Saturday, February 16, 2008

Jason Mazzola / Interview

I first met Jason in the winter of '02/'03 when I drove his old band Count Me Out on part of their first (and last) European tour. I loved Count Me Out as a band and as people, had an awesome time on that tour and quickly bonded with Jason as we seemed to share a love for a bunch of the finer things in life, such as "Illmatic", second hand shirts, Fred Perry gear and Clarks Wallabees. We kept in touch throughout the years and got to hang whenever I was in the States. A few years ago both him and Colin returned to the stage with their new band Cloak/Dagger and as soon as I heard their demo I was hooked. Their album "We Are" was one of my favourite records to come out in '07. Cloak/Dagger toured Europe for the first (and hopefully not last) time in December last year and I joined them for about a week on that tour... Kinda like a reunion tour. It was fun. A little after that I sent Jason a bunch of question, here's what he had to say.

Jason, what's up? How's life been since you got back from Cloak/Dagger's Euro tour?
Right now I'm just trying to work as much as possible to pay off all the debt I got in on tour and pay my bills without actually being held down by a full time job. It's always hard to come back home and get bills taken care of after tours.

How did the tour go in general? What were some of the best shows and some the most exciting places you visited? How different was the experience of touring Europe in late '07 with Cloak/Dagger from the European tour Count Me Out did 5 years earlier?
I thought for our first trip over seas that we did well. I think we were playing to people that had never heard us for the most part and the response was over all good. Some shows we would play to people that had no interest in us but that is part of touring. Money wise it was a hard tour for us, it seemed that we were just working towards paying off everyone but ourselves for the trip over there. The van, the equipment, the merch, work permits for the UK, the ferry to the UK all added up fast. It's not that we expected to make money from the tour but we didn't think we would lose money. We were able to pay off everyone but not all of the plane tickets so thanks to everyone that bought a shirt or cd, that's where the money went. The difference between this tour and the CMO tour is that the Dagger is not an edge band so it made for a lot more crazy nights. We had also been to some of the cities and countries before so we knew what to expect but it was still exciting to see them again and see some familiar faces also. I would say that best shows were Milan, Budapest and I think it was Nurnberg where we had our best German show. With the CMO we got a chance to see some of the tourist spots which I would have liked to see more of on this trip instead of just seeing clubs.

You did a full US tour prior to the European one, I remember you telling me it was quite rough and exhausting. How hard is it for a smaller band like you guys, with members all in their late 20's and early 30's, to be on the road for so long? How do you manage?
Yeah the US tour was a rough one for us. It was thrown together kind of last minute but we wanted to get out and tour as soon as we could in support of the new cd. In the end we made it to California and back but didn't get to play a lot of cities that we wanted to on the way and when we were over there. The main point of touring is to hopefully come back to places you played before and have people remember you. We played some good shows here and there but it was a lot of money to get to the other side of the country and I don't know if it was worth it. When we got home we had rent and repairs to make to the van and merch debt and kids talking us to death about being on Jade Tree being rock stars and how much money we make so that was annoying. It was tough to get money together between the tours but it all worked out somehow.

While Cloak/Dagger is not a hardcore band per se, you still are very attached to that scene seeing where you guys and a big chunk of the crowd that comes out to see you, come from. How do you feel about that?
Over here a lot of the shows we play there are only a handful of people there that are familiar with our old bands and who are into what we are doing now. It's cool when core kids come out who appreciate what we are doing now and have an open mind to a different style of "hardcore" but it's also cool when someone that has no interest in hardcore gets into our band too. Either way I'm just happy when people show up to our shows.

Who were the driving forces behind the formation of Cloak/Dagger? What was the initial idea or the inspiration do a band like this one? And where the hell did you get that band name?
Drummer Colin just said we're going to do a band called Cloak/Dagger and we want you to sing for us, no real meaning behind the name. It was a band that was started in between practices for Renee Heartfelt and that no one really took serious at first. Guitarist Collin wrote all of the songs so he's the main force behind the band and still is. I handle all the lyrics, booking, merch and other nonsense. Our goal was to play some shows on the weekend and put out a demo when we first started and we didn't really plan anything after that but once we started playing out things took off.

