Those of us that grew up in the New Jersey hardcore scene during the '90s have probably witnessed in person the musical viciousness of one of the best group of breakdown inventors to ever step foot on a stage. Throughout the crowd of ski-mask covered faces and workout glove covered fists, there was nobody standing still and nowhere that was safe once the legendary Redline started playing.
Led by frontman John's monstrous vocals, Redline left their mark on the hardcore world with one demo, two albums, and a 6-song split release with Born From Pain. A masterful combination of ferocious vocals, gang-style singalongs, chugging guitar riffs, powerful drums, and perilous breakdowns; all their songs were heavy and uncompromising aside from the melodic guitar intro and outro providing a welcome reprieve from the intensity.
I recently had the honor of interviewing John, the allustrious Redline vocalist, hoping to rekindle some old memories of this legendary band that, in my opinion, deserved a lot more recognition than they received in the hardcore scene. Although their musical catalogue was small and time as a band relatively brief, their impact on the NJHC scene and their loyal fans was immense.
The music, battle wounds and memories, along with the stories in this interview, will live on forever as the history of one of the greatest New Jersey hardcore bands that ever existed.
What got you into hardcore and what were your influences for starting Redline?
I think the first real hardcore band I got really into was Madball. Up until that point, I was really just a metalhead. I remember seeing Madballl back in the day at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park and I was hooked. Don’t remember the exact year but I’m going to guess it was but I’m pretty sure that was around '96 or '97.
When did Redline form, how did you guys meet, and what was your role in the development of the band from the start?
It was right around that same time, around '97, I think. We formed as a threesome. My buddy Scott from my town that I grew up with was the epitome of a late '90s metalhead: long hair, '80s, Camaro, and Obituary and Danzig posters all over his room. He had a drum set and I would come over and jam out with him with my guitar. He invited his friend Mike over to jam with us one day. Mike was a way better guitarist than me, so I moved over to bass. Mike ended up being in Redline with me from day one until we called it quits.
We tried finding a singer, and tried out one or two but we didn’t find what we were looking for. In practice one day I said, “hey, let me try singing for shits and giggles” and Mike and Scott were like, “ok, you’re our new singer now." So I really ended up becoming the singer by necessity. The band eventually morphed when Kenny (drums) and Rob (second guitarist) joined the band. They were friends and new each other from playing music beforehand, Scott moved over to bass, but it became pretty evident pretty quickly that Scott and the rest of us were interested in different musical directions.
We were playing more hardcore at that point, and Scott was more into the pure metal at that point, so we went in different directions, although Scott and I remained good friends and still talk today. It’s ironic because towards the end of Redline, we started getting back to our roots and became a lot more metal influenced. Jon (who some may remember as "Fat Jon") joined and became our bass player.
Then, at one point, Rob left the band for one reason or another which I can’t seem to remember and Rich (who went on to play for Suffer the Living) became our guitarist. There were a few small other changes here and there, but that’s the main storyline of our band membership.
Who came up with the band name and album titles and what are their significance?
The band name, if I recall correctly, was just a random idea jamming out in Scott’s bedroom. Like I said, Scott, Mike, and myself are all fans of American muscle cars, so I think it came out of a conversation about the drag strip or something or other. I really can’t recall. The album titles are sort of related to the lyrics, which I guess, I’ll touch on in the next question.
What were your main inspirations for the lyrics you wrote?
Well, as I sort of alluded to earlier. I originally set out wanting to play guitar or bass in hardcore band, not sing. Part of that reason is because I’m a pretty private person and it’s not really natural for me to share my intimate thoughts and feelings. Therefore, while, I always knew what a song was about, I always made the lyrics as indirect, distorted, and convoluted as possible since I didn’t really want to put myself out there.
If others could find some kind of meaning it them that was cool, but I was never looking to make a big statement like Earth Crisis or anything, just wrote about stuff in my own life and then tied to bury the meaning in imagery and symbolic references.
I’ll give one small example, since this probably sounds like a lot of babble. The song "Diseased" was about the anger I had at the time watching my father suffer with Multiple Sclerosis for 16 years before he passed away from it. I went to Catholic school, so I was very angry with my religion at the time. Some of the words are directed at comforting my dad as he faced a terminal illness, some of the words are directed at my anger with God.
It was way too personal for me to share, so it was written in a way that didn’t explain much. But if you were to know, the lyrics would probably make more sense.
Were any of you in bands before Redline?
I don’t think any of us were in any serious bands beforehand. I think Kenny played a few shows with Comin’ Correct, and Rich ended up playing with Suffer the Living, but that’s about it.
What were the first songs you wrote and recorded?
The first songs we wrote we recorded ourselves on a short demo CD called This Day. A few of those songs were later re-recorded and put on our first album, Moments of Truth. For anyone who has This Day, the cover art is just a picture I took while laying in the grass in the front yard of the house I grew up in. The cover of Moments of Truth is just a distorted picture of Mike’s house that he grew up in.
