Title Fight's Ned Russin on Superstorm Sandy and the Elusive Definition of "Hardcore"
By Mike Bogumill
Title Fight's growth has been well documented. Starting with a series of 7-inches in the mid 2000s, the band has evolved from teenagers playing fast pop punk songs influenced by Lifetime and Saves the Day, to young adults playing gruffer, darker music that's not quite as easy to pin down.
I recently talked with bassist and vocalist Ned Russin about the weather, Pennsylvania, growth, and the elusive definition of hardcore, all while probably mispronouncing the name of his hometown (Wikipedia says it's pronounced like 'wilkesbarruh', but over the phone with Ned it sounded like 'wilksberry', I pronounced it like 'Wilke's Bar'). Regardless, he had a lot to say about where the band came from and where it is going.
Up on the Sun: I understand you guys are from eastern Pennsylvania and I just wanted to know how everything is doing with the hurricane. I know it's not a coastal area, but it's still a vulnerable place. Is everything alright over there? Ned Russin: Yeah, everything in our area was, fortunately, good. A couple of things, minor things like power outages for a little bit and some trees getting a little shaken up. But we have friends who are in New Jersey and New York and stuff, and they got it way worse than we did. It's a weird thing to be so far away from home and to kind of miss all that and be so in the dark about all that stuff. That's one of the biggest downsides of touring, not being able to be there for the people that you care about. We actually just started to raise money at these shows for the hurricane relief, so we are trying to do all that we can even though we're not even home to help out really.
So, you started tour a few weeks back. How has it been? How did the Floral Green release show go?
The release show was awesome. Currently, in our hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, we don't have a venue. So we ended up renting a firehall and building a stage and renting a massive PA and all this stuff.
We put together this huge show, very barebones, and it came together really well. It obviously should have been shut down by the cops in about 20 minutes and somehow we got away with 6 bands playing to 500 or so kids. It was crazy; it was awesome. So that was really cool to be a part of and a lot of fun and I think just, overall, it was one of the best shows we've ever played. Then we had about a week off and then we left for this tour. The shows have been really great, really great turn outs, people have been reacting well to the new songs and the bands that we are on tour with are really cool and we honestly couldn't ask for anything better than what we have right now.
You mentioned not having a venue at the moment. I understand that Title Fight is involved in the Redwood Art Space in Wilkes-Barre. That venue is undergoing a movement to a new location. Could you explain your involvement in that and how it's going along?
So basically we come from a small town in Northeastern, PA, that had one venue and that was around for about 15 years. And the area that it was in, I guess you could call it downtown Wilkes-Barre, but I don't think there is a real "downtown." There's two colleges there and they are trying to kind of clean up the area around where the venue was. So eventually they kept on trying to raise the rent and they [the venue] couldn't afford it so they got ran out of town and then we were left with nothing for about a half a year. So some friends of ours and us decided that the only logical thing to do was to start our own venue.
So basically it was a group of friends who helped book shows and always went to shows and played in bands and everything, and we all just got together, found a location, built a stage, put together the PA and booked shows. We would do whatever we could when we were home and we had a lot of help in the starting processes. And then after that, it was just kind of a self sufficient, independent small venue. So, it was going for about a year and then we ran into some trouble. Just kind of, you know, the typical stuff: the police in town weren't totally thrilled with us being there, some complaints the neighbors, and stupid stuff that just made it hard for us to be there, but we ended up finding a place that is in Wilkes-Barre proper and we're going to be opening up very soon. It's bigger, and it's a better location, and I think it's just going to be a better all around experience. Hopefully by the end of the year we're thinking. It moves very slowly. We're dealing with a lot of obstacles, but we're not going to give up by any means. We're just going to keep doing it until we get it right and we have a venue that can stick around for as long as it possibly can.
So this Wilkes-Barre/Kingston/eastern Pennsylvania hardcore scene, it seems to go back a while. How long have you been growing up in this?
Well, there's been bands and shows and all sorts of involvement and things like that long before I was going to shows, but my brother started playing in bands since he was about 14 years old, I think. And I was 7 years old at the time, and he booked a show and my whole family went because it was a benefit for my cousin who was in a car accident. So my whole family went to support the show and that was my first experience with seeing any type of punk or hardcore. And I was interested, but I was 7 years old. My brother would give me records and tapes and cds and all this stuff and I'd continue to listen to it and I actually stuck with it. As I got older, I just got more and more interested in it, and my parents started letting us go to shows on our own and we started our own band and started playing shows and going out of town. It just kept evolving and evolving to the point where it was, and pretty much still is all that we do.
So you said that at first you didn't quite get it because you were 7 years old, was there a specific record or band that you saw that just made it click for you?
