A while ago I contacted Stephen about doing something together for DR to maybe talk about his band Peace or his part in Clear. But he told me to hold out as there was something new cooking with the TFS guys …..I pretty much lost my head and was like errr ok. Im a huge TFS fan so when UOF dropped I was beyond stoked especially as I knew something sweet was on the horizon. Man they have not disappointed me I can’t stop listening to the demo and they are having a great response to their music world wide I’m really stoked for them. Heres the interview I did with Stephen St. Germain and Aaron .
Photos by Chris Bavaria
DR: Thanks for taking the time out to do this bro, so how was the first show this weekend?
Stephen- I didn’t know what to expect from the crowd going into the show but I just knew that I wanted us to really hit hard; say what we had to say and sound great. I was really happy with how everything went down. I was thinking about the song “Union” while we were playing and about how that moment in time did in many ways capture the feeling behind that song; people growing, changing and moving through different periods in life but always having a shared bond. So in that regard the show for me was perfect.
Aaron – The show was great! When Ev mentioned the show to us several weeks before, it hadn’t been yet announced that MINDSET would be wrapping things up, and there was also news that the Charm City Art space was going to be ending as well. So there was a bit of a “feeling” to the show over all – something kind of “moment in time” and “magnetizing”. The flyer was also pretty crucial which i think got people excited. But yeah once the show happened – it was a bit sobering for people to know that a significant local hardcore band was ending as well as a venue. Both MINDSET and CCAS have been around and kicking for quite sometime and really contributed to the local scene and influenced a lot of people. So it also had a touch of proper sadness and respect to it.
DR: How did the songs go down live, has the demo been received well so far?
Stephen: People were very receptive and were clearly listening and taking in the whole thing. Of course everyone one wants a crazy show where everyone knows every word, it was pretty to cool to, in a sense, prove who were and show what we were all about. I really liked how far that moment felt. Thus far the tape has done incredibly well. We made five hundred and have pretty much gone through all of them. Plus all the feedback we have gotten has been very positive.
Aaron – An old friend asked me how I felt right after the set and to be honest it was a little hard for me to be objective. I had only played live once (with PRAISE) since THE FIRST STEP’s final show in 2008. So about 7 years with no shows really. Also with TFS many of our shows were kind of “in the bag”, in the sense that most of the time kids knew our stuff and we had been playing so frequently that it was second nature for us. So i was a little unsure how our show was at first – but once I saw the video on Hate5Six and saw Stephen flipping out – I was very happy!
With UNION OF FAITH we didn’t want to go the “easy way” and just do some reunion type show, or do some HC stunt where a “new ex-members of band strangely headlines a set – yet nobody knows them at all.” That just wouldn’t seem down-to-earth to us, so we opened the show up. So what i am getting at is that this was a 100% new band, playing to a mostly fresh audience opening up a show – and I hadn’t done that in a long time – but it was a blast. People seemed to be paying attention and listening eagerly. A few friends were already singing along – and we only released the tape that week. So I was pretty satisfied to be honest. But mostly I was happy to just get the chance to do something like play a show again and be around the bandmates and some old (and new) friends. Hardcore is something I love – and I haven’t been around enough the last few years – so for me it was a real treat that way. I am super excited for more shows too
DR: Is there many more shows in the pipeline?
Aaron – There is another show set for Dec 19th with MINDSET and NUCLEAR AGE. It looks like a pretty crazy weekend because the day before GIVE and PRAISE are also playing. Its nice to see two great shows in the DC area – with all local bands. There’s also some talk of a weekend with MINDSET in March. I am pretty excited for those. As far as our long-term plans with shows, we aren’t clear just yet. We do want to play and just connect with kids – but we also want to move at our own pace and not lose touch with that. It’s important to us that we just appreciate coming together and playing – rather than just standard HC versions of “success” and become some kind of machine band.
Stephen-Yeah, to echo what Aaron said, we are our own band in the sense that we don’t feel the pressure to move at our own speed. We will play, maybe even tour some here or there but this band is an expression of lives and how we want to live so balance is key for us.
DR: Is Union of Faith pretty much the TFS line up?
Aaron – At this point you could say that. We’ve all played in TFS in the past – but UNION OF FAITH is really its own unique thing for us. It wasn’t like us saying “OH – lets get THE FIRST STEP back together”. It happened very organically because we still hang out, see each other at shows, and enjoyed writing music. When we first started jamming, most of the songs weren’t HC at all. But the HC ones were the most fun to play and were easiest to create song structures around. They got us pretty excited – and so we wanted to make a recording. At that point it was just Stephen (on bass – but we knew we wanted him to sing), Iz and myself. We knew that we’d need a good bass player and the idea came up to ask Aram. We had toured together before and had really strong chemistry – which is really important for us.
I see people already referring UXF to TFS – and I understand that – from the perspective of someone seeing it for the first time, but for us it’s unique and something different altogether. While it is some the same guys – we’re living in a distinctly different moment in our lives. So we aren’t really trying to re-capture the lightning of our lives from 10 years ago or something – we’re trying to capture the lightning in our lives today. That’s more real to us as artists – and more cathartic.
