Monday, December 3, 2007
(Notes: This is from an unpublished book that I have been working on over the years ( that I don't think will see the light of day)that talks about what was going on in North Carolina in the eighties, punk rock wise. But a big chunk of it is also about this old Richmond Virginia band called Honor Role. They instantly were one of my favorite bands and I still feel the same way. They were incredibly ahead of thier time and really captured something special with thier music AND thier lyrics. It is usually damned near impossible to be able to say this about most bands, either back then or now. They made some of my favotire music on earth and for that I will always be greatful. Before you read this, I must pose the question: Why on earth hasn't anyone done a Honor Role MySpace page?!! It is a total no - brainer. Please don't force me to start one! - Brian)
HONOR ROLE: 1983 through 1989, A HISTORY LESSON.
Even though Honor Role were from nearby Richmond, Virginia-a mere three hours away-they played down here in Raleigh so often that they might as well have been a North Carolina band. The classic Honor Role lineups of Pen Rollins (guitar), Bob Schick (vocals), Chip Jones (bass) & Steve Schick, later replaced by Seth Harris (drums) were a pivotal band back then as they were arguably one of the first bands to expand upon the hardcore origins that most everyone had at one point, & simply became a great band that wrote great songs.
The first rumblings of the might of Honor Role came in the form of 1985’s “Judgment Day/Anonymous Cave” single. Next year came the debut album, “The Pretty Song”, recorded by John Moreland & financed by Reed Mullin. I had always assumed that people everywhere knew what a great band Honor Role was & it was much to my surprise that I realized that aside from some good underground press, no one knew anything about them. They did go on tour and the people that saw them usually liked them but they didn’t make a lot of waves and to this day remain sort of a good little secret. Besides Raleigh, they were also enjoyed in Washington D.C., and that seemed to be it to the extent of people liking them. Honor Role was as big a part of what was going on down here as any local band, & their importance & genius cannot be underestimated. They influenced a lot of people & to this day, I still frequently play their music.
Honor Role was one of the most important bands to me because they sort of got me out of my “hardcore” mentality and showed that you could have great songs, great music and great lyrics and yet display all of the intensity of the best hardcore type of band. I saw them for the first time in 1985 in Richmond on a road trip up there with Ricky Hicks and Scott Williams. Honor Role opened up for Chicago’s Articles Of Faith. There weren’t a whole lot of people there. AOF were great (singer Vic Bondi grabbed Scott Williams and screamed into his face at point blank range his lyrics while Scott stood there frozen to the spot-I’ll always remember that!) but Honor Role impressed me. Playing very little off of their first seven inch that I knew, they played pretty much the bulk of what would make up their first album. And when I moved to Raleigh less then a year later and saw them again I couldn’t help but notice that I somehow remembered all of those songs but without having heard them since that first Richmond show. That definitely was impressive.
BOB SCHICK (Honor Role): We would all talk about & listen to records we liked, regardless of style. We were all big fans of hardcore. But as it became more formulaic, it got less interesting. Same with the punk stuff before hardcore. Some of it stands the test of time, some of it doesn't. Some of the records are like perfect snapshots of what life was like at that particular time. Others sum up a feeling perfectly. Others mean something to people for any number of reasons, personal experience, nostalgia, the same things that I attach to different records or bands. None of the band listened to hardcore exclusively, so as far as the band's development, it was always coming from different directions.
The band started out as sort of a standard hardcore type band as a trio with Pen doing the singing duties. Their 1983 debut seven inch, “It Bled Like A Stuck Pig” was an entertaining listen, standard hc with quirky Meat Puppets type guitar playing here and there. The band soon added Bob to the band as the vocalist, and by early 1985 (after going through numerous bass players) settled into its stride, what with the “Judgment Day” seven inch being released. From there all of the songs that the band played at the time resonated with a maturity and confidence never before heard. Almost all of those songs ended up on the “Pretty Song” album.
Steve Schick and Chip Jones made a formidable rhythm section. Pen Rollins, to this day, is one of the best guitar players that I have ever seen. Ask anybody who knows anything about him and they will probably agree. But what really put Honor Role into the stratosphere for me was Bob Schick and his lyrics. Bob’s delivery and presence struck me as being very British, commanding without any of the running around or fake intensity of so many others. And as a lyric writer I feel that to this day there was no one out there at the time that did what he could do any better. Just listen to the songs AND read the lyrics to these songs. It is a rare example of both facets completely complimenting each other in the best way possible. Bob Schick’s stories ran the spectrum. There were stories involving unsettling dreams (“Shuffle”), looking into the future to see just how much one can and will change (the poignant “Purgatory”), loneliness and depression (the chilling “My Place”), and perhaps the strongest of all, a story involving a recently widowed lady who hires a friend to listen to her talk about her problems (“Listening to Sally”). Its more or less the combination of the bands songwriting prowess, the chemistry between the band members, the incredible guitar playing of Pen, and the amazing delivery and lyrics of Bob that made and still make Honor Role the band they were. And for some reason, the songs and lyrics never seemed to date the way a lot of music from this era did. In fact, I’d say that Honor Role produced the most timeless music of the era.
