In New York City punk is alive and well, and that is at least in part because of Ezra Kire. He was an important part of the ‘Crack Rock Steady’ scene, which was spawned from the city’s “squatta” movement – despite NY’s “housing shortage,” abandoned buildings litter the Lower East Side, the Bronx and Brooklyn – C Squat was one of those squats, and where bands like Choking Victim, InDK and Leftöver Crack lived and played. The squatter scene had much to do with rights of self-determination, of being able to create your own environment, and with taking a stand against exploitation. And music. Those are subjects Ezra is passionate about
Choking Victim formed in 1993, ultimately consisting of founder Stza, Ezra, and drummer Skwert. Choking Victim split while they were recording their first LP, and two bands formed from the break up: Stza formed Leftöver Crack, and Ezra and Skwert formed InDK. When InDK also broke up Ezra joined Leftöver Crack, which was the Choking Victim line up with a different drummer. Leftöver Crack were largely about being as offensive as possible, and danceable too. In 2004 they made Fuck World Trade, with Chicago’s Steve Albini at the mixing desk, for Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label
But there was another band too. As InDK had been winding down, Ezra created Morning Glory, a side project comprised of himself and different punk musicians from New York City. With roots deep in the “politi-kil punk” scene of the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, Morning Glory play heavy and melodic punk, with lyrics often excoriating the USA’s deceivers and dumbasses in positions of authority
Morning Glory’s previous LP is 2001′s home-recorded and self-released This is No Time ta Sleep. Made with a guitar, an 8-track, and a drum machine, This Is No Time ta Sleep was released in very limited quantities. The Whole World Is Watching (2003) was a 5-track EP on Blacknoise Recordings
Having heard just the one track, Another Way, from M-Glory’s upcoming record release, I think it bodes well for the band and I can honestly say that I’m excited to hear the whole album. That doesn’t happen to me too much anymore. Poets Were My Heroes is the name of this latest record. I think it’s a great album title. I had read that Ezra wrote the song Poets Were My Heroes for two friends of his who had died. But I wondered if, within the context of New York punk, there was a deliberate allusion back to the punk poets – Patti Smith, Jim Carroll, Richard Hell – of the late 70s/80s downtown NY scene of CBGB and Max’s. They had certainly been “heroes” of mine. Ezra took time out to answer some of my questions, the first of which was if those NY artists had been an influence for him…
The title track is indeed a requiem for a few of my fallen friends. But originally it was called “My Masterpiece Will Be For You”. I changed it for a reason. Saying that you have “heroes” in the punk scene is considered a blaspheme. I know it will probably offend some militant members of the punk community. But once something has become the norm; once something has become the established; once it has become about institution or commodity, it loses it’s meaning. Once an idea goes unquestioned for a while it becomes about nothing more than conformity, and so it must be smashed. That is the punk ethic. So it’s a reminder to our own community to always be on our toes and never accept anything as passable axiom. Militancy is a sure way to invite intolerance into any ranks. I know that’s not answering your question, so here… I can’t say that I was influenced by the CBGB’s, spirit of ’77 era of music. Except in the idea that it was one step in the long evolution of an ever changing genre of music that I consider my own material to be a small part of. While the music changes, the core philosophy of punk rock stays the same. Most of the time I like punk music because of what it says, not necessarily what archetype the music follows
I have always been partial to Jim Caroll. I live in the neighborhood that were his stomping grounds, and I’ve always enjoyed his poetry. I feel my life has had many parallels to his. He was real, and when Basketball Diaries came out I was psyched to see a lesser know character from that scene get some recognition. Joe Strummer was also a squatter at one point, which is partly why I preferred the Clash over the Pistols. The Clash were so poor when they were starting out that they had to eat wheat paste they had left over from hanging show bills, while the Sex Pistols were more about fashion. Or anti-fashion. And I don’t really care about either type of fashion very much. Iggy Pop lived around the corner for years. I’ve heard that members of the Velvet Underground used to hang out in our store front back when it was a dive club. And I also have a Martin acoustic guitar autographed by Patti Smith which I have no idea how I acquired. So the same NY area that inspired the previous generation of artists, and indeed spawned an entire music scene, is the same which has inspired and allowed me to do what I love. It’s an artist’s/activist’s community, and has been since the 60′s now. In that sense we’re both influenced by the same geographic environment, which of course always plays a huge role in the kind of music you write and play
“We manufacture fame, fired through the kiln of television…”
I grew up with the UK bands, like the Clash, the Damned and the Pistols. I came to American punk much later. Was it the same for you, but in reverse?
