Last month, our friend Eric Rinebold mentioned interviewing Mike D'Aquilante , one of the brains behind the incredible "Stones To Mark A Fire" compilation. He completed it over a month ago and sent it over (I've just been busy) so here it is in all it's glory. A big thanks to both Eric and Mike for taking time out to do this.
Back in the 90s, any self-respecting vegan-straight-edge kid had 3 records in their collection: Earth Crisis’ Firestorm, Unbroken’s Life.Love.Regret. and the comp, Stones to Mark a Fire, which was a collection of 19 songs in support of animal rights activist Rod Coronado, who was serving a sentence for his involvement in some illegal activities resulting in the sinking of a whaling ship.
Stones was a masterpiece among slop when it came to comps back in the 90s. And it was full of bands of various styles from the heavy chugga chugga masters Earth Crisis, to emo newcomers Rain Still Falls, to metalcore legends Abnegation- there was something for just about anyone, including a reggae song by Captive Nation Rising. No song disappointed and no other comp was able to live up to its’ standards and that is why I still to this day listen to this comp on a regular basis.
I was asked to do an interview with Mike D'Aquilante from Vegan Earth Order and such bands as Ritual, Reveal, Encounter, and Abnegation. So after a few weeks of back-and-forth emails I give you this interview which I hope will help shine some light on the how’s and why’s Mike put together this legendary comp. Enjoy!
Can you give us a little history behind how the CD came to be?
The concept to do a comp to somehow benefit Rod Coronado was originally Brian from Militant Records idea. We talked about it during a tour he (Brian) set up for my band (ritual) and Abnegation one summer. We really wanted to put something out that was free from all the record label drama and make something, like a CD or LP, that would come from the scene and go right back to it; that the scene would be supporting Rod and be the ones who donate. We decided early on to get as many bands as possible and figure out how to pay for it somehow. We wanted to do a double LP with a zine inside- but the cost kept us from doing that. We chose to keep it simple and cheap so there would be more to donate to Rod. There was never a question about donating either. It was decided at the onset to donate any and all profit to Rod somehow. Sean from Militant Records liked the idea as well and was helping us all along the way. Brian had connections from his Militant Records label and I had some connections from selling Vegan Power shirts. We figured we could sell at least 1000 of them and decided to press it as soon as we could get it together. All things considered- the entire comp came together pretty fast with relatively little hassle.
Can you explain briefly what Rod's story was for those that may not know the story behind the comp?
Rod has been an animal activist since he was a teenager. He was part of the Sea Shepherd crew and in 1986, carried out an action against some Icelandic whaling ships and whaling station that resulted in sinking two ships and over 2 million dollars’ worth of damage. The most intriguing part of his activism story happened in 1995 when he was convicted and sentenced to 57 months in prison for his connection to an ALF action against a Michigan State University research lab and the release of mink from a research farm facility. That action is where he refused to divulge any details of anyone’s involvement.
Why did you choose to use the profits to benefit Rod Coronado instead of another animal rights
activist or group at the time?
Rods story was an inspiration to us at the time. He was willing to give up his freedom to protect anyone involved in a direct action and it brought to light the power of the movement as well as the dedication of the activists. When many were throwing rocks at McDonalds and gluing locks of fur stores, Rod was putting his freedom on the line for animals. We just wanted to show that a grass roots effort could be meaningful. I knew that we couldn’t really make much money (after the costs of production) to aid in Rod’s defense or anything like that- so we made up our minds to donate the money to his family to use it for books or anything Rod would have need of while in prison. While we were all involved with animal rights groups- we believed that Rod was a great guy to support because he chose to remain silent and refused to sell out those involved.
Other comps (Voice of the Voiceless) kind of already made an effort to raise awareness and support for a bunch of animal rights groups so we didn’t need to do what they already did. We knew that the profit would not be huge and to spread it out would mean that it would be spread too thin to count. We saw Rod as someone that the public would know and that the movement would admire. We wanted to show that we could attempt to take care of our own in our own way.
What was it about Rod’s story that stood out for you?
