Interview with Mike Couls and Karl Buechner from Vehement Serenade; Playing East Coast Tsunami Fest

What do you get when you put members of Earth Crisis, Cro-Mags, Sworn Enemy, Skarhead, Cold As Life, and Sub Zero in a room together? Though it may sound like a college level lecture series on the history of NY Hardcore, it’s actually Vehement Serenade. As far as super-groups go, you’d be hard pressed to find this much talent in one musical outfit, but it’s here, and you should probably wear a helmet when you see them live.

Catching one of their very early performances at Black and Blue Bowl in NYC a few years back, the combination of throat shredding vocals, courtesy of Karl Buechner, and crushing rhythms by some of hardcore music’s elite, was a welcome surprise on an already stacked lineup that day. Promising their first full-length album in Spring 2013, Vehement Serenade is as heavy and aggressive as any of the members’ former pursuits, and that’ll make many a hardcore fan mighty happy.

For all you vinyl junkies out there, V.S. is set to drop a brand new limited 7” at this year’s installment of East Coast Tsunami Fest, taking place in Reading, Pennsylvania later this month. Featuring just about every hardcore band you could want to see in a single weekend, ECT is going to be a marathon of breakdowns, stage dives, and hardcore hangin’. Before the shit goes down, I got a chance to speak with legendary hardcore vocalist Karl Buechner and bassist Mike Couls to discuss how the band came together, the new 7”, their take on the current hardcore scene, and what we can expect to see when the band hits the stage.

Interview: Mike Couls

G- Hi there and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five! It kind of looks like there’s a monster brewing with Vehement Serenade… Can you introduce everyone in the group and tell us what they play?

M- Sure. Well, like you said, we have the amazing Karl Buechner on vocals, of course from Earth Crisis and Freya, and myself playing bass. We have Jamin Hunt who’s my guitar player… You know we played in our first band ever together, and this is like my musical partner in the group. Eddie Ortiz from Brooklyn plays the other guitar, from such bands like Sub-Zero and Cattle Press. He played in Candiria after the accident. He did all the touring because he is a phenomenal, phenomenal musician, and he’s played in a lot of the other really dirty metal bands in NY.

And Paulie Antignani, A.K.A. Paulie No Neck, on the drums. Hard hittin’ nigga on the stage and off the stage. That’s my right hand man, right there. I played in Sworn Enemy with him years ago during my run, and after I left the group, Jamin played in Sworn Enemy and he also played with Paul, so that’s just our fuckin’ man right there, period. And yea, we’re really pysched on this band and everything coming forth.

G- Yea man. I caught a very brief performance at B&B Bowl a few years back, I think 2008, and it was a complete surprise to see all you guys on one stage together. How long has V.S. been around and when did you first get started? As busy as everyone is with their other bands, how did the project come about?

M- Well, it might have come about sometime around that time, 2008 at B&B Bowl. We were the special guest, so we were an unannounced performance. It was kind of a surprise. So we had actually just written the material then. Some of the material may have been… Nothing was recorded yet, but we just started fucking around and decided that that would be the vehicle to announce it. At that point, we were getting busier a lot sooner, but a tricky life has thrown a lot our way, for the good and for the bad. But now is the right time… The planets are all aligning, and now is definitely the right time and we’re going to start getting really active and very busy.

But it probably started, like I said Jamin and I played in our first band together, and we’re very excited to play again. Paul had left Sworn Enemy and was looking to play again, and that’s just a match made in heaven… To have Paul playing drums. And me and Karl have been good friends for a long, long time, you know back in the day when I played in Cold As life, and have always been great friends with Karl and those guys.

I think one of my last shows with Sworn Enemy in 2004, and I think we were playing with Slipknot, and Karl came out and we were talking and just joking around, and we said ‘Yo… We should play in a band together’ and joked about it for like 2 years, until we said ‘Let’s do this,’ you know what I mean? And Karl is just the perfect, perfect front piece for the band and an amazing guy to write with.

