Harley Flanagan represents New York Hardcore to the fullest and he deserves every bit of success he has underneath his belt through out his entire thirty years of creating the best Hardcore Punk to ever come out of New York City. Harley is the true sound of the Cro-Mags! His brand new solo album will indeed make listeners hearts explode from its very own intensity!
Interview By Chad Thomas Carsten
From June 2016 Vandala Magazine
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Can you briefly describe what the average day in 1980’s New York was like?
Harley: That’s a big one to start off with. Laughs I’d have to take you back with a time machine. Everything was different. When I was a kid there were a lot of abandoned buildings, a lot of crimes, a lot of drugs, and a lot of criminal stuff going on in general. I don’t know if you’ve got a real look at my Facebook page, but I just posted a couple articles and photographs from back then. One of the photographs is by the gentlemen John Conn, which is on the cover of my new record and the story is entitled “When The New York City Subway Was The Most Dangerous Place On Earth”. If you read those past stories it’s really true, it was a different world! Back in my neighborhood you always had a knife or something in your pocket, because sometimes that might be the difference in you getting home or not. To be honest, (New York City) it’s starting to get a little weird again. Random slashings have gone up. As nice as the city has gotten in the last 20-30 years, you still got to remember you’re in a big city and a lot of crazy shit will go down.
You’ve been making music for over 30 years, what exactly keeps you motivated to keep on making kick ass music to this day?
Harley: I think it’s some kind of mental disorder. The fact is I always have cord progressions and time signatures just running through my head. If I don’t try to figure them out/don’t try to play them, they will drive me crazy! I will stay up all night with them in my head. If that’s not some sort of mental disorder, then I don’t no what is. (Laughs) What the result is I play instruments /my bass guitar everyday and I try to write riffs/ write and play songs everyday. Every now and then I get lucky enough to get into the recording studio and track with friends of mine and make some music. That’s the way it is. It’s a part of me. It always has been. I’ve been doing this my whole life.
How does the bass guitar reflect who you are personally?
Harley: There is something about the instrument and the way it feels to play it that really appeals to me. It’s a little bit more thumping and driving than guitar in certain respects. It’s definitely more percussive. As a drummer (I love playing drums too) I have connection to it rhythmically. I play my acoustic guitar everyday. I try to bring that same type of rhythmic drive into what I write on the guitar. I do a lot of other weird stuff on the guitar too. A lot of arpeggiated circular rhythm type of stuff, ya know, odd time signatures. It’s art! Just like drawing or martial arts, you gotta embrace it and make it your own.
What’s the main reason behind titling your solo album “Cro-Mags”?
Harley: Well, there were a few reasons, but for the main reason I feel that the name Cro-Mags really has been getting misused and it’s been dragged through the mud for a real long time. That’s something that I came up with/I was the person who came up with that name. I was the main songwriter and the main lyricist. The band that John McGowan has been performing with the last how many years doesn’t have any of the original Cro-Mags songwriters in it. So, they’ve been basically playing songs that I wrote thirty years ago and masquerading as the Cro-Mags. People have been paying money to see a fraudulent act with a singer that joined the band after all those songs were written. Basically, that’s kinda my way of reclaiming what was mine. I’m not trying to disrespect anybody by doing it; I just think it’s more genuine. I’m still writing songs that still have that same signature style, because I was the songwriter. So, I’m just reclaiming what I feel is mine by using that name.
Which past metal and punk albums did you listen to for inspiration behind your solo?
Harley: The inspiration is in my blood from all these years! I still listen to the same music I listened to in the early days [Laughs] I honestly avoid listening to anything new hardcore or whatever is new in the metal scene, because I don’t want that to accidently seep into my brain and influence with how I write. I don’t want my music to turn into fly by night/play of the week bullshit! I want to stay true with what comes out of me and what comes out of me is my experience growing up in New York City!
Where was the album primarily recorded at and any behind the scene studio details that you’d like to share?
Harley: I did it at HoboRico Studios in Hoboken, New Jersey and Pete Thompson was the co-producer and engineer, Pete also did some guitar leads. I went in with my acoustic guitar, quick tracked and I laid down most of the songs. And then at a different time I went in with a drummer (that I known from jujitsu and has a black belt) and him and I laid down the bass & the drums together over the same tracks. Then I had Sean Kilkenny from Dog Eat Dog lay down some guitar, as well as Gabriel Abularach (who had tracked Alpha Omega with me), Albert Romano, and Pablo Silvia on drums. I basically had friends come in to basically do guitars, because although I did them on acoustic I’m not really a guitarist. I would never try. Once you plug it in and try to track with it, it’s a totally different animal. My fingers don’t have the dexterity for that type of stuff.
Can we get into the details behind the album cover and how it represents your own life/music?
