All Ages : Reflections on Straightedge

Watching Ray on stage, one would have to agree that he is a master showman. After drumming for Violent Children, he formed the immensely popular band, Youth Of Today. He is now a Krishna devotee and is performing with his band, Shelter. He is also known by his Krishna name, Raghunath Das. This interview was conducted on 11 October 1994.

In your own words, briefly go through the history of Youth Of Today.

The absolute very beginning is: Me, and Porcell were in a band called Violent Children. At the time in 1985, the hardcore scene was completely dead. Our last hope was Agnostic Front, and they started playing more metal-influenced songs. Actually, they put out that "Cause For Alarm" record, which was their very beginning of doing crossover music. So we didn't know what to do because we loved hardcore. There was actually one band, 7 Seconds, they were the only last remaining hardcore band that we loved. We always loved them, and they always inspired us. Me and Porcell were Straight Edge, whereas, it completely was not cool to be Straight Edge. We were part of the Connecticut scene.

In New York there definitely was not a Straight Edge scene. I remember Johnny Stiff (NYC personality who booked shows) saying to us, :If you think you're going to start a Straight Edge scene in New York, you're a joke. There was never a Straight Edge scene in New York, even when Minor Threat was around. There never will be. There's too many drugs in the scene." So anyway, me and Porcell, we liked the idea of a positive band like 7 Seconds, but at the same time, we liked the music that was harder like Negative Approach. We wanted to combine. We thought hardcore was getting too complicated, so we wanted to bring it back to real simplicity, real hard music, sort of like in the vein of the first Agnostic Front single and the album. So that's how Youth Of Today started basically.

From there, we were doing it. We played our first show with Agnostic Front in Connecticut. We always had good shows. Our influences at the time were Agnostic Front, Negative Approach, SS Decontrol, 7 Seconds.

Where did the name come from?

Youth Of Today, because we wanted to make it such a generic band. We were into being generic because everything else was getting so complicated. We wanted to just bring it back to real simple hardcore, so we picked the most simple hardcore name - "Youth Of Today."

Wasn't that also the name of an Abused song?

It was an Abused song. It was also mentioned in an Avengers lyric. Cause For Alarm also mentioned it in their lyrics, (singing) "Youth of today can be the tool."

That was out inspiration for the name. Since we were friends with 7 Seconds, just from writing them letters, when they came to New York, we played a bunch of shows with them. I remember the time we couldn't get a show in Connecticut, the Anthrax wouldn't let us play. We were really upset.

Why wouldn't they let you play?

I don't know. Everyone loved 7 Seconds, but we especially loved them because we associated them with the Straight Edge scene. I think just to spite us, they wouldn't let us play the show, although we were playing Rhode Island with them and Albany with them. I was really bummed, so we complained to 7 Seconds. They tried to get us on the show and they couldn't get us on. Right before they started their set, the Anthrax was so packed - it was the old Anthrax in Stamford. Kevin said, "We're 7 Seconds and we're going to play a song, it's called 'Youth Crew.'" Back then we didn't have a single out, but everyone knew that song. Me and Kevin staged this whole thing.

So I came on stage and said, "'Youth Crew'? That's a Youth Of Today song, you can't play that!" He said, "Okay, then you guys play the song." They gave us all their instruments and we played three songs, "Youth Crew", "Youth Of Today," and "Crucial Times," or something like that.

Then they asked us to be on Positive Force, so we were the first band to be on 7 Seconds' label. Those guys went back to school, we were in college at the time. I went back to school too, in New Haven. We all flew out over Christmas break - they'd asked us to go on tour with them on the west coast when they put out our single. We were really psyched to go to the Positive Force House. Our first show we played in Reno on New Year's Eve. The next show we played in front of 800 people with Social Distortion and The Vandals.

Was that your first official Youth Of Today tour?

Yeah, we just played some shows before that. The next show after that was at Fenders with Uniform Choice, 7 Seconds and DI. It was like, 3000 people, and it was so awesome. They gave us so much exposure. Then the record came out. I immediately quit college and moved to New York City. Porcell went back to college. It was funny because the day before we left, we played a show at CBGB's with Agnostic Front. It was the release of their "Cause For Alarm" album, and we were an opening band. I was preaching really heavy about Straight Edge to a crowd back then that was completely not into it. We were scared that we were going to be hated, but when I got back to New York, there was actually a Straight Edge scene that had started there.