I’d also say that THE FIRST STEP was very much a straight edge band. At times people put the label “posi” or “youth crew” on us – and again – I get that – but that’s really not what we were necessarily about. It was just us playing the kind of hardcore that we grew up listening to. Also people have told me that they saw TFS as being about “ethics” or “holding the torch” of things like straight edge. That wasn’t what we were really about either. With UXF the lyrics are much directed in a personal and humanistic way – just kind of looking at life.
I am not at all interested in “telling people what to do” – that’s for each person to decide for themselves. As far as “legacies” and “holding the torch” – I think that’s a naive perception of ideals like straight edge in the first place. For example, Straight Edge is something a person chooses because it makes sense for them. If they feel that it is self evident – that’s awesome – but to look at it like some kind of place holder for bands seems cheap to me.
DR: I know you told me a while ago that there was something new in the pipeline, but when did it all come about and get real with UXF?
Stephen- There was this weekend where myself and Aaron went to Upstate New York to hang out and hike with our long time friends Jeff Sims and Pete Russo and while on the way up and back he and I just talked about UXF constantly. It was just good idea after good idea; how we wanted to operate as a band, how we wanted to approach songwriting etc. That was when it seemed to really crystallize, in fact, at the end of the weekend that was when we decided on the name Union of Faith.
Aaron – We started kind of meeting for practices about a year ago – but it wasn’t really what you hear on the tape. I had tons of different songs written then. Most of it wasn’t HC really. But the HC songs stood out and were really fun to play. So we kind of played with those for awhile. At the same time – we kind of felt the songs needed a little more tightening. Around late March some of the songs catalyzed into what we started recording with a friend – just to kind of get familiar with. Then around the mid summer we booked some studio time at Developing Nations in Baltimore. And here we are now.
DR: Looking at the lyrics they are so real, especially “Time And Faith” and “I want to know why”, can you tell us a bit about these songs?
Aaron – I will let Stephen answer this one mostly. But the way we got the topics was that Stephen and I just took some time to hang out and walk around DC and just talk about life, crazy things going on in the news, etc. – and the way we felt about it all. We came out of that with a lot of ideas – and I realized that there were a lot of feelings it would help us to express through music again.
Stephen- As Aaron eluded to we wanted the lyrics for UXF to really focus on where we were as people now. The idea of growth was huge for us because life is always going to full of highs and lows but as long as we as human beings are learning and growing then there really is no wasted time. So a song like “Time and Faith” really speaks to that experience of having a minute amount of wisdom from seeing things you love fall apart and feeling on top of the world. When I saw this cycle repeat several times in my own life and in the lives of my friends and family I started to develop a small sense of calm and trust that when things went wrong a little and a little faith would do wonders to help me get through it.
“I Want to Know Why” was originally an idea Aaron brought up that really resonated with me. We both felt like there was so much time in our lives where we as people just accepted the things we believed in and didn’t truly examine everything. I guess, just like everyone, there were certain things we held as sacred and therefore took much more on face value rather than really digging into them saying “what does this mean to me?” Speaking for myself, I have had to take a really hard look at many aspects of my life over the last ten years in a quest to really know and understand myself and realized that knowing and understanding who I am is much more important to me than holding onto an identity I have constructed for myself. This song is a about a real desire to strip down everything in life and examine it.
DR: Do you write together and what have you been listening to while writing the music for UXF?
Aaron – So far the way the songs have kind of worked is like I just have a few riffs – the shell of a song. (Usually the verse, chorus, bridges, mosh parts etc.) Then I show it to the guys and see what they think. With TFS I was more-or-less writing the song. But it also became kind of easy to me – I became too familiar and comfortable with all my own tricks. With UNION OF FAITH, Stephen and Iz are taking my ideas further in the structure – and tightening it up. Aram has a ton of great fills and ideas within the songs – he has a great ear for that stuff. So things seem pretty well rounded as far as the music.
As far as what we listen to – and reference while writing – the usual suspects include – YOUTH OF TODAY, THE FAITH, INSTED, MINOR THREAT, DYS, UNIFORM CHOICE, NEGATIVE APPROACH – a lot of HC. But we also listen to alot of other music as well. It’s not uncommon for one of us to mention a drum fill by THE DOORS, LED ZEPPELIN, or THE ROLLING STONES, song structures by THE STOOGES, SLAYER, THE WHO, CIRCLE JERKS; I mean we’re all over the map. For this project we’re obviously mostly playing HC – but as far as ideas to enrich a song from – we don’t limit ourselves. I like alot of music that follows natural blues scales – so early BLACK SABBATH or JIMI HENDRIX is huge for me too.
Stephen-I have been listening to a lot of different stuff as well but I have been reading a bunch lately and that seems to have really stimulated my thinking in terms of writing lyrics.
