That Was Then, This Is Now: An oral history of Philly hardcore cult favorites Flag Of Democracy

By
Flag of Democracy | photo by Yoni Kroll | courtesy of the artist

Picture this: it’s 1982 and punk and hardcore are beginning to take hold in Philadelphia. Three obsessed and eager teenagers decide to form a band. As luck would have it, their friends are booking the show of the year — Washington D.C.’s Minor Threat, considered at the time one of the finest bands around and today to be absolutely legendary — and these suburban teens are asked if they’d open. The band goes up on stage and rips through a fantastically wild set despite it being their first show ever. Everybody is blown away.

In the movie version of this story that would be it. Maybe they learned a valuable lesson. Maybe they didn’t. The final scene is one of those epic montages showing everybody growing up and the reunion three decades on where you might think they’re all normal adults who aren’t angry at the world because they’ve figured it all out but surprise surprise they show up in leather jackets ready to play their second show ever! Roll final credits and …

But wait: this all actually happened and that band, they’re still playing breakneck pissed off hardcore punk. In fact, they never stopped. That’s the world of Flag of Democracy, one of the finest acts to ever come out of Philadelphia and to this day a cult favorite around the world.

According to guitarist and lead singer Jim McMonagle, “In the beginning, there was that drive to just be as crazy as possible.” He’s the lone survivor from the original lineup of the band he started with Zeke Zagar and Mano Divina 36 years ago, though the other two current members have been along for the ride for almost that whole time: Dave Rochon joined in ’83 and Bob Walker three years later.

For McMonagle, those early years were all about figuring out both the music and his own role in the scene. “Punk rock was still something new…let’s smash things! Let’s play as fast as we can! Now let’s play even faster and break things as we jump off stage!” he told The Key. The band put out their first album in ’86, the classic Shatter Your Day. Two years later they released 23 – named after the age of all three band members – and a steady stream of records has continued. The band’s ninth album, No School, No Core, was released last week on SRA Records, and they play a release party at The Nail in Ardmore on Saturday.

According to McMonagle, “Somewhere along the way, it became more about writing songs for me and really falling in love with the recording process. I love writing songs, I’m always writing songs. And after three decades in this band, I can hear Dave and Bob playing when I write. It’s what we do and it would be weird if we weren’t making music together.”

What makes FOD so unique is not just their longevity and the fact that they’ve never wavered in their musical vision, but really just what that vision is. This isn’t just super fast hardcore, though there’s certainly a lot of that going on. As longtime friend of the band and absolute FOD fanatic Chuck Meehan put it, “It’s bubblegum pop, that’s basically what is at the root of what [McMonagle] does, even if he’s playing 300 miles per hour weird jazz or whatever.”

It checks out. Go see FOD play and in-between songs there’s a good chance they’ll break into a quick cover of Taylor Swift or whatever perfect pop song is currently on the radio. Asked about his current musical obsessions, McMonagle said, “My favorite band right this minute is Burst Girl out of Tokyo. They’re an underground/alt idol group. If you can imagine the Spice Girls being from Japan, self-managed, into Gauze and the Stalin and not giving a fuck. That’s kind of them.”

He also mentioned Wonk Unit, Pizzaramp, and Murder Burgers, all out of the UK, and Luxe, Machine Gun, and Dark Thoughts from here. “Philly bands are scary good,” he said. “We’re label mates with Solarized and Soul Glo. When I listen to them it’s like, ‘Holy shit I’ve got to practice!’”

So here we are, almost 40 years later and FOD just put out No School, No Core. While everything they’ve done has been excellent, this one feels extra good. It might be because this is the first album they’ve done for SRA, the label that has very much embraced the band. In the process of remastering and reissuing the early stuff and doing a bunch of new recordings, SRA and label head BJ Howze have managed to revitalize the band.

