Interview with Mike McTernan from Damnation AD; Played Revelation Records 25th Anniversary in NYC

Here’s a little on the spot interview I conducted with Mike Mcternan from Damnation AD, the first real hardcore band I ever laid eyes on in concert. It was February 12th, 1995, and life really hasn’t been the same for me since. When you feel the floor pulsate prior to a band’s entrance, only to erupt in movement and activity once they begin performing, for some of us, it’s not a feeling that can be honestly described or understood… It just overtakes the senses. Hardcore is frickin’ fantastic if you get it, and a complete mystery if you do not.

Mike proved to be one of the most soft spoken, friendly, and accommodating gentlemen i’ve met during my time conducting interviews, and I owe him a huge thank you for taking the time to speak with me on such short notice. Click READ MORE for the full interview.

G- What’s up, everybody… This is Greg Allis again with Live High Five and we are in Irving Plaza in NYC for Night 3 of Revelation Records’ 25th Anniversary. We’ve got The Shook Ones on right now, Shai Hulud with Chad Gilbert on vocals, Bold, and of course Battery and Chain Of Strength playing as well tonight.

I’m outside right now with Mike McTernan from Damnation AD. They played last night and it was an incredibly brief set, but we’re gonna catch up with this guy because Damnation AD was the first hardcore band I ever saw, and the first independent, underground hardcore show I ever attended, and it was an important day for me.

So, what’s going on Mike and thank you for taking the time to speak with us! You guys played 2 songs last night… Umm, what happened?

M- Our drummer got caught in traffic on the way up.

G- Damn Smitty!

M- Exactly, and just didn’t make it on time. You know, it’s one of those things where we thought he was going to make it, but it just took forever to get through the tunnel and just traffic. He should’ve left earlier, but because we got here 2 hours before doors, but it happened and I, umm, yea.

I’m very upset because this was such an important day to me. Being on Revelation was so important in terms of… They shaped who I am. They shaped a lot of the bands I listened to when I was younger, and so when we signed to them, it was really important. So, last night was really important, and not being able to really take part in it, I was really discouraged and embarrassed and, but I got up there and I was just ‘Hey… We only have 10 minutes.”

G- Well, you made the most of it, because with “No More Dreams” and “The Hangman,” it was like… Don’t get me wrong, I could’ve watched for another hour and a half or so, but if you were going to play 2 songs, at a festival like this, those would be the ones, and they came off in very fine form!

M- Those are the 2 songs that people primarily want to hear, also. Not saying the other songs are filler, but for some people they are. So yea… We picked those 2 and we decided ‘Ok… Let’s just do it,’ because there was a couple of minutes where the guys working the place said ‘You guys have 10 minutes. It’s not worth it.”

G- Yea right.

M- And we were just like ‘No.’ You know what, 10 minutes may only be 2 songs, but we’re going to do it. So, we did, and I’m happy we ended up playing at all. It was an honor.

And it’s also an honor to play your first hardcore show. That means a lot. That was the theme of a couple of the bands that opened for Battery the other day (in DC.) They were like ‘Our first show, we played with Battery, Damnation, Darkest Hour, and this band The Story which my younger brother played drums for. And a lot of these kids, you know… There was like 600 people there, and it was at a church in a suburb of DC, and they were like ‘That was out first hardcore show,’ and that means a lot to see the kids who kind of road that wave we were riding into music, and they’re carrying it on now.

I’m not able to do music as much as I would like anymore, but it’s nice to be part of influencing them to play music.

G- Sure, and that brings up an interesting point because right now we’re celebrating Revelation’s 25th anniversary, and, you know, they started long before the commercial market decided to pick up on hardcore, the style, and the aesthetic. Now, there is more money to be made, and there are a lot more bands out there, but how do you feel being from that new school of the old school. How do you feel about the new stuff coming out now, and are there any groups that you think we should check out?

M- You know, I think almost everything Reaper Records does is amazing, and he is so dedicated to putting out just straight hardcore, and I love everything he puts out. I’m in close contact with those guys, so I’m able to follow everything, and a lot of the other bands that I check out are like pop-punk. My tastes have lightened over the years, and what I really… To be honest, I follow a lot of what my brother records. He’s like ‘Hey you should check out this band,’ so I’ll check that out.