Well no actually, but I had a very unconventional upbringing. At my coming of age into the world of music I lived in a small country about 6 degrees north of the equator on the other side of the globe. A tear drop shaped island called Sri Lanka (formerly know as Ceylon, under the British empire). I was about as far removed from US/UK pop (or punk) culture as it gets. The nearest record store was a 4 hour flight to Singapore. Lucky for me I had a few friends that had brought music with them from the States, Europe, and the UK. All we had to listen to was what had be put into a few suitcases. We coveted those tapes like holy treasure and traded them like baseball cards. I was in a musical desert at that point, crowding around an oasis of finite music with 4 or 5 other kids like me (of all nationalities). Sure, there was a lot of local cultural music but radio is the same worldwide… bad. When I heard “Reign In Blood” by Slayer for the first time it was a defining moment in my life. I had no idea up until then that that kind of music even existed. (Which is why years later I’d have Reign In Blood ink into my skin)
Just like how the older generation describes hearing the Beatles for the first time, so it was for me with Slayer. One friend in particular, Derek Dees, by far the hippest cat of all of us, had a whole bevy of solid punk and metal records, many of them copied and hand written with no covers to speak of. When I got ahold of some of the gems in his collection I became conscious of the world around me for the first time. It was a political and social awakening. Up until that point in my life all I’d heard were songs about girls, cars, and love. So you can imagine how I felt when I discovered bands like Corrosion Of Conformity, The Misfits, Metallica, and Suicidal Tendencies. I quickly started my own band. It was only much much later in my life that I heard the more traditional NY and UK punk bands. I don’t think I even heard the Clash until I was 24. But that’s good. It keeps it fresh
(Ed: I was a similar age the first time I heard Black Flag)
A man and his mic
Why was it important for you to have full orchestration on parts of Poets Were My Heroes?
Before I answer this question let me just say for the record that I know that adding strings to a record does not make it any more ”important”, and I know that it is considered by some people to be the height of pretentiousness – I know. Adding a quartet and horns to “Poets” was not important, except in the sense that the song CALLED for it… which made it essential. When I’m hearing music in my head, I’m usually hearing it in it’s entirety. Every instrument from the foundation up
Most good songs are not written, they come already written and waiting to be tracked. Songs that require large amounts of thought and energy almost always turn out to be bad songs. Ask any song writer and they will tell you the same thing: good songs write themselves. So when a song “appears” it is your job to reproduce it in as original a form as you can. It’s a lot like how the sculpture sees the form of the object in the stone before he picks up his hammer and chisel. His job is to chip away just the right amount of rock in all the right places. The monument itself already exists… it’s already there. In this case I had never worked with an entire quartet before so I took the opportunity to learn
And how was it?
It was an entirely new experience for me and essentially I was paying the players to allow me to roll play as a conductor. Most of them were conservatory trained string ”arteests”. (Tho they’d hate me for saying so). All in all they were very acquiescent considering the fact that us untrained, barbaric rock musicians never seem to provide any notated sheet music. It was exciting for me. And probably boring for them. My only previous experience with this type of thing was when I did the violins for “Operation Move” (a Leftöver Crack song) with Miriam Strum years ago in Chicago at Steve Albini’s studio. Since then I’ve been wanting to do more. So when I heard all the strings on “Poets” in my head that morning I jumped at the chance to track it properly
You have said a lot of Leftöver Crack’s best shows were when the band hated each other the most – not even on speaking terms – but that you’d do a gig and it would be magic. That’s a great insight for us on the outside. Why was their so much tension in the band?
