In his latest piece for his A Hardcore Conversation interview series, Anthony Allen Begnal speaks with Chris Stover, bassist for the seminall DC hardcore band, Void. —Carlos Ramirez
You are Chris Stover bass player of Columbia, Maryland’s own Void, correct?
That is correct, sir.
What was it like growing up there? Supposedly it was one of the first “planned communities,” right?
Yeah, it definitely was, lots of funky suburban type street names. But, honestly, I lived in the old part of Columbia, which was not part of the Columbia Association, which was where the corporation built everything up around it. But [drummer] Sean [Finnegan] and [guitarist] Bubba and [vocalist] John [Weiffenbach] lived in Columbia proper. Sean, John and myself all went to a high school outside of Columbia in Towson, MD called Loyola High School, so we were kind of split between three worlds really. People that we knew from our neighborhood in Columbia, and then Loyola High School, and then people we were going to DC with to see shows. So, it was definitely kind of diverse.
We were kind of all over the place, honestly. We had lots of friends in our neighborhood that we skated with or some people went to shows with us, too.
So, you guys were all skaters then, is how you started hanging out?
No, I was the lone skater. I met Sean and John through high school and Bubba we just met through mutual connections because the bulk of our friends went to Oakland Mills High School and he went to school there.
I can’t really Imagine Bubba on a skateboard so I’m not too surprised to hear that he didn’t skate [laughs].
He tried surfing, believe it or not. I wanna say he tried surfing once or twice.
How did you start hearing about and going to punk and hardcore shows?
Well Sean and I went to The Clash at University of Maryland, and that was probably our real first big punk show. And there was a band in our high school called The Bollocks and they would get Ian’s [MacKaye] band the Teen Idles to play in Towson, and we all went to that and were pretty much blown away and started following if those guys did any shows. Then we started to go to shows in DC like The Cramps and The Damned, those types of shows. It’s so alien to me now how that information got passed around.
I guess you went to one show and I guess there’d be a flyer for the next big show and you’d try to make it there and if you didn’t, you had the guy’s phone number and then you’d call him. And I was a skater, so I’d be out skating ramps and out and about anyway so that’s how we would find out about stuff.
Were you into punk or metal first?
Oh, definitely punk rock. You know, Ramones, Sex Pistols, Damned, Pretty much all '70s punk. For me, personally, there was this culture where you just wanted loud and dangerous music, so Devo was in there too and KISS and Ted Nugent. It went from that and kind of evolved into punk. And then out of that came Motörhead, which we didn’t think were really metal but it kind of opened up our eyes to what was going on in England.
How did you end up playing bass?
I guess it was just a default position. I didn’t wanna play guitar and Sean had the drums thing kind of wired and then Bubba came along and he’s hand over fist more talented with music than I am so it just got handed to me, bass. It sort of just happened.
Did you guys already know Bubba or is that how you found him, when you decided to form a band? And how did you decide you wanted to form a band?
We had a lot of friends in Oakland High School, and our first practice was myself, Bubba, and this guy Darryl was gonna be our drummer and he just flaked and then Sean stepped in and said, "man, I can play drums." And we were like, "are you sure?" [Laughs] I didn’t know he played drums, but I guess he had some musical talent and quickly picked it up and he was the one who sort of made it happen. He was the one with the impetus to make us more musically edgy, if you will and he kind of pushed us.
So we met Bubba that way. I think it was my friend Jim who said, "hey, if you wanna start a band this friend of mine Bubba just moved into town." He was about a year younger than us, I think he was a class below us. I went over to his house and practiced a little bit a bunch of times, just he and I and then out of that, Darryl was gonna be the drummer and we weren’t sure who the singer was yet, and then Sean came aboard as the drummer, and then we needed a singer and John just kind of got picked out of the blue.
How did John develop his singing style? Was that just natural, was he like that right away?
[Laughs] That was part of the reason why we got him was because he was that way naturally. So what would happen at Loyola High School was, because we were the freshmen, we’d get picked on and what would happen is, 9 times out of 10 on the bus ride home all of the juniors and seniors would just do a pile-up on people. You’d be sitting in your seat and all the sudden all the juniors and seniors would just jump on you and there’d be a pile of like 5 people on you and John was always really vocal during these pile-ups.
He’d just scream like nobody’s business and the bus driver would stop and threaten to kick us out, or whatever. Anyway, because of his screaming we were all like, Well John sounds like he’s got a hell of a voice and that’s how he came about. we were like, You wanna sing? and he’s like, "sure, man... I’ll give it a shot."
