With multiple EPs and a superb debut album in 2021's The Storied Weight of It All, Last Gasp is a band that should already be on your radar if you call yourself a hardcore head. The group is based out of Cleveland, Ohio, a city steeped with rich hardcore punk history, and they wave that flag proudly.
Last Gasp spent most of 2023 working up fresh material with a revamped lineup, which now consists of singer Ryan Hardwick, guitarist David Kuhlman, plus the new rhythm section of bassist Joe Kepich and drummer Tony Robinson. Last spring, the band entered Spider Studios with engineer Ben Schiegal to track their forthcoming sophomore album, Who Wants to Die Tonight?
With the changes and new LP coming out soon, I spoke with vocalist Ryan Hardwick to get an update on everything, plus we also got a stream of the album's first single, "Seizure the Day," which features guest vocals from Don Foose (Spudmonsters, Run Devil Run) on the track. Dig in!
What led to the lineup change and what can you tell us about this new version of Last Gasp? Would you say the stylistic direction has changed at all?
Well, to spare the drama (which I’ve been dealing with for the past year or two), I should probably just say that the original line up stopped getting along. Things got stressful and it stopped being fun.
I hate to admit this but Last Gasp has been the toughest band I’ve ever done. Just tons of setbacks and let downs. I keep saying that this is my last hardcore band and with so much left to do, it just didn’t feel like it was time to call it quits yet.
So Dave (OG member and guitar player) and I decided to push forward. For what it’s worth, I do have good memories from the original lineup but there was a lot of unnecessary stress and it’s a shame some friendships expired but that shit happens sometimes.
Joe, our new bass player, really saved the day by bringing in the drummer from his other band (Wallcreeper, who put out a killer record this year that you should check out) to jam with us and it just clicked from the jump. These two guys have been playing together for years and they’re gig dogs down to play any show, anywhere, with anyone, which I love.
An ex member wrote like 90% of the music on our first LP, The Storied Weight of It All, which explains the change in direction on the new record. With Dave back at the wheel of songwriter, things got a lot heavier. Dave’s a chug lord with a strong affection for mosh parts. Tony, our new drummer, is a total metal head (his favorite band is fucking Fear Factory) and Joe the bass player and I are punk rockers (though I mainly listen to rap these days).
Put that shit in a blender and you get Who Wants to Die Tonight?
Who Wants to Die Tonight? is such a "Cleveland" album title! Tell me a bit about the lyrical direction you took on the record.
An old buddy of mine used to tell this wild story of a giant brawl that broke out at a show in Peabodys (an old venue here in Cleveland). Back when Cleveland shows were a hell of a lot more violent, even before my time. I don’t remember a lot of the details but I always loved the bit where he burst from the doors of the venue onto the street, face covered in blood screaming “WHO WANTS TO DIE TONIGHT?”
As far as lyrical approach goes, the whole record is just an existential crisis. There were a few weeks last winter where I was just on a nihilistic spiral because of climate control and the politics surrounding it. I have a 12-year-old son and truthfully I don’t worry about my future but worrying about his really affects my mental clarity and stability.
Progressing A.I., the gentrification of every nook and cranny of my beloved city, my addictive behavior and obsessively broken mind, aging and realizing I’m not a young guy anymore… those are the things that I struggle with so those are the things that I find ease in writing about.
I live a happy life, and there’s much in my life to be thankful for but the future does scare me. Maybe it’s the Fear of the unknown… I don’t know. Those were the topics crowding my mind when we were writing the record.
We’re featuring “Seizure the Day” today. Don Foose is a local Cleveland legend from his work in Spudmonsters. I take it that you’re a fellow fan? How did you come to work together and what is the song about?
Straight up Don Foose is the nicest head I’ve ever met. Just such a solid guy still burning with hxc energy. I’m a huge fan of his bands and have always loved his vocal style. Every time I’d run into Don I’d punish him with questions about Spuds and Run Devil Run and he’s never made me feel like a dork.
So, back in the day, my old band Wreak Havoc used to play with his band Foose a bit. Don has always been so cool to me and always gave me solid advice (mostly when I was being a young maniac). We’ve kept in touch and I’ve always wanted to guest him on a track.
His part on "Seizure the Day" was the last lyrics I needed to write to seal the deal on the record. He came into the studio literally after seeing a guy crushed at work by a giant wheel or something (true story, completely insane, and horrible). I handed him the lyrics and he said oh yeah, I’m gonna go Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. on this shit [laughs]. He killed it!
The song is about routine and aging. The every day grind and how it wears you down.
Since the earliest material, my favorite aspect of Last Gasp has been your vocal approach. I’m curious about your methods on maintenance and preservation.
Well that is unbelievably cool to hear. Thank you sincerely. It’s funny because I think my vocal style can turn people off from our band but I don’t care because it’s what I got, ya know? I’ve always yelled in such a high register I think it sits more punk rock than traditional hardcore.
Truthfully, I’ve always been self-conscious of my vocals. I’ve mostly used being in bands as a vehicle for writing and acting like a madman. All of my time in bands (20+ years), I’ve gone so hard at the shows that Ive just shredded my voice.
I'm definitely not able to belt it out like I used to but you find ways to work with what you’ve got left. I was notorious for going on tour, partying hard as possible out the gate, and blowing my voice out immediately. Which makes the rest of tour wildly nerve wracking and mildly embarrassing.
These days, I’m much smarter and responsible. After recording the first LP, I developed polyps out of scar tissue from years of just going for it without warm ups or projecting “correctly," if that even exists in hardcore. I narrowly avoided having vocal cord surgery, the same procedure [A.F.I. singer] Davey Havok had that changed his voice.
Luckily, we have some of the best doctors in the world here at the Cleveland Clinic (no shit, Google it!). I met with an ENT that literally saves famous opera singers careers ( which is hilarious because I scream into mics and hang from the rafters and shit) but I got lucky by proximity and he taught me so much. Now I warm up before every show and use a vocal nebulizer, which I call the "straight edge bong" to give me the stamina to yell pretty much non stop through 20 minutes a night.
I drink a ton of water. I don’t booze anymore (thank Christ) and I do a ton of cardio before we hit the road to get in show shape. It’s wild to be in a band as an adult and take things seriously. It’s made things much easier for me. Shout out to Dr. Milstein, man.
There’s been a lot of talk about hardcore getting “too big” or “commercialized” lately. What are your thoughts on that?
What a question. Things have definitely changed. Hardcore is bigger than ever but in my heart I liked when it felt like a dangerous secret. It was like being part of a secret underground gang that your opps didn’t and couldn’t know about.
I can’t believe I’m going to say this but I sort of miss when [One Life Crew drummer] Chubby Fresh would come see my old bands and call us fruits [laughs].
No, I don’t want to sound like a jaded old head because I truly am here for an open scene and love seeing diversity at the shows these days. The hype and success of a lot of modern bands has opened the door for a wider range of kids. It’s definitely not just a boys club anymore and that feels special. It is an exciting time to be involved but the gatekeepers still be gatekeeping so some things never change.
Also, doesn’t every hardcore kid secretly love blink-182 who is like the biggest band in the world so what’s it matter anyways? I got into punk rock because of the Offspring record Smash. I think I read somewhere that every member of that band has a goddamn private jet now.
I don’t see success as selling out. It really just opens doors for the rest of us out here doing work. Whether that’s more random album sales, more plays on Spotify, or new kids checking out shows that normally wouldn’t… I say take the opportunities and get paid anyway you can for your art. After all how many free shows have you played in your life? I couldn’t even count…
Who Wants to Die Tonight? will be out in October 31st via WAR Records (pre-orders start this Friday).
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