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Even Worse - Interview Part 1

  by John Clarkson

published: 12 / 3 / 2003

Even Worse - Interview Part 1


Even Worse was the first punk band of 'Big Takeover' editor, Jack Rabid. Having reformed after 20 years away,Jack and other members in the first part of a two part interview talk about the band's early years on the influential New York punk scene

One might be lead to believe, by looking at the history books, that the New York punk movement started off in 1973 with the rise of the New York Dolls , and finished five years later in 1978 with Television having broken up, and Blondie, the Ramones, and Patti Smith all having signed major label deals. In fact, however, while it is not always chaptered, a second wave of punk had begun to emerge in the Big Apple by 1980. This second scene, the “NY Thrash’” movement, as it became eventually known, was an offshoot of the hardcore punk movement, which at the time was also beginning to emerge out of other U.S. cities such as L.A., Chicago, Minneapolis and Washington. Always diverse, it would introduce the punk reggae act, the Bad Brains, to a wider audience ; act as a launching pad for the Beastie Boys, and also provide a base and focus for cult acts such as Reagan Youth, the Stimulators, the Mad and the Undead. One of the bands on that scene was Even Worse. Even Worse, which first formed in 1980 and eventually disbanded in 1984, went through various permutations and line-up changes, its one constant member throughout being its drummer Jack Rabid, who has since gone on to internatiional success as the editor of the renowned bi-annual music magazine, ‘The Big Takeover’ . Even Worse’s “classic” line-up , which lasted for about ten months, would stay together long enough to record an album, ‘You’ve Ruined Everything’, in late 1981 and early 1982 , but would break up acriminously before it could be released. After it had spent nearly two decades in the vaults, the retro punk label Grand Theft Audio picked up on ‘You’ve Ruined Everything’ and put it out last year , combining it with a 13 song concert which the same line-up had recorded at New York’s infamous Max’s Kansas City night club in August 1981. The classic line-up, which as well as Rabid, also consists of R.B.(Rebecca) Korbet on vocals; Bobby Weeks on guitar and Eric Keil on bass, reformed to play two shows at a thrash punk festival in June of last year and has further shows provisionally planned for later on this year. Bobby Weeks, because of work and family commitments, declined to be intervewed, but Pennyblackmusic caught up with Rebecca Korbet, Eric Keil and Rabid, who have all long since reconciled their differences, to speak to them about the NY Thrash scene ; the long overdue release of ‘You’ve Ruined Everything’, and the group’s recent reformation. Even Worse took its initial genesis in 1978 when the then 16 year old Rabid, who was brought up and raised in Summit, New Jersey, a small town 20 miles West of New York City, began to commute into the city at weekends, with a small group of friends, including Keil and Weeks, to attend punk gigs. JR : There was a whole group of us, about 5 or 6 of us, who used to come through at weekends, and buy every record that we could, and get to know all the local punks that we met at the Bad Brains and Mad shows. EK : We had started to discover Lou Reed and Patti Smith and the New York Dolls several years earlier and then Jack went and stumbled onto the Stimulators and that was it. It was the first time I that I had met people who I really admired and whom you could approach, but who were also interested in talking to you. It was very easy to get sucked in. Everything just evolved from there. JR : We were just too late for the early first wave of punk. The original force of the band started coming in from Summit to New York to go to gigs in 1978, so we came in right at the dregs. The media was saying “Punk rock is dead. It’s gone.” We were still excited by it though, and still buying the records. There were great records coming out in Britain from groups like the Undertones and the Ruts and Stiff Little Fingers and the Buzzcocks and the Damned. 1979 was a tremendous year for music. As well as what was going on in Britain, the West Coast was still pumping out great records. Texas and Chicago and Canada were just getting started. Everybody my age and maybe into their mid 20’s was still really grooving to really aggressive punk music. It just didn’t make any sense to me to have someone tell me that I was too late for it. That was just bullshit. When we saw bands like the Bad Brains and the Stimulators, Black Market Baby and the Mad and people like that, it was clear that it was anything but over then. In fact it was mutating into this completely new and exciting thing, which was just as inspired, and which people were going crazy over. With everything else that was going on elsewhere, if you think about it, it isn’t surprising at all that this scene sprung up in New York in the early 80’s. All these kids and young adults and post college students were into the same thing, and all these knockout records we were buying made us want to go and form our own bands. Rabid ‘s own chance to form a group came in April 1980, when Nick Marden, a slightly older punk from the scene, telephoned him to invite him to help him get together a band to play the opening slot at a Stimulators gig. With Marden assigning himself to bass duties, Rabid recruited his friends, Dave Stein, to