The following is a phone interview, in which I had the opportunity to chat with H2O bassist Adam Blake as he kicked back in sunny California. We discussed the band's struggle fitting in on a major label, their upcoming covers album, Don't Forget Your Roots, Ronnie James Dio and rainbows, future plans, and more.
Let me start off by saying that it's really a pleasure to have this interview opportunity. I'd say you guys are my favorite band in the melodic hardcore punk scene.
Oh hey, that's really awesome. Thank you for saying that. Cool.
How does it feel to be in a band with such a long history, yet still attracts new generations of fans?
It's the greatest feeling. The fact that people have stuck with us for years or that people are still discovering us and be entirely new to some people is great. I love that, it's the best thing. That's one of the funnest parts about it.
Some bands just don't have that staying power or ability to attract younger fans. So I would think it's the ultimate compliment for you guys.
It really is, and we do take it as such. We're really grateful for that.
After signing to your first major label back in 2001, you guys took a long five-year break that had everyone talking about the end of H2O. What did you guys learn during time spent away from the band?
I guess when you sign to a major label, it's a pretty significant milestone in any band's career. It shows that "real/serious" people in the industry are interested in you. So we took a chance, but once we got there it was like crossing the finish line of a race then realizing it's a race you didn't want to run. And we kind of realized we didn't belong in that world. We did the Go record, the EP and that was it. We just kind of wanted to go back to what we were, doing the things we did before. So basically, even though we took a long break from releasing records, we actually toured and still played shows all over the world. It was never really down time. We're the kind of band who always wanted to do interesting things and signing to a major label was one of those. But then learned through that experience that we're not the kind of band that wants to be or should be on a major label. We don't belong there. It's not our world.
Hence your ending up on Bridge 9 Records.
We spoke to a couple of other labels, but B9 was definitely the one that felt right from the beginning. If there's a label that comes from the same place as us and listens to the same records, started around the same time, has the same experience and frame of references, and is more perfect than B9 in those ways, we didn't find it. They were just such a hand in glove fit.
They're also progressing in a sense, in terms of diversifying their roster.
Yeah, definitely. I think as people go through changes of musical tastes, that it's healthy for a label to go through that, too. I mean, look at Revelation or even Epitaph. They started with a very specific style and since then they've expanded so much. Epitaph even has Tom Waits now. They've got all kinds of conventional artists because people change, labels change.
I couldn't imagine listening to only one genre of music, to be honest.
When you're a kid, that kind of makes sense. I remember when I was a kid I really liked metal, and it was the only music that existed. Everything else sucked. But then as you get older you're like, "Well, that was real dumb." Now I like everything.
And sometimes, why did I even listen to that?
Yeah, I've got stuff in my record collection from the past that give me douche chills when I look at it. Ah geez, just horrible.
How did you guys decide on the name H2O? Is there a silly or interesting story behind it?
Actually, it started with Toby getting on stage performing with Sick of it All, which was the band he was working with at the time as a roadie. And then he basically just needed to name it. Toby Straightedge is kind of a pure name, and with h2o-- everybody needs it. Over the years it's kind of changed and has been an acronym for "hard to organize" which is really true. I just think it seemed to fit-- there's nothing super deep about it. It started off as a one man project started by Toby. There are two phases of H2O. One where it wasn't a band, and the H2O that became a band.
Something that always puts a smile on my face are the positive messages you guys have always enforced in your music. Did you see it as a way to counter negativity commonly found in the hardcore scene, or was it a way to set yourselves apart? Have you ever felt marginalized because of it?
Never really felt marginalized. We've played with all of the "beat down" bands before and have been received well by the bands and audiences. There have been times, though. We dropped off some Slayer dates before and realized we're just not going to work with them. But I think the positive message in our lyrics is really how we view the world and how we live our lives. And it's good because the more songs we put out with positive messages, the more we kind of have to live up to that ourselves otherwise we're hypocritical. So it helps us too, to have that kind of output.
We all know one of the inevitable challenges bands face is lyrical criticism. Can you talk about your reasonings behind reminder phrases like "we're still here"; what some would call repetitive and unnecessary?
Yeah, well, we like to remind people. There's an old joke by Ronnie James Dio, where on each record there was a song about rainbows. It's just like, you're the same guys. It's not like you change as people. I think all our records have enough different themes on them and some are the same. I mean, maybe there are some repetitive ideas and concepts in the lyrics, but that's just because they're so relevant to us. That's basically it.
Since you've always carried that positive attitude, what are your views on Christian bands? Do you think they bring more positivity or negativity to the scene?
I know there's a Christian music community, but I really don't know much about it. One of the good things about music is it's an open forum for people to speak about any topic that they choose. And if someone wants to sing about that stuff, and it impacts others in a positive manner, I'm all for it. But honestly, it's a subject I know nothing about. The only band that sticks out to me is Stryper from the 80's. I'm sure I've heard a bunch without knowing they were Christian, but the topic is foreign to me.
Religion and politics are particularly tricky issues when addressed in music scenes.
Yeah, I mean most of the bands I listened to growing up were 80's heavy metal bands. They had completely opposite messages, but it was always really campy and tongue-in-cheek.
You guys are a band known for having a great amount of New York pride. When September 11th happened around the same time as the band's semi-hiatus, what radical impacts did it have on your music?
I would say it had the same effects on us that it would have on any decent human being. A band is made of people, and people are individuals. And as individuals we all had the same response as everyone else did. Horror, fear, regret, anger, you know. And I think that as a band, we've always tried to steer clear of singing about political matters. Just because none of us are really hot on it anyway, and none of us are political pundits or anything like that. But the events of 9/11 kind of made everyone step back and take a moment to really appreciate everyone they have in their lives, because nothing is guaranteed. You don't know what could happen tomorrow. As a band, I wouldn't say we changed much at all, but as individuals we were equally as affected as others were.
