Jeff Kaplan has been a regular contributor to the Long Island punk scene for well over two decades. Starting off with Humstinger in the early '90s, and more recently with Too Many Voices, the bassist/guitarist has kept busy performing in various musical styles. I first met Kaplan when he was a member of The Judas Iscariot—a trio that played an angular and chaotic brand of hardcore that also had elements of grindcore threaded within its arrangements—but Kaplan's probably best known as one of the masked members of Two Man Advantage, a long-running hockey-themed punk outfit that enjoys quite the impressive cult following.
Although I haven't seen him in many years, I decided to hit up Kaplan for an interview to talk about his past and recent work.
Tell me a bit about your upbringing. Were you born and raised on Long Island?
I am a lifelong Long Islander, and I'd say it was a fairly uneventful upbringing. My parents were always very supportive of me. Do well in school, but the idea that money doesn't buy happiness was instilled in me at a very young age. They did a great job of exposing me to art and culture and supporting my musical endeavors. I am also an only child, so although I got my fair share of attention from my folks, it also meant I spent a good deal of time on my own. Add to that, I was a very awkward kid growing up, and I really didn't have a lot of friends until high school. I guess I'm still pretty awkward, but I've socially adjusted since then. But it gave me a lot of time to sit in front of MTV—at a time when MTV actually played music (I had just turned 8 when MTV came on the air)—and discover a lot of music. By the time 6th grade was out, while my peers were listening to Top 40, I already had several boxes filled with Rush, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Triumph, and Styx tapes.
SEE ALSO: 2015 interview with Rich Hall (Booking Agent, Painter).
What was your musical gateway into punk and hardcore?
Well, I was already familiar with the Ramones and The Clash, but it's hard to count that since I never really perceived those bands as being "punk" at the time. They were just rock bands who were on MTV whose music I liked. There were no classifications like that for me at the time. But as far as consciously getting into punk/hardcore, well, there was a local record store in Merrick, Island Sound, which is long gone now. But I used to bike up there every Friday night with my paper route money and come home with a couple of things. The guy who ran the store was really great to me. I think he was impressed that such a young kid was so immersed in music, and not just the Top 40 stuff. By the time I got into punk/hardcore, I was already buying tons of stuff out of the "Metal" section. But one day, and it must have been the summer of 1986, so I was 12 going on 13, a t-shirt hanging up caught my eye... it was an image of a creepy smiling puppet holding a knife. It was, of course, a Black Flag My War t-shirt... and I absolutely had to hear what that was about.
I asked the guy who ran the store if he had anything by this band and he said he did, but he didn't think I'd really like it. He had two cassettes behind the counter: Family Man and Slip it In. He told me he would sell them to me, but if I didn't like them, he would refund my money. In retrospect, I know that these are very weird gateway records, but they made a huge impact on me. When I went back to the store the next week, I told him I needed more of that, and he pointed me in the direction of the "Punk/Hardcore" section. I was a little shocked that this was even classified as "punk," but I didn't know any better. My weekly purchases were all out of that bin from then on.
Long Island has had a rich tradition of rock, metal, and hardcore/punk bands since the '70s. Who are some of the local bands that had a big impact on you when you started going out to see live music? Even though I wasn't from Long Island, I remember going to Sundance and February's to see shows.
Long Island definitely does, and possibly my favorite band of all time (like you, I have dozens of bands who are my favorite band of all time), Blue Öyster Cult, is originally from Long Island. I was a late starter on live music and didn't start going to shows until I was already in college. I was a freshman in 1991, and so those first bands that I saw back then probably all made an impression on me: Garden Variety, Bad Trip, and 1.6 Band were early Long Island live favorites for me. I think the local bands that made the most impact on me at that time, though, were bands more from NYC and New Jersey, especially bands that played ABC No Rio: Rorschach, Born Against, and Merel.
Sundance and February's were both a bit before my time. I did go to the Right Track Inn quite a bit. Some of my early bands that few will remember played there, and I saw Garden Variety, Science Diet, and Sound Bite House more times there than I could count. It was a good venue, close to home... the guy that ran the place was okay, but was intimidating if he felt your band didn't bring in enough people.
SEE ALSO: Classic ABC No Rio Flyers From Artist Jon Reed
What were some of the bands you first played in that maybe didn't quite get off the ground?
