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American Standard Interview
By Daina Kazmaier
(more articles from this author)
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American Standard Interview

Bill Dolan - vocals
Matt Dolan - guitar
J. Colangelo - drums
Mark Abney - bass

The New American Standard Classics seems to be an aptly fit record title for a band that has seen it all but keeps on driving forward to replenish the New York hardcore scene with some damn good music. Veterans of the game, American Standard are preparing for the release of their new album followed by plenty of touring.

In a recent interview, I discovered what keeps the band going after twelve years. Not surprisingly, it's what the true scene is all about- the fans, the love, and above all, the music.

[Daina] How long have you guys been together as a band?

[Bill] I guess about twelve years now. Our first show was in '87.

[Daina] Why do you still do this? What drives you to keep going?

[Bill] Well for me, I know that what we do is good, and just speaking for me I feel we support the scene and we continue to do so and it means a lot to certain people. We never started the band to become rich and famous but I'm continually amazed by people that I've never known in my life saying how much they like the band. That's all I need to keep going. Record sales or videos or whatever don't mean much. The fact that we're respected by people that we respect is all that matters to me.

[Daina] How often do you play out?

[Bill] Lately we've been working on other projects and stuff like that. Jay and Matt went out on tour with Underdog so we took a little time off. Once this new record comes out in January or February, we'll start touring again. We thought we had the record completely finished, and then we ended up going back into it and making changes. It doesn't matter how much you think you're ready to go into the studio, you're always second guessing yourself. Every record you do, no matter how much people like it, you listen to it on your own and cringe at certain parts. But you've got to let go of it sometime, otherwise it'll never come out.

[Daina] Yeah, you'll be there forever doing it. So how did you guys all meet and start up the band?

[Matt] If it wasn't for J., the band wouldn't exist. He was living in one town and he called me up in another town, and I didn't even know who he was, and he was like..." I hear you listen to punk rock.." And back when we were kids, there were only like three people in every high school that listened to any hardcore punk rock stuff. You'd get beat up routinely. I remember going to hardcore shows at CBGB's and you'd see kids in each town getting on the train to go to the show. And J. started it up.

[J.] It's funny, the kid I knew that played guitar told me that 'I think this guy Matt Dolan plays guitar, I'm not sure.' It turned out that Matt didn't play guitar.

[Matt] Well, I did play a little, but I was more into pumping out bar chords. We'd get together and just play Ramones songs all day because they're pretty easy for someone who had played guitar for about two days. And the rest, we basically just got together. It was like, 'wow, someone else who listens to punk rock!' And we asked my brother to sing because he had already been going to hardcore shows way before I even got into it...back in 1980...

[Bill] Actually there was another singer before me, but it wasn't American Standard. It was these guys and they had some song like 'Poison Ice Cream.'

[Matt] Yeah, when we started, J. was kinda metal, he was into Exodus, Slayer, way early Celtic Frost, and I wasn't really. J. was L'amours, I was CBGB's. And all his lyrics were pretty sacrilegious since he went to Catholic high school. (To J.): You can still do the death metal kind of thing....

[J.] I haven't given up on my dream yet.

[Daina] Where'd you play your first show?

[Matt] Washington DC. That was where our biggest influences were- the DC scene. Dag Nasty, Fugazi, bands like that. We were really inspired by that because it wasn't as 'aggro' as the New York scene was. There starting to call bands Emo-core now, and they were calling them Emo-core back in '95.

[Bill] We were technically part of the NY hardcore scene, but we were one of the more melodic bands in the scene. We became friendly with a lot of the DC bands. A lot of people thought we were a DC band for a long time, just because of the way we sounded. When we first started to play, you couldn't go to a mall to find hardcore records. You had to go to the city or somewhere else that sold obscure stuff. That's because there wasn't MTV that you could put on and see all these bands. There was a south Los Angeles sound, there was a San Francisco sound, there was a DC sound, there was a NY sound, and there's definitely a Chicago sound with bands like Pegboy and Naked Raygun. And now that it's so out there and available for everyone, you have bands on the East coast that sound like Blink 182 or something like that who are huge now. But there are bands out there who are doing the exact same thing and sound the same but are unknown because they came around at the wrong time. That's how we got into the DC sound- there was definitely a city associated with every sound.

[Daina] Do you cover any songs at shows?

