Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

I am pretty sure I met Joe Gorelick when Garden Varity played ABC No Rio in the early '90's. I thought they sounded a little too much like Jawbreaker on first listen, but I became a big fan and they were regulars in the pages of Jersey Beat throughout their career. Since then, Joe has had a remarkable career drumming in one distinctive project after another, including the Hasbros, Bluetip, Sugarhigh, The St. James Stars, Retisonic and Marah.'s James Damion cornered Joe for this insightful and exhaustive interview. - Jim Testa

Interview by James Damion

Q: The Hasbros "Cart Behind the Horse" is one of the more addictive records I've recently come across. However, it's one that has me asking more questions than anything I've listened to in years. Can you give me a little background on the band, the personnel and how you managed to come together again after more than thirty years apart?

Joe: Thanks James. So, right after my teen “metal years” with all my friends in Queens - I was in a ton of young, metal bands with kids I grew up with in and around the Hollis Hills and Flushing, Queens area, I had this total about face to “not do that” any longer and to follow another path musically which, in no uncertain terms, was to culminate into heavier and more aggressive, melodic punk like that of Garden Variety, Retisonic, Bluetip and Red Hare, but before that I was sort of figuring it all out. In my teen years, I used to ride my bike up and down Northern Blvd from our house in Great Neck, Long Island and there were these two totally amazing little record stores at the time; Prime Cuts and Metro Records. One was an import vinyl place (Metro) that literally stunk of imported vinyl (large windows and zero A/C) with nothing but the smell of fresh, aqueous coated cover art and the vinyl within the sleeves slowly melting in the hot sun. I used to buy 12” singes and 7”s as they were cheaper than full length records, and man I felt completely in the know of what was hip and what was lame. The guys who worked there schooled me too as well as my own curiosity. I bought a ton of stuff there: PIL, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joe Jackson, Soft Boys, Klark Kent, U2, Clash, you name it. So, of the two record stores, the other one was a hole in the wall right next to the Little Neck post office called Prime Cuts. Bob Hasbro (Hanophy) worked the counter and he was a totally great guy from Flushing. His dad was a big time judge in Queens County Court (on Queens Blvd in Jamaica) and was always in the paper, or on TV. Bob was a brilliant student with a future that included becoming a Queens D.A., but he also had great taste in music. Being that he was older than I, he was able to deliver me what he thought I should be buying, he hipped me to stuff I really needed to learn. The classic Grant Hart / Bob Mould story where the two meet at a record store and then decide to form a band. In my case, Bob was looking for a drummer for his already formed little trio The Hasbros. I was empty, I had drums, I could sing and could play pretty well after all that time woodshedding those metal drum parts and getting my stuff together. We decided to rehearse a few songs and after the session, Bob and Ken (Bassist) asked me to join them full time on drums and backing vocals. The band carried on for zillions of live shows, demos, failed major and indie label attempts and generally working hard as hell and getting very little in return. We opened for bigger bands like They Might Be Giants, Spin Doctors, we even played in front of Keith Haring, we garnered a few fans, but it was just getting annoying. We knew we had some pretty good songs, a lot of drive, but the timing was totally wrong for the band, and we were born too late for the then current Fugazi / Nirvana buzz. By late 1990, I was already getting very restless and was into way heavier music anyway. That is not to say I didn’t love what the guys were doing and what I was doing with them, it’s just that weird thing where I wanted to play louder music and way more complicated parts. The Hasbros reunited a few years ago for Bob’s 50th birthday party, played a show in Manhattan, and after a terrible situation where Ken almost didn’t come back from a rough health scare, we finally completed a debut full length LP which is the record I sent you. It means a ton to me to have made that record with Bob and Ken - they’ve known me since I was 18 or 19 years old. It’s been a blast to play with guys who simply want to make melodic music with no strings attached.

Q: Weren’t you born in Queens?

No. Actually, I was born in Manhattan, raised in Flushing, Queens before a move to Great Neck. Roman and Rizzo of Garden Variety were born and raised in Valley Stream, right around the corner from each other. I was a transplant who went to live there to make sure the band thing happened and that my dedication to them both was proven by the move, which I think it was. I am still amazed I did that, but glad I did at the time. I was very serious about Garden Variety doing something, anything actually! and that move was a big step in retrospect.

