This interview with Insight vocalist Mark Starr was conducted in the summer of 2016 for my third book,Straight Edge - A Clear-Headed Hardcore Punk History.Be sure to pick up a copy of the Salt Lake City based-band’s retrospective collectionReflection which compiles the tracks from their classic 1989 seven-inchStanding Strongalong with compilation tracks and newly-recorded material when it is released on July 31st. We have an exclusive pressing that’s only available at RevHQ, so be sure to pick it up HERE!
Tony Rettman:When Insight formed, was the intention to be a straight edge band?
Mark Starr:No not at all. In fact Jeremy and I were the only ones at that time who were straight edge I believe. Jeremy was very influenced by the DC scene and The Misfits and hardcore. I was really into political English punk bands, hardcore and thrash. Doug was into metal. Our drummer at that time I'm not sure what he was into.
Were Youth of Today an inspiration on the formation of Insight?
Jeremy and I were already playing with our band Past Tense by then. So yeah I think seeing YOT changed our whole direction. Though I think we were going in that direction with Past Tense but seeing YOT was very inspiring. I saw a lot of bands that blew me away before but I think the energy they all had and probably just how positive it was just blew me away! I remember the place going crazy and YOT not stopping with energy. Great guys and became friends with them from that point on. To be honest I don't remember too many bands that came up right after that. I feel like we were the only band in Salt Lake City doing that for a bit but soon there would be more edge bands popping up.
How was the idea of straight edge accepted in the Salt Lake City punk scene?
Well I think it was accepted pretty well because of the religious influence there. I didn't grow up religious but I feel people outside of the punk scene could get behind kids going to hardcore shows that had straight edge bands. I feel there was always opposition with some of the punks in the scene. I dug Minor Threat, Uniform Choice, 7 Seconds, YOT to name a few because of some good friends who were straight edge in high school who turned me onto them. But I too felt some opposition before starting Insight because I liked to party and drink. So probably being the first straight edge band in Salt Lake City people were wondering what the hell is this preaching and rambling.
Who were some of the other bands at that time in Salt Lake City that were Straight Edge? I remember the band Better Way and Brainstorm. Brainstorm was an Insight side project, correct?
Yes, Better Way were our close friends and would always hang and play shows. There were a handful of bands that started up after we started. Right Side Up, Search, Trial, Headstrong and Brainstorm. I'm sure there were more edge bands. Brainstorm started while Insight was together. More towards the end of Insight. That had members of Insight, Better Way and Headstrong. What was cool a lot of us went on to be in other bands that did quite well. For most people Salt Lake City was off the radar as far as thinking it had a music scene. We had a great music scene and a lot of talented musicians. Just to name a few bands that guys from the straight edge scene went on to be in include Jets To Brazil, The Gimmicks, Rival Schools, Civ, Himsa, Handsome, Iceburn, Eagle Twin, Cub Country, Leaf and J Majesty.
In that later part of the 80’s, it seemed a scene formed within the Hardcore scene that concentrated solely on Straight Edge. Bands started to look and sound the same and things seemed to codify. Did you see this as a good thing or a bad thing at the time?
Yeah that's a great question and observation. When we toured that's where we would really notice how generic things got. Just even the demos we would get. I feel bad saying that because everyone was always very cool but honestly being cool doesn't mean your band is good. When we started even as Past Tense we weren't great. I feel blessed that the line up we had were just great players and as we developed so much. I think we all wanted to get away from being your standard "edge" band. I think the gripes were very legit. I think with anything that gets big things turn really ridiculous.
Who were some of the other out-of-town straight edge bands that would pass through Salt Lake City?
YOT, Gorilla Biscuits, Underdog, Warzone, Cro Mags, Judge, Winds of Change, Brotherhood, Verbal Assault, 7 Seconds, Chain of Strength, Fugazi. to name a few. We had a place called The Unity House. So most bands would stay there. I feel we became great friends with YOT. I remember taking them swimming and to veggie restaurants when they were in town. Warzone was the worst. They charged $500 on my phone bill while staying with us. Raybeez pulled me aside after I confronted him about it and told me they would never do that. Well sure enough I got the bill and the list of calls were insane!! Luke from GB stayed with me for quite a while one year. So of course when these bands came around we all had things in common. Which of course was the whole part of that movement. Being together as one.
How did you find out about vegetarianism?
