Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

Live photos and interview By James Damion

When I think back to the reasons I co-created United By Rocket Science with my buddy Dave G., the band Deep Sleep immediately comes to mind. Their ominous yet anonymous EP covers and the engaging, inspirational music whet my appetite for writing about music again, while the opportunity to see and talk to the band at a rather intimate New Brunswick basement show left me talking about it and referencing it as one of the best shows I had attended in many years. A Baltimore native and life-long resident, Tony Pence, the front man for Deep Sleep, War X Games and most recently, Glue Traps, is also the proprietor of Celebrated Summer Records (a store I’ve planned several day trips around.) After years of delays and procrastination on my part, I finally had a chance to interview someone whose music has been a key inspiration to me as both a fan of hardcore punk and someone who has made a habit of writing about it. I finally reached out to Tony in hopes of engaging him about growing up metal, music, record collecting, and our mutual love of Japan.

Q: Growing up, I had some cousins from the Baltimore, Maryland area. The way they spoke of it gave the area a sort of mythical nuance. Which is why I was so shocked when I finally traveled there and spotted a shirt that said, "Baltimore, we're much more than murder." Didn't you grow up in the area? What was you experience growing up in Baltimore? How has it changed over the years?

Tony: Yeah, I’ve lived my entire life in Baltimore and I’ve always loved it here. I was born in and spent the first few years in the city, moved out to the county for a bit and then the last 20 years back in the city. Most of my formative time growing up (1984-1988) was spent riding a mongoose with a mullet and a shitty mustache listening to Judas Priest and Slayer on cassette. I was like a living personification of “Heavy Metal Parking Lot” and that was pretty much my day to day life, ridiculous as that sounds (laughs). Baltimore has obviously changed drastically over my lifetime but I would say the most important things about it that keep me here are still the same. Cool fucking city with really open and nice folks all over. Despite what people might think from just watching The Wire or something.

Side Note: (While I have heard of the TV show The Wire, I have never actually seen it.)

Q: How old were you when music started to become important to you? Were there any bands or albums that particularly resonated with you?

Tony: There was an older girl in my neighborhood who came up to me one day, handed me a copy of AC/DC's Back in Black, and told me to listen to it. I was probably ten or eleven years old. I guess she thought I looked like I needed it? Before this my favorite record was “Pac-Man Fever.” So to say it was a turning point is a understatement for sure. I had access to my aunt’s record collection as well around this time and she had Bowie, T-Rex and King Crimson. My dad was a Motown guy and turned me on to the Supremes and Marvin Gaye, which I liked, but those were all things that would be more important to me later on. At this point AC/DC’s Back in Black instantly took me to Twisted Sister, Motley Crue and Judas Priest, and pretty much turned me into a metalhead overnight.

Q: What was your introduction to punk and hardcore? Do you remember your first record? Your first show?

Tony: From 1984-1986 I was pretty much just a Hard-Rock and Hair-Metal kind of kid. I saw Bon-Jovi, Whitesnake and Night Ranger. That bled into seeing Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and those were my last arena style shows in late 1986. In 1987 I saw Grim Reaper and Helloween at a small Club in Glen Burnie, MD called Nettwork. I didn’t know you could see bands up close like that and I was blown away. No more nosebleed seats for me looking at Dokken through a pair of binoculars, haha. That club started booking mostly Thrash shows so that was another watershed change for me. Slayer, Testament, Voi-Vod, Kreator and Exodus all played there over the next year and I went to every show I could. The transition into Hardcore happened after seeing D.R.I at Nettwork and Crumbsuckers at a club called Rockers. That led me to buying Agnostic Front and Cryptic Slaughter tapes and it pretty much snowballed from there. Just after this is when I started listening to Public Enemy and NWA as well as more proper punk like Ramones, the Descendents, etc.

Q: I know you primarily from Deep Sleep, Warxgames and Glue Traps. I'm guessing, but I'd imagine you were in bands prior to Deep Sleep. Would you care to give us details?

Tony: I've never been able to play an instrument and was always really scared at the thought of being in a band but when I was 24 wayyyy past the time I thought I would ever be in one some friends asked me to sing for them and that turned into Daybreak. Essentially a Fast-Core/Power Violence type thing that was really influenced by Spazz and Cryptic Slaughter. The first time I was in the studio it turned into a 20-song picture disc single released by Reptilian Records (where I worked at the time.) We played a lot of shows with Pig Destroyer and Pg.99, released a split single with Ultimate Warriors and a Split LP with God Stomper and then broke up pretty quickly, It was a fun band while it lasted and allowed me to achieve the goal of having a song released on Slap-A-Ham, which is one of my all-time favorite labels. After that I did a more straight forward HC band Called Never Enough, we released a single, a split single in Europe and a CD collection on Organized Crime Records before calling it quits. At the end of that band we had so many Punk cover songs in the set me and Nick Vance just decided to do a more punk sounding band and that became Deep Sleep.