Philadelphia has always been an underdog, even and especially in punk. The city was passed over in the 80s and 90s because we weren’t DC and we weren’t NYC. But if you ask McMonagle, it’s not a bad thing. That allowed for a healthier and more accepting scene, both musically and socially. “Philly is cool. Philly is weird. You can’t pin down a specific Philly punk ‘sound’ [and] people kinda do their own thing,” he told The Key. “One thing I didn’t realize at the time about Philadelphia but became clear after visiting other cities and the passing of time is the representation of women and POC in our scene. Not just as bystanders but as movers and shakers. My first close gay friends came out of going to punk shows in Philly. The idea that a LGBTQ kid or POC or young woman would feel excluded from the punk scene goes against everything it meant to me when I was coming up. I think we were all freaks and that bond was stronger than anything else.”

While other bands from that same era are trying to recapture past glories, McMonagle has his eyes set on the future. FOD has never been a throwback act. That much is very clear on No School, No Core. There is no other band that sounds like this and that’s one of the reasons their fans are so devoted. For this article, we spoke to eleven people ranging in age from mid-20s to late-50s, all of whom have been obsessed since the first time they heard the band. That includes Chuck Meehan and Nancy Barile who were at that first show, Mano Divina who played drums for the band from ’82 to ’86 and is now a world famous concert Theremin player, Superchunk and Mountain Goats drummer Jon Wurster who grew up going to FOD shows, and more.

Quick note: I’ve been seeing FOD play for almost twenty years. The people I interviewed for this piece are almost all personal friends including a fellow WKDU DJ, bandmates, and so on. Also, almost all of them have been featured in The Key previously, which was not my intention when I first put together the list of sources but I think is both a nice coincidence and very telling to the nature of this band and their fans.


BJ Howze

Bruce Howze Jr. is not just the head honcho at SRA Records, the label that has in many ways championed Flag of Democracy, but not surprisingly he is one of the band’s biggest fans. He and his wife Eleni Kotsiopoulos have been seeing FOD play for more than two decades. He began working with the band a few years ago, reissuing classic albums and making new recordings. Howze was profiled in The Key last year.

Jim McMonagle and BJ Howze | photo by Joseph Gervasi | courtesy of the artist

TK: What is your history with the band? When did you start listening to them and what was your introduction?

BJH: I started listening to them in the mid 90s. I had heard them on WKDU and knew of them from the Dead Milkmen reference, but it was my (now) wife who really introduced me to them. She had mail-ordered all three of the (at the time) available FOD CDs from Dave [Rochon, FOD bassist]. So she had Down With People, Schneller! and Hate Rock…and Down With People had the Love Songs EP stuck on the end of it.

My old band had a show coming up with FOD at now defunct club called Sapphire in Norristown and we were super excited to play with them. We had just finished our demo tape and were planning on having them out for the show but the UPS strike of 1997 meant we weren’t able to get blanks delivered on time. So we did the only logical thing and drove my 1981 Buick Skylark to New York City to pick up $50 worth of blank tape because we were too cheap (or stupid?) to have FedEx ship them or maybe it wasn’t an option. Of course the engine in the car cracked and we had to call the keyboardist’s father to drive up to come find us on the side of the road and load the tapes and all the crap from my car into his car. We got our tapes and played with FOD and they were great and friendly and fun. I think that was my first experience with them.

TK: What’s your favorite memory of seeing FOD play?

BJH: So a year or so after being introduced to the band I was turning 18 and (my now) wife threw a surprise party for me at her parent’s suburban split level home and she had FOD play in their formal living room with plastic on the furniture and everything. They were amazing. Somewhere there’s a few great pictures of Jim jumping in the air with his guitar while people throw balloons at them. (UPDATE: BJ found the photo. See below.)

photo courtesy of BJ Howze

TK: Most bands don’t last for six years, much less 36. What’s so special about FOD and why do you think they’ve stuck around for so long?

