H2O's Adam Blake on Promoting a Positive Lifestyle, Post-9/11 New York City, and Appropriate Times to Hardcore Dance
Within These Walls has a pretty impressive line-up of hardcore acts. H2O is headlining and making their first Arizona appearance since playing with Bane three years ago. We spoke to bassist Adam Blake, who insists that Arizona has not intentionally been skipped. The band likes to play in as many different places as possible to keep things fresh.
H2O's upcoming album, Don't Forget Your Roots, features 15 covers of influential artists, including 7 Seconds, Madball, Descendents, Ramones, Gorilla Biscuits, and more. Michael Rapaport enthusiastically shares the song list here:
We spoke to Blake about the upcoming album, what a positive mental attitude means to H2O, life in post-9/11 New York City, and appropriate times to hardcore dance.
Up on the Sun: How did you select the songs that are going to be on Don't Forget Your Roots, your upcoming covers album?
Adam Blake: Just bands that people like, or that people saw back in the day, or are inspired by. It's such a small selection. If we really did a comprehensive record of all our influences, it would be like a triple album or something. Everyone has such diverse tastes and listens to so much different stuff within the band. It's the stuff that's most connected to the stuff that we do now.
UOTS: Which song has been most influential to you, personally?
AB: Good question. I wouldn't say it's a song, I would say it's a band. We did Bad Brains' "Attitude." It's not my favorite Bad Brains song, but I love it. Of all the bands on the covers album, that's definitely the one I can say grabbed me the most and inspired me to want to do this.
UOTS: You guys took a break for seven or eight years, then released Nothing to Prove, and now you have a covers album. Could you walk me through the timeline of the break to now?
AB: We never broke up, we never really took time off, we just didn't make a record, basically. If you really think about it, most people make a record then they tour on the record for two years. We decided to touring without putting new anything out. Toby [Morse] did The Hazen Street record, which was a side project he did. Todd [Morse] played with Juliette Lewis and the Licks, and I played with other bands too. Then Toby's son was born, so he wanted to stay home for a bit. We kept demoing, we kept playing, we kept busy, and it felt right when we did Nothing to Prove.
It was just like, 'you know what, it's been a long time, let's make a record,' so we went in the studio and everyone had demos or ideas that really came together so quickly. When that came out, it seemed like people really liked it and people were really happy to have a new H2O record, and were reacting really well to the new songs, so obviously that kept us on the road for a long time.
Then the idea of a covers record came out. It's kind of a right of passage, a lot of bands do it, I think it's a great, really fun thing to do to get to play other people's songs. It's much less pressure. It's kind of going full circle from listening to music, the bands that inspired you, to being in a band and coming back around to listen to that music again, and this time to do your own version of it. It's pretty cool.
UOTS: Do you have a release date?
AB: We're releasing three seven-inches before it comes out. With each seven-inch, we'll have two album tracks and one non-album track on it. They're thematically based on different regions. We have a California seven inch, which actually slipped out for iTunes, the label released it early, they made kind of a boo boo. The California seven inch is available on iTunes, we're just not telling anyone yet. That will come out, that's got Descendents, Rancid, and Circle Jerks on it, or is it Social Distortion? I can't remember, anyway, it's got three songs on it. Then we're releasing a New York and a D.C. seven-inch. The D.C. seven-inch will have three D.C. artists and New York will have three New York artists, and then the album comes out on November first.
UOTS: You guys signed to Bridge 9 in 2008 when Nothing to Prove came out. What has your relationship with them been like compared to other labels?
AB: It's great. We've been on all the different kinds of labels. We've been on small indies, we've been on Epitaph, which was at the time the biggest indie in the world, but it's now a major. I feel like a label like Bridge 9 fits us best. It's really nice to be able to call the label with any questions or concerns you have and you don't feel like some cog in the wheel, it's a family affair. It's a label that's very much like us as a band. It started around the same time, very similar point of view, so they completely understand what we're talking to in references to bands from the past and stuff like that. It's a perfect fit, I can't think of a better label for us.
