Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Conversation with The Action Swingers

The Action Swingers were an extremely unpopular and obnoxious band active in the confused musical state of NYC during the first half of the 90's. Their specialty was blasting out short, powerful bursts of Stooges/Ramones full frontal punk with insane Helios Creed guitar work. There were many incarnations of the band but it all boils down to the twisted mind of founding member, guitarist and vocalist Ned Hayden, who pulled the plug on the band after about 5 years of beating his head against the wall. But the time has come for the Action Swingers to be re-introduced to a new audience. The entire discography is now available digitally through iTunes, Spotify, etc. and there's a brand new vinyl 7" single of two unreleased scorchers.

Most people will describe Ned with charming adjectives like salty, cranky, etc. but the truth is that underneath it all is a funny mofo who just wanted to kick out the jams. I'm also about to blow his image here, but he's actually a nice guy. Back when we worked together at record label/distributor Caroline Records, the Action Swingers were heading to the UK for a tour. I mentioned to him that I was looking for some Motorhead 7" singles on Bronze Records. When he got back he handed me mint copies of "Overkill," "Bomber," "No Class," "Shine" and the Motorhead-Girlschool "St. Valentines Day Massacre" EP and wouldn't accept any payment. Billy Corgan never did that!

What's the story behind the new 7"? Where can people get it?

This guy Gary Wrong recorded a cover version of "Miserable Life" and then got his friend from Total Punk to put it out. "Miserable Life" was from the same session as our first single in 1989 with me, Julie Cafritz on guitar and Johan Kugelberg on drums.It was originally supposed to be for a Swedish compilation with Union Carbide Productions that fell through. Losing My Cool was supposed to be for our Circuit Records single that never came out because they disappeared one day after paying us an advance never to be heard from again. It's from 1990 and has me, Julie and J. Mascis on drums. Both sides were produced by Don Fleming at Waterworks on 14th St. It's available from Floridas Dying or Revolver.

Why should they buy it?
Because J. Mascis is on it.. Duh.

How rich are you going to get by releasing the complete discography digitally? Do you own all of your master tapes?

Considering that nobody knows about or remembers the band probably not very. Yes, I own all the masters. I was a very shrewd businessman. Hahaha!

Tell us a little bit about your musical history before the Action Swingers?

My first band in junior high school was called Thrust. It was me and my friend Mark Schutta on guitar and vocals. We had one song called "Thrust." We were awesome. Then I switched to bass and we learned "Hey You" by BTO and the whole thing fell apart. I had a band in high school called The Insane. We caused a riot at our high school Battle of the Bands in 1978. In the mid 80's I had a band called The Nightmares. We had a single called "Baseball Altamont" out on Coyote/Twin Tone which was a bit of a college radio hit. We got nominated for a New York New Music Award for Best Song in 1985 along with The Ramones, Lou Reed and Run-DMC. I was 22. It was recently featured in Sports Illustrated's 20 Best Sports Songs Of All Time. Hahaha! Then I went to California and joined Ward Dotson from The Gun Club's band, The Pontiac Brothers for about a month. Then I came back to New York and couldn't get anything going again until I met Julie and Johan.

Did you hire Nitebob to produce Decimation Boulevard just so you could get more inside stories about the Stooges, New York Dolls and Aerosmith? Or were you more interested in the time he spent working with ELP?

He worked with ELP? Good thing I didn't know that at the time. Hahaha! Nitebob is a great guy. All of these people like Eric Ambel from The Del Lords and Adny Shernoff from The Dictators were trying to get me to let them produce Decimation Blvd. but they creeped me out so I did it myself. I got Bob to co-produce. He was the first one there every morning. He was great to work with.

Best and worst line ups of the band?

Best was probably the original line-up with me, Julie and Johan. We had great chemistry. The More Fast Numbers line up with Bruce Bennett, Howie Pyro and Bob Bert was fun. I made a cool record with the Toe Rag line up and that was a fun tour. I guess the worst line up was the one that made our first album. Hahaha!