BJH: Because they won’t give up or get bad. Jim keeps writing these amazing songs by the dozens and they keep playing them as well as they ever have. I’ve worked with these guys a lot over the last ten years and I am constantly impressed with what they can do and the way they work together like a machine.

TK: How would you explain FOD to someone who might not be familiar?

BJH: A cult band that cranks out consistently good, fast hardcore songs that are also good songs with melody and care put into the lyrics and structure.


Rodney Anonymous

“And mom and dad say if I eat all of my food / I can go to the hardcore show and see FOD!” That line from the song “Nutrition” off the 1985 album Big Lizard in My Backyard was the introduction to Flag of Democracy for thousands upon thousands of people around the world. Having started in 1983, the Dead Milkmen are very much contemporaries of FOD. Not only have the two bands shared the stage an immeasurable number of times but they also released a split 7” back in 2015. Vocalist Rodney Anonymous told The Key about his own memories of the band and explained why he included the name of the band in two different Dead Milkmen songs.

TK: What is your history with the band? When did you start listening to them and what was your introduction?

RA: I met Jim in the basement of 3rd Street Records in the early 80s (81 or 82) – I don’t think I was 20 years old yet. Jim saw me digging around in a punk bin as well as admiring the Susperia soundtrack (which cost $35 – a princely sum for those times) so he decided to introduce himself. It wasn’t long after that when I saw FOD play live. I think it was at the old Community Education Center in West Philly.

TK: What’s your favorite memory of seeing FOD play?

RA: Other than Jim running up and down the aisles during the Replacements’ Tower Theater show, sucking in his cheeks and shouting “I’VE HAD LIPOSUCTION!”, my favorite FOD performance had to be the time Jim smashed a hole in a club’s “disco floor” with his guitar, down in Delaware.

TK: Most bands don’t last for six years, much less 36. What’s so special about FOD and why do you think they’ve stuck around for so long?

RA: Shoplifting is the glue that holds that band together. If I need a set of Allen wrenches, I just drop FOD off at Walmart, come back fifteen minutes later, and VOILA! – Allen wrenches! That’s why they’re still playing – it’s a court order: THE BAND THAT PERFORMS TOGETHER REFORMS TOGETHER.

TK: A lot of people would say they heard about the band for the first time because of the reference to them at the end of “Nutrition,” a song you put out back in 1985 when FOD was a mere three years old. They’re also mentioned in the song “Milkmen Stomp” along with a bunch of other Philly bands. Fast forward more than three decades later and that’s still going to be the introduction for a lot of folks. Why did you mention FOD in your songs?

RA: The song was purposely didactic. We wanted people to learn the names of underground bands (This was pre-internet when the only form of advertising was paying Charles Manson to scream out your band’s name during one of his parole hearings), so I’m going to go with “Mission Fuckin’ Accomplished” on that one.


Nancy Petriello Barile

Nancy Petriello Barile is an award-winning Boston school teacher who in the 80s was booking punk gigs with the Philadelphia chapter of the Better Youth Organization. She helped put on the first Flag of Democracy show on November 20th, 1982 at Buff Hall in Camden with Minor Threat, SS Decontrol, Agnostic Front, and Crib Death. A history of that legendary show can be found here. Barile recently finished writing a book about that period of her life and the affect it had on her teaching career. Hold my Coat? Not in Philly: The True Story of a Female Punk Pioneer will be published by DiWulf Publishing early next year.

TK: What was your initial introduction to FOD?

NB: I remember meeting Jim from Flag of Democracy after seeing Mad Max at a theater on Chestnut Street. Jim’s friend Cheryl had just shaved his head, and I was so excited that I ran up to them saying: “Cool! Philly skinheads!” (These were the days in the U.S. before having a skinhead was associated with far more nefarious agendas than the love of punk and hardcore music.) We became instant friends and shared a feast at Roy Rogers together while the workers jumped on the Rick James bandwagon, calling us “super freaks.”

TK: What’s your favorite FOD story?

