Ben Cook — vocalist for No Warning, member of Fucked Up and mastermind behind Young Guv — is sitting in Sakura sushi restaurant in Greenpoint and furiously tapping at his phone when Revolver walks in for our interview. He's trying to meet up with a merch vendor to replenish No Warning's supply of Ill Blood sweatshirts, which have been flying out the door on the group's headlining Life & Death U.S. tour.
The trek has landed Cook in New York, a city No Warning haven't played in longer than Cook can even recall (over a decade), due to band members being tied up with Fucked Up and Terror obligations, not to mention some personal tribulations. The singer is eager to show off a few of the ripping cuts on the group's new LP, Torture Culture, as well as 2002's much lauded Ill Blood, later tonight.
Torture Culture is the band's first full-length since 2004's Suffer, Survive, and it delivers on the promises that the group made so many moons ago. It's muscular, unrelenting but hummable, filled with melodies that stick in your head without ever slowing the momentum that should drive in any punk release. The production is shiny but raw in only the best ways and the right places, making for one of the best hardcore releases of the year — no simple feat for a band that has effectively been away from the table for more than a dozen years.
We chatted with Cook about the new release, what it was like coming back to something that he left so long ago and how No Warning fits in the current hardcore landscape.
ASIDE FROM A FEW SMALLER RELEASES, IT'S BEEN A LONG TIME SINCE WE HEARD ANYTHING FROM YOU GUYS. I ASSUME PART OF IT IS BEING ON THE FUCKED UP HUSTLE?
BEN COOK For me, music's always been a very fluid flow. So when No Warning started to get lame in our minds, and we just want to step away, we do. Very briefly I worked at a boutique tee company for a year and then Fucked Up asked me to join so I did that for 10 years. Fucked Up had to take some downtime at some point — the band's been driven pretty hard for quite some time. [Fucked Up singer] Damian [Abraham]'s doing his thing with the podcast and he's doing a new show for Viceland.
No Warning got some cool offers, and some cool people coming on to help us out. No Warning was never, like, a huge band, you know, when we were on — maybe our music or our legacy or whatever you wanna call it has blossomed over time. So when people said, "You should play this big venue and, like, a bunch of people will come." We were like, "Um, I don't believe that, but if you guys say so, we'll agree to this. Hopefully, this isn't, like, an embarrassing show."
It's all been really fucking awesome — we're definitely feeling that energy. The times right now — it's fucking crazy. Everything feels so confusing and anxious and fucking angry, so it's like kind of ...
GOOD FOR HARDCORE?
I wouldn't say, "Yo, it's great for hardcore right now 'cause, like, America's so fucked up." That's a pretty self-centered angle, but it definitely doesn't feel wrong to be screaming all the time.
ABSOLUTELY. SO PREVIOUS TO THIS LP, YOU DID A FLEXI AND A 7-INCH ON LOCKIN' OUT.
We also did a 7-inch called Resurrection of the Wolf a bit before that was a benefit for our ex-bass player who kind of ... he had some problems with himself and the law. I won't get into details, but he needed help and that shit sold out in, like, fucking five minutes. Hardcore music literally helped that dude get on the right path.
After that we were like, "All right, man, this is, like, some special shit." We did the record in five minutes. It was something we could do naturally, so we're like, "Maybe we should fuck with an LP or some shit." Where we left off with Suffer Survive is not, like, the most satisfying piece of music to me personally — a lot of bullshit going on back then for us. So we wanted to kind of come strong with an album that we would have made maybe back then. We probably could have curated it a little bit more to 2017 attention spans, but we just made an album that we felt was like a classic No Warning record, front to back.
SO AFTER ALL THIS TIME AWAY, DID YOU GUYS TAKE A TEMPERATURE OF HARDCORE AT ALL OR JUST KIND OF GO FOR IT?
Yeah, I do. We were actually talking about this the other night because being on this tour, you know, this is our first, actual real U.S. tour, so we're seeing what hardcore 2017 is like in 2017. And it actually feels very similar. Some things don't change, which is a good and bad thing. There's new people, a stronger female presence at the shows — which is fucking amazing — but did we take temperature of going into this? Honestly, no. The only temperature we could take is from [guitarist] Jordan [Posner]'s experience with Terror and my experience with Fucked Up. No Warning's always done records that we would want to listen to ourselves. So we could never actually take the temperature of any kind of musical climate before doing a record. It just wouldn't be our style, but it might have been smart to do so [laughs] 'cause whenever we drop a No Warning record it just kind of sits there. Even Ill Blood just sat there. No one fucked with it for a really long time and then all of a sudden like you start hearing that people really fuck with it where it's like a classic record or some shit.
WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO BE AWAY FROM IT AND THEN HEAR THAT, WHILE YOU WERE AWAY, THE RECORD WAS WORKING FOR YOU?
It's weird because we stepped away, did our thing, and though I've always kept an eye on everything, it was great to see fans had flocked to those records. Had we done things a little differently or not broken up, who knows what would have happened. Of course, things were a lot more different back then. Now it's pretty easy for bands to book their own tours and get popular, but back then it was a little bit harder to organize.
SO THE RECORD HITS REALLY HARD BUT BALANCES THE HEAVINESS OUT WITH MELODIC MOMENTS. CAN YOU GIVE US A LITTLE INSIGHT INTO THE PRODUCTION WITH CHRIS CREGLIA?
We did it with a friend who just built a studio near my house. At this point, I've done a lot of records in my life and I feel really at home in the studio. That's what I love to do and everything else is kind of after that for me. But I was just like, "I wanna do this myself," and with this kid and kind of hovered over his shoulder — not to say he isn't supremely talented as well. I spent a really long time mixing it with him because there is an extremely painstaking process because we were working with someone who A) had never worked with someone like me who can be a little bit a bit particular and B) also never done like I guess a big name band or whatever, whatever you want to call it. So yeah, we put a lot of pressure on him, but he never cracked.
We mixed it for a while and kept going at it and then nailed what we wanted. Joel [Grind] from Toxic Holocaust actually stepped in on the mastering. I love working with him — you could feel that he really cared about the record. He was giving a lot of love to it. He was doing a lot of different options for us and then finally after a while, like, he had his second coffee of the day and he came back and we were like, "That's the fucking compression, dude." A lot of nerdy shit goes on, you know what I mean? I really enjoyed it, but it destroyed us. And then I took some time off in the country about two months before this tour.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON YOUR CURRENT TOUR?
If someone offered me a month on tour in America in 2017, I might think twice about it and maybe just do the East Coast/West Coast separately. The U.S. is a pretty gnarly place to be right now. I've done U.S. tours before and I don't know if it's that I'm a little older or I'm more aware, but the climate of the country, it's fucking weird. The shows are amazing, but actual travel has left me personally like — I'm sure this is a very common feeling in your country — depressing as fuck. It's dark, dude.
TOURING THE EAST COAST IS ONE THING — THERE'S A MAJOR CITY EVERY TWO HOURS OR SO. BUT WHEN YOU'RE DRIVING SEVEN, EIGHT, NINE HOURS AT A CLIP FROM ONE B MARKET TO ANOTHER ... THAT CAN BE PRETTY TAXING.
Yeah, just driving through the middle of the country right now and supporting all of these massive fucking giant consumer like chains. That's completely ...
THAT'S ALL THAT'S OUT THERE.
It's unavoidable. I feel lucky that I don't have to deal with that shit daily and that I know different. A lot of these people in these places don't.
DO YOU LIKE BEING ON THE ROAD?
Yes and no. I was born with a dislocated hip. I was disabled at birth and I was in a body cast for the first year of my life, so bouncing around in a van all my life has left me like with a lot of fucking problems. But I still do it. And the shows are good, yeah. It's just the traveling and tour is not super creative — it's more like the same thing every day. If I'm not creating something constantly, I get pretty bummed. So tour has always been up and down. Up is fucked, down is fucked.
HOW DO YOU SPEND YOUR TIME IN THE VAN?
I read light stuff. I listen to a lot of political podcasts and even BBC World News or the New York Times daily podcast. But listening to that sort of stuff gets to you every day where you're like, "Oh my god, this is crazy." But I right now I'm reading the autobiography of Gucci Mane, which is like fun. I try to have fun in the van.
SOMETIMES YOU NEED A SIMPLE READ
I just wanna read someone just telling a story. Sometimes I'll go into a deep book and never get out, but right now I'm on my third week in America, dude. I'm in the eighth band on every night. I'm reading the Gucci Mane book — it's sick.