There have been peaks and valleys in the progression of the punk scene. Can you talk about the differences you've noticed today in comparison to 1995?
It seems that hardcore in other places outside of the US have strongholds that do really well. But there's a lot of places where it's kind of hopped backwards and seems to have gotten a lot smaller. I think that's kind of how the scene always works. Like you said, peaks and valleys. A lot of places were in valleys, and now we're here because we haven't toured the states in awhile, and it's starting to pick up again in those places. That's just natural. We've been in the game long enough to know that's the way it is. If one place isn't doing so well, this other place is probably doing better than ever. So we just do what we do and stay busy. We don't claim to know every town's scene.
In reference to you saying the scene seems to be on an upswing right now, what current bands are you digging?
I really like Cruel Hand a lot. Title Fight. Good kids, those guys are awesome. It's weird cause I don't just go and seek out music. I see bands live and get their records; I'm always touring. I also like Energy, Alpha & Omega, and Piece by Piece.
Would you ever record a theme song for C.M. Punk?
Sure we would. And it has nothing to do with the fact that punk has its celebrities--- he's just a genuinely good guy and a good friend of ours. He's come on stage and sang with us a few times before, and it was absolutely awesome. We'd be down.
Soon you'll be coming out with a covers album titled Don't Forget Your Roots. I feel that the choice you guys made to throw harmonies into some of the originals worked really well.
A term we used a lot wasn't really that it was a covers record, but a tribute. That's what we called it among ourselves. You could either do something wildly different, or you could just kind of play it straight. On this record, we played it pretty fair. With the Madonna cover we went the other way, but that wasn't our goal with this one. We put a few spins on things, but nothing extreme.
The fact is that you guys have toured with a number of those bands. How did that affect the way you guys approached the record?
In the end we just wanted to do the songs justice. The good thing is, we have strong relationships with the bands that we covered. Pretty much all the ones we know have heard the our version of their songs. We didn't get in touch with the Clash, because they're kind of unreachable. Some actually got back to us with suggestions, though. They would say, "Hey, you should try this". And we did it. In a number of ways, we actually got to collaborate with some of these artists, even though you might not hear it. Some of the stuff in our versions were suggested by the artists themselves.
Could you tell us about how that process usually worked? What were one of the bands who helped out?
Usually the bands we were closest with. In the Madball song when we did "Pride", we put gang vocals on the chorus. The entire chorus was like that at one point. We'd debate back and forth about which line should be said in a particular way, but then we just sent it to them. And then that helped us make a decision. Some liked it the way it was already, but it was good just to know that artists we covered had heard the songs.
I even heard that a second covers album could be likely. What bands have been considered and why did you opt out of covering Minor Threat this time around?
Everyone in this band is into such diverse music. The thing with DFYR is that we could have done bands that we all listen to, or U2, the Cure, the Police, metal or anything really. But we decided stick closest to the bands that influenced the way H2O sounds now. If we do another covers record, we'd go to the other extreme, where the H2O sound is absent. But we love it all. There'd probably be some hip hop on it, metal, 80's new wave. It'd be a real crazy record. I don't know if we'll get to that one, though. I think we'd need to do a new record of our own stuff first. As for Minor Threat, we did "Salad Days" years ago. We've already covered Suicidal Tendencies, Dead Kennedys, Madonna. We didn't want to cover artists we'd done before. I mean, especially since Minor Threat is such an obvious choice. Then there's a band like Embrace which is another band of Ian's, but less people probably know about them. So, we got the opportunity to hopefully introduce people to a band that they might not have checked out before, and hopefully, one that they will like.
Let's go with a concept album. If you came out with one, what would the H2O storyline be?
I think concept albums are very dangerous. They can get really weird. God, I don't even know. I've never thought of it, but I'm sure it'd be a really simple story. That's a tough question, because I don't think it terms of concepts. I mean, they all kind of tell the same story, right? Someone goes through it, they get redeemed, and so on. Maybe we'll have a story about a deaf and blind kid who's great at pinball or something like that.
I'm sure you guys would really stand out then.
[Laughs] Yeah, exactly, it's a good idea. I hope no one has come up with it before.
I think you guys are good on that one. As far as the band members' different side projects, what are their current statuses?
Todd Morse [the guitarist] used to be in Juliette and the Licks who have broken up, but now plays guitar in the Offspring when they tour. Toby does Hazen St., which is an occasional live project exclusively. They might do a new record, they might not. As for the band I was in, it no longer exists. But basically H2O is everyone's top priority right now.
If you guys could put together a dream tour, who would it be with?
Here's a great tour that I would love to see happen with us one day: Madball, Crown of Thornz, Sick of it All, Murphy's Law, Agnostic Front, Cro Mags. Pretty much all the NYHC bands that have stuck around, you know what I mean? Just doing their thing on one gigantic tour. With a really big Warzone tribute at the end. That would be awesome, I'd love that. I actually dreamt about that tour once. It'd be chaotic, but pretty amazing.
People would fly from all over the world just to attend that tour.
I know, it would be awesome. Put Gorilla Biscuits on there, too. It'd just be amazing.
It'd be ridiculously amazing. Just a couple of final things. What's the scoop on releasing a new record and what are you guys getting into tour wise?
I know Toby wants to wait until he feels very lyrically inspired. Everyone else is constantly writing music and getting ideas together. So, we'll have to see. I'd like for us to get into the studio and do a new record at some point next year. Currently we're just doing a few shows to support DFYR. Then in January, we'll be going on a full blown US tour.
I've only had one chance to speak with Adam but he seemed like such a cool dude, and it was nice to get a chance to see how he felt about the whole major label experience and everything.
I will definitely be on the lookout for those tourdates in January.