Don Fury is someone that deserves to be celebrated! He has played an incredibly important role in helping shape hardcore punk music through his work as a record producer over the last 20+ years. As Jelena Goluza frontwoman for Australian hardcore band Outright (who Don has mastered a release for) said in a recent interview I did with her “name 100 of the best and most inspiring hardcore bands that have defined your history – he’s probably worked with them.” Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, Sick Of It All, Quicksand, Gorilla Biscuits, 108 and many, many more have all worked with Don and released essential HC records. Fury was also instrumental in getting the legendary CBGB hardcore matinees happening!
While well-known for his HC work, Don has also produced many other types of records too, spanning all kinds of genres with bands from all over the world—Japan, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Greece, Argentina, Guatemala and more. Despite his prolific body of work and all he has achieved, Don remains incredibly humble and simply focused on continuing his work.
Were you surrounded by music growing up?
FURY: Not really, no one pushed me into music or lessons. I used to bang on bongos in jams with my older brothers, and I got interested in bands at the end of grade school. I was a self-starter. I played guitar in lots of bands, bass in a few, and fronted my own band in NYC.
DonFuryStudio began as a small rehearsal room on 17th Street in Manhattan; you’ve commented that at the time you felt “I didn’t really have particularly the means to make it happen…” How did you make it happen?
FURY: There were empty lofts everywhere in NYC at the time – I needed one to rehearse my band. They were easy to get back then, and in no time I had a loft on 17th Street, in the Chelsea area of Manhattan near Max’s Kansas City, Andy Warhol’s Factory, and Union Square. I built a few walls for a rehearsal room – I don’t even have a clue how I managed that – and Mom was nice enough to lend some cash for a very small PA.
When I realized that other bands might want to use the space, I put a little ad in the Village Voice newspaper. I named the studio ‘Roach’. My second client was Richard Hell and the Void-Oids, one of the most infamous punk bands in the city. They practically took up residence 4 afternoons a week. James White & the Blacks, the Bush Tetras, & the Stimulators were a few of the bands rehearsing in the 17th Street studio. Harley Flanagan (Cro-Mags) was just a kid and played drums in the Stimulators, his aunt Denise’s band – Harley had to stand up to play so he could reach all the drums!
What was life like for you living downtown in New York at that time?
FURY: Life for everyone downtown was a cross between an urban apocalypse and the wild west. New art and graffiti was everywhere – punk had started, hardcore was beginning, rap was happening, and there were illegal venues all over. You could build a bonfire in a deserted and demolished lot in the middle of the East Village and the police would ignore it. They had better things to do.
What first sparked your interest in recording bands? In a previous interview you’ve mentioned “Once I had gotten into the idea of having a studio, the idea of having a recording studio was a really interesting idea to me.” What was it in particular that you found interesting?
FURY: I was blown away by the downtown NYC scene. It was a radical departure from everything you can imagine. I’ve always been good at getting things done, and I’m susceptible to inspiration. I act on it. The idea of being a kinetic focal point in the middle of an inspiring time and place was something I had to try. I imagined a small studio like Sun Studio in Memphis, where new bands could get a first experience and make some history. I built a little studio on Spring Street, just as the NYHC scene was beginning.
The studio at 18 Spring Street started as a rehearsal room, hosting two completely different scenes – art-punk and hardcore – did you feel a greater affinity for either scene?
FURY: Both scenes were really cool. The art-punk scene spawned bands like Sonic Youth and Helmet. But I had a special affinity for hardcore. I started recording bands like the Psychos, Warzone, and the Cro-Mags to 2 track and cassette. Bands would queue up on the sidewalk waiting their turn for a 2 hour live recording session. I was doing 80 sessions a month for a while. The first Madball record was live to 2 track reel-to-reel. Freddie was just 12 years old, and Agnostic Front was backing him up.
Is there anyone that’s been in your life that you felt was a real mentor in regards to all you do? Or did you have to forge your own path?
FURY: I made my own way. But there is one person I’d like to mention, and that’s Hilly Kristal, the owner of CBGB. Hilly was ornery to just about everyone, but he was a help over the years, to me and my family, to many of the bands I’ve worked with, and to many bands before. RIP.
I’ve read that you played a crucial role in starting the famous CBGB hardcore matinee, through your relationship with Hilly Kristal; how did you come to meet Hilly? What were your first impressions of him? How did the CBGB hardcore matinees come about?
FURY: I first met Hilly when I started playing at the club. He would barely speak to anyone. A few years later, I suggested the CBGB hardcore matinee when my ex, Carol Costa, was booking the club. After a few tries we got Hilly to go with the idea.
What’s one of the most memorable shows you saw there?
FURY: There were a million amazing shows there. Underdog, Bad Brains, Gorilla Biscuits and of course Agnostic Front come to mind – but that’s only a fraction. The CB’s HC matinee was crucial. Kids would be lined up all around the block, sometimes for two shows a day, and inside they’d be standing on top of railings it was so packed.
