Recently I was checking the list of 1988 records I fill from time to time to write my “A tribute to 1988” columns and, by a curious quirk of fate, it happened that we got an e-mail from Tim Sawyer, singer of Los Angeles/Orange County based VISUAL DISCRIMINATION, a band which had released in 1988 a top LP on Nemesis Records titled “Step Back And Listen” I was actually very keen on reviewing and explain why this very specific record is important to me.
I’m not really into the L.A./O.C. hardcore scene (or even the Bay Area, Hermosa Beach…) – I mean, apart from bands like BLACK FLAG, ADOLESCENTS, SUICIDAL TENDENCIES, UNIFORM CHOICE or even TERROR, I’ve never dug into every band, and it’s probably a mistake. But, I’ve always loved “Step Back And Listen” LP – this is an awesome, fast and aggressive hardcore punk record, sometimes flirting with crossover thrash, fastcore… Tim made me realize VISUAL DISCRIMINATION were still playing (with a very few line-up changing), and were preparing something for the upcoming year. I thought it could be a better idea to interview him rather than staying on my old-school appreciation!
Words by Steve and Tim
– Before we came out with the idea of doing the interview, I told you I wanted to review your “Step Back And Listen” LP on Nemesis Records in my “A tribute to 1988” column I usually post here on DROIDxRAGE. The is the only LP VISUAL DISCRIMINATION ever recorded, what can you tell me about this record back then:
1): How and when did VISUAL DISCRIMINATION form?
Steve– VD formed out of 2 different punk garage bands. Singer Tim Sawyer, drummer Jeff Simmerman and original bassist Dan Fisher were in a peace punk called NON-FICTION and guitarists Jeff Banks and Steve Winders, high school best friends, were in a straight edge band called DENIAL. Neither of those bands lasted too long each putting out a short demo. In the summer of 1985, Jeff Banks started jamming with Jeff Simmerman and Dan Fisher. He saw some serious potential and decided to call in his friends Steve and Tim to complete what was then Visual Discrimination. Dan Fisher soon left and Mike “Junior” Biloki, who was a high school friend, was added to complete the line up that recorded “Step Back and Listen”. This record was done very early in our musical careers. It was done in two different recording sessions. Some of us had only been playing our instruments for just over a year when we went into the first recording session. The second session was about 6 months later. We even had two different tunings on the instruments. No tuners used, we tuned the guitars and bass by ear. We have a lot of influences from punk to thrash to metal, and I think it really shows on this album. Some of the songs like “Heavy Metal Intro” were jokes, but added to the flavor of the album. With the photography done by KRK Dominguez, we put together the front and back covers ourselves, old school style. Typing up lyrics, cutting and pasting, and half-toning the photos. We had the whole package put together and began shopping it around. National Trust Records decided they wanted to put it out, but the guy Ron Jaycox didn’t have any money and sat on it for a long time, not returning our calls. Finally after a few threatening phone calls, and visits we got our stuff back. We were telling Big Frank Harrison (Zed Records Store Manager, Goldenvoice Stage Manager, CARRY NATION bassist) the story and he said why don’t I try to put it out, and that was the beginning of Nemesis Records. “Step Back And Listen” is Nemesis #1.
Tim– Well “Step Back And Listen” was a hastily recorded, albeit in 2 sessions 6 months apart, in a very crappy studio, with an engineer who didn’t know hardcore and didn’t really give a fuck. This isn’t to say we were some great band that got hosed over because it was a shitty studio, with a bad engineer. We were young, inexperienced, naïve, and average at best musicians, who really didn’t have a clue. The record was very well received, and had tons of great reviews in very big zines. Were still proud of all the hard work and effort we have always put into everything we have ever recorded. There has been some talk about going back into a good studio and re-recording the “Step Back…” album, with the “In Vain” Lineup, minus Bilocki, and replacing him with our new bass player Marc Blackledge. We want to see what happens with some experience, and way more talent! We will probably just press a 100, and keep them for ourselves, and close friends that want it. The crossover/thrash style was just a simple combination of us liking to play fast and abrasive, and our 2 guitarists being really into metal music, which carried over into their playing styles a bit. We actually think it made us a lot different than most bands in those days, and think it turned out well for us!!