I don’t know the answer to that. I’ve never figured this one out. I think it has to do with chemistry and the balance of the universe. We’re all just different personalities and there’s something to be said for healthy competition. There are times when I feel so entirely at odds with the band that I come close to quiting. (And I never cry ”quit”!) There are some aspects of the other band members’ personalities that I find so reproachful that I can’t believe I’m allowing it to go on, or that I’m contributing to it just by being a part. Sometime it borders on a rapacious behavior that’s so selfish that it goes against my very core, and I can only wonder how I ended up knowing these people. It really does reach moments and proportions that defy belief and become very serious issues. It’s not a lie or a myth that we come to odds. But it’s this extreme conflict of polars that seems to give rise to the music. We’re not talking about simple disagreements here and there, we’re talking physical fights and a conflict of ideas so deep and ingrained that it hurts my very soul at times to acquiesce, and sometimes I despise myself for going along with it. For being weak. But we’re a political punk band in the most real terms of the word, which is not only extremely outspoken, but also surrounded by a type of chaos that requires a strong will just to maintain participation. However, if you want to be a part of something bigger than yourself you often have to give up something in return. At what point the compromise becomes too much to make it worth it, I’m not sure yet. There have definitely been quittings and firings and reprimands before. But we’ve always come thru in the end with the realization that it would be worse not to continue. We almost always operate under the old adage that “the show must go on”, which gives rise to the idea that people are expendable. So that in itself is a conflict of my own ideas. It all becomes very complicated very quickly
The War Returns
Truth be told, I really like everyone in Leftöver Crack We’ve had some great times together. We just don’t always see eye to eye. But that’s to be expected. You spend that much time with anyone and you’re bound to have a few disagreements. If Jesus Christ himself were in the band, I’d probably come off a 4 week tour saying “Fuckin Jesus… what an asshole.” The point is we don’t always like each other and that’s OK. We don’t have to like each other. We just have to get on well enough to get the job done. When it comes time to play or write we’re usually able to put our differences (or similarities) aside long enough to do what we came to do. And ya know, I don’t think I’d wanna be in a band where everyone got along all the time. That would be boring
You say you want to leave ska music behind, and that it wasn’t a type of music you listened to. Did you feel with your old bands that you were being pulled in directions that you didn’t want to go?
That was undoubtedly the case with InDK. I’ll have to site the ever cliche “musical differences” answer here. They wanted to keep playing skate thrash, some ska, whatever we were already doing. I had other ideas. I was chided badly for leaving (more privately than publicly), as coincidentally I joined Leftöver Crack shortly there after. That was seen as jumping ship. But honestly that band had many problems, not least of which was my own problem with keeping on in that Black Flag direction that had already been done so well. We were just an ersatz, and not a very good one. Nothing original or interesting about it to me. And it wasn’t much fun anymore
You made Kill Whitey with them…
To this day I don’t think I’ve ever heard the record we released. After we split up they continued without me and eventually succumbed to the law of diminishing returns. I’m happy to be moving in a different musical direction. M-Glory was already a seed in my head at the time of parting. In my opinion it’s better to be offering something original to fewer people than something re-hashed to a larger audience
There are no artificially or digitally reproduced sounds on the entire record. What’s your opinion of today’s manufactured pop music and things like American Idol?
Nothing good. But just cuz I hate it doesn’t mean millions of people are wrong. Obviously people find something very appealing about it and the “music” (or something about it) seems to speak to them. It just doesn’t say shit to me, that’s all. But music is by far the most important and singularly meaningful thing in my life. It has consistently been a part of my life from birth to present day. While people, places, even family, have come and gone and eventually disappeared, I still have cassettes in my collection from the 7th grade, all the way back in Sri Lanka, and before that even. I’m all for any kinds of music The world NEEDS more music. There can never be enough of it (except maybe when it comes to Coldplay). It heals our hearts and minds and brings us together. I feel blessed to live in a world where music is accumulative and grows with every passing minute. Isn’t it an amazing feeling to know that we have access to hundreds of thousands of more songs than the previous generation did?
When I wake up in the morning I sometimes wonder how many songs will be released to the world or sung that day. How lucky are we? Never before has there been so much music in the world. And I hope it grows on forever. Even American Idol songs. Just cuz I can’t stand that stoopid shit doesn’t mean it doesn’t play a positive role in the lives of some people, and i can’t knock it just cuz it’s total crap. The only case that can be made against this idea of more music is bullshit racist, prejudice, or idealistically repressive music. That shit needs to end immediately. But it’s my SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT BELIEF and “message” that there can never be too much music. My message is the message itself, so to speak. I always encourage it everywhere I go. Sometimes kids give me demos to listen to. I always try to keep every one of them, sometimes at great lengths (like when they must survive 4 weeks in a suitcase bound thru Europe), and eventually try to listen to each one. Most of them are terrible. Like 98% of them suck. But sometimes you find a gem and it makes it worth the listen. And since someone out there will like it, it needs to be heard. And so I always tell kids to KEEP MAKING MUSIC. No matter what. It’s our universal language. Some people think there are too many bands now. They feel that everyone and their dog is in a band. There’s no audience left, and it the doors are open for a million seemingly very untalented souls. Especially in punk. But that’s exactly what I love about it
C Squat [...]
What do you think punk changed?