All these bands had come up, like that band Straight Ahead and stuff like that. The guys from Straight Ahead ended up playing for us - Craig, who's now in Sick Of It All, and Tommy, who was the singer for Straight Ahead. So there was a huge scene started and from this, so many hardcore bands came because as I said, there was actually nothing. Youth Of Today became established in New York and it was great because so many other bands came from that Straight Edge scene. It started with just a few people, and there were some other kids from Albany, Steve Reddy who now runs Equal Vision Records, and Dave Stein and some kids up in Albany. Then the whole youth crew happened. Crippled Youth became a band, they started playing show's with us at CB's. Slapshot was a band up in Boston. They were Straight Edge, sort of from a different stock. Uniform Choice was from the West Coast. We gave Gorilla Biscuits and Side By Side their first show. It started snowballing from then. Underdog, Sick Of It All.

I remember when all these demos came out. When I heard the Sick Of It All demo, that's when I decided to put that out on Revelation. It was a good demo, even though they weren't a Straight Edge band, but they were just good, and that's when Revelation already started getting kicking into gear. Actually, Revelation started because Warzone were breaking up and Jordan and I wanted to put out a Warzone record. I asked them to go back into the studio before they broke up, and they said they weren't going to. So I said, "Just give me whatever tapes you have, practices, and Revelation will put that out." That's how Revelation started.

How many times did you go over to Europe?

We went over to Europe once. That was after I already joined the Krishna temple.

How many times did you go across the country?

We went to California before we had any records out. When "Break Down The Walls" came out, we went on a US tour, and when "We're Not In This Alone" came out, we went on a US tour. We also did half the country with 7 Seconds. Our first "Can't Close My Eyes" tour, we went down to the South and up to Canada. That was "Can't Close My Eyes" - it was three times touring the US and once in Europe. Europe was really ground breaking because no bands had ever gone over there except for big bands like the Dead Kennedys, so we really did a lot of frontier work. Now it's really easy to tour in Europe, the places are all set up. Back then, it was really hard. We ended up playing literally 60 shows, or maybe even more. I think we played two or three months solid, sometimes twice a night, with hardly any days off. We all got ripped off because back then, the tour manager was making the money. He paid your expenses to get over, and the bands didn't make any money. They gave us $500, but there were thousands and thousands of dollars being made. We were really cheated, but it was a really good tour.

Didn't Youth Of today break up, and then get back together, at one point?

We broke up right before "We're Not In This Alone", and then got back together, hence the song, "We're Back!!!"

Why did you break up the first time?

Just being frustrated with the whole Straight Edge scene. The Straight Edge scene got so big, but it seemed to be more like a fashion statement, rather than anyone seriously trying to improve themselves. That's when I started getting into spirituality more, and we put out "We're Not In This Alone", which I think is a little more spiritually oriented. Then I went on tour, but I was really getting seriously into spirituality. Then I went on tour in America and I thought the whole scene was getting misguided. I didn't know if I misguided it, or if people in general misguided it, but they were getting into Straight Edge for the wrong reasons. It wasn't for a self purification, it was more ego trips and fashion. It was being blamed on me, but I didn't really want a part of it, so I was very frustrated. I was ready to renounce the whole music scene. I got back, and I moved to India.

How long did you spend there?

Three months. I had an open-ended flight. I didn't really plan on coming back. But I came back and I recorded the Shelter album (Perfection Of Desire) which was meant to be my last record ever done, that first Shelter album on Revelation. Then, Youth Of Today were asked to go on a European tour, that's when we went on our European tour. I was really frustrated on that tour. I was really miserable because I just went to India and had a completely spiritual experience, and then I felt tempted, "Come on, go to Europe, you've never been to Europe before, it'll be great!" I was living in the ashram, so I thought, "All right, I'm going to leave the ashram and go to Europe," but I was still celibate and chanting and stuff like that. Tour became so miserable, I realized how silly it is, and I just said forget it. After that tour, I moved to a farm and lived there for eight months.That was the end of Youth Of Today. I think we played one final show in LA. Jordan came and picked me up at the farm and we drove across the country in less than two days.

In studying Krishna philosophy, the Krishna philosophy isn't to renounce anything falsely, but if you're good at something, you should use it in the service of Krishna, not just neglect it, so I tried to renounce music, but it's part of my nature to do music, to write music. So you use the same music, but you do it spiritually. That's what I think Shelter is, that's how I ended up here. It's the same exact thing, but with more of a spiritual twist. At the same time, we follow certain spiritual principles; we're celibate, we're vegetarians, we're straight.

Being on stage in front of a zillion people, how did that make you feel in your head, seeing people react like that, the way they did?

