I think I speak for Tim as well when I say that Pressure Release is a band we both really love that started somewhere cool and ended up somewhere weird and mysterious, but simultaneously even cooler. Not to slag the early material, but the seven inch is so dark and bizarre (considering the time and previous material) that I have a hard time even thinking it was the same band with straight forward youth anthems a year prior. Nonetheless, that is our favorite material. Guitarist Tom Kuntz popped up on the Livewire message board at one point during a great and lengthy thread about the band. I made a mental note to track him down, and finally just caught up with him. - Gordo DCXX
I know Gordo pretty much spoke for the both of us already, but I still wanted to chime in. He definitely hit the nail on the head when he said the later Pressure Release material struck a unique chord with me. As much as I love the early material, X Marks The Spot, etc, the New Breed comp and 7” are my favorite. Especially with the 7”, the sound is so dark and dissonant, I always felt some sort of BL’AST! vibe and connected with it. Definitely my favorite 7” ever released on New Age and along with Turning Point, one of the main reasons I wanted my band, Mouthpiece, on New Age.
A random memory I have regarding Pressure Release was talking to Tom on the phone sometime in 1989. I remember I was working on Common Sense fanzine at the time and wanted to reach out to Tom and coordinate an interview. We talked for a bit, but for some reason or another, the interview never came together. I guess I’m finally getting that interview. - Tim DCXX
How did you get into hardcore and when would this have been? When would straight edge tie into this?
It was around 1986 I believe. Me and my friends were doing lots of skateboarding and the music sort of went with the territory. At first we were into the really mainstream skate stuff like Black Flag and JFA and then we started going to local hardcore shows and realized we really liked the local things going on.
Straight Edge at the time just seemed really interesting and we related to the people in that scene, I don’t really know what the defining moment was when we all said “let’s be straight edge!” I can’t really remember. But I know that after a few years of that, we started to feel the opposite way about it, we were more focused about the music, and not on the fact that we were a “straight edge band.” We didn’t want fans based on what we stood for, we wanted people who appreciated the sounds we were making and to not lump us in with other bands.
Pressure Release started out as a very “youth” oriented band associated with the CT straight edge scene. Who would you cite as your biggest influences and closest comrades? What bands personally inspired you to pick up a guitar and write songs?
Hmm...it really depends on what stage of that entire time. My ideas and influences were changing rapidly during that time. Our closest friends were a combination of the CT bands like Up Front and Wide Awake, etc., but because our bassist and drummer lived in NYC, we also had a connection to the NYC bands like Gorillla Biscuits, etc. When we made our demo, we were very much listening to these sort of bands.
By the time of recording our seven inch, we were listening to much different stuff. Articles Of Faith, Life’s Blood, Metallica, Human Rights, the Cro-Mags demo, BL’AST!, Void, etc. BL’AST! and Void were definitely big influences. We really wanted to make a cross genre record, we really wanted to make something unique. We were gravitating heavily to the dark side of things. We wanted to make an introspective, serious, dark record with strange influences. In the studio we were playing with weird African percussion instruments and synthesizers, and layered guitar solos, but I will come back to this.
Can you give a full run down of the Pressure Release line-up from beginning to end. Specifically what caused Doug to be replaced by Ben, and how did you feel about that change?
Original line up: Tom Kuntz: guitar, Alex Napeck: bass, Sam Haffy (or happy?): guitar, Thai Park: drums, Doug Byrnes: vocals.
At some point early on, we asked Sam to leave the band. I think basically because he wasn’t that serious about it or something and couldn’t really play his instrument. I can barely remember. For a while it was the four of us. At some point we had a guy named Jay from upstate Connecticut join the band, but that was quite short-lived as well. I think that was kind of right at the end. I can seriously barely remember.
Later in the game, after we recorded the 7” with Doug, he was losing a lot of enthusiasm for the band and was doing a lot of snowboarding. He would disappear up to Vermont for long stints, so we asked Ben Smith to join the band to replace Doug. Ben went in and re-recorded the vocals on the 7”, and then in a crazy pressing mix up, Doug’s original vocals ended up getting pressed. In the long run, I think it is pretty awesome, because it was him who deserved to have his voice on the record after being in the band for so long.
Photo: Joe Snow
What are your memories of recording the Pressure Release demos?
The original P.R. demo was recorded at a place called “The Music Box” on the Lower East Side. I was like 15 years old and it was totally freezing and we were walking around with our guitar cases past all these shanty towns and feeling like we were going to get jumped at any second. All I remember about the recording of that demo was how damn fast it was done, and that we put way too much reverb on the vocals.
The second demo we did was at Don Fury. I think we did a song called ”Try” or something like that? I can’t even remember!!! But we were much more proud of these songs. They had the sound we originally wanted. Very gritty hardcore. That was a fun day. Don Fury at that time was like hardcore central. That was where you went if you wanted to record.
The Anthrax seemed to have been your homebase. What are your favorite memories of having played there? What about other bands you saw there...20 years later, what jumps out?
I can honestly say I saw hundreds of shows there. Everything from the Circle Jerks to the Cro-Mags to YOT to Fugazi (before Guy even sang in the band) to Mind Over Four, etc. The list literally goes on forever. If a band toured, it came through that place, and we were there both nights on most every single weekend. It was truly an amazing time.
After the X Marks tracks, the band began to progress a bit by the time the New Breed tracks were recorded, which you already hit on. What was exactly going on in the band as you got further into 1988 and towards 1989?
