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Interview conducted with Pete Zelewski, Negative Approach's first bassist, guitarist for the Allied and publisher of Real Threat zine (among other things), in late July 2002 by Obik / Dementlieu Punk Archive. Copyright 2002. Reproduction is allowed as long as this copyright notice is left intact.
When and how did you get into punk?
I was 14 and up to that point (1979) my musical tastes were very similar to those of most other suburban Midwest teenagers (Kiss, Black Sabbath, Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper etc). I had the long hair, leather jacket, flared jeans etc. and was just learning to play guitar. A cousin of mine came to visit one summer from London (my mother was English) and talked about all these bands that the kids in England were listening to. They included the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Jam, The Ruts etc. Out of curiosity I went out and bought 'Never Mind The Bollocks' by the Sex Pistols and from the first listen things changed very drastically. It was like being baptised. I instantly cut the hair, slashed up the leather jacket, tapered my jeans and formed my first punk band called 'The Sleeves'. Our first gig was at my high school talent show and they pulled the plug on us after 30 seconds. A great start to my musical career, I thought!
What was the beginning of your involvement with the Detroit area scene?
Well, John Brannon (Negative Approach singer) and I both lived in a suburb of Detroit called Grosse Pointe and went to the same high school. There were no other punks around at the time and we used to run into each other at gigs and eventually struck up a friendship. Although we were both into punk, our tastes were very different. He was more into the Stooges, Dead Boys, MC5 sound and I was a real Clash, Stiff Little Fingers, Jam and Buzzcocks fan. John's first band was called Static and I used to hang out with them and even played bass at a few of their gigs. There was no punk scene in Detroit to speak of until we met The Necros. They were an intimidating bunch from Ohio and we kept seeing them at gigs and were finally introduced by a girl called Larissa who sang for a Detroit band called L-Seven. Around the same time I was introduced to a bunch of guys from the Endless Summer Skateboard Park: The McCulloch brothers, OP Moore, a guy named Spike and Doug Bashaw, who eventually became the Allied singer. When Black Flag first came to Detroit it was a really important event and John Brannon, the skate guys and I went along and met up with the Necros who were supporting them. It was obvious that The Necros were keen to get a scene going similar to what was happening in Washington DC and they invited us all along to a party they were playing in Ohio. They, along with Tesco Vee (from Touch and Go fanzine), were very supportive in the early days and encouraged everyone to start bands/fanzines etc. The truth is that without them the scene would have never existed.
|Pete and Bud of the Allied, 1982|
Photo courtesy of Pete
How did you come to be Negative Approach's first bassist, and why did you leave?
After that Black Flag/Necros gig it was obvious that John and I both wanted to do something similar. John put a lot of work into his first band, Static, and was hesitant to leave them, like me he was really getting into the new hardcore sound, but his old band mates lacked his vision. I was playing guitar with some of the skateboard guys in a band called Youth Patrol, but that wasn't really going anywhere so I hooked up with John. Eventually, with the help of Rob McCulloch on guitar, the first NA line-up was born with me on bass, John on vocals and a guy named Zuheir on drums. The first gigs were really exciting and John was becoming an incredible frontman and although I initially enjoyed the excitement of the whole thing I started to feel increasingly distant from the style of songs we were writing. I already feeling the limitations of hardcore and was getting more into bands like The Effigies from Chicago and Iron Cross from Washington DC. I started buying a lot of British records too from bands such as Discharge, Blitz and all the stuff on No Future Records. Although Negative Approach were getting quite popular I knew early on that it wasn't for me.
How long was your tenure in NA?
I don't know exactly but I'd say just under a year. Zuheir was really holding us back and rehearsals were always plagued by huge arguments between him and John. Rob and I laughed it off in the early days but I eventually became really fed up with the situation. My musical tastes were also changing and I was keen to progress beyond what was now becoming the NA sound. In hindsight I suppose I should have worked around the situation but at the time I felt it was best for everyone involved that I left. The positive side of it was they recruited more suitable band members (OP and Rob's brother, Graham) and we all stayed friends. John was also very encouraging with my next venture, The Allied. We even supported them at our first gig at The Freezer Theatre.
Did the lineup of NA with yourself and Zuheir (sp?) make any recordings?
The only recorded song with that line-up was 'Lost Cause', which appeared on the Midwest hardcore compilation 'The Process of Elimination' on Touch and Go records. Funnily enough, it was my least favourite NA song but it became one of the most popular tracks on that record.
What prompted you to start Real Threat fanzine, and how was the response to the issues you did?
