Pageninetynine: Screamo Legends’ Tumultuous History and Triumphant Return | Revolver

Pageninetynine: Screamo Legends’ Tumultuous History and Triumphant Return

Vocalist Blake Midgette talks about the end of the band and their triumphant return to the stage in 2017

Let's get one thing straight right out of the gate, Blake Midgette is his real name. The amusing surname is totally fitting considering his demeanor and stature: a tall, burly and jovial fellow with tons of stories and even more laughs. 

Midgette might be all smiles now, but back in the late Nineties he was quite the intimidating figure onstage as the vocalist for the screamo legends Pageninetynine. Blossoming out of Sterling, Virginia, Pageninetynine is considered one of the forefathers of the screamo movement alongside names like Orchid, Antioch Arrow, Saetia, Circle Takes the Square and more. In six short years, Pageninetynine released three LPs, several splits and changed the face of hardcore and punk as we know it with the release of 2001's Document #8. The record is considered to be pivotal for the genre, influencing legions of fans and providing the spark that would eventual lead to Touche Amore and many others. And then in 2003, following a particularly disasterous E.U. tour, there was nothing. Pageninetynine was no more. 

Cut to 2011, when seemingly out of nowhere, he and the rest of his Pageninetynine crew staged a reunion at Tony Foresta's Best Friends Day. The impact was massive, and fans from near and far flocked to the festival to catch the band's multi-instrumental/dual-vocal attack. Rumors began to swirl about the band's return, and promoters flocked to try to book the band for more dates. But then, just as abruptly as they returned, the band disappeared.

Midgette relocated to Brooklyn, New York, spending his time behind the bar a few nights a week — where he would catch the occasional glimmer of his old life. "I still get weird chills if I start a job and a barback has a Pageninetynine tattoo, or I see somebody wearing one of our shirts walking down the street," says Midgette about his semi-secret old life.

Then earlier this summer, Pageninetynine unexpectedly burst back onto the scene with the announcement that they would be reuniting for a week of shows this September with Majority Rule. Tickets for the string of East Coast dates — with the proceeds earmarked for various arts and LGBT causes — vanished immediately.

In the following interview, Midgette looks back at the legacy of Pageninetynine, his years away from the band and why now was the right time to reunite.

REVOLVER What kind of lead to the initial split? You guys just felt like it was over with?
I quit.  [laughs] I think we were all about done, honestly. Just a lot of touring really fast, we added some new members and the chemistry musically was, I thought, better than it ever had been. But some of the guys had really big personalities and we replaced two guys who were kind of just solid with one guy who was totally miserable and another guy who basically was this huge, always drunk, always loud-and-having fun type who picked on people a lot.

When you're stuck in a band with eight people, it was a lot. We ran into some troubles with the van in Europe. We lost our driver and our van and we had to drive ourselves around for like a month and a half. No guide, none of us spoke any languages or anything [laughs], so just a bunch of dumb Americans. And everybody hated us because we had German plates so we would stop to ask for directions and they'd be like "fuck you." Everybody hates the Germans over there. It's amazing how racist Europe is against other white people.

So it was just kind of like you guys just got back from that tour and that was it.
No, I got really sick on the road. I got strep throat like pretty much on the plane ride over and I was taking like low level antibiotics to like stave it off for a while. And when it hit, it hit really bad. I was miserable. Throwing up on myself in the van. One of the guys was calling me a pussy. It got ugly.

When we took a ferry over from Germany to Sweden, we got there and I passed out in customs because my throat swelled shut and I couldn't breathe. They got me in an ambulance and the doctor's like, "You're in bad shape, you got a super high fever." And I was still singing like a day before that, just pummeling booze to be able to get on stage. And when I got better from that I was like, "This is miserable."

Me, Mike [Taylor], Chris [Taylor] and Johnny [Ward], we were always super tight. And I loved everybody else in that band too, but the core group of us were all best friends. Me and Mike specifically, we were super close. It turned into "I hate all of you," and when I realized that I didn't want to be around people that I considered my best friends, I was like, "I can't do this anymore."

So we were going through some shit where we would have to hire a new driver and a new van to go to England finish up some dates. And the guy wanted to charge a bunch of money and bring all his merch and we didn't even have room for all of us.  Everybody's arguing about it and suddenly I said "I quit! I don't want to do this anymore. Let's just go home." Then me and Mikey were like "Yeah, let's do that." [laughs] That was it.