DR: And what bands are stand out influences for UXF?
Aaron – I mean I can’t speak for the other guys, but probably bands like MINOR THREAT, 7 SECONDS, THE FAITH, and DYS and YOUTH OF TODAY come to mind for me. The music is a huge influence – but the way those bands thought about things and expressed themselves stands out to me. I mean I don’t try to “copy” those bands – as much as I would say I love how they did things and it makes me want to do my thing with as much energy, clarity, expression, and power as they did.
I would also point out that alot of our “ideas” and “motivations” – aren’t limited to hardcore – or music even. I am always reading and practicing Buddhadharma of course – but we often talk Philosophy and psychology and just life matters amongst each other.
Also the last few years I saw a few bands that made me want to play HC again – THINGS WE SAY from Korea were awesome live. MODERN PROBLEMS, and FOR PETE’S SAKE are two newer bands that i am excited for. PRAISE from Baltimore are always interesting to me. And recently LINE OF SIGHT from DC are really cool on the local front. I say that because often when I my friends playing in bands it kind of recharges me – and helps me see things fresh.
Stephen- I think our musical influences are pretty straight forward for the most part but in more recent years I have taken almost as much from how a band like Fugazi or Embrace thought and how they approached being a band or human being as I have from their music. Don’t get me wrong bands like that have been a huge influence musically but I feel like music is almost the easy part (from a certain point of view) whereas the ethics, integrity and vision are so integral to making a band truly something special and real.
DR: When TFS split did you want to start something new pretty quickly or take some time out?
Aaron – When THE FIRST STEP ended, for me, I did a three year Buddhist meditation retreat in the mountains. So I was pretty removed from that part of my life – I had no immediate intention to play music at that point. So I kind of had my “time out” built into my retreat.
However, I did have fond memories of my good experiences in the past, and towards all my old friends. Music has always been a part of my life – and HC has been a big chunk of my life, so when my retreat was over, I naturally played guitar again and was happy to see my friends. There were a few times that people made offers to us to “get TFS back together” – and we talked about it a bit. While it’s something I appreciate hearing – it’s not really a move that’s in been touch with our lives and how we feel now – so I think that’s why we just wanted to do something different – new. I know while I was gone that the other guys stayed pretty active in bands and that made me happy to see. From THE FIRST STEP- Iz is in TRUE HEAD – and I always love seeing him play live. TRUE HEAD is really fun that way – the songs are kind of slow and steady – but the guys in the band really vibe on it and get into it. Stephen was in PEACE – which I dug – because it was really his own creation. He wrote the songs and the lyrics – so it was really cool to see him “beyond the microphone”, and I think it helped him as a songwriter. ARAM has been doing KEEP IT CLEAR and TRUE ID – so he holds down SXE in a major way! Fred plays in a great Krsna Core band “COUNTERPOINT” – I hope to get to see them live! So it’s great to see my friends involved in so many things.
Stephen-Like Aaron said I did Peace after a few years but prior to that I wanted to take some time to figure out what was next in life. I really think that perspective in life is a great thing and being removed from what I had spent so much time doing gave me a chance to reevaluate life and my relation to music.
DR: Was it strange doing a new band after spending all that time with Greg, Aram etc? It must be a great feeling to play with those guys again.
Aaron – Well Greg is not in UNION OF FAITH – I wish. I loved being in a band with him! He is such a dependable and funny guy – and sick on bass! He was a real blessing in THE FIRST STEP. But yeah as far as playing with Aram, Stephen and Iz – it all feels pretty natural to me. There’s a lot of chemistry like I mentioned before. So everything from writing a song, to talking about movies, or having a laugh just seems really natural and familiar.
Stephen- The best part of Union of Faith is having the time with Aaron, Izzy and Aram. Life has gotten so busy for all of us and our lives have gone in so many different directions that having some like UXF to bring us all back to get is such a blessing. TFS was really special to me but i didn’t always think about just how lucky we were to get to play music and see the world together. Now I think I am very aware of just how special this moment is so I look forward every aspect of this band. The simple stuff like practicing and then going out to eat to ideas of tours and records. As long as we are spending time together I am happy.
DR: Are you still doing “Peace”? We never really heard much about that band here. The 7″ is awesome though.
Stephen-Nope, not doing Peace anymore. There was some talk of doing some more songs but with the rest of the guys in Mindset and Praise we just couldn’t find the time. It was actually better I think that it was one record because it really documents a couple years of my life. It’s like a cool time capsule.
DR: Thanks man, anything else you’d like to say?
Stephen- The events in Paris have been on my mind so much lately. I truly feel a hole in my heart for our world where violence, intolerance and suspicion are so prevalent. I believe in the good of humanity but this cycle seems like an unstoppable cloud that hangs over everything humanity does and accomplishes. I know there are simple answers like love and compassion for each other and complex answers too. I just pray all of us take time to think about these events, to really think about our place in this world and to keep our hearts open. Thanks Ed for your support.