Cerebral Ballzy are that band you’ve heard being described as ‘the new Bad Brains’ for the past six months, because a.) three of them are black, and b.) their dumb-ass hardcore is also played uncomfortably fast. Black Flag is another name that crops up a lot, but then isn’t it always? Why these comparisons are wholly justified though is because of Ballzy’s genuine old school spirit. Most hardcore punk bands sound like Bad Brains, Black Flag and Minor Threat in some way, but few are willing to relive the early 80s US hardcore scene to the bloody, shit-stained letter. Hundreds write songs like Ballzy’s thrashy ‘Sk8 All Day’; few actually do it. And even at their most enthused and least poverty-stricken, Henry Rollins and Greg Ginn would have second-guessed driving to Canada to play one show in a garage.
“We did that ‘cause we’ll fucking play anywhere, man,” reasons singer Honor.
“We’ve played birthday parties in upstate New York for, like, 10 people,” adds guitarist Mason.
That Toronto show ended up being the band’s biggest release to date, available on tape cassette only and featuring all the inter-song toilet humour a growing Beavis or Butthead needs. “I need to take a shit,” moans Honor in his deep, caned drone by way of an ‘are you sitting comfortably?’. “I think I’ll wipe with my T-shirt,” he continues as he introduces the opening ‘Shit Rag’. Safe to say, it’s not a ballad, and yet ‘Live In Toronto’ isn’t a pointless, loose, hissy mess of noise either. It’s pretty tight. Tuneful even. And tracks like ‘Underage Drink Forever’ and ‘Drug Myself Dumb’ are nothing if they’re not mindless, chaotic fun.
In speech, Honor talks a cartoonish, dropout purr, like a stoner with severe hay fever (as does second guitarist Jason), but on stage he whines as if from The South – the crack addict cousin of Caleb Followill who wasn’t allowed in Kings Of Leon. He laughs ‘hur hur’, not ‘ha ha’. And he’s very funny. All of Cerebral Ballzy are, perhaps because you need to be to resurrect the rough and real genre of US hardcore.
“We just finished a tour of the States,” says the band’s tallest member, Jason “and it was wild. The punkest of the punk. We were playing in basements, sleeping where we’d played, in random peoples’ houses.”
“We spent the night with an ex-Nazi in Ohio,” adds Honor. “He was awesome!”
“My pockets were filled with weed forever,” continues Jason. “He came to our show and was like, ‘I’ve got pot and drugs and booze at my house – you guys are coming!’.”
“Twenty minutes into the house he was cracking shit over his head,” says drummer Abe.
Honor: “Yeah, we get there and we can see all these swastika tats up his neck, and he’s wearing a onesy, like a pyjama outfit that zips down to his feet, with little booties and everything.”
Jason: “And we had a bottle of wine and he says, ‘do you want me to open that for you?’, so I’m like, ‘yeah’, and he just breaks it on the top of the doorway and starts drinking it with mad glass shards going everywhere. It was out of control.”
As well as hardcore punk, Cerebral Ballzy’s likes include drinking and skating, although not necessarily in that order.
“We just met skating in New York,” explains Honor. “That’s one common thing we all have – to skate and party. In a place like New York you can’t really meet similar kids unless you have a common goal, y’know? Like if we were all reading Harry Potter books we would have met in the library or something.”
“We’d just skate together and party and then one day we realised that we all like punk music and played different instruments so we wrote ‘Anthem’,” continues Jason. “We get to drive around The States and just skateboard and party. It’s kinda like the best thing to do.”
There are plenty of good reasons why Cerebral Ballzy are getting so much attention right now (they thrash the hardest, look the best, write the dumbest rants that are whinged rather than barked and they really do care for nothing else), but while plenty of UK hardcore bands tussle next to each other, from Shitty Limits to Throats to Hang The Bastard, we don’t hear too much about new American hardcore bands, least of all from New York. We know Brooklyn for clever alt. indie like Yeasayer, T.V. On The Radio and Dirty Projectors, credible synth pop from Telepathe, Small Black and Salem, and a hell of a lot of garage bands penned into the Captured Tracks stable.
“You’ve not heard of the New York hardcore scene ‘cause we it, dawg,” laughs Honor to approved chuckles from his band. “Nah, New York is the kind of place where you can find whatever you’re looking for if you look for it, and there’s a lot of fucking rad hardcore bands doing it in New York but a lot of them hardly play shows and I think we’re the only band doing what we do and are playing every week.”
“We got tired of the Brooklyn pop/synth shit,” says Mason “and were like, ‘fuck it, we’re gonna play with guitars and scream.’”
Honor: “And there’s been many-a-time we’ve played with those bands and thrashed it out and got kicked out.”
Abe: “There’s a list of venues that I’ve never been in before but can’t walk into. Whatever, man.”
“But hey, I don’t want to make it sound like there’s a war between us and those bands,” says Honor. “Like, we’re friends with The Black Lips – cool people are cool people – but, like you were saying earlier, there is a tight community of that shit, and there is a lot of shit. It’s saturated. I mean, do you think those bands honestly surf!?”
Perpetuating any Black Flag comparison, Ballzy’s friends and neighbours Japanther introduced the band to Raymond Pettibon – the younger brother of Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn and the illustrator responsible for the band’s iconic four-bar logo and stark, disturbing, hand-drawn sleeves. “He came to our gig and said the same thing as other people,” says Honor “that we reminded him of being in 1982 again. So we just hung out with him and he’s a really cool guy. He’s probably going to do our album artwork for us.”
That being the case, presumably Ballzy’s debut album won’t come – as their debut 7-inch, ‘Puke Song’, does – in a stencilled grip-tape sleeve. Many believe this packaging decision to be a petulant but brilliant statement of destruction – ‘Puke Song’’s jacket ruining any other record it comes in to contact with. The band say it’s far simpler than that.
“Just why not?” says Honor. “We were thinking about what could be our cover and we thought a dude skating, a dude skating and drinking, a dude skating and vomiting… y’know…”
“Again, it’s skating and punk,” continues Abe “the complete package. About two years ago when we first met we had a brilliant idea that we were going to chip in about two hundred dollars and buy a lifetime supply of grip-tape, and two years later we’re still skating the same decks we had, so we thought, this is fucking pointless, so we had to think of something to do with it.”
So we can expect griptape T-shirts soon?
“We already made griptape condoms, actually,” says Honor. “They’ll be for sale on the website soon. Girls go crazy for ‘em.”
“Not to be used with women with previous conditions such as Chlamydia,” says Abe.
Honor: “… or vaginas.”