This interview with Tommy Carroll (NYC Mayhem, Straight Ahead, Irate) was conducted October 18th, 2013 in Central Park for my second book, NYHC – New York Hardcore 1980 – 1990.
When did your interest in playing music start?
Tommy Carroll: I started working when I was 14 at the boathouse on Nineteenth Street and First Avenue and saved up my money and bought a drum set. I played with a few friends in the neighborhood and my friend introduced me to Gordon Ancis (guitarist of NYC Mayhem) and Tony Marck (first bass player for NYC Mayhem) They were taking lessons and were pretty decent musicians. Metal was our thing. Sabbath, Priest, Maiden and then, of course, Metallica.
How did you get into Hardcore?
We were aware of Circle Jerks, GBH and Discharge; the bands the Metal bands liked. I went to CBGB’s and saw Adrenalin O.D. I liked the scene. There were so many restraints in Heavy Metal and these guys were jumping off the stage and dancing around. I wanted to be a part of it. I was a young kid and I was still searching for things. I wanted something more real; purer.
After that show, we got more into Hardcore and replaced Tony with Craig Satari. I knew Craig through Danny Lilker (Nuclear Assault). Looking back now, it all went by so quick. There was a two-year window and then I was out of music. But I really fell in love with the scene. I ended up meeting a woman through the scene and having a child with her. It became more of a lifestyle after a while. I always thought I was an outcast, so I fit right in with all the other broken toys.
NYC Mayhem Practice. Photo: Facebook
What do you remember from the early days of NYC Mayhem?
Back in the day with Mayhem, I used to make our demos by taking my sisters’ cassettes, erasing them and putting our shit on there to send out to all the Metal ‘zines. I was really into the tape trading shit. That was fuckin’ awesome. You had the Metallica demo with Dave Mustane on it and then Death from Florida. It was a great, great scene. You’d be on the phone with these guys and the long-distance bill was building up. I guess the internet is a good thing since it saves these new bands a lot of money on phone bills!
What bands do you feel best exemplifies NYHC?
Up until this day, Agnostic Front is NYHC as far as I’m concerned. When I see them playing in front of tens of thousands of people, I couldn’t be more happy for them. I used to look at my parents listening to all their 50’s shit and laugh at them. Now, I look at myself and all I listen to is the Bad Brains, Agnostic Front and the Cro-Mags. I came to realize that’s my era. That’s the stuff no one can take away from me. That music is connected to the best memories of my life and I hang on to them.
I had the privilege of being Roger’s roommate for a couple months way back. When you come into something new, there are guys who are reluctant to befriend you. Roger and Jimmy are still here, so that’s the kind of guys they are. They welcome people in to keep the scene going. New blood, new bands.
What were some of the more important shows for you at CBGB’s?
The first time I saw Agnostic Front at CBGB’s was a big thing. The vibe was great. But even the small bands that played there made an impact on me like Malignant Tumor and The Neos. There was just so many good shows.
Wasn’t there supposed to be an NYC Mayhem seven-inch at some point?
NYC Mayhem recorded fourteen songs for a seven-inch that Dave from Mental Abuse was going to put out on his label, Urinal. He didn’t like the way it came out. I remember him telling me he thought it was going to be more Metal.
You played drums and sang in NYC Mayhem. Barring The Mentors, that’s a pretty unique thing for a punk band.
Yeah, someone who did both those things in Hardcore was hard to find. I had a lot of energy and I could play drums. I have a regret that I didn’t stick with singing and playing the drums because I was actually a pretty decent drummer. Some of that stuff you hear on the NYC Mayhem tapes, I was only playing drums for six to eight months.
My ego took over and I wanted to be a singer. In all honesty, I didn’t think I was a good enough singer to sing on a record and carry a band into anything further than playing Hardcore at CBGB’s. Back then, I wouldn’t admit it. I think my talent fell into playing drums. It was my ego that got me to sing but also stopped me from playing music.
Photo: Chris Wynne
NYC Mayhem jumped from being this super-fast thrash band to being a full-on Straight Edge band with Straight Ahead.
I wanted to be accepted. We started shaving our heads and I admit to losing some of my identity. I was trying to emulate H.R. and John Joseph. I got more into satisfying the crowd and playing something that was the norm. When we did Mayhem, we didn’t give a fuck. We did whatever we wanted to do. Straight Ahead consciously followed the blueprint to be an NYHC band.
Why did the Straight Edge thing appeal to you at that time?
It was easy for me. I grew up with a lot of alcohol and drugs. I did them at a young age and got burnt out on drugs by the time I was fourteen years old. It was an easy choice for me. It was a better way of life.
What do you remember about being in Youth of Today?
Ray had been into Hardcore for way longer than anyone and he wanted to get a crowd; he was trying to find the pulse of what people wanted.
What do you remember about touring with them?
People embraced us. Our van broke down and we were starving and all that, but I guess that’s a typical story for every Hardcore band from that time. People in that scene let us come into our house and fed us. It was cool. Back then, I was very liberal, but then you get more conservative as you get older. You’re a bit more naïve when you’re younger because everything’s new and fresh and the friendship and unity held it together. Let’s face it, people are a lot stronger the more unified they are. That scene was a strength; it was the power of a movement. Everybody tried to grasp that and wanted to be a part of something. I’m a New York guy. I’m cynical. I’m a pessimist. As much as I try to be positive and optimistic, that’s the way I’ll always be. Maybe it was because of the way I was brought up and the things I’ve seen and experienced. But it was nice to take a break from that; even for a small period of time. It was a very enjoyable part of my life.