Punk brought down the levels of commercial music and made it more accessible to everyone. It brought music back to the people. It’s the opposite of American Idol. In almost every other country in the world music is a collective exercise that everyone can participate in. The idea that we go to see “real singers” perform songs exactly as they’ve been tracked, is a strictly western idea. Here we have professional singers. In other countries everyone sings and dances; it’s just part of being alive. In that sense American idol is trying to keep music elite, and I’ll knock it for that Even if you think that punk rock causes there to be an abundance of more shit music in the world, you have to consider the fact that someone who learns to play punk music in their bedroom may end up a brilliant artist somewhere else in life. Lots of great artists start out punks. My high school band used to play shows with another darker punk band called Placebo. They had a singer named Lesie. She was a brilliant singer and a good songwriter too. Later on she became the solo artist Feist. Lots of artists come up on punk. Lana Del Rey is the most recent “punk” to enjoy the spotlight. Very American Idol-like. But I love her, so what can I say? She has a song called ”Born To Die” believe it or not. I can only wonder where she came up with that one. In the video for that song she has an inked-up, punker type bf. “Let’s go get high… we were born to die”? Come on. I’m not saying we (Choking Victim) influenced her, but ya never know… music… it’s an ubiquitous notion. I know that the kid who plays ”Harry Potter”, Daniel Radcliff, loves Leftöver Crack. The case can be made that without the Misfits, Metallica may never have been what it was. So you can never entirely discount shows like American Idol, as much as we may hate them. It seems to serve a purpose somewhere to someone. There’s something out there for everyone and artist tend to evolve
I heard that the American Idol singer who I so vehemently chastised in Another Way, when I witnessed the travesty of a performance one day, is now touring and singing for the remaining members of Queen. In my opinion, even as a non-Queen fan, that’s a fucking blaspheme on Freddy Mercury, but an interesting development none the less. My point here is that all music must be played, encouraged, and developed, and we can in turn chose what we wish to listen to (in this country anyways). If you don’t like it, just don’t listen to it. This is about as open minded as I can get about it. Btw, I was just kidding about Coldplay. They’re one of my guilty pleasures
The Whole World Is Watching
You said there is a part of you and your soul in one of your records for the first time ever. Can you expand a little on that?
Well, this is the first time I’ve written a record entirely clean and without any other creative forces interfering with the outcome. I wrote this one by myself, for myself. Whether other people like it or don’t like it is entirely besides the point. At one point my girlfriend (at the time) came to me and said “Ez, what are you gonna do if this record doesn’t do what you think it’s gonna do?” I could only assume that she meant “what if it’s not the success you expect it to be?” by that. I said “Wait. What do you think I think this record is gonna do?” She had me all wrong (and consequently it eventually ended between us). I’m not trying to go platinum or be a rock star. If I get to be in the studio and track these songs then it has already fulfilled all of my expectations. The writing and recording is itself the success. In truth this is actually my “debut” record because I’ve never been in a real studio before by myself. No Time To Sleep was tracked entirely in my bedroom, and during the course of tracking The Whole World Is Watching, just a 4 song EP, I was all fucked up. It was actually my dear friend Jimmy (former InDK guitarist) who taught me a lesson about staying true to yourself in music. It was he who inspired me to follow my heart and make this record. All his life he’d been playing in punk and reggae bands. But after InDK, and then Fireproof, he moved to Texas and started writing music that was entirely different from anything he’d ever done. There is nothing ”punk” about it. But it is brilliant and moving music. He was fearless and said “fuck everyone, this is who I am”, and he sealed himself off for a few years and wrote the record “With You I’ll Travel” which would later be released under the name Menkena. All those years playing in punk bands was just a lead up to this other beautiful music he’d created. I had no idea while we played music together that he was so talented. He wasn’t that good at punk music, truthfully. But now here was something he is really good at. I finally got to see him in all his glory. See him for who he really was. No longer the second guitar in a skate thrash outfit. It must have taken some guts to do what he did. And so that inspired me to do the same. To be more fearless. To come out of my shell and write what I was hearing, not what I thought others wanted to hear. One of the things about music is that, since it’s related directly to matters of the heart, you can’t fake it. If it’s faked you can always tell right away; it feels all wrong. You can’t manufacture the article. It is or it ain’t. This is the first time I feel I wasn’t faking it. I was writing what was coming thru my bones, from inside. Also, besides my “soul,” I had to invest a considerable amount of my pocket book
John John Jesse with M-Glory
You’ve been extremely open about your past drug use. What would you say to some 16-year-old kid who wants to be like his heroes and try heroin?
