Drain: NorCal Hardcore Crew's Long, Hard Road to Overnight Success | Revolver

Drain: NorCal Hardcore Crew's Long, Hard Road to Overnight Success

Fighting the current of high-cost living and familial pressures until the world's riding their thrashcore wave
Drain Christian Castillo , Christian Castillo
photograph by Christian Castillo

Accidentally running over your brand-new guitar with a car is never a good thing. Running over your guitar on the way to cutting a song… Well, most bands might just scrap that day altogether. Not Drain, though. Drain aren't a group that admits defeat. The Santa Cruz, California, hardcore crew proved their mettle when they faced that exact scenario early last year, as they were heading out to track their debut single,  "Watch You Burn."

"The guitar was totally crushed!" exclaims boundlessly cheerful frontman Sammy Ciaramitaro. But the band, which also features guitarist Cody Chavez, bassist Mike Durrett and drummer Tim Flegal, weren't going to let that stop them. So, they dusted off the wrecked instrument and continued on their way. "The input jack and the tone and volume knobs all got smashed into the body," Ciaramitaro continues. "But they were at max tone and max volume, and the input still worked, so we fucking recorded with it. That single was made with this stripped, smashed, freshly ran-over guitar."

Drain are no strangers to making the best out of misfortune. Their debut album, California Cursed, was released in April 2020, at the peak of nationwide shut-downs. But while the world as we knew it seemed to be disappearing down the plughole, Drain's tidal wave was forming. Their brand of confrontational thrashcore was just what a legion of stir-crazy hardcore lovers needed to hear, and suddenly Drain were one of the most talked-about hardcore bands in the country.

My phone was getting blown up, and I was like, This is too much for me to process," Ciaramitaro tells Revolver today. "I just turned it off for, like, a week." Epitaph Records began talks with them four days after its release, and eventually signed them for an as-yet-untitled LP, which will include "Watch You Burn" and is tentatively due to arrive later this year.

Drain's rise to success may seem like it came out of nowhere, but the truth is that they've been grinding away in the shadows since 2014. "People are like, 'Ugh, Drain's the most hyped-up band and they just put this record out,'" says Ciaramitaro. "It's like, if people knew… they don't know."

Given that most hardcore bands are formed by restless kids with few aspirations beyond unleashing a burst of energy, longevity like this is rare. (Ciaramitaro's other band, Gulch, is in the process of splitting up after one album together.) But Ciaramitaro says Drain have, by necessity, done things differently. None of them are from Santa Cruz, and when they formed in college at UCSC, they entered a scene populated by groups who had known each other since middle school.  Even their backgrounds in metal were at odds with the hardcore kids — but Drain used that to their advantage and wrote riffs that sounded unlike anything around them. "Drain's always had this outsider approach," says the vocalist. "Even now, I still try to keep that. It's easy to forget what it feels like to be that person, but we're trying to always hold on to it."

Ciaramitaro recalls an explosive early Santa Cruz show in 2016 as a defining moment for Drain. "I was like, Whoa! I don't know who any of these kids [in the crowd] are, but they're going off. On a small scale, this is our own town in our backyard, but what if we could do this everywhere? Across the country, maybe across the world? After that, we were addicted."

drain_credit_robwallace.jpg, Rob Wallace
Drain, (clockwise from top left) Michael Durrett, Tim Flegal, Cody Chavez and Sammy Ciaramitaro
photograph by Rob Wallace

Ciaramitaro's ultimate dream back then was to play at Sound & Fury, the annual L.A. hardcore festival that at that point he'd only experienced via YouTube footage. But if they wanted to get there, there was a long, tough road ahead of them.

"The early years of the band were kinda dark," says Ciaramitaro. For one thing, the cost of living in Santa Cruz is one of the highest in the country, and after college the members of Drain were struggling to get by. If he wanted to eat, Ciaramitaro would wait until Flegal clocked out of work at a nearby coffee shop and take whatever stale, unsold food was thrown his way. At one point, he made spare cash posing nude for college art classes. To add insult to injury, the band would go on tour and stay in beautiful houses in other states that cost only a fraction of their rent. "It's the curse of California: You can't leave," he says, nodding to the frustration that inspired their record's title. "There's too many good things. You can go surfing, and then you can look up and see a beautiful redwood forest. And there's a price that comes with it."

They weren't getting any younger, either, and the pressure to give up and do something with their college degrees was mounting. "I come from a big Italian family, in a small port town where everyone knows everybody. A lot of people were kinda like, 'What the fuck are you doing? You're 24. You're throwing your life away.' It really shook me, and still to this day, it fuels me." Across most of California Cursed, Ciaramitaro speaks directly to those people, most memorably on "Army of One": "Have you ever put your life on the line/To follow a dream, to feel alive?/No? Then don't speak."

Drain's greatest vindication came in 2019, when after years of thankless touring they finally made it to Sound & Fury. "People were just as excited about us being on that fest as we were. We were seeing kids that booked us in Tennessee or in Iowa, and they were like, 'I booked these guys four years ago. They stayed with me at my parents' house, and now they're playing this fest!' We were the band for the underdogs and the outcasts, and now we were all in the same room, and we made enough noise amongst ourselves that even the cool kids were like, 'Damn, maybe this band is pretty cool.'" A half hour after that set, Revelation Records approached them about releasing California Cursed. "That one show single-handedly shifted the course of what at least the next five to 10 years of my life was gonna be like."

In 2021, the band broke their pandemic hiatus with the instantly legendary Real Bay Shit show — an enormous and completely DIY affair featuring Drain and fellow NorCal bands Gulch, Scowl and Sunami — where they finally unleashed the furious potential that California Cursed had promised over a year before. They're now hard at work on their new album, which Ciaramitaro promises will be "really fucking pissed off." They've blown past their initial wildest dreams, but for Drain there's still no end in sight. "I'm on this never-ending quest to prove something to myself — I don't even know what it is, and I don't know whether I'll ever be satisfied. I hope not."

Reflecting on almost eight years of blood, sweat and tears, Ciaramitaro sums up what makes Drain a true DIY hardcore success story. "We didn't have anybody that showed us the ropes. We learned from our own mistakes. But that's why we're [still] here. We're built to last. We've been around when no one cared, and we're around now that people do care, and we'll probably be around when people don't care anymore.

"If we can make a name for ourselves when we had everything stacked against us, then you can do whatever it is that you wanna do. Let us be living proof."