Chris Zusi is the guitarist of Floorpunch; a band known with rekindling the spirit of Straight Edge in the Hardcore Punk scene at a point in the mid 1990’s when it seemed altogether lost. Gaining momentum quickly, many bands fell in line behind them such as Pennsylvania’s Rain on the Parade and Boston’s In My Eyes to form a revamped Straight Edge scene that rivaled the initial one of the late 80’s where bands like Youth of Today, Bold and Gorilla Biscuits ruled the roost.
Green Room Radio tracked down Zusi in his native New Jersey to talk the formation of Floorpunch, the reaction the band received at the time and the everyday sketchy situations of life on the road for a touring Hardcore Punk band.
WHERE WAS THE HARDCORE SCENE AT THE TIME FLOORPUNCH FORMED?
Chris Zusi: By 1995, the scene was so different than it was when I first got into hardcore that it was hard to recognize. With the exception of Mouthpiece no band was playing fast Straight Edge hardcore. Individuals and bands were doing all that they could to distance themselves from that late 80’s look and sound. I didn’t have a problem with people doing something different, but there was a vibe in the scene that people had grown out of the Youth Crew thing, and we’re doing more “mature” music now. It’s like they were embarrassed to admit that they liked Youth of Today. Then you also had people and bands that were distancing themselves from being Straight Edge, saying “Oh, we’re straight but we’re not a Straight Edge band”. So that was the environment that gave birth to Floorpunch. We said that if people wanted melody, angst, cardigan sweaters, and pseudo intellectual lyrics that we were going to hit them over the head with mosh parts, varsity jackets, straight edge, and songs about crews.
SO FLOORPUNCH WAS A REACTION TO WHERE THE SCENE WAS HEADING?
Since the beginning hardcore has been a series of reactions. Hardcore starts as a reaction to Punk, Youth of Today starts as a reaction to the scene going Metal. Tough guy core starts as a reaction to the Youth Crew, Post-Hardcore starts as a reaction to tough guy core, and so on. So I think it was just a natural reaction to what was going on in the scene at the time. I also think that New Jersey has always taken a certain amount of pride when it comes to Straight Edge. I mean the Edge is fucking strong in New Jersey, so whenever Straight Edge falls out of fashion someone from New Jersey is going to start a band to remind people what it’s all about.
WHAT WAS THE REACTION TO FLOORPUNCH AT THE BEGINNING?
I think that the reaction ran the gambit. There were people who were offended by us. There were people who thought we were doing satire. There were people who didn’t pay us any mind, and then people who really connected to what we were trying to do. I’ll never forget, we played a show in Chatham New Jersey with Earth Crisis and there were probably 500+ people there. It was a big show and we were one of the opening bands with only a demo out and having played only a few shows and the place exploded during our set. It was then that we kind of figured out that, at least in the Tri-State area, there were a lot more people who were with us than against us. It wasn’t always like that, like any band we had our share of great and terrible shows when we hit the road. But there was always a core group of kids that supported the band wherever we traveled and we really appreciated that. Even now, 20 years later we still have great friends that we made during that time.
IN REGARDS TO STRAIGHT EDGE, WHY DO YOU THINK IT IS SOMETHING THAT ECHOES THROUGHOUT HARDCORE?
I think everyone’s experience in hardcore is relative. For me, I missed out on Minor Threat, SSD, and the A7, so Youth of Today, Judge, CBGB’s and Revelation Records were the epicenter for my experience. Even though I was playing in bands during that 1987-1990 era, it wasn’t really my scene, I was doing my best to participate but I was a spectator. By the time Floorpunch came along it felt like it was our scene – all of our friends were doing the bands, putting on the shows, putting out the records. I’m sure there were kids in the scene when Floorpunch was active that connected to Straight Edge but who felt like I did eight years earlier. So five years later those kids started taking control of the scene, it was their time to do bands and keep it moving, and so on and so on. There is almost an unwritten structure to it; a certain continuity. It’s not just a continuation of the music, but also the aesthetic of Straight Edge. The clean cut, the sharp lines, the live pictures; I think that they all have a visual appeal that has lasted over the decades.
Hardcore is something unique that we have, it used to be our secret. It taught us that we could do whatever the fuck we wanted – if we wanted to play in a band we could, put out a record we could, go on tour we could. Straight Edge took that feeling of external empowerment and internalized it. It was a modern day asceticism of sorts. Instead of rebelling against the feeling of powerlessness by going out and getting drunk and losing more control it allowed us as kids to have some control over our lives in a positive way. But at the end of the day I think the Straight Edge message continues to endure because it connects with people through the music. There is a power in the message delivered via hardcore music. When I hear Dave Smalley of DYS yell “More than the X’s on my hand, more than being in a straight edge band, I see no good in my mind getting fucked, a needless vacuum and I won’t be sucked!” I’m all in, I’m hooked. Even in this day and age where every youth subculture has been commercialized and coopted being Straight Edge still sets you apart from most people. That will always appeal to kids.
CAN YOU REMEMBER ANY SHOWS WITH FLOORPUNCH OR THE BANDS YOU WERE IN PREVIOUSLY—RESURRECTION OR RELASE—THAT WENT HORRIBLY WRONG?
I think that there are degrees of “horribly wrong” in Hardcore. Maybe I’m jaded, but I don’t consider a scuffle or getting ripped off that bad on the sliding scale. People think of the 80’s as a time with all of this violence, so I must have a lot of stories related to Release, right? Or they think of Floorpunch as this aggressive, violent band. But I’ll tell you, the most trouble I ever had playing shows was in Resurrection. In the early 90’s in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania there were fights all the time. You had suburban kids trying to prove how tough they were, you had hardcore shows in venues that weren’t used to having them, you had bouncers, and you still had pockets of white power scenes. It seemed like for two years every show that Resurrection played ended in a riot or fight. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I don’t remember that many bad situations happening on tour either. I mean we had van breakdowns and some fists have flown, but nothing too crazy.