Taste Of Tuesday: Go-karts, relationships and metal vs. punk with Quicksand

Editor's note: In its origins, the TASTE OF CHAOS tour was frequently deemed "Winter Warped" by both fans and organizers. The 2006 road show took place in the late winter and early spring, featuring lineups populated by some of the most diverse voices in the scene, including bands like My Chemical Romance, the Used, Underoath, Killswitch Engage, Deftones, Atreyu, Avenged Sevenfold and 30 Seconds To Mars. For the next few weeks, we are going to go back in our time capsules to revisit some of the names that not only cemented TOC as a formidable adjunct to Warped Tour's summer mania, but as a festival of great merit curated on its own aesthetic terms.

As the reactivated TOC begins its next chapter with a touring lineup of Dashboard Confessional, Taking Back Sunday, Saosin and many others, we'll be starting this weekly special "Taste Of Tuesday," where we'll look back at the bands participating at the point of their original zeitgeist. This week, we’re going waaay back to May 1995, when we were holding court with the mighty QUICKSAND to discuss the creation of Manic Compression, the second major-label release from the hardcore-born quartet. Subjects discussed include (but are not limited to) go-karts, relationships, semantics and New York City’s spirited punk vs. metal debate. And while we have you here, has anybody seen Quicksand CEO Walter Schreifels playing with Frank Iero yet?  

Get tickets to Taste Of Chaos festival here!


Manic Speed Thrills: Quicksand

Story: Ken Micallef // Photos: Melanie Weiner

It takes more than an oil change to escape the conventions of hardcore music. After months of heavy on-road testing, Quicksand perfected their mechanics to create Manic Compression, this year’s noisy new model.

On an empty street in Manhattan’s properly prim financial district, Walter Schreifels jumps into an already cranked baby-blue Super Sport go-kart, pops a wheelie, and then peels out, leaving a trail of black smoke as his egg-shaped vehicle roars across the pavement. Dressed in a sleek leather racing jacket and convex goggles, Schreifels looks more like an anorectic version of Vincent Price’s character in The Fly than the vocalist/guitarist of one of the best New York noise bands. Bringing up the rear through Schreifels’ nebulous black fog, drummer Alan Cage zooms by with the guitarist Tom Capone only seconds behind. Sitting on a nearby curb, bassist Sergio Vega curses his luck and spits, his kart DOA with a blown head gasket.

The scene is an almost typical weekend exploit for Quicksand, a time for them to climb up from their basement rehearsal studios into the din of motors, mechanics and macho behavior. Only now it’s all being filmed as the video for their third release, Manic Compression.

How does a humorous video about go-karting relate to the hardcore world of Quicksand?

“It’s the idea of speed and shit like that,” says Schreifels, now lunching on mushrooms and spinach. “It has nothing to do with the song really.”

As part of a fairly recent New York scene that includes bands such as Sieve, Sick Of It All, Into Another, Orange 9mm and Helmet, Quicksand have evolved from their hardcore roots (in outfits including Gorilla Biscuits, Youth Of Today, Absolution, Burn, Beyond, and Bold) into a quartet that not only spews harsh social commentary and acrid guitar noise but upends hardcore convention with rhythmic agility, a wealth of catchy riffs and shards of friendly melody. The music still bites, but without returning to the same, worn-out wound.

“I like to think we haven’t lost what we originally were all about,” says Schreifels, “but we’ve been together a while so we’ve grown a lot musically. Hardcore is not a conscious thing anymore. It just comes out in the way we play.”

Manic Compression bucks like a hog on hot coals, full of groin-pulsing sonics, weird chord structure and different directions. Self-taught and instinctive, Quicksand have learned from exhaustive touring how to expand their sound while sharpening their songs. “Delusional, “ a mid-paced throb about false friendships, aborts an ominous tone with a pretty, layered guitar pattern; “Simpleton” trots merrily on Cage’s marching snare drum cadence until Capone drenches it with a Soundgardenish guitar wash (and Neil Young caterwaul); and “It Would Be Cooler If You Did” is, gulp, strangely close to a rock ballad. (“It’s our punk-rock opera,” quips Cage.)

“We’re definitely trying to make things sound different from song to song,” says Schreifels. “But also trying to break some ground to make the band more unique. It’s good when a record has an ebb and flow to it. I think we developed that on this record. It happened naturally but it is conscious that we didn’t want to have an album of entirely mid-tempo songs or fast aggressive songs. That gets boring after a while.”

Slip, Quicksand’s major-label debut following a Revelation Records EP, was recorded to a click track, making the music stiff and one-dimensional. Manic Compression reveals the band to be up to the often career-ending task of growth.

