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Old Band T-Shirts Are Memories You Can Wear

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Component is a section of Aux.Out. for one-off pieces, special editorials, and lost orphans of the music discussion. Today, Restorations guitarist Dave Klyman recalls a time where memories weren’t as easy to capture as simply pulling out your phone. Sometimes, you had to wait in line at the merch stand. 

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As we get older, our memories change. Sometimes it happens in grand strokes, other times in ways so minuscule we don’t even realize that anything is different. Musical taste works the same way. Clarity distorts over time, and the associations become different as they are filtered through the lens of time, space, and phases of life.

If you’re into punk/hardcore, you’ve probably been to countless shows and festivals. You’ve seen countless bands. There are the big ones that will always stick with you, but there are also many you just can’t remember. After the first few landmark shows, hindsight gets blurry. These shows, this music, it’s so important. It’s a big part of what shaped you as a human being. And yet, you can’t quite properly place it. Or maybe you can still recall the time, space, people, and sound, the immediate surroundings. For those in it for the long haul, this was way before arenas were being sold to near or complete capacity by bands you saw open a house or small bar to 50 people at best. And maybe 20 of them had paid at the door. Advance ticket sales? Please.

Before you could just open your laptop, phone, or tablet and scroll through a friend’s pictures and videos of every show happening ever all over the planet, there were other ways to preserve memory. Not that there weren’t pictures and video then; it just wasn’t so instant. There were bootleg tapes, independent record stores with official and bootlegged videotapes and eventually DVD, much of which is now out of print, unobtainable, unreadable, and obsolete. In a way, the various forms of information storage available renders the need for actual memories obsolete. How many times have you seen someone or caught yourself attempting to record a memorable situation instead of simply partaking in it? How many times have you seen someone or caught yourself flipping though a device to call up and show a memory rather than tell it?

When you think about media and story dissemination, the immediate word that comes to mind is “digital.” But what about one of the world’s oldest and most fundamental forms of media? How about clothing? Clothes have been used to display associations and lifestyles well before the beginning of recorded history. Without clothing, humans most likely would never have made it to the digital age. And, like most show-goers, I have amassed plenty of music-related shirts and paraphernalia over the years. They all have a story to them. Some details in the stories will be lost, others potentially completely invented. That’s the way the haze of time causes our memories to change. These memories won’t go as far back as, say, elementary school when friends and I bought Iron Maiden and Metallica shirts to see who could get away with the most offensive and shocking design (though I guess I just did; we sure got into some trouble then). We don’t have to dig too much. This isn’t an exhumation. So let’s venture back to 2002, a fine year for up-and-coming punk and hardcore bands. And they all sold shirts. Some bands are still a fixture in the scene while others had to pass on so that new bands could grow from the fertilized soil.

Paint It Black (2001-Present)

I’ve seen Paint It Black in Belgium, Germany, and various parts of the USA. For a band that never really tours, they sure get around. That perception isn’t a big part of their identity anymore, making every time they play seem to be an event that might not happen again for years, if ever. When they do have shows, they make a point of mentioning that they don’t have any merch for sale. “It’s funny to think now that Paint It Black is so gleefully anti-merch,” recounts bassist Andy Nelson. “When we started, it was obvious: You’re a band, now you need a shirt to sell to the people.”

All of their records (full-lengths and 7-inches alike) are currently available to order for $5.00. There are also a few apparel designs. None of them are the shirt I have. This shirt is out of print and ungoogleable. It’s no surprise when a shirt goes out of print. If you’re lucky enough to see Paint It Black when they’re feeling charitable, they will have a version of this shirt for sale. But it’s not the same run. The key difference, aside from the interim years, is that the phrase “Don’t Talk” is printed in red as opposed to the original white. Nelson explains, “Our first hit single was ‘Atticus Finch’, so of course our first hit merch design featured an image from the film version of the Harper Lee novel [To Kill a Mockingbird]. So there you go: Take a skull, put it over Gregory Peck’s face, add some distressed text from the song, BOOM.” If you’re even remotely familiar with Paint It Black’s back catalog, you know the sort of zeal this song creates. “In retrospect, this is one of the cooler shirts we ever did. This design is probably better than our entire first album. And it’s no wonder; its creation was so in keeping with the spirit of punk: brevity, shit that sounds cool, skulls…” Nelson is by all accounts a well-read and -spoken guy, but when it comes to explaining what really gets you excited for punk and its paraphernalia, even the smartest of us can stutter off and reach for descriptors.

