Talking Void with Nathan Larson

Posted by Jason Diamond

The Faith/Void split LP was released into the world in September of 1982.  Since its release, many enthusiasts of early hardcore claim that it’s one of best examples of the genre ever to be put onto vinyl — if not the best.  It ranks high among the most popular albums in a Dischord Records catalog that includes Minor Threat, Nation of Ulysses, Lungfish, Fugazi, and a dozen other releases that earn the label “iconic,” and is still mentioned as an influence by dozens of bands to this day.

While organizing the archive for Dischord, recordings of some of the band’s unreleased work was unearthed, and is being released on the label as Sessions 1981-83 (you can listen to some of the songs at Brooklyn Vegan).

Nathan Larson, musician from bands like Swiz and Shudder to Think, as well as the author of the book The Dewey Decimal System (Akashic) saw the band as a teenager, and he’s never been able to shake what he witnessed.

So your mom took you to see Void?  Did you ask her to?

Ha! Yeah I don’t think it was so much that I asked my mom (I was probably 12 or 13 after all), it’s just that I’d been busted so many times sneaking out to see shows that she wisely reckoned if I was gonna go anyway, she wanted to check out what kind of madness I was involving myself in, and wanted to see me get home safely. Of course this was mortifying from a social standpoint but I gotta hand it to my mom; she really got into it and gave me space to jump in the pit and get my head cracked open. She even developed a pretty sophisticated appreciation of the music, had her preferences in terms of bands etc.

Mom liked the Bad Brains because a) they were black dudes, which she thought was interesting in an overwhelmingly white middle class scene, and b) they would do the reggae jams, which were more mom-friendly in tone. I recall overhearing her expound on the virtues of the Brains to a work colleague and felt weirdly proud though I would have never said it at the time. She liked the Misfits on record beause Glenn actually sang and the tunes were catchy, but thought they blew live (I would have to agree. And Samhain were unspeakable.). Inexplicably she liked Marginal Man who were nice guys but pretty middlebrow.

My mom took me to some fucking LEGENDARY shows, gotta say. I was one of the youngest kids on the scene and I am way blessed to have seen bands that were soon to be no more.

What was it like seeing them?  

Scary. A bizarre band. Void had a markedly different look and sound, the singer wore super short-shorts (this was just pre Rollins short-shorts, at least I hadn’t seen that yet) and the guitarist would wear weird green patterned sort of hair-metal pants. They had this seemingly total disregard for coming across as a “tight” band, it was just this huge inchoate wall of rock. They had this outsiders vibe cos they were from Columbia, MD, which was exotic. Having said all that, I only saw them twice and in both cases there was like a zillion bands on the bill, one of these shows on a Sunday that starts at noon and just goes on forever, so my memory is spotty. Would have been the Wilson Center and somewhere else, I don’t recall, maybe the 9:30 Club.

This new Dischord release, which I have not heard, is sure to be awesome.  My jaw was on the floor when I heard about it cos I was positive nothing more remained from this band…even live bootlegs were impossible to find

Obviously you made your own impact on the DC hardcore scene in the band Swiz (and later Shudder to Think), how much of an impact did Void have on you? 

Well with Swiz we were sort of second/ third wave hardcore and were trying to put some chaos back in the game. This was at a point when the older kids were getting sensitive and much more melodic etc, clean guitar tones and what not…we reckoned there was a tradition to carry forth. And we weren’t super proficient, so we like Void would just play as fast as possible without listening to each other, so there was this sense of the whole thing collapsing…there were emo elements but we were a pretty straight up hardcore band. ALL huge Void fans and had had the good fortune to see the band

What is it about the Faith/Void split that has helped it retain such a strong fanbase nearly 30 years after it came out? 

It’s just a total classic. Hardcore didn’t really evolve beyond that record….I mean of course hardcore bands would go on to develop and experiment but as straight hardcore went it’s pretty unbeatable. Might be heretical on my part but I always preferred the Void stuff, though I loved the Faith too. It’s my contention that the Void material on there is right up there with the Bad Brain’s ROIR cassette or any Minor Threat record, absolutely top notch. So if you’re interested in hardcore punk, you can’t ignore that record.

Shudder to Think (and your later work composing scores for films) went in a different direction from hardcore.  Was that a difficult transition to make? 

Totally different thing. The math rock-y (we didn’t have that term at the time) direction that band went in certainly stemmed from Craig Wedren’s brain, but I jumped right in there with him and by the time Pony Express Record came around it was very much a collaborative thing. I joined in ’91 (right??) to tour the Get Your Goat record. For kids in our early 20s we had a pretty broad understanding of music, and with all the hubris of youth, had some seriously lofty pretensions about deconstructing rock and roll. This combined with a sort of glee as we could at last openly enjoy very mainstream metal pop stuff like Def Leppard, which we’d been listening to all along but by hardcore dogma weren’t allowed to do publicly. Since I got into hardcore so early I was raring to move on creatively by the time my association with Craig started to flower, which certainly is and was one of the most important artistic friendships of my life.

Your book came out earlier this year.  Plans for another book anytime soon? 

Yup I just finished book 2 in the same series, the Dewey Decimal thing. So psyched. Gonna get the 3rd and final installment going very soon as well, but I’m just loving the writing thing. Would that I could do it full time but that’s asking a lot of the universe, I’ve been tremendously fortunate as it is.

Okay, the dorky question of the day: You have the choice to start a band with any group of people from your early days in DC, who would you pick? 

That is dorky but fun. Ok: Mike Fellows (Govt Issue/ Rites of Spring) , brilliant musician, Dave Grohl (he would have to stay behind the drum kit, no singing Dave), Eddie Janney (the Faith/ Rites of Spring), Chris Bald (the Faith) for some chaos factor….and i mean Bubba Dupree was amazing speaking of Void, plus I always loved Tomas Squip (Beefeater), Michael Hampton (SOA), and any of the Bad Brains guys…

From the later school I’d say Ian Svenonius is a hugely talented mind, likewise Tim Green (Nation of Ulysses/ Fucking Champs), Mary Timony (Ok i have worked with her a bunch),  and Scott McCloud who is a great old friend (Lunchmeat/ Soulside/ Girls Against Boys)….Christina Billotte (Autoclave/ Slant 6) always had a great vibe long list. Pity there weren’t more girls in effect, it was like a sausage party onstage, not so in the crowd we’d form a band and break up within days, assuring our place in history, true DCXHC style

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