There have been so many bands that have taken you guys' blueprint and…
And got famous [laughs]

And got famous. And also, I'd venture to say, cheapened and bastardized it a little.
Everything does that. I mean, it's music. It's all stolen. None of it's real. If somebody can do well with something that I was any small part of, even if they're like stealing something, it's fine. Good on them. I always called it art punk when people asked me what we sounded like. Wish that had caught on, it still sounds cool to me. All the bands that came behind us and did well, good on them man. As long as they're good people and they love what they're doing, I don't have a problem with it.

Are there bands in that larger genre that you listen to?
Nah. I've always been that way. There's certain music that I've always loved and I can always listen to on record. Hardcore has never been a thing I was super into. I liked a few bands like I like the noisier stuff like Deadguy and Rorschach. But to me it was all about the live feel of a band. And when I stopped going to shows I largely just fell out of it. I never really felt super welcomed in the hardcore scene anyway because around DC and Maryland, it's just so thuggy.  There's so many shitty guys in basketball jerseys starting fights and kickboxing.

I had a few friends in other likeminded bands, but once Pageninetynine broke up, I'd go see Pig Destroyer but that was pretty much it for me. I mostly just walked away from hardcore, period.

How did you meet Tony Foresta and how did this Best Friends Day thing come?
Pageninetynine played a show, I think it was in Richmond at Strange Matter or Twisters — I want to say with Lycosa and James River Scratch, which was Tony's band before Municipal Waste. It was just a fucking rad thrash band. We just played that show, we all had a good time. Tony was rad. We exchanged T-shirts and we've been like good acquaintances ever since. When I was living in Richmond, I would always go to his shows.

I don't know how it came about. Mike just mentioned to me, "Do you want to do this?" and I was like "Yeah, sure man, it'll be fun." I left the band I needed to get away from like the touring too much and all that stuff, but I never really wanted to quit being in Pageninetynine. I just didn't like what it turned into.

Maybe you guys just needed space at that moment.
Yeah, I mean, when the band broke up, we came back to the states on a plane altogether. I was living in a corner in Mike's parents' basement so like I just had a bed that's right here in the living room, so I would just like [sighs] "Cool, I'll grab some space from you guys" as they're like sitting there playing my fucking Xbox.

Me and Mike, we didn't really talk to each other for a couple of months and then one night we just both broke down crying "Hey man, this sucks. I don't know why we're so mad at each other." We were both like "I want to be your friend, I just need some time." I ended up moving out of his basement. We really didn't talk for like a while. But then, a couple months go by, we deal with the pain, and every time we see each other it's the same — best friends all over again, all the same old dumb jokes and shit.

And when the Best Friends Day shit happened I was 100 percent on board with it. I was like, "I'll keep playing shows." A couple people didn't want to. The shows we're doing now, they came about when Trump got elected. So it was half like, "Well, I would like to play some shows with the band I love before the world goes dead." And the other half was Katy Otto who said, "That Pageninetynine should do some shows for charities because the world's going to fucking need it. And you see it coming down the line with the sanctuary cities being taken away, Planned Parenthood, all that stuff, so it's almost like, "Who do you even give money to?" Katy was like, "Would you be willing to play some shows for a charity?" and I was like "Hell yeah." She was like "I'll talk to Mike" and then it just happened. So then I came aboard.

I think the most interesting thing is why are you guys going out with Majority Rule? And nothing against them but I feel like you guys could both do better monetarily for these charities.
Yeah, they're going on after the run of shows to play more stuff. As weird as it sounds it was never about the money, but now it would be nice to have it. Yeah, I guess I really wanted to play with Majority Rule. If we can give the money to charity while I have some fun with my buds, that's ideal.

It's interesting man, being like 15 years removed from the band. Seeing all the hype about it good and bad has been hilarious. Like I don't tell everybody I was in a band, because one, most people don't know who the fuck we were. There's people on my Facebook page that are like "Unpopular Opinion: I don't give a fuck about Pageninetynine." And I was laughing hysterically and said, "You know I sang for that band, right?" and he just liked the status and never commented on it again.