Q: Is that where you met Rizzo and Anthony?

No, I met them way earlier. This gets us back to me looking for a more aggressive style of music while at the tail end of The Hasbros. I saw their little ad in a L.I. music trade and it cited bands like Soul Asylum and Squirrel Bait, and I was taken aback. The thing is, I knew Roman and Rizzo were incredible right away. I heard an acoustic demo from Roman with a song called “Lately” and some stuff from Rizzo and was immediately going nuts in my small dorm room at PRATT. I was studying illustration and communication design at the time and playing a ton at night with The Hasbros and a few other people. When I got that tape, I felt I had to meet these two guys and see if we were a good fit to make a proper band. Once we played, things seemed to gel immediately, though they told me they were expecting a guy who looked like Dave Pirner with an Irish sort of look and filthy blonde hair and here comes a slightly long haired Jewish kid from Long Island (lol). What are you going to do?

Q: Were the drums your first instrument? What drew you towards the sweaty guy with the most gear to load in and out every night?

My mom took me for guitar lessons as a young boy, I believe it was to
Oscar Brand the folk singer as well! I also got lead roles in most plays I did in junior high as I could sing, but at that exact time she made the wonderful mistake of taking me to the Museum of Broadcasting on east 53rd street in Manhattan to learn about TV and media. There you could ask them for any video reel you wanted to watch and they would set you up at a little viewing station. I was very young, we didn’t have BETA, VHS or cable yet, so mom had me watch The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Well, the odd thing is, you hear about all these older musicians in bands like KISS and others who began bands because of watching Ringo or John on that broadcast and here I was getting the same vibes from a grainy rerun at a museum. So, after seeing Ringo drum his ass off twice, I was hooked. I was hooked on the look, the angularity of a drum kit, the energy, any technical parts to his playing, the aggressive yet calm and collected push and pull of drumming in general. I was totally changed by that black and white rental tape and it made me want to be a drummer straight away.

Q: I tend to remember things out of context, but didn't Garden Variety's start get postponed due to an offer for you to tour with King Missile?

Because I had been looking for a new situation during The Hasbros, one weird thing that happened was trying out for many groups like the Sub Pop band Codeine which I immediately decided was way too much for me from a slow drumming perspective and one was for King Missile who had a little space on Spring Street in SOHO and a big east coast tour upcoming for their Atlantic Records debut release. Their regular drummer Roger could not swing part of that tour and so I went down there and tried out. I got the gig from John S. Hall and right before the tour began, I smashed my arm through a plate glass window by accident and so I did that entire tour with stitches running up my left arm. Mind you, I was always going back to Garden Variety, this was a pit stop that started before G.V. became fully functional.

Q: Was that your first experience touring? What was that like for you?

Well, I had already cut my teeth playing so many area shows with the bands I was in since starting as a young metal drummer, then through The Hasbros and a hundred or so shows, that a tour was not as frightening a prospect as you might have imagined. The tour itself would have been fine if blood wasn’t streaming down my arm after almost every song. At TT the Bears in Boston I was playing in a lot of pain which I don’t recommend for anyone.

Q: Was this before they became somewhat infamous for "Detachable Penis" and "Martin Scorsese”?

Before. This was the tour to support their fourth but first major label LP
“The Way to Salvation” in 1991. It was their first for Atlantic Records.

Q: Getting back to Garden Variety. I often look to the band as one that helped graduate me from being so clingy to my Hardcore past. I recall seeing one of your first shows and feeling that some new doors were being opened. Looking back at that time. What were some of the most rewarding parts of being in the band? What were some of the bands you played most with locally and toured with?

