Brick by Brick – Metal with a Hardcore Attitude

Thursday, 28th February 2019

Pushing their particular Upstate NY brand of metallic hardcore for seven albums at this point, they’ve built up a reputation based on hard work and sheer aggression. They embody that hardcore ethos not just in their attitude, but in their commitment towards being a part of their community, but they also capture the heaviness of more metallic brethren. Their latest album, Hive Mentality, embraces all of these notions and molds it into the band’s strongest release to date. We chatted with guitarist Mike Valente about the new album, his work as a promoter and the upstate New York scene, and more.

Dead Rhetoric: What does Hive Mentality represent for the band?

Mike Valente: The title, the songs, the structure of the whole album – it has a message behind it. Everyone has their face in social media. Being an older person – I’m not in my 20s or 30s. You are at a concert and you see all these kids looking at the concert through their phone. The concert is right there! Watch the fucking concert! You are missing things – it’s bizarre to me. I’m not bashing social media because there are some great aspects, but some people worship social media.

My belief is that corporations own the social media, and the politicians are behind the corporations. If someone told me that the FBI owned Facebook, I wouldn’t be surprised. I just think people are fed all of this crap, and they believe it. What’s the real message behind what you are seeing on social media? Is it to deflect you from seeing something else that is actually happening? People don’t care, as long as they can swipe right or left. That was the message I was aiming for – get out of the phone. Take a walk, interact with people and smell the roses. We don’t have too much time on this planet.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that adding Ray [Mazzola] on vocals a few years ago helped to re-spark the band?

Valente: Absolutely. Besides musically, Ray just reinvigorated the band. It was fun. We were at a point with our old singer and line-up – not that it was getting stagnant but it was such a production to get the old singer to get to do stuff. We were together for so long, and we didn’t do have of the things we should have done because we were held back and this person made poor decisions with his life. We tried to get other singers and they just weren’t into it.

One day, we played with Full Blown Chaos and Ray said that if we ever needed a fill-in, to let him know. The singer we had screwed up on a tour we did in Canada, and when we came back his wife said he would not be touring with us anymore so we asked Ray. He filled in for the tour and we asked him to then be in the band, because we just had so much fun. We have the same direction, mentality, ideals, morals – we are all best friends in this band again. It comes out in the music. The stuff we write is so much more fun than before.

Dead Rhetoric: Could you discuss the choices of Skid Row and Motorhead covers that end the album?

Valente: I always loved “Slave to the Grind,” and I always respected Skid Row after seeing them play with Pantera in the mid-‘90s. It was just cool. Here was a band that was really popular playing with a band that was borderline hardcore/metal. It wasn’t necessarily that they were on tour together because of the music, but you could tell they were all friends and having a great fucking time. It gave me a lot of respect for Skid Row. “Slave to the Grind” is a heavy song to begin with. It has a radio edge to it, but we had to make it ours, and it was easy to just transcend that music into our style. It was fun, we had a blast playing it.

“Iron Fist” is a great freaking song to begin with. You can’t do much to make it a better song. We didn’t try to make it better, but just make it ours and pay an homage to Lemmy and all of them. That classic line-up is all gone, and it’s a shame. We originally did that song for a compilation called Damaged Cases. That has bands like Sheer Terror, Street Dogs, Unruly Boys – there’s a bunch of great bands on that record. Our current label released that record, so I asked if we could put it on our album so that our fans could hear it, not just Motorhead fans. They let us put it on the record, so there it is!

Dead Rhetoric: There are a number of guests on the release. Do you feel that it’s a part of unity within the scene?

Valente: We have had different genres on there. Lars from Rancid was going to guest on there too but he couldn’t, because our recording schedule got pushed back and their touring schedule got pushed up so it didn’t jive. Jessica Pimental from Orange is the New Black, who also is in a metal/black metal band called Alekhine’s Gun is a guest, and we had played shows with them, and I’ve been friends with her for a decade. That rant that she does fits her. If you don’t know her, she has some angst behind her. She’s saucy. She was perfect for that rant. The way that she lays into that rant isn’t so much anger, but this scolding parental figure and I love it!

Vincent [Bennett] has been friends with us for a long time. Every year we do a toy drive together – The Acacia Strain and Brick by Brick. We always raise like 1,500 to 2,000 toys. We do really good for the local community here. That song was revamped – it was released about 7 years ago on a split, and there was only a few hundred copies sold. It’s gone; you can’t find it anywhere. We wanted to re-do it and put it out to our masses, and he agreed to help out. Ray is on it too, so there’s more of a modern feel to it. Tony from Municipal Waste – every time he is in town, we go out and tear it up. That was our party anthem song, so he had to be on it. That’s his style, and he couldn’t wait to do it. It was perfect. We shot a video for that song too, it was tons of fun!

Dead Rhetoric: Is he going to be in the video too?

Valente: No, between Municipal Waste and Iron Reagan, he won’t be able to be there but took a cardboard cutout of his head and put it on a stick [laughs], so he will be there in old-fashion. It will be funny.