The whole group… That’s the beauty of the whole band is that there are all these pieces and elements of everything we’ve done, but it doesn’t sound like any group we’ve ever played in. You couldn’t pick any one group or one sound, and you couldn’t pigeonhole it in any way. It just has a lot of diverse elements from a lot of talented musicians, and when we come into a room together, it’s pretty easy. It’s one of the least painstaking writing processes I’ve ever been a part of. Everyone’s friends, and everyone knows their instruments, and it’s a joy to play together.

G- That’s awesome, and that leads into another question I have for you. You guys state that you’ll be dropping a full-length next year, and you mentioned your writing process, so what is your writing process like, and who in the band typically comes up new music? Do you have a primary songwriter, or do you write music more organically through jamming during rehearsals?

M- Well, this first record that’s coming out in spring was kinda written in a few different rooms. At the time, and currently, the band members live in completely different areas, so thank God for technology and a Macbook (laughs). The whole thing started as ideas, mostly between myself and Jamin and the addition of Eddie. We would start coming up with ideas, and once we got in a room with Paul, it just flows and becomes real easy to put together.

Then, as far as Karl’s part with the lyrics, as far as this album goes, we would talk about certain things we wanted to write about. Just have a 5 minute discussion about a topic, and Karl’s bad ass would go into the next room, and just sit in a corner yogi style, and just start writing in a notebook, and every single fucking time he would come back, I would literally just be amazed… Blown out the water at, you know, how he just turned our conversation into lyrics and poetry… Literally amazed, you know? A real non- painstaking process, and almost every time, it would exceed our expectations, so you know, and it’s made me very happy.

I would hope that, on the next record, instead of being in 2-3 different rooms, the next record you’ll hear a lot of songs and a lot of material… We’ve got a lot of material up our sleeves… The next record I really want to write in the same room. I think that’ll it’ll make the next record even better than the one not out yet (laughs).

G- Any word on who will be releasing the album?

M- Yes it’s also going to come out on Fast Break.

G- OK.

M- A new entity, it’s got very good distribution, and the key with Fast Break is they’re treating this band as a priority. We’re gonna be able to promote this band the way we need to promote this band… Do videos and have press releases, you know what I’m saying? They’re very behind the band and they have the distribution capabilities. They’re a new label, but my experiences with labels, biggest to smallest, the key is when they treat you like a priority. Warner Brothers or whoever, they may be the biggest label, but if they don’t give a fuck about your band, they’re not gonna do shit for your band, so it really doesn’t matter. This is a home that I feel really confident and comfortable with, and so far so good. Like I said, Fast break is really on top of their game, and I’m happy to perform with them.

G- Well, if you ever need anybody to hype it, you’ve got Live High Five, too!

M- That’s what’s up!

G- Now, you guys are also releasing a super limited 7” record to coincide with your performance at East Coast Tsunami 2012, and I want one…

M- (laughs)

G- I’m a vinyl nerd, so I’ve got that going, too. Can you tell us about where you recorded, who produced the tracks, and what the exclusive color is going to be?

M- Yea. We recorded with the phenomenal Joey Z. from Life Of Agony… He was the guitar player for Life Of Agony, and he has this studio in Brooklyn called Method Groove Studios, and it is one of the most home-feeling, non pressure studios that I’ve ever been in. It was just so comfortable and us going in there and doing our thing, and it was an absolute pleasure to work with Joey who’s just so knowledgeable, you know. We recorded all the songs that are going to be on the album, and also the song that is exclusive to the 7”, everything that we’ve recorded at this point was done with Joey, and you know… Nothing but happiness came out of there.

As far as colors go, I believe that it is going to be a white vinyl, a red vinyl, and a blue vinyl. And I guess when they make the vinyl, sometimes when they transfer from one color to another, there is a unique in-between color or patterns or marbles out in a unique way. I’m really interested to see them, too. It will be very limited, and it’ll be dropping the Tuesday before ECT on September 25th.