Garden Variety was our little band. We started it with zero, nothing, and we seemed to gain fans little by little which by now is a proud badge to wear. I even met people in Prague who were G.V. fans while on a tour with Marah in 2008. Looking back at it, Artie Shepard (Mind Over Matter, etc…) was a huge step in the band’s graduation into overall acceptance in the then scene as well as Vinny Segara (Situated Chaos and his label MintTone Records). What I mean by that is even though we were playing music that was at times hardcore and aggressive in the Squirrel Bait / Jawbreaker, Soul Asylum tradition, and by no means “light”, the scene on Long Island at the time was tight knit, all hardcore, tough crowd and they didn’t see us coming at all.
Many were not very accepting of anything melodic anyway. I was sort of sadly shocked by it all having been a huge SST fan, I could not understand why Long Island of all places had no tolerance for anything outside their small hardcore musical world, but Artie told me at St Vitus one night that he went to bat for us to a lot for those close-minded kids, the “scene makers” or whatever you want to label them as, who looked at us as suspicious and because Artie’s ear was as melodically inclined as ours were, he got us totally. So, he made sure people would give us a fighting chance and bless him for that because they finally did and we won over some of those once skeptical ears. That is one high point for me at least, but the high points have come one or two decades later when I get emails or I see these loving posts about the band and what we meant to them and still do. That makes me proud of our output and the tough times - and there were tough times. It was rewarding playing with those two guys, constantly great material, constantly songs I wish we’d finished and not thrown away. We played with so many bands it’s hard to list them all. From our great pals Dahlia Seed to Unwound to JeJune to
Bad Brains, I’d have a mile long list here if I went on. It was a lot and some shows were bizarre as far as band line up and others were perfect and amazing.

Q: I've had this small, framed close up I took of Anthony playing guitar at a Brownies gig on my desk for years. I often wondered if he would care if I passed it on to him. (Not a question, but I had the picture framed almost twenty years ago.)

I’d love to use it for this boxed set thing I’m getting together!!!

Q: I understand you're taking it upon yourself to reissue some of Garden Varitey's releases. Are any of the other members involved? Have you come across any lost artifacts to add to the mix? I have the self-titled LP, "Knocking the Skill Level", the "Hedge” EP, various splits and the "Anti-Matter" compilation. Is there anything else I might be missing?

That is pretty dead on correct, though we do have stuff that never got 100% finished or that was missing a vocal track but was worth releasing. There will be a few live tracks and some super old, never heard demos.

Garden Variety - "Fall In"

Well, I owe it to Larry Munroe and Brian over at Cargo Records for really inspiring this. I was trying for years to track down Knocking the Skill Level as we never had the final reels and the master seemed to be floating around somewhere. It was just time and I was fishing around asking Brian and others for help. We’re all getting older obviously and I wanted it all remastered or remixed as well as all the other assorted comp tracks and 7” records assembled together. The only reason this it is coming out on the great German label like Arctic Rodeo is that Gern Blandsten was only really interested in dealing with the budgeting for the first record and I wanted the whole thing in one shot without exception. Arctic has budget and capacity as well as a U.S. distributor and so as long as Charles was cool with it I was game to do it. Charles has of course ben a gigantic help to the band and so many phone calls and emails were exchanged before deciding this.

Q: I picked up a BlueTip album when I was in Portland Oregon last weekend. Despite the fact I have had it on CD for years. I liked the idea of listening to it on the turntable. Can you tell me how you came to be in the band?

Well, it all began when Roman came to my side of the street in Valley Stream one summer morning in 1996 and wanted to announce that he was ending the band essentially by taking off. He was just beaten down by our very last U.S. tour with Into Another, the stress of feeling pigeon holed as just another “hardcore” band with no way out was getting to him, as well as to the rest of the band, and he and Rizzo were not seeing fully eye to eye as far as song style or length. Rizzo was way into Drive Like Jehu, Rodan, Rachels, Unwound, etc.. and Roman was getting into the more angular, dance-y side of Wire, The Clash, older no wave, reggae and the then building NYC/Brooklyn scene that would later culminate into Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, LIARS, L.C.D. Soundsystem and his own major label band Radio 4. I was in love with all of that music, I’m a total music nerd, but if my band was feeling pushed and pulled then I too had to let it all go and in this case, I was forced to. As a band, we were just not functioning in a healthy state anyway so it was time to put it down. Somehow, I heard that Jason Farrell of Swiz / Bluetip was looking for a replacement drummer as their then drummer Zac was just not into it anymore and wanted out. Oddly enough, when we were playing with At the Drive Inn over in Denver one night on a Garden Variety tour, Roman and Rizzo took off to go see Bluetip play live and I was asleep on the floor with a fever at the Christie Front Drive house, so that’s just nuts to me how things finally worked out. Anyway, I trained down to D.C. met with Jason, got along great with the full band, rehearsed most of Dischord 101 and boom! It was a done deal. We rehearsed a ton, toured a ton, but it was a little complicated because I was in a relationship back in New York with a woman who had put up with years of me being away and we had no money and maybe I was also not following my dreams the right way and had to bail out of Bluetip right before we began “Join Us”. I was even rehearsing parts of that record with Jason off and on in the van at the end of that tour, but leaving was sadly in the cards for me and of course as you can see, I have kept my word since to stay playing with Jason (at all costs) since leaving Bluetip as I knew that was a huge misstep in my life. Jason Farrell is one of the most incredible musical artists of our time, and I’ve been in a band with Roman and Rizzo whom I also revered quite a bit as being visionary and brilliant in our genre.