BOB SCHICK (Honor Role): I have always been into lyrics, they are the most important thing to me. So I've always listened to those very closely. I don't know who influenced me. I was a huge fan of the Fall, but I don't think lyrically the way I wrote was similar. I liked the Birthday Party, but the stuff I wrote was nothing like them. I guess there may have been some similarity to Joy Division, but it doesn't make me feel good to say that & I certainly hope it wasn't as bleak or gothic as they were. I never tried to copy anyone. I was as least as influenced by the books I was reading at the time as anyone else's records. I tried to write about people & not problems, not slogans, not politics. I like it better that way. I don't want to change the way anyone thinks as much as I may want to show what it's like to be someone else. What it's like to be completely outside of the way people our age, with our background, our strata live. That the things that we think are important, vital, don't translate at all to someone who's not had our experience. And that lot of things makes the world go around. Often, I would watch other people when I was out. Then I would imagine what their thoughts were, what they were doing & what they wanted to do. Little things that they may not even have been conscious of, & may not have meant anything to them at all would seem important to me. I don't know why, I would just imagine. I hope the songs & the words have held up well. Since they are not too specific, they will hopefully not become dated.
HONOR ROLE INTERVIEW printed in MRR issue number 41, October 1986.
Honor Role have two seven inches out, and a debut album, “The Pretty Song” produced by Reed Mullin, out this September. You can see them on tour this fall. Greta of Unseen Force did this interview. Everybody was there except for Chip, who was out on a date.
MRR: How do you feel the upcoming tour will go?
Steve: Probably lousy, miserable.
Bob: I don’t think it will be that way at all. I think it will probably be a lot of fun.
Pen: From a popularity aspect, I think it will really help us, but it’s not going to be a tour de force or anything, playing to packed houses.
MRR: So what do you think of the new album and single?
Steve: Whoever arranged the songs on the album was like some sort of retard.
MRR: Well, who did it? Not you?
Bob: Pen did it. (Laughter)
Pen: Me & John (engineer) did it and Chip was there and Chip told us how he wanted it…we didn’t listen. I think it’s a good arrangement.
MRR: You didn’t put the hit single on the first groove?
Pen: No, the hit single is on the second side or something, there’s not really ANY hit single material on there.
Bob: I think it is a good representation of what we sound like all the way across the record.
Steve: Offer us free beer and a place to stay when we come to your town.
Pen: (still thinking of something else) Meat Puppets.
MRR: How would you like to die?
Steve: I’d probably have a really wonderful day where I ate a lot of good food, went somewhere & played to a lot of people who loved us..
Pen: Opening for the Stickmen!
Steve: Opening for the Stickmen, and then I went home and had a real satisfying experience at home and then during the night someone came in and shot me while I was asleep.
Bob: If I had to die it’d be like if Pen was “tapemaster” and we were someplace like Billings, Wyoming at 7-11 and I just bought a big bottle of sleeping pills and stood by the water fountain and drank them all down and went back and laid in the van and just died quietly.
Steve: While Pen was “tapemaster”.
Pen: I claimed the title of “tapemaster” on the trip..
Bob: He decides what goes into the deck!
MRR: But the driver should have that privilege!
Bob: We changed the rules since then but when Pen was “tapemaster” I thought about that.
Pen: How I’d like to die, I’d like to be thrown out of my house on the street, and like being really hungry and then going rob a bank and steal a double decker bus and drive off a cliff. (Laughter)
Another thing that was great about the band was their refusal to follow the party line involved in punk rock sounding music. Sorry kids, there wasn’t a unity or anti Reagan song in sight amongst the Honor Role tunes. Again, for the time it was a very unique thing for kids as young as Honor Role to have chosen the path that they did.
BOB SCHICK (Honor Role): I always thought that sloganeering was sort of embarrassing, like that 'if the kids are united' stuff was just moronic. To me, it was always about being different, I enjoyed the gang experience of being in a band, but that was biggest gang I ever wanted to be part of. I guess I'm just too particular to want to be lumped in with a bigger group than that. I'm happy to be friends with people, but usually I'd rather stand on my own. And that's not because I'm especially brave or strong, I just prefer to be on my own.
