Committed for Life: Kevin Seconds

February 10, 2009


TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, Kevin Seconds shouted, “If we can walk together, why can’t we rock together?” as his pioneering hardcore-punk band 7Seconds blasted away. But even before that cry for unity, the then Reno, N.V.-based musician had bonded with a group of like-minded people on the opposite side of the country.

“The old D.C. punk-rock kids, guys like Ian [MacKaye] and Henry Rollins, were the first to correspond with us scene-starved Reno punk-rock kids back in those days, and that meant so much to us,” Seconds said. “When we finally made it to play in D.C. for the first time — Wilson Center, opening for Black Flag, 1984 — we were warmly invited and embraced and I fell in love with the scene and the city immediately. It was the scene we tried to pattern our little scene in Reno after.”

Seconds, who will turn 48 on March 24, still plays with 7Seconds, but he’s been forging a post-hardcore identity for even longer than he was a “strict” punk, releasing numerous recordings that owe more to lo-fi indie-pop and ’60s folk than anything Johnny Rotten ever inspired. But Seconds still hits the road like an inspired young punk, and he’s traversing the U.S. as a solo artist to promote his latest collection of tunes, “Rise Up, Insomniac!” (Asian Man Records). Old fans of 7Seconds might even get a chance to hear one of that band’s old anthems in an acoustic setting.

“I attempt it, occasionally,” Seconds said, “and honestly, if 7Seconds had ever been one of those mid-tempo punk band bands, like Social Distortion or Hot Water Music, it’d be much easier to pull off on an acoustic guitar. I will pull out ‘Trust’ or ‘Walk Together, Rock Together’ when I’m feeling brave. I’ve been known to do [7Seconds' cover of] ’99 Red Balloons’ every once in awhile. It really all depends on the energy of the crowd. If they’re not a playful bunch, I don’t bother.”

Be playful, people, when Seconds performs at the Black Cat on Sun., Feb. 15, and the Ottobar in Baltimore on Sat., Feb. 14.

Before Seconds headed out on tour, he answered Express‘ questions about singing punk songs you wrote when you were a kid, his chameleonic nature as an artist and his fabulous hair during 7Seconds’ “New Wind” era.

» EXPRESS: “Rise Up, Insomniac” has a gentle country-folk flavor to it as compared to some of the more lo-fi indie-pop things of your other solo records. Were you consciously writing more in that style?
» SECONDS: I think my songwriting has always kind of changed throughout the years and, in my mind at least, there has always been a little ‘twang’ with my ‘pop,’ especially when my wife, Allyson, and I sing together. But I don’t recall there being any real conscious effort to go in any sort of direction, musically. I was definitely going for something a little more organic, quiet and more straight-forward sounding with this new album, but honestly, in the five or so years it took me to get it together, I had written over 100 songs that captured many different styles. I was actually afraid that it would come off as a “Smile”-era Brian Wilson ripoff because that was about all I was listening to during that time. So, yeah, I don’t know where the country-folk thing comes from.

» EXPRESS: And where does the band name His Ghetto Moments come from?
» SECONDS:There’s not much of a story, unfortunately. My wife and I were driving around somewhere in our old mini-van and she did something — I’m forgetting [what] right now — and she said something like, “I just had another of my ghetto moments,” and I just loved the way that sounded and wrote it down somewhere. I’m always looking for cool-sounding names for nonexistent projects.

» EXPRESS: You seemed to become involved with the indie-pop / twee scene in the early 1990s. Was that world reinvigorating to you as an artist who was hemmed in as straight-edge kingpin Kevin Seconds?
» SECONDS: I don’t think I was ever involved with that early ’90s indie-pop scene. I kinda wanted to be but I was always regarded as “that hardcore guy,” and I just hated the snobbiness that came with a lot of people I met from that scene, in that particular time, and it turned me off to no end. But I have always loved simple, catchy-as-hell, pop-based rock music. I still love it today. And hearing a lot of the Flying Nun/New Zealand stuff, like Chris Knox and Alex Bathgate, along with other things like The Spinanes, The Breeders and pretty much anything Lou Barlow was doing, just revved me up and brought out the inner pop dude in me, I think.


» EXPRESS: I know there were several songs on 7Seconds’ lone major label album, 1995′s “The Music, The Message,” that looked back at your early punk-rock years. Is “Big Dumb Nostalgia” on “Rise Up, Insomniacs!” about your old 7Seconds days?
» SECONDS: Not really. Big Dumb Nostalgia is a little more too the point and inspired by relationships and my messed up love life. And I tend not to be terribly nostalgic about anything, really. When I look back on my early punk rock years, with 7Seconds and what-not, it’s more in awe and amazement than anything else. I sometimes still don’t believe all the shit we’ve been through and all the places we’ve been over the last 30 years.

» EXPRESS: Was it strange to see your 1982 letter to ian MacKaye printed in the book “Radio Silence“?
» SECONDS: It was strange but, yes, I was asked and I was fine with it. I’m always glad when anyone takes the time and puts in the effort to document this wonderful little community of ours, and those early, pre-Internet, punk-rock pal correspondence days were lovely and excited and will always stay in my heart . It’s necessary and besides, it keeps me from attempting to write a book or make my own movie on the subject.