G- And you might as well give that a really strong shameless plug. That studio is…

M- Salad Days Studios in Baltimore, Maryland.

G- Excellent yes, and lots of good stuff has come out of there. What bands in particular are you listening to that you really dig?

M- I really love Trapped Under Ice. I’m trying to think what else I’ve been listening to. You know, I love Bayside. Bayside is a band that I’ve been obsessed with for a very long time. Born Low… That’s another Reaper (Records) band, and Make Do and Mend.

I tend to listen to a little bit lighter stuff now because it calms me down more. I have enough anxiety and stress in my everyday life, and it works me up even more, you know. I was on the train the other night, and Kiss It Goodbye came on, and I just felt this sense of urgency like ‘I have to get out of here.’ Everything is a bit slower with me now, and I’m trying to make it slower.

When I was younger and a kid, I liked that aggression and I liked how hardcore made me feel, but now I just realized that I’m in a different phase of my life. Sometimes it’s weird to say I’m not a hardcore kid anymore, but it’s kind of true because I’m almost 39. I don’t relate to the lyrics, which is what hardcore was about to me. I love the music. I love going to shows, and I still go to a ton of shows, but I don’t know all the bands anymore. I just kinda hang out in the back and watch and just try to support it. But I don’t have the money to be buying records much anymore, and that’s what hardcore and punk was to me… It was the lyrics, and I just don’t relate to a lot of lyrics that 18 year olds are writing.

Oh yea another band… Recon! He’s one of my favorite lyricists. Rob is fantastic! Sorry.

G- No that’s excellent you gave us some good stuff, so right on!

M- When you’re put on the spot…

G- I try to hit my interviewees as hard as possible, so take your time. Another this I wanted to talk about is I grew up in Syracuse, NY, mid-90’s, super hardcore straight edge on the militant side. I’ve never been straight edge and it felt a little bit uncomfortable at times, but it seems like hardcore is seeing this revitalization and it’s really coming back to, you know… Everybody can go to these shows and everybody can have their beliefs.

You’ve been straight edge forever, and here we’ve got Chain Of Strength and all these other bands like that. How do you personally feel about straight edge and do you see a resurgence in the movement, or is it just kind of continuing where it was?

M- Actually, this summer is 25 years since I first put an X on my hand.

G- Damn!

M- But you’ll notice, the people who always yell the loudest are the people who fall the hardest. So, you have a sense of militancy in certain areas, like early Syracuse, but you’ll notice all those kids are gone. But you have the guys in Earth Crisis. Unfortunately, I think people misunderstood their lyrics…. You don’t take them literally like a bible. But you have DJ (Rose) and Guav and those guys, and they’ve been straight edge forever but you’d almost never know it. The just accept everybody. As long as you have love in your heart, they’re going to accept you. It doesn’t matter if you drink, or you smoke, whatever. None of that matters as long as you’re a good person and you treat your family and your friends well. If you drink, if you do drugs, as long as you’re not hurting someone else while you’re doing it, it doesn’t matter, and that’s always how I felt. As long as you treat your family and friends well and with love, that’s what’s important to me.

Honestly, the only reason I still use the term ‘sxe’ is I feel I can be a positive influence with the younger kids, because when I was growing up, there was people like Taylor from Four Walls Falling and Toby from H2O who influenced me and showed me that as you grow older, sxe can be a part of your life and help give you a direction to live a positive lifestyle. And like I said, it’s not for everybody, but they really influenced me to get up their still and put X’S on and say ‘Hey… I am straight edge.’ And hopefully kids will see. There was a 13 year old kid at Battery and we dragged him up onstage and he sang “Young Til I Die’ with us.

G- (laugh) Nice!

M- We want to influence that young generation, and hopefully they can just come to our scene with a positive outlook, because for so many years, there was no one to see and there was violence. Hardcore is such a small scene and it should be a family community, and unfortunately with all of that violence and everything, it separates us and it shouldn’t be like that.