Q: I was lucky enough to see Retisonic when you played at Maxwells. Clearly a band I love, but know nothing about. Surely I'm not the only person who like to know more about the band. (Please fill me in.)

This is a good question as it leads me back to explaining how I made a vow to Jason long ago after leaving Bluetip in the dust. When Jason moved to NYC in early 2001, we met up at a Starbucks next to the Empire State Building to talk and hang out, just shoot the shit. He was essentially ending (or had really ended) Bluetip in D.C. and transitioning into a new entity he had begun toying with during the band called Retisonic which was a word mashup of Reticent and Sonic. I had been playing with various people in New York for a few years at that point, like members of Shift and Texas is the Reason, but for some reason I could not get anything to really gel perfectly. Some of it was me, some if it was other people. I was not connecting to anyone in the same ways I had other bands and I was doubting even being into the idea of playing drums again. I was, for a short time, almost 25 pounds heavier than I am today and was just fully messed up and very depressed. But Jason had always kept in contact with me for many tours, many, many years and for some reason I knew we’d play together again. I got off my ass after we decided to do something again and we really took the band very seriously.
We got a space with Rival Schools on the Lower East Side, we rehearsed like mad, wrote like crazy, recorded a well-regarded EP called Lean Beat with J. Robbins in Hoboken and toured almost non-stop for many years. We got excellent management, played on television and I got a great review in Modern Drummer. We played shows with huge bands, etc…This was right before the shift when N.Y.C. was to become almost totally unaffordable and we all lived though that weird and sad transition. The band never ended though. Jason simply decided to move west with his wife who was managing Bonnie Raitt at the time and make a life in Los Angeles. We vowed to make the band work long distance and to some degree that has worked well except for touring — which I don’t really miss anyway, it’s way overrated, though I do miss seeing the world for free and playing drums for many different audiences.

Joe drumming in Red Hare

Q: Which brings me to Red Hare. The new album is amazing and I'm more than happy to add it to the best of 2018 and beyond. There have been situations where I wished I was a fly on the wall when a certain conversation took place. The one you must've had with Shawn and Jason. Can you share how your ending up in the same room led to someone saying "yeah, we should start a band. Get into a studio and see what we come up with.?

Well, it was nothing like that at all. The story is very simple actually. Jason decided one day he wanted to hear Shawn’s voice once again on a Swiz type recording. As you might know, Swiz has gotten back together from time to time as other entities like Sweetbelly Freakdown. In this case, Jason had sent some new material to Target (Alex Daniels of Swiz) and Alex was simply not into the material. I took zero offense to this as Jason was simply sending his old bandmate material to gauge Alex’s interest in another Swiz styled reunion. Well, one man’s garbage is another man’s... I loved the demos, loved them all and because I was woodshedding pretty much every day on a Roland kit, taping rhythm ideas and playing just to play, I was immediately making up drum parts to these rough demos and playing over some of Jason’s base, tapped out ideas. I was stoked, I was pumped, and I think you can hear it in the way I play with Red Hare. Red Hare (to me) is something completely different than Swiz. It’s nothing like Swiz other than 1/3 of the members being from that band. For one, it’s a ton more technical, its, at times, super melodic and at others brash and evil and it’s just fresh sounding. I like Swiz a lot, but this not that at all. I don’t drum anything like Alex and that’s not a slight, he has a loose style that people love, but this band is a whole other beast.

