Interview: Scream

I'm just so lucky that I’m able to play music with my friends and put the music out and people are down for listening to it and enjoy it.

DC hardcore legends Scream have recently released their long awaited new album DC Special and it sees the band (vocalist Pete Stahl, guitarist Franz Stahl, bassist Enoch “Skeeter” Powell and the late Kent Stax on drums) blast back with a collection of rousing hardcore anthems, both hard hitting lyrically and musically, complemented with the bands knack for sublime melodies over the albums duration. Gavin Brown caught up with Pete Stahl while he was out on tour with Sunn O))) to talk brilliantly in depth about DC Special and the return of Scream as well as also talking about the band’s legacy including a moving tribute to Kent Stax, their long history with Dischord records, DC hardcore and his other bands Goatsnake, Earthlings? and Wool.

E&D: Scream have just released your new album DC Special. What has the reaction to it been like so far?     

Pete: It seems like the record is really communicating a key theme that we wanted to exhibit in the record and in the project, and that would be a feeling of joy. It seems like a lot of people have been really digging the record, it’s been making them feel good and I think it’s fitting well in their playlist, maybe have some good Saturday night party soundtracks.

E&D: What led to the creation of the album and how does it feel to be back?

Pete: Well, in our minds, we never went away, it’s just, life gets in the way and we all have families and jobs and got to make a living, make ends meet. So we, unfortunately, have never been able to operate as a working band. When we were starting out, of course we didn’t have the obligations we have now as adults, we were able to get in the van and do what the hell we wanted. But, over the years, a lot of different things got in the way, they created the times where we weren’t so active, but we actually always got together and played, especially around the holidays, we would get together at home. Theres the Live At The Black Cat record, that we recorded live at Christmas. So we would always get together around the holidays and play music, even if we didn’t play live. We have been playing shows too, we get together and do little groups of tours. We did four shows up the West Coast and we’re doing four shows up the East Coast, and then we were hoping to come to the UK in the spring. It’s really all we can do because I’m out on a job right now, that’s just how it goes. Of course, other things got in the way and the pandemic actually ended up being a catalyst for us to book the time this time. We went into studio and did this record in 2021, and just completed a few months ago, and now it’s out.

E&D: Can you tell us a bit about the songs from the album and what topics they deal with?

Pete: Yeah, of course, man. Well, the record kicks off with a song called ‘DC Special’ that trumpets our town, It’s a lot of imagery in my mind of what is to grow up there. The town’s changed a lot over the years. It was smaller, just like the scene was small too but it also felt like DC was kind of a small, rural town back when we were kids and there is just a lot of good memories from it. That’s what we write about in that song. Then it moves into ‘Bored Life…’ then ‘Somebody Love’, Enoch wrote some of the lyrics and I finished it. Lyrically it had come from Enoch, who had been working with people that were helping homeless people and people that were dealing with AIDS 30 years ago, and he had written about that experience. We finished that song together, it’s kind of ironic that we got that song out, as it is a song singing about the love you give your friends and family in those situations and the feeling that you might have when you’re going through that. When the song comes out during another pandemic, here we are, going through COVID, we all had gone through the AIDS epidemic, like 30/40 years ago and that moves into the song ‘Hell Nah’ which is a real fun song to play. That touches on a lot of the political moments that we went through during the pandemic, locked down in isolation, and also reactions to the murder of George Floyd and, and the Black Lives Matter, movement and the interaction that happened in our nation’s capitol, our hometown, on January 6, and it’s talked about in the context of brothers hanging out on the corner as being like a band and talking about stuff and talking shit, so it’s a call and response song.

‘Tum Tum’ is more of a love song about someone meeting the girl at the bus stop, and rapping with her on the bus. That’s more of a lighthearted, fun song, but then that song goes into ‘Represent’, is a two part song. It starts off in a fun way, where we’re talking about speaking your mind, and standing up for it, then it transitions into another song where our friend zonal Emmett has this really intense rap about the oppression of people and people that have been murdered. It stands up for justice, before fading into the sound of the ocean.