G- Right on! Well, we’ve gotten into some of the philosophy about the scene, so let’s get back down to the music. You guys spent a lot of time on the road and hardcore back then wasn’t making money, there were no tour buses, and stuff like that. What were some of the things you learned, not necessarily as a hardcore musician, but just as a musician touring on the road?

M- Umm, you know, you just make friends everywhere, and you repay the favors. Like, my house was known as the Hardcore Hotel, because every band that came through stayed there, and my parents were wonderful! I can’t imagine how they put up with all of us and all the bands that stayed there. But I learned what giving back is and how important it is. So that’s one of the biggest things I learned… Giving back to the community that gives to you. That means letting us stay there and letting us book shows, so yea… Just offering something in return.

G- Nice! Now again, since you played so many shows, some of your videos have been posted on Youtube and I can’t tell you how many times I watched that DC ’97 church show… ‘No More Dreams.’ Some kid loses his pants and everyone was losing their fucking minds… What was the most memorable show that you can remember? The one that holds the fondest spot in your heart from Damnation?

M- Honestly, it’s probably that one you were talking about, because it was at a church, and it was that one I was talking about earlier when those kids came! Mike from Darkest Hour and Battery, Jason Hamaker (Frodus/Battery), they were there as 13 year olds, you know.

Seeing Damnation and Battery influenced them to do music, and now they’re up onstage playing. And also because it was the 3 bands… Astoria, which was my brother’s band, and then Battery and then us, so it was a family affair. So that is probably the most memorable show for me for just meaning, and that show will always stay in my heart.

G- I’m going to link the clip of that track to the post, because it was bananas and it signified everything that hardcore is about. Everyone was climbing on top of each other and everybody was having a good time, all catharsis!

M- It was wonderful. Just peaceful, and fun!

G- I mean, fighting, we’ve had some incidents in the news lately, and back in the day, and in Syracuse there were some fights and the gang mentality came through a bit. You came from DC, so you definitely saw some stuff like that.

It seems like it kind of lightening up, and that people are beginning to get the idea that it really sucks getting hurt at a show, and it really sucks hurting someone at a show, unless you’re some sadistic asshole and if that’s the case, we don’t want you here anyway. What did you guys usually do when you had a situation like that?

M- I wasn’t smart about it, because I always get in the middle of fights and I sometimes put myself in very compromising positions.

G- I can’t see you as the aggressor, only as peacemaker.

M- I’ve never hit anyone. I got in one fight in my life when I was in 6th grade, but I’ve never hit anyone back. I’ve been hit multiple times and a lot of times, once people see my size and if they do hit me and I don’t hit them back, that makes them even more intimidated. But yea, I just don’t like violence. I like it when people dance hard and get out their aggression, but you gotta understand that is why you are there. If someone hits you, it’s by accident. I just don’t like that gang mentality because it’s never a one on one fight. It’s always the gang thing, and I’ve always hated that.

And unfortunately, stopping the show gives them the attention they want, and that’s really unfortunate, and that’s something I learned from Earth Crisis. They used to have fights during their sets all the time…

G- Yes they did.

M- And they would stop it at the beginning, but then they stopped stopping their sets, because they realized they were just giving them attention. So they played right through it, and by that time they were playing bigger clubs and they had security. But if we stopped and gave them the attention, then those kids would keep doing it, so I agree with them on that. But I just have a hard time staying up there while it’s happening and watching it happen.

G- That’s a good way to be. So, you’ve been in bands and on the road, and you’ve had to deal with all the interpersonal conflicts between band members, and changing band members, and all that kind of stuff… What advice could you give to some of the young, up and coming bands that want to make it as a hardcore musician?

M- Just be patient. Nothing comes easy, and the harder you work, the easier it will be eventually. Now, unfortunately, people judge their popularity by number of friends on Facebook. I almost said MySpace.

G- Wow, you’re old, dude! MySpace. (laughing)

M- (laughs) Yea, well… But they judge their popularity by the number and say ‘Well, we have 2000 friends’ and we can ask for this much money. You’ve gotta earn that, first. That’s what a lot of bands don’t realize.

It’s gonna take a lot of hard work, but it’s going to pay off eventually.

G- Awesome, man! Well, great set tonight and thank you again very much for taking the time to speak with us today. Time to mosh!!!

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