Nearly two years ago, I was fortunate enough to exchange e-mails with and interview Joe Songco, the drummer from one of my favorite New York Hardcore bands, Outburst. Outburst didn’t sport the grittiness of the Lower East Side found in bands like the Cro-Mags and Warzone, or the youthful optimism of the Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today. What they did bring to the table was a no filter, working class approach that resonated (and still resonates) with fans of hardcore music from all walks of life. Outburst speaks to you whether you’re a father in Southern California trying to provide for his family (like this author), or a high school kid coming to the epiphany that life is hard. Maybe it’s the lyrics, or maybe it’s the photo of five innocent teens on the cover of “Miles to Go” that reverberates with people. For me, it was the lyrics to “The Hardway.” They are real, down to earth, and honest. They tell it like it is and don’t apologize for it. After communicating with Joe, I realized that I could have used those same adjectives I used to describe “The Hardway” to describe him. All in all, he’s just a really good dude and Outburst was just a really good band. So sit back, relax, and enjoy reading some incredible stories about one of NYHC’s most influential bands.
RA: What is your earliest memory of hardcore/punk music?
JS: Punk would have to be hearing The Ramones and Sex Pistols records in grade school. Some classmates had older siblings who were into them so I’d see the t-shirts and the band logos drawn on their notebooks. The hardcore exposure came largely from AJ Novello (founding member, Leeway; present-day Cro Mags) who lived on 14th street with me and George. He lent us all the good records he’d pick up like Zero Boys, Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, etc.
I read that some of the members of Outburst attended the same high school, and that the band started around that time. As a high school kid, what made you want to start/join Outburst?
So, the original lineup all attended St. John’s Prep in Astoria. It was a great school as far as future NYHC alumni – AJ (Leeway), John Pappas (Gilligan’s Revenge), Anthony Communale (Token Entry/Killing Time) were also classmates. Around Queens and especially Astoria, there were so many bands coming up like Kraut, Murphy’s Law, Reagan Youth, New York Hoods, Token Entry and on our block in particular, The Unruled were taking shape. They changed their name to Leeway and it really started to take off for them. Being around all that hardcore definitely influenced us to want to try and start a band. Mike had a similar hardcore high school experience in Brooklyn too.
Outburst has a very unique style. It’s definitely New York Hardcore, but Outburst doesn’t sound like any other bands that came out during the late 1980’s. Were you trying to craft a totally unique sound or did it happen organically?
George & Jay would write the instrumental originals and we’d go from there trying to make the lyrics fit. We had some pretty unique hardcore influences, musically. We loved bands like Crumbsuckers, Corrosion of Conformity, Ludichrist, Attitude Adjustment, Bad Brains but we also loved old Black Sabbath, Kiss, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden as well as the up & coming thrash at the time like Metallica, Anthrax & Nuclear Assault. Even though we loved all those bands and styles, we weren’t out to sound like any of them, so I guess you could say it definitely happened organically. Vocally, I think Brian was one of the first guys to completely alter his singing voice to straight up shout. Dudes like Brian and Paul from Sheer Terror sang nothing at all like their regular speaking voices!
During the late 1980’s there were so many rad hardcore bands coming out of NYHC. With certain bands, like the Cro-Mags, you could feel the energy and grit of a Lower East Side street corner in their music. How do you think New York City, and specifically where you’re from in Queens, impacted your music?
It was just one of those fortunate things where this great scene was already established where we lived and the particular wave we rode in on took on this unique feel. There was a definite kinship among the bands we were playing with. Gorilla Biscuits didn’t sound much like Raw Deal, Leeway didn’t sound much like Sick Of It All, so on and so on, yet everyone all came down to see each other, play shows with each other, hang out together. You could feel the spirit of support as well as this cool friendly competition developing between many of the bands and that was largely due to the tight knit feel of the scene. As far as impact, I think that inspired everyone to step up their games.
Your first recording came out in 1987. It was a demo cassette that Tony Rettman listed as one of the fifty best NYHC demos in his book on NYHC from 1980 – 1990. The demo has certainly stood the test of time, but what was the reaction to it when it first came out in ’87?
Very grateful to Tony Rettman for not only taking on the task of putting his great book together but for the demo tape & 7″ love. As far as the demo, fortunately, it was a decent reaction when it first came out. Not much in the way of fancy artwork or band logo at the time – just the tape and the lyrics. There were so many bands putting their demos out at the time and we just wanted to get our contestant in the field! The first review I recall seeing was in Bullsh1t Monthly fanzine and in his classic handwritten style Mike BS gave it a positive review. Another of the early reviews was from Freddy Alva’s New Breed zine and he also gave the demo a good endorsement (as well as invited us to be on his great New Breed Tape Compilation). As long as Duane at Some Records kept moving them, we kept bringing them.
