemed to be more common.
As for gangs and crews, I live in Seattle WA, where the gang/crew mentality only surfaced for a little while in the negative context in which people generally place it. The problem is only when gangs or crews condone fighting and strive to have it be part of their day-to-day and show-to-show life. Then no one gets to expand by being involved in hardcore. We shrink back, afraid to stand out and express ourselves, out of fear of reprimand. Then, at that point, we are just the same as we were before we found this supposed promised land of self-expression.
The thing is, unfortunately or fortunately as the case may be, we need associations with others. Crews and gangs will always be a little attractive to us. We exist because of our associations, not in spite of them, because we are desperate for meaning and find truth in belonging to something outside of and greater than ourselves.
This doesn't mean that we should join gangs. It means we should recognize the psychological purpose that they serve and then use that knowledge to sway people away from being involved in the first place, by offering them alternatives which utilize less violent behaviours as means of bonding with one another.
What was your interpretation of Straight Edge?
In terms of Straight Edge, the words 'was', and 'is' are the same for me. My interpretation has been consistent for many years and has not changed.
Straight Edge to me is a way of living that does not include intoxication by way of the use of drugs or alcohol. Drugs and alcohol are not things I want in my life for myself. I am Straight Edge because I want to see and experience the world around me with immediacy and intensity that drugs and alcohol diminish.
I am not interested in having my perceptions of the world and my interactions with others be affected by alcohol. I have too few seconds in life to waste on being wasted.
Has the definition changed over time for you in significance or meaning?
If anything, the significance of being Straight Edge and what it means has increased over time for me. I have had relationships in my life that could have turned out perfectly, be totally affected negatively by alcohol and by the way people treat me when they are drinking.
People in hell love to drag you down into hell with them. And that's not saying that alcohol is hell. But the reason’s why people find security in drinking and then treat others poorly as a result, really is hell.
You can do everything in the world to love someone, reach them, nurture uplift and inspire them, but if that person is under the influence and acting accordingly when you try to reach them, you will always lose, and more to the point, you will never get the connection you have dreamed of establishing. The other person doesn't want it. Alcohol will always win because it corrupts the mind, the choices, and ultimately the sense of self and soul in the person under the influence.
You aren't interacting with that person at that point. You are interacting with the alcohol. The beauty, potential, and wonder of all your efforts are being outweighed by a bottle of wine.
It is no wonder that people who live with or try to love alcoholics end up feeling worthless, and that these relationships ultimately get destroyed. Because the drinker, through their own actions, tells the person trying to reach them, that they are worthless, or at least, worth less than a bottle of wine or a beer. So much time wasted. There is so much life and love that gets thrown away and disregarded.
How did you all find the touring experience, is it something you would like to relive and how did you keep occupied when out on the road?
I loved touring and to this day am often on the road doing either speaking (anyone interested in doing an event, get in touch anytime! Facebook: Greg Bennick) or activism, or art. I always liked living a somewhat vagabond life, sleeping on couches and where ever worked for me for the night so as to be more mobile and agile the next day.
I kept occupied while on the road by writing in a journal and someday I will compile the Trial tour journals and see if there was anything of real value in there or not. I have a feeling that there was.
What would you prefer a fight with a tiger, a kodiak bear or a leper?
I would take on all three at once, tearing the arm off the leper and feeding it to the tiger to distract it and then engaging in deep reconciliatory conversation with the bear. Being a devoted vegan, I could not fight a bear or a tiger. Lepers though, would be in big trouble.
Oh the vegan irony.
How much are still involved with the hardcore scene if at all? Which bands have you been listening to lately?
I am definitely still involved. I have been really interested recently in bands from other countries. Due to the power of the mighty facebook, I have been writing back and forth with a lot of people from
Macedonia, the Ukraine (which is where my family is originally from), South America, and other places the West largely ignored in terms of hardcore and punk for many years.
It is been good to make connections and to hear new music. I'd look to Refuse Records from Europe as a great place to start to hear lots of new bands you won't otherwise encounter. In the USA, I am really liking Another Breath, Run With the Hunted, and many of the bands on Timm from Trial's Panic Records label.
He works really hard to find good bands and he has a great ear for what is cutting edge. And no, it is not just because he gives me free stickers and pins that I say that.
What was the last good book you read? I have always thought more can be achieved with the written word than through violence would you agree with that statement?
The last book I read was Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff.
It is about the empowerment of women worldwide and the effect that acknowledging women and including them without oppression has on culture and economy.
It is an excellent book and someday when I grow up I want to be Nicholas Kristoff. In fact, if Nicholas Kristoff is reading this interview, please write me and invite me to come to New York and help you with your work 24/7.
Thank you, I would appreciate it. As for the written word being able to achieve more than violence, I couldn't agree more. I do not exactly know what violence achieves most of the time. Sure, if someone was physically attacking me, I would not ask for a pen and a sheet of A4 paper and write that attacker a note saying that he might reconsider his actions and perhaps he would like to meet with me sometime in the future over tea to talk about our differences.
I'd fight back in defence. And sometimes, fighting back in defence is necessary in personal and political struggle. But by and large, if words can be used as effective weapons, I much prefer that approach.
Tell me about your favourite quotes and how they had a profound impact on you?
Recently one of my favourite quotes was one offered to me by my ex-girlfriend Cynthia. She's an amazing person and one day while I was feeling stuck in the midst of writing, she told me that the creative process "is about going back and forth and having a shitload of uncertainty".
That really affected me because I realized that even in moments when I felt like there was no progress being made, that if I stayed committed to the ultimate goal, that even the dark times were part of forward motion even when they did not feel like they were.
That quote, in conjunction with one generally attributed to Voltaire ("Perfect is the enemy of the good") is really inspiring to me. Voltaire's words keep me moving forward through that darkness even if I do not have an absolute sense of what the specifics are of the result I want to accomplish or how I will exactly get there.
Any final rumours you would like to start?
I am going to be doing a hip hop record with a rapper from Vancouver BC named Estea El. We do not have a name for the project yet, but we'll start writing and tracking it in the late spring of 2011. You can take that as a rumour, or as truth. But there's probably more truth than lie in it if all goes well.
Thank you for your time and music!
Thank you for your time and interview! Readers can get in touch anytime through Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/gregbennick and I would invite everyone to check out One Hundred For Haiti on the web at: http://www.onehundredforhaiti.org, and also look for video content on YouTube (100forhaiti) and Twitter (100forhaiti) as well and if you are inspired by what you see, please be in touch and get involved.