The two Chain of Strength 7"s are god-level in my book. Issued in 1989 and 1990, respectively, True Till Death and What Holds Us Apart are the only proper records released by the Southern California band, but that hasn't stopped the EPs from becoming influential to several waves of hardcore in the years since. With the debut's title track, Chain of Strength wrote an anthem that sounds as inspired and immediate today as it did when it first came out, almost three decades ago.
Holding down one of the two guitarist spots in Chain was Paul "Frosty" Hertz, a California native who is as calm and collected as his playing is loud and aggressive. After the band's breakup in the early '90s, he went on to form Man Will Surrender, a post-hardcore outfit that released an album on a major label, before splitting up. I've always been intrigued by Frosty's career trajectory, so over dinner in Burbank, CA recently, we chatted about his life and how music has helped shape it.
Tell me a bit about your upbringing.
I was born in Pomona, CA in 1969. I was raised in Claremont, which is a smaller city right next to Pomona. My parents still live in the same house I grew up in. It’s always been nice and liberal community since there are 4 colleges there. What most people know about Pomona is the club the Glasshouse, which is still around today.
What was your first musical love?
Well, I got into music really young. I was probably 7 when I got into KISS. My cousin was a huge fan and he introduced me to them. I mean, I was so into that KISS! I used to wear the makeup and all that [laughs]. The second concert I ever went to was the KISS Dynasty tour at the Forum in LA. It was so rad! To see the OG version of KISS back then, it was amazing. That was 1979.
How did you get into punk music?
I had another cousin who had gotten into new wave music. So, he got me into bands like Devo, Cars, B-52s... that kind of stuff. I started dressing like a punk in 8th grade, which was what, 1982? Yeah, I cut my hair real short, flannel shirts, Dickies, kind of like how I dress now [laughs]. But I also went through a phase where I had spiked hair, engineer boots, jean jacket, ripped clothes... full-on punk. I also shaved my head at one point.
Were you drinking and partying hard from a young age since you were going to shows and all that?
I experimented around a bit back then, but I was still a little too young to be doing that stuff. It wasn't until maybe in high school where I really got into that.
Where did you go to high school and were there other folks there I might know from the hardcore scene?
I went to Claremont High School. You know, I actually went to school with Shawn and Joel Connell who were in the band Pillsbury Hardcore. They went on to play in other cool bands like End to End, Process, Charred Remains, Man Is the Bastard... a bunch of other ones. Those two guys — and a couple of other kids from my school — got me into Dischord Records, This Is Boston Not L.A., Unsafe at Any Speed... all that kind of stuff. I got to see some great shows back then. I saw Black Flag with Henry in the My War era at Perkin's Palace in Pasadena.
What was your first proper hardcore show?
"My first hardcore show was GBH, The Effigies, and SSD at the Santa Monica Civic Center in 1983. I remember my parents dropped me and the Connell brothers off at the show [laughs]. I also remember being nervous. We were so young. Hands down, SSD is my favorite hardcore band of all time. To me, they are the quintessential hardcore band. SSD and Negative Approach define that style of music."
What were some of the record stores you frequented back in the '80s?
Toxic Shock in Pomona was like its own scene. They eventually opened a club called 12XU, which was a little spot right next door to the store and I saw a lot of great shows there. The Pillsbury Hardcore guys helped run it. They had Raw Power play there. Let's see... Toxic Reasons, D.R.I. during their prime... a lot of cool shit. The best show I saw there was Agnostic Front right after Victim In Pain. [Laughs] The place got annihilated! There's a Flipside video clip where you can see Curt [Canales] from Chain [of Strength] in the pit, and other friends like Shawn from Pillsbury, guys from Justice League, and a lot of old West Coast dudes. I’m standing just off to the right out of frame of the camera on the side of the stage with my jaw on the floor [laughs].
So, what was the first band you played in?
The band was called B.D.T., which stood for "Bad Display of Talent" [laughs]. We were just like a garage band that played a lot of parties. We ended up playing with Justice League a few times, and that's how I first met Ryan [Hoffman, Chain of Strength]. Justice League were doing bigger shows than we were. There was a place in Chino called Roy's Ranch that had a lot of cool shows and they played there. B.D.T. opened a bunch of times for Justice League, but we ended up breaking up. Bands back then only lasted for a little time.
Did B.D.T. ever release anything during your short time together?
The only thing we really ever got to do was be on this tape comp called I Love Pomona.
While prepping this interview, I learned about Jolt, a band you briefly played in before Chain of Strength.
