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RUST BELT HAMMER CATCHES UP WITH KILL THE HIPPIES (AN INTERVIEW)

INTERVIEW BY MATT GREENFIELD
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Being that your band originally hails from Kent,Ohio, is your name a reference to the May 4th shooting during a Vietnam War protest on the Kent State University? Also, did you take the 1979 punk rock oddity “Kill The Hippies” by The Deadbeats into consideration as well while picking a band name.

Morte: I’ve lived a good part of my life in northeast Ohio and the Kent State massacre was a vivid part of my imagination even as a child. I even remember once when my big sister had a marching band competition at Kent State and I was scared shitless my family was going to get shot at (granted this was the early 80s). I kept asking my mom where I could find tank tracks. But yeah, the name is a direct reference to May 4th as well as the Deadbeats song (which rules). When I was older, moving to Kent seemed like a natural fit – the radical history of the town appealed to me. The name was never really meant to make light of the injustice of May 4th – we really just wanted to wear that part of history on our sleeves and still be aggro and stupid at the same time. Not to say that we didn’t also find certain elements of the modern 90’s college jam band scene to be pretty annoying. But we knew we’d have to explain the stupid name as long as the band existed. It disappoints people on the left and right.

PP: Yes, I suppose the name is often disappointing to some, given that some people just call us hippies.

Correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t Kill The Hippies the longest running current punk band in Ohio? You started the group in 1993, correct?

Morte: 1993 is the start line for us there’s no way we could be the longest running punk band in Ohio. I just saw Numbskull play a month ago and ODFX is still raging. Seriously, if you haven’t please do yourself a favor and check out the new ODFX stuff! Boy in Love; still play about two shows a year too. There has to be one that’s been around longer than us – punk in Ohio pre-dates us by at least a decade or two. Personally, I think we’re losers from the sticks that came a bit late to the party.

PP: There was definitely a very well established scene before we made it to Kent. I can’t speak for the rest of Ohio, but there are a lot of great bands from the early Kent/Akron/Cleveland punk/hardcore scene that still get out and play and there are still plenty of fans to go check out their reunion shows. I’ve gone to reunion shows for some of these bands that I never saw the first time around. We’ve been accepted as part of it I suppose, we will be playing an F-Models Tribute show this February.

What has kept your band together all these years? Have you always been a three piece outfit with yourself and Melissa on guitar and bass while drummers come and go?

Morte: It’s a labor of love and (I know this is cheesy) but in a world of compromises, it’s one of the last avenues of expression where we can be true to ourselves and push ourselves without any fear of contradiction or professional world dumb-assery. We’ve had many drummers – too many to list but every one of them made us take a different approach to the whole thing. KTH ain’t a paying gig (in any shape or form) so I salute anybody who was and is willing to haul a drum set around just to play and hang with us.

PP: I agree with Morte, I would experience a terrible imbalance without KTH. As for the line-up, we did have a second guitar player for a short period back in the beginning- Spoony Wadsworth. He also did the cover artwork for the Will Not Over Stimulate 7” and the Erectrospective double CD. As for drummers, I adore drummers because I love to write songs to the beats they come up with. I am fortunate to have gotten to play with Food Fortunada, Tic Toc, Jim Nasium, The Four-Eyed FuckFace, Bobby Robot, the MetroGnome, T-Bone, and now Joey Pepperoni- whom we share with another sweet-ass local band Swirly in the Fryer.

Morte: Spoony wrote some killer songs with us back in the early days – his songs were always very heroic and powerful. He’s doing a podcast now where he basically just rips on conservatives for an hour or two called “TURN UP THE NIGHT”.

For the people that don’t know, what can you say about the history of rock n roll in Kent, Ohio and how do Kill The Hippies fit into its story?

