You want blistering, fast and furious Hardcore? You want timeless punk rock that’ll sound as genuine, fresh and relevant in twenty years time as it does right now? Then ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, you need a daily dose of Vitamin X. These Dutch lunatics have been ploughing their own old school Hardcore furrow for more than two decades and refuse to compromise, ease up and or even try to pretend to be something that they’re not. They are, always have been and always will be the real Hardcore deal. With a new album, Age of Paranoia, set to be released by Southern Lord on May 18th, we figured it was about time that Mass Movement caught up with them for a chat about their new album, the band, Hardcore and more. So we did. And this is what guitarist and all round nice guy Marc Emmerik had to say for himself and about his band…
Interview by Tom Chapman and Tim Cundle
MM: For the benefit of those who came in late… Who are Vitamin X? Would you like to give us a brief history of the band and tell all of the folks out there a little about yourselves?
Marc: Marko – vocals, Marc – guitar, Alex – bass, and Danny – drums. We released 2 7”s in the late 90’s and our first album (”See Thru Their Lies”) in 2000. The line-up on that first album already featured Marko, Marc and Alex. Danny joined the band 6-7 years ago. We got famous for playing fast thrash hardcore punk combined with 70’s rock riffs, crazy solo’s, and political lyrics. Since the early 2000’s we toured all over the world and released 5 albums and a few EP’s. Back then we were one of the first European bands to do all this world wide touring. Our shows are always very energetic and wild, whether it’s for a 100 people, or at fests like Hellfest, for 20.000 people. Marko is a video editor and has another band called Open Wounds. Alex studied physics and worked for years at Cern on those nuclear particles. Danny is a drum teacher. And I organise festivals and have another band called Demon Eyes.
MM: Let’s talk about your new record – Age of Paranoia. What was the writing and recording process like this time around? Do you think it differ from your previous records at all, and if so how? Or does it continue the Vitamin X legacy is fine, blistering Hardcore tradition?
Marc: It was the first time since 2005 that we recorded in the Netherlands. Friends of ours build a great studio in Amsterdam called ARC. I had recorded there with my new band Demon Eyes with engineer/producer Igor Wouters and I liked it a lot. So we came back with Vitamin X. Igor has drummed in several hardcore punk bands (even Agnostic Front) and now drums in GOLD. He works really fast, is very creative, knows a lot about all kinds of music, and is really relaxed! So it was great to work with him! We took a bit of time cos we wanted the album to be perfect; we recorded the basic tracks live in 2 days, and then overdubbing, vocals and mixing.
On this album we go even further mixing hardcore & punk with 70’s rock riffs, crazy solo’s. Greg Anderson from Southern Lord said he loved the unique fusion of old school HC & rock, metal-punk etc.. and he thought we push boundaries within a genre that is typically limited.
But the typical Vitamin X sound is definitely still there!
MM: Is there a theme running through Age of Paranoia? What sort of lyrical subjects and ideas do you explore on the new record?
Marc: Yes there’s definitely a theme, maybe it’s even a concept album! Most of the lyrics on this album deal with the subject of the ”Age Of Paranoia”; we live in a dangerous time and age, an age of control, confusion and paranoia. Technology, social media and fake news are hijacking our brain and minds, that’s what for example the songs ”Short Circuit” and ”Flip The Switch” are about. More than ever we’re controlled and affected by media, technology, mobile devices, internet, social networks, governments, political earthquakes, extreme ideologies, climate change, pollution, fake news, etc. The opening song ”Modern Man” is a sarcastic song in which we wonder if our so-called ”progress” isn’t actually ”regress”. It’s about people who are only interested in their phones instead of participating in the world around them.
MM: And sticking with Age… How did Vitamin X and Southern Lord cross paths and what made you want to sign, and work with, the label?
