Most Precious Bloodís old school hardcore ethics, staunch personal beliefs, and unrelenting musical output have propelled the band to the top of the hardcore heap. This veritable NYC unitís latest release MERCILESS finds the quintet at the top of its game, and, as usual, on tour in support. When speaking to tireless guitarist Justin Brannan via cell phone before a gig in St. Louis, the new albumís direction, the bandís controversial cover art, the harcore scene on a whole, and a plethora more was covered by Brannan, whose wit, candor, and honesty shines through every answer.
E.C.: How did you guys get Most Precious Blood started?
Justin: Well, Indecision was around from 1993 till the summer of 2000. We kind of imploded because of a whole bunch of different reasons, but Rachel and I decided that we still wanted to keep going and keep playing. So, a couple of months went by and we put Most Precious Blood together. We sent out some demos to labels, doing it all the old fashion way, and eventually got signed to Trustkill, started to take the band more seriously, started touring again, and before you know it six years later, here we are.
E.C.: What are some of the differences and similarities you had recording this album opposed to your previous ones?
Justin: Well, I think you always want to have the most recent album be the best and always want to be progressive, and I think with every record weíve learned more about how to make those things happen in the studio and how to make our ideas come to life from paper. Rachel and I do a lot of recording at home, where we learned how to become very efficient. We get things done and then we go to the studio. We still come from the days before record labels were paying for our recording sessions. We were used to going in and paying for it ourselves. We used to go and record records ourselves to put out on indie labels and youíve got to pay for that shit yourself. Youíve got to go in there, know exactly what you want to do, and get it done right the first time, or else you are paying out the ass for it, you know? We are from that school of thinking, where it was like the record label wasnít paying for everything, so we kind of take that into consideration. We also enlisted Dean (Baltulonis, Atomic Studio) again, who did OUR LADY OF ANNIHILATION, and he just became a good friend of ours. He really kind of shared the same visions of what we wanted to do, knew how to make things happen, and as long as you are focused you can get all that done, and I think we just keep learning more and more.
E.C.: Now, you guys always had a problem with cover art. How do you feel about this new crop of problems springing up in todayís musical climate, and whatís your viewpoint about that?
Justin: Well, I mean, we neverÖ it was never our intention to do that sort of thing just to be controversial. We are really not that kind of band. Weíve always just designed the cover, and then we find out about the fallout a week later. Weíve never designed something just to get people talking. We just do it, and then if it happens it happens. But the cover, I donít think we thought it was a big deal because to us there was nothing offensive about it. But, you know, obscenity is like in the eye of the beholder. Some people thought it was horrible, blasphemy, whatever. Other people thought it was totally right on and knew where we were coming from. But this one, the cover was definitely a lot more graphic and maybe not so much as typical of our style. It was a little bit less cerebrally offensive and more of just like regularly offensive, you know? But we thought that it kind of portrayed what we were putting on the record, and what it was all about and so on. The cover art depicts what is going to happen when you open the book. I think itís kind of shitty, but uh, you know, unfortunately, in the political scene and age, something like that is such a big deal because record labels and distributors are so worried about stores like Wal-Mart and shit not wanting to carry it. Wal-Mart will never carry our record anyway. And anyone that goes to Wal-Mart looking for a fucking hardcore record has bigger problems then I can solve, you know. I can see the reasoning, but thatís not for us to worry about, thatís the record labelís problem, and theyíve got to think about selling records and all that bullshit, so they are the ones that freak out about it and we just have to deal with it. At the end of the day itís tough because sometimes you have to compromise and that sucks. But you also donít want to shoot yourself in the foot. Like, when we write this record that we totally love, we are not going to fucking say ďno, we are not going to put it out now if we donít have the cover the way we want itĒ, because thatís just hard to do. But, you have got to just come to an idea where the five of us are willing to compromise. And as long as the five of us are cool with it, then thatís all that matters, as long as the record gets out there.
E.C.: On the new album MERCILESS, what was the hardest song to record, the easiest song and the one you felt came out the best?
Justin: On ďShark EthicĒ, we wrote the whole record around that song. I had an idea to write a song around that oral sample, then the rest of the song just kind of came together. That was really the best to me because it really felt like it was an idea that I came up with in my head, and I recorded it on my little shitty bedroom four-track thing and it really came to light. That was really cool to have an idea like that bloom, so easiest I think was ďShark EthicĒ because we had the idea, and it just came to life in the studio. We recorded the song, we took the sample over, and it was exactly what we dreamed about. The best I think is ďTemporary Solution to a Permanent ProblemĒ. We tried a lot of different stuff on it and it really came out more epic and cinematic sounding than we planned on. And the hardest, donít know, maybe ďNarcoleptic SleepwalkerĒ. Rachel wrote that one and itís like total fucking rock opera. Itís like ten thousand parts and the bass line is fucking crazy. It took a lot of work, but it came out awesome.
