On The Record With
By Jillian Abbene
Let Me Introduce To You…
I don’t think many speculated that US Chaos would resurrect after finally disbanding in 2005. Their songs are more fitting today than in 1981, where they played their first gig at Aldo’s Hidaway in Lindhurst, NJ. Leafing through their lyrics, I now refresh my faded memory.
It is a fact that US Chaos is one of the first punk bands to play street/Oi. I tell you, in 1981 in the United States, this sound was not heard of, so when I missed their set—their very last gig of the East Coast Oi Fest, I was truly disappointed. Notorious for inciting and taunting the audience [wrapped up in rumors of employing their bodyguards with loaded side-arms] fuelled controversy, with the fated result of tripling and even quadrupling their following. Hilariously taking the negative and capitalizing on it, it was the ironic tom-foolery of mainly Jack, Gary and Marty, (the manager behind the rumors), who were responsible for the falsehoods. Surfacing as one of the most memorable of the first wave of punk bands, they became serious when there were sudden death threats stemming mainly from articles that were written depicting hardcore followers as “faggots” resulting from a Virginia show with having their tires on their van slashed. Quoting Spike, “I think he went to the Malcolm McLaren University for furthering punk studies and majoring in Controversy 101, its just Marty being typical Marty!”
To clarify, the band’s controversial stance, let me reiterate that the the band is pro-American, and anti-Communistic cheering for the forgotten where injustices and people’s rights to freedom have never existed or have been anhilated.
Of course this only prods me more.
What road was ahead for a band, who last year, lost guitarist, Gary US Chaos. Gary’s tragic death last April from bone cancer, left a gaping hole in the band and in the hearts of many. I know this because I remember reading those Myspace posted bulletins and how many people were genuinely affected by the loss.
Nevertheless, this is where fluke meets excellent timing. Rene, Gary’s younger sister, (also guitarist for Blanks 77), has officially transitioned into the band as their new guitarist—adding a new spin, and making this interview a more weighted, meaningful one. With lyrics from, ‘Message of Love,’: “I wanna grow up and be someone/I wanna live my life to the fullest/I want to grow up but not get old.” Gary, I dedicate this write-up to you. Rock on.
US CHAOS – INTERVIEW WITH SKULLY, JACK, RENEE, & SPIKE
1. Although disbanding before, and with the loss of Gary [RIP], is the reason for still playing to keep the spirit of what Gary always believed in? I understand Renee Wasted (Blanks 77 guitarist) is your new guitarist, and is also Gary’s sister—how is that working out?
SKULLY: I would give anything to have Gary back, and actually, the last thing Gary said to me before he died was, “keep on rocking” — although at the time I really didn’t think the band was going to do anything more than play at Jack’s backyard party. When she came to practice the first time, she had Gary’s Black Les Paul; she plugged it in, and started playing the songs like she had been playing them all her life. It was very eerie to say the least. Goose bumps and tingles went up the spine kind of thing. It was like having the old Gary back again, and being that she is Gary’s sister, was even more of a reason that I knew this thing really might work out. After that, any other guitar player was out of the question. I was totally blown away and then, and only then, did I really think this might work out.
JACK: Yes for sure…I often think of Gary while I’m playing. When we have a show to do, we often say,”Let’s do it for Gary.” In regards to your statement of, “disbanding before”, Yes, we’ve been playing together off and on since 1982. We recently got back together cuz of our 25th anniversary. I was having a pool party at my house last summer, and I was having some bands play. It occurred to me, “holy shit, it’s our 25th year!” …then we started to rehearse again, and some gigs were booked and it took off from there again.
For the pool party we tried another guitarist, and it was hard work. Even though he was an ‘accomplished’ player it didn’t feel or sound right. Then Renee agreed to play a show that we had already booked. It was the release DVD party for, “All Grown Up The Movie.” [www.psykopunkproductions.com] From the first few chords that she played, as she was tuning up, I knew it was gonna sound great. After the first song at the first rehearsal, we all just looked at each other with a, ‘that’s-how-it’s-supposed-fucking-sound’ look.
I was floored that Renee was playing and we were all pretty stoked in how much Renee’s playing sounded like Gary’s. The band sounded like it did 25 years ago!
RENEE: He didn’t want the band to break up.
SPIKE: My feelings were at the time Gary was in the hospital, I truly thought we would get back together when Gary got better, and when I got the news from Jack I was traveling on RT 80, that Gary would only be with us a short time and that he had inoperable bone cancer, I was in shock. The feelings had rushed through me we like a cyclone of remembrances of the good times we had, I wasn’t able to speak to Jack because I was all choked up. Jack asked if I was all right but the news now set in and reality took over. It’s never easy loosing your band mate and friend and feeling helpless at the same time. We had a lot of great memories together as I had with Jack and Skully and would feel the same way about anyone of them because of all the good times we shared, and as we’re a family, I will always miss Gary R.I.P. As for Renee I have to agree with the boys–when we first rehearsed with Renee, it was like playing with Gary again. While playing the songs, all I could do was look at Renee because of her mannerisms and the Reitmeyer genes that she carries. She took on the same stance and playing style that I was accustomed too with Gary, and their will always be a part of Gary that lives on in Renee.
2. In the past, who wrote all the lyrics? Obviously, the band’s dynamics have changed… Is new music being written? If so, who writes the new music?
SKULLY: We pretty much all wrote lyrics to different songs. In recent years Gary and Jack have always wrote the music. Now jack does most of it…(ha ha) we have a few new songs we’re working on.
JACK: We all wrote lyrics, and collaborated on the music. ‘Guns’ was the first song I ever wrote. New music? I’d have to say I alone carry the ‘new music’ torch rite now…lyrics and music. I keep beating the drum to do new stuff. I present stuff, we struggle with it, argue then it’s time to go home. Don’t know why it’s so hard. It takes time, more time than it should. New songs turn into arguments it’s discouraging and frustrating.
