return to main
return to main
return to the Washington, DC pagereturn to the Washington, DC page

Sab Grey interview from Maximum Rock N Roll 11 (the "Welcome to 1984" issue). Interview conducted by Tim Yohannon.

MRR: HOW WOULD YOU CHARACTERIZE YOUR OUTLOOK AS A SKINHEAD? WHAT DOES "SKIN" MEAN TO YOU?

Well, what it meant, since nobody in the band is a skinhead...we never started out saying we're gonna be a skinhead band. At the time, I happened to be a skinhead and never wanted to play thrash. It never appealed to us. We're just a punk band. At the time, everybody was playing 300 MPH and we weren't. And the only other music that was coming out was Oi!--so we got put into that category. So I was a skinhead, but not a fascist.

MRR: SO IT WAS A LABEL PUT ON YOU?

Yeah, people said, "So you're Oi! CROSS?"

MRR: BUT YOUR RECORD LABEL IS CALLED "SKINFLINT".

Yes. That was the name of a magazine I put out too.

MRR: THAT DOES MAKE IT SEEM LIKE YOU RELATE TO "SKIN".

At the time, we did. But only on the positive side. We were not involved in any of the 'not so nice' stuff.

MRR: WHAT, TO YOU, WAS THE POSITIVE SIDE?

It wasn't anything that we just did; it was the just the way we were. Back then, punk had gone down, and we were kids, just feeling our way along, working for a living, and it seemed to click. I went to school with skinheads back in '76, and knew what they were about. I didn't like the fascist part of it. But I did like certain aspects: it was clean, cheap, sharp. It's hard to explain.

MRR: WELL, RELATING TO NOT JUST THE IMAGE, BUT THE OUTLOOK...ON YOUR FIRST EP THERE'S MENTION IN SONGS LIKE, "DC skinheads have a stance..."

That's a song I didn't write, didn't want on the record, and don't really want to talk about.

MRR: LET'S BRING IT TO THE PRESENT THEN. HOW DO YOU FEEL YOU'VE CHANGED? YOU'VE MENTIONED SEVERAL TIMES THAT "THAT'S THE PAST" IN SOME SENSE, THAT SOMETHING HAS CHANGED.

It's more like you people have realized what we are, as opposed to us changing. Yeah, we've become a little more cynical, disillusioned with the 'great world', and everything this (punk) movement was supposed to have been about. But we're the same people. It's just taken this long for a lot of people to see that I couldn't care less about singing "Fuck Reagan", and want to sing about things relevant to people's lives--not wanting to just sit and point a finger at the figurehead on TV, but point it at ourselves. That's a lot harder.

MRR: WHAT ARE YOU POINTING FINGERS AT?

Ourselves and our lives. I'm the first person to criticize myself. Always. I don't sit there smugly and say, "I'm wonderful and I'm gonna change the world." I'm not gonna do that; none of us are. I'm much too cynical for that.

MRR: WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO STILL FIGHT FOR SOMETHING?

If you're an individual, you have to stand up and say, "Look, I'm somebody." But at the same time I have green hair and a pin through my nose, I want to listen to what I want, do what I want, regardless of what the 'great masses' tell me to...the great masses, the office slaves, or whether it's the alleged punks. If I want to go to a SILLY WIZARD concert, I do. And I think they're a fantastic band--an Irish folk band. They're incredible. If I want to read a book by Mary Stewart, I'll read that. And if I want to wear a tie, I'll wear a tie. I play this kind of music, and you can classify it as that, but I do what I want.

MRR: WHAT IS YOUR ATTITUDE ABOUT FIGHTING?

"For a reason, and when necessary." If you're going to stand up and be counted, then you better be able to take it when someone smacks you--otherwise, you're not much of anything to start with. But I have never held with the bully-boy attitude of "I don't like him because he has long hair, or he's gay...so I'm here with 6 of my buddies and let's beat him up."

MRR: SO, TO YOU, YOUR ATTITUDES ARE VERY MUCH THE 'TRUE PUNK' ATTITUDES.

Yeah. "I'm me, fuck you!" I don't want to go around assaulting old women or hassling anybody, unless they fuck with me first. If someone wants to jump me and be a 'big man', I may blind him; that's the price you pay. I go about my business, and I'm not here to prove how tough I am. "Only a fool fights when he doesn't have to" said a wise man, Confucius.

