Interview with Chris Mereschuk of Age of Reason conducted by Greg Svitil in Boston, Massachusetts dorm room in early 1996.
Greg: Firstly, who’s in the band, who’s been in the band, and when and where did Age of Reason start?
Currently in the band is Mike Poorkid on drums, Burton Legeyt on guitar, Aaron Lazauski on bass (who has replaced original bassist Ryan Wilhelm), and me, Chris, on vocals. Age of Reason started up in Canton, Connecticut, in an upstairs room in my house on Halloween of 1992.
Greg: Halloween, is that coincidental?
It was just our first practice. Mike and I had wanted to start a band. Well, Mike had wanted to start a band back in early ‘91, and he started talking to me about it, and he gave me a tape of music he liked and that he wanted to do. At that time I was playing drums and he was singing, so he and I did, like, a joke band in his basement, and sang about stickers that were on his wall and stuff. I think we called ourselves Satan’s Little Helpers. We were both friends with Burton and Mike asked him to play guitar, and then we started a band called Outreach, and Outreach sucked. Eventually we formed Age of Reason.
Greg: What is the current Age of Reason discography?
We are on two compilations, “Over the Edge” volumes 1 and 2. We have just one song on each compilation. Those came out a couple years ago on Endless Fight Records. All of our songs recorded would be about twenty songs. We had a couple demos come out, nothing in major circulation, only on very limited copies, like 50 copies of one demo and 20 copies of another. Mainly it’s just people copied it for other people and stuff like that.
Greg: When and where was the first Age of Reason show?
Late January of ‘93 at a school function in Canton, Connecticut called “The Boom.” It was interesting. We played a few original songs and like, three cover songs. It was really encouraging because I had thought we completely sucked, but a bunch of the older kids in Canton who were into hardcore came out to see us and support us, and that was, like I said, really encouraging.
Greg: Who writes the songs?
Burton writes the guitar parts. When he writes stuff he has a bass part and a drum part in mind. He’s really creative that way. He’ll suggest parts to whoever is on bass at the time. In a way, we all write our own parts. I write the lyrics without help from anyone, except we have one song currently, called “Electricity,” and Burton has like four lines in that song, and we used to do a song called “Bypass” where he wrote the entire lyrics. I just really don’t like singing other people’s lyrics, and I wouldn’t want other people to sing my lyrics, just because I know they’re so easily misinterpreted by a general audience that I’d hate to be singing misinterpreted lyrics.
Greg: What are the most common topics of Age of Reason lyrics?
I’ve always tried to keep away from blatantly political material. That included anything from straight-edge or vegetarianism or drug use or meat eating or anti-religion or pro-religion or anything like that. Overall, the songs are from my viewpoint. Anyways, songs that we do now, I’ll go song-by-song in our traditional set list.
We have a song called “Society’s War.” That can be extrapolated to explain things in larger society, but basically it’s a song about the hardcore scene. I know many bands have them, but it’s an anti-violence, anti-tough guy, anti-scenester, if you will, just the whole idea of some band wanting to get to the top, they want to be real popular, so what do they do? They tread on so many people, and all they care about is having a big draw, having a major pit when they’re playing and shit like that; mainly being really misguided. I realize that if I don’t comply with that type of thinking, is Age of Reason doesn’t apply that type of “ethic,” if you can call it an ethic, to our music, if we don’t trample everyone and do shit like that, then we’re never going to reach super-stardom. And that’s a fine thing, because I would much rather have a small fan base and be true to myself then have lots of fans but just be talking out of my ass. And so far I’ve been able to keep to that. I don’t believe we’ve sold ourselves out on any level.
There’s a song we do called “Fatherly Love.” It’s actually the third song we wrote as Age of Reason. It’s about child abuse. It could be seen as any abuse in general, but it’s about a real specific case of verbal abuse, just wondering if the classic cycle is going to continue; the child who grows up being degraded and figuratively slapped around, if this child is going to grow up and treat other people or their children that way, and not be able to break that cycle.
We have a song called “Electricity.” That’s a song that’s open to interpretation in many ways. The lyrics themselves are about interpretations and also about possession in the way of, well, not exactly this, but demonic possession or whatever you want to call it. It’s about fantasy, it’s about trying to define what’s what and who’s in control of you and who you’re in control of. It’s also lyrically inspired, oddly enough, by the middle ages, around the turn of the first millennium, when people were starting to realize that when it hit 1,000 A.D. the world didn’t end. So they changed some thinking, and things seemed to improve for them.