Well, sort of covered this before, but essentially Alex and I were the ones writing the songs, and we had just gotten really into different music. We were listening to less traditional stuff. I think we really just wanted to make a record that caught people off guard. I think right around that time Absolution was on the scene and we loved how dark their sound was. We really wanted to create complex arrangements, not your typical hardcore songs. We also loved the “And Justice For All” record by Metallica, we loved how it felt like this one long song, like an opera. We wanted to try to achieve that.
For the seven inch, we went to Staten Island to this really tricked out studio that Alex found that gave us a really good price. We played him the Cro-Mags DEMO (not the record) and said “we want it to have this sound.” It was this really compressed sound we loved.
At first the studio engineer/owner guy was sort of confused by our style of music, but I remember him being really impressed how buttoned up we were. Alex and I had everything really thought out. By the end, the engineer guy was quite into it.
Similarly, you obviously progressed as a guitar player...was this natural, or were you really trying to differentiate yourself from standard power chord playing?
Yeah... I just remember sitting in my bedroom with a double tape deck recording ideas for guitar solos, experimenting with layers and harmonies etc. We just thought it would be awesome to have lots of guitar solos, both the “ripping” type as well as the more melodic type. I was a pretty good guitar player so we figured we put it to use. We thought it could be interesting.
Lyrically, Alex was writing all the lyrics. I don't think I wrote a word. He was writing seriously dark stuff. About isolation, and introspection, and about girls. He was discovering sort of the dark side of girls and sex etc. At the time, it was really quite different than what people would write about in hardcore.
Photo: Joe Snow
What would your favorite PR song be if you had to pick one?
Hmmmm... I like the second side of the 7 inch. “Obstacles” into “Not All In The Mind.” They feel introspective and I like the melodies. Oh hell... I like the first song too. The second half of that song, the long instrumental part, I still find very enjoyable...it’s like the outro that keeps giving.
How did you get linked up with New Age all the way across the country? Why did you go with them? What did you think when the record finally came out? What do you hear when you listen today? Are you satisfied with it 20 years later?
I can’t remember how we got hooked up with them. I just became friends with the owner Mike Hartsfield. He said he wanted to put the record out and we were like “OK.”
What do I hear today? Well. Hmmm... it’s sort of interesting to think of being immersed in this particular scene so much. I’ve made so many different types of music since then, that it’s interesting to hear this particular moment so documented.
What was the story with Ben’s vocals getting erased? Was this a major bum out? Were you really unhappy with Doug’s vocals as they appeared on the record?
No no, like I said above I think he deserved to be the one singing on the record. Maybe at the time we weren’t crazy about Doug’s vocals. I can't really remember, but if I listen to them back to back now, I much prefer Doug’s vocals. I think we just re-recorded them because Ben was the current singer and it seemed like the right thing to do. I’m very glad Doug’s vocals made it on.
What caused the band to break up?
I seriously can’t remember. I think it was just sort of “time.” I think we were all a bit tired of the straight up hardcore thing and the scene, etc. I was getting into a lot of different music, that lead me away from the straight forward hardcore sound. I think once Doug left, we probably didn’t feel it was the same band anyway, and that lead to a feeling that it was over.
Where did everyone go from there?
Alex quickly went into other bands like BURN, etc... I started a band with our long time friend, Jeff Leach, which was a more experimental rock sound, based on bands like KINGFACE from DC.
What about you personally... were you “done” with hardcore at that point?
I think I sort of was. Not in an animosity sort of way... just in a way that wanted some breathing room from it. It was quite an incestuous scene.
What are you doing today and how have you gotten there?
I’m a film maker now. After making the fanzine GIVE THANKS in high school, I realized I loved doing design, so I went to college for that. When I graduated college, I found myself more drawn to the moving image. Now I direct mostly TV commercials and music videos. I have done videos for bands like LCD SOUNDSYSTEM, THE AVALANCHES and ELECTRIC SIX, and I direct all the crazy SKITTLES ads you see on TV! I am working on getting a film project off the ground as we speak. I realized in college that I didn’t want to make music my career because I didn’t want it to be anything but a pleasurable thing in my life. I didn’t want to have to depend on music. To this day I’m still an insane music fan with a very, very large record collection, though sadly, I sold lots of my hardcore records when I was broke in college. I still have a handful of goodies though...
Did you stay in touch with the other guys over the years? Alex specifically seems to elude everyone, are you in touch with him at all?
Alex went MIA. I’ve heard various rumors of exactly why. I ran into him one day in NYC about 8 years ago. I have no idea where he is right now. He was always a very eccentric guy.
Photo: Joe Snow
What type of connection do you have with hardcore today? Any records still hold up over time that you listen to?
I still love the EMBRACE record. Makes me cry. Such a personal, awesome record.
What were your thoughts on Doug’s untimely death? (Ed. Note: Doug died in 1999 from an asthma attack. Rest In Peace).
Very sad man. Just random and sad. He and I were still good friends when he died. We were actually in a new band together at the time with a bunch of our childhood friends. I was playing drums and he was playing records in the band. The band was called Mediteranea. We would get on stage without any prewritten songs and just start playing and see what happened. It was pretty ballsy. When he died it was just fucking jarring and sad. I still dream about him.
How would you feel about a PR discography?
Why not!? But I want to design the artwork!!!