Interviews and Reviews
Fifteen years ago he started AGNOSTIC FRONT and he's been the singer of one of the most prominent bands of the NYC hardcore/punkrock/skinhead scene, WARZONE, for over ten years. His name is Ray James B. but he's better known as Raybeez. WARZONE toured Europe this fall, together with our Dutch heroes BACKFIRE, and when they played at De Melkweg, in Amsterdam we were quite impressed! When they came up Raybeez told the audience that he thought the stage was far too high, and because he's not a rockstar, he would spend most of the gig in the crowd. It was really great, Raybeez was running around in the crowd like a mad man and everyone was singin along and dancing around. ...Raybeez R.I.P. 9/11/97
You've been doing this for quite some time. What keeps you going?
"I'm really into the movement. You know, a lot of people talk, but they talk like shit. I was one of the guys who started Agnostic Front, when I was a little kid. So for me it's like punkrock, or skinhead hardcore music is in my heart for life. So that's it. It's simple."
You just mentioned Agnostic Front. What do you think of the fact that they're coming back?
"A lot of people have a lot of different reactions to it. We played with them back in 1992 when they did their last show. I think that it's a good thing, because there is a lot of young kids who never got the chance to see them. I think it's good for people to see a band from NYC that was one of the first, they're gonna play a lot of old songs, so I think it's really a good thing."
What's your impression of the European hardcore scene?
"I think the people in the scene here in Europe are a lot more passionate. In America a lot of kids are spoiled. There are so many bands. Not everyone, there's a lot of people in America who are cool, they believe in their hearts, but the deal is: there are a lot of people who are spoiled, they see all the bands all the time and they forget a lot of times. But here a lot of people all over Europe they seem to be more passionate, because in America it's always there, so a lot of people forget. That's why I like it over here better. Especially Italy my home country. Italia!!!"
Do you think hardcore has changed a lot since the early eighties?
"I don't know how it is here, but in New York City, where I was born, there was only a few hundred of us, in the underground punkrock/hardcore scene. Today there are a couple of thousands, there are so many people - it got too big. It got too big and it used to be a lot more underground, now there's so many bands and they sound the same. In America and in Europe, very few bands sound different, everyone copies everybody else. And I think that it's important to a lot of people that have been around a long time, to like kinda show the younger people what's going on. But it seems like a lot of the older guys, they say old school, new school and they separate, but Warzone is trying to keep it together. That's important.
It's changed because... I don't want to sound negative, there's still a lot of cool people a lot of cool bands doing the right things, but there's some people, some bands who are trying to make a lot of money from the scene, that's bullshit you know! It's butt-fucked up. I don't have to say who they are, you know who they are! And I think that it's not cool, and I know that these are bands that sooner or later they die out, cause they're not true. Take Warzone as an example. Warzone started in 1982 - I didn't join the band until two years later, because I was in Agnostic Front, so in a band that has been running for so long there has to be something there. Otherwise you can't be around for that long, you know, it's like 15 years now, that's a long time. And there's other bands like that. So if you've been around a long time, people get to see who you really are. And then other bands start and they go on tour and they start as a punkrock/hardcore band, but when they get big, they change. They play big halls and their T-shirt's cost 55 Marks and it costs you 20 Dollars to get in. You know, don't forget the struggle! It's changed in a lot of ways. Now it's so much bigger and separate. The opportunity for bands to make believe against it, there's bands in America that come to Europe and create an image for themselves, when in America they are nothing, but here they're big, because they create this big image around themselves but it's false. In America they're really nothing, but here, because of MTV and a lot of promotions, they create this hard image while this image of their 'hardcore' is bullshit. Very few bands are true."
How do you get along with the guys of Backfire so far?
