The First Step are Stephen (vocals), Aaron (guitar), Greg (bass) & Izzy (drums) You guys started out in 2001 with two main goals to invigorate the North Carolina hardcore scene and to write lyrically, honest and open, fast thrashy hardcore…Do you feel like you’ve surpassed all your original goals and if there are some that have eluded you thus far what are they?
S: The goals we set when we started TFS were really a response to what we felt hardcore, especially in our local area, lacked and how we wanted a band to be based on previous bands we had done. In a way yes, we’ve totally done exactly what we set out to do and we created something that was ours and something that other people could share. At the same time there is really always something to be said that addresses where we are today and there is always a chance to connect with someone new and create a new bond. Our goal is on going in that way and really at the core of what we wanted from a band, which The First Step
So The First Step's goals were to connect with other people and create something better than what existed at the time, those aspirations do not change once this band breaks up. That’s what we aspire to as a group of friends and individually.
What is the North Carolina scene like at the moment? Which bands are coming up that we should keep an eye out for? Also have you got a strong edge scene?
S: Here is the thing; we don’t live in NC anymore. That’s where we started and where we grew up and the South will always have a special place in our hearts. I am not super in touch w/ the current state of the scene down there but things have been brewing for the past couple years. A really good band we got the chance to play with last time we went down was Keeping the Promise, people should check them out. Where It Ends from South Carolina is also a great band.
What was growing up in (is it even the Deep South?) North Carolina like? Are there a lot of backwards hicks like in the movies all wearing flannel coats and beaver skin hats? I live in the UK and it mainly rains non stop, totally sucks…
S: No, North Carolina is NOT the Deep South. That is part of the misconception about the south in general that it is all one huge area of rednecks and it’s not. As you get further down into South Carolina, parts of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi you see a lot of more of what is stereotypical Southern but there is so much more to this area of the country. There are great cities like Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Atlanta, Wilmington, Birmingham, Memphis and Columbia that have excellent cultural facets to their characters. From my experience of living in both the North and the South there are asshole, redneck people everywhere but most of the movies and TV shows are produced in the North so the popular conception of the South is exaggerated. Growing up down in NC was wonderful for a number of reasons. First, it’s a beautiful place with very open people, for the most part. Most of all, it was a place where you had to work to make a good hardcore, you had to work hard to find good vegetarian restaurants, you had to drive a long way to enjoy the mountains and the coast (at least where I lived). Looking back I wouldn’t have traded that for the anything because this convenience driven, gotta have it yesterday type of society we have now is completely watering down the experience of living and NC didn’t have that. Being able to appreciate what you have and having to create something if you want it is such a powerful lesson that I am so thankful I learned. The South is a place that is content to grow and expand but doesn’t look at itself as inferior to the North in anyway.
How have you found working with the guys at Rivalry? All there bands rule and the company seems to be going from strength to strength which is great because it proves it can still be done much in the way bridge 9, equal vision, revelation and dare I say victory came up!
S: We really couldn’t be happier with Rivalry, Kyle works so hard to make every release a quality product from start to finish. They are excited to have us, and every band, on the label and so it really ends up feeling more like we are all working together for a common goal rather than just a label and a band. Kyle really helped us out of a bind when we had What We Know recorded but were having real trouble with Livewire Records. When he stepped in and said he would put it out that was really the beginning of a whole new era for TFS.
There never seems a more poignant time to get involved with hardcore, no time like the present, but seriously there are so many opportunities for bands to tour and get promotion these days, how have you found self promotion as a tool for the advancement of your music? Did you book your own tours & make shirts etc?
S: I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is our music and our band so it’s our responsibility to get it out there. Plus, when you actually participate in those aspects of a band you have a chance to exercise aspects of the underground network or community of people that exists. While it may be harder and little more time consuming in the end it’s far more rewarding build something and connect with other groups of people that are also building something. We have always booked our own tours except for when we came to Europe, we needed some help with it because we just didn’t know many people or where was good to play etc. Even then we worked hand in hand with the person booking to make sure everything was cool. I’m sure it’s easier to have someone else do it for you (isn’t it always?) but I’ve gained so much from being a part of a band that followed our own vision with how we wanted to conduct our band.
Based on your own experiences would you encourage people to get more involved with their local hardcore scenes and what ways do you believe best benefit the scene? There’s nothing like meeting someone enthusiastic about hardcore…
S: It is great to have a national or global perspective of hardcore because who doesn’t like to find out about great bands (not every great band is from your home town!) and it helps you see yourself or your area as not the centre of the world and just a part of it. At the same time working together with people to better your area, your community (even if it’s small) is so much of what hardcore is. When hardcore is an action or even a reaction based on what currently exists around you then it has real power because it has real relevance. Of course, that same logic can be used when thinking about acting in a larger way too but I’ve found it’s usually better to start small and not bite off more than you can chew at one moment. I guess too, I always thought it was cool that you could go play other places and while people knew about hardcore around the country or around the world they were always distinctively a local kid, each place had its particular flavour. That’s hardcore as something more organic that grows and less something that is pre-packaged and can just be purchased. All that said, people should follow their own guide maybe they are pulled in one direction and not the other. What is important is that you are working for something and care about something whether it is locally or globally.
