Interview: Negative FX

Negative FX gained a mythological status over the decades and it is still amazing that people are still talking about it!

As part of the legendary Boston hardcore scene of the early 1980s alongside fellow straight-edge bands SSD and DYS, Negative FX were known for their fearsome reputation and even more fearsome music. Despite only playing a mere 5 live shows, the band gained an almost mythical status, and this was evident even more so when the band split up. Last year however, there was news of an unexpected Negative FX reunion for a live show scheduled for 2024 and hardcore fans rejoiced at the chance to see the band again. Alas it was sadly not be, but Gavin Brown did catch up with Negative FX drummer Dave “Bass” Brown to get the inside story of the reunion as he also delved into the past of one of the most underrated bands in American hardcore history.

E&D: Negative FX were due to reunite for a one-off show but the show got cancelled. Can you give us an insight into what happened?        

Dave: Yes. Negative FX were due to play a one-off show March 2nd, 2024. Our original bass player, Rich Collins hadn’t played bass since our last show in March 1983 and didn’t want to play the show. We got Jaimie from SSD to play bass and we had a few rehearsals which went OK. Unfortunately, our guitarist, Pat got severe arthritis in his hands and it was too painful for him to play. A month before the show was to take place, my mother got sick and passed away and I had to deal with her affairs. The promoter of the show also passed away, so we decided to just cancel the show altogether.

E&D: Will the band ever get together again to do shows? How did Negative FX break up in the first place?

Dave: It doesn’t look like Negative FX will ever get together again to play a show. I live in Philadelphia, PA and the other guys live in near Boston and Maine. I think if we all lived close together like we did in 1982, it would be much easier to rehearse for a show. I don’t remember if Negative FX ever officially broke up, we just kind of fell apart. After we played our last show in March 1983 with Mission of Burma, Jack “Choke” Kelly formed Last Rites. I did a few shows with a Philly punk band named Little Gentlemen around that time. I don’t know what Pat or Richie did because I didn’t keep in touch with the rest of NFX after our last show.

E&D: What were some of the best moments in your time with the band?

Dave: The best moments wad when we all got together to rehearse for the first time, it was the winter of 1981 and we practiced in the basement of the house where I was staying, in Allston, Mass. It was a cold, snowy winter and we just rehearsed in the basement. After a few rehearsals, we made some home recordings with a Radio Shack cassette deck with two microphones hanging from the ceiling. We made some cassettes and sent them to some of the bands that were on Dischord and the Touch & Go label. It was very exciting to open for Government Issue and the Bad Brains in March and May of 1982 and then the Misfits in December 1982. We really enjoyed making our own flyers and putting them on telephone poles in the area to advertise the shows. Everything was done by hand with press-on letters. There were no computers or internet in those days. It was very expensive to make a long-distance telephone call. We would write letters to people to people in bands and trade cassettes with one another, which is a lost art form if you think about it.

E&D: Does it blow your mind that people are still talking about Negative FX after all these years and do you think the band gained an almost mythical status due to not being around that long?

Dave: Taang Records created the myth of Negative FX. If Taang didn’t put out the NFX album in 1985, the band would have been a mere footnote in Boston hardcore history. Thanks to Curtis at Taang Records, and his support throughout the years, Negative FX was documented on vinyl, CD and cassette for generations to come. Negative FX gained a mythological status over the decades and it is still amazing that people are still talking about it!

 

E&D: Negative FX famously only played 5 shows in their original existence. What are your main memories from each of those shows?

Dave: I remember vividly when we opened for Government Issue in March of 1982. It was at Gallery East in Boston. I was very excited because I had bought the Government Issue EP at Newbury Comics for two dollars and really liked the way it sounded, with tons of echo and reverb. When John Stabb came out on stage, he was dressed in stripped pants and had bright orange hair. It was like psychedelic hardcore, the sight and sound was amazing!

E&D: What are your recollections of making the Negative FX album and the Government War Plans EP?  Also, were there ever any plans for more new Negative FX music after that?

Dave: I kind of remember that the recording of the Negative FX album was done rather quickly at Radio Beat Studios in Kenmore Square. We were originally going to make a seven-inch EP. We made some reel to reels of a few songs that were played on college radio stations before we had anything released. The Government War Plans EP, that was just some unreleased material that was recorded in the basement of where we used to rehearse. It would have been nice to make a new “reunion” show recording, but it doesn’t look like it at this point!

E&D: How did you get into punk and hardcore in the first place?