Morte: Kent and the Akron area has had a pretty great history of subversive and odd music going back to the 70s. Aside from the awesomeness that is DEVO (and lots of other more well known acts like Rubber City Rebels, Tin Huey, hell just about anything off of that Stiff Records Akron comp). There were other groups too like The Betties (WOW!), Ragged Bags, The Nelsons, Teacher’s Pet, and the F-Models. Even beyond them there were true hardcore groups like ODFX, Plasma Alliance, PPG and by the time I was old enough to have some clue of what was going on there was the almighty Hyper As Hell, Verricose, Sacred Hate (actually from Youngstown) and the band that truly changed my life…Sockeye. It was Spoony that got us hanging out withSockeye. He used to be pen pals with Food and he called him up and invited him over for a party – I about shit myself when he came over – I was stoked to meet him. He ended up being our first drummer and he put our first tapes out on his label. We started KTH on the heels of a band I was in called Ball Peen Gidget. We came in to the whole Kent/Akron time-line around the same time as Harriet The Spy and Party of Helicopters – as well as The Nimrods and CD Truth. Jamie Stillman had his Donut Friends records going and was in both Harriet the Spy and Party of Helicopters. They were very different from us as far as sound but they were also friends and collaborators on so many levels – they taught us how to tour and helped us put stuff out. Also, anything that had to do with Sockeye and Boy In Love was tight as Saturday Night!!!! It was a gross little world of very close friendship, hedonism, and idealism back then and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Cheatin’ Hussies were another game changer for us too. And that’s just up to 1998 – there is so much that came after that! The thing is, these histories exist in so many other places – just check out Bloomington, IN or Jackson, MS, or Carbondale, IL. I had a nice conversation with Sue Jeffers (local radical folk singer) one frigid night outside the Mantis who told me that all this punk shit was just another form of folk music in the most traditional sense. Not so much as far as the sound – but more in a sense of how accessible it is to play and as to the very personal sense of community and history it has.

The Mantis is a venue that was an integral part of Kent DIY punk rock in the 90s and into the early 2000s. Not much is documented about that place. What are some of your memories from the show space?

PP: There is actually quite a bit documented. Jimi Imij used to video tape every show- we still have many of the VHS tapes. He also used to have a site ohms.nu. As for the memories of the place- we spent many days a week there, we saw and played with many great bands, we put up many of those bands for the night, and fed them whatever we could. We still run into people that we met during the early days of the Mantis.

Morte: There is a Facebook group called “I hung out, played music or showed my art at the Mantis Gallery” – a lot of people have been posting old pictures and anecdotes (https://www.facebook.com/groups/414040262013484/). But yeah, there was a lot of stuff taped there – but it was really a media blackout during its existence – for good reason. It was BYOB all ages and really just the empire of Caligula. To this day, if I hear someone dismiss the place as gross and unprofessional I will freely attach “poser” to their stupid hardcore/punk lapel. You want the Ritz, go stay at the Ritz but you won’t have any fun. I will tolerate the casual bitching or good natured ribbing on the subject of it’s being a big fun pile of confusing shit though. I can’t even bring myself to call the place a shit-hole. I suffered some of the worst ass kickings and most exalted moments of my life there. No one was watching except friends, enemies, or folks that would eventually become the opposite. It wasn’t a safe place, but not exceptionally dangerous – but it was never business as usual. I’m pretty sure the place knocked a few years off of my life. Sam Ludwig (check out his band Lester) was really the guy who kept the place going for so long and was very hands-off – kind of an experiment in anti-management. The best thing was that we had a no rules DIY space to enjoy – and no one had to go to any committee meetings. Bad thing was – the place got trashed regularly, shows got overbooked often, the bathroom was constantly broke, and there was no heat.

Why the relocation from Kent to Cleveland and how has it affected the band? I don’t think I would be wrong to assume that Cleveland has many more opportunities these days. It’s a bigger city and has a bit more going to artistically than Kent which is a college town where things change with the influx and departure of students.