Groezrock is an annual festival in Belgium that draws an audience of over 30,000 avid punk fans from all over the world. When Paint It Black played this past year, a strong percentage of those attendees were at their tent watching (and diving) intently. But in 2002 at the Owl Cove in Philadelphia, they played to fewer than 20. It was their second show, and they were the opener on a six-band bill (headlined by skate punk legends McRad) in a venue Paint It Black would now sell out by themselves. My memory tells me attendance when they played might have actually been in the single digits, but there’s that haze that I mentioned earlier. The band was, at that time, a five-piece consisting of Nelson and Dan Yemin (the two remaining original members), Matt Miller, Dave Wagenschutz, and Dave Haus. Nowadays, they’re a svelte four-piece with Nelson, Yemin, Josh Agran, and Jared Shavelson. The list of great seminal bands and projects that this group of people have been and are involved in is a whole other story.paint-it-black-invisible-EP

While in college back in 2002, my friend Jeff and I ran shows at Temple University in Mitten Hall. There was an event space called the Owl Cove with a capacity of 400-500 if you squeezed. Honestly, Jeff did all the booking. But I was the “vice president,” which meant I did setup and ran the door. Already being a fan of Lifetime and Kid Dynamite, I was excited to see this newest project from Yemin. I was also excited to be behind the scenes. When the show started, the turnout was shockingly small. Considering the history leading up to their formation, I figured Paint It Black would have a locked in fan base. Their performances now are incendiary, impassioned, or whatever other cliche writers employ to describe a crazy hardcore show. They’re also well-attended. So imagine what it’s like to see this band absolutely giving it their all, as they always do, but to exponentially fewer people. I was hooked immediately. I recall that I broke into my food budget for the week to buy their four-song demo and the white-lettered “Don’t Talk” shirt.

2014 is seeing the retirement of this shirt. It has been thoroughly worn out from use, and frankly, no matter how many washes it goes through, the white deodorant ring around the armpits is never coming out. Gross, I know. It was a sad but triumphant moment when the decision was finally made. Just seeing the design brings back so many great memories. Memories like seeing one of your favorite bands of all time sweating it out before they really had it all together in front of a group of people small enough that you can actually be that jerk who says, “Well, I saw them back when…” Paint It Black has played many memorable sets since, but the Owl Cove in 2002 will always be a defining moment that makes me feel really positive about the time that I’ve been playing, enabling, and living music within the community of punk and hardcore.

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This Day Forward (1996-2003)

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 9.49.02 AMThere is an uncountable number of firsts that befall a human as they traverse this weird existence. Some people recall and glorify the first kiss they shared with the person who later became their spouse. Some remember vividly the first time they lost something or someone they loved more than anything. I recall the first time I saw a band incite a crowd to such levels of fervor that it seemed like all four walls would explode out from the sheer force of volume and energy. Unfortunately, the details of that early This Day Forward show at a VFW hall somewhere in suburban Philadelphia area are completely washed out to the memory sea. But the mental images have stuck with me: the band themselves flailing as wildly as the crowd, the energy huge enough I swear it must have been measurable on the Richter scale. This is the first time I witnessed the controlled recklessness that defines a full-on pit at a metal/hardcore show. Trying to explain this aesthetic — this release of endorphins and emotion in reaction to a musical performance — doesn’t usually make sense to anyone outside of the scene. It’s another of those instances that does not bear nor require explanation through words. It has to be seen and felt.

I wish I could remember more about that show, but I can’t. I recall the date as somewhere between 1999 and 2000. Fast-forward a couple years to 2002. Bands that would pack midsize and huge venues alike in later years were just starting to get attention on a larger scale. When you hear band names like Every Time I Die and From Autumn to Ashes, it comes with a sense of recognition. The former still tours and puts out some fairly vicious records, and the latter had an extended moment in the sun. Both bands joined This Day Forward on a tour from the end of 2001 and into 2002. January 19th was when they had their hometown show at a now defunct venue called The Killtime, an open warehouse space in a not particularly safe part of West Philadelphia. Many crazy shows happened in a space that tightly fit just over a couple hundred people. It was also one of the few easily booked, completely independent spots in Philadelphia at the time. It’s funny to consider the bands and the crowds they brought to a neighborhood like that. Especially the bands that went on to more mainstream success. Sadly, Every Time I Die did not play the Philadelphia date of the This Day Forward tour, but From Autumn to Ashes did; and if memory serves, they opened. I wish I’d saved the four-song demo they were handing out for free. I feel like, along with the rest of their catalog, it wouldn’t hold up even a little bit. But in 2002, I thought that demo was rad. (Also on the bill, historically speaking, was a band named Until the End.)