2): What can you tell me about the OC scene in 1988: who were your favorite bands? those who inspired you? those you used to play with and were your friends? For example, on Facebook you include AGNOSTIC FRONT, INFEST, DR KNOW, SLAYER, D.R.I., SLAPSHOT, CRO-MAGS, BLACK FLAG, BAD BRAINS… AF, BLACK FLAG and SLAPSHOT came out with new releases lately, INFEST plays IN-CRE-DI-BLE reunion shows… What do you think of each band nowadays? Do you share crazy legendary stories with them?
Tim– I would have to say our favorites from OC back then were UNIFORM CHOICE who were basically on the downward spiral of their tenure as the OC straight edge kings. But we did get to see them from the start as were into hardcore early… remember we started goofing around in in the garage in 83-84 with band ideas. HARD STANCE, D.I., PIG CHILDREN, DR KNOW, FINAL CONFLICT were all favorites of ours as well. We played numerous shows with all of our favorite bands in OC. We became friends with all the bands off stage or off scene as well. Some surfed/skateboarded together, played basketball, and many more. These bands definitely inspired us. UNIFORM CHOICE definitely inspired us. They were incredible live and recorded. FINAL CONFLICT was a huge inspiration as well. Yes, those were some of our idols. We never got to play with BLACK FLAG, SLAYER, D.R.I, or BAD BRAINS unfortunately, but we did play with others. As far as new recordings from these bands, we loved them all! BLACK FLAG was very disappointing, but its what could be expected I guess, as they were going in a more progressive, experimental direction in the late 80’s. We are definitely hardcore fans!! We love hardcore music….todays definition of hardcore is a little different to the style of a few decades ago, but still love a lot of it. I personally love every single release from BAD BRAINS, to this day they put on the most impressive live show I have ever witnessed….a close second to live performances would be SNFU, and RKL, who we had the good fortune to play with!!
As far as crazy stories go with these bands….we think most of it has already been told years ago, and if we have been involved in any crazy stories, I’m sure they are all true LOL….we have had some history in that dept. We wont rehash them!
3) “Step Back And Listen” isn’t just a “hardcore” record: it is really fast and aggressive like crossover/thrash metal or what powerviolence/fastcore was supposed to sound like later (plus some of you played in INFEST which has inspired a lot of bands who created powerviolence/fastcore) so, with hindsight, how would you describe this release with regard to hardcore punk History?
Steve -We definitely had a metal edge to us. Back then there weren’t so many labels for bands, you had punk, hardcore, metal, thrash metal, and that was about it. Back then nobody had any idea that INFEST would have the monstrous cult following they have today. We felt like we were one of the first in our scene anyway to add more metal influences into the music we played. As a joke Jeff Banks, and myself bought Flying V’s, and banged our heads playing at a few shows. That just wasn’t done back in those days in the hardcore/punk scene!
4): What about the straight edge back then: were you all straight edge in the band? Were you inspired by older bands like MINOR THREAT or SSD or did you have your own interpretation of the thing?
Do you still “Got The Edge”? Can you describe is in detail what “We Got The Edge” and “Those Drugs” tracks were dealing with?
Tim– No we weren’t all straight edge. A couple of us were, and the rest not. But I think we had a great mix of ideas in our band and all good people, and we respected each others views, and were open minded. Were we influenced by bands like MINOR THREAT, and SSD? Of course we were, I think everybody was back in our scene at the time, They were great bands. I personally really loved a lot of the DC bands. GOVERNMENT ISSUE, SOA, SCREAM, were all big influences on me. Do I still have the edge? No I do drink alcohol once in a while….but have not touched any drugs in 26 years, there was a period back then where I was straight completely for about 4 years….Steve has been a edger his whole life….but does have a beer now and then now. “We Got The Edge” and “Those Drugs’- Well those songs were both written in the DENIAL band which Steve and Jeff played in before VD. They were personal views as to trying to sty on a path to success, and having thoughts that if you were impaired because of drugs, it could or would possibly derail your path or your dreams. “Those Drugs” was I think more personal towards friends of ours who used, and the frustration over the fact that they were harming themselves, and their futures, and we really wanted more for them, or saw more potential for them if they were sober, or even using in some sort of moderation. Its really funny because we have anti-straight edge songs as well, and its really not an anti-message, but more of a anti-attitude, and the elitest attitudes of some of the bigger more influential straight edge bands of the times for So-Cal, and O.C. It was really sad watching the way we were treated, and how other good bands were treated because we didn’t fit the perfect image of their straight edge world. This isn’t to say we were perfect angels, we had our share of controversy as well, and we weren’t a band to be crossed back then, we had a rough following the VDARMY wast big or organized, but we were loyal as fuck to each other, and we never took anything lying down, and we caused our fair share of havoc!!
