Stretch Arm Strong Guitarist Scott Dempsey on Their Past, Present & Today’s HC Scene

Photo: Jered Scott

Formed all the way back in 1992, Stretch Arm Strong are elder statesmen of the hardcore scene at this point. The Columbia, South Carolina quintet's uptempo and melodic take on hardcore has earned them a loyal following over the course of their decades together.

Their discography has influenced bands throughout the world, and despite not always being active, Stretch Arm Strong have always put 100% into everything they do, whether it's a new record or live appearance.

Featuring 6 tracks of tasty melodic hardcore in under 15 minutes, Stretch Arm Strong's new EP, The Revealing, was produced by none other than Steve Evetts, a name you might recognize from his previous studio work with the likes of Deadguy, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Lifetime.

With the vinyl version of The Revealing coming out within the next few weeks, I spoke with Stretch Arm Strong
guitarist Scott Dempsey to get the skinny on the EP, their history, and his thoughts on the current hardcore scene.

What made it the right time for you guys to come together and write/record new music?

Great question. Upon getting back together for a few shows and fests, naturally writing new music came up. We had one song written (“Still Believe”, “Part III”) although it had changed a little bit by the time we entered the studio. We had some other parts and pieces of songs as well.

We quickly abandoned the idea to record for multiple reasons. Who would we get to record us? How would we get them? Most of the good engineers/producers are booked up well in advance, some, even a year out. And, on top of that, we are a band that isn’t really a band. Meaning, we are all so busy with our everyday lives - families, careers etc. 

So, it was tough navigating everyone’s family/work schedules to find the time to work together again?

I live in New Jersey and the rest of the guys still live in South Carolina. How could we logically coordinate not only a good engineer/producer but how could we figure out a time we could all even go to a studio? And, oh yeah, write new songs. It was just too daunting of a feat.

We are a band who hadn’t put out anything in almost 20 years. Putting out new music is scary. Not only do you want the recording to sound top notch — that comes with a cost — but you want the songs to be good. What if we put out a new collection of songs and people don’t like it? People seemed to enjoy Free At Last, so why risk it? Anyway, for those reasons and more, we decided not to do it.

What ended up happening to change your minds?

Fast forward to the summer of 2023. I get a call from Casey Horrigan (from Iodine Recordings) out of the blue and he is like, “Hear me out, would you be interested in recording with Steve Evetts?” Immediately, I perked up. Little known fact is that we were supposed to record Rituals of Life with Steve at Trax East back in 1998. The time was booked with him.  

Tooth & Nail and Solid State booked the time without confirming the dates would work for us. At the time, Chris and David were still teaching and we had always planned to record during their winter break. Those dates didn’t line up with Steve’s calendar so we canceled and ended up recording with Barry Poynter in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Barry’s recording was great but we really wanted to record with Steve — it was just not meant to be at the time. Anyway, Casey had time booked with Steve for another band. He had already paid a deposit. The band that was supposed to record had broken up unexpectedly, so Casey still had the time and his deposit was non-refundable. The only catch was we had to record before the end of the year. I immediately hung up and called [guitarist] David [Sease] and he was stoked as well.

Now the problem is how the heck are we gonna write enough songs to be ready to record? That is one reason we went the EP route. It was difficult to get done from a scheduling standpoint as well as a writing standpoint.

David took the heavy load with these songs, did demos, wrote lyrics, he even sent demos around. I would take his demos and add riffs, etc. David, [drummer] John [Barry], [bassist] Jeremy [Jeffers] and [vocalist] Chris [McLane] would get together and hash out the tracks together. We ended up having 5 new songs and a cover. It was hectic. Those songs were constantly changing up until we recorded.  

We recorded in November 2023, it was mixed and mastered in early 2024, and we dropped it March 8th, 2024. Oh yeah, art work too! That was a whole other ordeal. David said this and it’s true: “Nothing like a deadline to get ya ready.” Anyway, Steve was amazing and really had a lot of input and was almost like a 6th member of Stretch Arm Strong with these songs. What a pro and what a great guy as well. It was so great to finally get to work with him.