So you guys have all these dates and all that. And you wouldn't mind doing more shows?
No, I'd be fine with it. I would go and do a run of shows here and there and fly out to play things, that's fine. I'm not getting back in a van with those guys for two months at a time. It was fine when I was young, but now I feel like I'm too fat and old. I couldn't even fit in one of those bunks anymore. I don't think any of us have that in us.

I've always been interested in the concept behind how many guys you have in one group. Was it like a shock and awe thing?
Not, not at all. And honestly, when we started off it was two guitarists, George [Crum] and Mike [Taylor], me and Chris singing, this guy T.L. [Smoot], that I just knew from being around, playing bass, and Johnny [Ward] on drums. And it was kind of like we just wanted more friends in the band so we added Mike Casto as a third guitar player like, "Wouldn't this be dope if we had 3 guitar players?" And also it's fucking Casto and he rules. So we threw him in there and like, "Oh wait, this sounds awesome!" So and then we added Corey [Stevenson] on bass, because again, another one of our best friends. And then that was even bigger, fuller sounds. T.L. was a technically proficient bass player, but he wasn't like a field player, you know? Like Corey was very much like he could just get in the shit and really like he was more of a melodic bass player.

What do you think is your fondest memory from Pageninetynine?
I mean honestly one of my favorite memories is, and I think it was because it was so far after the fact, was Best Friends Day. When that happened, being on stage with those guys, I got goosebumps. And just me and Mike looking at each other like, "Wow, what is this?' 'Once you find yourself as a band and like what you're doing, every show is kind of magical and I think one of the reasons it was good for us because we played super short sets. We'd play like 6 songs then we would leave and people would be like "Oh we want more" and I would look forward to playing again. You know, playing was never the bad thing, it was the travel. But yeah, Best Friends Day was … just looking at all those guys again there's almost like tears, you know? Like wow, I can still feel things.

So all of these shows are now sold out months in advance. Does that feel like validation for you after all these years?
I always felt validated by what we did. The fact that some dumb white trash kids from Virginia could even do that, playing that kind of music, it always was insane to me. Even though we never got as big as Darkest Hour or a lot of the other bands that came from the DC area. Playing shows out of town, for me, I felt validated. Like, I wasn't supposed to do anything with my life. I was supposed to be like a carpet cleaner or like a guy that works at AT&T or something. You know? So the first time we played a show out in front of people with music, that was validation for me.

I'm excited, and the money is going to a good cause. I get to play music again with people I love. And Majority Rule, seeing them again, that is awesome. Even if nothing else comes of it, these shows are going to be great. There'll be more memories. We'll probably be able to eat better food because not everybody's fucking vegan anymore. I don't miss that shit, going on tour with people like, "Oh, I'm sorry, I only eat raw." God! Pick an apple off the ground you prick! I just want to go to Denny's.

I definitely don't miss all that shit. I don't mind anybody being vegan but there was nothing like a 22-year-old vegan like, "Uh, excuse me, I can't eat this. I can't play with this band, they're wearing shoes." It's fucking ridiculous. We played More Than Music Fest one year and there was like all these vendors. People with certain agendas for something. There was one who stood for just lobsters. These stickers just had a lobster and a pot with a circle and a line through it that said "Being boiled hurts. Lobster liberation now." Did you not like the cheddar biscuits? What happened to you at Red Lobster? It's so stupid like why only lobsters? Fuck rabbits? What's your deal?

Crustacean liberation, nothing else I guess.
Same with straight edge. I've done so much cocaine off of so many different straight edge tattoos. I just laugh like, "Can I do a bump off your tattoo?" "Okay cool." And it's a thing. It's funny to shit on it but they got those straight edge tattoos cause that was a thing they belonged to. You know? It was a scene. I feel like a dick laughing at it, but also like, come on.

It's a personal choice and once you start wearing it as a badge of honor then it becomes larger than that. And then there is the self-righteousness.
The badge of honor thing I'm fine with. The part I hate is just the violence. There's been shows we've played and I'll be outside smoking and somebody will come by and say "Smoking's cool, faggot." And I'm like, really? You're going to call me that because you don't like me smoking? So homophobic slang is okay?

There's so much backwards ass mentality in hardcore with stuff like that.


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