The first "real" band I was in (I'm not counting high school cover bands or anything like that), was Humstinger. I played bass in that band, Vinny Segarra (from Situated Chaos/Mint Tone Records) was our singer, Kevin McManus (later in Farckus Affair and Dahlia Seed) played guitar, and Aaron Pagdon (a.k.a. Coach from Two Man Advantage) was the drummer. It was the first band I was in with Aaron, who has been a bit of a musical partner going on 25 years now (Two Man Advantage, The Judas Iscariot, Hudson Falcons, among others).
Vinny loves his straight-up, in-your-face hardcore, Aaron and I were very into Amphetamine Reptile/Touch and Go noise rock bands, and Kevin was a big Seaweed fan and bands like that, and I think the music reflected that. We played some shows and recorded one demo with Vinny, and then another one without him after he left the band (stunningly, I took over on vocals—not a job I enjoyed, or would too often down the road).
Quarters was another band I was in with Aaron. The first lineup had a song on the Drunk & Disorderly 7" comp which came out on Puncrock Records in 1995, and the third and final lineup of the band had a song on the Workers Compilation CD comp that came out on The Headlock Society in 1997. You would never know the two songs came from the same band from listening to them.
And I guess the last one I'll mention was Jody Crutch, which was a band I played drums in. It was a more melodic kind of band. We were big Samiam fans. We recorded a couple of demos and played some shows here and there. I set up a Bandcamp page a couple of years back for posterity. Listening back, I think there was a lot of potential with this band that was never fully realized.
I think the first time I met you was when Black Army Jacket and your band at the time, The Judas Iscariot, shared a bill.
Actually, the first time I remember meeting you was at an early Black Army Jacket practice somewhere on Long Island. We had already befriended [guitarist] Andrew [Orlando] and he invited us down. We had one bass player and no guitar and you guys one-upped us with two bass players [laughs].
SEE ALSO: 2016 interview with Joe Gorelick (Garden Variety, Red Hare, Retisonic, Blue Tip, 52X).
How did The Judas Iscariot first come together?
The Judas Iscariot was an accident. Two of the bands I mentioned already play into the story. I was in Quarters with Aaron (drums) and I was in Jody Crutch with Rich (vocals). Both bands practiced at the same space and Aaron came down one day to watch a Jody Crutch practice and to hang out a bit. During a break, Rob and Dan, the guitarist and bassist, left the space to grab some lunch. While they were gone, I picked up Dan's bass, Aaron sat behind my drums, and Rich held onto the mic, and on a whim, the three of us began to just improvise out these short noise blasts of sound. It was only about 15 minutes before the guys came back and Jody Crutch continued practicing.
Aaron and I didn't think anything of it, but Rich must have seen something we didn't and called the two of us, begging us to get together and try to jam like that again. We staved him off for a while, but we eventually relented. The fact that we didn't have a guitarist wasn't a conscious thing.
There must have been some chemistry there that worked without a guitarist.
It was very obvious after that first "real" practice that there was some amazing chemistry. We would just improvise some songs, figure out what we had done, do some quick arranging, and that was it. We had written all the songs on the first demo by the end of the second practice, and recorded it at our third. That's pretty much how the band worked for its entire history. Except for Rich with his (absolutely amazing) lyrics, no one ever came to practice with a song idea already formed. Everything was always improvised and then constructed... or parts of songs were purposely left open for improvisation. We worked very quickly. We wrote tons of songs in a short amount of time. We then started playing shows and off we went. It was something very different and people in that segment of the scene really took to it.
I could talk for hours about The Judas Iscariot and what it meant to me. It was an incredible two-and-a-half years, which will always stand out to me in my musical journey. There was a tremendous amount of creative freedom, the three of us truly fed off of each other, and we brought very different personalities to the table. We were as close as can be during that time, but we also fought like mad, which generated its own inspiration ("I, Rabble Rouser" was written immediately following a total blowout at practice, for example).
That band made me laugh out loud, it made me cry, it made me think, and it made me stretch my muscles as a musician since there was no just falling back as a bass player behind someone else. It's a band I was incredibly proud to have been in from the first day to its last.
The Judas Iscariot had an interesting sound. I especially like the split you did with Seein' Red in 1998.