"Well the reason why Backfire is here with us is because when we played here last time, me and Vinnie, our drummer, stayed in Maastricht (M-Town) in Holland for five weeks on vacation." Raybeez shows us his 'M-Town Rebels' tattoo that he has on his ankle. "So we're like friends of them. A lot of bands say 'oh we wanna help everybody out, we want unity' and when it comes to doing something they don't do shit. So we thought that it would be a good idea, cause we think Backfire is a great band. To help them out, because people may know about this band in Holland, but outside Holland, no one really knows them. And they're sincere, they're true in their hearts. So we wanna help them out and come on tour with us. We toured with a lot of other bands, and people wanted to come with us, but we took them because they're true. We could have took along any band and just fuck everybody else but we're not like that. And there's a lot of pretty girls in Maastricht, "M-Town Girls".
Do you write songs when you're on tour?
"Yeah. What I do is, I write songs about what I see. There are so many people who like Warzone, we haven't been here for almost two years now and they like to meet and talk. And I talk to everybody and you get to hear a lot of different things, about life in Europe that is so much different than life in America, and about the struggle and what people deal with here. Because in America everything is different, the skinhead scene is different, the punkrock scene is different, the hardcore scene is different too, so you hear other stories, you see other people, and you write songs from that. I write songs about the streets and stuff, so anybody can read the lyrics and understand, could be a punkrocker, skinhead, hardcore kid. And that's what I think that makes our lyrics really cool, because I write about things that happen every day, about the streets, about what people are doing."
Do you think hardcore is skinhead music?
"No. Let me explain: I'm a skinhead, but I'm a New York City skinhead - big difference. Before I was a skinhead I was an oi-punk. In America, especially in NYC, at least with us, our family, you know NYC is so big, so many people on so small space, with so many people: punks and skins and hardcore and heavy metal kids - it's all family, together. Everywhere else it's separated, but in our family it's all like together. Everyone is like, it doesn't matter what you're wearing or look at what I'm wearing just now, I have Vans, a pyama's - but I'm a skinhead, you know it doesn't matter what you wear it's here." He points to his heart. "I know some people with long hair, who are more skinheads than skinheads who say they're skinheads, because it's a thing that's in their hearts."
Can you give a reaction on the following words:
Hardcore: "The streets. You know in America when the term 'hardcore' first started, it meant 'a harder, faster version of skinhead music'. Hardcore music has changed in the last 15 years from what it meant to what it is today. It changed over the years, people took it and fucking commercialized it, for us it was just a harder version of punk rock skinhead music. And than as the eighties went on certain bands came around and they changed what it meant, but for us it will always be a harder version of punk rock skinhead music."
Warzone: "The name Warzone came from the way life was on the Lower East Side - it was a Warzone, it really was. People in gangs, people were always getting shot, you know NYC is fucked up man, it's like a movie, everyone there was getting shot everyone there was carrying guns. What we always say is that Warzone had it's own family, we had Lower East Side Warzone Women, Lower East Side Crew, everyone had tattoo's on their heads, on their chests, the girls were getting them everywhere, and for us it was a family. It's like with the Grateful Dead, we were the Grateful Dead of the hardcore punkrock scene."
New York City: "When I think of NYC, I think of growing up in the streets, and you know, NYC is a different place than anywhere in the world. Because in NYC we have everything, all the bands all over the world will have to come to NYC so you get to experience everything. And in NYC there's shows all the time and a lot of us work in clubs, there's so many clubs. I mean New York is fucked up, because of a lot of violence, a lot of killings, a lot of shit but it's the only place in the whole world where so many bands came out of one family, just in one group of friends you had: Sick Of It All, Agnostic Front, Madball, Murphy's Law, Warzone, Cro-Mags, Killing Time and then you go back to the older days: Reagan Youth, Bad Brains. So many bands out of one group of friends, that's just great. And there's like a hundred new bands now. NYC is cool because everybody knows everybody else and when everyone's together I'd say that we are the strongest and the most united city in the entire world. Everyone is cool, there's hundreds of us and everyone is in bands! So it's like, we all talk to each other, about what's going on, it' s fucking great. And on top of that, there's so many girls, seriously the girls are really a big part of what's happening in the scene. The girls in NYC just have to be tough, they have to fight and thing. I don't know how it is in Europe but in America we take the girls very seriously, they help us out and do a lot of stuff for us, they're a big part of the bands."