This Day Forward went through lineup changes throughout their existence, but the three members who stayed constant were Colin Frangicetto (drums) and the Shaw brothers, Gary and Mike (bass and lead vocals, respectively). Frangicetto went on to form the wildly successful band Circa Survive along with final This Day Forward guitarist Brendon Ekstrom. Asking Gary Shaw about this particular show, it became clear he and I share a similar black hole-style memory. “To be honest with you,” he says, “I’m a little blurry on that specific show. We played that place about five times, maybe, and it’s all running into each other.” Completely fair. This was a decade ago. I forget what I ate for lunch yesterday. To jog his memory I gave him a tour listing gained through Internet research (i.e., Google) and the bands that I thought I remembered seeing, namely FATA and a youth crew-style hardcore band named Where Fear and Weapons Meet. “I remember one show at The Killtime,” he muses. “I think Hope Conspiracy and Until the End, who were probably on tour with Where Fear and Weapons Meet, also played. That might be the same show as From Autumn to Ashes and Every Time I Die. The stage was in a new position closer to the street, as opposed to the back.” This is where details can be extrapolated a bit. He was right about the stage positioning, which makes the timing correct for the tour, though he is incorrect on lineup specifics. Neither The Hope Conspiracy, one of my favorite hardcore bands, nor Every Time I Die played the show. If they had, well, imagine the scene cred one could claim at seeing all those bands under that roof in one night. There’s a temptation to simply claim that was the show I saw, but in this case a cursory look for the facts would be incriminating. There are good stories from seeing some of these bands, but those will have to be told another time.

On a stacked lineup, on a stacked tour, This Day Forward were the headliners. One thing memory does replay with accuracy is that, much like at that first suburban show, This Day Forward owned not just their songs but the full attention and minds of their audience. “We were getting to a point,” Gary remembers, “where it wasn’t just our friends showing up and having a good time, it was strangers singing and dancing. That was such a great feeling when it first started happening. It’s like, whoa! People who weren’t ‘supposed’ to like what we do are into it and enjoying it and showing up for the next show.”

I hadn’t fully caught on to the band at that first show I saw, but this one got me. I bought the shirt that night. All these years later, the print has worn off to the point where the logo and band name are unrecognizable. “As far as the lionfish logo,” Shaw explains, “that was for the most part one of the owners of Eulogy Records, Ian Rowan. He took a picture of his own fish tank and it started the ball rolling. He happened to have several lionfish, and they were just really rad.” The faded images on mine seem more appropriate than whatever a Google search for the original design could provide. Everyone has to start somewhere. This is where I started. This Day Forward informed a suburban weirdo where punk, metal, and hardcore met. And it was along lines I could understand. Everything has moved forward from there. And here we are in 2014, soon to be 2015, where I play in and travel the world with what’s considered a punk band.

When it comes to these and so many other bands that got me started in this multi-genre corner of music, I’m never sure whether to say thank you or to assign blame, so here I’ll do neither. Let’s simply leave these bands and their shirts as the mile markers they are. While these shirts will never be worn again, they will not be forgotten. They have been and will remain a source of amusement, positive nostalgia, and, dare I say, pride. They also provide good stories that beg to be told, not just shown. Next time you’re picking out your outfit for the day and you decide to wear a band shirt, think about the reason you have it, the story threaded through the seams. Have a “Remember that time?” moment to yourself, and think about who you were, you are, and who you aspire to be. That’s pretty powerful for a few pieces of fabric and some thread. That shirt is a representation of the time, place, and music that helped form the person underneath. Wear it proudly.

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Dave Klyman plays guitar for the band Restorations. Now, he writes, too. Restorations have a new album, LP3, due on October 28th on SideOneDummy.

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