E.C.: You guys are known to be like venerable road dogs, man, you guys are always out there. What has been the best and worst tour thus far?
Justin: Best tour? Well, Iíd like to think the best tour hasnít happened yet, but there were a couple of tours that were fucking crazy every night, and that was really cool. We just got back from South Africa, and that was nuts. We were like the first hardcore band to ever go there. That was probably the best I guess. I never thought in a million years that Iíd be playing my fucking guitar in South Africa.
E.C.: How the hell was the reaction?
Justin: It was fucking crazy. They were just as fucking shocked that we were there as we were. We were like the first hardcore band that had ever gone. It was fucking wild.
E.C.: Is there a hardcore scene there?
Justin: Yeah, totally. Certain spots are bigger than others, butÖyou know, people knew the words, it was crazy. It was a hardcore melee in Africa; we were like, what the fuck? Letís see, the worstÖ
E.C.: Even from Indecision days, you can go back.
Justin: I think Iím going to answer it in a different way. Itís sort of likeÖ in the Indecision days, you knowÖ itís kind of like the story your dad tells you, you know, walking to school in the snow, barefoot and stuff. During the Indecision days, we were cursed with having so much bad luck and stuff that I think now, it makes everything we do now so much like sweeter and so much we feel like we really, not that we deserve it, but that we kind of earned it. That we feel that we like, you know, anything that happens to us now, and we donít feel like itís owed to us. Itís really great because itís like we spent so many years touring without cell phones and Mapquest and fucking hardcore in Hot Topic and all that shit that people take for granted now. Especially new bands, you know, where their first tour is on fucking Ozzfest. That kind of stuff goes a long way with us because we know. We were there when it fucking sucked, and we got into shows with four flat tires and thirty dudes in one van and sleeping on the floor of the club and all that shit, so itís like when you have all that shit behind you, itís like, everything now just seems so fuckingÖ itís like a cakewalk. Hardcore is so much bigger now and everything just seems to be done so much more professionally. So itís hard to really have anything bad now, because I can go home after this tour, pay my rent and buy Christmas presents. You know, back then it was like, we were all chipping in to pay for gas. So, yeah, you just appreciate it more now.
E.C.: You touched upon the hardcore scene and itís changed obviously, the landscape and the fashion, not that thereís a fashion, but now I guess you can incorporate a fashion to it now.
Justin: Yeah, of course.
E.C.: Do you see a real difference between what it meant then and what it means now and how do you feel about that?
Justin: Yeah, itís hard, itís really hard to verbalize the innocence and how pure it felt before, in í92 and í93, and it was likeÖ I still have some of the dates of those shows memorized because we played so few shows, every one of them was such a big deal. It was such a fucking fun and innocent thing and then somewhere along the way you just get this ambition and then you are all chasing that fucking high. That first time we played that fucking Battle of the Bands, like the first album we put out, and then itís like, No, letís go tour Europe. Okay, no, letís put another record out. Okay, now letís go here; letís go to Japan, letís go to Australia. And itís like, thatís why you have to, you donít want to lose sight of why you are doing this and appreciate how shitty it was back then, but to try to maintain that front. At this point it is a job for us, but itís not a job where itís grueling and itís like punching in the fucking clock. At least we maintain some elements of fun and excitement that keeps it interesting. But itís just weird. Like, I never in a million years would have thought that hardcore would have gotten as big as it is today, but I think that when itís all said and done and hardcore slips back underground, the kids that got into it that were exposed to it by, you know, this sort of mainstream little peek that we are having now, theyíll stick around and theyíll be into it for good, and I think you have to look back to like older kids that might have gotten into hardcore by going to see the Cro-Mags open up for some shitty metal band. I see the same thing now when Iím going to see shows today. So if you see it that way, I think itís a positive thing, but, itís really a Catch 22. I can go on for hours about how thick it is and how there are so many kids that donít get it, but they are also like buying my dogís food, so youíll take them but youíd want them to be into it for the right reasons. So thatís why itís really important to like, as much as you can without really preaching and stuff, to really instill like where all this shit came from and that hardcore isnít just about fucking t-shirts and shit. Itís so fucking easy now to research the history and the roots of this music that more kids should be interested in that, like figuring out where this came from. It didnít just start and end with, you know, Hatebreed and whoever or whatever. And you know, I think a lot of fans are like us, you know, the same way, that the kids have a more of a greater appreciation of the music if they were exposed to all of the history of it.