What can you tell me about the tracks Straight Ahead recorded for the End The War Zone compilations?
Those End the War Zone tracks were really makeshift. I played drums and sang on them and we threw it together really quick. I don’t even think it was mixed. Matter of fact, I don’t even think it was on a reel. I think I sent him a cassette tape.
And how about the recording of the Breakaway twelve-inch?
Chuck Valle (Ludichrist, Murphy’s Law) – rest his soul – started getting into the other side of music and started working at Chung King Studios. I was a good friend of his and he was a fan of Straight Ahead. He wanted to start using the studio to record. We had to come in there at three o’clock in the morning to record. We had no intentions of doing anything with it but seeing how it would come out. It was a twenty-four track board and we had Chuck producing. Duane Rossignol (owner of Some Records record store) approached me about putting in on vinyl. Straight Ahead didn’t last too much longer after that. We were already broken up by the time it was pressed.
What are your memories of Duane Rossignol?
Duane was a good man. I know at one point, he called me down to the store and gave me some money from the profits of the record, which I didn’t really expect. The money wasn’t something I was really interested in. Even today, I’m not someone who cares about money. I probably should! But I don’t! At that point, I wanted to be famous, but on my terms. I didn’t want to be a sellout. I guess I was just too much of a Hardcore communist. But Duane was very knowledgeable about music. He was a big blues guy. At some point, people found out Duane and his politics, made it public and that brought about the store closing. Duane seemed real out there sometimes, but his love for Hardcore was incredible. He was a good man and treated me right. I think everything he did was for the love of the music and nothing else.
Around the same time, Some Records was in business and pushing DIY ideals, Chris Williamson was putting on his mega-shows at The Ritz. What did you think of those shows?
I was never a fan of Chris Williamson. I thought he was a money-hungry cheeseball, but I did enjoy the shows he put on. I thought the Cro-Mags hooking up with Chris Williamson and recording The Age Of Quarrel did them a disservice. I thought the album was produced horribly. They could have been bigger. They got short-changed I think. I mean, Agnostic Front made Victim in Pain for nothing and that record is still a monster. That record was proof that it wasn’t the quality of the sound, it’s what you capture in the recording and they captured something really special with that record.
There’s an infamous story of you harassing or attacking Kirk Hammett of Metallica at a CBGB’s matinee when he jumped up to play with the Crumbsuckers.
I don’t know, when Kirk came in with his big bouncers, it bothered me. I was there to see a Hardcore show, so I grabbed the mic and said ‘Get this fuckin’ rock star out of here!’ Maybe I was wrong about it, but I was a fifteen-year-old kid at the time. I honestly didn’t think he heard it! But then I saw him make a face at me. He took his guitar and jammed me in the chest with it and then made a motion like he was going to spit on me. I don’t know if he actually spits, but then I spit on him. And then he definitely spits back! Then his two big bouncers grabbed me and Billy Milano said something on the mic. Then one of the guys from the Crumbsuckers said something like ‘It looks like you bit off more than you could chew’. I’m a fifteen-year-old kid, I’m not going to take on two six-foot bouncers. I don’t care how tough I thought I was. Everybody was pissed off at me, but fuck this guy! If he ain’t a rock star, then why is he affected by what I said in the first place? I don’t want to rehash things. Like everything else in Hardcore, it’s made out to be more than it was. There’s no question Metallica is a great band.
Why did Straight Ahead break up?
Rob Echeverria is an excellent guitar player and started getting bored with it. I don’t blame him. We were purposely playing three-chord songs because it had to be a certain way. Don’t get me wrong, Straight Ahead was a good band, but we short-changed ourselves musically. We dumbed it down so to speak. I can’t speak for all the other guys, but that’s how it felt to me. I did something to be accepted. I definitely followed the format to be accepted into the Hardcore scene and by the time I was 17, I was done. I’m just being honest. After we broke up, we got back together for a little bit. When Craig was still playing with Youth of Today, Rob and I said to him, ‘Quit and come back to Straight Ahead’, so he did. But we really didn’t have enough steam to keep going. I’m just so glad to have had a part in it. It’s like CBGB’s, everybody puts their stickers up on the wall, and that’s what we did. We put our sticker up on the wall just like everybody else.
After Straight Ahead, you sang briefly in the band Irate. What do you remember about that?
Sergio Vega (Collapse, Quicksand, Deftones) was a real good kid who had something going on. He brought me along to sing in the band, but I was really done by then and went through the motions. I was washed up at twenty!
In the present day, NYHC is something celebrated worldwide. From your perspective, why is that?
Back then, I thought NYHC was the only thing on earth. Over the years, people have looked in, idolized people and I guess I can see why. It made history; it made a wave. To me, it was just about being young, being from New York and our personalities and being what we were as people. I thought L.A. was soft and I think they still are. I was never a big fan of the West Coast and I never will be. New York IS Hardcore, period! Why is NYHC great? Because New York’s great!