play guitar and John Pouridis to sing vocals. Stein, like Rabid, was also from Summit, and was a part of the small crowd that had started travelling into New York from there to attend gigs. Pouridis, like Marden, was from Manhattan. Even Worse made its live debut three days later, and played two of its own songs which Stein had hastily written for the occasion, ‘We Suck’ and ‘Illusion Won Again’, and two covers, the Rezillos ‘Can’t Stand My Baby’ and the Viletones ‘Screaming Fist’. JR : The Stimulators had a band cancel on them that was supposed to be the opening group. Nick. who was acting as a kind of unofficial roadie for them at the time, called me up and he said “You know how we were chatting about forming a band one day. Well, we’ve got a gig if you want it”. I didn’t even think about it. I said “Great ! Of course, I’ll do it” straightaway. Dave and I were both at High School at the time. We couldn’t, therefore, go into the city every night to rehearse. We also didn’t have a rehearsal space. I think that Dave didn’t even have a guitar amp yet at that stage. We had been playing together for a bout a year in the basement of a friend of mine, Geoff Hutchison, and worked out a whole bunch of songs by the Heartbreakers and the Ramones and Patti Smith, and also Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix and tried to see if Nick knew any of them, but he didn’t. All the ones he knew were totally different. We only had two hours together before the show and could only come up with the two covers, plus the two songs that Dave wrote. Despite these chaotic beginnings, Even Worse’s first gig was enough of a success to make Rabid, Stein and Marden want to continue playing together. One of the problems of this first line-up, however, was the increasingly apathetic John Pouridis. The group replaced him in August 1980 with a second singer, John Berry, who would later go on to meet fame as a member of the Beastie Boys. JR : We must have done 7 or 8 gigs with John Pouridis, and he never got any better. He never put much heart into it. He looked great on stage (Laughs), but a lot of time he would just stand there , and not sing or do anything at all . We didn’t think too much about it at first, especially at that first gig, as we didn’t know what the hell we were doing either.The last straw came though when we had this gig at Tompkins Square Park, an outdoor festival, and he didn’t show up. We were sitting there and we were supposed to go on and he just wasn’t there. He had done so little up to that point anyway that it wasn’t that great a loss. We decided to go on and pick someone from out of the audience to sing for us. Nick looked over the edge of the stage to see this kid who looked a lot like Johnny Rotten and he said “You” and that was John Berry. He was totally the opposite. He just started jumping around and screaming his head off (Laughs). John sang with us after that for about four months. He was a great fun guy . We used to write all the lyrics down to all the songs in a notebook for him , and would give them to him to look at on stage. He would take the notebook out on stage with him and then rip it up and throw it all over the place(Laughs), and totally trash it. We would have to write them out all over again. I thought that he was great. By Christmas of 1980, that second line-up had also broken up. Marden had been asked to replace Anne Gustavsson as the bassist in the Stimulators, and, while for a few months he would continue play in both bands, the Stimulators’ busy touring schedule eventually won out, and he was forced to leave Even Worse. Rabid and Stein had both also moved temporarily away from New York to attend college. Even Worse’s gigs, as a result, had become irrregular during term time. Berry, bored by the lack of progress, chose to quit the group at the same time as Marden He would go on to form the Young Aborigines, who would eventually mutate into the Beastie Boys. In May of 1981, Rabid, who had already started ‘The Big Takeover’, decided to drop out of his college in Pennyslvania because he missed being in New York. Stein was also not doing well in his studies in Boston, and chose to abandon his course too. The pair decided to revive Even Worse, and recruited their High School friends, Keil and Weeks, into the line-up. Rabid, Stein and Keilmoved in June of that year into an apartment on Eldridge Street on the Lower East Side ,where Rabid still to this day runs ‘The Big Takeover’ from. The group , still on the look out for a permanent singer, began playing gigs with various guest vocalists. Stein, however, for personal reasons, suddenly decided to leave the group, stripping the group down again to one guitarist, and leaving Rabid by accident as the sole original member. A few weeks later , the group augmented again when Rabid met for the first time Korbet, who had recently moved back to New York after spending some years living away with her family in Detroit, and offered her the vacant vocalist’s job. The classic line-up was complete. RK : I was a shampoo girl at a shop on St Mark’s called Hair Space, and at lunchtime I would sit on the stoop, and this little skinny guy with a jacket full of badges came marching up to me, and handed me this little xerox fanzine. It said ‘The Big Takeover’ on it. He asked me if I was into bands, and we started talking about music. That was Jack. I hadn’t really sung or done anything in a band yet. I had played the guitar at home, and jumped around with my hairbrush listening to like Cheap