E.C.: What do you think would be the best form to do that? Do you think Satellite Radio should step up to do a hardcore show, do you think Headbangerís Ball should do a hardcore pick of the weekÖ I mean, what do you think?
Justin: Yeah, I mean, if you go into Hot Topic dressed like a banker, you can walk out of there like you are playing at the arena that night. And thatís great, but thereís nothing along the way that is getting them any information about the history. They are buying the clothes and they have the whole look down, but thereís nothing telling you where all that shit came from. And I donít know, you know, what are you going to do, put a fucking brochure? There needs to be some substance to it to make people see that itís not just about wearing the fucking t-shirt or moshing or whatever. Thereís all this other shit thatís out there thatís where it came from, and if you are interested in it then go to fucking Google and you can find out about it. Itís not like when we first got into it where it was this secret fucking society. It was like an unspoken thing. Now itís like way the fuck out there, and it seems that no one is even like, researched it. You know?
E.C.: Iíve noticed that to actually, it seems like the kids donít understand especially when you get down to it at the shows, when they are dancing, they donít get it. The whole mentalityÖ
Justin: Yeah, and its tough, you canít blame them because no one is there to tell them. For example, the vegan thing, the vegetarianism and animal rights, thatís something we all feel strongly about because, you know, itís a big part of our lives, and thatís something we got into through hardcore and punk, and that is something we got into through bands talking between songs and passing that information and stuff and that peripheral thing, positive thing that we got out of hardcore, but today itís like hardcore isÖI always say the same thing. Itís so big today, and all these years, all anyone ever wanted and everyone was screaming about was to have the, you know, if we could only have the world listen to us, if we could only have a soap box to stand on. Now we do have a soapbox, there are so many bands that are practically in the mainstream eye, and we have the whole world fucking listening, and no one is saying a fucking thing. Everyone is just saying mosh, or buy our fucking t-shirts. I think bands should, if they care about it, take more responsibility and take on something more constructive and use their popularity to get kids to really appreciate what itís all about, now that everyone is fucking listening. But I guess thatís easier said then done, you know?
E.C.: I would definitely agree with that. It affects everyoneís bottom line, you know, thatís a risky move for a lot of bands toÖ
Justin: Well exactly, no one wants to hear that shit, but I think that people might. You might get a kid who was kind of on the fence about it, that you just like it heavy and loud that might be in to it for fucking life and he finds out aboutÖ I remember, like, when I first got into it, Iíd buy records and Iíd read the thank you list and Iíd run out and buy all the records on the fucking thank you list. I was like; I guess these are hardcore bands. Now itís like they go to see one band and they are like, okay, how cool was that? Dude, there is so much fucking music out there, you know, likeÖ
E.C.: Well the kids, you know, itís a different era, they are used to getting things instantly andÖ
Justin: They donít want to do any work, but itís a shame because now itís so fucking easy. It used to be that they had to ask the old dude with the leather jacket at school, but now you go to fucking Google and you find out where it came from and there you go, you are all set.
E.C.: Describe Most Precious Blood to someone who has never heard you before. Say like a guy came up to you on the street and wanted to know about you guys. What would you say?
Justin: I guess Iíd say we are definitely loud, to the point, and angry.
E.C.: You guys are really political and really carry the spirit of the old school. Do you guys get a lot of backlash from the different sects of other hardcore bands because you guys are so vocal and active?
Justin: No one blatantly gives a shit about it, but I am sure that can be somewhat polarizing, effects that we donít even realize. I mean, Iím sure there are some meathead kids that might be into us, but then they find out we are like vegans and now think we are a bunch of faggots and donít like us anymore. But, whatever. We are not going to shove shit down peopleís throats, but we are also not going to hide shit just to sell more records or to be more acceptable. Nonetheless, part of the personality that enforces your beliefs will change anything. Thatís not how we are, and thatís not how we approach things. So, in that sense we arenít looking to exclude anybody, but at the same time, if you want to know about it, itís not very hard to find out what we are about, and Iím sure for some kids that arenít into it or arenít really exposed to it yet, they might think what the fuck is up with this shit. But, we are from a different time where that shit meant a lot, so I think it comes from that and I think that some people appreciate it more because they see that we are trying to do something, not different, but try to maintain that whole deal of saying shit that people arenít. If everyone knows what you are doing, then you are doing something wrong. You should be out there ruffling some feathers and stirring some shit up. It isnít supposed to be like come out, have a good time and go home. It should be like, come out, learn some shit, get your aggressions out and then go home, and I think that has definitely been lost by the kinds of kids that are into it now.