Thanks. Each of our releases had something distinct about it, but that split with Seein' Red was a good one and one of our last releases. We already had established a solid relationship with Chris Jensen and the Mountain Collective. We had played a show and afterward, everyone went out for a late dinner. I apologize that I can't remember his name, but the guy who ran Coalition Records, a label from the Netherlands, was visiting Chris and the two of them were discussing doing a split label release. It would be a split LP and they wanted us to be on one side of it. I was asked for any ideas about who should be on the other side, and I mentioned Seein' Red, who were from the Netherlands as well and who blew me away when they came through on tour. I never really expected that to happen. It was just a longshot choice, but I guess everyone liked the idea enough, and they ended up doing it! We never played with or met them, but we're forever bonded through that piece of vinyl.
As it was one of the later releases, I guess it's as fully-realized a version of us as you're going to get. It had a lot of powerful, brutal, noisy hardcore on it, but it also had some very melodic moments, it had some free jazz-esque improvised stuff, and had some softer moments as well. I think it's a solid release from start to finish, and a pretty good representation of what we did.
Why did The Judas Iscariot break up?
Well, if you ask the three of us, you'll get three different answers. Aaron and I would have kept going forever in that band, but Rich was ready to put it to bed and move on. I don't want to speak for him, and there's more to it than this, but I think he wanted to move into music that was a bit more overtly political than Judas was. Although we had a lot of common ground, there were ways in which Rich, Aaron, and I were very different philosophically, and Rich was holding back lyrics that he knew weren't going to be representative of all of us, which was absolutely the right thing to do. He moved on to Countdown to Putsch, which I think freed him up to say a lot more lyrically than he was willing to do with us. There's more to the story than that, but I'll always feel there was unfinished business with that band. I didn't feel any real closure to it until many years later, and in some ways maybe I still don't feel that way. I think the band had a very unique chemistry and was a true creative force that could have done so much more great work, but life doesn't always work out the way you want it to, and sometimes things are just not in your control. I will say it was probably the most exciting couple of years of my life from a musical perspective.
How about we get into Two Man Advantage? Tell me about the way that band and concept first came together.
That was another band that started by accident, and I can't take credit for having been an original member, although it's close! Our friend Brent has lived up in Vermont for 20+ years now, and in the '90s used to have these crazy all-night Halloween punk rock parties. His neighbors were far enough away that bands could play all hours of the night and it wouldn't matter. In 1996, Judas went up to play along with a few other bands like Pacifier, Swim Leon, Dawn in Bathos, The Last Crime, and maybe another one or two. It was an amazing time. Spag, a.k.a Drunk Bastard, was at that party, but not in any of the bands, and decided that for the following year's party, he would put together a band for the sole purpose of playing that one party. It would be 10 quick punk rock songs about hockey and drinking. He also wanted everyone to dress up as hockey players and that would be that. He recruited Rob, a.k.a. Skate, from Swim Leon (guitar); Marc, a.k.a. Teemu (bass); and Harry, a.k.a Amster (drums), both from Pacifier.
In the months leading up to the party, those guys got together every once in a while and came up with a bunch of songs for this party. As it turned out, though, Brent had to cancel that year's party. So, the band was almost over before it started. But since everyone knew these guys were going to play this thing, they decided to do one local show just so the work didn't go to waste. I remember that show. It was the fall of 1997 at Dr. Shay's in Lindenhurst, Long Island. Two Man Advantage headlined a show that was supposed to be a one-off thing, with no one having ever heard any of the songs. Well, let me tell you, that show was absolutely amazing. People went nuts! The tunes were catchy as hell and people were singing choruses to songs they had never heard before the second time round.
So, after that reaction, they realized they had something special going.
Yes, the show was such a success, that a second show was booked, and then a demo was recorded. Once it was decided they would try their hand at being a "real" band, they looked to recruit a second guitarist, and I immediately offered up myself, even though I had never really played guitar before. I figured, I played bass, I could play a power chord, and the songs weren't too difficult. So, I bought a cheap guitar, learned the songs, and after the second practice, I was in the band. My first show was the band's fourth show overall, and I'm on everything except that first demo, so we can say I was there from day two.
But, again, it's a lesson that often, we don't plan for the things which change our lives... they happen by accident. And just like it was never a conscious decision to form a band without a guitarist, it was never a conscious decision to form a band that would dress up in hockey jerseys. Sometimes these things just happen and off you go.
The best way to experience Two Man Advantage is in a live setting.