Dave: I started to get into punk when I was in high school in the Philadelphia suburbs in the late 1970s. There was a record store in Bryn Mawr, PA called Plastic Fantastic. The store sold a magazine called “Bomp” and that is how I started to read and learn about new punk and new wave bands. The record store carried independent punk 45s, so I started buying 45s by DMZ on Bomp, the Plasmatics EP. Plastic Fantastic would have in-store appearances by visiting bands like the Police, the Jam and Talking Heads. I met Sting at one of these store appearances. There was ten people there, and Sting signed by Police 45 which had just come out. It was an exciting time as I was 16-17 years old and was on the ground floor of what was happening. I started reading fanzines and magazines like Trouser Press and Ballroom Blitz and read about new bands that I never heard of before.I was also listening to local Philadelphia college radio which played all the new records that were coming out from England. This is how I found out about bands like Monochrome Set who had this record out called “Alphaville” which I liked a lot. I started to go to a punk club in Philly called the Hot Club and got to see a lot of great bands, especially Brian Setzer’s band, the Bloodless Pharaohs. I met some like-minded teens who attended a rival high school, and we formed a band and got to play a few times at the Hot Club when we were about 17 years old. After high school, I moved to Boston to attend the Berklee College of Music summer program for one reason, which was to start a band. I met Aimee Mann that summer of 1980, and we formed a band called the Young Snakes and started to play out. I played with the Young Snakes from the summer of 1980 until the summer of 1981. Around the fall of 1981, hardcore was just starting to be played on college radio stations and SSD began putting on their own shows.

E&D: How did Negative FX start as a band and are your main memories of the Boston Hardcore scene in the early 80s? Was that scene as violent as some have said?

Dave: I think hardcore started in Boston around the late summer, early autumn of 1981. I have a theory that hardcore was the punk rock for the kids who were too young for the first wave of punk in 1977. It happened very fast and it was done just as fast. I was lucky to have been at the right place and the right time for hardcore. I started to go to some early hardcore shows and somehow Jack “Choke” Kelly got my phone number and wanted to form a hardcore band. Jack got these other two guys together, Pat and Rich on guitar and bass, and we started to rehearse in my basement. This was around the winter of 1981. By March, 1982, we played our first show with Government Issue, Double O and SS Decontrol. It wasn’t that violent at all. It was just a bunch of kids who wanted to skateboard, make flyers and play their own shows. It was a very do-it-yourself kind of thing that appealed to a lot of young people back then.

E&D: What were some of the funnest times you had as part of the Boston Crew and what was it about the whole straightedge movement that appealed to you? What were some of the greatest shows you saw during that time as well?

Dave: What was fun, back then, was the fact that life was more simple and real. All this modern technology that we have today has somehow made things very alienating. I really liked to make flyers by hand, write other hardcore bands letters and exchange information and flyers. We made our own cassettes and sent them in the mail to other bands, it was a much different way of life. I never thought much about the straight-edge movement back then, but looking back, it was a good idea to keep away from drugs and alcohol and being alert. I think it was Choke or Ian from Minor Threat who once said that keeping your hair short makes you more alert!

E&D: Who are your favourite ever Boston bands?

Dave: I liked the band Lyres, Boys Life, the Outlets, the Stains who were from Maine, Jerry’s Kids, CCCP-TV. Also liked Art Yard and the Insteps who never put out any records at the time,

E&D: What are your favourite Hardcore albums of all time?

Dave: I really liked the first Circle Jerks LP, Black Flag’s Damaged LP, the Flex Your Head compilation and the This is Boston, Not LA compilation was also quite good.

E&D: What do you think that the legacy of Negative FX and your music is? How would you love for Negative FX to be remembered?

Dave: Negative FX should be remembered as just one of the many early 80s hardcore bands that was around for a brief period in time, who made a few records and then moved on to other things. I am proud that we did what we did during that time.

E&D: What other musical activities did you do after Negative FX split up?

Dave: After NFX split up, I formed a record label, Moulty Records, and began to learn how to manufacture and make vinyl records. I put out a 45 by the Prime Movers from Boston in 1983 and few New England garage compilations, along with some Lyres 45s. I played a few shows with the band Lyres in 1984, 1986 and 1988.

E&D: Who are your biggest influences as a drummer?

Dave: When I was growing up, the first drummer I liked was Ringo Starr from the Beatles after I saw them play on TV, and  I used to watch Buddy Rich on television when I was a kid. As a teenager, I liked Keith Moon from the Who, Bill Bruford from Yes, Clive Bunker from Jethro Tull and the guy who played drums on the very first King Crimson album, Michael Giles.

E&D: Who are your favourite ever hardcore drummers?

Dave: My favourite was Jeff Nelson from Minor Threat, he played extremely fast and was fun to watch live on stage. I feel very fortunate that I got to see Minor Threat live a few times in 1982. I also liked Lucky Leher from the Circle Jerks, I got to see both Emil and Robo play drums for Black Flag. Brian Betzger from Gang Green was really good.

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