Yes In My Backyard is a semiweekly column showcasing MP3s from new and emerging local talent.
“I know this will come off the wrong way to some people,” says Brooklyn’s Maxim Ryazansky, who co-owns the Burn Books imprint with Alexander Heir. “But that 16-year-old way of thinking, that hasn’t gone away in either of us. So much of the stuff that’s out there is half-assed garbage, and we wanted to do it right.”
Enter New York Rules, a bright-yellow cassette-tape tribute to manic productivity that doubles as an essential compilation of an under-documented local scene. The bands here don’t fit into the trendy narratives of lethargic chillwave wooze or bloated dreamgaze pedal chains or taut boat-shoe pop. This is punk fucking rock as you remember it: loud, obnoxious, abrasive, and ugly, distorting your stereo speakers with a combination of spittle and tape hiss. The tape features 16 tracks by eight New York bands: YIMBY stalwarts like Pregnant and the Men alongside the similarly mutated Nomos, Hank Wood and the Hammerheads, Nightbirds, Nude Beach, Byrds of Paradise, and Dawn of Humans. Touchpoints include the psychedelic churn of the Wipers, the surfier moments of the Cramps, or the meaty bludgeon of Pussy Galore, but mainly the only thing the bands have in common are a love of cheery hooks, Walkman-wrecking distortion, and the fact that there’s not a “chill” bone in their frisky bodies.
Naturally, being the product of an art-leaning duo (Heir studied printmaking, Ryazansky photography), the tape comes packaged in a silk-screened envelope with an original horror-flick photo that seems like it could’ve been peeled from the VHS box of New York’s own Troma Studios. We’ve included Heir’s favorite track, Hank Wood and the Hammerheads’ 97-second tantrum “White People,” a blown-out-as-fuck spazz attack with Trashmen-style throat-gargling.
What was your relationship with New York City before ending up at Pratt?
Alexander Heir: I grew up in New Jersey, right outside the city . . . when I was young, my parents would take me in all the time to walk around and go to musuems.
Maxim Ryazansky: In 1989, my family moved to America from Lithuania. It was crazy coming to New York for the first time. I remember seeing the Manhattan Bridge as we were approaching it. I was totally freaked out because from far away, the lit-up suspension cables looked they were the road, and I remember almost crapping myself thinking we were going to have to drive on them. We ended up moving about 20 miles outside the city in New Jersey, so obviously, as I got into punk and hardcore in the late ’90s, I started telling my parents I was hanging out at my friends’ houses and instead coming here to see shows. I remember just thinking how cool NYHC was, and being like 15 and pissed off in my room cause the Raybeez memorial show was 16+.
How did you two meet? What did you originally bond over?
Ryazansky: We kind of knew each other from going to shows, even though Alex was more into shitty punk and I was psyched on shitty hardcore.
So, what inspired you to start Burn Books Records?
Ryazansky: I was thinking of Bongout, who are based out of Berlin, and how they just put out the coolest stuff. A lot of the time there is emphasis on handmade art, and they don’t pigeonhole themselves to one thing. I just thought we could do our own version of that kind of DIY approach within our group of friends. It’s not really a record label, it’s just Burn Books. We’ll be doing a lot of other stuff; zines, artist prints, comics, etc. Also, I just want to say that other possible names that were tossed around before we settled on Burn Books include Book Bros and New York Jews.
What about this particular strain of New York music is so inspiring to you?
Ryazansky: It’s just bad people making good music — or maybe its vice-versa. I dunno, New York has so many goddamn bands. I read a list on some website recently of the top 200 NYC bands, and I seriously knew who four of them were. This is just the stuff we are into that our friends are playing. If one of our friends came to us with a non-punk project that we thought was awesome, we would probably put that out, too. It just seems like the most creative and diverse time for punk in New York since I’ve been involved with it. The only thing I am kinda bummed on is there is no new classic NYHC-sounding band out right now that I am into. Why is there no band that sounds like early Agnostic Front, Madball, or Sick Of It All? It’s not right.
These bands are a little more abrasive and immediate and ugly — its almost like an antidote to chillwave. How do you feel about that trend?
Ryazansky: I have no idea what chillwave is, but it sounds dumb. I think the only real antidote for them is to wake up to the real deal, cause it’s a game that I won’t play.
Heir: “Chillwave” is one of those hot-button words like “lo-fi,” which usually means “crappy.” It seems to be for people more concerned with being cool than actually listening to good music, and I’m sure most of these bands will be quickly forgotten. While we’re at it, I’d like to add that this trend of ’90s worship has go to go. Kurt Cobain offed himself, The Simpsons sucks now, and dressing like a cast member of Blossom is not hot.
What’s your favorite track on this tape and why?
Ryazansky: I don’t want to be that dude, but I can’t pick one. Obviously it wouldn’t make sense for us to put stuff out by bands we don’t like, so I think all the bands on the tape are great. If you look at comps like Flex Your Head, This Is Boston Not L.A., or The Way It Is, there isn’t anything on there totally out of left field, but there is still a lot of different stuff going, and that’s how good comps should be.
Heir: I can’t get over “White People” by Hank Wood and the Hammerheads. It’s on par with if not better than any Killed By Death single . . . an instant punk classic. The guitar rips, the lyrics are ridiculous, and there’s an organ. What else can you ask for?
Why a cassette?
Ryazansky: Partially because I think that’s how we found out about music when we were growing up, but mostly because no one cares about CDs anymore. We wanted to make it cheaper than vinyl and more expensive than a Mediafire link. We’ll be doing a vinyl sequel to this with hopefully all the eight bands from the original and about five more where we’ll ask all the bands for one exclusive track. We’re just starting to talk about it and passing ideas around on the layout, so we’ll see what happens.
What’s with the wild poster and envelope art?
Ryazansky: Both are sick. We wanted to make something totally original. I hate when bands just steal some image from a photographer or horror movie and slap their own logo over it. The estate of Diane Arbus might as well just sue punk rock for how many of her photos have been used for record covers. Alex got this book from the ’70s on D.I.Y. horror makeup, and we turned Stef from Pregnant into a melted face punk freak. We wanted something that looked like it could have been from any point in the last 40 years but was also slightly weird. Burn Books is all about balancing out timelessness with weirdness. The posters are 32″ x 22″ offset printed, and the envelope that it and the tape come in is silk-screened by us. I’m not trying to make it seem like anything more than it is — I mean, it’s just a shitty tape comp — but we worked pretty hard to make it look cool and be something people would remember.
What’s an example of a night you had that made you realize that NYC is “the greatest city in the world”?
Heir: Every time I leave the city, I’m reminded that the rest of the country is a total dump.
Ryazansky: I’m gonna go with a totally non-punk poseur answer and say when I met my wife.
What’s your favorite place to eat in Brooklyn?
Heir: I have to give a shout out to John’s Diner on Myrtle Avenue in Fort Greene. That place is my Cheers.
Ryazansky: I love the Big Mick at McDowell’s on Queens Blvd.