Lifetime front man-lyricist Ari Katz has been an influence on punk, hardcore, emo and alternative rock bands for 25 years. Today, bands from as far away as New Zealand come to play New Brunswick basement shows because Lifetime did, along with The Bouncing Souls and Deadguy, their fellow national-act neighbors on Handy Street and Commercial Avenue.
Yet, for Katz’s latest musical project, Mitylion on New Brunswick-based Don Giovanni Records, he continued in the electronic music direction of post-Lifetime bands. They include Miss TK and the Revenge, which he pursues with his wife, Tannis Kristjanson, along with reunions of Lifetime with original guitarist Dan Yemin and bassist Dave Palaitis.
The following chat explores Katz’s influences and future music plans, which may include Mitylion summer shows and a Lifetime EP. For more, visit:
What brought you to New Brunswick?
I went to junior high and high school in Edison, so I always knew New Brunswick was where all these punk shows were going on. Keith Hartel from Pleased Youth had gone to my high school. I started going to shows there in 1986. My first show was Husker Du in a gym. Eventually, I was old enough to move out, and that was the obvious place to go.
How did you and Dan get together to form Lifetime?
Rob Fish was a good friend. He was big in Jersey bands (Resurrection, 108). He grabbed a flyer at Vintage Vinyl that Dan had put up looking to start a band. Rob handed me the flyer because he knew I wanted to start singing in band. I called Dan, and we hit it off right away.
When Lifetime was starting, were you friends with Bouncing Souls and go to each other’s shows?
We didn’t like each other. It was all very childish, but we were just not down with each other. Slowly, just through time, Timmy Chunks, the singer of Token Entry, got us together. He said, ‘You guys are idiots. You should be friends.’ And we became friends then on and toured with one another.
Did the basement shows at 67 Handy St. and the Bouncing Souls’ house parties at 174 Commercial Ave. have an impact on the New Brunswick basement scene that followed and remains active today?
The Souls had their own thing going on. Far as I know, they had a garage and booked parties in it.
To know the truth about the New Brunswick basement scene, you have to talk to Chris Ross. He is the reason why it all exists. All the credit goes to Chis Ross. I knew Chris a long time. I knew him in high school when he was in a band called. P.E.D. Chris then moved to New Brunswick. He was the one who started doing basement shows (regularly). I went to the early ones. It was mind-blowing.
Then once he got Handy Street, I moved there too and Dave from Lifetime. Handy Street is where it all happened, and that was all Chris Ross. He is the unsung hero of New Brunswick hardcore. Chris knew everybody. He was the oldest school guy left around from the early ’80s New Jersey and New Brunswick punk scene. All the others went their own ways, and he hung around and was there when Lifetime got big and all the incredible bands were springing up. He was around the longest. He’s still in Ensign. He’s very active and always has been the godfather of New Brunswick hardcore. He’s the James Brown.
Bill Schultz was important to the story too. He was the straight man, the quiet one, but he was big in helping Ross and everything that went on there. I don’t know who rented the house first, but I moved in a year after. Once I moved in there and Dave Palaitis, the bassist of Lifetime, everybody was involved in running shows, taking money at the door, and making sure people aren’t idiots. Then when the shows were over, everybody just lived there. Lifetime practiced in the basement with lots of other bands. A lot of bands started there and fell apart there. It was just the center.
The ’90s in New Brunswick were incredible because indie music, punk rock and hardcore were there before anybody gave a shit about it, so it was completely underground for a nice bunch of years. It was a circuit of bands who wanted to tour and most of the time, the best they could do was basement shows. It was just kids, no bullshit, no money, no corporations, just people there for the complete love of it and the need to be around other people. It was incredible.
How did Lifetime’s “Theme Song for a New Brunswick Basement” impact the New Brunswick basement scene?
It was all after the fact. When we wrote that song, no one gave a shit. Lifetime only got big a few years after that record. It took a few years to germinate. People really get into the mythology of New Brunswick basement shows. Back then, I was trying to document what was going on. I wanted to document the shows that were happening there in my own way, but only in hindsight, do I see how truly important those shows were. I was lucky enough to want to write a song about it. It just kinda stuck.
Why did Lifetime break up in 1997?
I honestly thought that at some point you’re supposed to stop playing in hardcore bands. The anxiety of life really got to me. I never went to college. I just went right toward music. I realized I had nothing to fall back on, whereas a lot of guys in bands graduated from college and had shit lined up. I just started feeling scared out of my mind about what to do with the rest of my life. It was a lot of that, compounded with a lot of touring and just being a stressed-out, anxious kid. I couldn’t handle it anymore.