Shawn has also gotten better and better vocally because of his work with the reunited Dag Nasty and also by working with Jason directly on vocals for this second LP. The band just works well, really well, and is a democracy in the truest sense. If Dave 8 hates something, we don’t do it. If Shawn is cheesed out by something, its nixed. If I think something totally sucks, we discuss it and maybe change it. I mean, I work with Jason every single day at the same agency (I hired him as my West Coast second in command of a creative PR agency in N.Y.C.) and so this thing just works pretty well, but we also work at it and sacrifice a lot.

Q: With your very busy schedules, how do you arrange time to record and occasionally play live?

Well, by working with Jason every day, we are able to not only discuss things on the regular, but work on songs and as a for instance, when we were on a shoot together in Dallas, Jason rented a dingy rehearsal room and after work we hopped in a cab and rehearsed and recorded things for four hours in a cockroach filled room. You find ways to get band work done on the road and through mp3 emails and discussions. It all gets done through the internet and with constant communication. We’ve worked hard at our jobs to give confidence to the bosses we work with that first work gets completed, then we play. Playing live a lot or touring is next to impossible because of mostly kids and wives and all that goes into keeping everyone happy and even tempered. Thats life, no big deal, and Shawn’s schedule with Dag Nasty is also very busy which is why I am striving for more Bluetip and Retisonic action next year. We want Shawn to be happy and make a living with Dag Nasty as well as with his new tattoo shop and so you need to pick the right times to do Red Hare shows and tour but its working out fine either way.

Q: In a recent exchange, you mentioned anger and apathy as key components that inspire you to not only play, but create and connect. What are some of the other ingredients that go into Red Hare sounding so raw and honest?

Drumming is a physical instrument and so obviously, you can pound anger into a kit and get relief and like anyone I have been hurt in my adult life as well as in my youth by various nefarious things done to me by not so kind people and so that fuels the rage for sure, but I also really like to drum to aggressive music I guess. I'm not as angry as some people I know, but I have to tell you, this current GOP is enough to make me rip my snare drum in half so there’s that...The reason you feel Red Hare is raw and honest is because it is literally 100% raw and honest. We are not trying to do anything, not trying to get famous, to meet girls, to get signed, but simply to make great music at our advanced ages (lol) and record it as well as timing and budget allows. With that said, it’s kind of neat to make it onto a movie as we did with an Ethan Hawke film a year ago as it paid for a lot of Red Hare activities. So, if something killer happens like that again, the money goes back into making more Red Hare goodness.

Q: Since elementary school. I've always loved the Police. Stewart Copeland is and always has been my favorite drummer and percussionist. Can you please share how you manage going from randomly meeting him to playing his kit?

Well, first off, Stewart Copeland is my hero from day one, I mean since I was a 10 year old living in Flushing it was all Moon/Copeland/Watts and Bozzio. That is for so many reasons I would not know where to begin. Its a connection to his overall gestalt, the crisp flams, his brilliance in tuning up a 5.5x14 snare to the brink of splitting snares to be heard, the splash cymbal, ice bell interplay, the delay used on the kit, the aggressive beat pushing, his amazing TAMA drum kits, his live playing choices on various Police songs and his overall melodic sense on Police, Klark Kent and soundtracks. The guy is nothing short of amazing yet flawed too which I love, and I’ll never be as brilliant and that ss fine. Lynn Goldsmith, with whom I completed some art direction and design on a Police photography book back in 2008, told me one night, “You’re better than him, Joe” to which I laughed and laughed. She had just seen a really good Retisonic show at the Bowery Ballroom and was complimenting me in all seriousness and I could not take the compliment at all. I told her, “Lynn, do you know how many licks I ripped from him in the material you just heard tonight? I should be fined by him, Vinnie Colauta and even Mark from Big Country, guilty as charged!” She laughed. But the way I met him was really through Jeff Seitz who has been his main man for 35+ years and has even drummed with The Police live and on record. Jeff asked Copeland if I could help film some of his orchestral work of late and so Jason and I shot multi-cam stuff in Santa Monica and then I flew to Texas by myself to shoot a show for him there on a few HD cameras, nothing major yet, just informational stuff he could use for B-Roll. Whether he uses the raw footage or not, he has stuff to work with in the future and I’m sure something will be used one day when he puts tons of his work together for some form of a major video release. It was great sitting in a room alone with him hearing him solo and work out his drum ideas. A true thrill. I have some amazing footage. Playing on his kit was like jumping onto my kit because I always had the same choices in drum sizes and placements…even before I knew his stuff I wanted to sit on top of the kit and that comes from watching Ringo and Keith Moon more than anyone.