Of course it was fun. It was a full-contact sport, that's what I liked about hardcore. I remember once they put a barrier. We played with Blast! and the Exploited at Fenders. We drove two days from Texas just to get to play the show. We played that no pay, but it was just an awesome show. We drove for a day and a half, 35 hours or something, from Texas, and we played the show. But Fenders wasn't the same because they put this huge barrier in between and there was all these bouncers in between the barrier, so kids trying to get on stage, they'd kill them. They'd climb over the barrier and then they'd get beat up really bad. We opened with "Break Down The Walls", I jumped right over the barrier into the crowd and the kids just started ripping down the barrier. It was so awesome. It gives you a real power charge.

I remember once Satyaraj, the devotee I did the book (In Defense Of Reality, Equal Vision Records, 1993) with, told me that he played guitar. I said, "Really? why don't you play the guitar for Krishna?"

He answered, "No, because I don't think it's good for my spiritual life."

I asked, "What are you talking about? I thought Krishna consciousness meant doing what you do naturally, but doing it for Krishna."

To which he replied, "Yeah, but I don't think it was good for me."

I said, "I'm doing Youth Of Today, but I'm doing it with a spiritual conscious."

He said, "Do it for you, but I can't do it for me because I do it for the wrong reason."

I asked, "What do you mean?"

And he said, "Check for your self. The next time your on stage, see if you're being the servant of God, or you're trying to be God."

Sure enough, we played a show in New Haven and everyone was going nuts. I was thinking, "Wow, I'm on a real God trip." Even subtly, you get on a God trip, if you really think about it. You want to be the most magnanimous. You want to be the most powerful. I realized that unless you do it in a proper consciousness, everything is just an ego trip. Even if you're trying to spread the message of Straight Edge, or spread a positive message, there can be people are great altruists or great philanthropists, but if they're doing it for their own ego, then it defeats the purpose.

Realizing that in yourself would be a nauseating feeling, I would imagine.

Realizing it is, but not realizing it is very intoxicating. It's actually very disillusioning. That's how the Ray and Porcell single came, because that's when we wrote that song, "Fame". It's really disillusioning because in one sense everyone is saying that, "You're the best, you're great." For forty minutes you're on stage and everyone is going nuts, and then you have to go and deal with yourself, who are you really? What you really are is this tiny little spirit soul bouncing around. Once you leave that environment of all fans, and you're back in the world, you're a nobody again. It freaks you out, because you don't know if you're big or small. So people who are famous, they're very insecure often because they get a false identity of being big, but the fact is, in this world, we're actually very small. That's why a lot of people who are famous either get into some sort of spiritual thing, of they take a lot of drugs, intoxins, or they commit suicide - a lot of them, a lot of the time, you'll see. Someone might argue that and say that, "They're an artist, and artists have this type of depression that goes with their creativity." The fact is, they also lose a piece of who they are and why they're doing it, and they go through an identity trip, like that song "Fame" we wrote. That was my realization about getting popular and the feeling on stage. A lot of times, that feeling is just an ego trip. Although there is something nice there, too. There's definitely positive energy there.

Shelter is really popular too, now.

Yeah, now it's a really delicate thing. When I'm on stage I'm very, very conscious of why I'm doing it. So it doesn't matter if you're popular or not, it's your consciousness behind it, I'm not saying that I'm doing it in a completely pure consciousness, either, because when you're conscious of something, you're a little bit more aware of it.

When you know how the machinery works, the whole material world is actually just a very subtle machine, if you know how an ego works and how pride works and how to escape pride. It's almost like knowing a car. If you've never seen a car before, and you open up a hood, it looks very foreign. You wonder, "What the hell are all these wires?" But if you're a mechanic, and you open a car, it's something different; "Here's the carburetor, here's the master cylinder, here's the fuel line." So when you start learning different things in spirituality: how the false ego works, how the pride works, why we act the way we do, where this pleasure is coming from, why we are feeling misery right now and why are we feeling pleasure right now, then you can see it for what it is. It is just like mechanics.

Lyrics to "Fame":

I've had the itch and scratched it, but it was never cured. Although the desire still arises I realize it's absurd. It fools us into thinking that we're really something great making us so proud of what was handed to us by fate. Well that's fame. Stop lying to me. Why can't I see? Fame, it's just lying to me. I see it making me bigger than I deserve to be. And I know I'll never live up to what they expect from me. A drug we're searching for and when we get it we just want more. It comes as it pleases, then walks right out the door. Well that's fame... When they get the high they'll wonder why we're all mad after fame. It's not you, you've just fooled a few, and when you get it you're just the same. I've had the itch and scratched it but was never satisfied. I heard them say they love me, I know that's a lie. Forget about quenching my thirst, all this is just too dry. But we've heard it before, life's a bore, so we give it one more try. Mad after profit, distinction, adoration, cash never bought me anything I wanted. It only served as false protection. Fight for fame and material gain so our name is etched in stone. Then there's a devastation of our mind's creation when our position's overthrown.

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