Two members of the original line-up, Jeff B. and RD Davies, later played in A CHORUS OF DISAPPROVAL which was a band with a more aggressive message concerning straight edge, do you think that, in a way, VISUAL DISCRIMINATION has something to do with the evolution of straight edge within the 90s hardcore scene? I ask you this because it seems to have a current deep revival of this scene nowadays!
Tim-Yes RD Davies was in COD With Jeff Banks, Regis Guerin, and Isaac Golub. Such a great band!!! Originally I was supposed to play bass, but didn’t have the time our patience to be good at it. As far as being aggressive in your face type of band, they were similar to VD in this manner, but took it to a militant over the top approach, some of it was tongue in cheek, and some of it wasn’t. As far as VD having anything to do with the evolution of the straight edge scene in the 90’s, no I really doubt that, remember we were kind of the anti-Christ of that scene back then because we spoke out against some of the bands in the scene and their attitudes. I think we still get ignored for shows with straight edge bands on bills because of it. We only played into late 91 early 92 before calling it quits, so I doubt that we really impacted the 90’s movement. Their is currently and has been for the last few years a big straight edge revival in So Cal, lots of cool new bands playing all over, and a lot of older ones showing up too, just not so sure about their edge!
5): Dealing with the other bands you featured in: Tim, you played with RD and Steve in PRISON and RD also played in such very different bands like GEHENNA and VASTUM which are metallic hardcore and death metal bands: when did you discover you wanted to approach different styles of music?
When we got in touch you told me VISUAL DISCRIMINATION played sparingly about 5-10 a year for the last four years. During the nineties, you recorded two EPs – 1990 “In Vain” on Nemesis Records and 1997 “Serial Killers” on Deep Six Records – why didn’t you record new material earlier?
Tim-When we decided to call it quits in92, it was because of addiction issues with a couple members. We thought it better to allow the guys to try to figure out their issues, rather than keep playing. It was hard on all of us, but much needed.in 93-94 we got the itch to do VD again but couldn’t find our bass player Mike Bilocki. Mike we learned late was locked up in prison for a few years. This is when we decided to do something new, hence PRISON. Our new bass player Tony Zentil was a friend of ours who had been around VD in our formative years, and he had some slightly different musical tastes, so we thought we might try something a little bit different than VD. It sort of just happened, we didn’t go for a certain sound. RD played with INFEST on a couple recordings, and also did the MANPIG project with those guys. I also sang for FINAL CONFLICT for a couple years. I sang on the last album “No Peace On Earth, No Rest In Hell” We only played a handful of shows, the best I thought being right before CBGB’s closed with EXPLOITED, and HEART ATTACK. This was really an enjoyable experience for me, because FINAL CONFLICT was one of VD’s favorite bands, and a huge influence on us in our formative years. So back to the question, I really don’t think there was a conscious effort to really try a new direction, it just happened.
– You’re planning to release new material in 2016 and tour with legendary ENGLISH DOGS and DISCHARGE: what is your relationship with these two bands? I didn’t know ENGLISH DOGS were still playing (“Where Legend Began” originally on Combat Core is one of my all-time favorite heavy metal release) and now that DISCHARGE has a new singer and are recording new material too, how do you feel about playing with both ’em?