Don’t bother. Let’s debunk a few myths shall we? In my mind there are only two reasons someone would take a drug. Either A. to enhance your creative output or B, to kill pain. But drugs are actually counter-intuitive to both. For some reason people think drugs “expand your mind” and aid in the creative process. (Probably propaganda left over from the “love generation”). In truth they only get in the way. We’re talking about hard drugs here. Opiates in particular block all your creative passages in the cerebellum. Just cuz Keith Richards did a lot of heroin (and I’m not perpetuating a myth, I read his book last year) doesn’t mean it helped him write all those songs. Songs usually come in moments of clarity. For me I couldn’t wait to get off of dope cuz I hadn’t written a lick in years. I don’t think I even touched a guitar unless I was on stage (and even then with considerable venom)
Heroin actually makes you despise music. And everything else. Loud noises become painful and songs you used to love become like poison to the heart and mind. It’s horrible. There were times when I would be so dopesick that I’d be wearing every article of clothing I owned on stage, cold sweating in my winter jacket and all, in a 110 degree room where everyone else was shirtless and suffocating of heat exhaustion, cuz I just couldn’t get warm. There were times when I collapsed from sickness trying to play a show. My fingers wouldn’t move or do what I told them to do. Sometimes I had small seizures on stage. I couldn’t play. I ripped off every kid in the room with a sub-par performance, if i was able to perform at all. It was one of the main reasons I got clean. I wanted my musical abilities back. I wanted to hear music again. And as for reason A -using it as a pain killer, well it may temporarily numb you out and push your problems aside, but that’s all it really does. It doesn’t actually SOLVE your problems. They only fester and mutate and grow, and then when you come around (if you’re lucky enough to come around) you find yourself not only with a the same set of aggrandized problems, but now you have the added problem of being an addict, AND fewer coping mechanism to help you deal with it all
I wouldn’t wish heroin on even my worst of enemies. It is actually literally walking thru hell itself. For anyone considering dope as a viable option for either of these reasons, I highly advise against it. Apart from what I’ve said here there is enough negative evidence on the aftermath of drug abuse to fill a whole library (and books have been filled). But I won’t go into them. For now let’s just say that if you’re trying to emulate your hero, emulate the good characteristics of that person, not the negative self destructive parts. Do this and you’ll easily eclipse their accomplishments. Most likely they’ll tell you that dope only held them back from being successful and turned life into a sort of living hell. Take my word for it. I should know. I did my share and then I did Richards’ share after that. Unfortunately due to the nature of the addict, the type of person most likely to become an addict is least likely to be listening to me now.
As an addendum let me say that I’m not an anti-drug crusader. Just ’cuz i can’t handle my drugs or alcohol doesn’t mean that the rest of the world should follow my instruction and abstain. That would be very hypocritical of me, wouldn’t it? Abstinence is just what’s right for me. But since you ASKED me what I would say I gave it to you. Hopefully in a straight forward manner. It’s funny actually, I went to cop some drugs a long while back during a brief relapse period, and as it turned out the dealer was a huge M-Glory fan. For reasons I shouldn’t have to explain, that could have potentially disastrous results for me. The thing is, he was clean. Just selling as a way to make cash. (Apparently he had a “plan” and legitimately looked like he was sticking to it). Though it wasn’t said, it was hinted at that he’d gotten strung out while listening to LOC. And I’m guessing he cleaned up when he started listening to M-Glory. At least I really would like to think that is how the story ends
Can you give us half a dozen examples of records that you love and that have influenced you, punk rock or otherwise?
O man… that’s a tough one. Can I take all day with this one? Slayer is almost always in all of my Top 5 lists
Let me just say this… When I write songs I’m mainly influenced by one simple idea – people singing together. The core idea of Morning Glory, the “message” behind it, is very simple: That together we are something that we can’t be alone. Like the smallest atoms together make our universe, we’re all a part of something bigger. When we sing together we are making a statement about our philosophies, our lives, creation itself, and the direction we wish to take the world in. I’m very into sing along choruses. I was in jazz choir in high school (much to the taunting of my peers) because I just loved singing in a group. I did it on my own time, being at school an hour and a half early, twice a week, even through my senior years. When I look out at a crowd of people and every person knows every words, there is something magic about the fact that they all came from different places, different backgrounds, and individual lives, but they all have this one song in common. A shared moment in time. If i was to choose 12 records that have influenced me, most of them would be live records where you can hear the crown singing at every chorus. Records where
the crowd sings so loud they drown out the band. I love it. It’s inescapable magic. They’ve taken a song that one person wrote and made it their own. It now belongs to the world. Nothing speaks louder than the single voice of many people. It’s the most powerful idea in the world to me. One day I shall be so lucky that people will enjoy the songs I write and we can all sing them together. Keep making music
Thanks a million Ezra
Look for the new 13 track M-Glory record Poets Were My Heroes out this spring 2012