E.C.: I know you guys mainly come from Brooklyn, so what do you feel about the CBGB situation?
Justin: Well, you know, I remember when the only dream I had was to play CBGB, and to see it go would be a fucking shame, but at the same time, no one ever goes there. I mean Iíve gone there on like Tuesday nights because a friend of mine does sound there and thereís like four people there.
E.C.: Isnít that the saddest fucking thing?
Justin: Itís horrible, itís a famous fucking place, and never does big shows because itís too small. They usually do shows that are a bunch of high school bands or whatever, lame crowd, and itís fucking horrible. I mean, Iíd hate to see it fucking go, and you know, New York is fully turning into fucking Disneyland, but what are you going to do. You know what I mean? I donít know, itís kind of weird, because I feel like as long as Iíve been doing shows, Iíve been to like eleven last shows at CBGBs, so I kinda feel like Iím not really worried about it because I just couldnít imagine the city without it. But Iím not really worried. I donít feel like it will ever really disappear. If it ever does Iíll be shocked that they fucking did it, but I just feel like, yeah, itís not going nowhere. I donít know, itís pretty silly, I never fucking go there unless I know there is going to be a show, but when I have gone there, there is no one fucking in there. I see where they are coming from, but to me itís like the Empire State Building and I canít imagine it not being around.
E.C.: How do you feel about the state of heavy music in general? Because you guys are pretty much on the other end of that extreme
Justin: Well, itís cool, itís crazy that it has gotten so big again, but I guess it just sort of like Nirvana and Green Day, it just sort of snowballs. Itís like being back in the day when Motley Crue and Poison were playing top ten music, itís hard music for back then, and thatís awesome. I mean, it says for us that we can be a band at our level and still make a living out there, we definitely have to tip our hats to, unfortunately, bands like Disturbed and shit that are blowing this shit open, because more kids are coming out now and shit. But, itís crazy. I was saying before, itís pretty interesting to see whatever is coming next, whatever the next hot thing is how many people are around and that will really be following whoís doing this shit when all off those bands are off the radio.
E.C.: When you are not in Most Precious Blood, what are you doing? I know you guys all have crazy jobs so just explain what you do?
Justin: Yeah, well none of us really work much anymore because the band is going nonstop, but I just usually go home and work on dance music and stuff.
E.C.: Really? For real?
Justin: Oh yeah, yeah, Iím really into all that shit. Like from like cheesy, freestyle, like TKA and shit, to like fucking drum and bass. I just spend my time doing that kind of thing.
E.C.: How did you guys land on the Hatebreed anniversary tour?
Justin: We were in Amsterdam and Jamey just emailed me, and he asked us, and I was like cool. Weíve known them for a long time. It was cool playing their anniversary tour with them. It definitely exposed us to new faces and thatís important for us because. I donít mind preaching to the choir, but I also donít mind playing to a room that has no idea who we are. Thatís awesome. You know, youíve got to be realistic and realize thereís a lot of fucking people out there and if you can play to people who have no idea who you are, thatís fucking cool. But thereís a lot of people that knew us who also came out, they knew the stuff, and that was cool. It was pretty successful.
E.C.: Did you see a discernable audience difference because of Hatebreedís success, in who comes out and whoís there for what reasons?
Justin: Oh yeah, totally. Their crowd is really diverseÖI think is the best way you can put it. A lot of fucking metal dudes. And that doesnít matter really, but for a band like us, thatís awesome. Iíd rather there be no hardcore kids there, or something like that, because we just had the opportunity to play in front of a bunch of new people with a clean slate. But Hatebreed has reached all different levels of success. Thereís so much and so many opportunities and stuff, the crowd is really a good sampling of fans of underground music.
E.C.: Being from NYC, what are some of your favorite New York City places? You know, eating, hanging, playingÖ
Justin: Eating? Definitely Red Bamboo on West Third and Sixth. We always go there; itís vegan Chinese food. The Atlas on Second Avenue is also good. They have all Vegan cakes, pudding, brownies and stuff like that. I never get sick of this city. Iím not like one of those people that wants to get out of New York. I fucking love this city, you know. So many people fucking would lose a limb to live here, so I try to keep that in mind.
E.C.: What is your earliest memory of when you decided to do this? Like, when did you feel that it was right and you really wanted to pursue this?