Well, here in Holland we haven't got that big of a scene, but it's growing...
"The punkrock scene in NYC started back in 76 of 77. You had the Dead Boys, they were big, huge. So the scene in New York is about 20 years old, at least 20 years, maybe more, I wasn't around back then, I know it from 75. And everybody still knows each other, I mean the Ramones were part of the punkrock scene, their older now, but I'm friends with John Ramone, I know this guy for like 15 years. Warzone is friends with the Ramones, so when you think about the Ramones, okay their big and whatever but as individuals their still punkrockers. Joey Ramone is still a fucking cool man, you know. So you think about the Ramones and they started in the mid seventies, so that scene has grown. Everything needs time to grow, even if you think about the skinhead movement, it started in the early sixties and no one even called them skinheads, so it's a growing process. There's so many people in NYC, people have arguments and there's like crews and gangs and people, but the bottom line in NYC is the big family of us that runs everything, you know the old family. You know you can't fuck with us 'cause there's too many of us. And were cool about that, you know in NYC there's crews and cliques of girls who are tougher than some of the guys, if you diss them, they'll jump on top of you and kick your ass. That's cool, 'cause the girls look after themselves you know. But I think that if you're talking about different towns like Maastricht or Rotterdam, that are building up and trying to get rid of the bullshit and keep it cool, it takes a long time. And all you need is a few people who keep it together, because of people who are not real, sooner or later, it might be two or three years but they'll fall. I've been around for when I was a little kid, and I've met the hardest most intense heavy metal kids, punkrockers, skinheads, and in two, three years, they're gone, they left they run away just like a fucking baby."
Sometimes it's a bit like a trend here I think...
"It's trendy in America too, man. We have straightedge-kids who still drink, that doesn't make any sense you know. It's trendy all over the world. I think you just have to make sure you and your friends stay together, and keep listening to each other and sooner or later, you'll be united. United is a hard word. It's an easy word to say but it's harder to do. I really talk about it a lot, because I think you need to express that feeling and attitude of being united, so people hear it and if they hear it long enough people start to build. It becomes true to a certain extend. But there's bands from America that come over to Europe and start to talk about unity and in America they don't do nothing. Like in America I put on shows, I help out runaway kids, Warzone is a very small part of what I do for the scene. Anyone could be in a band, but I think the band is just a very small part of what you should do on the big picture. And when people see that, or they read it, I hope that people think 'maybe I'll be like that'. But I see what happens is that a lot of bands from America, they come over here and talk about the scene and hardcore, punkrock and united, are just saying that - it's not true. And I think that you can see that when you talk to people, like you know me, you know Warzone, and you know I've been doing it for a long time. And I think in Europe it's harder because in America you have one country and I'm not saying it's a good country cause America like every country has it's fucking problems and government fucking bullshit - I've always believed that every government is gonna burn in hell. But America is one country, and everybody in the scene kinda knows each other but in Europe there's so many different countries, different languages, different cultures different ways of doing things. I mean how can Holland and Germany be united, I always hear both countries talking shit about each other, but in America you don't have NYC talking shit about California or California talking shit about Texas, it's all together, you know it's all one language, you have your little problems but it's not as hard as over here. But I think over here what's more important is that each country tries to make their area united. I know people from Holland, Germany, French and Italy and all you need is a few people to start being cool, just start with your own country, you know punks and skins together. And you don't have to be best friends, but you just have to like respect each other. I mean I know people who like me but they don't like Warzone, they're my friends, and I also know people who like Warzone but don't like me, but if you respect each other, that's cool."