So many of my favourite bands have recorded at your studio and so many classic hardcore and punk records have been made there. I’m sure you have so many stories about different projects you’ve worked on in your studio, could you please share one of your favourites with us?
DON FURY: There aren’t too many flashy stories to tell, sorry. My studio is a workroom, and bands come in with that attitude, and that’s part of the reason good records get made. There was some fun, though. We had ripping parties upstairs at the Spring Street studio that were legend – if a bomb had gone off at any one of them, most of NY Hardcore would have been wiped out in an instant.
When did you first feel as though you could really pursue music as a career?
FURY: Never. And I would call it an old wooden roller coaster that makes you fear for your life, not a career. But it’s damn fun, and makes you happy you’re alive.
You’ve worked on both independent and major label projects – is there a huge difference in how you approach each?
FURY: Working indie or DIY it’s just you and the band making a great record – you have to work hard and fast, and there’s no one else to please. Working with majors you have more time, and the label and sometimes the management want to have input. Sometimes you get to work with some very good people. Sometimes you have to travel.
You always hear horror stories of bands having bad experiences being signed to major labels; has that been the case with any artists you’ve worked with?
FURY: Corporate labels are driven by heavy selling artists, usually pop. Most other bands signed to those labels are losing money, and as a result they have a bad end.
Aside from talent, what qualities in an artist really stand out for you?
FURY: Good song writing and arranging. Got to have that.
Is there any band that was a real challenge to work with?
FURY: Most people know my work with punk HC – but I’ve produced different styles. I’ve done two amazing records with the World Inferno Friendship Society that are all-time favorites. They start out as a nine piece cabaret / punk orchestra and then invite more musicians to the session. We recorded string ensembles, overtures, full horn sections, accordions, keys, woodwinds, percussion, vocal harmonies and bells. Really challenging and fun music to work with. There are some tracks posted on the studio web.
What do you feel is distinctive about your work? Are there any particular techniques that you use?
FURY: Everything you hear in a Fury production is real. The sound is up-front, transparent, vivid, with an edge and not much polish. Guitars have a snarl and a growl. We work hard on vocals. You feel close, like you’re right in front of the band at their best show.
Is there anyone you would really love to work with that you haven’t yet?
FURY: Not any particular band – I’m most interested in working with bands from around the world. And definitely Australia.
What is your favourite thing about your newest studio in Troy, New York?
FURY: The easy answer is that I own the building, and so I can count on a future. New York City became unfriendly to art because it got too expensive. Besides that the Troy studio is awesome and a fun place to work.
What is the typical production schedule for a band coming to work with you in your studio?
FURY: An indie/DIY EP is usually done in 4 or 5 sessions including a weekend. An indie/DIY LP might be 7 – 14 sessions or more depending on the band’s style. Mastering usually takes about 10 – 12 days – I put in a few sessions of listening.
What are you currently focused on?
FURY: I’ve just started an Analog Mix / Digital Mastering option, which is going to be a great way for bands around the world to get the Fury studio sound on their record. It’s priced – low – for indie and DIY bands. I’ve recently mixed and mastered some great records from Italy (Deep Throat), Guatemala (Volver), and Chile (Remission). I’m pretty psyched about this option.
Right now I’m mastering an EP for a really good post-HC band from Turkey (Radical Noise).
You recently mastered one of my all-time favourite Australian hardcore band Outright’s latest release, Dedication; can you please give us a little insight in to how you worked on it?
FURY: Outright is a great band – Dedication is an awesome EP. I can’t give specifics about records, but in general you are looking to create a feeling and show the band’s strength. If there’s a flaw in the mix it has to be corrected, and the mastering dynamics and EQ have to combine to make the record jump. I usually go through many versions before settling on the best one. I drive them around in my Jeep, and the record has to pass audition there before it goes anywhere.
FURY: Both great bands. Australian HC has lots of spirit. Lots of raw energy.
What is it that you love most about what you do?
FURY: The sound of it. The inspiration. And the hard work.
You have a lot of history as a producer and as a studio – how do you define yourself and the studio?
FURY: I still count the studio as ‘underground’. I still have an ethic that reminds me of the streets of New York, back in the day, and I don’t like to be separated from that. We will always make true records with lots of heart and energy.
And lastly, have you ever had a truly life changing moment?
FURY: Sure, there are two most important to my studio – the first time I walked into CBGB I had driven in from the suburbs. I saw Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, with Richard Hell on bass. Within hours I had decided that NYC was the place for me, within months I was there, and two years later Richard Hell and the Void-Oids would end up in my studio.
And, the first time I saw Agnostic Front, they were very young guys playing to a small crowd, and I was blown away. My studio on Spring Street was a block away from Stigma, AF’s guitarist. I made sure they knew I wanted to help them record. We recorded the United Blood EP on a four track reel-to-reel, and the rest – is history.