UOTS: Are you guys working on any new material?
AB: Yeah, there's ideas, but no plans yet. The idea of a new record is constantly floating around, but as far as actually getting in a studio and recording something, there's nothing set in concrete yet. With Don't Forget Your Roots coming out, we'll be doing some touring on the back of that. After that, there will probably be time to get in the studio and do something.
UOTS: Can you tell me about H2O's stance on PMA (positive mental attitude)?
AB: H2O has always been a vehicle for trying to inspire people to live a more positive lifestyle and have a more positive outlook. We've never really been a band that sings about beatdown songs, or glorified intoxication, or smash the state or anything like that. We've always been a band that tries to celebrate the good things in life and lift people out of the darkness as much as we can and we're able to do.
With Toby's One Life One Chance, he takes that to the next level. He's trying to reach out and get that message to a different group of people. That's what I've always been about, so I think PMA is everything to us.
UOTS: Tell me more about One Life One Chance.
AB: Toby comes out and speaks to large groups of children in schools of varying ages. Basically telling his life story and using it as an example of how you can be...he doesn't push straight edge, but he does point out that you can be drug free or live according to your own values and beliefs and not necessarily succumb to peer pressure. You can still achieve your dreams and still be quote unquote "cool" and hang out with interesting people and stuff like that. He's trying to inspire kids to realize be yourself, be your own person, don't let other people push you around. Do consider sobriety and straight edge as a positive choice. Don't fall into the traps. I've seen it and it's a really cool presentation. I think kids get a lot of out it.
UOTS: I saw you guys at Bamboozle Left in '07 or '08, and Toby asked how many people were straight edge and a lot of people cheered, then he asked how many are pill popping boozing, drinking...basically made a joke about it. It's refreshing that you aren't preachy about straight edge.
AB: We've never been a fully straight edge band. At one point, Toby was the only member that was straight edge. Now I'm sober just over a year, Toby's straight edge still, his whole life. Everyone else still parties a little bit. Any kind of preaching we'd do would be pretty hypocritical because we have vegans in the band, we have a vegetarian in the band, pescetarian, we have a meat eater in the band, we have a guy that smokes pot, a guy that drinks but doesn't smoke pot, a guy that drinks and does smoke pot, two guys that don't drink or do any drugs at all.
There's not really a platform to preach lifestyle choices to people other than global ones like having a positive mental attitude, try to treat yourself and other people with respect and try to make the world a better place by the fact that you're in it.
UOTS: It's nice that you can all get along...
AB: That in itself is cool, that you can have all these different lifestyle choices and we can all still come together to do something positive and constructive. It's always weird to me when I see straight edge people that only hang out with straight edge people, or drinkers who really don't want to hang out with people that don't drink. I think that's sad. Other people have this better than you attitude.
UOTS: Last year you guys played on a boat in Manhattan. What was that like?
AB: It was interesting, it's not a place that's designed for shows. It wasn't my favorite show because you're on a boat, and boats move around a lot and things get weird. It was fun, it's a better idea than it is a reality. It's like going camping for the weekend, it's a great idea, but once you're there, you're like, 'man, can I get some cable TV?' It's a better idea than it was a reality, that's how I would put it.
UOTS: Since you're a New Yorker and the anniversary was last weekend, I've got to ask, did you happen to be in New York during 9/11?
AB: I fortunately was not. When Toby and his wife moved to California, I was their first roommate. I moved out here with them and I moved back to New York post 9/11, but when 9/11 happened, we were living in Southern California. Like everyone else, I remember the day perfectly, I remember everything about it. The girl that I was dating at the time had a new job, I didn't know where her office was so I was freaking out, like, what if her office was down there? Obviously you couldn't call anybody...this was a little before the mass influx of cell phones, so you couldn't just reach someone, you had to wait to hear back. I think for anyone in America, anyone in the world, especially people that had friends or family in New York City, it was a horrifying experience.