Straight edge : "I think the straight edge way of life is very smart. You could ask 20 different people about straight edge and you get 20 different explanations. My opinion is that being straight edge is mainly not drinking, not doing drugs and taking care of you body. Now you can talk to anybody else and they'll tell you straight edge is not eating meat, not smoking cigarettes, not having sex. I think it's a good thing if it stays to the point of taking care of your body. Cause believe me, I've been drug free for a year now and hopefully I'll stay drug free. I don't do it for the scene, I do it for me. I took a lot of shit my whole life, and I just don't wanted to die. I think there's a lot of people who are straight edge because it's a trend and I think that's it hard to really appreciate being drug free when you haven't been fucked up. I've done some things in my life where I could have sworn that you are the devil, I had a conversation with the devil, and then I wake up and I see it fade away and I had conversations with the devil, and I swear it was a real person. And you realize after you come out of the height: 'What the fuck!?' and that's scary you know. And I've been trough a lot of shit I've had people murdered in front of me and that's scary, cause you can't control it, cause it's in your mind. When you've had a conversation with the devil, and you can't break it from your mind, and you sit there like it's not real! it's not real! and you can't shake it from your mind. Once you're doing drugs you can't say 'stop it'. The drug infects your mind. It's fucked up man. It's why I am drug free. You know, the only thing I'm really scarred of in this world is Evil. I'm not into religion, Warzone is not about religion, I hate religion, but the bottom line is in this world, common sense will tell you - there's Good and there is Evil. I'm scarred of Evil man. A lot of shit happens, young babies get hit by cars, you know that's Evil man! People always say it's God, but it's not it's Evil. That's why I'm drug free, because drugs is a really bad thing. Nothing good ever came from doing drugs. But then again, honestly, you gotta do what you gotta do. I don't really care what anybody else does. What I'm saying is writing from my own experiences, and maybe people read it and they learn something of it. I don't preach, I have some good friends of mine that still do a lot of drugs, but I still care about them. I don't like people telling me what to do. When I did drugs and people told me to get drug free, I did more drugs, like 'fuck you, you're not telling me what to do!'. And the only reason I stopped is because of all that shit that happened in my, and I just couldn't take it no more. And I had some girls around me who really cared about me and they looked out. But I think too many bands preach, they tell you what the fuck to do. It could be any band. Fuck that shit, they're fucking assholes, you gotta do what you wanna do in your heart, and fuck the whole world. So if you drink and do drugs, as long as you're happy - it's cool, but there's a lot of people that read the lyrics about being drug-free and knowing that I've been fucked up, my problem was that I could do drugs and have still a lot of money in my pockets. Because in NYC, outside the band I have a good career. And when you do drugs and you get high and you still have money in your pocket, that was my problem. And everyone knows me, 'ah, Raybeez Warzone, come on you want some more drugs for free,' because I'm Raybeez Warzone, you know. Everyone wants to hang out with us so you get it for free and it works! That's why I stopped, cause it's not worth it. Cause there's a lot of people in the punkrock scene in NYC who look at you and see what you're doing for the movement and if you fucking die and fuck up, then what happens to Warzone? What happens to everything you tried to do, down the drain. So for me it's really the movement, there's more people that I am responsible for than myself. The same with Madball and Agnostic Front and other bands, if Freddy fucks up it's not Freddy, it's Madball, if Roger fucks up it's not Roger it's Agnostic Front, if Jimmy Gestapo fucks up it's not Jimmy, it's Murphy's Law. There's so much that's around me that I'm responsible for, it's really intense. And when I'm on stage I go crazy, (but not insane!) and when I'm on stage and I start talking stupid shit cause I'm drunk, you know, I'm not gonna listen to anybody who's drunk. The music may sound good, but what do you sing? A lot of bands they have good music, but the lyrics, they don't mean something. That's not Warzone, don't forget the struggle..."
...we won't forget!
This interview was done by Marco Walraven and Perry Seleski for Hardcore Lives Magazine.