G- Right on. I’m gonna have some cash for 1, or 2, or 3 of them myself. So, I know you guys are pumped for East Coast Tsunami Fest in a few weeks! How many shows have you guys played thus far and, since the hardcore nation will be anxiously awaiting your arrival in their hometowns, what are V.S.’s tour plans like for the future?

M- Well, so far this will be our 3rd performance. Our first one was at B&B Bowl like you said in ’08, and right when it turned to ’09, we played a benefit show for my dear friend Kev from Bulldoze. Our plan was to get very active, but life has thrown us loops, you know? I had my daughter, and Eddie had his daughter, Karl has done a few Earth Crisis and Freya records, I was busy playing with Skarhead and Cro-Mags, Paulie was busy being a famous chef (laughs), and Jamin spent some time with his mother before she passed away, and it just kinda kept us apart for the 2 years.

But now, everything is starting to match up, and our whole rhythm and harmomy is in sync once more, and at this point we’re going to gain continuous movement and doing ECT Fest. That’ll be the grand rehashing of the band, and from their for the rest of the year, probably a couple of weekends and a couple of things going on, but by the start of the next year, that’s when the assault is going to be continuous. We’ll be on better tours and longer runs, and we’ll be building momentum until the release of the full-length, and form that point we’re just gonna go go go.

G- Nice! Very good! Now, given the makeup of the members and everything… I mean we all know who Karl is and we all know who Earth Crisis is… but does Vehement Serenade adhere to any lifestyle or political philosophy, and does the band look to purport any particular message aside from the music?

M- Well, I think the great thing about hardcore, metal, and punk is that there is a message and there is a greater experience. As far a V.S., some of our personal beliefs and personal lifestyles vary, you know? And instead of that being a conflict, we embrace it, because the world is a big place, and there should be differences in the world. If everybody was the same… Boy would that be fucking boring, you know what I’m saying?

G- For sure.

M- But I think a lot of people focus too much on other people’s differences, society as a whole, whether it’s rich/poor, male/female, white/black, young/old, whatever way people can pigeonhole you and ultimately divide you.

But being a world traveler and playing 5 out of 7 continents of the world, I’ve realized that human experience is the same everywhere, and people just want to be happy and live peacefully, and want their kids to have a chance in the world and to fuckin’ eat and be healthy, and to fuckin’ love and be loved, and be generally appreciated. That’s what people strive for, and I think that there’s a lot more similarities between people and that’s what I hope we can bring awareness to that. We are all the same. We’re all under the sun and if this planet blows up, we’re all on it. We should treat our environment, and everyone around us, accordingly.

Our most obvious difference in the band is Karl is vehemently straight edge, which to me is awesome and a personal choice. And, you know, a lot of times in the past, because that was E.C.’s message, people thought they were preachy or close minded, but that was never the case. Like I said when I played in some of my most ignorant bands… Cold As Life, Skarhead, whatever… I’ve always been friends with everybody in Earth Crisis. No one’s EVER been like that, and that is Karl’s personal choice in life.

You know, mine, I’m a vegetarian but I used to be king carnivore, but I smoke mad weed, and that’s what I do. It calms me out. I’m a high strung dude. But just because I smoke weed and Karl is straight edge doesn’t mean that we can’t be friends and doesn’t mean that we can’t have a common ground. Like I said, the diversity in our band and the diversity in the world can be a beautiful thing.

G- Awesome answer, dude. Great answer! So, we obviously had a little incident back at Webster Hall a while back… You know what I’m talking about… and hardcore has always had its share of confrontational fans, security, and occasional fights between band members, fans and venues. I know you guys have only played a couple of shows as V.S., but you’ve all been around the scene for a long time. Have you had to deal with any violence at this point, and what do you guys do when there is an issue with the crowd/security?

M- Well, like you said, V.S. is a very new band and we haven’t been put in any negative situations yet, and we really hope to steer clear of any negative situations. We want to be a positive band as much as we can be. Sometimes, it’s unfortunate in life that things happen, and you can’t control everything that happens, and you can’t control every single person, and there are going to be instances and I guess that we try to roll with the punches and have a bit of class at the end of the day, you know what I’m saying?