There's been so many bands that I've listened to that are kind of part of me, but honestly the biggest thing was looking up to my brother [Alex, of Cold World. He was in a bunch of bands and the band that I think really did it for me was a band that he was in called Frostbite. They were a band from our town and, you know, bands from our area don't really do that much. There were a couple of bands that were the exception to the rule that would, like, go out and tour, but it was really hard to get out there and do anything as a band from our area because it's such a small town in the middle of nowhere and nobody has any sort of connections or anything and Frostbite was one of the first bands that kind of broke through that.
In a lot of the lyrics, as well as looking at it from album to album, there's this real sense of looking at growth and evolving and going through changes in life, and I'm wondering is there something that you've learned in the past few years when Title Fight's been getting kind of bigger that you wish you could tell your past self. Like a lesson that you wish you could have learned earlier.
That's a hard question, but let me think for a second. I'm sure there are lots of things that I would love to tell myself. I think honestly the most important thing I've learned is just kind of doing things for the right reasons and to kind of put your gut instinct before any other thought you have. So much of what we do in music is doing it for the reasons we want to do it.
We've had a bunch of opportunities in the past, and I'm sure will have them in the future to, you know, try to be on a major label or being on TV or radio or anything like that that bands can do these days. I have no problems with bands doing that, but at the same time if you ever sacrifice anything to get to that point that's where the problem is. So, all I could ever say is that you have to do what is right for you in every instance of your life, whether it's in school or work or in a relationship or in a band or whatever. You have to do what makes you happiest, and that's something I'm still working on.
So be true to yourself and don't compromise, and I don't know how to word it... Not quite "don't sell out", but don't sell out on a personal level, I guess?
Yeah, exactly. I think the idea of selling out is ridiculous. There have been so many bands that have changed my life and have been on major record labels and have had multi-million dollar contracts and all this stuff and sold millions of records, but that doesn't make them less important than a band that played firehalls their whole career and pressed 500 records and never played again. They are so different in those regards, those aspects, but if you have the same mentality, you can achieve the same goals.
Title Fight has turned into this band where there's a lot of diverse influences and it's not quite, on some superficial level, it doesn't sound exactly like what you would expect when you hear the word "hardcore band" or something like that, but you guys are still very rooted in that culture, very rooted in the ethics that come with that. I was wondering what kind of bands or people do you think are similar, in that they don't seem like a predictable hardcore band, but they are very down, so to speak.
I think there's a lot of stuff where we get our style from and from where we were really influenced. And there are bands like Lifetime, who, you know, people are going to debate until the end of time whether they are a hardcore band. But to me, they are a hardcore band and they are cool, and those guys, they aren't typical guys like that but they're hardcore kids. Like you said, when you hear the word "hardcore", there might be an automatic idea in your head of what it is, and I think for a bunch of people it's kind of something like Hatebreed, something like that.
I wouldn't quite say Hatebreed, maybe like Minor Threat or something.
I would say Minor Threat, but what I'm saying is that in, like, a general sense. Like, if you walked up to a random stranger on the street and asked "What is your perception of hardcore?", they would probably tell you "Five Finger Death Punch" or whatever that band is. But I think the thing that's so cool about hardcore, and why I am so interested and involved in it, is that it goes so far beyond the genre of being a hardcore band. It goes beyond the sonic definition of what hardcore is. It goes into ethics and morals and just the way that you carry your self as a human and the way you care about things and view the world. It's so important to us, and it is the reason why we do the things that we do and write the songs that we write.
They may not sound like Minor Threat, or Black Flag or Negative Approach or all these bands that basically revolutionized music as we know it, but we just take the way that they look at it and look at it through different eyes. I think about this a lot, that people are very set in hardcore, when they say that hardcore is genre or that you need to sound, you know, like Minor Threat or whatever. You need to have fast drums, loud distorted guitars, politically charged lyrics, you need to be saying something. And I think that it is almost so limiting to a point, whereas I think it is a genre where you need to know the history, you need to listen to bands like Minor Threat, Agnostic Front, all these old bands that paved the way for every band, but at the same time, you can't be afraid to go beyond what they did. And a lot people try to peg us, saying "Oh, they're not a hardcore band, they don't sound like these typical hardcore bands." And that's like a challenge for me. We may not sound like those bands, but that doesn't mean anything to me. What's important to me is doing the same thing that those bands did, but maybe sounding a little different, who cares? And that's what we learned through hardcore. It transcends beyond music, beyond anything. That's a real important thing I learned through all of this.
So it's more for you about having the right mindset, having your heart in the right place? Exactly. I feel like hardcore is such a small community and when you get down to people saying "They're not a hardcore band, they're a youth crew band." or "They're not a hardcore band, they're a D-beat band" or they are this or that, I think that's so ridiculous. We all like the same kind of stuff, we're all the same kind of people, why can't we just all say we're hardcore bands? At the same time, I understand people trying to classify things deeper. I think that's kind of a natural desire for people to really know exactly what everything is, but at the same time, I don't really care to do that. So people can write down every specific genre that we fall under to them, but at the end of the day, we're just a band that plays music.
Title Fight is scheduled to perform Saturday, November 10, at Nile Theater in Mesa.
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