Q: What else are you up to besides all the music?

One odd thing I should tell you though, and on the same “genius musician level” as Stewart, is that I just completed a brand-new video called “Havana”, a new logo, photography, vinyl and cd designs and more for Ozzy Osbourne’s “Bark at the Moon” guitarist Jake E Lee and his fantastic band Red Dragon Cartel. That record comes out pretty soon around the world. I am psyched about it and look forward to directing and editing more videos in the future.

Q: I try to avoid talking politics in general. However, the Trump presidency has made a lot of otherwise nonpartisans very politically motivated. How would you describe your feelings about the current administration and the direction it is pulling this country in?

Our country was simply always this blatantly racist and hateful, and sadly, one person's ego fused with a general acceptance and usage of hate speech, add to that a lot of fame, sparked these people to follow his lead into the abyss, allowing themselves to be newly proud of their dark thoughts and abhorrent behavior. People in our country who likely are not as well educated or well-rounded as the rest of the country, now feel embolden to do and say what they want in regards to their own bias and it’s all blessed by a leader who is anything but. This is a non-leader, a non-president, an unqualified, low grade, PR guru who knows one thing, how to do and say whatever he wants to get press and gain fans. He's also famously great at not paying his bills, lying at an uncontrollable level and treating other people like dirt and this has been going on for many decades. Is that even a skill? yelling lies over and over, preying on people's hatred, dog whistling to racists to get that fringe vote? Maybe, but not a skill I'd ever want. I'm embarrassed he's in office, I'm embarrassed so many are infected with his lies and hate filled mania and I'm embarrassed that the rest of the republican party, especially the Paul Ryan's of this world, have zero scruples and absolutely no true conscience. You're supposed to think holistically for the good of the country and this is the polar opposite to what the GOP is doing. Don't even get me started on Pence, he might even be worse. They are all complicit, they are traitors and all are guilty of the bullying that kids now endure because of red hat wearing race hate, the recent deaths caused by that hate and the country being cast in a terrible light in the international community by a terrible leader. We are a laughing stock and yet he really only represents the worst of us. I never understood the Trump voter because some of these people are friends of mine who are actually quite bright, very kind and people I respect. I guess this sort of thing is so difficult to understand, it would require a sit down with each voter to see their true rationale. And then there is the collusion question which hangs over the head of the entire GOP and could mean this whole thing was gigantic scam and the most traitorous act in the history of the country. I guess Mueller will have his day soon and all will be exposed as well as brought to justice. Looking forward to that day as we are not in a good place here, not in the least.

Q: Do you think there’s any turning back?

I guess if you want to look at 2018 in a positive light, you'd have to discuss all the mobilized marches that have been assembled and accomplished, the petitions signed and the “Me Too” movement which is an incredible development for so many in our country and probably the best thing to happen for women in decades. Trump, as well as the victimizers who've all been thrown into the spotlight, have brought that movement to light and thats a great thing, a positive step. So, maybe, all this disgusting behavior has finally turned on itself in the form a movement that will keep women safe for decades to come. I do fear backlash with male bosses as the fear of losing one's career to a someone with nefarious thoughts is a definite issue and could keep certain women from being hired in the first place, but lets see what happens. Either way, the anger in our country at where we are currently is a real thing and a blue wave is coming, people have had enough and though that makes me hopeful, the only thing that keeps me worried is that our voter system has sill not yet been fixed and so the "turning back" you mention might never happen and it would be because of an act of war.


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