Negative Approach

from Game of the Arseholes #4, 2000
Interview by Stuart Arsehole

I hope you're as excited about this as I am. After seeing his auction on eBay for an unplayed Negative Approach 7", I got in touch with NA's guitarist, Rob McCulloch (See, something good can come out of fucking eBay). He and his wife just had a baby, so between changing diapers, he found the time to do this interview for me, which is, I think, unprecedented: no other members of the band have done post-facto interviews that I've seen. I want to thank Rob for thoughtful answers.

GOTA: When Negative Approach began, was it tough to have a hardcore band in Michigan?

Rob: When we started Negative Approach it was definitely a fringe thing, some things about being in a HC band in Michigan were tough, some really happened quickly. There were a ton of us that hung out at Endless Summer skate board park and we were mostly into a lot of the California bands (Black Flag, Germs, Circle Jerks, etc...). Once you left the skatepark though it seemed to be a very hostile world. This was back when other kids wanted to kick your ass just because you had an earring or bleached hair. Black Flag came to town and played at a local club. The Necros opened for them and this was really our introduction to live hardcore bands. The Necros were very encouraging when we mentioned that we were in bands and invited all of us down to play at a party that Todd Swalla the drummer was having at his house. That really was the first NA show and it was with a different lineup that is on the records. It was John Brannon, myself, Pete Zileski on bass, and an odd guy named Zuhair on drums. That was the lineup from July to December 81, when Pete and Zuhair quit and we asked my brother Graham and Chris Moore to join. After that it seemed like the whole scene just sprang up overnight. We started playing at the Freezer Theater in February 82 to about 15 punks and by that July the club was too small to hold all of the kids coming out every weekend, and they were there to see all of the bands. It was a very tight scene with a lot of support.

GOTA: Did Touch & Go support the band with more than simply releasing a record?

Rob: Back then Touch & Go was really only a fanzine that Tesco Vee was publishing. Corey Rusk decided to record some of the local Detroit/Toledo bands and used the name Touch & Go. T&G didn't have any money to do anything other than put out the records which was very cool of Corey to do with his own money and I am very glad that it has worked out so well for him. Basically T&G would print about 1000 records, you'd get maybe ten each to sell or give away to friends, and that was about it. We couldn't believe that we were getting to make records, and given the limited audience at the time there was never any thought of them being collectable later.

GOTA: What were some of the influences when the band began?

Rob: As a band I would definitely say the Necros, the California bands listed above, Discharge, Minor Threat, and SOA. I personally was also very big into the Sex Pistols and have always listened to some of the seventies glam bands (Sweet, Slade, Mudd, etc...).

GOTA: What was the general reaction to the band taking some British/Oi! influences like Blitz and the 4-Skins?

Rob: At the time here in the US the media hadn't got a hold of the whole rascist skinhead thing and it wasn't something we were focusing on. There was just a lot of really good music coming from England then. It seemed as if the whole Detroit scene really embraced the Oi! bands. Most of us were actually interested in the funny bands like Peter and the Test Tube Babies, etc... But there was obviously also a ton of really good music that had quite serious subject matter. We did catch some flack form the skins who ended up being the group that got deeper into Oi! music for what became clear were racist reasons. They couldn't stand the "zany" bands as they called them and thought there was "no room for comedy in music". As the hardcore scene developed and people looked at non-hardcore bands it seemed that you either picked up on the English bands, or a lot of people in the scene started getting into metal bands like Motorhead, Venom, etc...

GOTA: Did you feel that you were doing something new or pushing the limits of hardcore as you had heard it until then?

Rob: I would like to say that we had this great plan to create a fresh new sound, but we didn't. We were really just four guys with very different backgrounds who wanted to play punk rock, a music/lifestyle we were all drawn to. We wanted to do it as well as we were able to given our musical experience levels. About the only thing we really ever verbally said we wanted NA to be was the tightest live band on the scene, and we really worked on that.