Harley: It represents my music because the picture represents New York in the 80’s (which is when I grew up). Which is basically when the sound that I still play really came together and when I really got my signature sound. What I was looking for was something that really represented New York and gave you the feel of the city. I stumbled upon that photograph and I was like “This is it!” It’s just funny that the album cover is what it is with the Webster Hall incident being so recent. Pure coincidence.
First thoughts that rushed through your mind when you found out the case dealing with the Webster Hall incident was thrown out of court?
Harley: [Laughs] I really can’t even put it into words, but it was a big relief! There was still a lot from the fall out. It took some time for things to eventually even out and pan out and for me to actually start moving ahead/forward. But things are going really good for me right now! It’s going better than they’ve ever had in my life in a lot of respect. Sometimes you have to have major trauma and devastation in your life to really breakaway from all the negative shit and really rebuild stronger and better. That’s what I have now. I’m rebuilding my life with better foundation. I have a lot of better people around me now. When all that shit went down I saw who really mattered/who was really there for me. When I re-built my life I realized who I should keep in it and knew who to discharge. Because of the trials and tribulations I’m in a much better/much stronger place!
Was the reason why you kept the album below 25 minuets a way to keep the hardcore classic feel? And be straight to the point?
Harley: That’s why I wrote all the songs short and to the point. I would have liked the album to be 30 minuets, but I ran over the budget/ran out of funds. I didn’t have the ability to track anymore. So, it wound up being what it was and I was like “So what, f*ck it! This is totally old school!” Kinda like the Circle Jerk’s first album, which just comes in and kicks you in the balls, punches you in the jaw and walks over you. I should say more like, runs over you!
For those who haven’t heard the new record, what does the lyrical content primarily focus on?
Harley: Basically, I’m the kind of writer that writes about my true-life experiences and what I’ve witnessed myself. I’m not a fantasy lyricist. A lot of people out there write a lot of bullshit they’ve never actually gone through. Unfortunately, I was going through some pretty hard times (no pun intended) at that time and that came out in the lyrics. I’m in a much better place in my life right now. So, I can’t really say where the lyrics are going to be at on my next record, but I do know the music’s gonna be ripping, because i’ve already (not in the studio) recorded/written/demoed like eight or nine new songs. I think they’re far above and beyond where I’ve been before and I can’t wait to get back into the studio!
Is the final product of your solo album everything you wanted and hoped for? How satisfied are you?
Harley: I’m pretty satisfied with it, but as any artist probably only 80 percent or so. I would have liked to add a couple more parts in there, but as stated before I ran out of budget. I would have liked to add more additional guitar work too, but you know what, I’m a “don’t look back” kind of musician at this point. I always feel like there is more music to record and write a head, rather than pissing and moaning over things not turning out the way you wanted them to. God knows the quality didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. But with that in mind, move onward and forward and try to make a better record next time. That keeps you striving for something better. It sucks, but at the same time it’s a good thing!
Can you give us a little sneak peak preview of what the first chapter of your book Hardcore Life of My Own will focus on? And do you have plans on turning it into a full on motion picture?
Harley: That was never my intention, but it has come up several times. When Anthony Bourdain read my book that was one of the first things he said; “When this movie comes out, whoever plays your mother is going to be nominated for an Oscar”. I had never mentioned anything about a movie prior. When he said that I thought; “Maybe this book is something! Maybe it’s going to be more than I thought when I first starting writing it?!” When I first started writing, it was just me letting people know about my real life from my own words, because I knew one day when I’m dead and gone (just like every other musician) some other asshole tells your story. I knew they would get it wrong and I knew they were gonna lie! They would misrepresent me and misrepresent the real truth. So I decided I’m going to tell my story for no other reason than just to tell it and let people know the true story. People always told me I should write my life down and I finally did! Laughs The first chapter is about the day at Webster Hall and then from there it goes back to my childhood. And that’s pretty much how the book starts.
What do you look forward to most when performing on stage and for those who have never seen you live what can they expect?
Harley: The thing I look forward to the most whenever I play is interacting (first and foremost) with the other players. Then secondly, interacting with the audience. But I mean truthfully, there is less interaction with the crowd than what it used to be. At this point in my life I’m really not so interested in the people who are perceiving whatever it is they’re perceiving. I’m interested in the interaction with the other players. I don’t want to sound so jaded, but ya know, the audience and their expectations, values, and their perceptions of things have changed so much since the old days, that a lot of the shit that goes on at today’s shows don’t interest me. But playing does! I put out a hundred and ten percent every time that I play a show. I definitely don’t disappoint people. I’ll tell you that right now! Every time that I play there is a chance that I’ll explode and you’ll be scraping up my inners off your face!
Is there any advice to musicians on how to keep pushing forward and move past the struggle?
Harley: Yes. Don’t quit your f*cking day job. Laughs But you know what?! I’ll say the same thing I say to my kids! Create as many options as you possibly can for yourself. Because you don’t really know what will finally work out in the end.
Read more interviews, reviews, and other features free in June 2016 Vandala Magazine