We kick off the next side, I always think of records in terms of vinyl, because I’m old! We kick off the second side with ‘Dead Cities’ which is a song, lyrically, about walking through your town at night and it is completely desolate, especially during the pandemic when the streets are empty. In this country, that homelessness situation, we wrote about it a long time ago with the song ‘I Look When You Walk’ when we as individuals became so aware of that. We’re so lucky and fortunate that even though I think we feel sometimes that we’re one step away from it, which is why I’m always working. That song is on our second record and was one of my first times as a young man coming to realise how our system doesn’t really support everybody, and people end up fending for themselves on the streets for whatever reason, sometimes mental illness or drug addiction or financial instability. Unfortunately that happens in this country, ever since the recession from 2008 which a lot of people forget about and that recession really had a huge impact when it put a lot of people out of work, and a lot of those people haven’t recovered. In Los Angeles, where I primarily live these days, especially when I wrote the record, there’s just massive enclaves of homeless people everywhere, on every street corner. ‘Dead Cities’ touches on that, those cities seem hollowed out that way even now. It is such a longer conversation for people to have, we just stand about thinking what’s going on around us and, and what’s happening and what we see, it’s important to communicate like that, so they end up in the songs, and that’s the way they work out for the band. Enoch writes songs that are very topical in that sense too and so does my brother. A lot of these songs were written during the pandemic. We were out of work and had a lot of time so it gave us an opportunity for the first time in a long time to be able to just write songs and work on music which is our passion. That’s a good portion of the record and some of the topics we cover.

E&D: The song, ‘DC Special Sha La La’, you’ve just done a video for it with Brendan Canty. How was it working with him and can you tell us a bit about the video and the making of it?

Pete: I’d love to. It’s so great that Brendan was gracious with his time, we don’t make a lot of videos, they cost money too. He’s a filmmaker, everybody knows Brendan is a great drummer for Fugazi and other bands but he has filmmaking as a passion, so he does that for a living, and it was great that he made the time. We did it really low budget. Kent Stax was actually meant to be in the video which really sucks. He had been battling cancer for a while but when it took a turn it did really quickly and that day he was supposed to be in the video with me but unfortunately when I tried to get in touch with him, he didn’t pick up and that was my first sign that something wasn’t right here and he didn’t bounce back from that. I did the video, just me, singing the song walking along the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC, near the Jefferson Memorial. I had gotten the idea from what I thought was an old Gil Scott Heron video, but it was actually a video that was within a bigger movie, called Black Wax. If people want to look it up, it’s a movie that this filmmaker did about Gil Scott Heron. I got the idea of that setting and the way he did that song walking around different places in DC. That’s where the inspiration for the that video came from. Brendan did a great job, and then, fortuitously, we got booked to play at the Martin Luther King Library in DC, a couple weeks later, which brought everyone together. After we did that gig, which we got to play with some killer new DC bands, and also Trouble Funk which was a real highlight for us, we just jumped in Franz’s wagon, which he borrowed from his buddy, and then we shot the other scenes, and then just pieced it all together, so it came out perfect. The end part is that show I was telling you about, at Martin Luther King Library. If anyone ever goes to DC, go visit that library. There’s a punk archive there as well as a lot of other cool exhibits about Washington, DC. They do a really cool concert series there, that’s what that was a part of and that’s the end of the of the video. I’m already brainstorming about making another one if we can find some people that will help us out.


E&D: You mentioned Kent there, who sadly passed away. Is this album a tribute to him and those early days of Scream?

Pete: It definitely it. It ends up being a tribute to Kent, just like all of our records highlight what a unique drummer he was. If you go back and listen to our second record This Side Up and the song in the album with same name, the drumming on that is crazy. Noone can ever really figure out this Interplay that he did with the floor and the rack tom. He’s a very unique drummer. Everybody knows Dave Grohl was in our band for a few years, but they were completely different drummers and Dave can’t play like Kent, Kent didn’t play like Dave, so we’ve been very blessed with the people that play drums in our band, just like now, Jerry Busher does. To get back to Kent, the core of the record is me, Franz, Enoch and Kent. We got together as a band, we wrote the record together or completed the record together, we rehearsed it together, and then we recorded the record together. If you get the vinyl, I think there’s twelve songs on it, eight or nine songs Kent’s on it. Even the songs that he doesn’t play drums, he’s actually playing percussion, like maracas, or tambourine, or he’s singing. Now that he’s gone, we pay tribute to him, and we keep him close to us by continuing to play these songs. People getting a chance to hear him on these records is a tribute to him, and it’s what he would want it to do. He was a working man drummer, I feel we are a working class band, I’m  doing this interview while I’m on a job with Sunn O))). He had other gigs, other killer bands. He was in a band called The Suspects, a killer DC punk band who everyone should seek out. He was also in jazz bands like The Old Dominion Trio practically until he couldn’t stand up anymore. He would have been playing with us if he would have been able to. We’re doing what I know Kent would want us to do, and what he himself self would do if he was in the same situation. It illuminates his style of drumming and he’s a real important part of this band.

E&D: The album is out on Dischord, does feel special bringing DC Special out on the  the label with your history together and how did that start for you?

