HOT CROSS – interview by sebastian ulloa
Hot Cross may not be comfortable with the idea that they are an “All Star” band. If not All stars, maybe they can live with being called seasoned veterans of the hardcore scene. Some of the bands in their history include Saetia, You and I, The Now, Off Minor, Neil Perry, and Joshua Fit for Battle. There are no weak links in Hot Cross. Every member more than holds their own. They are a no bullshit five piece hardcore band. Guitarists Matt Smith and Casey Bolan hit crazy ass technical riffs that would make the most diehard metal head foam at the mouth. However, there is no confusion when it comes to this band. This is fucking hardcore. Hot Cross is the microchip to the hardcore room full of vacuum tubes. They’ve surpassed all the old cliches and predictable floor punching breakdowns and evolved into a new more advanced species. Billy Werner continues the passionate heartfelt song writing tradition that he had begun with Saetia and brings them to life with his fiercely sincere vocals. He is backed up by the ever increasing involvement of bassist Josh Jackobowsky and Casey with the vocal duties. Drummer Greg Drudy’s endless time changes are controlled and relentless (til his carpal tunnel syndrome starts bothering him). He owns and runs their record label, Level-Plane. I caught up with them on their tour with Lickgoldensky at the Che Cafe in San Diego. I sat down on the concrete floor of the Patio at the Che with everyone but Greg. He was supposed to have joined later, but was kept busy doing Level-Plane distro and Hot Cross stuff.
When you put out that first EP, you [Billy] were in London, and the music was written without your involvement. You then fit the lyrics to the music. Since then, has the writing process changed? Are you more involved?
Billy Werner – I’d like to get more involved, but not really. These guys pretty much have it written. The lyrics are still written separate from the music, independently. I kind of write and then bring stuff to the table, and then listen to what they’ve done and figure out which song that I’ve done fits the best. The good thing is I get the stuff sooner, and they don’t have to like mail me a CDR.
Matt Smith – And now, with the material, Billy actually has the ability to say “I don’t like that, why don’t you do this.”
Casey Bolan – We’ve gotten a little bit more involved, but it’s not a big drastic writing…
BW – I’m not like coming with music parts being like “Let’s add this.” Like I might say, “Can you play that like another bar, like another bar of that” or something.
With “Cryonics” you guys added some much more involved back up vocals which you haven’t really worked out the same live.
CB – As far doing the backups live, I mean we try and do them live…
What about the vocals on new EP?
BW – There’s much more vocal stuff and its a lot more complex. We spent like an entire weekend just on vocals. Probably like fifteen or sixteen hours total. With a lot of it, I had no idea what they were going to do and I think they heard a lot of what I was doing for the first time. So it was just kind of interesting, the chemistry was just there. We knew that there were going to be back up vocals, and Josh and Casey were going to be involved in it. For actually sitting down and writing stuff together, that really never happens. We just kind of like worked out ideas as we were recording.
MS – Josh has been recording a lot at our practice space and so we were able to demo the songs a lot. We were able to work on them a lot before we actually tried to bang them out and record them.
Josh Jackobowsky – Even the first ep had a lot of back ups. It’s just they were screaming more.
CB – Yeah, they were definitely there. It was perhaps just more of a different style
I’ve only heard rumors, but there’s something about Interpol, and Greg being the original drummer?
MS – Well actually Greg was the Interpol drummer for about 3 or 4 years.
BW – (jokingly) Interpol was a Hot Cross side project… No, Interpol was around since like 1996 and Greg was the original drummer until about 1999. He was in the band for like 3 years.
CB – He recorded with them and everything
BW – The first EP that’s on Chemical underground, that’s him drumming.
MS – The first Demo too.
CB – Then they just blew up, hehe.
Did he quit or did they drop him or what?
BW – It was more like an amicable split. I don’t think he was interested in playing with them anymore and I don’t they were interested in playing with him anymore. It was an agreeable split.
I know you guys have always been in a number of bands. Are you guys committing most of your time to Hot Cross now?
BW – Yeah it’s the only band I’m doing.
CB – It’s the main thing for everybody in the band.