“And this is closer to our live shows than Slip ever was,” adds Vega.

Quizzing Schreifels about musical evolution via personal changes (at least three of the album’s songs, “Backwards,” “Divorce” and “Blister” are relationship-oriented) prompts a quick retort. “Personal changes are too personal to talk about.”

“That would be an avoiding-the-question ‘no,’”says Cage, laughing.

Looking a bit cornered, Schreifels acquiesces. “Divorce can be in any situation, parents and their children, husband and wife. Also, you could be going with a certain clique of people or heading in a certain direction then decide it’s not right for you. It may be a struggle to break free but you have to make yourself happy, you have to make those changes. Those songs are all about that. Some of the songs are cynical views towards relationships. My parents are divorced though.”

Commensurate with the growing attention Quicksand have received, they’ve locked up tours with frat-rock mutants Offspring and deader-than-thou-heads White Zombie. Lately, rumors have spread that while Quicksand welcome the exposure of a union with White Zombie, they aren’t too thrilled with the idea of traversing the country with a Willard-esque Offspring horde, a claim Schreifels summarily denies.

“I don’t see us as a hardcore band at all,” says Schreifels. “People who have been into hardcore may still like us…”

“I think they’re a good band. Bands we go out on tour with, I don’t necessarily have to like them. But I usually find by the end of the tour that I will like them no matter who they are.”

“Whether they’re dark or brooding enough, that’s up to separate opinion,” says Vega. “I’m just glad they’re successful ‘cause they’re not a new band. They’ve paid their dues and they never signed to a major label. I’d rather see them make it than these bands that give off a cocky vibe. And White Zombie are mellow, down-to-earth guys. They’re not at all tripped-out like you’d expect.”

Whether Quicksand are hardcore, metal, post-hardcore or punk opens up a can of worms eventually facing any band intent on carving out a singular sound in a glutted, commercially driven marketplace. As critics try to find ways to describe a refreshing band, they fall back on old terms. But musicians don’t want to be labeled, understandably, they just want to make their music. But if you’re going to act in videos (in hopes of MTV) and submit to interviews (“cover of Rolling Stone”), prepare to be labeled. It’s inescapable; it’s called capitalism.

“I don’t see us as a hardcore band at all,” says Schreifels. “People who have been into hardcore may still like us…”

“But we’ve crossed over,” agrees Cage. “That scene totally influenced us as individuals. That’s the common thread between each of us.”

“There are so many factions,” Schreifels continues, “like bands that I consider metal who think they’re hardcore.”

“Or kids in the English hardcore scene,” adds Cage, “who think any band in the New York scene is metal, which is true to an extent. The New York scene took a lot more influence from metal than did more punk-sounding bands.”

“There are a lot of people who have an affiliation with that, depending on what side of the fence you’re standing on,” says Schreifels.

“What is disco? What is dancehall?” Cage asks. “They’re just convenient labels.”

But isn’t it fair to peg certain groups as part of a scene?

“It’s just semantics,” Schreifels replies. “I don’t want to contribute to it. I remember running into a guy from Cell who said, ‘You were the band who were spawned from the New York hardcore scene,’ and I replied, ‘And you’re the band produced by Thurston Moore.’ These labels get attached to bands but in reality we’re not a hardcore band. We’ll talk about it, ‘cause that’s where we’re from, but I won’t contribute to that labeling. I’ll discuss the New York scene that we’re a part of, but I wouldn’t call it a hardcore scene. That’s over.”

Vega eloquently finds the common ground: “We’re part of a scene without a sound. None of us sound alike. We’re just rushing to create. Our goal has always been to experiment within hardcore, which was our whole world at that point. We just wanted to make some different kinds of music for the kids we were playing to. That was a step away from hardcore as far as the sonics were concerned. It’s not ‘fuck hardcore.’ We just wanted to create our own thing.”

“It’s just nice that New York finally has a really good music scene happening for what we’re doing,” Cage summarizes. “This used to be the hardest place for us to play. That’s all changed thanks to less violence and club owners willing to take a chance.”

After a day of filming exterior scenes of go-karting and general mayhem for the “Thorn In My Side” video, Quicksand will be on a soundstage tomorrow, with cameras and hot lights shoved up in their faces. They good-naturedly sublimated their musician brains to play the part of Speed Racer and Mario Andretti in a venture bigger than themselves.

Just enough time for a final, easy question: What’s a manic compression?

“It fits the feel for the record which is live and more aggressive with wacky-sounding guitars,” says Schreifels. “Ultimately, it’s just a title, but not a bad title.”