Another song we have is called “Better Left Alone.” I used to be, well, I still consider myself a fairly isolated person. I thought that that was the way to do it, that was the way to live life, that was the way to go. I’ve since been turned around on that, but “Better Left Alone” is almost a tribute to Age of Reason the band, a tribute to writing, a tribute to music. I saw in the song that everyone wonders how someone could be in such isolation, but I was able to find myself in the band and in my writing and in music. People say I whine a lot, but I think that’s misinterpreted. I’ve seen a lot of things about people, and I’ve never gained faith in the human race, and if it’s gonna be that way, then fuck it, I am fine by myself. People keep disappointing you, and you keep disappointing other people, and you can’t make anyone happy; shit like that.
Then there’s “Dysthemia.” What dysthemia is, is depression that isn’t exactly clinically noticeable, because it is a core trait of a person’s personality. It’s just then the person who has lived with dysthemia for such a long period of time that people don’t see this person as goign through a depression, they see them as just a down person all the time. There’s no definite cycles. It’s a very quick song, a very heavy song. I see it as a very chaotic song, maybe not in the traditional chaotic hardcore sense, but to me in the lyrics sense, and in the feelings that I get from it. I think that’s just how depression is.
(at this point, we talk for a while about various approaches to lyric writing; the more abstract, and the more straight-forward. Chris says that “one of my absolutely most favorite bands is extremely blatantly political, and that’s great, but that’s just not how I do it, that’s just not how I operate best.” Somewhere around here, the following segment occurs)
Greg: Maybe there’s a matter of wanting to appeal to something more than the lowest common denominator, which may limit the amount of people you appeal to, but…
Chris: That’s exactly it. And another reason I don’t want to be blatantly political, and in a way weed out people. I do want to make people think. I don’t want to say “here are some opinions: learn them, love them.” It’s like, here’s a situation, what do you think about it? If I could get people to do one thing with this band, I just want people to fuckin’ think, and consider things. I know that’s vague, but consider things. I also don’t want to be direct in a lot of the things I say because I don’t have a target audience, and I’m not looking to attract any certain fan base. We don’t call ourselves a straightedge band, well, primarily because there’s only one member who’s straightedge. We don’t label ourselves by our diet. We’re not Krishnas. We’re just not looking to gain a certain group as a fan base. I guess it could be argued that since we call ourselves a hardcore band, but that’s hardcore by default pretty much, that we’re aiming at a certain audience, but I mean, fuck it, whoever wants to listen to “the A.O.R.,” they can. Yeah, it’s more accessible to hardcore people. Yeah, hardcore people seem to understand the music more, which is great.
Greg: When Age of Reason took the stage at Mama Kin, you said something to the effect of “stop being fucked, start fucking.”
Chris: Yeah, I think I said “start fucking, stop getting fucked.” That’s just something of a motto, it may be vulgar, though it may be cheesy to an extent, that I’m trying to live by. I’m not letting anyone take advantage of me. I’m trying to keep aware of what’s going on. That’s the punchline to a big intro I had written for “Society’s War,” basically saying fuck all of this bandwagon shit, fuck all of this- I know it’s a trite term- but sell-out punk and hardcore. Fuck all the trends, fuck all this huge push against the mainstream society, because we recreate the problems of the mainstream society in our own little microcosm. It’s like, take a step back, shut up for a while, and realize what’s going on. Stop getting fucked and start fucking.
Greg: Could ‘start fucking’ maybe be interpreted as going beyond avoiding being taken advantage of and actually taking advantage of others?
Chris: Well, maybe it could. It definitely could, but that’s not how I intended it. It’s not necessarily “start being the attacker and stop being the victim.” But take action against some things. Whatever you do, don’t let someone take advantage of you. And I’m not promoting this on any sort of tough-guy level, even a moral tough guy. But just be aware, and when you think something’s wrong with you or with your situation, take action. Don’t just sit there. If someone makes a racist joke, and you hear it, and you don’t like it, and you don’t say anything about it, it’s almost just as good as you condoning it. It’s tacit condonance.
Greg: Does the name have to do with the age of reason and enlightenment in 18th century Europe?
