Normally, if I’m looking for hardcore that is raging, funny, intense, thoughtful, pissed-off, primitive and raw, I’m gonna need to grab like half a dozen different records, but Hysterics cover all those bases at once. They’re a four-piece group from Olympia that seems hell-bent on injecting thoughtful rage into modern hardcore without any eggheaded pretense, a band you can feel good about getting injured by. If you haven’t checked them out already, they make it really easy for you: they’ve only released a 7″ and a demo, with a new 7″ coming soon (fingers crossed), and they frequently play out, occasionally in Vatican robes. Vocalist Stephie lays down some serious insight below.
Hysterics are from Olympia, right? I feel like that town is synonymous with certain sects of underground music, hardcore-punk not necessarily being one of them. Do you feel like the odd band out, or are we just past the point of regional scenes favoring one style of music over another?
Yeah, half of us live in Seattle now, but the band started in Olympia. A lot of peoples’ impressions of Olympia music are based on the late ’80s and early- to mid-’90s, K Records and so on, but Olympia has bred some of the best hardcore-punk (and beyond) bands of the last several years, and a lot of bands who have come out of a DIY state of mind but branched out far beyond the genre. Ever since I moved to town five years ago, its output has been consistently high-quality. We’ve never felt like the odd band out here. Maybe some regional scenes are still oriented more towards certain types of music, but with Olympia it seems to be more of a shared sensibility than an actual sound.
What other hardcore bands in Olympia would you recommend checking out?
Adjustment To Society, Gag, White Wards… I think Vex is the best band going, but they aren’t really a hardcore band. Nudes and Health Problems from Seattle too.
When you’re playing, what is your favorite mosh or dance move people do at your shows? What’s your least favorite?
Our favorite is people rolling on the floor, and Adriana and Jessica have been bringing it to other cities on tour to demonstrate their style and show the posers how it’s done. Good old-fashioned circle pits and stage dives are always still good, or just throwing your body across the room. Goons who just hit people on purpose are dumb.
Do you get lots of goons, or is that more of a rarity at your shows?
These days the goon factor is pretty low, but on our last American tour we got a goon or two like every few shows. If a person is being such a buffoon that it infringes on everyone else’s fun, we generally don’t let it slide and handle it accordingly. Depends what city we’re in, what kinds of bands we’re playing with, and what kinds of drugs people are on, occasionally combined with their level of sexual insecurity. The crummy thing about playing hardcore-punk and not having any men in your band is that when someone is being weird or violent toward you at your show, the weirdness or violence is almost always gendered in some way. Some guys try to assert their masculinity in strange ways, as if we have somehow de-nutted them by our mere existence, or as if we have some sort of agenda against them as human beings, which is extremely bizarre to us.
Were you all friends who decided to start a band together, or were you involved with other bands that eventually led to the creating of Hysterics?
Adriana, Shannen and I had been in other bands, and I was inspired by seeing Adriana sing in her band Outlook. Jess was a friend who had recently moved to town and we started the band more out of a desire to fulfill an idea than to combine forces on a musical level. Most of us had very little experience on our respective instruments (myself included, never having fronted a band before) so it was all about trying something new and hanging together as a group.
I feel like you rarely hear about a great new hardcore band forming where all the members are seasoned, ultra-talented musicians. Do you think “we started this band barely knowing how to play” is the most appropriate way to start a hardcore band?
Not necessarily, I think it has more to do with your attitude than your chops. Seeing a band that started without knowing how to play can be more interesting though; sometimes there’s more room for the unexpected.
Your Black Flag parody t-shirt is one of the most notable band shirts in the past couple years. I’ve heard a few stories of guys getting disturbed or grossed out by it. What do you make of that, when it seems like hardcore kids are more comfortable with photos of horrible war atrocities and murder than they are bloody tampons?
The fact that there’s any kind of discussion at all is good, I guess. The design was a pretty off-the-cuff idea thought up a few years ago, I never expected to get so much mileage out of it. I think lots of Americans, hardcore kids included, are pretty desensitized to war in general because usually it is safely on the other side of the ocean where it can’t interfere with their safety, health, or message board access. Yeah, I am still surprised at how shocked some of them are at the portrayal of something that half the human population experiences, but I guess that just means we were successful on that front. I should add that I love Black Flag, and it was more of an appropriation for the sake of being provocative than a parody.
