Q&A: Crime in Stereo Talk Breaking Up, Reuniting, What Cleveland Means, and the Two Types of Hardcore


Back in 2007, when Long Island-based sorta hardcore band Crime in Stereo decided to call their third record …Is Dead, it seemed to foreshadow an event that would happen sooner or later. Any fears were pacified at the time by the band sticking to its regular touring activities and issuing another record in 2009, but it wasn’t long until the prophecy was finally fulfilled.

On August 9, 2010, a Facebook/Twitter update from the band declared, “Crime In Stereo Is Dead (2002-2010)”–a particularly cruel twisting of the knife since the phrasing implicitly remind fans of an album whose songs they wouldn’t be hearing in person anymore. Shortly thereafter, band member Alex Dunne issued a lengthy, vague statement discussing the breakup, and the five-piece scheduled a handful of final appearances. The last Crime show happened on their native soil at Bergen Point Country Club in January 14, 2011.

Then, on this past October 3, using one of the same social media outlets they did last time, the group announced, “Hiatus rescinded.” Along with revealing information of note (they would start making new music immediately, they missed working together, they’d play a single show in 2012, etc.), they thankfully also had the sense to acknowledge how little time they spent in the grave. “We know,” they wrote. “We were ‘only’ broken up for two years.” It was some comic book death kinda shit, but really, quite the positive if you were familiar with how their arc was going before it was halted.

Crime always excelled at cranking up the scope. 2004’s Explosives and the Will to Use Them was a simple melodic hardcore record in the Lifetime/Gorilla Biscuits tradition–enjoyable but nothing ballsy. 2006’s The Troubled Stateside had more fire in its belly and ambition to burn, what with the band playing with more calligraphy-like hooks/words while continuing to spit shrapnel at various hypocrites and jerkoffs. Next came the fantastically rich …Is Dead, which sounded nothing like Explosives. This Crime savored tasty reverb, increasingly abstract lyrics sung with new range from Kristian Hallbert, drums that sounded like they could fill an entire galaxy, and the sense that higher peaks would be ahead. The even bigger I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone continued the pattern in 2009, taking more experiments with silence, distortion, and mood-changing. Before they died, they played with hardcore bands constantly and never shied away from playing their hardcore-friendly tunes but at the same time were aiming something beyond what their genre could offer. All that realized ambition made it especially frustrating that Crime rarely received attention in places and from people past their scene’s regular parameters.

This Saturday, Crime in Stereo celebrate their reunion by headlining the Gramercy Theatre, bringing I Am the Avalanche and Sainthood Reps in tow. The show starts at 6 p.m.  Before the pits and dog piles commence, we spoke to guitarist/vocalist/lyricist Dunne in the band’s first interview since returning.

You guys have been cagey about the circumstances of the breakup. There wasn’t too much information out there about it. What can you say about it now?

It was just, uh–What can I say about this? [Laughs softly] I think that it was just too much, honestly. At the time, it was just all too much. I don’t really know to what extent bands really should be full-time bands. I don’t know how good of an idea that is, really, to be on the road 10 months out of the year. It was a very slow, creeping eventuality that [with] all of the reasons we did it and loved doing it, all of a sudden one day we turned around and those things were the exact reasons why we didn’t wanna do it and why we were miserable. It kind of creeps up on you, and you don’t see it coming until one day, you turn around and kind of wonder what happened. I’m not married, so obviously I’ve never been divorced, but I really feel like this is how you eventually realize one day that your marriage is over or that it had gone on too long.

You have any number of anxieties or issues creeping up on the band, but what event sparked the breakup directly?

There was some really serious degradation and deterioration of some personal relationships within the band that had been happening over time. We all were just kind of brushing it to the side. We were in Europe in summer of 2010, and we had a video documentarian out with us who was filming our tour. I just remember Kristian and I were sitting in the basement of a hostel in London, playing ping-pong and being interviewed. As we’re doing this interview, we’re just talking off the top of our heads and both start talking about why we don’t really want to be doing this anymore. We’re both sitting there and we’re like, “Yeah, I guess we really don’t want to do this anymore.” We decided that we would finish out that European tour and then we got home and then we would call it quits.