So, Jolt is a pretty obscure, mysterious, very short-lived project that I did with Shawn Connell and Egg (both from Process and End to End) in 1987. We were all going to the same high school and wrote a handful of hardcore songs and. I remember we covered an Iron Cross song. The whole project lasted maybe a few months. There was never a release. We only played one show which was at Gilman Street in Berkeley. I think we got a tape off the soundboard that night and made some copies for friends. It was right at the end of the project when I joined Ryan and Chris when Chain was forming.
OK, so how did Chain of Strength come to be?
Right around 1987 is when Ryan called me and told me that Justice League was fizzling out. They had gone into a Replacements, Hüsker Dü kind of direction, and they wanted to phase that out. It got to a point where Revelation Records had just started, and the Warzone and Sick of It All records might have been out. Hardcore on the East Coast had already been building up, so we started to catch up out here with newer bands like No For An Answer, Final Conflict, and Half Off. So, that inspired us to start Chain of Strength. I was 18, going on 19 when Chain started. I remember I was going to a junior college at the time.
What was the sonic blueprint Chain of Strength wanted to follow when you decided to first jam together?
We wanted the power of the Cro-Mags, plus the melody of Dag Nasty and Verbal Assault, all blended in together. That was our starting point and developed from there.
A criticism some people have had about Chain of Strength throughout the years was that you guys were too focused on your look.
Oh, I know [laughs]. Man, Chain has always been about style. We got a lot of shit for wearing Stussy, mock turtlenecks... I remember we were in Maximum Rocknroll once and it said something about Chain of Strength dressing like New Kids on the Block. We looked like preppies, well, I never did. I always had a shaved head, Dickies, Winos. Fuck it. We liked to dress nice [laughs]. So what? But yeah, we definitely had our own look. We also put a lot of work into the way the records and logo looked. Chris was meticulous about that.
Another thing a lot of people in the hardcore scene have talked about is whether or not Chain of Strength was a true straight edge band or not.
Straight up, we were a hardcore band. That was always the first and foremost point, but yes the band was straight edge. The lyrics in Chain of Strength could be interpreted many different ways. A lot of it was about betrayal, and you can relate it to many things in life. For example, we felt let down by many of the hardcore bands we loved before Chain even started, because they changed their sound, going into a more rock kind of thing. We were pissed off about that. It was like, why is Dave Smalley on the back of a record with a chameleon on his shoulder, but he has a "true till death" tattoo? Listening back now, it doesn't bother me. I love a lot of that stuff now, but back then, seeing SSD, and a lot of those early bands change, pissed us off.
What was the first Chain of Strength show?
The first Chain show was at a club called Yesteryears in Pomona. It was us, Youth of Today, Soulside, Underdog, Hard Stance, Bold, and Insted. It was packed! The following show in Arizona and had basically the same lineup of bands, with Wind of Change added. The Arizona show was outdoors. Anyway, that set the tone for us to want to go out on tour. We knew we had to go out to the East Coast, because that's where our scene was gonna be.
Tell me a bit about the True Till Death 7" and its songs.
We recorded the demo, which ended up becoming that first 7", at Spot Recording, which is where a lot of OC bands were recording at the time. I remember we had the cassette with us when we played Arizona with Youth of Today, and we played it for Ray and Porcell, who were like, "Yo, Revelation right now!" [Laughs] I think Porcell asked us if we wanted to do it on Schism. Then it was like, "Should we be on Schism or Revelation?"
"So right off the bat, we had recorded and played these two big shows and we were already on Revelation Records. Right away, every hardcore band in the OC hated us because we got on Revelation Records. 'Fuck these poser dudes! They just put this band together to try and be cool.' All that kind of shit. There was so much jealousy and shit talking, but every band was trying to get on Rev at that time.
"What I think people sometimes don't recognize is that we already had a relationship with Ray and Porcell because Justice League had played a lot of shows with Youth of Today, and had a great relationship with them. Porcell had even stayed at Ryan's house for a weeks at a time. That relationship had been made before Revelation was even a thing. Chain was the second West Coast band on Revelation, following No For An Answer."
You mentioned the songwriting, so how did you divide that up?
Primarily, the lyrics were written by Chris and Ryan with Curt. Alex had some phrases and lyrics he added. I never wrote any lyrics for Chain, but I wrote the music to "True Till Death," which is one of the strongest 2-chord hardcore songs [laughs]. But even back then, people were like, "Really? You're gonna release a 2-chord song?" But that simplicity worked. Nirvana wrote a lot of songs with just 2 chords. I love Oasis and those dudes knew how to write a rad pop song. Shoegaze stuff like Swervedriver and My Bloody Valentine only had a few chords in a lot of the songs. Godflesh is one of my favorite bands, and they keep it simple. Who cares? I only care if something is good or not, and not about how many chords are in it.