Where did the name come from? I know on the back of the Sessions 1981-83 LP there’s the quote from one of your songs, “And at the door stamp your hands, overage you’re paid underage you are VOID”. Was the name from a straight edge kind of thing, I don’t think you guys were a straight edge band obviously but is that where the name came from?
I was straight edge for about a year and a half, Sean was for about a year. I think it came out of, we were in a grocery store and we saw some food products that were voided out and then that kind of came out in that song. And we went to a catholic school, so Sean put the crosses in to sort of give it a weird trip, like it was the void between Heaven and Hell, two crosses.
You guys were all still in high school when the band started and probably when the band recorded, right?
I interviewed Tom Lyle from Government Issue and he mentioned that you guys didn’t play some show because someone in the band was grounded [laughs], is that true?
Oh yeah, that always happened! Somebody just posted a flyer in some Facebook group and my friend sent it to me and was like, "hey did you guys play this?," and I had to really think about it. But yeah, 9 times out of 10 if our name’s on a flyer and I don’t remember playing it it’s because John, Bubba or one of us was grounded. Yeah [laughs].
How did songwriting work in Void? Was it a group effort or did one guy have most of the riffs, etc.?
The impetus again came from Sean. The lyrics basically came from Sean. I tried writing lyrics and they were incredibly juvenile. Sean actually had all this poetry and they were much more elevated than what I had. He would write these songs and then he’d come up with the drum beat and then he’d say to Bubba, “you know I’m looking for this riff to come around this way,” and they would work out the riff and then John and I were kind of the glue in between and sort of fill it in with either the bass lines, or vocals or how the song would start. And that’s kind of how our songwriting was. The impetus was clearly on Sean, he did the bulk of the songwriting.
So, did John write any lyrics?
No, he didn’t. In fact the infamous second record, when we went to go record that we just found out that John hadn’t written any lyrics for it so we had to stay up all night writing lyrics to it.
Oh wow! We’ll get back to that record in a bit if you don’t mind, but I wanted to ask about all the feedback and stuff in your sound, was that because Bubba was just into that sort of thing or was that just shitty equipment or something?
Yeah, it was definitely shitty equipment. At some point though we did step it up but yeah, in the initial phase it was just shitty equipment. For some reason he just loved that, those two guitars he had, a fake Fender and that black and red one which he just totally trashed, that was him working his magic with those two instruments.
Void was clearly not into the fashion side of punk pretty much at all (although Bubba was seemingly into the LA Sunset Strip look a little maybe?) what was the story there?
Yeah, I mean in the later years right before the band started to peel away, Bubba was into his glam metal trip and T-Rex and New York Dolls, and Hanoi Rocks, and he really started gravitating towards that. He was clearly the guy who was into that stuff and then Sean was more of a b-boy and that was where his style came from. I was always kind of the skater look, which hasn’t changed that much, but yeah, that was clearly where our look came from. Initially we had a hardcore look. I mean up until about the last year of the band, it was all motorcycle boots, ripped jeans, studded belts, and, you know, leather jackets.
With Sean into the b-boy style did you guys listen to hip-hop back then?
Sean did. The last two years of the band as hip-hop started to grow he became more of a hip-hop guy. He was breakdancing. We loved playing New York and he really loved playing New York. There was so much going on up there and that was part of the reason he got into the whole hip-hop that was going on up there. And you know, part of it was the go-go scene (in DC) that was going on too.
How did Void go over in New York with the whole infamous DC vs New York thing back then?
They loved us up there. We never ran into the rivalry as much as other bands did. We had fun up there, we always had a blast.
You guys were of course one of the earliest examples of a hardcore band with metal influences and you guys weren’t trying to hide it. Did people give you any flack for that in the HC community?
Yup. No, we didn’t really get any flack but as Kenny Inouye (from Marginal Man) said, there were two camps when it came to Void: either you loved us or you hated us. That’s pretty much what happened with us.
Clearly you guys were a bit different from other DC bands (and any bands from anywhere) but yet Dischord and Ian put you out anyway, how’d that happen?
From our friendship with Ian. Sean was really tight with Ian, he’d go down to Dischord House all the time and hang out with him and it was just mutual respect. He was pretty good about when we went in the studio or live he would sort of like guide us as far as what to do and what not do.
Did Dischord actually make you sign anything or was it all handshake deals?
Yeah, that was pretty much it. Handshakes and saying, "look, you know we’re not gonna pay you any money until we re-coup the costs of putting out the record," and we were like, "sure, that sounds great," and we were into it, so, yeah.
They paid for the recording and everything?
Yeah, they took care of everything.
What were the recording sessions like for the Faith/Void LP? Was Ian pretty hands on?