Iodine Recordings refers to the band as “posi-core” and I wanted to get your thoughts on that. Is that something the band started referring to itself as, or did that come from other people? 

We never try to label ourselves. "Posi-core" is fine, though. I think it’s in line with who we are as a band. We are not tough guys. We are not a straight edge band. We are not a Christian band, although many people think we are. Being on Tooth & Nail / SolidState has that effect. Posi-core though, sure, that works. "Hardcore band" works. "Punk rock band" works. We are just Stretch Arm Strong.

Photo: JC Carey

If you go back to Stretch Arm Strong’s earliest material in the early ‘90s to the new tracks on The Revealing, what would you say are the biggest differences, if any? I listened to Compassion Fills the Void and forgot how weird (in a good way) some of those songs got at times. I also hear an Earth Crisis influence on that early material.

Well, the earliest tracks versus The Revealing — recording is a lot more polished now than it was back then. I think we did Compassion Fills the Void in like 3 days, played most of it live with guitar overdubs at a local studio in town called, The Jam Room. We had a very low budget. We were very raw, as was reflected in the recording. But also that was sorta the style back then. 

You listen to the early Earth Crisis 7” or that first Unbroken 12”, raw was cool. We didn’t set out for our recording to sound like that ExC recording. I imagine that at that point ExC was in the same boat as us: low budget, local studio, etc. And that is not a knock at the studio at all.  

We recorded A Revolution Transmission at the same studio many years later, except then we had a nice budget and we were in the studio for about a month working on that one. A lot of our earlier recordings came from that studio. It’s been many years since I’ve listened to that Compassion recording  And still to this day I have people asking for us to play “Amongst Friends."

I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about “Take a Stand" from the new EP. What’s the story behind its lyrics and why was Lou Koller invited to join in on that one? Were you friends from playing shows/touring?

A lot of people don’t know the background of the song “Take a Stand." Nowadays, when you release music on DSPs (Digital Service Providers) you miss out on what we all grew up on: the liner notes. Anyway, Chris (singer of SAS) and I were in a band in high school called Strait Up. We played locally and regionally. We had a demo tape and a split 7” with another Columbia band called Unherd.  

Two of the guys from Unherd later went on to be half of Assfactor4. Anyway, we had four songs on our side of that split and one was the song “Take a Stand." In that band, myself (guitar), Chris (drums) and the bass player, Matt McCarty, (who later was the first singer and bass player of SAS / original member) split duties on singing.  

On “Take A Stand," Chris sang. As SAS continued on, we always thought it would be cool to re-record that song. Chris sang it and wrote it, so it was sorta like an early, pre-SAS song. Originally, it was recorded in a basement on an 8-track, so that recording is pretty bad, and it was 1989 or 1990 and you wanna talk about no budget [laughs]. We always thought it would be cool to give that song a proper recording. With this EP our goal was 6 songs so we were fully ready to do “Take a Stand." The song is short and punk and we just thought it would fit nicely.

Lou had become a friend. SAS played with Sick Of It All multiple times and toured together as well. Lou and Chris had become pretty close over the years and text back and forth a lot. Back when we wrote that song we were huge SOIA fans — well we had always been big SOIA fans.

We knew Lou lived in New Jersey where Steve’s studio is located and we thought what a cool thing to try to do; have Lou, a guy who inspired us for so many years with his iconic voice, sing on a song that we wrote over 30 years ago. We didn’t know if we could pull it off or could get him to the studio. We even had David record those parts just in case it didn’t happen.

We didn’t know it was going to happen until the day he did it — I think it was the second to last day we were there. He came in, hung out for about an hour and knocked it out. Talk about a full circle moment. He’s even screaming “What’s going on?” Such a cool moment for us. We hope everyone loves our little easter egg of a song that means so much to us and plays a big part in the foundation of this band.