Q: For quite some time, Deep Sleep were a personal favorite of mine. The combination of great music and those sort of anonymous EP covers really put the hooks in me. The band definitely escaped a lot of the cliques that seem to follow hardcore music. Can you tell me a little about the band and if there was any plan to do things differently when you set out?

Tony: Thanks for saying that! Well the most important thing to know about Deep Sleep is that we never broke up, we are just on sporadic hiatus since Nick moved to LA. Darick is currently playing drums in Night Birds (who I also occasionally roadie for) and Mike is in several bands in York PA. We still play now and again, the last time was Awesome Fest in San Diego a few years ago. Basically, if someone asks us to do something and we can make it work we will do it as an excuse to hang out with each other (laughs). I think people don’t realize we will still play and that coupled with the geographic distance between members means shows are pretty few and far between but yeah, still a band! As for what we wanted out of it, me and Nick wanted to do something that combined our love of ALL, Chemical People and Voi-Vod along with early USHC influences. As the band continued and we got Darick and Mike we got faster and faster and the ALL influence really started to come to the forefront.

Q: Before long, you were fronting WarXGames and released a rather stellar EP. How long did the band last and how far (geographically) did you go?

Tony: WARXGAMES is also not broken up! We released the first record on REACT! about 5 years ago and while we never stopped playing there was a period where members had a bunch of personal and family issues so things slowed down quite a bit. EV Dropped out to concentrate on the final year of Mindset and we picked up Chadd from Triac and Jeremy from Coke Bust and Wall Breaker. There is a brand new 9 song ep coming out in 2019 that we are finishing up as we speak, details will be out in the next few months. Sadly, WARXGAMES has not made it too far geographically but we plan to correct that this year!

Q: You opened Celebrated Summer Records at a time when record stores seemed to be fading from the landscape. What led you to make such a questionable financial risk? Was there a backup plan? Had you worked for record stores, labels or distribution in the past?

Tony: I was shopping and hanging around Reptilian Records almost every day. Reptilian was THE place for Punk and Hardcore records in Baltimore. The owner Chris X was super cool and intimidating as was the entire store and I was just some nerd but for whatever reason he took a shine to me and after a few years of my coming in what felt like every day he finally offered me a job (laughs). I worked there for ten years from 1995-2005 and I learned a lot of what to do and what not to do in the world of record stores and beyond. Enough crazy stories and adventures went down to fill a book. When Reptilian started winding down in its original location I told Chris that I would not be moving with them and instead would be opening my own store out in the county. Can't really say why I was so compelled, mostly just to avoid a straight 9-5? Absolutely obsessed with music? Some combination of those two things for sure. But yeah With Chris's blessing that's what I did. To mitigate the financial risk I found a tiny spot located In the back of another store (Legends Comics) to split the rent and I kept my night job working security at The Ottobar. Didn't really have a back-up plan to speak of, just started small and tried my best.

Q: You specialize in punk, hardcore and other forms of underground music. Does that, in any way, limit your customer base?

Tony: I knew from the jump I wanted to concentrate on Punk and Hardcore like Reptilian had but not to limit myself to just that. I'm a huge Jazz and soul fan so right off the bat I was carrying everything from Coltrane and Otis to Disclose and Judge. I love 60's Girl Groups and Minimal Synth and British Invasion stuff like the Kinks so all kinds of stuff was in the mix pretty early and just kept growing as the store progressed. The one thing that I was really slow with was regular-ass 70's Rock of the Led Zeppelin variety. I straight up HATE Led Zeppelin. Every time I hear it I can just feel the Punk energy in me fading away. It's like Kryptonite and I have to go touch a leather jacket or a Germs record to build my strength up again. (laughs)

Q: What are some the distributors you work with? Are there any particular labels that produce on a higher level or are easier to deal with as a retailer?