[Bill] We always try to mix it up, we've been known for our live show so we always like to have one or two covers to play to surprise people. Everything from Motorhead to Minor Threat to Cheap Trick to Kiss to Queen. We're definitely not a cover band that you go and start dancing to. We're totally original.

[Daina] When was the last time you played a show?

[Bill] A few months ago we played a was shut down by the fire department, so it was good (laughter). We played well, but I think we kinda fucked things up. Ever since then, we've basically been doing the record which we just want to focus on and get it out. We pretty much figured it would take all summer to do it, and it did take the entire summer.

[Daina] Do you have a title for the new record yet?

[Bill] Yeah it's called the New American Standard Classics. And I guess the main reason we're calling it that is because the toilet company came after us. Technically the name of the band now is the 'AS' symbol we always use. All the future records will have 'American Standard' in the title of the records. We're the 'artists formerly known as American Standard.' There are Christian rock bands coming called the New American Standard- it's a bible reference.

[Daina] What about the songwriting process? Who writes the songs?

[J.] It's everybody- we all do, we were just working on a new one before you came in. I would say more often than not it's Matt who comes with an idea- a riff. It's not like we sit down with paper and pen, it's all in our head.

[Mark] Bill never comes to practice with vocals and sings- and we definitely do not complete the song and bring it to the band, it all happens at practice. It's not like, 'this is my song, let's play it this way.' We're pretty democratic about that.

[Daina] Who have you toured with?

[Bill] We've played with a lot of bands who we respect- Dag Nasty, Circle Jerks, Murphy's Law, Down by Law, Nashville Pussy, Underdog, Scream with Dave Grohl.

[Daina] Have you been across the nation on tour?

[Bill] A couple of times, we've been across and up into Canada. We'll see what happens with this new record, we'll definitely be out playing.

[Daina] And Dave Smalley (of Down By Law) produced your upcoming release?

[Bill] Yeah, Dave Smalley, Rob Grenoble and John Agnello.

[Daina] What was it like working with Dave?

[Bill] Dave's an old friend, and he actually called us saying he wanted to be a part of the new record. We were really excited because he really understands the band and the way we sound. It definitely helped out in a big way. He just got it. In the past sometimes we've worked with people who understood a genre of music, but he just understood our band. It's refreshing also when you're in the middle of a song and he's just like 'whoa, hold on,' and he'll put on the guitar and sing and it sounds great. He just knew where our minds were at. When we dropped references, he knew what we were talking about. Not because he did his homework, but because he lived it. And we're totally 100% behind every aspect of this record- the recording, designs, songs, everything. If you compare that to our first record, which a lot of people still like...we recorded that at Chung King House of Metal where the Beastie Boys and Run DMC and all these rap bands recorded, and the engineer was blown away that we brought in a live drumset. We just came in and blazed through it- we were tight as hell, but it wasn't really a good environment to create the kind of record that we wanted to create. We were young back then though. He (the producer) said, "How many songs do you want to do today?" And we said, "The entire album. Can we get to work?" And he's like, "Oh, shit!"

[Daina] So how many albums does this new one make?

[Bill] This will be our fourth. We have a few 7" and compilations in between but this will be our fourth.

[Daina] Who are your influences?

[Bill] A lot of people we've toured with. Everyone in the band has never been into just hardcore or just speedmetal. I'm proud of the fact that me and Matt grew up with our dad's diverse record collection, everything from Led Zeppelin, Tibetan Monks, all over the place. Mark and J. are the same way, brought up with all these different styles. We just like music. We don't consider ourselves even one type of band...just very loud rock, whether or not it's Emo or melodic or hardcore, that's for everyone out there to decide. It's not what I think about. All our lyrics are about emotional things, and that's what I like about it. People interpret lyrics different ways amongst themselves. That's what it's about- what they get out of the music.

[Daina] So tell me about Maggadee Records, the band's label...

[Bill] It started off as let's help out a band, cause we've seen bands screwed over by labels. And then it kind of grew into this next generation. It's not a huge label at all at this point but we have a few distributors and people who want to get behind it. So we decided we have a couple of new releases coming out, and we've been through working with other labels and there are people who want to put out our new record. We've never had trouble controlling what we did, so let's try and do it on our own and see how it goes. We've never done that before, but we want to make sure we have control over it. We don't expect to be on MTV or anything like that, so let's just do what we know. And we know all these bands, Bad Religion, Agnostic Front, countless other bands, and lets let our friends know that we have another record and see what happens.