Are there any songs that you recorded that were never released on any album or demo?
There were no songs ever recorded and never released but there were one or two written that were never played or recorded towards the end of Redline. Right towards the end, I was going to move back over to bass, and Eric from the former singer of the New Jersey band Killed by Memories was going to sing for us.
We were going to change the name of the band and it was going to be much more metal influenced. I think we practiced a few times and wrote a song or two, but it fizzled because I think we were all ready to move on from music at that point in our lives.
What were the band’s goals at the time? Were you trying to make it a full-time gig or were you more about enjoying the moment knowing your time as a band was limited?
I think we all knew it was a temporary ride, but we did our best to ride the wave. Bands like Fury of Five and Second to None established NJHC as almost a genre of hardcore in itself and when we went to Europe, that became apparent. Bands from Europe were trying to recreate the NJHC sound but we were seen as authentic, real NJHC when we went out there.
That was when I realized that what started out as jamming in Scott’s bedroom and taking breaks to play wiffle ball in his front yard had turned into something much bigger, and that we were fortunate and so lucky to have been able to get a little taste or glimpse of what it was like to be in a real touring band.
What were your favorite venues to play?
100 percent without a doubt, Castle Heights in Queens, NY (RIP).
Were you accepted by other bands in the NJ hardcore scene?
I think for the most part, most bands we played with accepted us because we were just regular dudes and were chill with everyone. We didn’t play the whole “we’re reppin so and so and we’re here to take over” card, we hung out with everyone, didn’t have beef with anyone, and didn’t pay much attention to the whole crew thing. I think other bands accepted us because they knew we were good dudes and fun to hang out with, not because of any affiliations, or circles that we rolled in or anything like that.
That being said, while we were from NJ, we were from northern NJ, less than 10 miles from NYC, so we felt like the Queens hardcore scene was where we developed our strongest friendships. I remember hanging out with a lot of people from the Queens and Long Island scenes outside of hardcore and shows.
While we developed some real friendships in other areas as well like PA, and southern NJ, it was the people that I met through the Queens and Long Island scenes that felt closest with.
What other New Jersey bands did you enjoy playing with the most and the least?
I would say probably Killed by Memories and NJ Bloodline. I know you asked about NJ, but since we were looked at as part of the Queens scene, I have to mention that it was always tons of fun playing with bands like Sworn Enemy, Full Blown Chaos, and GFY. We also loved playing with Forever Means Goodbye, our friends out in Clearfield, PA.
Who was your favorite NJ hardcore singer from the '90s-'00s era?
That’s a tough one since there are so many, but it’s hard not to go with Jamey [Jasta] from Hatebreed. I also love Henzel from Mushmouth and Moe from Cipher’s vocals.
Are there any interesting stories about crowd fights or beefs with other bands?
Honestly no, we got along with everyone and I think we had a reputation for getting along with everyone. There might have been a few people in the crowd we got into it with while other bands were playing, but even that didn’t happen to often.
What were the most violent shows you played in?
I would say the ones that took place at Castle Heights in Queens. That was hands down, my favorite place to play.
Are there any funny Redline touring stories?
Just a few that come to mind… I recall making the mistake at a show in a Church in Doylestown PA screaming “F*** this Church Up” before a breakdown (speaking figuratively, of course) and then seeing a metal folding chair fly through one of the stain glass windows of the church. There was also a show in Baltimore where the owners of the venue were in the bar on the other side of the wall of the room we were playing in.
When we started playing, they didn’t appreciate all the commotion and came in to say the show was over and they were calling the cops. So, like an idiot, I said into the mic, “you heard the man, we have time for one quick song before the cops shut us down so fuck this place up," (again, speaking figuratively, of course) and when we started playing, and tables were being flipped, and holes punched in the drywall, etc. Someone jumped up and hung from an enormous 8’ wide fancy chandelier that was in the room and it popped out of the ceiling and came crashing down onto the dance floor. We packed up very quickly and left. I mean people should know not to take me literally, right?
Did you have any disputes with record labels or problems getting your music released?
Not really. Our label GSR (Gang Style Records), a Dutch label out of the Netherlands, always treated us well. In retrospect, the disadvantage of being on a European label was that they didn’t have the connections to get us on any bigger shows and tours in the US. We had to do our own hustle in the US. No regrets though.
What were the best and worst things about being in Redline?
The best was definitely all of the travelling and meeting people. The worst thing? Can’t really think of anything bad about the experience.
Who were the guys that always wore ski masks in the pit at Redline shows?
That was just NJHC back during that time. Some I know, some I knew of, some I have no idea. We never put anybody up to anything like that, I just assume that’s how they liked to get off at a show.
Did Redline have a “crew” like other hardcore bands at the time (such as DMS, FSU, BFL, ETAC)?
Nope, not at all. We just made a lot of good friends along the way. Some of them were part of that scene, some weren’t. We never got involved in any of that, and that’s not a judgment or statement for or against any of it, it’s because that’s not something we were involved in before Redline, so we weren’t going to be posers and pretend to be part of something that wasn’t who we were.