Trick and stuff like that, and then he invited me to join his band. He hadn’t even heard me. He just liked my attitude. We had a similar mindset and we clicked. That’s how we hooked up. Korbet moved into the increasingly cramped Eldridge Street apartment, and Even Worse began a honeymoon period of constant rehearsing and gigging. With its line-up at last settled, the group started to attract increasing interest and support on the rapidly blossoming scene RK : It came together really, really quickly. We really had a fire under our arse. We were really excited about what was going on downtown at the time. Everybody was jumping in the pool and making a noise. JR : It was such a small scene at the start that we really did have to live with each other’s support. You only had to come to the gigs and look out at the audience and there would be every other band on the bill that you would normally be playing with.There was an almost mandatory attendance, but it was so much fun though you didn’t want to stay home if a gig was happening. RK : We weren’t great musicians by any stretch of the imagination, but we had tons of spirit and a very self-deprecating attitude. It was almost like we were apologising for the noise we were making, but we were having too much of a good time to stop doing it. We weren’t even thinking about whether people liked it or not. We just pummelled them. EK : Bobby was probably the only one who had real skills of any sort at least when that line-up was starting out anyway. He really in my mind carried it quite a long way just because he was so good. I really think he is one of the best guitar players that I have ever seen. For the rest of us, it was just a case of learning on the job basically. I became interested for no other reason than I guess I just wanted to be included really. The interesting thing about Even Worse and a lot of the other bands of that time and I guess even bands today is that if you have a history that is just two years long, and basically play thirty gigs and rehearse ten times, every time you play you get immediately so much better . Things changed rapidly. I joined the band just to learn how to play bass, and within a year, I was super serious about playing and standing in front of 700 people and reading my name in the papers. JR : Suddenly this whole kind of scene had sprung up .One after another all these really totally different bands, like the False Prophets and the Undead, started to form. None of these bands sounded quite the same. Even Worse was never the focal point, but we were one of the first of this new lot of bands to start playing shows. It was like London punk rock in ‘76 or ‘77. Everybody there had their own slant. The Buzzcocks didn’t sound like the Subway Sect,. The Subway Sect didn’t sound like the Clash, and the Clash didn’t sound like the Damned. The thrash scene was very similar in that sense . There were ten or twelve bands who were all doing really interesting things, and playing together, but each had their own individual focus on things. EK : For me and a lot of other people in that situation it was the first time that we had felt some kind of safe haven. There were all these bands who sounded very different. Everybody had this common thing which was that they liked to go out, listen to other people, play with each other and to all have a good time . Anything seemed possible back then. There was an earnestness to it. It wasn’t corrupted by anything at all at that point. Even Worse became known for its scatological, self-deprecating sense of humour. The early ‘We Suck’, for example, paid self-mocking tribute to the band’s early inability to play, while ‘Last Night’s Blimpie’ made a joke of the fact that the group was often living a hand-to-mouth existence on the breadline and that its members were often broke and starving. ‘Emptying the Madhouse’ meanwhile poked fun at Weeks’ Dad, who would frequently turf the band out of meetings in his bedroom in Summit. The group attracted attention too for its inspired use of obscure punk covers, and would often slot several of these into sets at shows. RK : Some people in the audience definitely thought those songs were our own. We happened to be in with a huge circle of people though who used to dig deep into underground and UK music, and who were into discovering really obscure indie bands. It was the kind of cool thing to know what each band was. “Hey, that’s the Weirdos or Legionaire’s Disease” or whatever. It helped that a lot of our originals did sound like those bands. We might, therefore, lurch into a song, and it might take someone, even the most knowledgeable person in the audience, a minute to say “Hey, wait, that’s a cover”. We were into being obscure, and finding these jams that other people would have maybe overlooked. JR : We used to call it the Win/Win situation because if we did a cover off the beaten track either people in the audience wouldn’t recognise it and would think “Wow, these guys write great songs”, or if they did recognise it they would think “Wow, that is cool. They’re doing that song. Who would think to do that song ?” The second part of this interview will follow in next month's edition and will tell of the band's acriminous break-up, the release twenty years after it was recorded of "You've Ruined Everything' and the band's subsequent reformation.

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Even Worse - Interview Part 1

Even Worse - Interview Part 1

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