“Uhm. I guess we started around 2003–4. Sometime then. We put out an EP called Our Youth Is Wasted; we didn’t tour much on that, just put on random shows here and there. We then put out a split single with First Blood and an LP called The Beat Goes On, and then we’ve just been touring for the last years. I reckon we play about 250 shows each year, our guitar player got sick on tour and had an… uhm… heart attack, so we were going to break up, but we decided to keep on going. Are we hard working? Yeah, I guess. It’s crazy. We’ve played well over 650 shows since we started touring full time two years ago.”
George Hirsch, singer for near-legendary Philadelphia hardcore act Blacklisted, just got back from playing several east coast shows with his band when the Grapevine caught him on the phone. Today is packing day. Tomorrow, they leave for Europe, where Blacklisted will play many dates in a very short time. Their final show will be in Reykjavík on Skullfest festival on September 11. Blacklisted clearly qualify as hard working.
Yet, chances are none of you readers have ever heard of Blacklisted. Blacklisted is a fringe act. Their music is harsh and uncompromising, their lyrics are confrontational and most casual music fans would describe their live shows as frightening. I ask Hirsch what they have to offer the uninitiated audience in terms of pure experience.
In the spirit of opening minds and broadening my horizon, how should I approach their show?
I guess you can expect a lot of energy, there is a lot of energy behind the music and seeing it live is the same. It’s energetic and fast moving, powerful. It speaks to you if you really listen, at least that’s how I would hope it comes across. A random person might not understand the show, lest they ease into it somehow. It’s hard to jump into it without a proper introduction. But you will find intimacy there, people are close and it’s personal. As with anything, if you open your mind and are open to the experience, good things will come to you.
I assume that most of our readers are unfamiliar with Hardcore, what it is, what it stands for. What would you tell them?
It’s a style of music. I don’t know what else to say about it. I always think about it in terms of how crazy it is. How crazy is it that I am talking to you on the phone from Iceland, and I grew up in some random neighbourhood in Philly – now I’m flying to Europe to do shows. I look at my family and friends; they never get the experience to see that, to go all over the world just to play music. I think about a huge pop band that will never get to experience the things we’ve experienced, because everything gets handled for them while we’re sleeping on people’s couches, hanging with the kids in each city. When you play Hardcore or tour in a hardcore band, you meet the people who come see your band – they’re not our fans, they’re our friends. Hardcore to me is personal, and it brings people together. How crazy is it that I have friends from Japan, from Australia and Brazil, all from playing music?
What type of person do you think Blacklisted would immediately appeal to, and is there a group you would like to reach and interact with more than another?
I don’t think there’s anyone that would be definitely into us, we get all kinds of different people. It appeals to kids for the most part, and if I could appeal to anyone it would be young kids, they could get into Hardcore more, experience new things and get into it. The music we play is too abrasive for MTV, too aggressive. We’re not a band the average person might listen to. They might go as far as listening to Mastodon, but that’s different, they went to the Grammys. This music as a whole is too deep and aggressive, and some people are scared by it. It’s not for everybody, not everything is for everybody.”
I know it’s not an easy question, but why do you play music?
I’ve seen it performed for so long, and I just liked it. I had a lot of stuff that I wanted to say, not like a political outlet, but stuff that I wanted to express and get off my chest. I’ve seen so many people do that, and I just thought, ‘If this person can do it, I can do it.’ In real life circumstances, that’s stupid, competition in the workplace is stupid, but for Hardcore it’s the model. Anyone can do this, get on stage any day and express whatever you want: people will accept it. I wanted an outlet, and there’s really no other reason. I’m getting to travel, meet kids in different areas that will show me their cultures and bring me to places they know. We are able to play and meet people and make friends, experience different cultures full on. It’s definitely worth it.”
You tour a lot. I’ve been told you’re almost never off tour. That sort of lifestyle has been romanticized a lot as of late, what with books like Our Band Could Be Your Life and all the canonizing the 80s Hardcore scene has seen lately. Does all the touring get to you, do you suffer intolerable conditions; is it as strangely glamorous as those books indicate? And is this something you’ve actively sought out?
I think it’s tolerable, we wouldn’t do anything that’s intolerable, I wouldn’t make myself suffer. All the same, is not as glamorous as it’s maybe made out to be. It’s like everything else; there’s good stuff and then there’s bad stuff. Things don’t always go as planned, as you know, with a car or a van that you drive so much, bad things are going to happen. You will miss shows, this will break and that will break and a small van is really close quarters for a fifteen hour drive, after which you will load in and get right on stage.
It’s a great experience but it’s definitely not glamorous. That said, we’re not eating dog food rolled up in bread – but we’re also not partying with Playboy playmates in every town. There’s a midpoint that we try and maintain; we just try to have fun and be as comfortable as possible on the road. There will be uncomfortable days, and you will get irritated, you might play a miserable show and not truly represent who you are. But all in all, it’s fun. I’d recommend it to anyone, if they’re willing to deal with whatever might come up, it’s a good experience and you get to see things most people never will.