What was more enjoyable - terrorizing English audiences or English writers?

At our first show in London at The Powerhaus our road manager Tom got me drunk on Newcastle Brown Ale for the first time before the show then Howie smashed me in the forehead with his bass by accident right as we were going on and blood was dripping from my face for the whole show. At some point I stopped and told the sold out audience how bad their musical taste was. The next day the guy who owned Wiiija told me he had never seen 400 Englishmen castrated at one time before. Hahaha! I think I enjoyed terrorizing Gary Walker from Wiiija more than anything else. Hahaha!

How excited were you when Jack White helped make Toe Rag studios a popular recording destination? How did you first find out about the studio?

It was 10 years later. It wasn't even the same equipment that Billy Childish and everybody recorded on. The console that The Beatles recorded on. Barry Stilwell the bass player on the third UK tour who also played with Jesse Hector suggested we record there. It was really fun. We knocked out the whole record in about an hour then went across the road for pints and came back to mix it later. The whole album was done in a day. When I first heard it back home I thought it was so bad I hid it in a drawer for 5 years. Even I wasn't ready for the magnitude of it. Hahaha!

What kind of equipment were you using back then?

At first I had a Schecter Telecaster and a Marshall JCM 800 2x12 combo amp that I played in The Nightmares and Pontiac Brothers. Then I got an SG and a Marshall JCM 800 100 watt head and 4x12 cabinet. I had a Fuzzface that I used on the first single then I started using an old 80's Boss DS-1 that I had for the rest of the time.

Who are your biggest inspirations, both musically and lyrically?

60's AM radio, The Beatles, The Stones, Kiss when I was a kid. After Destroyer came out I got into Punk and stuff like The Velvet Underground and The Stooges. Around the time the band was starting I liked Drunks With Guns a lot. Captain Beefheart. He inspired me to quit music. Hahaha!

What's the difference between Bob Bert and every other drummer?

Their fathers didn't win the Heismann trophy.

Is "Funky Manc" from the first album about your favorite nightclubs in Manchester?

It was about the Happy Mondays. We tried to get that guy Bez to play maracas on it but he turned us down.

Please explain to our readers your experiences with Courtney Love and the song it inspired.

Janet Billig the publicist at Caroline started telling me about her after Hole's first single came out and asking me what I thought of it. The first time I met Courtney she screamed "You're Ned Hayden!" at me. She had a big scar across her nose. We played a few shows with Hole-most notably the Riot In Philly show that I have a video of. It was an insane night at The The Khyber Pass in 1991 where I drunkenly caused a riot in the club. Courtney borrowed $5 from me at the end of the night to call Kurt who she was just starting to stalk after Billy Corgan dumped her. I had the riff for the song for awhile and finished it when we were on our first UK tour. A few years later after she was famous I ran into her and her kid and she was really nice. She actually invited me and my girlfriend to see Nirvana at Roseland and left us tickets and backstage passes at the door.

What's the most ridiculous thing a record label has said to you?

Keith Wood told me that Rock N Roll was dead in 1994. He said that Techno was the music of the future. I guess he was right. Hahaha!

Was there ever any serious major label offers made to you in the 90s?

Not really. BMG/Beggars Banquet interviewed me but nothing happened. I did get a 5 figure publishing deal out of it though.

You shared the stage with everyone from the Ramones, Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, Monster Magnet and many others. Did you get along with any other band?

Hahaha! Maybe Don Fleming, The Unsane and Surgery at the beginning. Later they were pretty much all jerks.

Just how bad was it musically in the 90s?

People take the kind of stuff we were doing for granted now but I was literally fighting against the entire music business. Taking on multi million selling bands one on one. I didn't fit in anywhere-Sub Pop, Amrep, Touch and Go all hated us and the bowling shirt crowd like Norton and Crypt didn't like us much either. Everywhere I looked was some bad pop or grunge group trying to make it. It was really sickening. That's why I quit at the end of 1993. If I had been able to hold on until the mid 90's it might've gotten better but I was burned out and completely turned off by the music business by that time.