But, you (Casey) were playing with Lickgoldensky tonight?
CB – I’m just filling in for the tour. We’re going to see what happens when I get back.
Do you find it hard to play two sets a night?
CB – I thought it was going to be pretty brutal in the beginning, but it’s fine. I got used to it. You know, just go with the flow. I’m totally into it so it’s fine.
You guys play a high enough energy set. You don’t need to play for an hour.
MS – I don’t think anybody wants to hear us for an hour.
BW – That’s the other thing, I don’t think we have enough material to fill an hour.
JJ – We definitely devote a lot more time [to Hot Cross] than we have with older bands.
BW – And it’s more difficult now, trying to balance out having a real life as far as jobs and all that, and then doing this. We’ll be on tour for another month. Then I have to go back to my job.
MS – I work a bullshit job,solely for the purpose of being able to take time off.
BW – We all live far away from one another, so it’s almost like we had to commit all of our time to be able to put travel time considerations into this. Greg lives in Virginia, and basically we’re based in New Jersey. We do all the recording and rehearsing and everything in Jersey. So it’s hard to coordinate when there’s other commitments.
Is it hard with Greg running Level-Plane? Does Greg have to commit a lot of time to running the label?
BW – That’s like his day job.
MS – Yeah that’s his ‘job’ so to speak.
And that pays the bills?
All – (laughter) Yeah, well, uh, more or less. Sort of..
An attempt at it anyway?
CB – He devotes all of his time to Level-Plane. That and Hot Cross.
How long had Level-Plane been around when you guys started Hot Cross?
BW – Level-Plane started in ‘97. Hot Cross started in like 2000.
CB – That’s how I think we all met Greg. I did a record with him first. (points to Billy) He did a record with him.
MS – Yeah, actually Greg and Josh did about fourteen records.
BW – I met Greg in college. We went to school together. I remember when Level-Plane was sort of just a reason to put out another band, like his own band’s 7”. Then it kind of evolved from that.
None of you are still attending school?
MS – I’ll probably go back to school once things settle, but right now, all of us are just doing this.
BW – I attended two different graduate programs and decided that graduate school really isn’t for me right now. I was in two different master’s programs. One in London and then one at NYU. I ended up not completing either of them. It just didn’t work out. I don’t know what the future holds, but school’s not going to happen right now.
How did you guys hook up with Sonzai, the japanese label that put out the split with Light the Fuse and Run? Did Greg have a pre-existing relationship with them through Level-Plane?
BW – Yeah, he does the US releases of Envy records,and it’s like a swap. They do the Japanese releases of Hot Cross records. Just worked out that way.
The reputation of some punk/hardcore venues like ABC No Rio or Gilman reach mythical proportions. Does the Che Cafe (San Diego) have a similar reputation? Were you guys excited to play the Che or anywhere else?
BW – Yeah, we were definitely looking forward to it.
MS – This is one of the shows we were really really looking forward to. This, Gilman, Koos, all these places. We’ve really been stoked to come out here. I grew up listening to Op Ivy and being able to play at Gilman was amazing.
BW – I took pictures of the Gilman bathroom.
MS – We probably take ABC No Rio for granted just because we play there a lot and that’s an amazing place.
BW – You end up having a real love/hate relationship with it.
CB – But this place [The Che] is rad.
What’s the pace of the tour like? Are you guys doing a show every night?
CB – We get no days off.
BW – Yeah 41 days.
CB – And we got over here pretty quick. What, in like 13 days? And we hit the entire east coast.
BW – Two weeks ago today we had our first show in connecticut.
You guys got a chance to go to the beach today. How’d you like that?
BW – Yeah, La Jolla. It was amazing.
CB – I love it.
MS – We were the pasty white dudes walking around.
BW – I took like four thousand pictures of just rocks.
CB – I hate going there, because, I need to live there. That’s the end of the story.
MS – I felt like I needed to start jogging and wearing spandex.
BW – That’s a really expensive area isn’t it?
Yeah it is.
CB – (jokingly) We need to start making money now!
As you move south down the coast it gets a little more um, “affordable”.
CB – Mexico it is!