Overdoses, Felonies and Jail: A Tale of Crom and Despise You
The black and white imagery favored by Los Angeles powerviolence unit Despise You is as stark as it is depressing — toothless drug addicts with hypodermics in their mouths; children cowering on rusty bed frames; a little boy with tears in his eyes pointing a gun at his own head. These photographs, which pepper the sleeves of the band’s many releases — from 1999 collection West Side Horizons to their latest split 7" with D.C. powerviolence pushers Coke Bust — are snapshots of hard lives being lived in hard places. It’s a reflection of Despise You’s own origins in Inglewood, Calif., the gang-infested city that spawned rapper Mack 10, model Tyra Banks and — somehow — the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson.
While Despise You vocalist Chris Elder still lives in Inglewood, rocking a daily uniform of khaki Dickies shorts and a crisp white T-shirt, guitarist Phil Vera is across town in El Sereno, where he’s nursing a knee injury. “I was playing basketball and landed wrong, and heard that popcorn sound,” he recalls with a laugh. “It’s gross. Just thinking about it gives me the creeps.” Vera, who also plays in the legendary underground metal squad Crom, recorded Despise You’s side of the Coke Bust split at his own Veracuda Studios. He’ll be pulling double duty when Despise You and Crom play with Coke Bust at Union in L.A. on May 19 to celebrate the release of the split. Check out two tracks from the split and our conversation with Vera after the jump.
Who hatched the idea for a Despise You / Coke Bust split?
We’d been wanting to do something together for a while. We played a few shows together, but we’d always wanted to do a recording, and we finally got it together to do it. I’d say this is about four or five years in the making, as far as wanting to do something together.
Is that how you first met the Coke Bust guys — by playing a show together?
I think it goes back to when [Coke Bust drummer] Chris Moore was playing in Magrudergrind. Despise You did an East Coast tour with them maybe seven or eight years ago, from Boston all the way down to Florida. Chris had both bands going at the time, but then he eventually left Magrudergrind to focus on Coke Bust. Then I think Coke Bust came out here and played a show with us. But we’d always stayed in touch.
You recorded the Despise You side at your own studio.
Yeah, I converted my garage into a studio maybe three or four years ago. It’s called Veracuda. I’ve been recording friends’ bands like ACxDC, Loathing — I’m about to do the new Trappist. I did the last Despise You 7", too. It’s cool for us because we can take our time. Sometimes that can work against us, but it makes it so we can focus without having to rush. Some of our older stuff was so rushed that I’m not really … I won’t say I’m not into it, but I wish we had more time to fuck with it. Back then, we just hammered shit out.
You guys went to Japan last year. Were they horrified?
[Laughs] It was crazy, man. I had been there before when I was playing in 16; we went with Unsane in 2003. It’s such a different culture as far as how they treat you, how they respond, how sincere they are. We played eight shows in some of the major cities like Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, but we played some smaller cities that were just as awesome. There were some places where people were going apeshit and some places where they were more relaxed, but overall they were pretty enthusiastic, I would have to say. In Kochi, which is a small fishing town, they were trying to pick us up and carry us around while we were playing. They actually picked me up. [Laughs] It was pretty good.
What’s it like traveling overseas with Chris Elder? Is it true that you can take Chris Elder out of Inglewood, but you can’t take the Inglewood out of Chris Elder?
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s pretty true. He’s been wearing the same getup everyday for like 30 years.
Khaki shorts and a fresh white T-shirt.
Yeah, it’s not gonna change. I hope it doesn’t … that would suck! [Laughs]
How many white T-shirts do you think he buys in a month?
I think he goes down to the Fashion District, where you can buy like 10 shirts for eight bucks or some crazy shit. He buys a couple packs of those and takes them on tour so he can just chuck ’em after he’s worn them for a day or two. I should catch on to that, but I never have. I always wear the same bullshit shirts.
He’s one of the most unflappable people I know. It’s almost like he only has one mood: skeptical.
[Laughs] Yeah! Totally. That’s very true. We’ve known each other since high school, even though we didn’t go to the same school. But yeah, he’s set in his ways. [Laughs] Which is fine. I have my own bullshit things that I do. We throw down here and there; get some drinks going.
How did you guys actually meet?
We met through my old friend Kevin Imamura. Me and Kevin went to high school together, and he had a skate ramp in his backyard. I didn’t really skate — I sucked — but I would go and hang out. That’s where I met Chris, because he’d go over there and skate the ramp. The first time we met, we ended up hanging out and bullshitting like all night, so right away I knew we were on the same level. That would’ve been ’88 or ’89.
Let’s talk about Crom for a minute. You’re doing an East Coast tour next month. How long has it been since Crom played out there?
It’s been about nine or 10 years. I think we did 10 shows that time. It was crazy. Mayhem follows that stupid band. It was fun, but it was nuts. I don’t think it’ll be as crazy this time, but who the fuck knows? This time we’re doing five shows — flying in and out.
Isn’t there footage of you guys playing in New York in which certain members are falling down drunk onstage?
Yeah, certain members like myself. [Laughs] We played the Cake Shop in New York, and I don’t even know how many songs we played before I fell and started taking my shit apart. I think I started taking the cymbals off the drums, too. It was a total shitshow. But I think we sold the most merch that night, so we must’ve done something right.
How did you end up getting so wasted?
We got in on the red-eye that morning, so we were literally fucking around from 6 or 7AM and then we didn’t actually play until 1AM. It just had all the right ingredients for a complete meltdown.
When shit like that happens, do the other guys in the band get pissed at you? Or do they just accept it as part of being in Crom?
The next night, [Crom vocalist] Will had his meltdown, and then another night someone else had a meltdown, so it kinda evened out eventually. [Laughs] That’s why we wait nine years between tours, I guess.
I like that this next one is called the “Hide Your Gothic Slam Records Tour.”
[Laughs] Yeah, I did a couple of Facebook posts with different names. One was “Hide Your Atrophy Records Tour.” Another one was “Hide Your Culture Club Records Tour.” Basically, we’re gonna go through your record collection and take your dumbest record. [Laughs] Hide your All in the Family records — we’re coming for those.
Whatever happened with the Crom documentary that’s been in the works for years?
Oh my god. I guess it was screened in Arizona for some reason. [Laughs] Two of the guys [from the band] went down there and saw it, but me and Will still haven’t seen it. So, I have no idea, man. We don’t really have a say in it because it’s someone else’s project. It’s been dragged out for so long now that it’s like a Crom record. So, I guess it makes sense.
Speaking of which, Crom haven’t put out a record in eight years. Are you working on new material?
Uh… yeah? We’ve had an ongoing plan to do some new shit for a while. We just got a new drummer, but we’ve been through so many fucking drummers it’s like Spinal Tap. The new dude is from the band Cave State, and he’s badass. If he doesn’t OD or go to jail or disappear like our other drummers, we might be doing some shit in the future.
What’d that one dude go to jail for?
Grand theft. Some felony bullshit, but just dumb. The guy who disappeared for a while, Gator — he’s alive, which is good. But there’s times when I don’t hear from him and I just figure he’s dead. He’s a good dude, though. The guy who OD’d is still around, too. No one’s died. [Laughs] Somehow.
Don’t sell yourselves short. There’s always this tour.
[Laughs] Yeah, exactly. We’ll see …