So what do you guys know? Come on I had to be an ass and like every other person interviewing you ask that clique question! What sorts of values and experiences within the hardcore scene have helped to shape who you are?
S: Actually, I’ve never been asked that! So you are the first. I think many of the experiences I have had and my involvement in those experiences have really shaped my values. I think hardcore has had at one time or another values that have been widely associated with it which I think is what you are referring to. Please don’t confuse values with morals and morality because values have nothing to do with a religious predetermined right and wrong cause that is not it at all. What you value in life is in essence where you draw your lines; what you will fight for and what you allow to happen. I do wish that values in general were something that more people were concerned within the hardcore scene and our world as a whole. People may conveniently throw around the word values (family values for example) and even talk about straight edge in terms of values but really those are just ideas that reinforce who they want people to see them as. Not doing drugs isn’t a value it’s just a stance, caring about how you live your life is a value that would make you think twice about doing drugs or drinking. If a person was to live by that value then not only would they not want to drink but they may also consider not eating meat, or possibility exercising etc. To answer your question, one value that I gravitated towards from my first exposure to hardcore and punk was the idea of thinking for yourself, question what is seen as “the way it is” and questioning yourself. This value has translated into my growth as a person and my becoming a Buddhist because I didn’t just accept what everyone told me was the way life was supposed to be or how I had to live or what was real. I went out and found out what I thought was true and some of the things I was told were right, but a lot were wrong as well.
The lyrics to the whole album seem to have been thought out so well, sincerity and openness to new ideas seem to be major themes. Do you find writing lyrics come easy to you and what part of the process gets your blood pumping and the adrenaline flowing?
S: At times a song just flows out of me, I think of the write works they all make sense and it hit exactly what I wanted to convey in the most direct way. That is a great feeling. Sometimes though it takes work because for an idea to be effectively expressed it has to be said in just the right way otherwise the intent and message of the song could be lost. The best part is when I am reading over something I wrote, a little in disbelief, because it captured exactly what I wanted it to capture. Sharing it with the other guys in the band is also great because there is a real feeling of unity at that moment when everyone is stoked on a new song with great music and lyrics.
Do you ever feel a certain responsibility with not only your music but your approach and subject matter when writing lyrics? Also as far as the writing process goes do you get excited knowing which parts kids are really going to dig and try to grab the mic from you?
S: When we wrote “Learning” we all knew right away the part at the beginning and the end would inspire mass sing-alongs which we get totally excited about because it’s as fun to sing along as it is to write a part that people will sing along to. The band and crowd feed off of each other in that way. As for feeling responsibility for writing music or lyrics in a certain way, no, we don’t write music or lyrics with the idea that we need to do this as our responsibility to kids. That is a trap that can leave a person feeling very unsatisfied in the end because you can’t please everyone. This band is an expression of what we think and feel as people. Staying in touch with, and true to that vision, is the only responsibility that we really have. We care about the people who will listen to our music and go to TFS shows so in a way we are writing this for them enjoy and get stoked about but ultimately it has to be something we believe and stand behind first and foremost.
You’ve toured all over the world through the states and Europe! What have been the highlights of these outings and what have you got planned for 2007 as far as touring goes? Do you all get along well or end up messing with each other?
S: We get along very well for the most part. I mean we are friends and at times your friends can get on your nerves about this or that but really we are pretty cool on the road. We haven’t toured as much as some bands and while it’s always fun to go play some place new or take a trip with your friends I am happy with what we’ve done and where we’ve gone. I wouldn’t want to do too much touring where there is the chance that towns and people might just become another stop. Plus I don’t think that touring legitimizes you. There are a lot of second rate bands that tour a lot, does that make them great? Not in my book. One of our best times was going to Europe a few summers ago with Damage Control. Everything about that trip was inspiring. Really some of my favourite times have been a miscellaneous weekend where there has just been an excellent vibe and awesome conversation and quality time spent with my friends. Great shows are always a plus though of course! As for 2007 we are going to Guatemala in June which will be insane, no doubt, and in August we are touring Europe with Common Cause.
Do anything’s worry you much about getting older? How have your values changed or should I say matured with lessons learnt from past mistakes? & more importantly do you still get excited going to shows? J
S: Sure it does sometimes. I try really hard in my life to see things as they are and not worry because worry is fairly pointless: if you can do something about a situation then don’t worry, do it! If you can’t do anything about it, then why worry about it? That said I do sometimes think about and stress about getting older, not because of a number, but because of the changes life can bring. I know change is all part of life and nothing has a lasting nature and will always change but that doesn’t make the idea of people disappearing or dying or whatever is still hard to accept sometimes. That is one way I have matured, I have learned to really accept that times change and to take stock of what is here now and actually appreciate where I am. I didn’t used to do that as well and it can cause a lot of pain. I am still excited about going to shows when I can and even though there aren’t a lot of bands I can relate to just one is better than a thousand. Really, I think all of us need to stop seeing our age as determining our reality because it’s nothing more than a number. Your age doesn’t effect your capabilities as a person or define who you must be and what you must be doing and even if you are doing more adult things: getting married and having kids even that doesn’t mean that you can’t still create music, or speak words that others will listen to.