Justin: Well I did my first show and I was like fourteen I think and ever since I was a kid I just wanted to fucking play music. I grew up in a real musical family and stuff and I just always knew thatís what I wanted to do. And it just kind of snowballed, and the next thing on my eighteenth birthday, I spent it on tour in Germany somewhere. It just kind of just happened, and I think once you get on stage, you just get that itch and you just want to have that exchange of energy with the audience. That is really what you itch for. Not the traveling or the loading in and out or all that bullshit. Itís just the half hour a day that we are on stage or on the floor, whatever, to get your aggression out a little. I kind of have that extreme of emotion to put out, and itís very cathartic.
E.C.: What would you like to accomplish with Most Precious Blood that you havenít yet?
Justin: Playing the Roseland in New York.
Justin: Not even. Just to play there, thatís really like the one goal that I still have and havenít done yet. I mean, I know we are supposed to like go to Brazil or Japan or some shit, which is cool, but to me like childhood dream is to play CBís and to play Roseland. If we could do that Iíd be psyched, otherwise Iím just down for whatever.
E.C.: What do you miss most about the old New York City hardcore days?
Justin: That fearÖthat exciting fear of being at a show and not knowing what the fuck was going to happen. And I think that was what was so productive, that kind of underlying danger. Not enough danger that you were scared for your life, but enough that you were knew this was some crazy shit, knowing that this is not a club for everybody. I definitely miss that. Now itís so safe and so sterile and thatís very absent for me, that whole element. Not violent, but just feeling like what the fuck is going on here. You know, not like you are out someplace and like everyone was welcome, you know?
E.C.: Yeah, I totally hear that. I see that with hardcore shows now.
Justin: Yeah, itís cool, whatever, but I just donít feel like itís what hardcore is meant to be.
E.C.: Do you see any bands that are trying to bring that back mindset?
Justin: Thereís a band on tour with us now, Modern Life is WarÖthey are from the Midwest somewhere. They just fucking, they definitely have that same spirit. I think a lot of bands are trying to do that sound, but I donít think they are trying to really emulate that kind of element of surprise.
E.C.: Whatís on top for you guys in í06?
Justin: January, go back to Europe I think and then February we go to Brazil. A lot of fucking traveling. Just kind of like trail blaze and itís so hard to go places that Sick of it All and Agnostic Front havenít been to, you know? When we got the chance to go to South Africa, we were like, fuck, letís take it. No oneís been there yet. Usually we go to places and people go, Oh itís so great for you to be here, you are the first band to be here since Hatebreed last week. Itís cool to find spots that no one has been yet.
E.C.: Anywhere you want to play, anywhere that no one has, that you are still looking to? Any place in particular you were looking forward to?
Justin: Israel, definitely if we got offered to go there, weíd go there, and Thailand. We get fucking magazines from Thailand that have Most Precious Blood featured over Bon Jovi. We really need to fucking go there and see whatís going on.
E.C.: Right, hopefully you donít get detained or anything. Youíve seen those movies.
Justin: Yeah. When we got to Africa, the first thing that fucking happened was they grabbed me, and they were going to pull me away with the guitars. We found out they thought our guitars were machine guns. So Iím there for like two hours with this guy trying to explain to him that these are fucking guitars in there, not guns. They were just pretty much telling me, donít open them in the airport. I was like, but I want to show you that thereís not fucking guns in there. It was like Seinfeld. It was nuts.
E.C.: What bands do you look up to and what bands would you like to tour with that you havenít so far?
Justin: I think realistically weíve pretty much toured with all of the bands we looked up to hardcore wise. I think a band like Sonic Youth are very inspirational, at least to me and Rachel, all of us because they really have just maintained integrity their whole careers. So they have a lot of die hard fans and they are still putting out records and they are still doing it and thatís really hard to do. Itís hard to do something different and stick with it and have people stick with you the whole time. And thatís definitely inspiring that an ďalternativeĒ band still exists today.
E.C.: Anybody youíd like to tour with that you havenít? Anyone in particular?
Justin: No one really. We always kind of pride ourselves on being open to like whatever the booking agent guy finds for us. I think thatís the best way to approach it. Weíll tour with whomever will take us out, weíll fucking go.
E.C.: Would you guys do a package tour, like an Ozzfest?
Justin: Yeah, why not. Iíd just be bummed if I couldnít shower every day. Yeah, if we got on it we wouldnít turn it down. I donít think weíd expect too much out of it though.
E.C.: Do you have any final words Justin?
Justin: Thanks, this has been a great interview.