CHRIS SCHNIEDER: Honor Role was an incredible band. In my first few days down here, I went down to the Brewery, and ran into Reed Mullin, who was sitting in the C.O.C. van. I had met those guys a few different times up in New York, and hung out with them. After I had moved down here, I had passed Mike Dean on the street but was a little too nervous to talk to him. He told me later that he had recognized me but he couldn’t tell from where. Anyways, Reed was listening to this music in the van, and it sounded really cool, so I said, “Who is this?” and he said, “this is the best band in the south: Honor Role.” He was getting ready to help put out their record. They were incredible, as everyone around here knows. They were good on record but they were really good live even though every time they had finished playing they would say how it was the worst show that they had ever played. One time I had taken some LSD and went to see Honor Role, and it was very moving. I felt like I was almost getting ready to cry. As soon as they were done, I ran out of the club, and ran all the way from the Fallout Shelter up to Park Avenue where I lived at the time. At the time I was a big runner. And when I got up there I looked up at the trees and they were sort of doing some weird things. They really had an effect on me, especially that night!
SEAN LIVINGSTONE: Honor Role was a phenomenon. I don’t know how do discuss this. Would I begin with “Rictus” and go backwards or start with “Jank” and leave it at that?
SARA BELL: Honor Role was amazing. I did love them, so I'm kind of speechless about them. It's inconceivable that their audience wasn't massive. It was the best live show you could imagine and incredible songs and Pen's guitar playing which went like from land out into space in a really short period of time. I have a really strong memory of meeting Pen the first time, I was with Wayne and Ethan and we were coming back from a trip to New York and we stopped in Richmond to see Honor Role play. He picked up everybody one by one and swung them around, including me, whom he had never met. He was just so exuberant and funny and bursting with energy and it all came through him and his guitar in an onslaught of perfect performing.
RICHARD BUTNER: I liked Honor Role, although I had a few personal hurdles to overcome. Initially I thought Bob Schick, with his sneering voice, red hair, and creepers, was the worst kind of Johnny Rotten wannabe. And their graphic designer, Dobey, was always one of those skanking-way-too-violently guys. But, once I realized that they were friends of my close friends, I put personal peeves aside and just liked them. One of the best shows I've ever seen was when they re-united to play a Wayne for Mayor benefit in
1993. Obviously Pen was the linchpin of the outfit.
JON WURSTER: I know I'm absolutely in the minority on this, but in all honesty I was not a big fan. I remember not being blown away by that stuff when I first heard it. I've got the records and they just do not really affect me in the way they do others. I dunno, you can't help what does and doesn't connect with you. Maybe you had to be there when they were happening. I did see them in '94 when they got back together and they were really good. I do want to say that I had the extreme pleasure of touring with Honor Role guitarist Pen Rollings for the first year I was in Superchunk. Pen was our helper/merch guy. I got to sit in with him one night in Pensacola, Florida on a drum/acoustic guitar version of Loudness' "Rock and Roll Crazy Nights." He was/is such a great personality, an incredible person and an outstanding guitarist. I think my favorite of his bands was the all-instrumental Breadwinner.
Sometime in 1987, Steve Schick quit the band and was replaced by the young Seth Harris, who was previously in a hc band and then played in another band called Dent, who seemed to be quite influenced by Honor Role. The weird thing is that both Steve and Seth switched places. Steve was a great drummer. Seth was also a great drummer. The band changed a little bit in the drumming department, but not too much. The newer songs that would eventually show up on the Rictus album were more riff orientated, a bit more repetitious but no less great. A few of these great numbers, like “Prove It” and the “Two String Song” fell between the cracks.
BOB SCHICK (Honor Role): Seth joined Honor Role because Steve just couldn't enjoy the band. He didn't especially enjoy the music. He left and Seth was good, so we asked him & he was excited. He had been in a band that had played with us down in Raleigh & was mistakenly under the impression that people liked us. Steve ended up replacing Seth in the band he had left to play with us. We were just about to sign with Homestead Records & I don't think Steve wanted to do that. Though I really don't know anymore, Steve being my brother, I don't know his real rationale.
HONOR ROLE INTERVIEW
Taken from Los Angeles’ “Ink Disease” magazine, early 1987.
Ink Disease: Any interesting stories about the lyrics, or how they came about?
Bob Schick: I write all of them except for one on the album that Pen wrote and one that I wrote with two other people, but they are just pieces of fiction that come out of my head. They’re not supposed to mirror a life. It’s just a piece of fiction that comes out. A mind set. It’s not like reading a newspaper or something like that, and I don’t take things from something as obvious as that. They are human experiences that I think of in my head, and that’s where they come from. “Purgatory” is the one that people ask about, and “Purgatory” was the single. “Purgatory” is like thinking about all of the things you believe in when you are younger. You hold these ideals so strongly, and then some people reflect on them and other people don’t, and you wonder what is going to happen, five-ten years down the road when you become more established or take these ideals to their limits.