I was inspired by his openness and willingness to take the heat and do the time. He wasn’t afraid of the legal system and the consequences of his actions. That’s why we supported him. He did the crime and was more than willing to do the time. I felt that if the movement was going to accomplish anything, it wouldn’t be because a bunch of kids sent letters with XveganX stickers on them or even printed a t-shirt (like I did)- but by people taking action and facing up to it. It was one thing to sing along to an EC song and a much different thing to follow through with a lifestyle of change that furthered the cause of animal rights.
Why did you choose the title “Stones To Mark A Fire”?
There was an article written somewhere about the Middle East struggle and the Jewish nation called 12 Stones To Mark A Fire. It was one of the first things I read as a young punk rocker that opened my mind to the suffering and struggle for freedom around the world. I knew that as a middle class white kid in the US, my perspective on the real world was skewed and simple minded- but this concept of freedom and liberation was something that sprang from my heart when my eyes were opened. The title was chosen as a sign to scene that the struggle against an oppressive society and for the animals was a “fire” and the songs -and even the individuals- were the “stones” set out to mark the struggles existence. It wasn’t intended to imply a connection- but rather to emphasize the human condition that cries out for freedom on behalf of those who can’t do it for themselves. Even to this day- the idea of the human struggle for freedom is something that rings out in my heart. I believe that God put this longing inside of each person and we struggle in an effort to find freedom. It’s the idea that we were made for eternity and our striving here on earth is only meant to evidence this. So we exist in God’s Kingdom as a “here and now” as well as a “not yet” reality. This is the fire that burns inside….the quest for eternity placed inside our hearts by God himself.
Is there any history or story behind the artwork you used on the CD, either the sleeve or the CD
The art was done specifically for this comp by a guy named Paul who was part of the Native / Animal Brotherhood from Canada. I asked him to create something that would speak to the concept of the comp and the struggle associated with it. He made the art as an expression of his native heritage and was symbolic to his culture- from the colors to the imagery and layering. He is an awesome guy who was excited to take part. He was hard (nearly impossible) to correspond with – so even though my intention was to involve his activist efforts in the comp, we couldn’t get it together to include any resources from him other than the artwork.
The cd face was a photo of a whaling ship that was sunk by Sea Shepard- the instance that Rod was serving time for because he refused to cooperate or give any details about the incident and those involved.
Are there any bands that you wish you could have worked with or tried to get on this project that
Not one band we asked backed out or fell through. We had an open door policy with the bands- if they were cool with donating a song, not making any money or having any for free, and would sell some- they could get on the comp. Once we had a few better known bands on it, we had no problem getting more. Brian and I only wanted to sell them via mail or at shows and did not want a barcode on the cd or any crazy packaging, We chose to get the cover printed and insert copied and just slipped it into a clear bag that we sealed with stickers from Kroger. Some bands thought it was crazy- but we just told them that this was for Rod and not for our egos- take it or leave it. Many times I would check my Vegan Earth Order PO box and find a DAT tape with a note saying “please put us on your comp”.
What were/are the standout songs for you? Why?
I liked nearly every song on the comp and spent a long time getting it mastered. I was careful about the placement of songs and tried to give the lesser known bands good slots so people might be inclined to listen rather than skip them. By far- my absolute favorite- hands down- was the Abnegation song. When I heard it- I immediately called Iggy and tried figuring out a way to move to Pittsburgh to play bass for them…which I actually did. That song pummeled me and even topped the Earth Crisis song (in my opinion). Even though we were super excited to get the EC song and were glad they chose The Order- I was still crazy for Hopes of Harmony. The EC song was the only track we paid for since the band had to go to the studio and were already signed. Brian Militant even had to argue with Tony Victory about using anything from the band. It came down to Brian just being like “look – we paid for it, they didn’t record it for you- too bad”.
Many of the songs were from friend’s bands so I was grateful for each submission- bands like Stedding (Shane from GateKeeper) and Rain Still Falls (I was in Encounter with Joel) and our UK friends in Statement and Unborn. The comp was far more than just a bunch of songs to us- it was an expression of friendships and mutual support. Even now- these friendships carry on. I speak to Karl EC often and encourage him while he is on tour (like a band pastor). I hear from Iggy and we joke about Abnegation shows and life in PGH. I still visit with Joel and we exchange pictures of our kids all the time.
Can you explain why the CD was repressed under the “Ceremony of Fire” name?