PP: We relocated to Cleveland because the daily commute from Kent to Cleveland was a drag. Morte did it for many years- he carpooled to make it a little less dull. Then I eventually found myself making the same commute. There just weren’t many jobs in Kent. I don’t believe that the move changed our sound at all, but it definitely gave us much more access to all the great venues- Now That’s Class being a favorite. We were able to see more bands, play more shows, meet more people, and participate in events like the Lottery League which started here in Cleveland by a group of local musicians. Briefly, the Lottery League takes local musicians of all genres, draws names at random to form new bands. The challenge is that the band members have never played together before. There’s a lot of great stuff going on in Cleveland, but we still love going back to Kent to play at the Stone Tavern. It’s a great venue and we play there as often as they will have us. After the Mantis closed down there were a lot of displaced bands, shows started happening in various houses/basements around town- always a good time, but there was a definite need for a place like the Stone Tavern.

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Morte: We lived in Kent for about 15 years and it was a nice run. We made some very tight friends there that we are still close with. We still even have our membership in the natural foods coop (be sure to check it out if you visit). As you get older though, it gets sad watching friend after friend leave town. Outside of Kent, Portage County moves at a pretty conservative pace and we had burned a lot of “employment bridges” during our residence. After our 2006 tour, I was able to hook up a decent situation in Cleveland. PP just did the whole tour with a horrible case of Sciatica (which she was dealing with for about a year before) so once I was able to get health insurance we got hitched quickly. It took a couple years, but for sanity’s sake, moving northward was a no brainer. Sorry to not weld this narrative into some shit about following our art-music muse, but that’s the reality of it. Cool thing is that PP can walk around fine now just because the insurance made us able to pay for the therapy. Even with the recent changes, the healthcare system in this country is embarrassingly lacking. Too little too late.

Like many of the original Killed By Death era bands for which your band’s sounds falls in line with, you have a handful of obscure 7 inch releases. What does the discography look like for Kill The Hippies? I know you released the Erectrospective on CD back in 2005 which was a collection of older ep tracks but do you have any LPs?

Morte: Killed by Death Punk? No way man, we’re Bloodstains rock (huh huh huh). From the start , we always considered our self-made tapes to be LPs. Food Fortunada from Sockeye was swell enough to distribute them on his freakishly awesome Wheelchair Full of Old Men label and wrote fine reviews of our stuff in his Ear of Corn Zine. The only thing resembling an LP we did was a CD called Spasms in the New Age which was on a label that quit about the same time we got the box in the mail. We eventually had to buy the whole stock off of them. That one has one our most intimate collaborator drummers on it – Tic Toc Tyler. He even put out a reissue of it on his Tic Toc Roc label a few years ago. Otherwise everything has been a 7” here and there or a spot on a comp or a self made CDR.

Are you working on any new material? Kill the Hippies has never been a flavor of the month or “hype” band. In the age of internet and blog culture, I feel like or at least hope someone discovers your band so it can have its rightful place in punk rock history, especially that of Ohio punk rock history. Why do you feel like certain bands are written about and promoted while other ones go overlooked. Northeast Ohio has a long tradition of being the underdogs and I feel like Kill The Hippies is punk rock manifestation of that.

Morte: We have a whole LP ready to be released from back in 2006. It’s basically waiting at the CD place to be made. I just need to get Tic Toc to give the ok on it. We have yet another LP ready to be released of newer stuff with Tic Toc drumming on it. A friend of ours, Dave Kiss is going to help us put it out. Dumb story, but Dave was the only person to ever kick my light out. We used to have pretty awful after-hours/camp fires at our old place in Kent. It was just a dumb record/drug party really – lots of GG, Blondie, and Manowar spinning. We had this light that dangled from the ceiling and all of us out of shape drunks used to try to high kick it. I challenged Dave to kick the light and he immediately kicked the fuck out of it from a standing position. His foot must have been about a foot above his head and he did it like it was nothing. As far as being underdogs – maybe it has something to do with PP and mine’s rural upbringing. We can’t help but get ourselves entrapped in the rusty shackles of humbleness and as much as we try, we still have a bit of that country individualist emotional mean streak (or maybe it’s more like a mild crucifixion complex). I’ve always felt like an outcast really and too often I let that become a pretty hefty chip on my shoulder. I am also very lazy and I get off so much on the live show and song writing (AKA influence ripping off) process that the whole “promote yourself” part has been lost on me. We are trying to change that though.