NB: My best memory of an FOD show was, of course, the Buff Hall show. It was important for the Philly BYO to have Philly bands on that bill, and FOD was who we wanted. They held their own against powerhouses like SS Decontrol and Minor Threat.


Mano Divina

It might seem a bit absurd, but the next time you watch the always well-dressed master Theremin player Mano Divina and his Divine Hand Ensemble perform, contemplate the fact that 36 years ago a teenage Divina was on drums for a fledging band of freaks called, yes, Flag of Democracy. The group’s original drummer, Divina played with FOD for four years and is on their first album Shatter Your Day. In the course of the interview, he told The Key about wanting to bridge the gap between Divine Hand and FOD, “lending my orchestra to a hardcore song to do with them.” Sources in the FOD camp say they are contemplating this offer.

TK: What were your experiences playing with Flag of Democracy? You were pretty young when the band started, right?

MD: I wanted to play drums but didn’t have a drum set, so I rigged up an elaborate device of cigar boxes, stolen school fire bells, and pots and pans and auditioned for a neighborhood weird kids one man act called “Jimmy Normal and the Japanese Horror Films.” I soon saved up enough money to buy a drum set and set out to be the fastest drummer in the world.

Clem Burke from Blondie and Stewart C from the Police were my favs, so I was trying to be a fast version of them. Jim and I went record shopping weekly and bought tons of cool and obscure records that I still love today like Bonzo Dog Band’s Tadpoles. I had incredible experiences opening for all my fav bands with [FOD]: Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, Dickies. I loved our pure energized sound. That truth in music stayed with me and still influences me today. Real, honest music, no matter what the genre, speaks to the soul. My musical palette was vast and I eventually left the band to play session work on everything from bluegrass to heavy metal.

TK: Why do you think FOD has been such an unwavering presence in punk and hardcore for almost four decades?

MD: They stuck around for so long because they stayed true to their vision of pure, honest, aggressive music. Like Motorhead, they never went down the rabbit hole but instead stuck to their guns. I run my own orchestra today and am a concert Thereminist but I still go to their shows, buy their new music, and praise their realness.


Jon Wurster

Host of The Best Show with Tom Scharpling and drummer for Superchunk and the Mountain Goats, Philly punk Jon Wurster has been a huge Flag of Democracy fan for more than 35 years.

Jon Wurster | photo by Eric Schuman for WXPN

TK: What is your history with the band? When did you start listening to them and what was your introduction?

JW: If you were a teenager living in the suburban farmlands outside Philadelphia in the early ‘80s, the only places to buy records were Listening Booth and Music Scene, two record shops located in the Montgomeryville Mall. It was at Listening Booth’s New Wave/Punk LP section where I first met Jim McMonagle. Those were the days when it was pretty rare to randomly meet a young person in our area who was into punk rock. Jim was instantly friendly and turned me on to a lot punk and hardcore I might not have otherwise heard. I know I wasn’t the only fledgling suburban punk fan who had their musical horizons widened by Jim. His role as a welcoming presence in the Philadelphia punk rock/hardcore scene cannot be overstated.

I think the first time I saw FOD was in November of 1983 when they played with the Circle Jerks at the now-legendary Philly dive, Love Hall. I saw them again at Love Hall a month later when they played with Husker Du, the Minutemen and Philly hate rockers Circle of Shit.

TK: What’s your favorite memory of seeing FOD play?

JW: My favorite FOD memory occurred during that Circle Jerks show. Right after the stop in “Powerload,” Mark Sargent and (future Electric Love Muffin leader) Rich Kaufman got onstage and unfolded a ream of computer paper that had the song’s “Yo-yo-yo-yo-yo-yo-yo-yo-yo-yo” chorus scrawled on it. What happened next was a very funny ‘follow the bouncing ball’ moment where Mark and Rich pointed at each word as Jim and the crowd sang along. This was of course followed by an epic melee when the song kicked back in.