Chris: It does, in fact. At the time we were forming the band, Mike was studying that period of literature in his English class, and at first he just thought the name was cool. Then the next year, I started learning about the age of reason, and how more faith in human reason and less of a belief in control by God or other deities, and it started making sense to me and meaning a lot to me. Maybe I don’t know enough about the age of reason as a literary and philosophical period, but it’s kind of like bastardized it to go along with thinking of, be aware. Don’t put your faith in fate or a controlling god.
Greg: I know that you’ve experimented a great deal with vegetarianism. Where do you and the other members of Age of Reason stand on animal rights?
Chris: Well, I guess “experimented” might be a proper word for that, but I’ll just go through the band here. I’ll preface this with, we don’t let our diets affect our music, except when we’re looking for something to eat. But two of the members of the band are vegan. Not extremely strict vegans, but they don’t consume dairy and they don’t consume meat. Mike, the drummer, is an unfailing vegetarian. I myself have been on-again, off-again vegetarian in diet for the past two years. For me, meat was fucking with my digestive tract, so I just stopped eating meat. I won’t deny that occasionally a meat dish will look good- chicken or seafood, ‘cause I was always a sucked for that before. But as far as animal rights are concerned, my vegetarianism isn’t a product of any certain animal rights belief. I’ve become more aware of animal rights since I’ve become vegetarian. I still wear leather and suede. I try to wear as little of it as possible. I’ve only got five pairs of leather pants and twenty leather vests, and I think that cut down from what I used to wear, and you know, seventeen fur coats…I’m just kidding. But anyways, I’m against animal testing. I try to buy products that aren’t tested on animals. Same with the other lads in the band. We do the best we can to be politically correct in that sense, but it’s not something that we’ve completely dedicated ourselves to.
Greg: There’s also a difference between wearing something that’s leather or suede that’s been bought in the past, and continuing to buy it.
Chris: Yeah, I have continued to buy leather and suede when I was a vegetarian. I have no problem with the idea of previously owned leather goods or animal goods being still used, because what’s the use of just throwing them away? That’s just wasting them. I’ll admit that, in a way, I feel guilty about buying (looks down at his shoes- ed.) these nice suede sneakers, but it’s a matter of fact that this is the most durable sneaker I could find, and any canvas sneaker or entirely cloth sneaker or boot I could find wouldn’t last half as long. I just can’t find comparable non-animal products sometimes.
Greg: Over the past few years, band such as Rancid and NOFX have gotten to be relatively popular playing music that could loosely be called ‘punk rock.’ Do you think anything like that could happen with hardcore as well?
Chris: I think it already has happened, with Helmet and Biohazard. There used to be a program on MTV called Headbanger’s Ball. Never used to watch it, but I’d always hear from friends, “…some Sick of it All video…”; I guess there’s a Judge video and a Gorilla Biscuits video, from what I’ve heard. That could just be horrible rumors, but I think it could happen more to hardcore, but maybe hardcore’s not as attractive to the mainstream ingrates and personality sponges out there as some of this punk is. I can’t rightly say that these bands have done something wrong. I can’t rightly say that these new-found fans are wrong for listening to these bands. I can tell you that I don’t like it, but then again, I’m an elitist person, very much so. Although I try not to exclude people….hmm, strange…I contradict myself a few times. But I don’t know. I don’t like it because it seems to open up a further field in which I’d be misunderstood.
Greg: Hardcore, at least from my point of view, has always been, at least musically, a bit more extreme than punk. When it started out, it was actually originally called “hardcore punk.” Rancid are obviously on a whole different level (in terms of popularity) from Sick of it All. Do you think a lot of it has to do with a lot of the punk bands toning down a bit in comparison to a lot of the more popular hardcore bands?