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Where have your travels taken Kill the Hippies. How many tours have you done and where are the best crowds?

PP: We used to tour pretty frequently, and definitely miss it. We did many tours in the Eastern States and many short tours straight south to places like Greenville and Ashville NC, and Montevallo, AL where we played with and stayed with bands like the Spazms (Greenville), the Nowhere Squares (Montevallo), Pink Collar Jobs and Dead Things (Ashville) and all the other bands that evolved out of this scene. We only went out west a couple times, our last tour we circled the country and had an all around great time, especially the string of shows we played with Swing Ding Amigos. I have to give a special thank you to Uri Garcia for helping us with that tour- booking, driving, carrying my amp when I was broken, and generally taking care of all of us idiots for four weeks.

Morte: Yeah, we used to tour with nothing but 50 cassettes some patches and t-shirts – all handmade. I really miss meeting so many people and of course I miss the people we met. One of my favorite memories is playing in Bloomington, IN and having a big communal after-show feast and waking up covered by every stinky freak in the town, all passed out together. I woke up laughing. Fat Day in Boston were always sweet as hell to stay with too. “Best crowds” is hard for me to figure. Asheville and Greenville, NC were always a party – the show at Antarctica in Chattanooga on our 2006 tour was off the hook (crowd surf in the basement). I also really love the show we played in Wichita, KA at Kirby’s Beer Store for like six middle aged punkers (which I mos def am now) who were really appreciative of us and were chill to hang out with – they had lots of great old-school scene stories and they bought almost all of our huge cock and ball shirts. Man they loved pictures of dick.

I like to ask an obligatory ridiculous question so here it is. What would happen if you got a phone call and on the other line were Miley Cyrus and Bono begging Kill The Hippies to do a song with them?

Morte: It’s safe to say that the answer would be yes, as long as we had total creative control. I’ve been very worried that this might happen for a while, and I’m pretty confident that it will rule. I would record it in my basement on wax cone. The whole thingwill be a benefit for the Front Du Liberation Du Quebec.

Any closing thoughts, shout outs, or death threats? Where can people find your music?

Morte: Be on the lookout for our new record label – Phoenician Microsystems. We will start with a 7” comp with 12 local bands on it – every song will be one minute long. It’ll feature Mr. California, Zitsquatch, KTH, Swirly in The Fryer, and much, much more. After that will be the newest KTH LP. If anyone is looking to make recordings, I can record it. Phoenician Microsystems has an in-house studio and a working toilet. We just wrapped up the mixing for the new Radar Secret Service stuff and it is amazing.

Morte and PP: Bands from our lands you should find out about: Wild Wings, Dr. Bitch, Fuck You Pay Me, The Very Knees, Putrid Cause, Sick Thrills, Another Mother’s Milk, Wet Brain, OBNOX, Party Plates, Bwak Dwagon, The Socials, Burger Boys, Palaces, Bad Noids, Mr. California, Radar Secret Service, Weird Penis, Rabid Reason, First Offense, Wooly Bullies, Cracked Cup, Album, Submachine, Dead Girlfriends, Insurance Salesmen, Schnauzer, Hep Z, KGB, Urban Pirates, Napalm Donut, Swirly in the Fryer, Real Regular, and Siki Spacek (Black Death), Crowd Deterrent, Race Riot, Duran Duran, MC Homeless, and Urban Guerrilla Poets. Find our music? Right now, all we have is a Kill the Hippies bandcamp page: killthehippies.bandcamp.com or you can hit us up on Facebook. Or just inject memories of us into your cerebral cortex via subcutaneous electrode stimulation – is that what the kids are doing?