While I was in NA I always enjoyed designing gig flyers and after leaving the band I thought I'd have a go at producing a fanzine. Barry Henssler from The Necros used to produce The Smegma Journal and he encouraged me to start mine up because he was too busy with The Necros to keep his coming out on a regular basis. The scene really needed another fanzine to document what was happening at the time. I also felt that it would be good opportunity to introduce people to bands other than the usual crop of hardcore stuff that was around at the time. There was excellent reaction to both issues, not only in Detroit but also from all over the US and Europe. Unfortunately, there were certain people in the scene who felt I was dedicating too much time to English bands when I should have been writing about Midwest hardcore only. My stance was that I always tried to write about music that was good, regardless of its origins.
Did you do any other zine work after RT stopped?
No, producing a fanzine in 1982 was a very time consuming affair. You've got to realise that this was before computer design/scanning software, e-mail, web etc. and everything had to be done by hand. A guy named Dave Lozon used to help me with it and he would type everything up on a typewriter while I'd do all the artwork and develop the photos via my High School photography/art class. We would then sell the magazine at gigs and send it to people all over the US and Europe. Once The Allied was formed it was very difficult to devote sufficient time to it.
When, where and why did the Allied form?
The Allied was formed in Detroit a short while after I left NA, probably in 1982. Although I was still into the US hardcore sound, I knew that I wanted to do something different from the usual type of hardcore bands that were now becoming very tiresome. There was a guy named Doug Bashaw whom I befriended in the early days and musically we really clicked, as we were both heavily into The Effigies and Iron Cross but also had a love for the Clash. The first real line-up had Doug on bass, Bud Burcar on drums, I played guitar and a guy named Rob Michaels sang. Rob came from a band called Bored Youth who were without doubt the most underrated band from that period. When Bored Youth broke up we were lucky enough to get him to sing for us. The initial line-up only lasted about six months because Rob had to go to college in Ann Arbor and travelling to rehearsals would have been impossible considering the distance. Doug, who was playing bass at the time, moved over to vocals and we recruited a guy called Mick on bass. Doug had never sung before but he was a very menacing character and really helped to define The Allied sound.
What were the major influences (musical or otherwise) for you and the band as a whole? Obviously Oi! was very influential, but what about the midwestern HC scene--Negative Approach, the Necros, Naked Raygun, Die Kreuzen and all them?
The one thing we were constantly being accused of by our Midwest counterparts was our overly English influenced sound. This is probably because at the time we were listening to a lot of No Future/Oi stuff coming out of Britain and we didn't play fast. To ape the English punk bands and sing about drinking in pubs and being on the dole would have been ridiculous. If anything, we took the best parts of Hardcore and tried to incorporate it into a sound of our own. In the early days of hardcore The Necros were without a doubt the most influential band around and they really inspired all of us but after that it was most certainly The Effigies. The lead singer, John Kezdy, became a good friend and took us under his wing. It's unfortunate, but by this time the scene in Detroit was dividing heavily between the hardcore bands who were now sounding more heavy metal than punk and those bands that were supposedly English influenced.
Click for a larger version.
Do you have an particularly good stories about the band--great shows, awful shows, van breakdowns, etc, that you'd like to share?
My favourite shows were always the Freezer Theatre gigs. It was a real hole in the wall place right in the middle of the worst Detroit ghetto called the Cass Corridor. It's really where the scene took off and we sort of customised it as our own. Most gigs had 6-7 bands on the bill and they were always packed to the limit. The Allied had a very strong following, so any show we would do there would have tons of dedicated kids singing along to every song. We also supported The Effigies in Chicago, which was by far my favourite gig. We were such huge fans of theirs and to play Chicago with them was an honour. We enjoyed a great reception from the Chicago fans too.
What was your impression of the scene (locally and nationally) before, during and after the Allied? If you're still involved in music now, what's your impression of the scene today.
When the scene started it was only small with only about 30 people involved. Within months the whole thing really started to explode, not only in Detroit but also in Washington DC, Chicago, New York, Boston etc. Some of those Freezer gigs used to have 200-300 people crammed in with more waiting outside. The impressive part of the whole thing was how self-supportive it was. Very few people involved were over 20 and everyone had some sort of involvement whether it was putting out a fanzine, playing in a band or just helping in any way possible. At gigs it was common behaviour to be cheering a band one minute and then getting on stage the next. Unfortunately, the bigger the scene got the more divided things were becoming. Towards the end of my involvement, the violence that was in the early days directed at outsiders was now becoming common between rival bands/fans. When I saw that happening I knew it was the end of something very special. The ironic thing was that most of us got into punk to escape that sort of ignorant macho mentality and towards the end there wasn't much difference in attitude between the hardcore kids/skinheads and the rednecks you would have to take abuse from in everyday life.