Another cherished memory is when Jim and Homo Picnic singer (and future Brutal Truth drummer) Rich Hoak rescued me from the slam pit in the back room of Abe’s Steaks after I nearly broke my nose on someone’s head.

TK: Most bands don’t last for six years, much less 36. What’s so special about FOD and why do you think they’ve stuck around for so long?

JW: FOD is the most perfect musical example of the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage. I don’t know of another band, old or new, that does what FOD does better than FOD. Even though a great number of their songs are blazing thrashers, I know exactly who it is when I hear them. The guitar and bass tones, the singing, the drumming, nobody else sounds like FOD.

It’s amazing that they’ve never really altered their sound very much over thirty years. But that is a testament to Dave, Jim and Bob knowing what they do best. This is not to say they are a one trick pony. There’s always been some great melodies buried in that manic thrash. I still think Shatter Your Day’s “Guimo’s Theme” ranks right up there with the best of Husker Du’s ’83-’85 output.

I think once you’ve been around as long as FOD have, everything is kind of a victory lap. They are one of the very few original hardcore bands still standing, and unlike most artists with a deep catalog, there’s not a single cringe-worthy moment.


Jake Lafferty and Cassidy McGinley

Two thirds of West Philly’s Blank Spell, Jake and Cassidy grew up together in Ardmore and credit Flag of Democracy with being one of their first introductions to punk. They’re also about half the age of everyone else interviewed for this article, which speaks to the appeal of the band.

Blank Spell | photo via blankspell.bandcamp.com

TK: What was your introduction to FOD?

JL: I was real young and poking around on the internet trying to find out about US hardcore and came across Flag of Democracy referenced as being from Ardmore, Pennsylvania and I thought, “Hey, I’m from Ardmore, Pennsylvania! What’s the deal with this band?!” I saw that they were playing “The Legends of Philly Hardcore” show [at the First Unitarian Church in 2007 with Decontrol, McRad, and Pagan Babies] and I went to that. It was the first show I saw at the Church and my first introduction to live punk rock. I fell in love. I thought, “This is so fast and so loud and these guys are pretty fucking old.”

CM: My first exposure to FOD was also seeing them play at the Church at the Legends of Philly Hardcore show. I was blown away to say the least since I’d never seen anything played at such a blistering speed, while still remaining catchy in a lot of ways. Plus I never imagined I’d first see music like that played by people who were old enough to be my parents! I remember listening to YDi’s “I Killed my Family” on MySpace before that show and had no clue what to expect otherwise. When I saw FOD I didn’t even understand how they were playing their instruments in such a controlled frenzy, it was as confusing as it was inspiring. I was probably 12. That was my introduction to Flag of Democracy.

TK: Do you have a memorable time of seeing FOD play?

JL: The second DIY show I went to was also a FOD show at Halfway House [ed. note: a particularly wild basement venue in West Philly]. My dad drove Cassidy and me in and hung out for the whole time. It was a raw scene; I wasn’t allowed to go to house shows after that quite some time.

CM: That first time seeing them was definitely memorable because it was sort of an introduction into going to gigs in the city. However seeing them at the Halfway House show was totally unforgettable because I remember the fucking ceiling was just leaking nonstop through their whole set, getting all over the equipment. They didn’t miss a beat and it seemed like everyone was going to get electrocuted or the whole structure was going to collapse. But honestly that vibe kind of fit with the insanity of the music.

TK: Did you go up and introduce yourself as being from Ardmore?

JL: I did! I talked to them, they were very nice. We talked for a while. I offered to bring Bob’s cymbals in and I dropped them on the ground immediately. I have fond memories of that show and how wild and raw punk rock could be.

TK: You both went to Haverford High School, right? That’s also where Dave FOD went. Were you on the radio station there?

JL: All four years.

TK: Did you play FOD on the radio?