Ink Disease: So, do you see some of that in yourself?
Bob: Sure. Yeah.
Chip Jones: I think everybody does. It’s just a matter of changing of goals and shifting ideals.
Ink Disease: Do you think they still fit with the old ideals or have you given them up?
Bob: No, I don’t think I’ve given them up. It’s just a question of taking what is really important and separating the superficial stuff from it. It’s to maintain the same thought and idea. You want to become an intelligent person and to experience the scope of human emotions and human experiences, and still try to give a meaning to them. To still try and make things inside yourself and the few people around you better if you can. Obviously you can’t go out and change the world or write politics that are going to influence national policy or international policy, but you can try and change yourself, and that’s the best that you can do. That’s the most you can hope for ever.
Ink Disease: Is the band pretty permanent?
Bob: Well, it comes and goes. It’s mostly pretty serious. Last time we didn’t get along so well, but it seems like it will probably carry on.
Chip: It seems like we have come too far to give it up, because we are right on the edge of being able to do something real.
Bob: Yeah. It’s like we have been doing this for ourselves and our few friends for a long time, and now we are finally getting to the verge where other people will be able to hear us and like us and enjoy us. We won’t get stuck playing shows for people who don’t like us. We’ll be able to start dictating terms on who we can play with and where people can come and see us. And get in the magazines so that people can know who we are and what we are about. This is exactly the point where we should keep doing it. To give up now would be a great loss.
Chip: Here comes Pen, our guitar player.
Pen Rollings: (he enters the van) How are you all doing?
Chip: Who do you want to meet, Pen?
Pen: the Stickmen.
Bob and Chip: We already said that.
Pen: Should I give Biafra a record?
Bob: Sure. Why not?
Ink Disease: Do you have any guitar heroes?
Pen: I like the guy from the Stickmen. I liked D. Boon a whole lot. Woody from C.O.C. is incredible. This guy named Gary from a band called Stillborn Christians is a really incredible guitar player, from North Carolina.
Honor Role shows in the area were always frequent, and most of the people that I knew always went and saw them play wherever they showed up. Overall, they were years ahead of a lot of bands. In fact, I can see the influence of Honor Role showing up mysteriously in a lot of different bands over the years, from Fugazi to Drive Like Jehu & way beyond. Even if some other bands haven’t ever heard of Honor Role & know nothing about them, I can still detect some sort of influence. They were amazing.
BOB SCHICK (Honor Role): Honor Role played in Raleigh often. It was close, it was more fun than playing in Richmond. I know Pen spent a lot of time down there. There were a lot of people from Raleigh that came up to shows in Richmond too. I think everyone saw each other often, & as everybody was friendly, people got to be friends. I always preferred playing in Raleigh & Washington D.C. to playing in Richmond. As to why people liked the band, I really couldn't answer that, everyone has there own reasons.
No, we weren't revered in any way in Richmond.
After Honor Role broke up, the various members went to different bands. Pen and Seth were involved in Butterglove, a great mostly instrumental ensemble that played blistering music that sounded like they stuff like the Melvins & Voi Vod. A great fucking band, easily my favorite east coast band when they were around. Pen was also in Breadwinner, a brutal all instrumental technical bombast. Bob formed Coral, who had some material released on Merge records. Seth joined Kepone. Honor Role reformed for a few shows in the mid nineties as a favor for their friend from Raleigh, Wayne Taylor, who was running for Mayor at that point of time. They reformed to play Wayne’s benefit at the Rialto theatre with Steve Schick (now a father of three) handling the drumming chores. People really enjoyed seeing them again. Just about all of their material has been re-released on Merge. Everyone should get it, as it is probably some of the finest music to have ever come out of this era. They were amazingly ahead of their time.
(This was all written five years ago or so. I don't know what most of these people are up to. I have been in and out of touch with Bob over the years. Bob is still a very nice man and is married with children, so I don't think you'll be hearing anything from him right now. Which is too bad. Pen is still one of my favorite people of all time and really needs to claim his rightful place and pick up that fucking guitar and just do it. He blew me off last time I was in Richmond, promising a visit to a local Richmond graveyard and failing to materialize but hey that is okay. Over the years since Honor Role broke up, it is still weird for me to see any of these guys without the other three, so deep is the memory of Honor Role and thier performances in my mind. This is especially true of the times I saw Bob sing in various bands. It was just WRONG seeing him up there without Pen at his side. Yes, I am a retard. An Honor Role reunion would be great. Thier music sounded old and wise no matter how young they were at the time. What the fuck? Can I play drums?)
Posted by brian walsby at 1:23 PM