YOU GUYS DID A FEW FESTS BEFORE DECIDING TO DO THIS FULL U.S. THING. WAS THAT PART OF THE ORIGINAL PLAN? FOR INSTANCE, YOU COULD HAVE KEPT ON THAT FESTIVAL TRAIN LIKE TRAPPED UNDER ICE ... PLAYING VIRTUALLY ALL OF THE FESTS BEFORE ANY US DATES AND THEN BREAKING IT INTO SHORTER CHUNKS.
They're doing it in a way that is really smart. Yeah, breaking it into chunks is the way to go. After a few festivals, we knew we wanted to do music, a record. James [Vitalo, vocals] from Backtrack is our booking agent and he kind of was just like, "Yo, come out with us." We tried to time the album a little bit better with the tour but because we never actually did a full U.S. tour for Ill Blood. So we're playing a few new songs and a lot of Ill Blood just to get ourselves out there. Not just sit at home and open up Instagram and fucking pretend.
WHEN YOU'RE WRITING, DO YOU LOOK AT 2017 HARDCORE AT ALL FOR INSPIRATION? OR DO YOU GO BACK TO THE CLASSICS? AGNOSTIC FRONT, ANTI-CIMEX OR SOMETHING?
When we write hardcore, we're not necessarily taking from hardcore. We like to listen to all kinds of music, like, whether it's Seventies rock or Eighties hair metal or butt rock or Priest, stuff like that. There's even funk arrangements and there are songs from Ill Blood that we ripped off of pop punk. Honestly, I like to make music so much that I would rather make it than listen to it. I have a really hard time listening to music without wanting to dissect it and make my own instantly. So I'm aware of a lot of music, bands and modern stuff, but I don't necessarily listen to it. I have a particular relationship with music at this point because I'm so obsessive with it. I almost can't listen and enjoy it. I'm studying it too much.
THERE HAS TO BE MUSICIANS THAT YOU STUDY CONSTANTLY THOUGH. YOU CAN LISTEN TO A COLTRANE OR A SUN RA RECORD 10 TIMES AND HEAR 1,000 DIFFERENT THINGS. IS THERE SOMETHING LIKE THAT FOR YOU?
When I put on shit like that, that's for my actual listening experience because I don't actually find myself dissecting, like, a jazz record. That's not where I come from. So I'll actually put on jazz or just really feel it. But when it comes to heavy shit, punk or metal ...
STUFF THAT YOU'RE INVOLVED IN MAKING ...
Or anything that has roots in hard shit ... As soon as I start hearing it, it'll get me pumped up and I'll wanna play. I wanna make it, too. And that's how I've always felt about it. As soon I heard Warzone when I was 15, I was like, "I gotta make that. I can make that." Or even when I heard the Ramones or Nirvana. I don't wanna listen to it right now. Turn it off. Let's make our own.
NOW THAT NO WARNING IS BACK AND WITH A NEW RECORD AND EVERYTHING, HOW DOES IT FEEL? DO YOU HAVE ANY PERSONAL THOUGHTS ON THE BAND'S RETURN?
It's just crazy, and I feel super lucky to be able to go on a tour after so many years of not doing anything. It boggles my mind that we were able to come out here and people know our shit in every city. And we only ever made, in my mind, one LP, you know what I mean? And it was so long ago. Yet touring right now, it almost feels like no time has passed. So yeah. I also wanna say "thanks" to anyone who has ever fucked with our band because it's been a really weird life so far.
WELL, YOU AND I KNOW THAT ESPECIALLY IN HARDCORE, ALL OF THE BEST BANDS ONLY HAD REALLY ONE LP, YOU KNOW?
[Laughs] Yeah, I know. I mean we're aware of that, too. We're not under any illusions that we're gonna be some, like, bigger band than we ever were or we ever are, you know. We just wanna be weirdos that make music.
SORT OF LIKE FUCKED UP? THROW THE RULES OUT THE WINDOW AND SEE WHERE IN GOES? I MEAN, EVEN THE NAME SAYS, "WE'RE NOT MEANT TO CROSSOVER."
Yeah, Fucked Up has been a crazy ride. And it's a very special thing for my life. I went from being a little fucking shit in No Warning, terrorizing myself and everyone around me, to this intellectual band of freaks. For some reason they wanted me in the band and now we're here. New record on the way and it's been weird.
And yeah, Fucked Up is a shit name in general.