Which Black Flag reunion this summer would you rather attend? I will also give you the third option of attending a ten-band, day-long grindcore fest instead.
I briefly entertained the idea of going to the Greg Ginn one, but I hear the one with Dukowski is supposedly pretty good! I take that with a grain of salt though. That was the last band I ever expected to re-form, besides maybe Minor Threat or something! The idea of seeing any incarnation of Black Flag removed from its initial time and place is mega weird. You would have to think of it as a completely separate entity. Grindcore is not my thing, but maybe I would take the ticket and give it to a friend who’s into it.
What would be worse: if Hysterics were considered a joke band and lots of people came to your shows, or if very few people came out at all?
I don’t know, that question is too exhausting to wrap my head around…
Your debut 7″ is available digitally on the M’lady’s Records Bandcamp page, and the two tags associated with it are “Brooklyn” and “punk”. What’s up with that?
I have no idea, I didn’t know we were even represented on Bandcamp until I looked it up just now. The label used to be based in Brooklyn, that’s all I can figure. Punk because we are punks, whatever that still means.
What’s next for Hysterics, record-wise?
Our next EP entitled Can’t I Live? will be out later this year on M’lady’s Records. Six songs, probably a 7″. It’s been a long time coming, as we’ve tried recording it a couple different times and weren’t satisfied, but now we’re really stoked on it. It’s almost done, I’m recording my vocals in a couple of days and then it just has to be mixed and mastered.
How many records could we conceivably expect from Hysterics? Is this a band that could have multiple LPs over time, or do you think it’s gonna be a quick burst of energy that stops before it ever mellows out?
Your guess is as good as mine… sometimes it feels like this band could break up tomorrow, sometimes it feels like it’ll last for years. Fundamentally we are all extremely close but we are terribly inefficient at generating a lot of material and getting it recorded in a timely manner. We wanted this next EP to be out like a year ago, we’ve been playing some of these new songs for so long that they are almost old to us now. But now that this second one is mostly done, I think could free up some energy to work on new material.
What show would you rather play – at a swank club where the sound is great and everyone can see you but it costs $20 to get in and there are annoying security guards and wrist-bands and $2 waters, or a show in a cramped basement run by punks where no one besides the front row can see the band performing with an awful PA?
Definitely the latter, even if it’s not a perfect situation. We’re never going to be sponsored by Scion or something.
Why not? If Scion said “here’s a few thousand bucks if we can use your songs and likeness in our ad”, what would stop you from saying yes? And why do you think so many hardcore/punk bands seemingly have no problem taking it?
Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but there’s still something icky about it to me. People are broke and they want money, I totally relate to that. And I think it gets even more complicated as people get older and they have kids and stuff. I work a retail job and live in a dirt-cheap apartment and I could definitely use a few thousand bucks, but I also don’t have a family to support or a bunch of medical bills or whatever, so I can afford to say no. The “selling out” argument seems dated and tired in most ways, but I also think there’s still a certain amount of personal integrity one maintains by not trading their music to corporations – especially if their music comes out of a movement that formed as a reaction against the status quo. When you tell the capitalists “no,” you keep strength and weight in the movement you are from. And do those corporations actually care about you what what you have to say? Of course not! They’re using it to sell a product, and they’ll keep trying to sell the product regardless of whether you help them by lending them your “cutting-edge,” “underground” aesthetic. It’s been this way for decades now. Some bands have gone that way and some have stayed, but it’s the ones who have stayed who have contributed to there being a lasting punk scene at all.
I don’t look down on people who take this kind of money because everyone has different circumstances, but if there really is a desperate situation, there can be other ways to do it too. A few days ago we played a four-day long festival at 924 Gilman St, which was a benefit for a few different causes but primarily to raise money to help pay off Sarah Kirsch’s medical debt. Lots of work went into the fest, but thousands and thousands of dollars were raised to help ease the burden on her family, everyone had a great time, and Scion was not involved.
Is that something you want Hysterics to be a part of – change for the greater good? I feel like the current prevailing underground hardcore trend is to be as much of a nihilistic, self-destructing mutant as you can, and I’m not sure where else that can go.
Yes, we want change! Not in a starry-eyed, humorless, self-congratulatory crusader type way, and not in an Obama way either, but if we can express ourselves and make the music we wanna make and open up some conversation in the process, then that’s great. Some of the self-destructive mutant bands are really good, but all trends come and go. Widespread injustice will still be there when the trend is over.