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Interview: H2O

maxwell barna doesn’t forget his roots…

So I was going to write a kick ass introduction for this band by making some not-so-clever pun about them and water, and how they’re thicker than it or something like that. And then I realized that would have been laughable and really not all that kick ass. So I’ll just get into it.

I got to interview New York posi-punk veterans, H2O. Since 1995, the band has been writing and releasing some of the most motivational, true-to-its-roots and raw music to ever come out of the East Coast hardcore scene. And unlike many bands who get the opportunity to do what they love for a living, H2O have never forgotten who they are, where they come from or the fans that helped them along to their immense success.

Their spirit of brotherhood, camaraderie and family isn’t just a bunch of lyrics on albums or music video appearances, either. It’s an attitude that every member of the band lives by, and it bleeds through into their live performances. Every show in a room full of strangers always ends with a room full of friends and family, united arm-in-arm. It’s a pretty wild experience, and something I’ve always valued about H2O shows.

They still have one of the most loyal fan-bases worldwide, and if you’ve never heard of them before, you should probably close this window and consult your nearest record store.

I’d tell you that if you’re looking for the total H2O experience, you could check them out with the legendary hardcore pioneers Bad Brains April 16th in Boston or April 17th in NYC, but you can’t. Because that shit is sold out, suckers!

Anyway, H2O’s Adam Blake was kind enough to answer a couple of my questions. We talked about what they like to do when they’re not on the road, how they selected the songs on “Don’t Forget Your Roots,” and how they’re feeling about their upcoming shows with Bad Brains.

Photo by Rudy DE DONCKER

Pop-Break: Right off the bat, you guys released Don’t Forget Your Roots this past November. For those who don’t know, it’s basically an out-of-the-ordinary, awesome 15-song tribute album to some of H2O’s favorite and most influential bands. Why was this record necessary for you to put out? Why now?

Adam Blake: We have always talked about the idea of doing a tribute record and it just seemed like the perfect time to do it. We wanted to do something fun and go into the studio, but weren’t necessarily ready to do a record of new material, so we decided to finally go ahead and do it. It was a lot of fun to do and it also gives us a whole bunch of “new” songs to work into the live set on any given night.

PB: [As of this interview] you guys are on tour with Madball, and in April you have two dates (Boston and New York) with Bad Brains. Both of these bands are featured on Don’t Forget Your Roots. As musicians, what does it mean to you guys to still get to share the stage with some of your favorite bands after nearly 20 years?

AB: Oh Man … it’s a total blessing to still be able to get onstage … period! Let alone to get to share that stage with bands that we really love. It’s definitely not something we take for granted.

PB: Out of the thousands of punk, hardcore and even ska songs you could have chosen from, why did you choose these? How did you guys determine what went on the record and what didn’t?

AB: We pretty much stayed close to the bands that most directly impacted the sound of our band. Like most musicians, or most people, we all have pretty diverse taste in what we listen to and what inspires us as individuals, and we could have made a wildly different record than the one we did, if we decided to honor those influences. However, we decided that it would be better for us to pay tribute to the bands who’s style you could hear in H2O. Our hope is that, as well as paying tribute to these amazing bands, we can turn some newer people onto them too.

PB: You’re playing quite a bit in Europe these days. Right now (when the interview was conducted) you’re in the Czech Republic, then Germany and France. Then you come home, play three U.S. shows over the span of a month or so, then ship straight back out overseas in June to Germany, France, Austria and Russia. Since you only have one show in New York lined up, with Bad Brains, no less, how excited for it are you? And how does the scene in Europe compare to the scene in New York?

AB: We’re really excited to get to play with Bad Brains. I think it’s pretty unarguable that they have been a huge influence on every hardcore band and on countless other bands from every genre. I would be pumped just to go see them play as a fan, so to actually get to share the stage with them is a huge honor … especially in NYC!

Europe, on the whole, is an amazing place for hardcore bands to play; the reception and enthusiasm is only rivaled by a few places … and NYC is certainly on that short list! There is something very special to us about playing in NYC, and no matter where we live as individuals, it will always feel like home to this band.

PB: And since you’re going to have a little bit of downtime before you return to Europe, what do you plan on doing while you’re home? What’s life off the road like for H2O?

AB: Well, we stay just busy enough to not be bored and to always be either just coming back from something, or gearing up to leave again. [Lead singer] Toby [Morse] and I manage the band, so that takes a good amount of time, and we all speak on a daily basis. Everyone has different things going on on a day to day basis but we all make sure the band takes priority.

PB: Any non-H2O/side project endeavors going on with anyone?

AB: Toby has some shows coming up with Hazen Street in Europe, which is awesome. As far as other side projects go, never say never…

PB: I don’t know if you’ve heard the news, but the Bouncing Souls just recently signed to Rise Records. While Rise is obviously excited about the deal, kids were complaining all up and down their Facebook wall. Some of the highlight comments included: “These guys are alright, but it’s not really my style. It’s my dad’s,” and a snarky little shit talking about how he’d wipe his ass with “this band’s” record. What the fuck is wrong with kids today, and what would you say is missing from this scene?

AB: Well first of all … we have played with the Souls all over the world and that band is doing just fine without kids like that buying their records! But in general, that’s just the way of things, for every hundred kinds that get into the hot new new bands, only maybe 10 are going to dig a little deeper to find the bands that aren’t on the cover of the magazine or this month’s flavor. That being said, if a band continues to put their heart and soul into what they do, then they will always find an audience. Look at Rancid, or again, the Souls … neither band is all over the radio or TV, but both have hugely loyal followings the world over that don’t care about about what’s “hot,” only about what’s good!

Photo by Todd Pollock

PB: Better yet, what ISN’T wrong with the scene these days? What up-and-coming bands excite you about punk music, and who should we be looking out for in 2012?

AB: I really like Cruel Hand, Energy, Strength Approach from Italy, S.O.S, Fireworks … I tend to find bands to like the old fashioned way by seeing them live, and that often means bands we play with.

PB: Speaking of labels, you guys are currently on Bridge 9. But a lot of bands these days are dropping label, forming their labels and self-releasing their albums (See: Dropkick Murphys and Born & Bred Records). How do you feel about the whole label vs. no label controversy? Do you think it’s more advantageous for bands to still sign with labels, or do you think they’re better off going the DIY route?

AB: I think it honestly depends on what you’re looking to do. I think having your own label is a nice idea, but I don’t discount that running a record label is extremely challenging and not something that should necessarily be entered into unless you know what you’re doing. Just because you have a band doesn’t automatically means you should be running a label. They are vastly different things and they have very different overall goals. For us, we’re really happy with Bridge 9, they treat us well and they understand and support us.

PB: And when can we expect a new album with some fresh H2O material? Do you guys have anything stewing in the pot for 2012?

AB: I like to say we have ideas … but no solid plans yet when it comes to a new record. Hopefully we can start the process soon though.

PB: OK, this is my final question! I ask it to everyone, so you absolutely, positively, MUST answer. If you were stuck on a dessert island, and could only drink one brand of beer for the rest of your life, what would it be? Mind you, you have a lifetime supply. You can drink as much, or as little, as you want, at any time, for any reason. Choose wisely.

PB: I don’t drink….so I’d have to trade it for water, or if that’s against the rules, I guess some O’Douls Non Alcoholic would have to do.


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