I must say those are some mad photos used for the CD inlay especially on the cover, would you say your shows get out of hand easily? What’s it like to be on that stage with all those kids screaming your lyrics and full of passion?
S: Some of our shows do get pretty crazy which I have no problem with as long as people aren’t getting hurt or course. Being on stage is a pretty surreal experience because I feel like a different side of myself comes out and people react in such a way that I feel like it should almost be for someone else. I guess its disbelief sometimes that I am really so lucky that I am here and doing this. I try to convey it to the people at our shows but I feel just immense appreciation that I can be on stage doing what I am doing and that they make that so exciting and possible.
I’m very interested in learning the story behind Walter “Gorilla Biscuits/Quicksand/Rival Schools” Schreifels producing What We Know, How did that even come off? Did any of you have to ask how to pronounce his surname? (Because I’ve been wondering that for 10 years…no joke)
S: Somewhere along the line I heard how you say pronounce his name. It’s pronounced sh-rifles (as in the gun). When we were working on the songs for What We Know Aaron (guitar) mentioned that it might be cool if we had someone produce the record. Pete Russo from Livewire knew Joe Nelson from The Killing Flame and Joe was good friends with Wally. So Pete contacted Joe and got Walter’s contact info and we sent him some stuff and he got back to us right away and was extremely stoked to do it! We had never had a producer or knew how it would work but it ended up better than we could have ever hoped for. All that producing really means is just have another set of ears listen to the music through a different perspective. He didn’t come in and write anything for us or demand a change in a song he simply said what he heard when we were playing a specific part of a song. Some ideas we liked and incorporated and some we didn’t and scraped.
When did you get involved with the straight edge? As a band what are your sentiments towards the movement? Have any of you got tattoos relating to the subject? (I have straight edge from shoulder to shoulder)
S: I don’t have any straight edge tattoos. I have always wanted the X with the first that Dave Smalley has on his shoulder, that’s a great image. I became involved with straight edge towards the end of 1995, that’s when I officially started calling myself edge. As a band we are all straight edge and proud to be. We all see it through our different perspectives but overall we look at it as a personal choice that someone makes but the most important part about it is they are choosing to live a healthier life not that they are attaching a label to themselves. As far as our sentiments towards the movement I am not sure if I even know what that is because it’s gone in so many different ways. I have no problem with people promoting straight edge and I will talk with anyone about it at any time. I am less interested in sxe unity and more interested in people changing themselves for the better and taking control of their own lives. To me straight edge can be a powerful first step but it’s not the end, it’s only a beginning. I’ve seen far too many people who are straight edge and yet lead a very self destructive life. That is not a judgement on them what so ever because we all have our own weakness and problems I just think so many people don’t take sxe far enough. I would say, to me, it’s more of a spark that ignites a fire than a movement.
Do you believe in being a positive force for kids? How do’s it feel when someone contacts you because of something that you have said or done?
S: I feel very honoured because I remember contacting people in bands whom I respected and how cool and inspiring that was. I feel like it is a very auspicious event because for myself and someone else to connect I have to be a in certain mindset when I write lyrics and we write music that connects with that person. At the same time they have to be in the right frame of mind for that idea to affect them. As easy as it is to talk to someone in that context it is so much more likely that I wouldn’t happen for a number of reasons. So I feel very thankful that everything worked out the way that it did because I know how tough it is for that to happen. Also, I want to be a positive force in anyway that I can, in any area of my life. I don’t care about credit what so ever but I do want to inspire people to look at themselves and find the confidence and strength that is part of our nature, not something some people have and some people don’t. People in my life have done that for me and I want to pass it on as best I can.
What do you want kids to take away from The First Step and how do you see the future panning out for the band?
S: I want to kids to get inspired about life and what they can do with their time on Earth. I know that seems like a big hope but really some of the most profound moments of my life have been listening to a hardcore record or going to a show and having that inspire me to find answers to the question I had in life and to face the fears that held me back as a person. That doesn’t happen over night but I want to plant the seed the way others have done for me in my life. In another way I want kids to get excited about hardcore and music and realize that don’t have to be a carbon copy of some current or past style they can be themselves and create something (a band, a zine even a scene) that may be similar to something else but is distinctively their own. That is my vision of hardcore and I think what initially made it so powerful and why it has, at times, remained powerful. If you’ve got ideas, express them! If you want to write a song, do it! If you want to play a show, book it!
I just wanted to say thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions, for being a positive inspiration to me and I’m sure many others & I hope to see you all some time soon!
S: Thank you for the interview. Best of luck with the zine see you this summer on tour!