As far as security and fans, we don’t want to see security brutalizing fans or fans brutalizing security unnecessarily. Hopefully everyone treats each with respect and there can be some type of harmony at shows and that’s what we strive for. We want shows and the scene to come together and not come apart, because that’s what it’s all about.

G- Perfect. And you mentioned it a bit earlier, but you’ve been on 5 continents playing shows, and I’m a bit jealous myself, but there’s nothing to be jealous about because you guys are working hard for it. So being a professional musician, can you offer any advice to some of the young, up and coming bands out here that want to make it in hardcore music, on the road, and as professional musician?

M- Yea… Don’t let NOBODY tell you what do to and what to believe in. You know what you believe in and what you want to do.

And the key trait in every single success story, the one single trait, is persistence. They never gave up, you know? You’re always going have a bad time and there’s always going to be something. There’s always going to be a hurdle and there is always going to be an obstacle, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. Obstacles get in front of you? You can go over it, you can go under it, you can go to the left of it, the right of it, or through it if you’re strong enough… With a helmet on.

The key to being is don’t give up, and don’t let anybody put shit into your mind. You know, maybe their mother told them that they’d never make it as a musician and their whole life they believed it, and they wasted 10 years of their life. Don’t let anyone tell you nothing. The key to your own destiny lies within. You’re the one that can do what you want to do, and like I said where there’s a will, there’s a way. Spread the message, love, and goodness, and hopefully that’s what comes back to you.

Interview: Karl Buechner

G- How’s everything going, man?

K- It’s going good. I’m getting ready to start band practice with my other band, Freya, so you called at the perfect time.

G- Cool, man. You’re not one to slow down, are you? Between the 3 bands, you’ve been busy for a few years.

K- That’s for sure, yea. Vehement Serenade is getting ready to practice down in NYC. So Gook and Jamin will be coming back from Detroit… That’s where they live. Gook played in Cold As Life for years, so that’s another band we’ve gotta add to the list to other musical endeavors. Paulie and Eddie live in NYC, and I’m in Syracuse, so NYC is the closest place for us to get together and practice. We’re gonna be running the set like 4 days in a row before the show, so I think we’ll be well rehearsed and we definitely looking forward to playing. I’ve got new lyrics and they’ve got new music, so we’re looking forward to recording soon, as well.

G- Right on. So, I caught the first show at the B&B Bowl a few years back, and it was a complete surprise to see you guys all on stage together. When did V.S. first get started, and when did you even have time for this project?

K- Well, Earth Crisis has been playing with a lot of the NYC and Detroit bands over the years, and we’ve toured with Sworn Enemy. We’ve played St. Andrews Hall with Cold As Life a bunch, so I got to know all those guys, especially everyone through the Sworn Enemy tours that Earth Crisis has done, and everything just clicked as far as friendship goes, as well as musical taste and compatibility and all that stuff, so it just kinda happened on its own over time, you know?

G- Dig it. Fast Break is going to be releasing your 7” and full- length when it drops, and since you’ve been on both sides of the music industry spectrum, how have your experiences been with larger vs. smaller music companies, and can you mention some of the pitfalls to avoid that you’ve encountered yourself?

K- I’m real proud of the recording legacy of Earth Crisis and freya and path of Resistance, and I’m real stoked that Fast Break and the Wisdom In Chains guys have picked up on V.S., and they’re interested in doing the 7” and full-length, because they are from the same world in what the experience of being in a hardcore band is. You know whether it’s touring here or other parts of the world. I think what you share that experience and realize that a band has to be nurtured and as to have some attention paid to it in order to thrive. So, I’m real stoked about it.