"We Are", your debut album, has been out for a while now on Jade Tree / Reflections. How has the record been doing, I mean do you feel like it has reached the people that need to hear it? What was some of the most interesting/surprising feedback you got on it?
It's been out for six months now and we have gotten a lot of good feedback on the record. We got good reviews in AP, Decibel and Pitchfork didn't trash it and they hate everything so that surprised me. I think that we need to get it pressed on vinyl so that it can get to people that have no interest in buying mp3's or cd's. True punkers don't buy cd's. That is something that is in the works now and if all goes well it can be out in the next couple months. I read a lot of reviews where they described the lyrics and music and they got exactly what we were going for which was refreshing. We've also had a lot of different comparisons like B-52's, Avail, Minor Threat, Fugazi, Pixies in reviews which I don't think we sound like but it is cool to see.

Rumour has it that during the "We Are" sessions you also recorded a bunch of other songs (and a cover possibly?)... Is that true? If so when will those tracks see the light of day? Is there a new release in the works featuring those songs?
We did record three songs that aren't on the lp and a cover by Modern Lovers. Alex from Grave Mistake is releasing the cover as a b-side on a two song 7" for us that should be out in March. It's going to be a two song single and Kamikazes is going to be the A side which was released on the lp. I think the other songs were ok but didn't hold up to the lp songs. We have already written five new songs since the lp and I think we're just going to keep writing. I'm sure those old songs will be released one day but we have no plans to release them any time soon.

Obviously you are a couple of years older than when you were in Count Me Out now. Do you feel like you are still pretty much the same person or not really? How has your mindset and your general outlook on life changed during those years, if it has changed at all?
I wouldn't say I'm the same person as I was five years ago. I still love playing shows and hanging out with the same people I did five years ago but my outlook on music has changed since that time. It took me a while to get out of the mindset of recording with so and so to make the best record possible or trying to tour with this band or that band and getting on the right shows whatever that means. With the help of Collin I realized sometimes all that is nonsense. Also I'm a bit older and a bit wiser but really still the same person. Now I just worry about the future a little more since I'm not getting any younger.

How would you describe yourself as a person in 5 keywords?
Shy, strange, happy, optimistic, content.

Count Me Out was quite a popular band at the time and was also known to be a straight edge band, while everyone but you is no longer straight edge now. Is that weird? How do you look back on Count Me Out and what you accomplished and recorded with that band now?
I loved the CMO and still do. I have nothing but fond memories of that time period of my life. We had a great time playing shows and hanging out together and I still hang out with Garth and Colin almost every day now and those are going to be my friends for life. I'm sure that there are some people that think it's strange that everyone drinks but me now but I don't really ever think of that or think it takes away from anything that we did as a band. I don't think of anyone differently I just think of them as my friends I don't think about if they are edge or not these days. I'm proud of most everything we recorded as a band but I think we could have done another record after Permanent that perfected what we were going for but it would have been unfair to record something that we weren't 100% behind and when we broke up Garth had Strike Anywhere going full force and Colin, Pete and Charlie were ready to move on to Renee.

Most of the people I talk to seem to prefer "110" to "Permanent", mostly because of the recording/production on the latter. What is your opinion? When you compare both records, how would you say they differ from each other musically and lyrically? What are some of your favourite tracks on both?
Now that some time has passed I can see the difference in the two records. "110" was more of a revival record and a straight up edge record that you could put next to some of the bands we played with at that time like In My Eyes and Time Flies but a little more mean sounding. "Permanent" was us trying to push the boundaries on hardcore but still sticking to the formula. It's a hard call to say which one I like better I haven't heard either of them in a long time. "110" was a record where we knew what song order we wanted it in, we knew where we wanted feedback, back ups and we were full on ready to record that when it was time to. "Permanent" we tried to do something a little different and just wrote song after song and didn't think about how the finished lp would sound. I stumbled on the vocals for that record for the first couple songs we tried so I had Brian roll the whole record start to finish and keep it all as one take since time was short. I was very proud of how that came out, it doesn't sound processed or not real to me. After that lp came out we started to get bigger since more then just edge kids could now get into us since the songs weren't so straight forward and the lyrics were kept vague. I'm going to have to say I'm going with "110" for the good memories of our first US tour behind that lp and how amped we were to tour. Off of "110" I would say the best tracks are "What We Built" and "Always Have", for "Permanent" I think that "Against The World" might be the best song we wrote as a band. I heard people have debated between the two records and I love that people like either record enough to talk about it years later.