Tim-Yes That’s correct, we are going to be extremely busy this year 2016, as we are recording for a new 7″ and full length LP. We Are also releasing a full Discography of the LP, and Both E.P.’s, and comp songs that nobody has hear I imagine. We hadn’t recorded since 1997, mostly because we were off for 11 years….because of addiction issues and prison stays. We reformed in 2011, we recorded in late 2012, and then decided to trash the 13 songs we recorded and star over….so 2016 is our year….going into attack mode.
Steve – Playing and touring on new material this year. Our drummer knows the ENGLISH DOGS drummer, so that’s our connection their….and the DISCHARGE shows are still up in the air….our name had been submitted by an agent we know to their agent…..their agent asked him who would be a good fit for direct support on the west coast. The punk version of the ENGLISH DOGS were here last year, and this march the metal version will be here, which is far better suited to us. Total dream come true to play with both!! We agree, the “Where Legend Began” is a Masterpiece!!!
– These last years you played with, for example, bands like ANTIDOTE and HELMET, what do you think of these bands performances or new materials?
Tim – We loved getting the chance to play with both! ANTIDOTE and HELMET are both were awesome. ANTIDOTE was so much fun! We got to know the guys on a personal level too. Their guitarist Robb Nunzio lived in Huntington Beach for a few years, and we became close before we even played together. We have a passion for Italian food, and we shared a few spots, going to dinner on different Italian restaurants trying to impress each other!
Cant wait to get out to NY and have some of Robbs Mama’s Famous Hell Kitchen Italian food! Their new material is so similar to the first EP….just more clean and polished LOVED IT! HELMET!! We were so pumped for this show!!! A big Hall in OC and all ages was a dream! Their performance was on the money…tight and powerful! Their newer material I’m not that familiar with, but they are so damn heavy…Loved them. Would have been a perfect night had there been some people there. The promoter basically did the show to promote his own band, and in doing so…didn’t want to spend any money on any type of real advertisement. The show should have been a seelout of a couple thousand, instead it was only about 100 people…crazy right? Total Promoter fail!
– What about your new upcoming LP and 7″: what can you tell me about them? Are they recorded yet? What will it sound like? Are you excited about your audience thought on it?
Tim – Upcoming releases before this interview is even in print we will be done with recording for the 7″ and well on our way to finishing the LP. As mentioned before the Discography on Know Records, distributed exclusively thru Revelation will most likely be released in a few months, march/April. The 7″ and LP will be early summer and late summer. We are not sure if we are going to shop it around tho…7″ may be a self release, Know Records or maybe even Deep Six Records. What will it sound like? We actually talked about this last practice, and I mentioned a cross between DISCHARGE/D.R.I./LEEWAY, and everyone agreed that is probably a good assessment. Not too sure what others are going to think about the sound, its really not that far removed from anything else we have done. Some are heavy and metallic sounding, while others are straight forward hardcore thrash/fast punk rock. Songs dealing with multiple topics from emotional experiences, and societal problems. We are very anxious for people to hear it, and get some opinions, and this lineup is probably the strongest to date.
– You got a new drummer, can you introduce him?
Tim – Yes, we have a new drummer. Grant OG Garretson! Grant is originally from DC…He is a hardcore veteran of the DC scene…been around forever, just relocated to the west coast OC area a couple years ago. Grant is currently the drummer for HR, and has been for the last 10+ years. He has played with local acts here in socal such as LUICIDAL, SIN 34, And GFP (Greg Hetson and Tony Alvas band).
– Who are the newer bands you like? Is there any particular record you’d like to recommend us?
Tim – Newer bands we like?
Well there are so many out there its hard. One for sure is SHORT TEMPER from the Los Angeles area….Incredible energy….Great Band and they work their asses off! BLOOD DAYS!!!!!! Is the album I would recommend, they are a new band, but really veteran OC scenesters that have played in so many great OC hardcore/straight edge bands! BLOOD DAYS!!!!! That’s my recommendation!!!!
– I have no further question, if you wanna add something…!
Tim-Thank You so Much for the interview, your time and your patience Jean!! And a Huge thank you to all of our friends, fans, and Family!!! Thank you all for all the support over the decades!!! The VD ARMY IS ALIVE AND WELL!!!!
Thanks again Jean!!!!