(At this point, my iPad ran out of room and I didn’t realize it, so I wasn’t able to get the entire interview, and that sucks. Get the largest hard drive you can if you’re going to interview people, folks. I caught it in enough time to get the answers to a few important ones, so keep reading. )

G- How do you feel about the current state of hardcore? Obviously, it is much more commercialized now than it was at the Lost Horizon back in 1995. Are their any bands that dig right now that you may want to share with our readers? 

K- Yea tons of great bands! I’d say Lifeless from the PA/NJ area… They’re sick. Umm, let’s see… Sleeping Giant, Tyrant from up in Detroit, and Hate Inc. as well. There are some great bands from Syracuse, too. Like The Storm and Violent Side. So there’s tons of quality bands out there, and there are tons of people that are keeping that same spirit alive. You know from the 80’s and from the 90’s… It’s the same thing, just in a different decade, in my opinion. And you know, I’ve been a part of this since I was 13.

My cousin was the bass player of Crucifix of Christ, and my friends and I idolized him when we were younger, and he was a definitive example of what we wanted to be when we got older. And that was like ’85 or ’86. So yea, hardcore rises and falls, and has its high point and low points as far as attendance and number of bands out there doing it, but I think the spirit is pretty much the same, I really do. Like those Hellfests that were happening in Syracuse were, to me, it feels like the same thing like when Earth Crisis just played This is Hardcore Fest in Philly. It was 4 days and, I don’t know… Tons of bands like 100 Demons and In My Eyes, and the list goes on and on. It feels like the same thing… Time goes on, but it persists.

G- For sure, man. So 2 more questions and then you can go to band practice (Freya plays the next day.) Hardcore has always had its share of confrontational fans, security, and occasional fights between band members, fans and venues. I know V.S. has only played about 3 shows at this point, so you haven’t had to see any of that yet. But definitely in your previous bands, there have been some well-known occurrences that happened, and I just want to know what do you do when there is an issue with the fans/crowd/security?

K- Well, I think the smartest thing a band can do is to keep playing. If you want to address it, address it at the end of the song. I think, when a band will literally stop the show because there’s a fight, whoever the 2 people are a lot of times, if we’re talking about a pit beef type thing, people from one side will rally towards one person and the same thing will happen on the opposite side of the conflict, so I think it can magnify it and make it worse. Draw too much attention to it, and the sound stops, and people can’t communicate, you know?

I don’t think anyone ever handled it better than VOD. We toured with them a few years back, and when a fight would break out in the pit, they would play the Rocky theme. (We both bust out laughing. That IS pretty good… Right on VOD!) It would change it to something that seemed absurd.

G- Yea I’m pumped to see them as well and I think you guys are playing on the same day, so… East Coast Tsunami Fest is going to go over well for you guys. I’m pumped to see the show, I’m pumped to buy the record, and I’m just glad that something like this is happening.  

So to finish up, like I said… You’ve been doing this for a long time and you’ve seen the in’s and out’s and up’s and down’s, and there are a lot of young kids out here that idolize you and want to try and make it in the music business, so what if any advice could you offer to some of the young, up and coming bands out here who want to make it in hardcore music, on the road, and as professional musician? 

K- Well, there are so many different styles of punk and hardcore and metal that what I’ve experienced and what I’ve done might not literally apply to them, so I can’t really give advice, but what I can say and what has worked for me is every band that I’ve been in, more so than any other thing, has been about friendship. You know, maybe I wasn’t the best vocalist when I started, or maybe my bass player wasn’t the best, or my guitarist couldn’t do the leads that we wished he would. But when you keep things tight and in a band with friends, and aren’t trying to trade members to get the best guitarist and steal him away from another band or something weak like that, after a while, if you maintain some discipline, you can take lessons and stuff like that, and you’re gonna bring out the best in each other. That is how every one of my bands has succeeded that didn’t have seasoned musicians in it. You know, the friendship was strong, and we kept a positive attitude, and dealt with the reality that, through rehearsals and through lessons and everything else, the band will definitely rise. It might take longer, but it’s gonna be more of a genuine victory when you deal with your friends, you know.

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