Well, hopefully the live shows are fun for everyone. They certainly are for us. We have our Two Man jerseys, and I think having the band in uniform really creates a certain presence. I think psychologically for us, when we're on that stage, we are a team, and we're there to defeat you! Spag will throw his body around like a ragdoll and we play as hard as we can. After 19 years, I think we still bring it. We've had to overcome the "gimmick band" label, and the way we overcame it was by writing the best songs we could and being the best live band we could. People are still enjoying it, and we're still enjoying it.
SEE ALSO: 2016 interview with Tracy Wilson (Positive No, Dahlia Seed, Ringfinger).
You've spent time in Hudson Falcons, a New Jersey-based rock band that has done a ton of touring throughout the years.
Mark Linskey and his Hudson Falcons are a touring machine like none other. Well, Two Man Advantage and the Hudson Falcons briefly shared a booking agent. We were booked to play a show together on a snowy Sunday night in Ithaca, NY. I didn't know anything about them other than their logo, and whatever my preconceived notions were about that band were blown completely out of the water when I saw them. We all watched them and were completely blown away by their brand of punk rock 'n' roll. The Springsteen influence was very obvious. They were really some of the best-written songs I had heard in a long time, and I bought everything off their merch table that day. Those CDs never left the Two Man van. It was just absolutely next-level stuff. We hooked up with a show again a few months down the road, and on a whim I told Mark, "Hey, if you ever need a bass player, let me know." Well, fast forward a few months, and that phone call came. I accepted immediately, and we then recruited Aaron to play drums and our friend T.J. to play rhythm guitar.
You made a record with them, right?
Yeah, we didn't even learn old songs at first. Mark had an album's worth of new songs and he wanted to record the third Falcons record as soon as possible. So we spent the first few months just gearing up to record that record, which turned out to be La Famiglia. It originally came out in 2004 on Consiglieri Records, and was re-released a year later by Street Anthem with a different cover. That album was a real bridge for the Falcons, a transition between their earlier, more punk rock type of records, and the more recent records, which are much more straight-up rock 'n' roll.
The lineup stayed together for a little over a year. We did a lot of touring, including a two-and-a-half-month tour across the U.S. I have never done a tour anywhere near that length before or since (and not sure I'd really want to, to be honest). I think it was just burnout and not being able to tour as much as Mark wanted that led Aaron and T.J. to give their notice. I had to give it up shortly after that, although, to this day, Aaron and I join the Falcons about once a year for a weekend trip. We just did a few dates back in March which took us to Canada. Mark has a few people who rotate regularly in and out of the Falcons, and Aaron and I are sort of in that rotation.
SEE ALSO: 2014 interview with Tom Sheehan (Indecision, Most Precious Blood).
Your most recent project is Too Many Voices, a punk band that brings to mind Dag Nasty and 7 Seconds. Too Many Voices also features former members of some prominent Long Island groups. Did you guys set out to write music in an old school vein, or did it happen organically?
I remember seeing Andy (original vocalist, who was also in Kill Your Idols) and Eric (guitarist, who was in Farckus Affair and The Last Crime, among others, back in the '90s) at the Government Issue reunion show in D.C. I think it was December 2010. Eric had just moved back to New York after having lived in Seattle for a decade and they were telling me about this new band they were doing called Too Many Voices. I remember hearing their demo and being a huge fan. "Holding On" was the great Dag Nasty song that Dag never actually wrote. Scott Winegard, who had been in some great bands like Fountainhead and Texas is the Reason, was their original bassist, and there was a big show they were offered with Iron Chic and Night Birds that he couldn't make. Either Andy or Eric reached out to me to ask if I could fill in for that one show... which I did... and the show was amazing. It was at a totally packed VFW hall somewhere out in Suffolk County, Long Island. A few months later, this was late in 2012, Eric asked me if I'd be into joining the band full-time, and I've been playing bass for Voices ever since.
I really play no role in the songwriting. I see Eric as the major creative driving force of the band, and I think trying to insert my style into the band would be almost disruptive. I don't, and can't, write songs like Eric, and his style has become such the defining sound of the band, that I'm more than happy to sit back and just write basslines to his stuff. The D.C. influence is very real for sure. It's a great group of guys and everyone is a very solid musician.
What's the status of Too Many Voices? Do you guys have any recording plans for the near future?
