SICK OF IT ALL are an NYHC institution, one of the finest, no contest. This year they celebrate their milestone 30th anniversary together. That’s thirty years of hard graft, dedication and no compromise, just three of the many qualities that make this band great. Miles Hackett caught up with guitarist Pete Koller at Groezrock festival in Belgium before their celebratory performance, headlining the Impericon stage in front of thousands of rabid fans for the lowdown on the band’s history, what makes them tick and the determination that drives them. What we found was a humbling story of four friends who simply adore what they do, how they do it and not giving a flying fuck if you don’t like them doing it.
ONVERSATION starts way back at the beginning, back to the mid-’80s to be precise. New York City back then was a hotbed of punk rock and the CBGB matinee hardcore shows were almost legendary. Sick Of It All were born in the basement of brothers Pete and Lou Koller’s parents house around this time so Pete kicks off the interview with a little insight into the sounds and scene that turned him and his bandmate and brother onto the sounds of hardcore punk rock and the inception of their now seminal band. “We were always into music, me and my brother Lou and our other brothers Matt and Steve. Matt and Steve were always into the heavy stuff which got us into it but then me and Lou were into the heavier stuff, especially Lou, he really dug the heavier stuff. So we started out finding Venom and GBH, also bands like Motorhead and Cocksparrer do you know what I mean? So where would we find music like that around us? Well, that would be at CBGB’s, where we’d go see Agnostic Front, the Cro-Mags, the Bad Brains – all that stuff. It was a crazy time for music for us, it was super-inspiring. Vinnie Stigma would be in the pit, then he’d go play and we were like ‘Wow! That’s so crazy!’ You don’t really have to be a musician to be a part of it. [laughs].” It was this inclusion and camaraderie of the New York hardcore scene back in those days that led the new bandmates to pick up their instruments and form a band. Pete reminisces back to his schooldays and his inability to concentrate that ultimately led him to pick up the guitar. “In school it was hard for me to learn. I always got distracted, you got lessons or had to read a
DOWN FOR LIFE
book and I didn’t know nothing about that but as soon as I learned to make a bar chord I started writing my own stuff and that was it. Nowadays I can play anybody’s guitar music but back then I couldn’t so that’s how I started.” The four components that make up the Sick Of It All we know and love now have been solid since the early ‘90s when Craig Setari joined the band on bass full time, but their history and friendship goes back way further than this. Two of them are brothers by blood but more importantly the four of them are brothers in arms. Pete explains: “Obviously Lou’s my brother, Armand went to high school with us and Craig grew up in the same neighbourhood. I mean, back then if you lived in the same neighbourhood and were into the same music, you knew each other. If you wore Doc Martens, I’d know you’re into punk or hardcore. That’s how it was.” The early days of any band’s inception can be tough and there’s few bands, even the ones that might be perceived as such, are full time. Downtime from touring can be tough for budding musicians and ends have to be met and the early days of Sick Of It All were no different. Pete gave insight into the initial work they had to put in and the benefits it reaped in the long term: “The first few years of the band we’d work in a mailroom or work in construction or whatever when we weren’t on tour and come back and get another job or back to the same one if they were cool when we came back from being on the road. We made it work like that for a while but as soon as we started coming to Europe, in fact the second time to Europe that was it, we became a full time band. We were like “Wow! This is great!” We’ve played
all over the world, even places we thought we’d never get to see like Iceland. There used to be an amazing scene there, now it’s just like, meh. It’s weird though, through touring people know you wherever you go. I mean, the first time we went to Singapore families met us at the airport! It was because these guys had been waiting twentysomething years to see you and now they have families and they bring them all to the airport to meet you. It’s really cool. They’d be like crying when you’re leaving and getting all emotional, it’s crazy.”
o it was in 1986 that Sick Of It All released their initial demo and immersed themselves in the New York hardcore scene. They were a regular fixture at the CBGB matinees they’d attended in their youth and this led to a buzz of interest which saw them release their debut selftitled 7” on revered underground label Revelation. This in turn led to their record deal with Relativity Records who ultimately released their debut album, ‘Blood, Sweat And No Tears’. We recall these times and how events played out - were the band this super-ambitious machine determined to succeed or was fate dealing them a favourable set of cards? Pete picks up the thread: “Our whole career was just the way that things progressed really. I mean, we did a record and because there was a scene, the guys at Revelation said ‘We’ll do a 7” for you’, and it did really well. Then one of the guys from the scene got a job at Relativity Records and started Combat or Combat Core Records, which had the hardcore imprint In-Effect Records, we signed to them. Everything kinda fell into place. It was a