Lifetime reunited in 2005 and released an album in 2007. Any plans for another Lifetime record/tour?
Yeah, we’re trying to write something new right now. Not an album, but we’re trying to write an EP and then play some shows. We’re slowly working on that, but we do want to make new music.
You worked on your new CD, Mitylion’s Night Flite, for three years. How is it a departure for you?
In all honesty, it’s not. If you follow what I’ve done since Lifetime, musically I’ve done quite a bit of stuff just electronic with beats, keyboards and samples. Right after Lifetime broke up, I did Zero Zero with my wife and Dave. That was all beats and programming. Then I drummed in a band with my wife, Miss TK and the Revenge, which was a punky, dancey thing. Really, what I did with Mitylion was to sing and write about what I’ve always sung and written about, but just with other music. If you go right from Lifetime to that, it’s a huge departure, but if you’re me and on this path, it makes sense.
Miss TK and the Revenge put out an album five years ago. Then we had three kids and haven’t been able to make as many records. But we play Asbury Park, where we live now, four or five times a year.
Why have so many New Brunswick musicians moved to Asbury?
Everybody I grew up with in New Brunswick lives here. It’s New Brunswick at the Beach. My wife and I moved here 12 years ago.
What did you end up falling back on?
I own a cabinet shop. I build cabinets and furniture, do renovation work. I got into carpentry and shop work. I work for myself, own my own business, and do music.
Will Lifetime fans find some common ground in Night Flite?
Two things happen. People who are straight up into hardcore, they don’t want anything to do with it. They want to hear Lifetime. But then there are the people that do hear that it’s kind of the same narrative going on in Lifetime all these years, just me doing my thing. If you appreciate that, then I think you can see the Mitylion as a continuation.
I see everything I do as just as one thing. I’m trying to learn to write good songs, be a good musician, and make good records. It’s all my body of work. It’s all just one thing coming from me.
Lot of Lifetime fans really love it. Then ones say, ‘Fuck that shit.’
Is Mitylion a one-man show or did others play on the record with you?
On the record, it’s just me. I did everything expect for the guitars. I can’t play guitar, so I had Pete Steinkopf from Bouncing Souls play guitar. Jamie Goldfarb, who’s in Miss TK and the Revenge, also played guitar, and so did Mike Rummel, who was in another New Brunswick hardcore band, Endeavor, that played Handy Street. I used those three guys. And my wife is singing on it. So I had some help with that. But the majority is just me.
We’re putting together a live version to perform it. I’m going to need a lot people to do that. But we’ve started rehearsing, which is great because we’re all good friends. I’m hoping by summer, we’ll start playing, but I’m not doing it until it’s awesome. We’re doing a lot of rehearsing.
Why did you want to work with Don Giovanni on Night Flite?
It was just was easy. We talked little bit (with label head Joe Steinhardt). He said, ‘Do whatever you want to do.’ And I said, ‘That sounds perfect to me.’ That’s how it happened.
Are you familiar with the Don Giovanni act Screaming Females? Do have a sense or perhaps even a clear affirmation that Screaming Females are influenced by Lifetime?
I never met (lead singer-guitarist Marissa Paternoster) or talked to her. I just know her band from social media. They’ve exploded all over the place. I wanted to remix one of their songs. I asked Joe if I could remix one of their songs. I thought it would be fun to mess with it.
What was the last New Brunswick basement show that you attended and played?
Lifetime was supposed to play with Sick Of It All. We had so many people that cops came and broke the show down. That was the last show that went down (at 67 Handy).
What do you think of the city ordinance that has driven the New Brunswick basement scene so far underground that the venues can be difficult to find?
I’m not so familiar, but I hear stories from time to time about that. On the one hand, I get it. But New Brunswick, that town really sucks. It’s the most non-college college town. It feels more like you’re in a town with Johnson & Johnson, rather than a free-thinking, artistic, creative place. Anything cool had to be kind of hidden and underground. The town did very little to facilitate any of that stuff.
I get it. Once word got out that people had kids drinking in basements, cops had to get serious about it. But I doubt anything bad ever happened in a basement.
What do you think that kids from far away as New Zealand want to play New Brunswick basement shows because Lifetime did?
I am completely humbled by all of it. I don’t take any of it for granted. It’s amazing to me that anybody cared as much about something that I did or was a part of. When I hear things like that, it’s never lost on me. It’s amazing. It’s more than I ever hoped for and dreamt up in my teenage years. I love it all. I’m so happy that people care about Lifetime.