JL: I’m sure that I did. They were a big influence on me as a child. My e-mail address for years and years was king.size.twisted [ed. note: a well-known FOD song on the album Hate Rock] at gmail dot com. Our band throughout middle school and high school was called the Ardmore Assault, in reference to the introduction to a song on some fucking comp where FOD gives a whole spiel that ends with, “The Ardmore Assault is on!”

CM: Jake and I shared a radio slot for I think all four years we were in high school and like he said I’m positive we included them on countless playlists. Another memory I have from this time period is that we had a screen printing class and for one of the projects we could burn a screen of whatever we wanted, so of course I chose make one of the Shatter Your Day LP cover. I was so stoked on it.

TK: Why do you think the band has lasted for so long?

JL: No band from Philly at that time period were really given the credit they deserved on the national scene, and I think that was obviously detrimental to the legacy of those bands but it can also seem like it would be beneficial in that they didn’t really have any expectations outside of their own. I think that leaves a lot of room to create if you’re driven to do so.

CM: In FOD’s case, their music has always come off as a totally genuine hyperactive catharsis. It can’t be denied that they’re criminally underrated in the scope of early U.S hardcore, but they never stopped making records. I think it’s a testament to the fact that they’re true freaks. Like Jake said, the Philly underground scene from that time period seems skipped over, but the lack of wider recognition often makes it so that bands who last are the ones who make music because it’s just what they need to do.

TK: I feel like a lot of what’s made FOD special for you is that they’re from Ardmore.

JL: It’s cool to find something that has a connection like that. They were one of the first smaller punk bands I had ever heard of. My introduction to punk was The Ramones and The Ramones are and always will be my one and only. But figuring out that punk was more a vibrant, underground thing than just The Ramones and The Clash and The Sex Pistols and all these bands who were subversive for their time but in 2004 were mainstream old guy bands.

So finding out that there was something beyond that which really existed completely apart from the mainstream was exciting. And then finding out it was happening everywhere including the place that I was from and knowing that these guys probably hung out at the same 7-11 as me and know where the bowling alley is was just a cool thing that made me feel like this is something special and a bit more personal.

CM: Definitely. Of course listening to songs like “Suburban Cowboy” and “Houses Made for Mannequins” when you’re in a prime period of teenage bitterness is perfect enough, but then having the band that made them be from the same dumb town you’re from is even better.

TK: Did it give you the sense that this was something that you could also do?

JL: Totally, totally. It’s just, like, this is a shitty, weird boring suburb but that’s where I am and that’s where they were. I think that suburban punk played by teenage idiots has always been a very special thing and I feel like I always got that weird suburban psychosis vibe from them as a band and as people.

CM: Yes, for sure. Honestly I think Jake answered this one perfectly. It made the fact that we spent a lot of our free time funneling our resentment and abject boredom with our surroundings into crudely crafted songs feel more extraordinary.


Johnpaul Golaski

WKDU 91.7FM has been spinning Flag of Democracy for as long as the band has been around. Johnpaul Golaski has been a DJ at WKDU since the 90s and has definitely been playing FOD that entire time.

TK: What is your history with the band? When did you start listening to them and what was your introduction?

JPG: I don’t remember if i heard them on WKDU first, or saw them play live. they played a lot of all ages shows when i was a kid. I definitely knew who they were when I saw Down With People in the new release spots at Record Exchange and 3rd Street Rock & Jazz.

TK: What’s your favorite memory of seeing FOD play?

JPG: That’s difficult… I couldn’t even guess how many times I’ve seen them. They’re always great and their set stands alone in relation to the other bands on the bill.

TK: Most bands don’t last for six years, much less 36. What’s so special about FOD and why do you think they’ve stuck around for so long?

JPG: I think it’s a combination of them still writing great new songs but also happily playing the classics, even from their first 7″. They obviously enjoy playing or they wouldn’t still be here… and people still want to go see them. There’s a lot of punk bands that have been around for decades but in some cases people only want to hear the songs from the 80s. It’s kind of rare that a band still puts out awesome records and fans of the old stuff also love the new stuff.