After that Outburst began playing often in the New York/Tri-State area, but did Outburst ever tour? If no, why not? If yes, what was your favorite place to play outside of the Tri-State area?
We were a pretty working class group. We were juggling school, work and the band so even though we took plenty of out of town weekend gigs, touring wasn’t too conducive to life outside the band. Favorite out of town place is a hard question because they were all so unique. One of my out of town favorites was the Safari Club in Washington DC. Each time we went down to DC it was a memorable adventure whether it was encountering rats the size of puppies, playing a kid’s house show in the Northern Virginia suburbs, trying to impress a female fan with a Queen Latifah poster or finding out that a kid was hesitant to meet me based on my jokingly bizarre interview in Flipside. So many good times down in DC…and all true stories, by the way. Their scene was equally vibrant with an awesome DIY element thanks to people like Dave Brown, Rich Dolinger, Shawna Kenney and so many others that were totally supportive whenever we or any other NYHC bands came to town. Keep your eyes out for the book “Live At The Safari Club”, currently being put together by Shawna & Rich, which will serve as sort of a DC companion to Tony Rettman’s NYHC book. It’s going to be great.
Your follow up to the ’87 demo came in 1989. It was your 7 inch Miles to Go on Blackout Records. How had the band grown from the release of the demo to that point?
Mike coming in on bass in ’88 had a lot to do with the evolution of the sound and the shift in songwriting. He brought tasty bass fills to parts of the songs where previously there weren’t any like “The Hardway” and “No Choice”. He wrote lines that we could build around like “When Things Go Wrong” and “Miles To Go”. Also, through playing together for a while we became better players. George & Jay were really clicking on the dual guitar sound. We were able to do things like the tempo break in “Misunderstood” and “WTGW”. I picked up the lyric writing early on so I just tried to keep it going stuff we all could relate (and sing along) to. Brian gradually developed his snarl on vocals and by the time we recorded the 7 inch, he delivery was straight up angry fire.
Outburst also released songs on the New Breed Tape Compilation and NYHC Where the Wild Things Are. One of them is my all time favorite song “The Hardway.” How come that track never made it onto an Outburst release?
Eternal appreciation to Freddy Alva & Bill Wilson for putting us on New Breed & Where The Wild Things Are. For New Breed, we did a Don Fury version of The Hardway with AJ from Leeway doing the mixing, getting a crisper sound than we got on the demo (also recorded at Don Fury). Since it eventually became a crowd sing-a-long favorite at shows, we wanted to put it on Where The Wild Things Are also. Since it already appeared on two great compilations a year apart, I don’t even think we considered it for Miles To Go because we had newer material by then.
What was your favorite Outburst show and why?
That’s a difficult one because there were SO many good shows. I”ll just throw out a few memorable ones. City Gardens in NJ with Intensity and Judge was great because the place was packed for Judge’s video shoot. One of the bigger crowds we’d played to up to that point. The Fall Brawl in DC was great because the WUST Radio Hall was also packed for an all-day show. There were some line up changes from the original flyer that’s out there but Icemen played and I got a chance to hang out backstage with Mackie for a bit. Here’s a guy I was idolizing just a few years prior for his Cro-Mags work and we’re hanging out. Very cool. Our show at CBGB with Gorilla Biscuits because we loved those guys and they put us on for their Start Today record release show and that was probably the most human beings I had ever seen fit into CB’s. Ridiculous fun.
Could you describe your favorite memory as a member of Outburst?
I’m not sure about favorite but here’s one that I’ll never forget: We went on a road trip to Albany, NY with Raw Deal (Killing Time) and after the show each band had their own arrangements for the overnight stay. Anthony drove the van so we were just going to wait until they picked us up from our motel in the morning to head back. Our original bassist Chris wound up sneaking away on us to go hang out (and brown nose) with Raw Deal and we ended up getting kicked out of our motel for attempting to squeeze too many people into one room. So we spent the whole night and the next morning fuming at Chris for taking off on us. We saw this as inexcusable and we were ready to part ways with him after that. So when Anthony drove up to the motel we spent the whole night in front of, out pops Chris all cheery and George just laid into him. After an ill shouting match in front of the guys in Raw Deal, Chris was out of the band. To make matters worse, Anthony was ridiculing Chris all the way back to NYC. “Can’t believe you got kicked out of your own band.” Super awkward drive back home that day but in the end, it opened the door for Mike Welles to answer our bassist wanted ad, so it all worked out.
Your most recent reunion gig was at Black ‘N’ Blue Bowl in 2012. I know that the reunion probably didn’t go exactly as planned, but would you be willing to try it again?
I’ll answer it like this: We never say never but we never know when either.