Chris: Maybe, but then again, I still have to say, this seems obvious, but the punk bands and the hardcore bands that have gone to a wider audience are nowhere near the representative of the hardcore and punk scenes currently. Maybe they have toned down, maybe they have mellowed out, maybe they are a little watered down, maybe they’re just tired. I don’t know. I don’t think that it’s a definite rule that if you’d like to have a wider audience you must mellow out. It does seem that as a band progresses in the time continuum, they seem to get a little mellower. The music like Green Day, Rancid, Offspring: definitely. Those bands seem to be less threatening than what they used to be perceived as. Now, I think some ethics of the punk and hardcore scenes have been trivialized because people have had a certain amount of familiarity through exposure. They see these punks on videos, and they’ve learned that “hey, people in leather jackets with different colored hair and piercings, they’re alright people, they like to have fun, too, they’re not gonna kick my ass when I talk down the street,” whereas, you know, maybe they really will. But you just don’t know. I mean, this is on T.V. There’s a band called Filth, and they have a song, I can’t remember the exact title now, basically saying “don’t forget that you’re a punk, don’t forget everyone hates you, don’t forget you’re shit to all these people, and you’re just trivializing yourself by posing for postcard pictures; now I’m paraphrasing it; and shooting videos and shit, you know, don’t forget: no one likes you and you don’t like them.
Greg: Right, but you have labels like Epitaph marketing this new punk rock stuff, and if you had no biases, and you heard an Offspring record, is the first thing that comes to mind going to be “this is a punk band”?
Chris: No, especially not with Offspring. I think “this is rock.”
Greg: Yeah, it’s kind of like rock music for the 90s almost.
Chris: To me it’s like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s that type of alternative rock, to overuse that phrase, I’ll say ‘alternative.’ Perhaps Green Day is a little more raw, Rancid’s stuff is a little more raw, and in that way, going “wow, this is punk rock.” But I would say punk rock n roll, and like “this is punk, dude.”
Greg: But being the judgmental person I am, I have a tendency to look at bands by the lyrics, and I really don’t see much of a difference between Green Day’s lyrics and say, Poison’s lyrics.
Chris: Exacty. Maybe this is a little hypocritical, because I don’t like to be directly political as I mentioned before, but hey, and maybe I just haven’t seen enough, but I hear Green Day lyrics and I hear Offspring lyrics and it’s like, you know, whoop-dee-doo. You might as well be singing “my my my, once bitten, twice shy,” you know? It just doesn’t do anything for me. Maybe if I was a fan, well obviously if I was a fan, it would be a different story.
Greg: And then you start getting into all sorts of crazy things about “what is punk?” It’s a bit of a paradox, where on one hand, the great thing about it in the first place was that there were no rules, but if you want to be realistic about it, there are certain things that just aren’t punk.
Chris: I try to take the safe route and not attempt to define punk and not try to define hardcore, or even call myself “punk.” But if there’s any band out there that says “yes, we are a punk rock band” or “yes, we are a hardcore band” then I will call them “punk” or “hardcore” simply because they have chosen to name themselves so.
Greg: What effects do you think the straightedge movement has had and will have on the hardcore scene and on people in general outside and within the hardcore scene?
Chris: Let me see. That’s actually a tough one, because you’re not just asking me “so, you straightedge?”
Greg: Are you?
Chris: I don’t consider myself straightedge. I don’t consider myself a drug user either.
Greg: Are you a moderation person, or are you an abstinence person who doesn’t proclaim themselves as straightedge?
Chris: I don’t want to proclaim myself as anything. Currently, I happen not to be using any substances because that’s what’s suiting me best. But tomorrow, I may head off to the liquor store and buy myself a 40 or a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. But that goes along with the whole idea of not letting anyone take advantage of you. I really fear that if I get drunk or stoned or high or whatever, then I’m going to get taken advantage of, and maybe that fear is what bred my want to be straightedge, along with many other things.
What effect has straightedge had? I think it’s served to further separate people within the punk and hardcore scenes. I know I’m going at this from just a certain viewpoint, but it has done a bit of good in the way that some people haven’t used drugs or alcohol or anything and maybe they’ve gotten a couple more years on their life if that’s what they do desire. They seem to be a little more concerned about their health, citing the obvious health risks. I mean, I’m not going from government medical reports, I’m going from what I’ve seen. Obviously it’s had quite an impact because there’s so many bands out there that are straightedge and even in my time that I’ve been involved in the hardcore scene I’ve seen a flux of straightedge people. When I first got into hardcore, it seemed like the first, perhaps even the second, wave of straightedge had definitely disappeared, and now straightedge was something like a joke. But then, all of a sudden, it was making a comeback. People were starting to X-up again, and retro-old-school bands started. But just look at the number of bands that are out there that call themselves straightedge or say that they’re influenced by straightedge. You could argue that, on an individual level, straightedge is an extremely positive thing, as long as you don’t become obsessed with the idea.