UOTS: How has the city changed since then?
AB: New York's a pretty resilient place. In terms in the overall demeanor and overall mood of the place, I don't think it's changed it over the last 10 years anymore than it would have anywhere. Obviously, it's changed the culture as a whole. It's changed America and the western world and the Muslim world and everything, everything's changed since then, but I don't think New York has especially changed more than anywhere else has. Even though the attack was physically on New York, it was an attack on a way of life that everybody related to. Ten years down the line, it happened to New York, but it doesn't just belong to New York.
UOTS: I'm glad everyone was safe.
AB: Yeah, me too. One of our friends was actually in one of the towers when the plane hit. He was lucky enough to get out. It was pretty horrifying.
UOTS: On a completely different note, have you been playing more international dates lately?
AB: We've always been all over the place. We go overseas fairly regularly. I think the reason to be honest with you, we haven't done the US as much is because...we did it with Bane, we've done it enough with Nothing to Prove...and to be honest with you, in some of the places, the shows were just not good. We'll do a US tour with Don't Forget Your Roots and we'll see what it's like. All I'm saying is it tends to make more sense for us if we're gonna dedicate time touring.
UOTS: Have you noticed a better turnout abroad?
AB: Better turn out obviously helps. To be honest with you, it's just a little easier. In the states, we'll tour. We tend to do a lot of short ones. We just did California with Rancid and we're gonna do the east coast and part of the Midwest. For us to do a full US tour, it's really time consuming and I don't even know if people want us to play those places. I don't know if they want us to play somewhere like Texas. Last time we played Texas, it wasn't really that big, so maybe there's just no call for us down there. We'll play anywhere people want us to play.
UOTS: Even with not playing in Arizona as much, I could definitely see that you'd have more of a following on the coasts.
AB: Yeah, that's definitely true. The coasts have always been good to us. I'm really curious to see what happens in Arizona. It's going to be a little bit of a fake out because festivals people always travel for. We might not get a good look at the Arizona scene as it is, but it will be interesting to see, I'm excited.
UOTS: By the way, I think it's awesome that you guys had an all girl pit for "Not Just Boys Fun."
AB: That's something we've always liked to do. I've always thought H2O shows are a little bit different to other bands. I'd like to think that you can have beatdown kids, and straight edge kids, and punk rock kids, and Warped Tour people all come to the show and all have fun and all feel like we're a band they connect to.
We're not trying to just get one crowd or one niche. We want to make sure that girls feel like they can have a good time. We definitely don't want girls to just be in the back corner holding their boyfriends' bags. We want everyone to feel like they can have fun at an H2O show. Girl only circle pits are really cool.
UOTS: Yeah, for sure. Pits can definitely be scary, especially at some of the harder shows.
AB: Guys are goons. If I look in the pit while I'm playing a song, you're dancing to the song like you're at a Sepultura show, we're not the band you should be getting that aggressive to. We've got one or two points in our set where dancing really hard is kind of appropriate, you could maybe do it, but we're not a hard band. I mean if you compare us to Nickelback we're a hard band, but if you compare us to Slayer or Pantera or something like that, we're not like that. I think we have a more upbeat, joyous energy.
UOTS: What would you say are H2O's big dance off cues?
AB: I think the breakdown in "Spirit [of '84]" is a good time to pick up change. Maybe the breakdown in "Fairweather Friend" if you want to do some stomping around. When we play a love song, don't punch people in the face. It's not the mood. That's my dancefloor wisdom right there.
UOTS: Aside from the upcoming covers album, what are your future plans and goals?
AB: Just to keep touring, to play wherever people want us to come. To get the covers record out, to finish the artwork for the covers record, that'd be great, we're a little behind on that. Play great shows, continue to hopefully inspire people to do positive things and eventually do a new record. We're simple guys.
Check out H2O at Within These Walls Fest on Saturday, September 24 at Nile Theater.