Well I was in a punk band called Censored Reality in '84. We were very into political and animal rights. So I was already a vegetarian when Insight was together. What appealed me to it was just how cruel people treat animals for the world to consume. It's amazing we have pets yet we eat other animals without blinking an eye. To me there's no reason we should be eating meat in today's world. Anyway I could rant all day about this subject. I don't think it's part of any scene because really it's part of many people's lifestyles. I feel I helped bring it to the attention of my band mates and I think YOT helped generate that movement a lot. Which for me if you can have that impact on people to start a movement then bring it on. Though as I got older I backed away jamming my ideals down people's throats. To each their own but I still believe in animal rights and always will. End The Cruelty!
Were you living in Salt Lake City when all the craziness with the Straight Edge gangs was going on in the 90’s?
No I wasn't. I moved to Huntington Beach after Insight split. I came back two years later and basically had crank calls and threats all the time. I was pretty disappointed with the nonsense that occurred during the time I came back. Especially coming from people who I thought were friends. I was only back for a short time so I moved again before all that really started blowing up. I heard of a few people who started all that gang shit but I can't say if that's true. I know what I heard really bummed me out. I was also bummed at the news stories I saw that had Insight involved in those stories. I know Insight really wanted to bring everyone together in all scenes that were going on. We all had friends who were into all kinds of things, whether it was music, drinking or eating meat. We really wanted to stay away from judging though I do think when you do sing about being straight, animal rights and being positive it of course comes across being judgmental. I guess I tried to write lyrics later that really was more about relationships and just life that I hoped people could relate to. It's interesting that all that happened in Salt Lake City because I know we saw things happening elsewhere on tour. It's so crazy to me though. So much to write but I wasn't there so I can only give an opinion on what I read or heard.
Let’s talk about the U.S tour you did with Chain of Strength in the summer of ‘89.
Well if you can remember this was before the Internet. Both Chain and Insight didn't have bookers. So Ryan and I had to do it ourselves. All phone calls. We were huge fans of Chain so to have a tour together we were stoked about it. Alex and Chris drove out east with us to meet up with the rest of the Chain crew. I'm not sure how Ryan and I came up with the idea we could put both bands in one van. That to me was so hilarious but we made it work for the short time we were all together before breaking down. That was our first tour across America. It was a lot of fun if we probably played a lot of shows for free. It was great meeting kids that actually physically wrote to us. The kids who helped us when we broke down I won't ever forget them. They really helped us out. Just the photos we have of us pulling our van with this huge uhaul with all of us in the back. How did we not get pulled over? It was pretty disappointing our tour got pulled short. I still see the Chain guys and I'm grateful have those guys as friends still. We had too much fun with them.
There seemed to be a dip-off in the early 90’s with straight edge stuff. A lot of bands broke up and moved onto other stuff. Why do you think that happened?
Well I know for us we really started to just get better at playing and just listening to other things. Though we always listened to different things. I know we met a lot of people who only listened to straight edge music. I never understood that. A lot of it was bands breaking up but music in general was just changing. I'm glad it was changing. It was getting to be pretty sterile and saturated with really bad bands. Also I think with all scenes things get more popular it usually starts getting silly. I know when Insight broke up I needed a change. There were plenty of bands I could've joined but I was bummed about Insight splitting. I just knew nobody could be like we were as far as where we were musically. So I wanted to do more shoegaze music that I was really digging at that time.
Why do you think straight edge still exists in the hardcore scene today with bands who still look and sound like a band from the late 80’s?
Well hardcore is such a great youthful way to express yourself. I think it's great it still exists. Kids still going for it and keeping it alive is great. I just hope people see a band like us seeing YOT that gives them that inspiration to do what they believe in.
What are your fondest memories from that time period?
Just having the band mates who are some of my greatest friends. The scene we had at that time I'm not sure that could ever be recreated. All the bands we played with became long time friends. All the friends we made everywhere. The people we influenced are very humbling. Hitting the East coast and I think knocking people on their ass with our music. Going to New York the first time and getting goosebumps of being somewhere where a lot of favorite bands were from. Driving in and seeing that skyline was just amazing!! Having Stormy Shepherd book us. And the record store, Raunch Records. Without them the Salt Lake City scene would be nothing.
Where do you think Insight fall in the history of Straight Edge Hardcore in the late 80's?
Well sometimes I feel we don't get enough recognition. It kills me we never did an LP. We had the material. We really busted our ass outside of Utah. I'm not sure if it's because we weren't from a major city. I'm stoked we were one of the first bands on Victory. I hope to be considered one of the best of that era.
Why do you think people who weren't around back then show interest in the period of hardcore Insight were a part of?
Because it was fun! The energy was great and for the most part, the music still holds up!