Dead Rhetoric: With that angle, can you talk about the pictures/memes that the band has been doing in lead up to the new album with quotes from members of the scene? What was the idea behind that?

Valente: Hive mentality – people can’t get out of social media so I took advantage of it! It was funny because I did one or two funny ones and people laughed and we had a great time with it. So I decided to do one every day until the record comes out. I couldn’t believe I was coming up with material still. Some of them are funnier than others, but you get the point [laughs]. They get attention. The best part is that I can tag my friends in it, so Vince from The Acacia Strain – if he wants to share it, that’s great! It will just reach more of a wider range of people.

I know a lot of people have been sharing it that are in it. They think its funny. There was no meanness or negativity behind it. When you see memes, there’s usually some negativity behind them. We bust our own balls on this and make fun of each other. It’s to have fun – everyone is so damn serious all the time, and argumentative on Facebook. Just have fun with it!

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that it’s easier to make angrier albums as you get older?

Valente: That’s the way I write. I’m not exactly the happiest person. I like to have fun and try to portray a decent attitude, but everyone in this band is blue-collar, middle class people and we get shit on just as much as the next guy. That’s where middle class comes from. We are the grunts. Nobody has money in this band, we just do what we have to do. It helps fuel the fire. Now we just take stabs at certain issues that affect our day to day operations.

Dead Rhetoric: You had already mentioned that charity event earlier and I know you guys are active with those type of events. Do you feel it’s important to give something back to the community?

Valente: Absolutely! That’s the hardcore part of us. Hardcore, to me, is more family-oriented than metal. I’m not taking a stab a metal, but it’s more of a broad range of people coming together for a common style of music. Hardcore is more underground, and the hardcore scenes are tight-knit. These kids come out, and if you are supporting a good cause – when we do a benefit, kids are walking in with 5-10 toys. They don’t just bring one. Some do, but some kids are bringing bikes and crazy things. It’s amazing what they do. They can’t wait every year to give something back.

We do a food drive every year as well. That’s not as publicized because it’s more local, but we still raise a lot of money. We use one charity donation up here and it is local. It all stays within Troy. We use them, and they couldn’t be happier. You have to give back to your community. If you aren’t doing that, you are a dick. It’s simple. Pretty much every band out there has played a benefit or helped out in some way, somewhere. There’s not a band out there that I know of that hasn’t.

Dead Rhetoric: Being a part of the scene for so long, what do you think makes the Upstate New York scene unique?

Valente: Upstate has a smaller population than other cities, like New York City. The NY hardcore scene is one of the pioneer scenes first of all, and all of those bands are older. Sick of it All, Agnostic Front – they have been around 30 years! They’ve got staying power because of these major cities. There’s a bigger population and it’s easier to network. Upstate NY is very, I don’t want to say rural, it’s definitely suburban – we don’t do a lot that is city-oriented.

When a band comes through upstate NY, it’s appreciated a little bit more, because it’s not as often. Everybody plays NYC. If you are on tour and don’t go through NYC, you’re stupid. But upstate NY, some bands choose not to come here because financially, they can’t be supported. There’s a reason that Warped Tour and Ozzfest don’t come to Albany. Nobody cares. It’s not worth it for a lot of these bigger festivals and acts. So it’s a little smaller. Madball will play in front of 1,000 people in New York City, but they will only play in front of a couple hundred up here. But it is what it is.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the challenges of promoting shows in this day and age?

Valente: [Laughs] There’s no money in it. There’s not. It’s hard to do, because you have to like what you are doing. If you are in it for money, you won’t be here for long. I do this as a hobby. My partner, Dan, who helps me out. We take money out of our pocket half the time. We just did Murphy’s Law on Sunday. The overhead – staff of the club, room rental, the bands, Murphy’s Law – we did a $5 show because we do it every year. We expect to take a loss, and we do. The opening bands understand that there’s no money to pay them. I’m definitely losing money going into it – if you don’t want to play you don’t have to. But they want to play because it’s always so much fun. A lot of people show up, but it’s only $5. By the time all is said and done, I lose $300-$500 on that show. But it doesn’t matter.

I get shows that I do get a profit on, and that profit just sits and waits to be lost [laughs]. It’s a labor of love. It’s rewarding because you get one kid who says “thank you for doing this” and you are like, “alright, I will keep doing it.”

Dead Rhetoric: What does Brick by Brick have going on after the album is released?

Valente: The album comes out February 22, and then we aren’t doing anything until March. We are going to Europe on the Rebellion Fest – it’s a big tour with Madball, Iron Reagan, Death before Dishonor, Born from Pain – there’s a bunch of bands. It’s a festival tour, and we have our own tour bus we are sharing with one of the other bands. I’m so excited to go to Europe. The heavier music is more mainstream over there, and we went out last time last year with Slapshot. The shows averaged 250 to 500 people. How can you beat that? We played one festival with Sick of it All and Cro-Mags for 6500 people! Europe is definitely fun and where it’s at. I can’t wait for March!

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