TK: Do you think of them as an inherently Philly band? Would they have been the same band if they were from NYC or LA or somewhere else?

JPG: I definitely think of them as a Philly band. That’s why they’re on the Philly Shreds comp. I think they could exist in another city, like LA or NYC. There’s some old LA punk bands about as old that pop up and play, but they don’t really write new songs. Maybe the cost of living in those places makes it way more difficult to keep playing in a band for fun? So maybe a band like FOD could exist in a more similar city to the Philly region. A place with a manageable cost of living (and affordable practice spaces/basements), but also a consistently vibrant punk scene to support them along the way.


Jon Solomon

WKDU isn’t the only college station that got really into Flag of Democracy. WPRB 103.3FM in Princeton is another spot on the radio dial where you can hear the band played to this day. DJ Jon Solomon has been doing a show on PRB for decades – you might know him from his annual Christmas Marathon, which is entering it’s 30th year this December – and has long been a big FOD fan. Solomon was profiled on The Key for his Christmas Marathon in 2014 and in 2017.

Jon Solomon | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN | <a href="http://racheldelsordophotography.com" target="_blank">racheldelsordophotography.com</a>
Jon Solomon | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN | racheldelsordophotography.com

TK: When did you start listening to Flag of Democracy and what was your introduction?

JS: I’m pretty sure I first heard Shatter Your Day as a listener to WPRB in my early teens and would play it frequently on-air in the middle of the night when I first became a DJ at the station shortly thereafter. This album later was one that I would buy every single time I’d spot a copy at the Princeton Record Exchange for $3.99 or less so I could give it the good home it deserved in a friend’s library.

TK: Do you have a favorite memory associated with the band, either from seeing them play or just a time you played them on the air that sticks in your head?

JS: Bonding with new Delaware Valley pals early in college at Northwestern’s radio station over how anthemic a song “Powerload” was. This was during the important yet strange decade-spanning stretch where bands from Philadelphia just weren’t popular outside of Philadelphia – with the exception of The Dead Milkmen, who were the region’s top export for a long, long swath of time. Yo yo yo yo yo yo ye yo indeed.

TK: Why do you think FOD has stuck around for so long?

JS: For the single best reason: Because they wanted to.


Perry Shall

Musician, artist, and consummate t-shirt collector Perry Shall did the art work for No School, No Core. His band Hound has shared stages – and a label in SRA – with Flag of Democracy. Shall was profiled in The Key earlier this year, and guest DJed on the Indie Rock Hit Parade in the spring.

Perry Shall, self-portrait courtesy of the artist

TK: What was your introduction to the band?

PS: I first heard about FOD from The Dead Milkmen song, as did many people of my age. Then the drummer from my old band played them a lot in the van while we were on tour. I believe Shatter Your Day was the most played [album] that we’d listen to.

I didn’t know what to think of them. They reminded me of NOFX, but wrote better songs, Jim kinda sounded Jello-ish at times but it was still different. It was like they were in the movie Speed and they couldn’t slow down or they’d die.

TK: Do you have a favorite memory of seeing them play?

PS: When my band played with them at Boot & Saddle. One of the members came straight from work or something, walked into the building directly onto the stage and they ripped through an entire set like nothing happened and played effortlessly.

TK: What’s so special about this band?

PS: FOD has done everything most current and older bands are doing or have done but did it first. And I don’t mean most current hardcore bands specifically [but] most bands included in all the subgenres of punk. They’re not a pop punk band but write better pop punk songs than bands of the genre, they’re probably a hardcore band but have been consistently writing some of the best records in THAT genre since forever, throughout all the trends in hardcore. They’re sometimes sort of just a pop rock kind of band and write super catchy songs you’d imagine seeing played outdoors at a college in the 90s on a big stage. They were writing songs like that before most. But also, they are and have always been FOD. No matter what type of song it is, it always sounds like them and not a bad record has been released yet.