Marc: We’ve been contacted by bigger labels in the past, but it sorta never worked out. I’ve known Greg Anderson from Southern Lord for a long time, since the 90’s when he played in Goatsnake as my friend from Amsterdam Guy Pinhas played bass in that band. I kept in touch with him and Greg saw us perform a few years ago, and he told me if once we had new recordings we should send it to him. That’s what I did and he really liked it! Greg has a hardcore punk background and he used to play in several -straight edge- bands like Brotherhood. Wolfbrigade, who used to be with us on Havoc Records, is also on Southern Lord, and there’s several other cool hardcore bands on Southern Lord now, like Poison Idea, Bl’ast, etc.
Southern Lord is perfect for us as the label is bigger, so we get a better distribution and promotion, but they’re still rooted in the underground and very easy to deal with and great people!
MM: You guys have gone from releasing records on labels such as Commitment records (which I’d consider a clean-cut SXE label) to Havoc & Agipunk records which could be considered quite the opposite. Is it your intention to appeal across the board….introduce some UNITY in a factionalised scene?!
Marc: Ha, ha! No, these were all cool labels that fit our style of music. Commitment released our first 2 7”s. After that our style progressed more into fast thrash hardcore and US labels like Havoc (Wolfbrigade, Victims, Discharge, etc) and Tankcrimes (Municipal Waste, Toxic Holocaust, Ghoul, Annihilation Time) released all our albums. AgiPunk did the European press, just like Refuse Recs.
MM: You’ve managed to work with some really big names, well done guys! How did you hook up with Pushead to get him to do you album artwork?
Marc: Ha, ha well, we actually didnt get Pushead; I was in contact with him several times, and I also send him the Vitamin X albums, and he was into it, but he’s just too busy. And it would take way too long. Our 2 albums on Tankcrimes were done by John Baizley from Baroness, who also did art for Metallica, Kvelertak, Kylesa, etc. On ”Age Of Paranoia” the art is by Marald. Marald is from the Netherlands and a friend of mine, he did art for Kylesa, High On Fire, Wolfbrigade, and also the last Baroness album. The art is amazing and we’re really happy with it!
MM: And how did you end up getting John Brannon to add some vocals to your album too?
Marc: John Brannon from Negative Approach did some lead vocals on our 2008 album ”Full Scale Assault”. We met him at the ”All Tomorrow’s Parties” Festival in the UK in 2006. It was a great line-up so me, Marko and Alex went there: Stooges, MC5, Sonic Youth, Melvins, Dinosaur Jr, Negative Approach, Gang Of Four, Flipper, etc. We somehow, as semi-‘famous’ musicians ourselves (haha), ended up backstage and were partying with the Negative Approach dudes. I asked Brannon if he wanted to sing on our new album, he said ”Of course” and gave me his number. When we were about to record Full Scale Assault with Steve Albini in Chicago, I gave John Brannon a call and he sang those songs.
On our new album ‘”Age Of Paranoia” I got J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr to do a long guitarsolo. We had some mutual friends and I just contacted him through them. He already had a Vitamin X album (Full Scale Assault, as J.Mascis is a huge fan of John Brannon/Negative Approach) and he was into it! He plays on the song ”Flip The Switch”. The intro sounded a bit like Dinosaur Jr so I thought it would be perfect to ask J.Mascis to do the solo. Before Dinosaur Jr, J. used to play in Deep Wound, one of our fave hardcore bands. But he didnt do just the intro, he said ”I’ll solo throughout the whole song and you just edit what you need”. In the end we just kept the whole solo because it’s so amazing!
Bubba Dupree also does a solo. He used to play in the legendary DC hardcore band VOID (and afterwards in Soundgarden, Dave Grohls Probot and Brant Bjork) a band we’re huge fans of (we used to cover one of their songs live). I was hanging out with Bubba after a Brant Bjork show and asked him to do the solo on the song ”Rollercoaster Ride”. He didnt play hardcore punk for a long time but his guitar solo is totally VOID style!
MM: You did a few UK tours some time ago (I believe my mate Jase from Leeds helped you out). Do you have any particular memories of that time? Crazy shows played, bands you played with etc.?