MRR: ALL THESE DIFFERENT LABELS...PUNK, SKIN...THE WAY YOU'VE STATED YOUR PHILOSOPHY, A PUNK OR SKIN COULD BOTH SAY "YES, THAT'S MY PHILOSOPHY".

People are people, beyond labels. Because you're a skin doesn't mean you're National Front (UK fascist party), or it doesn't mean necessarily that you aren't. I know many skinheads who aren't and who are NF, but being NF doesn't make you a bad person. I've got friends in England who are into the National Front, and they're real nice guys. They're humans, just like anybody else. I disagree with their politics, I'll argue about it with them, but they're still my friends.

MRR: ON SOME LEVEL, MOST PEOPLE ARE 'NICE GUYS'. AT THE SAME TIME, WHEN LINES GET DRAWN...

Well, if the Front is on the streets, I'll fight them. If it comes down to that...

MRR: ..YOU'LL END UP FIGHTING YOUR OWN FRIENDS.

Which is the way life is. It's funny, in this town, about who likes IRON CROSS and who doesn't. The punks, or alleged punks, the kids (to be condescending)--they like us. The intellectual fringe, the college students, the trendy Left--they hate us. I find it quite amusing that these people will call me a Nazi, when they've never even seen one. When I was 16, I was almost beaten up by 3 guys in the NF because I was wearing my homemade "Pogo on a Nazi" t-shirt. And then these armchair communists get off calling me a fascist. It's frustrating.

MRR: WHY DO YOU THINK SOME PEOPLE THINK YOU'RE A FASCIST?

Because they have been fooled. They say "the media lies", but they swallow the media on this issue, hook, line, and sinker. Yeah, I was a skinhead. I'm not ashamed of it, or anything else I've done.

MRR: WHY DO YOU USE THE PAST TENSE?

Cause I've got green, spikey hair.

MRR: SO, IT'S JUST A MATTER OF IMAGE--THE CLOTHES, THE LOOK?

And the attitude. People say "Oh, these skinheads are so terrible", but they've always been around. They just dressed differently in past times. There's always been mindless oafs who have had to prove they are macho. It's the same people, dressed different ways; nothing has changed. So my image has changed, for the time. We were punks before we were skinheads. And then we went back because we became very disillusioned with the whole skinhead thing because there were so many idiots getting involved to prove how tough they are.

MRR: YOU DON'T FEEL THE SAME WAY ABOUT PUNK?

Oh Christ, yeah. I've hung my leather jacket up now. I've gone back to how I looked 5-6 years ago--thin ties and suit jackets. And I don't associate with them, and am the first to insult them to their faces cause I think they're fools.

MRR: MY IMPRESSION OF YOU WAS BASED MAINLY ON THE LYRICS ON YOUR FIRST EP. I HADN'T READ ANY MEDIA STUFF ABOUT YOU.

What did you find so offensive about it?

MRR: THERE WAS THE "PSYCHO SKIN" SONG ABOUT "BEATING UP QUEERS". YOU'VE SINCE DISAVOWED THAT.

The song as a whole is about what happened to somebody who overreached his bounds, which is what you do when you assault someone. If you abuse someone for being who they are, be it gay, woman, punk, or redneck, then you've lost your rights as a human being.

MRR: BUT THAT SONG DOESN'T SAY THAT, AND, IN THE CONTEXT OF THE OTHER SONGS ABOUT FIGHTING, THE NAME OF THE BAND ITSELF...

When we thought up the name, IRON CROSS, it never occured to us that it was connected with (German) fascism. We almost didn't use it because it sounded like a heavy-metal band.

MRR: BUT CAN YOU SEE HOW SOMEONE SEEING THAT NAME, SEEING A SONG ABOUT QUEER-BASHING, THE EMPHASIS ON FIGHTING, COULD COME TO THE CONCLUSION THAT YOU DO RELATE TO CERTAIN ASPECTS OF FASCISM?

Why did it take them so long to question me. The only reason you and I talked last year was because you called the house and I said "I heard you pulled our song off the air" and you laughed and said "yeah" and I said "how come?" and we started talking from there.