Alternative Press did an interview with you in October 2008 that mentioned you guys had broken up briefly that summer. Was that in any way foreshadowing that the band would break up for good two years later?

Yeah, probably. Again, there were some personal issues in the band obviously that, to be honest with you, I don’t know ever got resolved. Another big issue is that if you’re going to be in a full-time touring band, that’s the only thing you can do with your life. You have to do it to the exclusion of all other things, so you can’t pursue any other interests because you essentially have to devote all of your time and energy to this. You can’t have another job or another career. You can’t go to school. You can’t have a meaningful long-term relationship. Over the course of doing the band, we all had long-term girlfriends that we don’t have anymore. I think it’s a very, very small percentage of bands that actually should be full-time bands. Really, unless you’re very young or making a significant amount of income, I don’t know that there is a reason to be this kind of full-time band.

Our booking agent is this legendary music industry woman Marsha Vlasic. She started Ozzfest. She books Metallica and Ozzy and The Strokes and Muse and Neil Young–people like that. I remember we signed on with her. She takes me into her office in uptown Manhattan and sits me down. I remember her saying, “Alright, on this upcoming tour, why are you guys going to Cleveland?” I was like, “What are you talking about? We always play Cleveland.” She’s like, “Alright, but I’m looking at the numbers in front of me.” I had never actually seen someone do a statistical analysis of being in a touring band, but now all of a sudden, this woman has spreadsheets in front of me. She’s like, “Look, you don’t sell any CDs in Cleveland and I have all of your ticket sales from your last four shows in Cleveland. You guys don’t even really sell many tickets in Cleveland, so not that many people are buying the records, not that many people are coming to the shows. Why do you guys play Cleveland four times a year?” I was like, “That’s what you do.” That literally was my answer to her.

We essentially will play every place that can be played. That was how we operated for the entire history of the band. If you had a town and you had a club that wanted us to play, we would play it regardless of other factors. I just remember it being this really eye-opening thing for better or worse when this woman sat me down and was like, “Why do you play all of these cities four times a year? There’s no evidence to support that this is a good idea. Not only are you not making money, here’s how much money you lose by going to these cities over and over again.”

Coming up in a punk rock mentality, that is the mentality: You go play wherever there is to be played. I’ve played squats in Poland and abandoned castles in Germany. I’ve been to some of the strangest places, and that’s really because of the DIY mentality of “You play wherever there is to be played.” The problem with that again is all of a sudden one day, you’re 28 years old and you’ve been doing it for six years. There’s no real rhyme to doing what you do. You just do it because you’ve fallen into the mentality of “Well, this is what we do.”

Did you end up signing with her and taking her advice about not going back to Cleveland?

She was and is our booking agent, so by the time that I was talking to her about these things, we had already signed with her. As far as taking her advice, we didn’t immediately take her advice. It did become a gradually dawning realization.

We then and went and did our next full U.S. tour, and we did it the way that we had always done it. We went to every place in America and it became clear to us as we’re doing it. “Oh right, I kind of see what she was talking about.” Here we are in Salt Lake or Boise and you just kind of find yourself saying, “Why are we here?” Now, that’s not why the band broke up. The band broke up due to very serious personal issues that I’m not going to get into here just out of respect for other people, but there was a kind of eye-opening realization about the way that we ran the business of our band.

A lot of people don’t want to hear their bands talking about business or dollars and cents, but the truth of the matter is, this was the way that six people earned a living whether you like it or not. Even if you don’t want to think of it as a business or run it like a business, it still is the way you earn your living, so it’s a little naive to say, “Well, we’re going to run our business not like a business, and we’re not going to attempt to do this intelligently in any way. We’ll just take what comes to us.” It’s not the smartest way to do things.

Now that you’ve reunited, what’s going to change this time–the lineup, the way you’re going to look at the music, how much you’re going to tour?