RENEE: I write everything!!! No, actually, Jack has been writing some new stuff lately, hopefully I can contribute a note or two here and there.
SPIKE: I wrote, bit and pieces–your life, contributing to being young, we all had our hands in developing the songs.
3. How has the crowd reacted to the loss of Gary and the acceptance of Renee? Has having Renee changed the dynamics of the band and sound?
SKULLY: Many people have come forward to tell me that they are sorry for Gary’s much too early pass. A lot of people actually know Renée from the Blanks so it’s been positive. As far as the sound or dynamics, it has stayed pretty much the same. That’s what blew me away when Renee first rehearsed with us. It was like having Gary back because he influenced Renee’s guitar playing.
JACK: Renee makes me feel like I’m 22 again. She plays like and sounds like Gary. So it has made us sound like we did 25 years ago. We are energized and playing better than we ever have.
RENEE: I bring the estrogen, which was lacking before.
SPIKE: The fans all showed their support for the band and for the loss of Gary, but at the same time we knew we wanted to keep this band alive and keep Gary’s memory alive by continuing to write songs. When Jack asked Renee to join, it filled the void that I don’t think any other guitar player could have replaced.
4. What musical influences have you pulled from?
SKULLY: None…really?? Well, maybe not. I never really thought about it much. I like all kinds of music so I guess I have to say everything I’ve ever listened to…too long of a list.
JACK: 70’s rock…Kiss, Queen, Zep etc. late 70’s American and English punk…Pistols, Ramones etc. Our name was inspired by one of my faves, U.K. Subs.
RENEE: I listen to Johnny Thunders, Joan Jett, Cheap Trick, punk rock and roll stuff, The Dwarves, Donna Summer…
SPIKE: CLASH, PISTOLS DEFINETLY, RAMONES, 999, STIFF LITTLE FINGERS, UK SUBS, and a whole lot of great punk bands!
5. Any plans for a full-on US tour soon? Curious. I didn’t know if there was a new cd released soon – and if there is an actual permanent new line up?
SKULLY: No plans, no new cd, this is the last lineup (that’s what I’ve always said)
JACK: Sorry to burst yer bubble…but no one knows who we are and few care. However, anyone reading this who would like us to tour and book us some shows contact us! I think I speak for everyone; this is the permanent line up. As long as Renee is with us we’ll keep playin. I don’t wanna do this without her anymore.
RENEE: yeah!! We’ll tour in Jack’s van that has no seats!!!
SPIKE: I wouldn’t mind playing out of Jack’s van down by the river; I’ve got some new songs in the works and so does Jack. Once we all get back from vacation we can concentrate on that issue and get back into the recording studio.
6. What is your definition of being Pro-America? Please be specific.
SPIKE: …We were never pro-war but pro-American, and anti-Communistic. We sing songs against injustices and people’s right to freedom. We believe that we live a free life, and for the most part, we (Americans) have it a million times better than third world countries – so we like to sing about other countries’ injustices towards their people. They don’t have the same freedoms we enjoy.
So you give them a voice… [statement].
SPIKE: …On the cover of the CD, “We’ve Got The Weapons,” you will see the American tank going after all the world leaders that are communist or just very bad rulers that oppress their people to the point where they don’t know any other way. Look at Cuba. They just started to give computers to the rich people, and Fidel—he’s also running from the American tank. When Reagan was President, we were asked to do the “Rock Against Reagan” Concert at The Washington Monument with other punk bands. Of course, we declined. We love our country. We are political, and we are for capital punishment—as stated in the song, ‘An Eye For An Eye.’
7. What message would you like to pass on to the younger generation of punk?
SKULLY: The true punks of this generation probably don’t give a fuck what my message would be, so this is my message.
JACK: An expression I heard recently which I find to be, sadly enuff, true: ”Punks not dead, it just sucks right now.”
RENEE: I am the younger generation of punk…
SPIKE: The true power in punk comes from old school, the younger generation can fly through 2 minute songs, but their music lacks the true feeling of power, what’s the rush? All hardcore starts to sound the same and you can’t even sing along too it. I rather have ten kids onstage singing along to our songs rather then diving off the stage and getting hurt.
8. What keeps U.S. Chaos going?
SKULLY: Renee, Jack, Spike and myself. And most of all the memory of Gary.
JACK: For me, the pure joy of thumping my bass and prancing around stage. The smell of the grease paint, the roar of the crowd! Between the lines it reads; the smell of Geritol and the ZZZZZZZZZZZ of the crowd. Ha!
SPIKE: The camaraderie of the punks and their love for the music we love, the shows, the adventure of playing and seeing the crowd having a great time, and oh yeah…the booze !
9. Is there any time in your life (lives) that you can remember as a turning point that made you realize that punk is not a phase, but a lifestyle?
SKULLY: I always thought it was a lifestyle, so there was no turning point.
JACK: I remember hearing Green Day and Ramones; ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ back-to-back on a ‘regular’ radio station in the early nineties. That was a memorable moment for me.
RENEE: shit you mean this is a lifestyle…I knew I should have listened to my mom.
SPIKE: It’s a feeling of family, the friends you meet that are into the same stuff, and knowing that you are not alone. As Gary once said, ‘…the camaraderie…how can you ever discard it?’
10. Any closing comments?
SKULLY: Keep on rocking!!!!!
RENEE: Summer of Renee!!! I am unemployed woo hoo!!! Buy me a drink…you go girl!
SPIKE: I will always do what I love, and that’s playing punk rock for as long as I live. Hopefully my band mates have the same aspirations as me and will follow me down the same road.