Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Posted by Andrew Jacobs |


How did you get into hardcore?

Rajko: Back in the beginning of the '90s, I was way into metal music and Biohazard was a "real" hardcore band. Don't get me wrong, I still consider Urban Discipline one of the best albums that ever came out and like it or not, we all have to admit that back in the day, they were huge. Reading thank you lists from booklets of bands that I listened to back then, I heard of a lot of bands but never had a chance to hear them. You've got to understand that back then, there was no internet and former Yugoslavia was in a civil war. Borders were closed and, more or less, we were stuck pretty much. I have a friend that used to live above the independent record store and Alex (Hitman's singer) was working there, so we pretty much hung out there all day long. Alex had a hardcore band called Definite Choice that was already playing for a couple of years and had a couple of records out. So we started going to shows, borowing records from him and ordering records from the infamous Lost & Found record label from Germany. Meanwhile, Alex started Hitman. Not long after, my friend and me started a band and played our first show as Hitman's support. That was in 1994. Everything else is history :-)! I am the last one who joined Hitman and the other 3 guys have been there since the beginning, so except for the bassist, the band has had the same line up for 17 years! Alex likes to say that even if I haven't played with them since the beginning, I have been a member of the band for last 17 years, since I was hanging around since the start.

Alex: For me, it all started in 1985 when I came to a new school and I sat down in my classroom besides my now longtime friend Aleksandar. He was already involved in the hardcore scene back then. He played bass for a band called DLH (Drunken Lords of Hell). He asked me what kind of music I was listening to and I answered The Ramones, The Clash, AC/DC, etc. Back then, I was listening to all kinds of stuff. I was 16 years old and had not yet found myself in any kind of movement or musical direction. But I liked punk music (not that I really got into what it’s all about, cause there was actually nobody that could teach me about it) and what it sounded like. The energy was fascinating to me. So he told me about this thing called hardcore and told me that he will make some hardcore tapes for me so that I can listen to some bands. The next thing that happened is he gave me a tape that had Discharge's Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing and GBH's City Baby Attacked By Rats on the A side and some songs from 7 Seconds, Bad Brains, Bad Religion and some Serbian bands (Solunski Front, Codex Of Death, DLH) on the B side. I was blown away by what I heard and, in particular, one song and the message that I could hear from the words that I understood, was something that changed my way of thinking. The song was 7 Seconds' "Walk Together, Rock Together". From that point on, I was hooked and I spent as much time as I could with my friend and recorded as much music as I could get on tapes, listened to it and tried to understand what it was all about. Back then, it was much more difficult to get to know stuff about the bands you listened to. There were only a few fanzines and they were very hard to come by. So I had to copy them or read them and write down stuff that was interesting to me. So that’s how I got into what I love and do for the past 26 years!


Did you know English before you started listening to American hardcore? If not, how did you deal with the language barrier before you learned English?

Rajko: I knew English even before I got into music because in our school system, the English language is a "must" subject. We learned it in primary school. Even kindergarten students have some kind of English schooling. Of course, they learn it through playing with other kids too. Of course since I got into music and start reading lyrics, interviews and everything else, my English improved a lot. I have also been working in a couple of companies where a lot of people from abroad also worked, so like it or not, I had to speak English.

Alex: Of course I knew English! I started learning it in school for years before I got involved in hardcore punk music. And I was always interested in lyrics and what bands wanted to say with their words. So I used a lot of dictionaries for the words I didn’t know. Back then, it wasn’t that easy. You couldn't just type in a word and the translation comes up like now. In time, I also learned the slang and through movies (since we have movies in original sound with subtitles) and more lyrics, I became actually really good at speaking and writing in English.


List some of your favorite Serbian and non-Serbian hardcore bands.

Rajko: Okay, this is a tough one :-). I wouldn't like to name any Serbian bands because this is a small country and we are all basically friends. Hardcore here is a small community. There are a lot of really quality bands. I will just mention a couple of them but I won't say which one is my favorite. There's an amazing band called SOULCAGE, loud and fast in the vein of Terror and earlier Madball. There's a great band called TIBIA, they've been together for more than 10 years and have a couple of releases so far. I wouldn't know how to describe their style but trust me, they are great. There's one new band called THROUGH THESE EYES, they are a really old school youth crew type band even though they are anything but young :-). There are lots of other amazing bands as well but of course, I can't mention all of them here.

When it comes to bands outside of Serbia, my all time favorite band is JUDGE and it always will be. Period. The list would be just too long if I were to mention every band that I love. But mostly bands from the last century. Early Revelation & Victory bands, New Age, Doghouse, Ebullition, Dischord, Conversion, Jade Tree, etc., etc.