Marc: Yes, Jase Kilvo is a good friend of ours and he helped us a lot. He also has a great band called Geoffrey OiCott. We love playing in the UK and did several tours there. One of those tours our van broke down and we had to continue the tour by train haha. When we started touring the UK we also played Ireland and Scotland but the last few years we mainly play cities like London, Leeds, Bristol, etc. In 2014 we played that Temples Fest in Bristol with Neurosis, Doom, Wolfbrigade, etc. Last year, 2017, we played London’s The Dome together with Harley Cro Mags. This year (7-9 sept) we will play ChimpyFest in London with Doom, Extreme Noise Terror, etc, and we’ll probably do some UK tour later on as well!
MM: You’ve got/ had a side project (Heros & Zeros) that was more of an oi! punk band. Can you tell us a bit about them – what did you achieve, what do you like/ dislike about the oi! Scene?
Marc: Well, Heros & Zeros was Marko’s side project, a street punk band in which he was also singing. That band doesn’t exist anymore but Marko has another band now called Open Wounds in which he’s playing guitar. They have a 12” on Refuse Recs and will release an album later this year. Theyre a cool band, play early 80’s US hardcore. I actually contributed some guitar solo’s and backing vocals on the album ha,ha! I also have a new band, it’s a powertrio called Demon Eyes and it’s a mix of Black Sabbath, Roky Erickson, NWOBHM, Motorhead all played with a punk attitude. I’m the singer and playing guitar. We had our first show in march 2018.
MM: For a while you had Wolfi from Tangled Lines drumming for you (who lived over 1000km from Amsterdam!) – how did that work out? Why didn’t you get someone local?
Marc: Well, we wanted a real good drummer who was also straight edge. We couldnt find anybody in the Netherlands and we knew Wolfi from that band Tangled Lines. So we asked him. Lived far away from Amsterdam (Dresden) but he also stayed in Amsterdam for long periods so we could practice. Wolfi was in the band for several years, but couldnt continue as he started living in Warsaw which is really too far away. Then we got another German drummer called Danny, Wolfi actually told us about him, and he lives in Hamburg which is 4-5 hours from Amsterdam, so thats do-able.
MM: Is Hardcore political? Has it been forced to enter into the political arena by the state of current world events or has it always had a political edge, flexing its pit ready muscles to try and effect social change and make the world a better place for everyone?
Marc: Hardcore punk is aggressive music, and generally goes against the establishment. So a lot of the bands have political and social lyrics which fits the music and the attitude of punk. But it doesnt always have to be political. I mean, I love Discharge or Dead Kennedys with its political lyrics, but also like Descendents who have some love songs, or Black Flag with songs about drinking or partying.
MM: Do you think that we’ve already witnessed the ‘Golden Age’ of Hardcore or is the best still to come? If we have, when was it and why was so good… And if not, what makes you hopeful for the future?
Marc: The golden age of hardcore was definitely in the early 80’s, with some cool bands in the late 80’s. These were the bands that invented the genre. But that doesnt mean there’s no good bands around today. I think everything goes in cycles and for sure there will be some cool bands in the future, by young kids with cool ideas.
MM: And what does Hardcore mean to you?
Marc: It’s something that was a part of my youth. But its still a big part of my life as I play in a hardcore punk band and made a lot of friends by touring the world!
MM: Which five bands (apart from Vitamin X of course) should, in your opinion, everyone be checking out? Why?
Marc: Ha,ha, that’s a really difficult question cos i’m into bands from all kinds of different genres, ranging from hardcore, punk, 70’s rock, nwobhm, post-punk, wave, hardrock, psychedelic, 60’s beat, industrial, etc. I think it’s kind of boring to listen to one kind of genre. There’s too much good music, just be open for it!
MM: If there was one thing that you could change about the Hardcore scene, what would it be and why would you change it?
Marc: I’m not so much into all these different scenes. So maybe I’d change that ha, ha! But it’s already less divided than it used to be. I think nowadays people are much more open for different genres and different styles of music. At shows you see kids with metal patches, and hardcore punk patches, and rock patches, all mixed.
MM: If there’s anything that you’d like to add, speak now or forever hold your peace…?
Marc: Thanks for the interview! Hope to see you all at one of our shows! See you in the pit!
Age of Paranoia will be released by Southern Lord on May 18th. Pre-order it here