Chuck Meehan

It’s impossible to talk about Flag of Democracy without mentioning Chuck Meehan. Quite possibly the world’s biggest FOD fan, Meehan, who played bass in legendary Philly hardcore act YDi, has been close friends with everyone in the band even before its inception. He toured Europe with them in the 90s and still goes to all their shows. Chuck Meehan was profiled in The Key last year.

Chuck Meehan | photo by Karen Kirchhoff
Chuck Meehan | photo by Karen Kirchhoff

TK: What was your introduction to FOD?

CM: They were friends of ours, kids going to shows just like us. Our contemporaries. We knew them even before they got it going.

TK: You were at the first show?

CM: Yes I was. It was a show they played with Minor Thread, SS Decontrol, Agnostic Front. The infamous Buff Hall show. Their second show was actually the first YDi show at Bainbridge Street on New Year’s Eve. They were as parallel to us as anybody.

TK: Did you ever think that this would be a band that stuck around for this long? Are you surprised they’re still a band 36 years later?

CM: Nobody was thinking ahead more than a week. None of us had game plans. [The music scene] was just so tiny and underground back then, you didn’t even think about things in terms of ‘Where am I going to be a year from now?’ [But] after they got through about 15, 16 years, no. FOD is just what they do.

TK: What makes FOD so unique?

CM: Jim has his particular music vision … it’s bubblegum pop, that’s basically what is at the root of what he does, even if he’s playing 300 miles per hour weird jazz or whatever. To the day, he loves all that J-Pop stuff.

TK: Do you have a favorite memory of seeing them play? I mean, you’re probably the person who has seen them more than anybody else.

CM: I would have to estimate that it’s four, five hundred times in my life. It’s hard to pick out one but the funniest thing I ever saw was when a squat dog jumped up on stage in Magdeburg, Germany and bit him in the stomach and he didn’t miss a note.

TK: So you toured with them in Europe?

CM: Yeah, that was one of my more satisfying memories. They had kind of fallen by the wayside here. They were at a certain point dismissed by a lot of the people who went on to the post-hardcore [scene] or whatever. They didn’t fit in anywhere and were defined by their very early stuff and people were, like, “Oh, FOD, that goofy, fast hardcore band.” But an album like Hate Rock is as ambitious as you can get.

I think they were lucky that they had a very good label in Germany that put their records out on schedule and they were able to tour over there. Going over there was very gratifying. People got them. They weren’t this throwback hardcore band. Most people in Europe, they would consider them adjacent to NoMeansNo. They were considered pretty vanguard as far as what they were doing.

It was always, with FOD fans both here and around the world, kind of an intense cult.

TK: Unlike so many other bands they never broke up – and thus never put out a reunion album – or changed direction or anything.

CM: They were the only band from that milieu other than NoMeansNo who spent decades as a constant experiment while also keeping true to their original vibe. They wouldn’t turn heel all of a sudden.

TK: What has SRA been able to do for the band?

CM: For BJ it’s a labor of love. He’s just giving of himself to provide them with the studio time and to work with them. If it wasn’t for BJ, they might have just drifted apart. There’s no one else who could have kept it together, at least over the last ten years or so.

TK: What is it about the band that makes the fans so over-the-top? What keeps you coming back?

CM: It’s kind of hard to put a finger on. I mean, Jim’s stuff is brilliant. Even if they weren’t from Philadelphia I’d still be intensely into them. It’s just the energy. It’s 300 mile per hour bubblegum jazz.

I always love to see them. I’ve seen them 400 times and never got bored with them. A lot of bands if I see them six or seven times that’s enough. It’s always fun to see them. On a personal level, they’re my fam. Way back, it was us against the world, and maybe in some ways it still is.

F.O.D. plays The Nail in Ardmore with Mt. Vengeance and Poppy on Saturday, October 27th. Details on the show can be found here.

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