Yeah, I think he was there to sort of manage us. I feel like maybe he was maybe more creative with us than he was with other bands because he would say like, "hey, let’s do something off the wall or weird," and we’d go, "yeah, let’s do it!" We were all into making it as weird as possible. He was the one who sort of pointed us in that direction. In “Organized Sports” he was like, "hey, do you guys mind if I sing backing vocals on that song?" And we said, "sure, man, do it!" and then he oscillated the lyrics or something like that. He was sort of the guy giving us the tools of becoming mad scientists.
Yeah, there’s a couple parts where there’s slowed down tape or something?
Yeah, that was totally Ian.
Was it recorded live in the studio? It doesn’t sound like there’s a lot of overdubs or anything.
Mostly yeah. It was Don Zientara’s 4-track, so yeah, there weren’t a lot of overdubs. You’re right.
What about Void’s artwork, who made the logo and the drawing on the cover?
Bubba did all the artwork.
What about the semi-Satanic artwork on the Faith/Void album and insert, who did that?
That was all Bubba.
Did you guys talk about it at all or did he just do it and show it to you all?
He just did it and we all looked at it and went, "wow, this is rad!"
I have to ask the age-old hardcore debate question, especially since you’re somewhat of an insider, to say the least: Are you a Faith guy or a Void guy, which side is best?
[Laughs] I was both sides. They each have their endearing moments to me. I would definitely say, as far as bass playing goes, I always looked up to Chris Bald. When he got his Fender Precision bass, I knew that was the bass that I wanted because he had it. He and I had a good relationship where he would teach me stuff and I’d teach him stuff. The majority of the time it was Chris teaching me stuff but we had a really great relationship and I think out of that it remains a mutual respect for both sides, for me at least.
Nice. Did Void play "Wasted" by Black Flag live (they do a version of it on the Sessions LP)?
Yeah, we played it way way back in our early days just because we were running out of stuff. It was that and we did “Victim” by the UK Subs.
I know you guys played all over the northeast but did Void ever actually tour?
No, we didn’t unfortunately. What happened, much like what we were saying earlier (with bandmembers getting grounded), I actually had organized a US tour, much to my mom’s chagrin because she’s the one who had to pay the 5 or $600 phone bill from all the booking agents I’d called.
You guys didn’t have any hi-jacked phone cards like everybody else did back then?
No, no I just dialed out and my mom was pretty pissed. We were on the verge of pushing forward with that and we’d saved up the money to get a van but bottom line, at the end of the day, we couldn’t do it because John had to go to summer school so it didn’t work out.
Were you guys in high school the entire career of Void?
No, we went up to like early junior year of college. Junior and senior year of high school and freshmen and sophomore year of college and then we broke up.
Can you tell me about the photo of you guys where one of you is missing and there’s pair of sneakers there?
That was for our local paper in Columbia called the Columbia Flyer and you’re right, it was just my shoes. I went down to Ocean City to surf and skate that weekend. I think for some reason Sean had my shoes.
Do you remember playing in Philly in October of ’83 at the Longmarch?
Oh yeah, I remember playing in Philadelphia. Those were some great shows. And there was another one at Love Hall there. That place was awesome.
What was that Wilson Center show with Misfits, Necros, you guys and Government Issue like?
That was the last one.
That was the last Void show?
Yeah, that was the last one. It was kind of a mess.
Wait that can’t be the last show, I saw you guys in ’84.
If you look on the flyer, it should say, “Farewell Gig” under our name.
Hold on, I’m sure I saw you guys in July of ’84 with JFA at the Newton Theater in DC and the Misfits’ last show was in October of ’83 so you guys must’ve changed your minds or something. Do you remember that show?
Oh yeah, I remember that one (Newton Theater), that was a blast! Later on, I remember GBH played there. That was a rad show, that was fun. It all just kind of melts together for me, I have to rely on my friends to tell me which shows I did and did not play. [Laughs] I distinctly remember one of our last shows being at the Wilson Center, though, because no one really wanted to play and it was hard to get everyone together to practice. It was kind of a really solemn event, if you will.
Do you have any memories of that Misfits show, what they were like, were they cool with you guys?
Oh yeah, they were cool. Like I said, there wasn’t any, I don’t think we really had any animosity with other bands per se. But I think think when we played with them at that show you clearly knew they’d taken it to the next level because normally that right side of the Wilson Center was where when bands would play it would be open, but I distinctly remember it all the sudden being curtained off (for them) and Glenn and all the other guys, you know putting on the makeup and the gear and us kind of going, "what the fuck, this is kind of strange?" Ya know what I mean? [Laughs] It was not simply showing up and plugging in and playing, it was more of a scene type of thing. That was definitely an eye-awakening thing for me.
