A young Devon Williams played in pop-punk band Osker, pictured.
From impeccable design instincts, a DIY mentality, and the understanding of how to trim the fat in songwriting, hardcore and punk kids have what it takes to write addictive, creative and focused music. If someone’s doing something well, chances are they came up in a punk or hardcore band.
The proof’s all over the place — alt-comedy genius Eric Wareheim spent some time playing in Philly screamo bands, and was even a member of Ink & Dagger for a spell; Canadian hero Ben Cook fronted the unfuckwithable No Warning before his time in the decidedly softer Yacht Club and Roommates; Attack in Black were a teen pop-punk band before they got on that SappyFest tip; Skrillex used to front a swoop-haired metalcore band. Hell, even the first Goo Goo Dolls release is a surprisingly great little piece of Killed by Death worship.
The same is true of the current crop of rising musicians, from indie rockers to rappers. As such, we’ve compiled a guide to some of the best punk and hardcore kids mixing it up with new projects.
Bay Area songwriter Tony Molina is absolutely crushing it with his current solo pop project, but his time as a card-carrying coreman is written all over his music. From sneakily inserted palm-muted mosh parts to short, bullshit-free songs and that hand-made, letraset lettering on his letters, Molina’s clearly got hardcore pulsing through his veins. Not to mention the fact that he’s able to work within strict parameters (read: Weezer worship) and breathe new life into his material. That comes from ripping off Infest riffs in your bedroom. Before he was a solo pop dude signed to Slumberland, Tony Molina played in favourite Bay Area hardcore bands like Sharp Knife, Lifetime Problems and Dystrophy, among others, and he still plays in the band Caged Animal.
Devon Williams is another sun-kissed California pop dude signed to Slumberland, but he grew up in a decidedly different branch of punk rock. Pop-punk enthusiasts likely won’t recognize his calmed-down voice as it comes across in his current solo project, but he once fronted the Epitaph-signed trio Osker. The Warped Tour mainstays were as late-’90s pop-punk as it gets, appearing on Punk-O-Rama three through six and, hilariously, performing at a house party in the Kirsten Dunst romantic comedy Crazy Beautiful.
For the record, though they sound a little dated, Osker’s material has held up better than most from this era. That’s probably a testament to Williams’ ability as a songwriter, which he’s since transformed into a successful solo career as a lush pop multi-instrumentalist. That said, it’s doubtful you can convince him to play Osker’s fantastic “Strangled” in concert.
Epitaph subsidiary Hellcat Records once housed another current indie pop troubadour in one Tim Presley. Currently known for the scrappy DIY pop fragments under the moniker White Fence, with which he’s gearing up to release his new Ty Segall-produced album To the Recently Found Innocent, Presley’s a mainstay in the psyched-out post-garage pop community. He previously collaborated with Segall on the Hair album, and also performs with the Strange Boys and as a frontman for the psych-rock act Darker My Love.
Before all that, however, Presley was a guitarist for the street punk-tinged hardcore act The Nerve Agents. The Californian band existed from 1998 to 2002, releasing records on legendary hardcore imprint Revelation before dropping their final collection of songs on Hellcat. And Presley wasn’t the only one to make it out of The Nerve Agents with a new act—bandmate Andy “Outbreak” Granelli went on to play drums in The Distillers.
Rising Los Angeles rapper Antwon, who released his new album Heavy Hearted in Doldrums this week—has all the hallmarks of a secret hardcore kid, from a meticulously curated design aesthetic (complete with old English font, natch) and a penchant for crucial streetwear (the new album was released in conjunction with the UNIF clothing brand). It should come as no surprise, then, that he came up in the hardcore scene. He was once a member of Philadelphia’s noisy hardcore act Leather, who released a 7-inch in 2011 via defunct hardcore-turned-indie imprint Jade Tree.
“Punk and hardcore and rap and hip-hop are all street music, they’re all the people’s music,” he told Paper Mag. “I always liked rap music when I was a kid but I liked other stuff too. There were a lot of times when other kids were like, ‘Why are you listening to white people’s music?’ But I didn’t give a fuck. I went to school in upper-class areas and lived in the hood. I was just about being friends with people. I liked a lot of stuff, and that was a good thing.”
While he’s not currently playing in any hardcore or punk bands, he’s still paying attention. He told the magazine that he’s currently into Power Trip and Turnstile, adding, “I like big mosh wigger hardcore bands.”
Many Relapse Records fans were surprised when they first heard Nothing’s sublime Guilty of Everything and learned that it didn’t fit in with the label’s throat-shredding metalcore aesthetic. While the band’s ethereal walls of guitars and penchant for shoegazing is certainly extreme in its own way, there’s also another explanation for their inclusion within the broader hardcore world: frontman and founder Dominic Palermo once fronted the excellent, underrated Deathwish Inc. act Horror Show.
The band, who, on Deathwish, released two EPs and a retrospective LP, had their career cut short when Palermo stabbed someone during a fight. He was arrested and spent two years behind bars for aggravated assault and attempted murder. Upon his exit from prison, he spent some time collaborating with another former coreman (American Nightmare’s Wes Eisold—more on him in a second) in the band XO Skeletons before eventually forming Nothing.
Photo: Matt Draper, via Facebook
Wes Eisold’s career trajectory from hardcore frontman in American Nightmare to cold wave superstar in Cold Cave is mirrored almost exactly in that of Ryan George. A million years ago, in the early 2000s, George was the frontman for Carry On, a straight-edge hardcore band who were so sincere, and whose music was so hilariously epic, that the genre tag “amazingcore” had to be jokingly invented in their honour. The band released their beloved LP A Life Less Plagued in 2001, before George made that one crucial mistake: he broke edge.
Five years later, he fronted the snotty punk band The Adored, who released an LP on Virgin Records’ short-lived V2 Records subsidiary. What feels like a lifetime later, he now plays synth in the dark, industrial cold-wave project Youth Code alongside Sara Taylor. The group recently released their self-titled debut album via Dais Records.
Needles // Pins
The straight-edge movement is an excellent proving ground for youngbloods who want to learn their way around quick, simple songwriting that’s also interesting and thoughtful. Few people know this like Adam Ess, frontman for Vancouver party punks Needles//Pins. The three-piece play peppy punk-pop that’s deceptively simple in its delivery, until you realize you’ve had their songs stuck in your head for days.
Before all that, Ess was a guitarist for the epic Ottawa hardcore band Miles Between Us, where he perfected the art of making the most out of strict genre parameters. Once he broke edge and moved to Vancouver, he utilized many of those same less-is-more skills while boozing it up a little (after all, the band’s upcoming new album is called Shamebirds, an ode to leaving a party as the sun comes up and the birds are chirping). His former bandmates and friends are still going strong with the edge, playing in the fantastic hardcore act Ancient Heads.