The last ever Count Me Out show, with the shirts and ties and "Count Me Out Is Fucking Dead" spraypainted on the bass drum seems to have become a fond memory in the minds of those who were there. What are your thoughts on that last show? How was it? How did you experience it?
I think that the last show was everything we wanted it to be. At the time every band who broke up was making a big deal of their last shows and making it a real event with a lot of promotion behind it. We did ours unannounced and it was a sold out show. Word did spread that it was going to be our last show but it was also a surprise to everyone that was there and Striking Distance played a few songs before we played. Dressing up in the shirts and ties and spray painting the bass drum was all done last minute but it all turned out perfect. It was a real emotional show and at the end of the set there were kids who were crying because to them it was the end of an era and to me that was very flattering. It was cool to have traveled all over the world and then to come back and play to the people that would have been there to see us anyway and who didn't know it was our last show. From the first note it was just dive after dive and it was non stop through the set. When I've seen photos from that show it always reminds me of how packed that show was and how perfect everything went.

Was Count Me Out your first band? Or did you venture into the world of doing hardcore bands before that?
CMO was my first serious band. I tried to get bands going before but nothing ever got serious enough to record or have a good amount of songs written.

Count Me Out also did it's fair share of touring... What were some of the tours that stand out the most so many years later? I seem to remember the idea for "110" as an album title being born on a tour you did with Time Flies... True? Please explain.
That's true. We were thrown on a tour with Time Flies and Death By Stereo but it was really just us jumping on 2 or 3 shows that would take us to California and back. Before we left I had a talk with Tru from Malfunction and he was saying look this is your first tour you need to give it a 110% every night even if there is no one there. You need to make every show count and he got that from the Get In The Van book when Greg Ginn tells Henry he didn't care if 5 or 50 people showed up they were there to play as hard as they could. We did give it all we had for 3 shows and then broke down in Texas and we had to cancel pretty much the rest of our tour but it only made us want to make it to the west coast even more. After that record came out we made it to the west coast I think 4 times total. I think that first tour to the west coast off of 110 was a great time and everything was very exciting and new to us. Also the last tour we did of the US where we had to throw together a line up which was Pete back on drums since Colin was in American Nightmare, Curtis Williams from Time Flies on guitar and Charlie was kind of a strange tour. We didn't have 2 guitars or Garth with us since he was doing Strike Anywhere and that just didn't feel right. The second half of that tour we had Colin back on drums with us and it was a lot better, that was with Suicide File and The Hope Conspiracy and that was the first and last "good" tour we were ever on.

Tell me about Richmond! I know you love it and I know you also tried to leave it once but were drawn back to it soon after... What makes Richmond so cool? What are some of your favourite things about it? Fav eating spots? Shops?
Richmond is the best city in the world. Everyone is poor but happy and rent is cheap, everyone knows each other by name or at least by face and everyone hangs out especially in the summer time. Here there is an Vietnamese place called Mekong, a Mexican spot called El Corporal and Edo's Squid is an awesome spot for my Italian roots. In Carytown there is Need which is a cool smaller store next to Plan 9 which is an awesome record store and my room mate Rudy owns a store called Henry that is a smaller sneaker boutique that I work at sometimes.

What was it like growing up in Richmond as a teenager? How did you get exposed to hardcore/punk? What was your average day as 16 year old like?
I actually grew up outside of DC and that's where I first started going to shows and came down to Richmond for art school. I think my first show I saw in DC was Fugazi for free and my first real hardcore show was Lifetime with Ressurection. I wasn't sure if I liked the core too much then but then I heard and saw 4 Walls Falling and after that I was hooked. At 16 I think I would just go to school, come home and go skating all day long and hang out at gas stations eating chips, it ruled!

