Finding new music can be tough. But when looking for something new to jam to, why not dig deeper? Look to the roots of some of your favorite bands—you could be pleasantly surprised. Many young, hardcore concertgoers tend to stick to what they know around these parts, but there’s so much that we miss when we pigeonhole ourselves to a couple of bands. Why not expand the horizons and check out music vets, Sick Of It All, as they celebrate their 30th anniversary? Clearly, they’re doing something right.
Formed in 1986, Sick Of It All have been thrilling audiences all over the world. This year, band members Pete Koller (guitar), Lou Koller (vocals), Armand Majidi (drums), and Craig Setari (bass) are setting out to three of the five New York boroughs to celebrate their years of creating and playing. And although they’ve established family lives, they’re ready to rock in the small, intimate clubs—just as they had back in the beginning.
Of course, this specific, three-show celebration has to take place in their native city: New York—but they’ll come and go in a flash. After this anniversary bash, the guys are off to Australia for another round of touring. I was lucky to have had the chance to catch Pete to discuss their 30 years of music-making and performing.
While waiting for the tour to start, what have you been up to?
We just finished our last European thing for the year. We did a whole bunch of different places like Norway and Sweden and stuff like that—all the fun places like Amsterdam. And I just got home and I have this month off up until the three shows in New York. So that means I’ll be cutting the grass, fixing stuff around the house—the life of a rockstar—pulling the weeds, stuff like that. It’s gotta be done! Someone’s gotta do it (laughs).
How did the Europe tour go?
Oh, Europe is always great. Without their support over the years, I don’t think we’d be a band. It’s very different over in Europe. Like, in the States, people who are 30 and up come to the shows—or don’t. And there’s not new kids coming to see the shows because American hardcore kids will be like, “I like this band,” like a newer band to the scene because that’s their band. They’re growing up with them. But in Europe, the kids they say like, “Well, I like Stick To Your Guns. Let’s see the roots of that style of music,” and then they’ll see Sick Of It All and bands like us. And then they’ll come see us, which keeps the scene more alive with bigger shows—more than 200 people showing up, it’d be more like a thousand people showing up, which is really good.
You have November off, is there any chance you’ll be working on some new material?
Yeah, well we have a 30-year anniversary book that I think is preordered? A lot of my friends already got it in the mail. But it’s a 60-page booklet of photos. It’s the size of a record. It comes with a vinyl and a CD with the five new songs on it. And the pictures are of us—spanning our career.
I think it’s out now, since my friends have copies of it. So you could still order it from Century Media and I think our merch company is selling it, too. So that came out, or it is coming out. But it has five new songs and the songs are pretty cool and I always am writing. Music is always playing in my head. If it’s catchy enough, I start playing it on the guitar. Like I mentioned before, I’m home for the month and cutting the grass and pulling weeds and going to the beach and stuff like that—that’s how I write my music, it’s just always in my head. I sit there, doing some mundane thing, monotonous thing, and I’m playing music in my head, placing things together.
That always helps pass the time, keeping your mind going.
Yeah and it helps when I’m just doing something else. Like if I were to sit down with my guitar and go, “Okay, I’m gonna write a song now,” only crap is gonna come out. Because there’s something in your head that keeps calling you.
This is a 30-year anniversary tour. You have three shows in New York City. Why three of the boroughs?
Well, what we wanted to do was play all five boroughs but we couldn’t find a place in the Bronx and we couldn’t find a place in Staten Island so, it’s a three borough tour. We’re doing Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. And we’re playing really small clubs so it’ll be like back in the day and we’ll be playing mainly songs from the first and second record.
Why those two?
A lot of people have been asking, “Why don’t you play this from the first record, why don’t you play…” There are so many songs and we put a lot energy into the show, so we don’t want to go longer than an hour and 20 minutes because we don’t want to drop dead. So we just keep switching up the set and then you have to put in some of the new songs because people love the new songs and we want people to hear the new stuff. So this time around—obviously, we’re playing the hits like Scratch The Surface and Step Down. Those are gonna be played but that last couple of days, I’ve been relearning stuff from the first and second record and other songs, too.
It is kinda weird, thinking of the way I used to write songs. It’s pretty much playing the same notes over and over again. Each song is the same note playing forwards or backwards or putting one here and one there. It’s very confusing when learning the old songs because it’s pretty much the same thing over and over again. But then that becomes the band’s style. It becomes the signature.
So after these three shows, you have another month before heading to Australia. Are you going to keep the setlist kind of the same?
We’ll probably be playing a couple from the 30-year anniversary release. We’ll actually be playing a song called “Black Venom” and we played in it Europe at all of our shows and you know how when you play a new song and people just kinda stand there and look at you? Well this song has such a bounce, such a groove to it that people really get into it and it’s just really cool. When the crowd starts moving, you know you’re doing something right. And we put a lyric video on YouTube for “Black Venom.”
That’s a cool title. You’ve released so many albums over the 30 years, can you tell me about the writing process?
The way we do it now, because I live in Daytona, Florida. I hear music a lot in my head. I write a bunch of songs and then Armand, the drummer, writes a bunch of songs, too. And then we agree I’ll fly up to New York for a week, I’ll show the guys what I have, I’ll learn the stuff that Armand has, and then we’ll take a break again, couple weeks off, I’ll come back up, and then once we think we’re ready, we’ll start recording the record. We’ll pick and choose and fine-tune what we’ll put on the record.
Well how do you pick songs for your setlist? You’ve got so much material!
Well, it’s getting harder and harder! Because there are so many good songs on the records and if we’re spending the year touring, we’re playing a couple from the new record that year, and they’re going over great. But then the next year, you have another new record. Like I said before, you can’t leave “Step Down” out of the set. There are certain songs that have to be there and then there’s no room for the songs from the last year. So they get pushed to the wayside, unless we want to play for two hours a night, which I do not want to play for two hours a night. It’s rough on the bones.
It’s gotta be tough—exhausting! Have you ever considered switching up the sets in the middle of tour just to play something different?
We always say we’re going to, but then when we find a really good setlist that flows, we don’t mess with it because then we fall into the groove of that setlist and it comes off flawlessly. Like, this flows into that perfectly and then something else works well. So we don’t change it. If we, like in the middle of the tour, go, “Okay, let’s throw this one in there,” that song will be the lull of the set because we’re not really comfortable with it.
Well, yeah. Practice makes perfect. You guys have so much traveling for tours and writing—how do you deal with that during the winter?
The traveling is much harder now that I have a daughter, a four-year-old daughter. She’s my pal and when I go, she’s super sad which breaks my heart. But there’s nothing we can do about it because it’s my job. But what we try to do—try—is keep the longest touring to three weeks at a time. So it’s like, you know. That is really long because I put my daughter to sleep most nights and we watch Goosebumps together and this and that, and then I’m gone.
Aw, yeah. That’s gotta be tough. I was wondering why there were so many little bursts of tours here and there. That makes sense.
We used to be out longer when we were swingin’ bachelors. My wife used to work for the band. She worked for us for, like, nine years as a guitar tech and everything was cool and then we had the baby and so she’s staying home with her. But she’ll be turning five in February, so hopefully we can bring her out on the road sometime. That’s all she wants to do. That’s all she’ll talk about. Like, “Daddy, I wanna go to work with you!”
Don’t miss Sick Of It All as they pull into St. Vitus on Dec. 9, The Bowery Electric on Dec. 10, and Blackthorn 51 on Dec. 11. When The Smoke Clears is now available. For more information on these rockers, check them out at sickofitall.com.