Let’s talk ‘90s South Carolina and the hardcore scene there. What were some of the bands and promoters that were putting in the work back then? Would you say the band blew up rather quickly there? I remember there was a big buzz about you guys at the time, but I was based in NYC.

The local bands that paved the way for SAS were Bedlam Hour and Antischism. Then you have bands like In/humanity, Premonition, Self, Minus One, Ground, Rights Reserved, Zero Hour, Unherd, Strait Up (shameless plug), Tonka, 49 Reasons…

We would do a lot of DIY shows at various places. Underground places would open then close, like they do in every city. There was a club called Rockafellas which was a staple of the Columbia, SC scene — not so much the punk scene specifically, but really all types of live music in Columbia. It was owned by a guy named Art. Art would let us young punks do Sunday matinees. It was a way he could add our shows and still do his bigger shows.

Sometimes our (not our band, but shows I/we would promote) shows were bigger than his night shows. That place was a Columbia music staple for years and years. I saw every band there. You name it… NOFX, Bosstones, Social Distortion, SOIA, Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soul Asylum, Soundgarden played there — any big band on a US tour would play Rockafellas if they were coming through the South East.

Fun fact, SAS’s first show was with NOFX at Rockafellas in 1992. It was a very different, early version of SAS but it was still myself, David and John who are all still in SAS today with Matt. Of course, all great places have to come to an end. RIP Rockafellas.

After that, there were various other places that came and went; 27/58, Senseless Beauty Cafe, among others. Our spot was New Brookland Tavern which actually is still around today, but just recently moved from its original spot to a new location.

On a personal level, how closely do you follow the hardcore scene and newer bands today? It definitely feels like hardcore is at its most popular point in history so far, but I’m curious about your take as a fellow group of “old heads.”

I follow as much as I can, but it is just really hard to keep up. Oh, certainly the Turnstile effect is real. Hardcore is very popular these days. Any old band that was around when we were playing like Bane, Poison the Well, or even a band like Terror (who is still killing it.) Or Comeback Kid (still killing it as well.) Hope Con on the return as well!! And what about that new With Honor LP?! So good! Never skipped a beat.  

Other than that, I really love No Pressure, Koyo, One Step Closer, Be Well, Incendiary… I can’t wait to hear that new Love Letter LP coming out on Iodine — that band’s album has some very nice buzz.

Photo: Michelle Mennona

To close this one out, looking back at the band’s entire catalog, what song would you say best encapsulates the Stretch Arm Strong song and ethos?

“For the Record." I feel like if it has to be one song, that song is Stretch Arm Strong. I think most people will agree.

I want to close by saying thanks to everyone that since we have “sort of” been back who have come to our shows, have sang along, have danced, have dived, have purchased merchandise, have followed us on Instagram, have engaged with us on IG, have sent kind words, posted awesome stories, etc. Thanks for being stoked on the re-issues that we did with Iodine. We’ve really put a lot of love into those.

And lastly, thanks so much for being stoked on our EP. It is truly terrifying putting out new music. Playing a live show is exciting but new music is super scary. You just never know how people are gonna react to it. I really felt like these were the best songs we have ever done and how does that even happen? Well, I have an answer for that. We are a band that is not really a band (in the sense of the word “band”) anymore.

In our busy individual lives, we get together just so we can hang out as close friends, jam and what comes out, comes out. We have no pressure, not trying to write the “hit” song that will propel us to the next level because we are not trying to get to the “next level." No rules, just really back to the grassroots, raw, punk rock mindset.

These songs are just us completely unphased by any outside noise. A lot of things had to fall into place for this to happen and, luckily, it just all fell into place and happened thanks to a lot of help from Casey and the Iodine team. If this EP is our “swan song," I think it’s a cool ending. Not saying we have discussed being over, but I tell everyone that "any SAS show could be the last SAS show," so be in the moment with us if you are with us.

Carpe Diem. 
“I won’t regret a single moment cause I tried”


The Revealing is out now across all digital music outlets, and the vinyl begins shipping in May via Iodine Records (pre-order).

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