When did you start going to shows? What were some of the first shows you saw? What bands made the most impact on you? Was there any specific band that made you decide you wanted to be do a band too?
I started going to hardcore shows in '93 but I always loved music before that I just never thought about going to shows and being a part of it before getting into hardcore. Some of the first shows I went to were Lifetime, Avail, Earth Crisis, Outspoken, Worlds Collide, Snapcase, Sick Of It All. I think the band that made the most impact on me and made me want to start a band was Time Flies. That was the first band that was made up of friends that actually played shows with bigger bands and wrote good music.

Please comment or share your ideas on the following:
Morrissey. The myth. The legend.
Mozzer, I haven't kept up with him too much lately although I found a tour shirt at a thrift store for five dollars this week that's like 2 euro!

Italy. Your ancestors. Your Italian - how is it these days?
Haha, as you know I speak fluent Italian and can do everything from ask for ferry tickets, order food and communicate for directions with no problem at all. Milan was by far the best show of the Dagger tour!

Nas naming his new record "Nigger"?
I think it's a bit too much. He doesn't need to do anything to draw attention to himself he can sell records without trying to stir up any controversy. Him and Kelis wore Nigger shirts on the grammys to promote the record and it just looked like it was done in poor taste. Let's just hope he delivers like "Stillmatic" on this one.

The Burn reunion in the late 90's in Richmond...
That was a good show but not as crazy as it should have been. Barfight opened up for the show and the response was alright but nothing too crazy. Tru grabbed a chair off of stage and threw it at the crowd and then someone threw that same chair back and it broke Mike's guitar. The best Burn reunion show I saw was in NYC at Coney Island that was awesome. CMO played with Burn in Jersey and in Philly and they were both decent shows. The Richmond show was good but really all I remember is Tru throwing that chair and hurting someone.

Four Walls Falling playing a reunion show at United Blood Fest in March?
If it happens I will be there, they had a reunion a while back and it was good but I could definitely see it again. I see Taylor from time to time and he's still cool as always and is into the Dagger.

Nike. The company. The shoes.
Nike. I can see why people hate on Nike, the marketing, the sweat shops but I love them. I love the limited release of some of the shoes and because of them I'm able to buy shoes and sell them for more money on Ebay so I can make rent. Some of the limited SB's they come out with just look like baby shoes but Jordans are classic. I'm way into the retro Jordan stuff and finding it at thrift stores is even better. I'm into dunks but they are not my main Nike, Blazers are good and Jordans of course and you can't go wrong with a pair of Air Max 90's. People look at Nike and think of big corporations but I think any of the bigger shoe companies even skate shoe companies are just as bad. Just do it!

Chain Of Strength.
The Chainer. Legends. I was talking with someone the other day and I realized that the seven inches they had were just perfect, the recording, the emotion it all just fell into place and people have tried to but can't recreate that sound. It's very hollow and real. I think it was just a time and a place thing where everything was meant to be. The live show videos were always awesome to watch although I have seen bad videos of them live, everyone has off nights I guess!

The new Wu-Tang album... Yay or nay?
Haven't checked it out yet but they played Richmond and Method Man wasn't even there. I was lucky enough to see them in their sort of peak at a festival.

Hot Snakes and the endless comparison Cloak/Dagger gets to them?
I don't really mind the Snakes comparison as much as the comparisons we get to The Bronx. I think if people hear loud guitars and screaming they say "oh yeah like The Bronx".

Urban Outfitters?
I worked there for almost two years and I had a great time working there but it is bullshit. On the other hand the sales are crucial and I have bought my fair share of Nikes for $10, Vans for $5 and limited clothes to sell on Ebay. One month they did a 75% off sale and I made $1200 on Ebay off of that!

That's it. Thank you for your time. Any final comments?
Thanks again for being a good friend through the years and keeping in touch. Thanks again to everyone that came to see our band play when we toured that way and please come see us if we make it back again!