There’s a compilation out currently, XXX compilation on Ebullition Records (the ‘Some Ideas are Poisonous’ compilation- ed.). I’ve always respected Kent McClard and his writing. He’s got something in there, I haven’t read it too thoroughly, but it basically says that straightedge is dangerous and can poison your mind. Just as I had formerly so insanely dedicated myself to being drug-free because I didn’t want to be controlled by a chemical or herbal substance, I was being controlled by an idea and by ideals. Which is worse? I don’t know. Like I said before, it could be a negative thing because it’s created a bit of separatism. It’s created some horrible misconceptions, and I’d even say fear and hatred. Stereotypically, a punk sees a hardcore kid- “they’re a straightedge kid, they’re gonna fuckin’ preach to me, I don’t wanna fuckin’ talk to that asshole.” Hardcore kid sees a punk- “fuckin’ junkie, fuckin’ drunk.” And no one takes the chance to get to know each other because “straightedge kids preach and punk kids drink,” and that’s the end of it, and each thinks the other is a fuckin’ prick for doing that.
There’s definitely an element of responsibility in there. I doubt a lot of the original straightedge doctrine had any intention of being separatist. Though, in some senses, it’s very separatist, because it’s an extreme way of defining your ground, and being the antithesis of the stereotypical fratboy, and saying “I’m not like this.”
There are so many things surrounding straightedge. I helped, I guess I could say “helped,” it I could claim that much credit, conduct an interview with Ian MacKaye from Fugazi who is often-times credited with the invention, if you will, of straightedge, and he said that it started out with him and a few friends not doing drugs, making up songs, and now he doesn’t even recognize what straightedge is. He didn’t exactly say this- allow me to put words in his mouth- he doesn’t recognize it as “you can’t eat meat, you can’t swear, you can’t wear black on Tuesdays.”
Greg: I read an interview where he was saying that, for him originally, he had no intention of it becoming a movement. It was at a period in his life where he was getting a lot of peer pressure from his friends to start doing this or that, or drugs or alcohol or whatever, and for him it was more about individuality and anti-obsession. The irony of how it turned out was, whether it’s a bad thing or a good thing, it turned out to be more of a collective thing than an introspective thing.
Chris: The effect I think straightedge could have on larger society is an interesting one. Obviously, the larger, and largely conservative, is going to be “oh, these youth choose not to use drugs, that’s excellent.” And it makes parents happy, and it makes police happy, and it makes my government happy, which is ironic because so many of these people talk about fucking shit up, and stickin’ it to ‘the man’ and wreckin’ ‘the man’s’ system. Maybe not as much hardcore and straightedge kids as punk kids. But I definitely don’t think that it will make the larger society think more about the use of drugs either way, and I’m afraid that it could further stereotype drugs and drug use.
As I mentioned before, I don’t currently use drugs, but I have friends that do, and these are not bad people, these are not criminals. These are just people who are experimenting with mind-altering drugs, which I don’t think inherently is something bad. I think the abuse of such substances is not a good thing. But the choice is up to these individuals. And these are people, it’s always a person. And I think a horrible thing, in the large part, what the straightedge movement has done, is dehumanize and depersonalize people who use drugs. To some straightedge kids, you’re straightedge or you’re a fuckin’ junkie, pretty much. It’s like “no, you’re not a human, you don’t have a name.” It’s like “you use drugs, you’re shit. You’re nothing.”
Greg: A lot of people have a tendency to attack the human beings themselves rather than the action that the human beings happen to be doing.
Chris: Exactly. I’ll take it back to how I used to be disciplined as a child, and how my mother would explain it to me when I was punished: “it’s not that I don’t like you, it’s not that you are bad, it’s what you have done.” Maybe, in a way, that’s taking the responsibility away from the person, but it is the action, not the person.
Greg: Any last thoughts for whoever’s going to end up reading this?
Chris: We are hopefully going to have two 7”’s out, finally, one of them on Hydra Head Records from Boston, and the other one, I’m not sure about the label, but it’s going to be put out by Mike Mannix from western Massachusetts. Both should be out by this summer. We also plan on finally touring this summer, the east coast as far down as the Carolinas. Thank you Greg for doing this interview. Good luck with the zine. Shout out to the rest of the band, and to my friends here at school, and my friends at home, and Chef Biss, and the real SEC.