Tony: The life of a lower-middle tier record store is pretty complicated in 2019, I'll keep it short and say I respect distributors that are willing to deal with smaller shops and don't ask for a blood sample and demand a 10k order limit every month. Revelation, Ebullition, Revolver are on the top of my list. As for labels, I am fond of the ones that also deal direct and keep prices on the lower end. I am not here for fucking ten dollar and up domestic singles 24.99 and up for a domestic non-gatefold single LP, whatever excuses these labels come with up for these bullshit prices they can take to the trash. My store is the end of the production line, the final destination for your product and when your band signs to some bullshit label where your LP is like 30 fucking dollars I am the one that has to explain to a kid that picks it up why that is and watch him put it back down in disbelief.
That said I really think many small DIY Punk and HC labels keep it tight and out of the larger ones Sub Pop, Matador, Relapse and Merge prove you can be bigger but keep shit reasonable and deal direct.

Q: When I originally visited the store. You were tucked away in the back of Atomic Books. Since then, you've expanded and taken over the entire space. Can you share how the opportunity came about and how it's worked out for you?

Tony: I started off small and grew really slowly because I am honestly not a huge risk taker. (laughs) I might have stayed in the back of Legends forever had that store not decided to move further away, that choice brought me inside of Atomic Books and I may also have remained there had the space next door not become available and Atomic encouraged me to take it. I would say although I miss being able to do shows in the store like I did in the original location this current iteration of Celebrated Summer is the best in the overall sense. I'm really lucky to have lots of cool people support the shop Even if it means having to sell the occasional Led Zeppelin record now and again. (laughs)

Q: Aside from our mutual distaste for Led Zeppelin, you and I share a mutual love for Japan. Though my reasons stem from my wife and her family. I'm more interested in how and why you've come to love it and what has led you to return there so many times? What are your favorite spots to visit?

Tony: A beautiful and friendly country with a endless supply of amazing bands and maybe the greatest record shopping destination in the world. It's hard not to love! My friend Oliver Jones who is behind CUTRATE took me there for the first time in 2004 and I was just blown away. Since then I have made it a point to return every few years to explore more of the country, see more bands and buy more records, haha. From a shopping point of view I love to visit Astro-Zombies toy store, Punk and Destroy, Revenge Records and Record BOY and Fudobrain every time I go. For pure tourism, I always return to Kyoto, Nara and Inokashira Park in Tokyo. I also feel that it is really important to understand the good and the bad of any country as a whole and also to really contemplate what my country did to Japan in dropping the bombs, not just treating it like some fantastical Anime wonderland or just going there to see Gauze and buy records and leave. So I have made the trip to Hiroshima twice now to see Genbaku Dome (aka The Hiroshima Peace Memorial) and visit the Museum there. It was a really hard and sobering experience but I think really necessary as well.

Q: On a lighter note, you mentioned some of the great record stores (there really are so many) and one of the coolest toy stores on the planet in Astro-Zombies. As an adult who is an extreme collector of records, toys and other memorabilia from my childhood, I was always interested in what makes other adults click. What they collect and what they consider their prized possessions or holy grail as to what they look to acquire. What do you collect and derive the most pleasure from seeking out?

Tony: It sounds like we are pretty much in the same boat. (laughs.) I collect toys, comics, records, t-shirts and so much more. It really is a sickness! But yeah, Even though I make my living owning a record store I really do enjoy getting out and digging at other people’s shops more than anything!

Tony and Deep Sleep - Photo by James Damion

Q: While every record store owner, buyer and manager has seen their share of folks coming through their doors looking to sell their worn-out Foreigner, Boston and Rod Stewart records, many that I have met, are quick to share the story when someone comes in with their collection of original first pressings of rare punk, metal and hardcore records. Do you have one such story?

Tony: In a convergence of both luck and some careful planning this situation happens a decent amount of times to me. (laughing.) Basically there is the luck factor of people just walking in off the street with Dischord 1-5 and telling me their old roommate left it for them in lieu of owed rent and now they want to sell them. That is a favorite of mine. Then there is the careful planning factor and that is opening a record store only after years of experience working for someone else's, paying people a respectful amount of money for what they bring you, and just overall being a laid back polite person. Many more cool collections have come my way due to that over just luck, but in the end I'll take it either way!

Q: I would imagine that collecting records and owning a store where you sell records for a living can sometimes be a source of frustration. When it comes to older records, how do you differentiate what ends up in your collection and what you put out to sell?

Tony: I try to be really careful to not just take the best stuff. One way I fight this is by going to other people's stores to buy most of the records that I keep for myself. Another way is, I tend to keep more beaten up and worn down records in my personal collection. That said I do snatch a thing here and there for myself but I try to keep it pretty light and not get too crazy!




Glue Traps 2018 Demo

Celebrated Summer Records


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