Since I never saw you guys back then, what were the first Chain of Strength shows like on the East Coast?
That was in 1988 and Rev already had the Warzone stuff, the Together comp, Side By Side, No For An Answer, and #10 was Chain of Strength. So, going out to NYC was amazing. I remember we played at the Anthrax in Connecticut with Judge and Alone In a Crowd and it was packed! We always did the best out on the East Coast. We made like 4 trips out there during the first run. One time we did a tour with Insight from Salt Lake City, but that had a lot of problems because we ran into a lot of the typical issues you come across on DIY tours, but the East Coast was always great for us.
I love the old Chain photos where you're rocking the clear Dan Armstrong guitar. What's the story behind that?
I bought it on Sunset Boulevard at a shop called Guitars 'R Us. It was right across the street from the classic Guitar Center on Sunset. That whole area was called "Guitar Row." It's all pretty much gone now. But I wanted to play the Dan Armstrong because of Greg Ginn (Black Flag) and BL'AST!. I think I paid $600, which back then was a steal. Now they go for like $4000. I still have the original receipt for it. These days I play a black Les Paul because I love the sound of wood guitars, and Gibsons have that beefy tone I like.
Why did the second Chain of Strength EP, What Holds Us Apart, come out on Foundation Records instead of Revelation?
Revelation was rad, but we wanted to do our own label. Ryan had started Foundation and it just made sense to do the record there. What Holds Us Apart was Foundation #1 and then the End to End 7" was right behind that. We were all friends from back in high school.
What Holds Us Apart came out in 1990, a period where many hardcore musicians started to branch out into different styles of music.
Yes, and here's where Chain started to get complicated [laughs]. Statue had started, which had Chris and Alex from Chain in it. You also have to remember, they were in a million other bands while we were still doing Chain. Both of them were in Inside Out, at different times. Alex was in Against the Wall and Hard Stance. Chris was in No For An Answer and a very early version of Drive Like Jehu. It's funny, but so many people talked shit about us, but they all wanted us in their bands [laughs].
Did you feel threatened when those guys started playing in the other bands during Chain of Strength?
Well, that's basically what broke up Chain. It's multi-layered, but it came down to them being in so many projects. Statue was like their child and the focus shifted to that band over everything else. I remember going to Alex's parents house in Moreno Valley and there would be Chain of Strength, Statue, and Inside Out all practicing in one afternoon. Also, Curtis has always been a hard guy to wrangle in. He's definitely a guy that we didn't practice a lot with, but he was also one of those guys that was super-polished and always nailed everything when it mattered.
"We didn't communicate back then, which is typical for people that age. I'll say that Chain of Strength is a very fragile band with fragile egos [laughs]. That said, we're still friends and love each other."
Speaking of side projects, tell me about Rage, a band you played in back in 1990.
That was me on guitar, Vic DiCara on vocals, Alex Barreto on drums, and Andy Alvarez (Pushed Aside, Against the Wall) on bass. We played one show at Spanky’s. It was super fast, brutal , hardcore. It was another mysterious side project we put together for one crucial show and that was it. The songs were insane. All of us were in other bands and had a lot going on and we knew it would be short lived. I still love those songs.
When Chain of Strength broke up, did you guys have any newer material you had been working on?
Oh yeah, we had a full EP worth of material ready to be recorded when we broke up. It was enough stuff to fill a solid 12". We looked at it like the Minor Threat blueprint: two 7"s of pure hardcore and then we were about to release our Out of Step. Basically, if you took Faith's Subject to Change and you combine that with Out of Step, that's what the Chain of Strength 12" would have been. To me, the songs were a cut above what we had done on the two 7"s. I wish we would have recorded those newer songs, man.
Let's talk about Man Will Surrender, the band you played in after Chain of Strength broke up.
Yeah, that was my attempt at being a career musician. That was my shot at that. I was trying to be a professional musician, you know what I mean? Once Chain broke up, I knew I wanted to keep on playing. I started Man Will Surrender with Bryan Bos (Process, End to End). Then we got Ron Vickers into the band — who was a guy we knew from the Pomona scene who had shot a lot of the classic hardcore shows back in the day — and Lance Webber on vocals.
By the mid-'90s, things were changing so much in the hardcore, post-hardcore scene. You had Quicksand, Into Another, and all that kind of stuff, it got more rock-influenced. Man Will Surrender drew in a lot of that kind of influence.
Man Will Surrender released material on Conversion Records and Equal Vision, but then you signed on with Revolution, a subsidiary of a major label. What was that like?
