New York City’s Cro-Mags originally formed in 1981 and carried the flag for crossover hardcore. Although seemingly now an underground phenomenon relegated to small clubs, their fearless ex-bass player and songwriter, Harley Flanagan, has both been quite prolific this year and will be releasing both a book and a new record. And while social media and major TV outlets blew an incident way out of control, there are still countless long-time fans who would kill for an Age Of Quarrel full-album tour with both singer John Joseph and Harley. Whoever was wrong, it certainly makes no difference in 2016. In the interim, Metal Insider caught up with Harley to discuss the new album, current events, and one incident that will never escape him. You be the judge.
How long did your book take to write and was it easy to secure a book deal? Easier than a record deal?
I started working on it in the late 90’s, but it took forever. Lots of mishaps along the way. I wrote it and re- wrote it several times until I finally had it all down. Then I had an editor go in and tighten it up. Then right when I thought it was done, a whole series of events happened that I had to include, so I went back to work on it. It wasn’t easy to get a book deal and I could have published it independently, but I didn’t want to. Consequently, I kept looking and I got a deal with Feral House (who I really think is the appropriate publisher).
Your book should provide insight into the other members of Cro-Mags and how 2012’s events played out. Do you think any of this would have been an issue were it not for social media?
Yes. I think it would have. Forget about social media, though. It was all over the news and on every channel. It was on Taxi TV, it was on 1010 WINS, it was on Channel 5, Channel 2 and every major newspaper. It was big news. It made the news in other countries. I don’t think it was that big a deal. It was just a fight. I got jumped and I did what I had to do to defend myself. Unfortunately, people got hurt and I got arrested and stabbed as well. Back in the day, it would have been nothing, we would have all taken it in stride and it would have been over with. But NY is kinda soft now so it was a big deal. It also happened at a big event where my band was playing so it was great media fodder. ‘Hardcore Punk Rock Slashing Stabbing involving band members’ in the headlines and all that good stuff. It was very biting and sensational media.
Your new solo record is being compared to earlier Cro-Mags fare. Is that a valid assumption?
Yes, because I wrote those earlier songs too and they have a similar sound. I think you can tell as soon as you put this record on that the same person wrote it.
What kinds of basses are you playing currently? Favorite bass?
I play several and I’ll play anything. I play more acoustic guitar these days, but I still play bass everyday.
Do you keep in contact with any previous members of Cro-Mags?
No. I hear from Doug once in a while. I do speak to other guys who were in Cro-Mags like Rocky and Gabby and Gary Sullivan but not the other guys. I saw Mackie after the Webster Hall thing went down and we talked. It was all cool. He said to me, “I told John he should have let you come up and play a few songs then none of that shit would have gone down.” He also went on to tell me that “Mike the Gook” was not playing bass with them that night (like John was claiming in the press). However, Craig from S.O.I.A. was playing which I thought was funny since they tried to make it out like I attacked Mike cause he was in the band. It was just a lot of B.S. and drama but at least Mackie confirmed what I already knew; that it was a a bunch of lies and I was set up.
Did you ever think Age Of Quarrel would become such an influential record? When did you know it was so vital to the hardcore metal world?
No. I didn’t think about it. When we had a video on MTV and metal heads started coming to our shows, bands like Metallica started coming backstage when we were playing. Of course, when we were in magazines right next to big metal bands, that kinda gave me the idea we were getting noticed. Looking back I can see the effect we had.
How good are your drum chops? Can you do blast beats and syncopated double-bass beats with ease?
In my opinion, I am a better drummer than bassist. I grew up in the era before all that blast beat crap. We played single kick. You had to be good and have rhythmic chops. I like double bass and I mess around with it, but I think people who rely on it often lose their groove and have no swing. Double kick should be used tastefully or it becomes annoying. I loved Philthy (late Motorhead drummer) and of course Dave Lombardo. If you want to go old school, try Lenny White, Billy Colbam or Terry Bozzio. As far as metal/thrash/crossover types or hardcore, there are few and far between who make it sound cool. I think most of them lose their cool when they overuse that stuff.
Does writing songs on an acoustic guitar make the process easier?
I don’t know if it makes it easier, but it is fun.
What can you tell today’s youth about drugs having overcome addiction yourself (and even selling at a young age)?
Drugs will kill you and can wreck your life even if they don’t kill you; so you decide. If you don’t care about dying or wrecking your life that’s on you and no one else. I can’t tell anyone what to do or what not to do. But drugs and or alcohol can kill you, and I love life. I recommend you find other things to do.
What are your other skill sets besides being a fantastic songwriter / musician?
Thank you. I am a Black Belt under Master Renzo Gracie at Jiu-Jitsu. I teach six days a week at the Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in NYC and I am an artist.
Will you ever approach ex-members of Cro-Mags about an Age Of Quarrel tour?
I have already but so far no one has been receptive. I would do it even if it was just one show…a free show even. But for whatever reasons, those guys haven’t reached that place in their lives yet and maybe they never will.
Have you been in talks with your agent about tours in the United States? Abroad? Explain.
Yes. So far the offers have not been the right ones. If it is the right show with the right bands and for the right money, I will be there in a second. I have a lot of responsibilities, have kids and teach Jiu-Jitsu six days a week. My band members also work so we can’t just up and jump in a van and start doing six-hour drives to play little shows and stuff. If the right offers come we are there.
Who are you looking to either support or bring along as openers?
I’d like to open for any big bands to get the exposure, but I would play with just about anybody. I just like to play music.
Pending book tour in the works?
I know I will be doing some sort of a book tour when my book comes out this September. I will probably try to book some shows around that time as well to go along with it so I can do a book thing in the day and a show at night. All of that has to be worked out and nothing is set up yet.