MRR: MOST PEOPLE DON'T HAVE THAT ACCESS TO YOU. OR THE TIME TO GO AROUND FINDING OUT WHAT EVERY BAND REALLY MEANS.

There are 2 zines in this town that dislike us immensely. Neither one has ever bothered to approach us. That, I find dubious. They set themselves up as information sheets. It seems like the trendy left around here doesn't want you to criticize Mr. Marx, or it's off to the salt mines.

MRR: SO ALL THOSE LOCAL ZINES ARE LEFT?

It's the intellectual (not that I have anything against learning), snobby college student zines that hate our guts. That's fine, cause I don't like that kind of person. The kind of zines done by the regular kids do like us.

MRR: AREN'T THOSE ZINES MORE CENTER OR MODERATE THAN LEFT?

No, they're fascist.

MRR: MAYBE WE'RE USING DIFFERENT TERMS.

Well, I'm apolitical, I've read all the books. When I was 15 I stole a copy of the Communist Manifesto out of my high school library, I still have it. I've read Bakunin and Proudhon. It's horseshit. It's crap.

MRR: WHY DON'T YOU EXPLAIN.

Because it cannot work because it appeals to people's intellects. And 99% of the people on the face of this earth haven't got enough brains to shit with. They are selfish, mindless pigs. They're conditioned into thinking that there is no other way. They cannot possibly conceive of anything different at any level. Somewhere along the line, the kids that ask "Mommy, mommy, what's that" lose that. Those that don't become writers, critics (I don't think much of critics, even though I'm one myself), figures in society, etc.

MRR: I JUST DID AN INTERVIEW WITH THE MINUTEMEN, WHO ARE WORKING STIFFS, WHO ARE NOT AS CYNICAL AS YOU, WHO DO FEEL THAT THERE IS PLENTY OF ROOM FOR WORKING PEOPLE TO REALIZE THEIR CREATIVE ABILITY.

It would be wonderful if they did, but I'm too cynical to think that they ever will. This gets back to Anarchy and all that crap...in order to acheive a Utopia, we'd have to rid ourselves of every bit of ingrained emotionalism--hatred, greed, sexism, racism, etc. That stuff is a product of 90 million years of evolution. It would take even longer for those traits to be smoothed out, and then we'd have our Utopia.

MRR: SHORT OF UTOPIA, IF YOU DON'T THINK THAT IN OUR LIFETIME OR 10 LIFETIMES THE HUMAN SITUATION IS GONNA BECOME A UTOPIA, THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY TO CREATE OTHER SYSTEMS THAT AT LEAST BRING OUT THE BETTER ASPECTS OF HUMAN NATURE. I DON'T THINK THOSE NEGATIVE PARTS WILL EVER 'GO AWAY', BUT THE SYSTEM WE LIVE IN NOW GLORIFIES THOSE NEGATIVE VALUES! MY DEFINITION OF "POLITICAL" IS TO BE ABLE TO FIGHT TO HAVE A SYSTEM THAT STRESSES THE POSITIVE SIDE OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR.

I agree with you there. I read in MRR your interview with the FUs. I liked it. I liked it a lot. The FUs are running with blinders; they're stupid. I don't mean to criticize them personally, just using them as an example. But they typify the "I don't have a roof over my head, and he doesn't have anything at all, so I must be better" attitude. That's stupid. You're marginally better off, but...

MRR: THAT'S NOTHING TO BE PROUD OF.

I hate America. I despise it. It's so plastic. My family is European, not American. My father was a German refugee from Nazi Germany in 1936. He was snuck out by his father to avoid the German Army. My mother grew up in London during the Blitz. Plus, I've lived in England.

MRR: SO YOU'VE HAD A CONTRAST OF CULTURES.

God, this country sucks.

MRR: IT'S A CULTURAL WASTELAND.

There's no charm, no class; it's so vulgar. You flip on the TV and you get pelted by ads: "Christmas Sale, Thanksgiving Sale, Millard Fillmore's Birthday Sale." You name it, and they'll have a sale and make some fucking money out of it. No pride. Or if there is, it's an ugly-based "I'm a country boy and I'm ignorant" kind of pride.