Please tell our readers just how cool it was to work for an independent music distributor in the 1990's? How has that experience shaped your career?

Well I'm unemployed now so I guess that's how it shaped my career. Hahaha!. It was a lot of fun. A lot of it was like Spinal Tap. I still have the plaque they gave me on my last day.

How much fun was it running the CBGB Record Canteen? How many times a day did you bust people shoplifting?

Hahaha! It was an amazing experience looking back on it. Hilly was the first person who ever let me run something. He was like a father to me. So much amazing music, so many amazing people, so many amazing stories. I'm writing a book about it. The shoplifting was non-stop. I remember this little guy came in once and I turned around to do something. When I turned back around the guy was gone and a whole section of albums-like 50 albums-were gone. I ran up The Bowery and found him in a doorway with the records. He started getting all "Don't beat me up" on me and I took the records back and told him to scram.

What's the sickest triple bill you ever saw?

The Ramones, The Runaways and Suicide at The Palladium in January 1978.

Who was the loudest band you ever saw?


As a fan of the original punk rock, what did you think of when it started morphing into hardcore?

I wasn't really into it at first. I remember some kid at Columbia University explaining Straight Edge to me in the early 80's. I thought he was joking. It was against everything I believed in. Hahaha! I did go to see Black Flag/The Minutemen and Nig Heist at Great Gildersleeve's in 1983 though.

Best place in NYC to get a corner slice of sicilian?

Joe's on Carmine St. I heard they just moved to 14th St. though. Don't know how this will affect the Sicilian.

What was the best tre bag spot in NYC in the 70's? When did they officially stop selling tre bags?

I didn't move to Manhattan until 1981-pretty much the last days of the tre bag. I lived uptown near Columbia University so there were some spots that still had tre bags. A lot of it was dusted I think. The dime bags I would get at this building on 89th St. on the West side and this place on 1st Ave uptown were the glory days in the 80's. Sticky green. The guy would say " You're not gonna smoke that tonight!" Hahaha!

Best VON LMO story? Did you see him at the Palladium?

No, I didn't see him at The Palladium. When I was a kid in the 70's I answered an ad in the Village Voice for this band called Kongress. The guy wanted me to come out to Coney Island and jam with them. He even talked to my Mom and told her he'd pick me up from the subway. So I took the train out there with my Jazzmaster. We went down in his basement and this woman singer named Marilyn was there. We spent about a half hour trying to tune my guitar to the organ then we jammed on some freeform No Wave type stuff while Marilyn sang these sex lyrics over it. It was really crazy. Afterwards the guy said to me "You remind me of our last guitar player, Von Lmo." Hahaha! The guy called me a couple of times trying to get me to join but it was too intense and too far away for me.

How many times did you see Twisted Sister play in bars?

Unfortunately never. You know they're really dudes, right?

Have you been introducing Thurston to any of your single female friends?

Hahaha! No. I'm sure he's doing alright for himself.

What was the last Matador release you purchased?

Hahaha! I've never actually purchased a Matador release. They used to give them to me for free though. I think Extra Width by Blues Explosion was the only thing aside from the Chain Gang reissue that I could listen to on that label.

How hard does Lee Renaldo party?

You can't handle the truth.

Buy the "Miserable Life" single from Floridas Dying here -

"I Don't Wanna Be This Way"


Unknown said...

Always interesting to hear about a band like these guys, who were unpopular back in the day and decided to get back together for a reunion. Something tells me I wouldn't go out of my way to make it to one of their live shows, but in spite of that this was a very interesting article to read. An up and coming band like us (Face The King) can take notes from this. Thanks for posting man.

Anonymous said...

What a nice guy! And what a great band! I've been dragging my feet on picking up a copy of MORE FAST NUMBERS, but I'm gonna buy one now, just to put a couple more bucks in his pocket. He's earned it.

Unknown said...

Without doubt the action swingers are one of the greatest bands...I would fly across the world to them kick out a show.

Anonymous said...

Decimation Boulevard is easily one of the best punk albums to come out in the 90s

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