GOTA: A lot of people, including me, find Negative Approach to have some of the most honest, brutal and negative lyrics ever, has the passage of time caused any of that anger or frustration to dissipate? Would you yourself characterize the band as brutal and honest?

Rob: Yes, I think a lot of that anger was dissipating even back then, but not the frustration. The main reason Chris and I quit was that we read a review of our 7" that said something like "good music, with lots of lyrics about us hating them, and them hating us" which we had been feeling ourselves but reading it brought it out into the open, and we talked to John about maybe writing about some other stuff. John was living a very different life than the three of us. We were living at home with our parents and John who was a little older than us was living down in the Cass Corridor in Detroit with his girlfriend Larrissa. His life and experiences were a lot harsher than our and he was writing about what he knew at the time. He didn't feel comfortable writing differently, and we were starting to feel as though the lyrics didn't represent our feelings as much anymore. So Chris and I decided to stop while we still believed in what we were doing. As a result I think the music is pretty brutal and honest and represents how I felt at a certain point in my life, I still listen to our CD from time to time and do enjoy it if I am feeling ticked off about something -- it is a good release.

GOTA: How would you explain the change between the 7" and the LP?

Rob: I think there are two reasons for the difference; the first would be when we wrote the 7" we were listening to a lot of the English bands and US HC bands like Black Flag and my favorite from then which was SOA, and I think those influenced us a lot and John wrote most of the music so it had more of his style to it. When we recorded the LP Chris wrote about half of the music and his style was different than John's. The other big factor had to be our confidence in what we were doing because of the experience we had gained from playing out just about every week for two years straight. We had better equipment, the 7" was recorded in Corey's basement with his recording studio he had just put in and was learning how to use. The LP was recorded over two days at a professional studio in Detroit. So there were lots of changes between the two.

GOTA: Is there any sob story/resentment about the band's end? Are the band members still friends (if not family)?

Rob: Back the tensions were a little high between myself and Johm, I know John was annoyed with Chris and I for quitting while we were relatively successful and that was in the air for awhile. Chris has recently played some NA covers with John, and last year at the Damned, John's band Easy Action was opening and he asked me to play some NA songs with them, that was the first time he and I had even seen each other in about ten years but he was very cool to me. At the time I hadn't played guitar in about five years so I didn't do it, but I have been playing at home a lot lately so if the opportunity comes up again I will probably do it. Graham is my brother so he and I get along great (he moved to DC after NA) and he, Chris and I have always been friends.

GOTA: At the time, did you think hardcore would last? Did you expect Negative Approach to have even a fraction of the influence the band has had in the time since it was around?

Rob: I knew hardcore would last, it pulled so many kids together so quickly that I figured it must mean as much to others as it did to me. I just drifted out of it mainly because I think I was so involved in the scene everyday that I just burnt out. It was a very intense thing to be around everyday and I just needed a change. When we were together I liked our band, and other people seemed to like us but I never thought it would carry on like it has. In 87 I moved up north to go to college so I lost touch with the whole scene. When I moved back down in the early 90's and got on the Internet I was amazed by how much people around the country seemed to list us as an important band. From us playing back then I would never have thought it. We were and are pretty low key. I think we only actually headlined two shows the whole time we were together. We played a lot of 5-6 band shows and we weren't really interested in everyone knowing we were the last band. So our influence on others is very cool and pretty unexpected.

GOTA: How do you feel about people paying tons of money for the original records?

Rob: I am very surprised at what people will pay. I guess I have mixed emotions about it since I just sold a couple of our records on eBay and did pretty well. On the other hand it is a shame that some people who really like NA might not be able to afford to buy a record. I have been buying some NA stuff from eBay myself just so I have it for memorabilia. I have bought some videos that I had not seen of us, and a demo tape that I didn't think anyone had so it's kind of cool too. It seems funny to me that I am buying my own history from others, but I would rather do that than not have it. I never let the people who I am buying it from know who I am either, although I might get a better deal if I did.

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