It was fall of 1996. Social Distortion was touring on their acclaimed White Light, White Heat, White Trash, and Mike Ness was doing interviews about how long it had taken for the world to recognize punk in any capacity besides a freaky sideshow. He made a good point.
Social D was out with a newish band called H2O. When they played the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, a contingent of Lower East Side hardcore crew made the trek down, many in red H2O jackets, showing support for a burgeoning band that was waving that NYHC flag.
“I had played in bands going back to 1983 and ’84 in Maryland. During grad school, I was living in Jersey City and Toby (Morse) got hold of me and said, ‘If we can write 12 songs, we can go on tour with Sick of It All.’ Six months later we were on tour,’” remembers guitarist Rusty Pistachio. “We had heard about this engineer who would get us in the studio for $500 a day. The first day we tracked. The second day we did the vocals, and the third day we added all the nuances. So we recorded that record for $1,500 and we had all of our friends from all these bands backing us.”
The self-titled record quickly put them on the map as a band with hardcore roots that could play with Shelter and Sick of It All or fit just as easily on a bill with Rancid or the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (or even Social D playing at the Jersey Shore).
On November 17, 18, and 19, H2O will celebrate the 20th Anniversary of that record playing the Middle East in Boston on Nov. 17, Underground Arts in Philly on Nov. 18 and Webster Hall on Nov. 19.
“I remember on that tour, we gave Mike Ness an 8 ball in a tube sock, and told him it was a trusted Lower East Side weapon. And he was just like, ‘Yeah, cool man.’ Just so California,” Pistachio chuckles. “Right before the tour, our drummer had broke his hand, so we had Mackie Jayson from the Cro-Mags. That’s such a bucket list experience to get to play with Mackie.”
The band generally counts their three influences as DC, California and New York.
“DC had this ambient sound and conscious approach, California was really fast and melodic, and New York was angry and aggressive. And that’s what was in my head when we wrote that record,” Pistachio explains.
That first record stands up today, as it simultaneously documented NYHC history and pointed to a future where East Coast bands would start to get the same love that the West Coast punks had enjoyed on some of the more prominent California-based indie labels of the time. It dealt with many of the same emotionally-driven common themes of humble beginnings, loyalty, heartbreak and scene unity while encompassing the influences, Pistachio mentions. “5 Year Plan” and “Family Tree” still make every setlist.
This time around, the boys will play the first record in its entirety. Although they have made a point that they won’t be playing the secret track “My Love is Real.”
“Toby would always say that he wasn’t playing that song because it gave him headaches, nosebleeds, hemorrhoids, and he would lose his voice. But I have a strange feeling it may come up on this tour,” laughed Pistachio.
H2O didn’t waste any time, quickly getting out Thicker Than Water in 1997 and F.T.T.W. in 1999, both on Epitaph, and then Go, on MCA, 12 tracks that pretty much never get played live. From raucous shows at CB’s to giant festivals in Europe and South America, H2O has always been able to draw and bring the energy. 2008’s Nothing to Prove turned out to be a fan favorite, and they put out Use Your Voice a year ago.
On this particular tour, they will be supported by Northeast Pennsylvania’s Wisdom in Chains and New Jersey hardcore stalwarts Vision all three nights. Wisdom has churned out five albums of fairly brutal urban hardcore and still has the kids windmilling with The God Rhythm that dropped on Fast Break! Records last year.
Vision has been playing shows with H2O for almost all 20 years since that first album. The melodic legends have been an adhesive of the New Jersey scene since 1986, with the classic In the Blink of an Eye in 1989, The Kids Still Have a Lot to Say in 1998 and even Watching the World Burn on Epitaph in 2000, after H2O made the leap. Though they’ve been quiet as of late, this H2O Anniversary tour is the perfect opportunity to bring back those epic sing-alongs for a few nights.
“What I’m most looking forward to is playing with pretty much the original lineup from that self-titled album,” Pistachio adds. “And New York, Philly and Boston? New York was our home. Philly was our home away from home. And Boston was a tough nut to crack, but once we did, it always felt good.”
H2O will celebrate the 20th Anniversary of their self-titled album at Underground Arts in Philadelphia on Nov. 18 and at Webster Hall in New York City on Nov. 19. For more information, go to h2ogo.com.