MRR: PART OF THE PROBLEM IS THAT MOST PEOPLE DON'T HAVE ANYTHING TO CROSS-REFERENCE IT AGAINST. THEY THINK THEY KNOW WHAT THE WORLD OR THIS COUNTRY IS ALL ABOUT, BUT THEY ONLY KNOW WHAT THEY'VE BEEN SPOONFED. THAT'S WHY WHEN SOMEONE SAYS SOMETHING LIKE "I'M APOLITICAL", I LIKE TO GET THEM TO DEFINE THAT. EVERONE'S GOT A DIFFERENT DEFINITION.

I'm not anti-politics; I'm anti-Utopian..

MRR: LET'S SAY YOUR CYNICISM IS AT THE FOREFRONT OF YOUR THOUGHT.

I'm one of the most sarcastic, cynical assholes you'll ever want to meet in your life. I'm just a very bitter person.

MRR: IS THAT BASED ON YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCES?

That, and I'm just an asshole (laughter).

MRR: SO, WHY LIVE, SAB? WHY FIGHT?

If you don't, it's a cop-out, isn't it?

MRR: THAT MUST INDICATE THAT ON SOME LEVEL YOU'RE NOT AS CYNICAL AS YOU LEAD PEOPLE TO BELIEVE.

Obviously, if you're 100% cynical you would snuff yourself. I do enjoy things in life. I like taking a big shit in the morning, like everybody else. I like the smell of my own farts. There are good things in life. But isn't life difficult?

MRR: WHAT ELSE IN YOUR PHILOSOPHY WOULD YOU LIKE TO EXPOUND?

My philosophy? I never thought of it as a philosophy.

MRR: SURE. WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR LIFE, YOUR OUTLOOK, YOUR EXISTENCE, THAT'S YOUR PHILOSOPHY.

Gee, Sab the Philosopher. And I'm not even Greek.

MRR: SO WHAT'S YOUR OUTLOOK ON THE DIRECTION OF TODAY'S PUNK SCENE?

You really have to wonder. Now, everybody's just sounding like everybody else—fast. The members of IRON CROSS weren't weened on BLACK FLAG and the CIRCLE JERKS. The stuff we grew up with was the PISTOLS, BUZZCOCKS, DEAD BOYS, AVENGERS. So, the desire to play 3 million miles an hour and go "uh, uh, uh, uh" was never there.

MRR: IS IT JUST THE SPEED OF TODAY'S SONGS THAT MAKE THEM NOT HAVE AN IMPACT FOR YOU?

That's a contributing factor. Having nothing to say is the other factor.

MRR: WHY DO YOU THINK SO MANY KIDS DON'T HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY, IN YOUR OPINION?

Cause they don't bother to think for themselves. The great punk idea of thinking for yourself is virtually dead. That's what it was all about...don't just sit there and listen to what Tim Yohannan or Sab Grey has to say, and take it as gospel. Listen to it if you want to, and say "that sounds good" and then criticize it, and do something about it.

MRR: DON'T YOU THINK THAT WHEN A MOVEMENT JUST STARTS AND HAS A CLEAN SLATE, SO TO SPEAK, IT'S EASIER IN A WAY BECAUSE ANYTHING THAT ANYBODY DOES IS NEW. BUT FIVE YEARS DOWN THE ROAD IT'S HARDER TO BE INNOVATIVE AND FRESH.

So I'm supposed to jump up and down when some kid picks up a guitar and goes "Reagan Sucks"?

MRR: WHAT IF HE PICKS UP A GUITAR AND GOES "FUN, FUN, FUN?" IS THAT ANY DIFFERENT?

No, but I'll take that at more face value, because the person who says "Fuck Reagan" probably has no idea what he's talking about.

MRR: YOU DON'T KNOW THAT FOR SURE. EARLIER YOU MADE A COMPLAINT ABOUT PEOPLE NOT BOTHERING TO FIND OUT WHAT YOU REALLY MEAN...

There are some bands like that who I admire, who say what they believe in, who are honest. I may not agree with it, may not like their music, but I respect them. MDC, for example. I don't like what they have to say...well, I agree obviously with some of it. I'm probably more Left wing than most people, but I'm not active about it...screaming, ranting, and raving about it.

MRR: BUT IN A WAY YOUR GENERALIZATIONS ABOUT THE "FUCK REAGAN" TYPES ARE JUST AS UNFAIR AS SOME PEOPLE'S THOUGHTS ABOUT YOU. YOU MAY NOT KNOW HOW KNOWLEDGABLE OR WELL-INTENTIONED THEY MIGHT BE.