You guys eventually slowed down your tempo and at that JFA Newton Theater show in July of ‘84 you were doing some new stuff and slower versions of old songs. what’s the story there?
Yeah, that was what was happening when the band, we were getting tired of playing the older stuff so basically we were reversing the parts. Like Sean thought up reversing "Organized Sports" where the fast part was slow and the slow part was fast and it didn’t play with the crowd very well. It was one of those situations where we were getting a little longer in the tooth and so we were playing a lot more newer stuff and so people were coming out there and thrashing and then we’d be playing new songs and people would stop and have to listen to it and figure out what the hell was going on.
Ok, so tell me about the cancelled second Void album.
Don Zientara’s studio had gone from 4 to 8 tracks, and it clearly was the place to go to record, but Sean, as you probably saw at that JFA show, his drum kit kept getting bigger and bigger and he insisted we had to have a more tracks studio. I think he was thinking at least 24 tracks. Sean wanted more tracks, Ian couldn’t supply it and so we went to Touch and Go and that’s kind of how that all came to fruition.
What about the vocals? Was there a conscious effort amongst you guys to sound a bit more “commercial” or something?
It was a mix of all the above. At that point Bubba had gone down the glam metal route, MTV was really popular and then your point about the vocals basically, John didn’t have any vocals. I mean, his throat was shot. So we had to cover it up any way we could which was basically putting effects on it or doing other stuff. Also, my point earlier, he hadn’t written any lyrics. We didn’t know what we were going into, we knew what the music was but we didn’t know what the vocals and the lyrics were gonna sound like.
It was a bad scene. To me, that’s why, me personally, I never want to have it come out because the sound of those vocals on that album sometimes, parts of it, are like a really bad ex wife, I don’t know. [Laughs all around] It’s just, what could have been, would’ve been better, I guess.
Does anybody still have those tapes?
Yeah, Corey [Rusk, Touch and Go label owner and former Necros bass player] has it with Touch and Go. As I tell everyone, it’s out there on the internet, you can find it.
Yeah, someone recently re-mastered it on YouTube so it sounds a bit better than the versions that have been up there for a while.
Really, somebody re-mastered it? That’s surprising. We talked about it with Bubba and Bubba’s the one who’s the most adamant about it (not coming out). To me, the first song, “Shades of Gray,” is actually the apex of Void because that song came together brilliantly, that was great musicianship where Sean and Bubba had done their thing with doing the music and everything else and helped me write not the typical 1-2, 1-2 bass line and actually had me doing something above and beyond that and it’s catchy. But other than that, the rest of the stuff was all just kind of thrown together.
So, the album is scrapped and you guys break up. Can you elaborate a little?
We recorded that and it didn’t come out the way we liked it as much. Everybody was going different ways and the whole fiasco about us trying to tour across the whole US didn’t work out, so for me it was just kind of done. It wasn’t becoming enjoyable anymore and I don’t think anyone else was really enjoying it so we just decided to call it quits.
So that aborted tour happened at the same time?
No, that happened the summer before we recorded the second record. I mean, I had it mapped out to California then California back straight through across, but it never came to fruition because John couldn’t do it because he had summer school.
So how did it all officially end?
We just kind of said, that’s it.
Were you ever in a band or did you stop playing music?
No. I mean I still jam around but nothing serious. Honestly, I’m kind of actually tone deaf so it takes a little longer for me to pick up music than other people so I never really pursued it that way.
I remember sometime in the late '80s after you guys broke up there was a PSA anti littering commercial that used “Explode." How’d that happen?
I think the NYC Sanitation called Sean and asked and he said, sure use it.
Do you listen to hardcore at all these days?
Yeah! But I mean, define hardcore. I don’t know. I follow it but I couldn’t tell you what bands are playing, etc. To me, it’s all music now and I just sort of listen to all music and if it’s catchy or good I’ll listen to it.
What do you think of the lasting impact Void has had?
I had no clue the band would be where it is today. Surprised would best describe my thoughts.
Do you keep in touch with Bubba and John?
Yeah, I just saw Bubba maybe about a month ago. We went out and had some drinks. He lives in Seattle now, for about 20-plus years. We still keep in touch. I haven’t heard from John in a while. I know friends of friends of his but we don’t really keep in touch.
What are you doing nowadays?
I’m a realtor in San Francisco.
Thanks a lot, man. I really appreciate you doing this!
No, it’s cool ‘cause I got to get out of the house.