[Matt] It's been a great learning process too. All that stuff that has to be done that we never we know what happens. It feels really good. And people are really behind it. We're really involved on a day to day process and it's going to get more crazy as the record's about to come out, radio, publicity, and all these other things going on, but it's totally cool because it's 100% us.

[Daina] So you have other bands signed to your label?

[Bill] Yeah, this (American Standard's new record) will be the eleventh release, we've done a couple of 7". One of the bigger bands is Murph from upstate NY. They've done a couple of tours, they went out with Agnostic Front and Underdog. They're great. We've done a bunch of 7" with people we like, we did a split 7" with American Standard and Shades Apart, we did an EP with a local band. That's the thing about the label, too. With some labels, when you buy the record, you know exactly what it will sound like because there's only a finite spectrum they work with. Our label is never going to be that way- it's always going to be about a) helping out bands, but also b) whatever we like and believe in. Who ever is doing something unique- not what's popular. I could name ten bands that we could put out 7" for right now that would sell thousands and thousands of copies just because of their name and that's not what we're interested in. There are a lot of bands that deserve it that could never put out their own record. It's about helping these bands that totally deserve it and have nothing.

[Daina] City Gardens in Trenton, originally one of the great places to see hardcore shows. Is that still there?

[Bill] Yeah, but they don't do shows like they used to. The big places for hardcore are NY, Trenton, and Philadelphia. That was one of the bigger places- not as big as Roseland, but still one of the bigger places. And they actually drew from NY. I don't think they'd ever get that again, the mass amounts of people that drove down from the city- we did- we used to get cars packed with twenty kids to go to City Gardens. That was about an hour drive for us. We saw a lot of bands there, Dag Nasty, many....great shows.

[Daina] So what do you all do besides the band?

[Bill] I work on websites, Mark is a corporate video editor, J. and Matt run a bar in Hoboken on Washington Street. (Louie's and Jerry's, down the street from Maxwell's) J. also does a lot of drum stuff, he works with John Agnello with recording bands and setting up equipment and working with drummers in the studio.

[Daina] Who do you think your biggest supporters have been over the years?

[Bill] Jim Testa- he's been great. We were even considering calling the record Testa. I have to find the first letter he sent us, he's one of the all time greats. I'm astounded on a week to week basis with his energy. As far as traveling around the country and meeting with other 'zine editors, he's an all-time great. He's phenomenal. There's no one more connected or that just continually does not give up with supporting bands. And we're not just talking about us, we talking about any new, virgin band out there. Some 'zine editors, once they get a taste of glory, like, "I interviewed Bush!" totally abandon it. He's always been about the real deal. How can anyone not have respect for that?

So he's one of them that supports us- it's just friends who show up at the shows, other bands, Quicksand, H2O, all these different bands that we's like 'oh, thanks, shouldn't you be playing the enormo-dome, or whatever..' But it's great when they come out and support us.

[Daina] How did you guys meet Jim?

[Bill] I sent him our demo and he wrote us a letter he really liked it, and he would always show up at our shows. He lives right at the top of the hill, so we see him a lot.

[Daina] Have any of you been in other bands?

[Matt] We've played with a few other bands. I think it's easier for a drummer to go to another band then it is for a guitarist or a bass player...

[J.] But nobody wants to carry all that shit!

[Matt] You can't fudge a note, so yeah, J's actually done a lot more things. Underdog, Footstone, who had an amazing lead singer who moved to Texas and that was the end of that. And J.'s been all over the place.

[J.] Iron Lung, Crashwagon (at the Pipeline in Newark)...there's so many bands. That's how it's done though, you hook up with other bands, they play a show here, you go up to Baltimore or wherever they're from and play there. The networking, that's how it's done. That's what makes it so much fun.

[Daina] So what is American Standard listening to now?

[Bill] Merle Haggard, the new U2, the new Deftones record, Alkaline Trio, the new Get Up Kids, I love that record. I have a soft spot in my heart for the more wimpy Emo bands that we don't sound like but I do like their stuff. You know the guy with the glasses who was the biggest geek but now has the hottest girl...I do like those bands.

[J.] The new Iron Maiden. I like the new Blue Tip a lot, Slayer, Sweet Diesel. There's so many great bands out there.

[Daina] What are your future plans for American Standard?

[Bill] This record...we just can't wait to get it out and play. That's as far as our sights are set right now. Get this record out and play as many shows as possible. And then put out another record after that. We're already writing songs for it.

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