Alex: Serbian bands - Dead Ideas (New York style hardcore), Overdose (revolutionary industrial crossover), Teabreak (melodic punk rock), Soulcage ('90s style hardcore), Tibia (post-hardcore rock crossover), Lockdown (hardcore like it should be), Better Than You (old school DC style hardcore), Shockproof (old school hardcore), Six Pack (melodic punk rock), Path Of Decay (DC style post-hardcore) and 36 Daggers (DC style hardcore)

Non Serbian bands - 7 Seconds, Slapshot, Spermbirds, Jingo De Lunch, Sick Of It All, Cro-Mags, No For An Answer, Kill Your Idols, Suicidal Tendencies, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Black Flag, Dag Nasty, Negative Approach, Bad Trip, Yuppiecide, Sheer Terror, Biohazard, Gorilla Biscuits, Youth Of Today, Killing Time... I could go on forever!


To the best of your recollection, what was the hardcore scene in Serbia like in the '90s?

Rajko: Mighty & strong! I think those two words describes a lot. Especially in bigger cities like Belgrade and Novi Sad. In Belgrade, we had at least 5 clubs where hardcore/punk bands could play and there were shows every week. Sometimes, there were a couple of shows during the same week. Back then, Serbia (former Yugoslavia) was kind of cut off from the rest of the world because of the sanctions and there were almost no foreign bands coming here. So it was really an easy choice - either we play or we don't have any shows at all! Back then, if you wanted to see U.S. or European bands live, you had to travel to Hungary or some other neighboring country in order to see a live show. And trust me when I say that we rented a long range bus (50+ seats) to travel the whole day/night to see a band. Today, you don't have that many kids at a hardcore show in our hometown. So the scene was really doing well with a lot of bands, fanzines, distros and everything that goes with any kind of underground community. Nowadays, in the era of the internet, everything has gone with the wind. I suppose this is the case with every part of the world but I kind of miss those times.


Compare and contrast the '90s hardcore scene with the 21st century hardcore scene.

Rajko: You know, for me, it was really exciting to get a cassette demo of a band from the other part of the world in the mail. Today, you get demos in your inbox! "Has the edge gone dull?" can refer to the scene as a whole - HAS THE SCENE GONE DULL? In my opinion, I'd say that back then, everything was much more sincere and from the heart. If someone was doing a zine, played in a band, had a distro or was just a regular kid going to shows and supporting bands, he/she did it not because it was "cool" but because it was a state of a mind in a particular moment. Today, I feel like everything is well planned and organized, it just doesn't have any spirit! I mean, what happened with D.I.Y. ethics that were so common in the '80s and the '90s? They just disappeared. I am sure that most of today's kids don't even know what D.I.Y. means. They don't have to do anything themselves. Just turn on the computer, connect online and you have eveything done and served in a plate right in front of you, prepared for consumption! I feel like everything just became one big industry for a short term consumption. But that's just me.


Your band Hitman has been around since 1994, which is a very long time for a band (let alone a hardcore band) to be together. How has Hitman been able to stay together for such a long time?

Rajko: Hitman is a band of 4 completely different individuals that come from different backgrounds. But it is also a band of friends and I don't mean friends who see each other at rehearsals, shows or in the studio but friends from REAL life that share everyday lives as one big family. That's just one of the reasons. Other than that, I'd say that another good reason for standing hard for so many years is that we do what we do right from our hearts, minds and souls. We are not a band that put out a record every year or two. We don't push it. We give time for ideas to come out. Don't get me wrong, we don't think we are perfect. Like every other band, we have our ups and downs but somehow, we overcome it and keep on going.

Alex: All the members of Hitman are friends first and foremost. Now, after 17 years, we consider ourselves more like a family than a band. Since we've had only two lineup changes - in 1999, when our original bass player Vige left the band to be replaced by our good friend Janko, and not long ago, when Janko left the band and Rajko joined us. Rajko was with us since the beginning because first of all, he's a very good friend of ours and also played in bands that we shared the stage with. So basically, Ilija (drums), Lala (guitar) and me (vocals) are together in the band since the beginning. I think it’s a lot of respect for each other, tolerance and love for the music that we play. Of course we've had arguments and fights in the band but we always solved them in a mature way and kept on going. We never stopped doing what we do, regardless of what was happening around us. We somehow always managed to stay honest to each other and at some point and until this day, that made us a family.


What are some of your favorite Hitman songs and why?