Pete: Well, it really started because it was such a small scene back then. The DC punk and hardcore scene when we were first beginning we probably only thirty or forty people. Ian and everybody all came out of a couple of different high schools in DC, We really liked that music and that scene, we wanted to be a part of it, but we were kind of a little bit on the outside. We started doing stuff in our neighbourhood, we played backyard parties, basement parties, keg parties, and then we started playing these little New Wave clubs in town, and we started making a name for ourselves. We actually went on tour, before we ever made Still Screaming, and  after we came back from that tour, we were playing a gig and Ian MacKaye came up to us at that show, and asked us if we wanted to do a recording. We were so ready, and we wanted to be a part of that scene because we identified with it, and, we had just done that tour, and anybody that’s ever been in a band knows when when you come off tour, that’s when you’re going to be your tightest. So we were ready, we went into the studio, we recorded like 21 songs in three days. And that ended up being the first album on Dischord.

E&D: Hoe have your recent live shows gone down?

Pete: We really pride ourselves on our live shows, and I always feel like we sound better live than we do on record, maybe not sound better, but I feel like the emotion and passion in what we’re singing about, I think we were able to transfer that in a live setting from us as the collective band on stage in a powerful way. I think it comes from playing in a scene in DC, with bands Minor Threat and the Bad Brains, they’re all killer live bands. There’s always a competitive aspect to being in a band, especially in the community of musicians here where you want to push, yourselves. We want to be intense, and we want to blow them off the stage. We’ve always put 200% of our energy into playing live. I feel like, even though we’ve been playing together for forty years, we’re old fuckers now but we still play, in our minds, still like when we were starting out. We’re gonna bring it so you best be ready!

E&D: You have had the legendary Gizz Butt playing guitar with you. How has it been having him play in the band and have you known him for a while?

Pete: Well, we have, Franz and I met him back when he was in the Prodigy, they played these massive shows with Foo Fighters who Franz played with and I was working for and it seems like he knows everybody! I’m really glad that he’s in our band, because everyone seems to know him. He’s a killer guitar player. I think he has his own music school back there in Peterborough, so he’s actually teaching us stuff. It’s great to have him in the band because we can hand him the acoustic guitar at the end of night when we’re having some drinks and he’ll serenade us! It’s great right now and I can’t wait to continue playing with him.

E&D: What have been some of the greatest gigs, past and present that Scream have played?

Pete: We had a really special show with the band Soulside on this tour that we’re doing in San Francisco, I think that was a highlight of that tour. Going back to the beginning, Bad Brains come up a lot but they had a huge impact on our career by giving us our first show in DC, at the Wilson Center, then we went up in a van together, we drove up to New York, Bad Brains and Scream, we played at CBGBs back in 1982. That was a real highlight for us, to play with them and travel with them and play in front of the New York hardcore scene. I’ll never forget that gig! Opening up for the Dead Kennedys back in the day. We played with them at The Farm in San Francisco, which was their hometown. Playing the Olympic Auditorium with the Subhumans, these are all highlights of our career.

E&D: What were some of the highlights of your time in your other bands like Goatsnake, Wool and Earthlings? and will these bands ever do anything again in the future?

Pete: Well, I don’t know. I’m very fortunate to be in Goatsnake, which is also, oddly enough, tied to a family of musicians. that’s part of the branches of the Scream tree. Goatsnake came out of the band The Obsessed, who were a DC metal band, but they were also in the punk scene early on, and Scream and The Obsessed, played together quite a bit. That band ended up ultimately changing members but the original Obsessed actually had dudes from our little neighbourhood called  Bailey’s Crossroads, Vance Bockis rest in peace, but then The Obsessed ended up in LA, went through some different changes in some of the people in that band ended up in Goatsnake, so I feel like a lot of the bands that I’ve been a part of, like Wool, Goatsnake and Earthlings? It’s one huge journey that I’ve been on, and there’s a lot of touch points that touches other parts of my life. I would love to play with Goatsnake again in the future, but I just don’t know if it’s on the cards.

E&D: Looking back on your whole career in music, how does it feel to be still doing it after all these years?

Pete: How does it feel? It’s a good question. Sometimes it feels kind of stupid, that might be a funny thing to say, but to be at my age and still playing, sometimes you have a lot of different emotions. I’m very grateful that music is my life. It’s kind of a ying yang sometimes like that, where you question what you’re doing. I think a lot of people are like what am I doing with my life? I’m so lucky that I have this. We made this album DC Special, me, Franz, Enoch and Kent and after we completed recording it, Kent is diagnosed with cancer and before we can even get out and play shows behind it, he passes away, so you never know what’s around the corner. Sometimes I question what I’m doing but I’m just so lucky that I’m able to play music with my friends and put the music out and people are down for listening to it and enjoy it.

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