Lineup’s not going to change. Basically, the reason why we feel that it’s going to work now is essentially because we don’t have to spend all of our time together. Maybe that sounds callous, but it really is the truth. None of us would be able to do this if we had to be in each other’s presence for eight months at a time or for 24 hours a day for eight weeks on end. The thing that we were always great at and always clicked with us as a group was making music. At this point, we’re all individually friends–some better than others–but in terms of all five of us, all five of us wouldn’t or don’t hang out together on a regular basis. The only thing that really gives us all a common mutual connection is making music. That we’ve always enjoyed doing, we missed tremendously when we weren’t doing it. The problems really arise when all of a sudden we all have to be in each other’s constant presence for months on end. Getting back together to make music was not as big of a deal maybe as it would have been otherwise. I can’t see us ever doing a full tour ever again. I don’t want to put too much of a definitive statement on it, which isn’t to say that we’ll only ever play New York.

We’re going to try and get out to the West Coast. We’re going try and get back to the UK. We’re going try and do some festivals in some other cities, but there’s no way we’re ever going to go and do an eight-week full U.S. tour ever again.

So is Cleveland fucked?

[Laughs] I feel bad. It’s not that I’m picking on Cleveland. We have some really, really, really great close friends of the band who have always supported us tremendously in Cleveland. It’s just that happened to be the actual city that Marsha Vlasic was hitting us with in that meeting.

Is Cleveland fucked? No, I would love to get back to Cleveland. I would love to get back to Detroit and Chicago. The Midwest was one of the best areas in terms of how people have always treated us. We ostensibly would like to get back everywhere; it just doesn’t mean that we’re going to get everywhere in the same trip.

Moving onto the music for a moment, Crime always reminded me of a band like Ceremony or Fucked nowadays. You were rooted in hardcore and still played with hardcore bands but always sounded like you were trying to get out of hardcore. How accurate is that reading?

No, we were never trying to get out of hardcore. We pursued our own endeavors musically. I love Ceremony. Those are our boys. We came up with those guys when we first started playing. I don’t think we ever really fit in hardcore. We were always that band. We always played hardcore shows because we were hardcore kids that came up in the hardcore scene. The bands that we toured with were our friends, but we never musically fit in

Hardcore is a very nebulous term–a very ethereal, vague term. What most people think of as being hardcore isn’t my hardcore. There’s really two hardcores, if you want to get into it. I feel like there’s the hardcore that I grew up on which was Minor Threat and Bad Brains, Fugazi, Gorilla Biscuits, Lifetime, and Avail–bands like that. Then, there was the other hardcore, which is just as relevant. That’s the kind that often gets referred to as “tough guy” hardcore–I don’t want to call it that–but the bands more influenced by Agnostic Front and Madball and Sheer Terror.

When you say hardcore, I think that [the second] is what people think of. [With] your average music fan, if you say hardcore, they’re picturing a band that looks or sounds like Blood for Blood or Trapped Under Ice. That is a totally valid, relevant world in hardcore; it’s just that’s not my thing and never been my thing. Sick of It All is my all-time favorite hardcore band. I love Cro-Mags and old Agnostic Front and things like that, but that’s not my hardcore. I took my lead from Dischord Records, Dag Nasty, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and bands like that. We came up and tried to just do what was natural to us. What ended up happening is that you end up playing with Kid Dynamite and Lifetime and awesome bands like that, but you also end up playing with Madball and Terror and Death or Dishonor–all of whom we have actually played with. We get on those shows and their fans and our fans are like, “Why are you guys even playing together?” I don’t know what the answer to that is.

When I came up in hardcore, it was kind of a blanket term. You would have a band that sounded like Sunny Day Real Estate and a band that sounded like Botch and a band that sounded like Sheer Terror all on the same show. Now, things are much more genre-fied.

In that same Alternative Press interview after the temporary breakup, you had a really striking quote at the end. You said, “I am willing to fuck my life for Crime In Stereo.” After all that’s happened, would you ever be willing to fuck your life for Crime in Stereo again or, if not for Crime in Stereo, another band?

No, I wouldn’t, and I’m not saying that because I lack the love of music or the passion for the lifestyle I used to have. It’s that I understand that you don’t need to. That’s the biggest thing that I can say I took away from the first round of Crime in Stereo and the breakup. The biggest thing I took away is that you don’t need to do that. There really is no reason to ruin your life for the sake of a band because the truth is you can have both.