» EXPRESS: What’s it like when you return to D.C. as a veteran artist? Do old friends come out to see you?
» SECONDS: Definitely, when they’re in town. Ian and the MacKaye family have always been kind to and supportive of 7Seconds, and it’s still a thrill when he or anyone else in the family shows up. I did see Ian in recently when he did a live Q&A thing at the university here [in Sacramento, Calif., where Seconds lives]. We talked about a bunch of stuff and had some decent Indian food. When I lived in Reno, you couldn’t get decent Indian food!


» EXPRESS: When you were making 1986′s “New Wind,” did you have idea it would cause such a hardcore uproar because — gasp! — you were singing? I loved the album, though the U2 comparisons always amused me. But you did have really nice hair.
» SECONDS: Thank you. I worked on having really good hair back then. I think we were too naive and idealistic to think that the hardcore scene would have hated it as much as they did. I truly thought that we were just creating a whole new limb to the hardcore/punk rock tree! That was my belief and what got me so excited about making music with 7Seconds during that time. We also felt like we had worked to a level within the underground scene where we could have a little fun and try something different with our music — and, boy, were we wrong! But I do see how the U2 comparisons came out, and I have never denied that we were/are fans. I think when you love something a lot — a band, a film, a book, whatever — it is inevitable that you will be influenced by it and some people are just better at being influenced than others. I still maintain that, had I not thanked U2 on those records, or had not been seen wearing their shirts at gigs and in photos, the backlash wouldn’t have been as bad.

» EXPRESS: You’ve actually put together another punk band. What is Kevin Seconds and the Altruistics and how does it differ from 7Seconds?
» SECONDS: It’s slower. More mid-tempo with a sound that is a little more traditionally old school punk rock than actual thrashy hardcore. I love the songs we do in the band but I don’t think we’ll be doing any more shows. I’m looking to try and put together another punk project for those times when strumming on an acoustic guitar and blowing through a harmonica just doesn’t quite cut it.

» EXPRESS: You’ve also lead the bands Go National, Mustard and Drop Acid — and each time, I remember insecure hardcore kids freaking out because someone they idolized from afar was changing, evolving, etc. What do you think of some of these side projects now?
» SECONDS: I have always been restless, creatively and probably always will be. And it’s not because I’m one of those people who “just loves all kinds of music!” or any of that bullshit. I just love to dabble and try new things. I do it with art and writing, too. I always have my foundation, and it’s never far from the punk rock “thing,” but that’s really always been in me anyway, even before I knew what punk rock was. I suppose I’m somewhat of a chameleon, and that used to bother me, but now I’m kind of into the idea of it. I’ll always be true to my feelings and beliefs or whatever but I like movement and change and I like when I’m in the middle of things moving and changing. Even if I know I’ll always jump back to where it’s familiar and safe and friendly. Maybe that’s just my excuse, my cop-out, but whatever. I enjoy trying it all. I don’t think much about the furor any of my musical projects have caused. This is music, entertainment, for god’s sake. And I’m small potatoes, so whatever furor or drama that has come about over anything I’ve done musically is small-time and has no true bearing on the real world. I’m not a politician or a sports figure, and I have never wanted to be a role model to anybody, so fuck people if they can’t take a joke. I just don’t really care about their opinions at all. Used to, but not anymore.


» EXPRESS: Since 7Seconds still performs and records, what’s it like for you as an early 40-something singing words that a teenage or early 20s Kev wrote 20-plus years ago?
» SECONDS: Ha! Well, I could have told you a few years back but now that I’m a late 40-something, it is equally gratifying, ridiculous, amazing and surreal. I absolutely love playing with those boys and for that hour or however long we’re onstage, it makes more sense than anything else I do in my life and it still blows me away. We genuinely love and respect each other and when we’re on the road and we enjoy each other’s company, and that’s it in a nutshell. We’ve always been this little mostly non-violent gang, very close knit and protective with each other, and it’s still that way whenever we hit the road. I wish we played out more, honestly. We still draw well and people still seem excited to see us.

» EXPRESS: Ever get tired of hitting the road? Ever get tired of being in bands? Ever get tired of being Kevin Seconds?
» SECONDS: I still love traveling and hope to be doing it until I can’t. I still enjoy meeting new people and seeing terrain and buildings in places that feel strange and foreign and I hope that never changes. I could definitely live without the long drives and dead time between shows, but I’ve even gotten better at that and know how to enjoy my time where ever I am. On my own, especially. It’s harder when you’re traveling as a pack because everyone has their comfort levels and needs and breaking points, but when I’m touring on my own, it’s great and I have fun and still manage to be on time. The only thing that would make it more perfect would be having Allyson out with me more often, and we’re working on that as we speak.

» Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW; with Vic Ruggiero (The Slackers), Kepi Ghoulie (Groovie Ghoulies), Sun., Feb. 15, 9 p.m., $10; 202-667-4490. (U St.-Cardozo)

» The Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St., Baltimore, Md. ; with Vic Ruggiero (The Slackers), Kepi Ghoulie (Groovie Ghoulies), Sun., Feb. 15, 7 p.m., $8; 410-662-0069.

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Matt Swenson · February 10, 2009