There are much better ways of putting it than "Fuck Reagan".

MRR: WELL, YOU CHOSE THAT EXTREME EXAMPLE.

I suppose I did.

MRR: I THINK IT MUST HAVE TO DO WITH A BASIC PHILOSOPHICAL DIFFERENCE YOU HAVE. IF YOU REALLY DID FEEL "FUCK REAGAN", THEN YOU WOULD BE A BIT MORE SYMPATHETIC..."YEAH, 'FUCK REAGAN,' AT LEAST THEY'RE BEGINNING TO THINK." BUT YOU FEEL THEY AREN'T THINKING AT ALL.

No, no, no, no, no. Now you're wrong. To me, "Fuck Reagan" is not nearly as important as, say, "Wolfpack" is to me. It bothers me more that an old woman can't walk the streets because some mugger's gonna whack her upside the head. That's much closer to home, and much more to do with the great sins of the world.

MRR: THERE'S SOME QUOTE THAT SAYS, "WHEN 100 PEOPLE DIE, IT'S A CATASTROPHE, BUT WHEN A MILLION DIE IT'S A STATISTIC".

You know who said that? I think it was a very prominent Nazi, Josef Goebbels.

[OBIK: "A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic." -Joseph Stalin]

MRR: SO, IN THIS CASE, YOU CAN THINK ABOUT ONE WOMAN GETTING WHACKED UPSIDE THE HEAD, AND ON AN INDIVIDUAL LEVEL, SYMPATHIZE AND FEEL IT. BUT IF REAGAN WHACKS 1000 PEOPLE UPSIDE THE HEAD EVERY DAY, WHY DOES THAT INVALIDATE SINGING ABOUT IT?

It doesn't. It's just that Reagan himself doesn't. He's just a figurehead of a political party, a political system, and its associates who are responsible. It's not him himself. Reagan's probably a really nice guy. To me, he seems very myopic, probably not too bright, a terrible actor.

MRR: BUT A GOOD POLITICIAN THOUGH.

He knows how to manipulate people. And that's what we're all about anyway. I try to do the same thing when we perform. I would be lying if I said I didn't. That's what stage presence is: manipulation of people. He happens to do it better than the last guy. Basically, he represents a hell of a lot of evil. I do not think much of him at all, you know. But on the other hand, whining and sniveling about something like that is a bit pointless, especially if you do it in a manner that doesn't acheive anything.

MRR: MY FEELING IS IT'S A GOOD STARTING PLACE THOUGH. FOR MOST KIDS WHO'VE BEEN WEANED ON TV AND HEAVY METAL AND NEVER THOUGHT MUCH AT ALL, IT'S A GIANT STEP TO BE ABLE TO SAY THAT. I REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME I GOT UP ENOUGH COURAGE TO LOOK UP IN THE SKY AND STICK OUT MY MIDDLE FINGER AND YELL "FUCK GOD." THEN I RAN FOR COVER, WAITING TO BE STRUCK DOWN BY A LIGHTNING BOLT. MAYBE BEING ABLE TO SAY "FUCK REAGAN" IS A VERY IMPORTANT FIRST LITTLE STEP. MAYBE SOME OF THEM ARE JUST COPY-CATTING, BUT MAYBE FOR A LOT OF THEM THAT'S SIGNALING A BEGINNING TO THINK FOR THEMSELVES, TO FIGHTING THEIR CONDITIONING.

Well, all I can say is 'let's hope it is,' because it's a trifle boring. When we go out of town and play with 3 or 4 bands and they all sound the same and people go "huh?" to us...We don't play by people's rules; we make our own. We don't kiss people's asses, we don't 'preach to the converted.' What a waste of time! We've had 5 years of CRASS records, and what have they told me..."War is bad." OK, war is bad. Gee, I didn't know that. But what comes after it. The point is, there's no easy answer. But I'm glad people find us offensive and a challenge to them, because it means we're doing something. We want to make people think. As long as we can challenge people, especially the punks, then we're doing something. As soon as we become accepted, nice and safe, then it's time to quit.

return to the Washington, DC pagereturn to the Washington, DC page
return to main
return to main