Well, we did self-release our first full-length last year [South of Sunrise]. It's up on Bandcamp, along with some other stuff, as well as Spotify and those other streaming services, and we put out a limited CD release earlier in the year, which you can get at shows. We do plan on recording a few new songs, and maybe a cover, hopefully before the year is out. We'll probably just self-release it, put it on Bandcamp, or something like that. We mostly play local shows about once a month. We haven't left Long Island/New York City too much and that's something we need to do a better job of. The band isn't really in a position to tour or anything, but we should be doing at least a weekend or two a year. We were going to do one this summer, but it fell through. There's lots of competition during the summer, and it's probably not the best time of year for a lesser-known band to hit the road.
Thinking back to when I first met you in the mid-'90s, Long Island had such a strong D.I.Y. scene. What is it like over there today?
You know, I'm older now and the older you get, the more removed you get from that local scene, which is usually dominated by kids in their 20s. I think it's just a natural thing. I'm not sure my feelings on this are historically accurate, or just a matter of warped perception. In the '90s, things felt bigger to me here. Even the D.I.Y. shows drew a few hundred kids, like the days at ['90s venues] PWAC or Deja One. Maybe it was a more unified scene? I don't know. I feel like now, there's no lack of shows on Long Island, but they feel smaller to me somehow. There are a bunch of different booking collectives—all with great intentions—but sometimes I feel like there should be more unity between them. You know, like not booking similar types of shows on the same nights, and things like that. But I think SBC Bookings, who are still relatively new, have done great work in doing both local and national shows and have been booking pretty consistently at Amityville Music Hall, which is definitely a cool spot.
As far as bands, there are a lot of good ones, but if forced to choose one, I think Beach Craft Bonanza is the best newer band out there right now. They are such a great blend of punk, surf, '60s garage, etc. When I watch them I feel like this must be like watching The Who in their earliest days was like. They just put out an album called Cradle to Wave which you won't stop listening to for a week.
What else have you been up to lately?
Music keeps me busy for sure, but I try to find time for some other stuff. I'm married, no kids, and we just love doing stuff together. She's also a total music freak and we go to tons of shows together and enjoy just taking weekend getaways or riding our bikes in the trails. We also have a bit of a zoo. We have a dog, two cats, a tortoise, a bearded dragon, and a tarantula (and that's down a few occupants recently), so they keep us busy. And as an only child with aging parents, it's important that I spend a lot of time with them. As almost everyone who knows me personally is aware, my mother has been suffering from severe dementia for almost 10 years now, so that's been a challenge for my family and I'm pretty sure I couldn't get through it without the support of my wife, who never knew my mother when she was "normal," and has really been nothing but amazing through what has been a very long and trying journey.
SEE ALSO: '80s Movie/TV Soundtrack Songs: Random & Obscure Edition
I'm happy to hear you have a great wife who has been so supportive. Thanks for your time today, and to close this thing out, I want to get your thoughts on what you think are three essential Long Island records.
You know, you could ask me this question every day for a month and I'll come up with a different answer. I could just say the first three Blue Öyster Cult records, but I'll keep it to the punk and hardcore world.
- Scapegrace, Plead 7". What a great band they were. They were heavy, dark, progressive, and there was always something a little disturbing about Steve Driscoll's vocals. I think Plead is an absolutely essential 7" by a great Long Island hardcore band who brought something different to the table.
- Garden Variety, Garden Variety. This is the obvious choice of the three. Seeing Garden Variety go from an almost totally unknown band with a demo to one of the all-time legendary Long Island bands was fun to watch. In a scene where bands were much heavier and screaming, here came this band that was just so full of melody. They were also great musicians. As popular as Garden Variety ended up being, they should have been 100 times bigger. I think the first album is pretty much perfect.
- Desperosity, Desperosity. Here is the underrated choice of the three here. It's from Desperosity, a band that is virtually unknown and never talked about. They had a split 7" with Long Island's The Clap, but even more obscure is the CD they put out, and good luck ever finding it. These guys were one of the loudest, noisiest, most chaotically insane bands I had ever seen, and the CD does a fairly good job of capturing what is essentially impossible to really capture. I only got to see them once or twice and I'm pretty sure I left with my ears bleeding. I'm bad at describing music in the first place, so to try to even describe the indescribable is a task beyond my reach.