Regarding the scene today, I think it's great that kids are still interested in punk/hardcore because the music does have certain timeless energy to it, but I can't help feeling that they should be creating something of their own like we tried to do. What people don't realise is that being a punk in America in 1980/81 wasn't a safe option like it is today. Through abuse at school, from your home life or simply getting picked on for looking different we all paid our dues in one way or another. To me punk/hardcore was always a youth thing that challenged the norm and today when I see bands like Bad Religion and The Dead Kennedys still going through the motions I can't help feeling a bit embarrassed for them. In a way they represent everything we were against in the early days. Personally I'm more inclined to listen to something fresh like the new surge of garage bands coming out of Detroit - The Von Bondies, The White Stripes, The Soledad Brothers, etc. Funnily enough I still buy quite a few Touch and Go releases, which I think produce some really exciting music through bands such as Silkworm, Quasi and Enon. It's amazing what Corey Rusk did with that label.
Did you ever tour? I know you made it to DC at least once, but that's all.
No, we never toured. We were all in High School at the time and that made it very difficult to go away for anything longer than a weekend. We did make it to Chicago and of course our gig in DC with NA and Void. I have fond memories of DC because we stayed at the Dischord house and met all the DC punks, including Ian Mackaye from Minor Threat and Sab Grey from Iron Cross. Iron Cross was a big influence on The Allied so meeting them was great. I remember after the gig someone really prominent in the DC scene (I won't mention names) said to me that The Allied were everything Iron Cross should be. That was a great compliment!
REVIEW OF THE ALLIED'S DC SHOW FROM TOUCH AND GO 21:
Do you know what's happened to the other members?
Unfortunately not. When I left the band I pretty much turned my back on the scene and then a few years later moved to England (where I still live today), so I have no idea of their whereabouts.
I know you never released any vinyl, but were there any demo tapes, or tracks on cassette only compilations?
It was a shame we never released anything on vinyl but we did record two demo tapes, which I still have very rough copies of. I do have vague memories of being included on some compilations but I couldn't tell you which ones. It was a long time ago.
For a while, there was talk of an Allied EP on Ruthless records. What happened to derail the project?
Yeah, we recorded six songs in Chicago with John Kezdy from The Effigies on production and the results were amazing. At the time Touch and Go weren't interested in releasing it, so John said he'd put it out on their Ruthless Records label. At the time Ruthless Records was just John Kezdy, Steve Albini and a few others putting out records by bands they liked. John was adamant that we release a 12" EP because he felt 7" singles were becoming the norm and we would have been taken more seriously with an EP. Unfortunately, my time with the band was coming to an end and the recordings never saw the light of day.
Also, are there any plans for an Allied retrospective? I got an email just recently (four days ago, in fact) from someone who said that an Allied release was going to be coming out on a "well known reissue label". Is there any truth to this?
Yeah, I got a call a few months back from a guy who runs a record label out in LA called Grand Theft Audio and he is very interested in releasing an EP. Unfortunately, we cannot locate the original demo tapes so the project stalled as he searched to find the original recordings. If anyone has a good copy of the demos please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe we can get the thing out.
When, where and why did the band split?
I suppose it must have been about 1983/84 when we finally split. There were never any personal problems with any of the members because we did all get on really well but there were a lot of outside influences creeping in that I strongly disagreed with. As I said earlier, the violence at gigs was getting heavier and certain skinhead gangs were latching onto The Allied and dragging our name down. Their political beliefs were getting very extreme and in complete contrast to my way of thinking. Whereas in the early days it was a complete unity thing we were now becoming very alienated in our own scene. At the time I tried hard to ignore it but it got to the point that playing gigs was no longer enjoyable. I initially got into punk solely for the music but realised that the music was the last thing on the minds of a lot of the thugs that were attending our shows. I came to the conclusion that there was no point in continuing and, much to the disappointment of my fellow band members, I left.
And lastly, are you currently involved in any musical projects?
Yes, for me listening to and playing music have always gone hand in hand. Even before my involvement with the hardcore scene I was always playing music in one form or another. When I moved to London in the late 80's I started getting into all sorts of music beyond punk and started taking my guitar playing a bit more serious. I've been in a few bands since The Allied and I currently play bass in a band called Vinyl. Musically, the band's a long way from my punk roots but although the sound is different I think the beliefs I had back then are still as relevant today as in any music I make. I'm also trying some solo unplugged stuff and writing a bunch of songs on my acoustic guitar, which have an upbeat, modern folk/country feel to them with a hard edge underneath. I am hoping to record and gig those songs in and around London soon.
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