We were playing a lot of shows in LA by that time, and we were drifting further away from the hardcore scene and becoming more of an alternative kind of band. I think with the way the music industry was booming at that time, A&R dudes were looking for anything that rocked and had hooks that might have had an ex-member, or something. I was still going to school and holding down a job at that point. Around 1996, labels started biting and we ended up signing with Revolution (part of Warner Bros.), who was also trying to sign Texas Is the Reason at the time. Hollywood Records was another label that was really interested in signing us. The A&R at Revolution who signed us was a guy named Rob "Berko" Webber.
What kind of tours did Man Will Surrender do during the band's run?
After we signed with Revolution, they got us a tour with the Deftones, right before they blew up. Let's see... we toured with Shift. Man Will Surrender was also tight with Texas Is the Reason, who had Chris Daly on drums, who went on to play with Jeremy Chatelain (Insight, Handsome) in Jets to Brazil. You had all of these hardcore dudes who were dealing with major labels and all that stuff.
The Man Will Surrender album was produced by Garth "Gggarth" Richardson, who has also worked with such bands as Rage Against the Machine, L7, and Melvins.
Yeah, we did it up in Vancouver. We basically lived up there for about 10-12 weeks. It was rad. We did pre-production and recorded with Garth, and then mixed it with Dave Ogilve from Skinny Puppy. It was a great experience. Once the album was out, we toured with The Damned. Oh, we also went out with Shelter for 2 or 3 weeks. That was during that time when they were sort of more pop-punk than hardcore. It wasn't even hooked up through the hardcore connection. That all happened through the label and booking agent.
What ended up happening with Man Will Surrender?
I think we put too much pressure on trying to become a band that "made it." I heard [former Sex Pistols guitarist, current DJ] Steve Jones interviewing Peter Murphy [Bauhaus, Dali's Car] and he said something like, "Guys like us that get to make a living out of something we love is so rare," and he's right. That's ultimately what we learned from that band, which was that once it began to be "damn, we have to survive from this band," it wasn't worth it anymore. It just became too tedious. We got dropped by the label, just like the other million bands at that time who got signed and didn't make enough money for their labels.
But, I will say, Man Will Surrender was one of my most proudest moments. We got signed to a big label and it had nothing to do with Chain of Strength. The guys that signed Man Will Surrender didn't know about Chain till after we had signed on. It was done on our own merit and hard work. I'll always be proud of that.
Did you do anything musically after Man Will Surrender broke up?
Yeah, Chris from Chain of Strength and I started a band with Vic DiCara (Inside Out, Beyond, Shelter, 108) in 2000-2001. We never had a name, but we wrote a lot of songs. We were going to get a bassist. [Pauses for a moment] Oh yeah, we had Anthony [Pappalardo] from In My Eyes fly in and try out. Shaun [Ross] from Excel was another guy who tried out. We were playing a style that I would compare to Motörhead meets Cro-Mags meets Inside Out. It was really straight-ahead kind of stuff.
We rehearsed a lot. We also had lyrics written ready for a rad singer to come in and rock it, but it just never happened. I don't even think we ever tried out a singer. We wanted someone like Rob Halford or Chris Cornell. A true frontman, you know what I mean? That project ended up just dying out after we couldn't figure that stuff out. The songs were killer and super powerful. It was going to be a rad band! I didn't do anything after that until Chain got back together for those shows.
What's the story with Fraud, another band you played in this decade?
So, Fraud was a project from 2010 -2012 where Alex Barreto, Andy Alvarez, and myself got together to rekindle the ashes of Rage. We got Shaun Ross from Excel on board and basically spent that time writing hardcore jams and songs with various lineups. We played a total of three shows opening for the likes of Youth of Today, Scream from DC, and Ceremony.
What's the status of Chain of Strength today? Will you guys ever play again?
I think so [laughs]. I will just say this, for the record: the future is open. With Chain, it's a timing thing. A lot of things have to line up and feel right. There are a lot of factors involved, but I'm open to it. Ryan lives in San Francisco and he was just down here, so we hung out. Curt is in Orange County. Chris and I live really close to each other.
It's amazing how much Chain of Strength-related material is out there, in terms of cover songs and graphic design-inspired stuff.
Yeah, what really makes me excited to these days is all of the variations of the Chain logo, and the bites that have come out throughout the years. I don't brag at all, but I'm really proud of how much that logo has inspired people. Every once in a while someone will send me something and it blows my mind. Just the other day, I saw this [look below to see the image Frosty showed me on his phone].
I'll ask you this, but I think I already know the answer. What is the best Chain of Strength song?
[Laughs] That would be "True Till Death."