Interesting topic. Well….Sean Uprising was onboard to help us put the comp out and donated the epic Captive Nation Rising song – but fought us all along the way for our dumb ideas and punk attitude. We wanted it to be easy to buy- no scam with the price printed on the cover- and no bar codes. Funny to think- but he wanted the comp to be sold in stores and marketed well….I assume because he wanted to make as much profit as possible to donate. Brian and I did not in any way want to deal with stores or any “real” distro companies – just the scene ones who understood what we were doing. Sean was helping us coordinate the printing and stuff and was taking forever- since he was working on tons of other projects. Finally- to keep the project rolling, we told him to go ahead and coordinate a store version of the comp that would be the same- just retail ready. After even more delays for our covers- we see that he redid the comp, added and subtracted bands, and even used a similar name. In a bizarre twist- people actually thought our comp was a rip off of his. No big deal though- ours still had the vibe we went for and his was pretty weird.
One of my favorite tracks on the CD is by Vigil but I never heard anything else by them. Do you
know if they ever did anything else? And weren’t they ex-members of Conviction (another great
One of my favorites as well. Jim winters was in Conviction and by far one of my favorite guitar players in hardcore. We spoke on the phone every so often back then and he mentioned that he was working like crazy to get Vigil started. So we just planned from the get go that we would include whatever he could get recorded. Jim is a great guy. Not sure what ever happened with Vigil or what they did besides play a few shows.
One of the best things about this comp was that you not only worked with new and non-established bands, but you also made a point of working with bands that played varied styles way outside the box of hardcore (Shenoem, Captive Nation Rising, etc). Was this because your personal tastes were so varied or because you felt that the project needed the various styles to appeal to a wider group of people?
Honestly- all we wanted to do was work with bands that had enough heart to participate in the effort to support Rod. We had no idea that so many different styles would come together- but we were very happy to include every song that was sent to us. We never wanted to cut any songs or remove one or anything like that. If we had time and money- we would have done a second CD to accommodate more bands. We just wanted the comp to come out fast. The comp was like us sending a letter to Rod saying- “check this out- all of these kids support you and want you to have some things you need while in prison”. We included anyone who sent a track because we felt that if anyone they knew bought the CD because of them, even a few, it would only add to the donation we could make. We didn’t ask any questions as to what the band believed….we just asked for their song.
It's interesting that you say that the Abnegation song was your favorite (so much so that you moved to Pittsburgh to join the band!) because at the time that song stood out to me the most because out of all the songs by bands I didn't know on the comp (most of them), that song blew my mind. The intro just came out blasting and it reminded me a little of Carcass at the time, which was just a bonus since I came to hardcore through death metal. Were there any bands that were new to you on the comp that blew you away as well?
Yeah- I really liked the Abnegation song because it was finally their “own” sound. They were playing the chugga chugga stuff for so long and when they finally broke out and played what came natural- it was solid. I really loved Stedding too. Kind of a Syracuse version of Sunny Day Real Estate for me. That demo was great and Shane is a great guy. I wore out the cassette and have since lost it.
Anything else you want to add about the process, history, story that you feel like people should know?
Not much else really. Other than the fact that even though so much of my youth was spent devoted to the animal rights cause, I’ve since seen that my “creature worship” was far less important than “Creator worship”. By that, I don’t mean to diminish or dismiss those that are still involved with animal welfare causes, I just felt that my own personal involvement was misdirected. This view has made plenty of old friends walk away from me and made others pretty hostile towards what they consider me selling out. I was a very strong and outspoken vegan that got heavily involved in animal issues. But I feel like God revealed to me that it was my pride- not the environment or animals- that I was serving. While I understand that the animals don’t care why I don’t eat them, my diet was not the problem….the problem was me all along. Though I feel that one can be meat free and support humane animal treatment, I also know that God is more concerned with what comes out of our mouths rather than what food goes in. I choose to serve Jesus and not man- and this challenges me to be a good steward of His creation. But I also cannot put the creation above its Creator. It’s ok if others don’t get that. I wish they could, but we are all on separate journeys. I may be a sellout since I don’t fight against the “machine” like others do, but I believe that the liberation of people’s souls through faith in Jesus is the purest form of revolution anyone can fight for.