We were just ourselves, and didn’t care who was or wasn’t part of a crew. In a sense, I think the people who were involved in that stuff respected that we didn’t treat them or act any different around them and saw us as genuine.
What was your favorite song to play live?
This answer might be cheating but I always loved covering [Slayer's] "Raining Blood."
If you could go back in time and re-live one show over again, which would it be?
Tough question. It would probably be a show we played with Hatebreed in Germany. I believe the city was called Oberhausen. It was just insane and packed with a few thousand people.
What was the process of choosing collaborators like Wreak Havoc for your songs?
We were from NJ but at the time, the hxc scene in NJ was really a South Jersey scene, about 2-3 hours away. We are from north Jersey and just a short drive from NYC, so the heart of our fan base really grew out of Queens and Long Island, for the most part. That put us in a unique spot at the time where were part of 2 separate scenes NY and NJ that were really separate.
NY and NJ bands didn’t play together much and they were two separate crowds going to those shows. We tried to mix that up and tried to bring a lot of the NY and NJ bands together to merge the scenes a little.
That was part of the reasoning behind having Wreak from NJ Bloodline and Sal from Sworn Enemy sing on the Ethics of Michael Corleone.
What was it like touring in Europe and releasing the Swift, Silent, Deadly. split with Born From Pain?
It was one of the most amazing things I’ve experienced. He had better distribution there being on a European label, and NJHC was looked at as a whole genre or style of hardcore out there, that bands from out there tried to copy, so they looked at us as the “real thing” being from NJ. We were pretty shocked at how much bigger the crowds were over there, and to be honest, it was a little tough coming back and playing to much smaller crowds after that, but overall, it was just a great experience.
Clubs out in Europe provide lodging to bands (it’s just how they do their contracts out there), so most of the clubs have their own sort of living spaces either attached or on the floor above, so it was really cool to actually stay at these clubs, often with other bands. We got to play with some shows with Hatebreed out there, which were awesome. The recording for the split CD we did out there was in a little farm town in Belgium called Asse [laughs].
Anyways, we stayed overnight at the studio and Kenny wanted to go cow tipping at the farm across the street but nobody else wanted to. It was a good thing. We found out the next morning, they were actually bulls and we probably would have gotten a horn shoved up our asses.
How did the European scene compare to the NJ scene and were you received well from the European fans?
It was very different. We were well received I think because our label knew how to get us exposure and distribution out there. We had some radio interviews on our days off which was cool and got to see a number of countries I’ll probably never get to go back to in my life. The scene also varied from country to country. In Germany it didn’t feel much different than back in the States.
In Switzerland, we headlined and thought, who the hell knows us in Switzerland, but it was packed and as soon as we started playing they did something that you never really saw in the US hardcore scene, they immediately started crowd surfing all over the place and we were like, "WTF?" But they were having fun, so who am I to judge. Just different from what we see here. Also, it wasn’t uncommon for people out there to ask us to sign stuff, which was totally strange.
Why did the Redline break up, and are you still in contact with any former members?
I think it just organically came to a close as most of us were finishing college, going to grad school, starting careers, etc. I don’t really want to touch on the second part of this question.
Have there been any offers for a Redline reunion and would you ever consider coming back for a one-off show?
There have been on occasion, which is really flattering, but I think the ship has sailed on Redline performing ever again.
What was the last hardcore show you attended?
Hmm, it’s been a while. Not sure if this counts as hardcore, but I saw August Burns Red a few years back.
Are there any active hardcore bands today that you are into now?
I still listen to lots of hardcore and metal. I love Kublai Kahn TX and metalcore and deathcore bands like Thy Art is Murder, As Blood Runs Black, and I dig the Russian band Slaughter to Prevail.
How do you think today’s hardcore scene compares to the scene in the '90s and early '00s?
Honestly, I don’t think I know enough about today’s hardcore scene to answer.
What are the band members doing in their lives today and are any former Redline members involved in any bands now?
I can only really speak for myself. I work in higher education as an Executive Director in the President’s Cabinet at the College that I work at. I’m also working on the final stages of my dissertation for my doctorate degree. I spend whatever spare time I have in the woods, backpacking, canoe camping, winter hot tenting, bushcrafting, whatever you want to call it.
In August, I paddled 100 miles of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway with my dog in a vintage canoe I restored, and camped along the river bank each night. It took 10 days and I saw no people or signs of civilization with the exception of a ranger station that I passed. It was pretty awesome, right up there with touring Europe. I restore and sell vintage axes as a hobby, and otherwise just chill with my dogs and my wife. That’s about it.
Any closing comments or things you would like to say to the fans?
I just want to thank for all that you do for smaller bands like Redline, and for keeping the history of the NJ hardcore scene alive.
And to anyone reading this that ever came to one of our shows, please know that I really appreciate you being part of this strange but awesome part of my past life that very few people that know me, are even aware of.
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