Rajko: "Positive Attitude" or maybe "11 Years". "11 Years" is a very personal song of Alex's, talking about being Straight Edge for the last 11 years. But somehow, I feel like it is a song written for myself. I was Straight Edge at one point in my life but I'd say that at that time, it wasn't a choice of heart and mind but a choice of trend. I am still very supportive of Straight Edge and have a lot of friends that are Straight Edge but somehow, I feel that being Straight Edge myself isn't for me. And I am not talking about doing this or that, or not doing it, I am talking about a mental state of being Straight Edge. Besides those two songs I mentioned, as a musician, my dearest one is "Minimum Of Trust". It has, according to me, perfect music. Just the way I'd love every song to sound.

Alex: I guess first of all, I have to mention "For What We Stand", because that’s the first song we wrote and it reminds me of what it was all about back then in 1994, when all those bad things were happening around us. Politics fucked up our country and all the other countries around us that were forced into war with each other. In some way, it’s an historical document about the times we were living in and about what we were standing for.

Then, I have to say "Positive Attitude". That song was released on the split CD with Last Hope, our brother band from Sofia, Bulgaria. The name of the song speaks for itself. It’s basically about how we all can manage to be in one scene and work with each other as long as we all keep a positive attitude towards every aspect of our lives.

There is also "Minimum Of Trust", "Monsters Inside" and "Awakening The Dragon". These songs are very personal and they mean a lot to me. I expressed in those songs how I felt in the worst moments of my life. They are about relationships, death of a dear person and struggle with myself. Very personal but I had to get it out by writing down my feelings.

In the end, I have to put on this list one particular song that is about three of the most important things that we all should care about. It’s actually a song that I played with my former band Definite Choice but we took it and now we consider it ours as well. I wrote those lyrics in 1992 and back then, I believed in it as much as I believe in it now. The song is called "FRIENDSHIP, UNITY, RESPECT".


Hitman has played with quite a few of the most popular hardcore bands in the world. What band(s) were you personally most excited and proud to share the stage with and why?

Rajko: In first place would be Suicidal Tendencies. Do i have to explain why? They were, and as a matter of fact they still are, one of my favorite bands. And besides that, Mike Muir is a hell of a guy. It doesn't mean a lot to me how a band sounds or what kind of music they play as long as they are a cool bunch of people to hang out with. Also, I am very happy that I met and shared the stage with bands like Death By Stereo, No Turning Back, Sick Of It All and Youth Of Today (and they sounded like they were 13 year old kids playing for the first time :D) to mention just a few.

Alex: It was great to share the stage with all of the bands that we've played with because they all were a part of our lives and influenced us more or less. But I have to say that it was a honor to meet, play with and, in the end, become friends with bands like Sick Of It All, Agnostic Front, Madball, Municipal Waste and Death By Stereo. These guys and their music rule! I’m glad we had the chance to meet them as people, not connected to their bands, and see what great people they are!


As a musician and a songwriter, who/what are some of your influences and why?

Rajko: Musically, bands like Anthrax, Slayer, Iron Maiden and Testament. Yeah yeah, I know, those aren't exactly hardcore/punk bands but for me, they are a real influence. And when it comes to a hardcore band, I would say that I am influenced a lot by bands that are/were part of the New York scene and at the top of the list is Maximum Penalty and everything recorded and played by Matt Handerson.

Alex: Everything around us influenced us and our music. Not only music but everyday situations, the world we are living in, the wars that were going on around us, injustice, poverty, fascism, hate, etc. But also beautiful things like love, children, family in general and friendships. That is all something that sets your mood and life situation in a specific mode (if I can say so) and results in us playing specific songs in a specific way or writing lyrics from total dark ones to happy and positive ones.

Music wise, for me it would be people and bands like Black Flag and Henry Rollins, The Ramones, The Clash and Joe Strummer, The Smiths and Morrisey, Choke and Slapshot, Kevin Seconds and Dan O’Mahony to name only a few. Because they all, as individuals and in their respective bands, had a great way of expressing their feelings and situations that they were in at the moment when they made the songs. Great bands, great artists and great life philosophies! Very inspiring individuals that gathered around the same thing!


We'd like to thank Andrew and the rest of the guys from xStuck In The Pastx for giving us a chance and doing this interview. We all really appreciate that. Giving a chance to a band that comes from another part of the planet, from a small country on the Balkan peninsula. We know that for you across the oceans, it is hard to find our music, so we decided that for all of you who read this interview and want to learn more about us, here's a free download of our latest album Overstand that came out last year on Swell Creek - Superhero Records. Here's the link - http://www.megaupload.com/?d=NQ0AJ7P7

Thank you for your interest, peace out!

FRIENDSHIP, UNITY, RESPECT!

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