conversations with bianca

Toe To Toe frontman Scott Mac: “People want a bit more substance again…”

Scott Mac from Australian hardcore band, Toe To Toe, was the second person I ever interviewed for my first zine over 20 years ago. His band was the first Aussie hardcore band I had ever heard, and they’ll always hold a special place in my heart. Still to this day they’re one of my all-time favourite hardcore bands. Over the years TTT have shared the stage with Madball, Sick Of It All, Agnostic Front, Strife, H2O, 59 Times the Pain and more, played major festivals (Livid, Homebake, Vans Warped Tour…), toured the US, Europe and Japan, plus collab’d musically with several of the aforementioned; Mac was also the founder of important Australian hardcore cornerstone, Resist Records. They’ve recently released new record, Rise Up, and are currently touring Oz—don’t miss out! Peel yourself off the couch and go see, as I heard someone recently say of TTT: the greatest hardcore band, the benchmark, game changers and legends!

SCOTT MAC: When I was a very little kid, my old man had some records in the corner and I used to play them—we’re talking The Platters, Johnny Cash, stuff like that. He had a record player and he used to work a lot; I was in the house by myself, so that was me, keeping myself company filling the house with voices, ya’know.

Was there anything in those voices that really resonate with you?

SM: Definitely, just lyrics and emotion really, especially Johnny Cash. I used to play The Platters to death, I couldn’t believe how good they were, I couldn’t believe that people could sing that well, I thought it was brilliant. To this day if I hear them it takes me back.

What were you like growing up?

SM: I was a bit of a ratbag [laughs]. I grew up in a tough neighbourhood. We were always out and about. I had to stand up for myself a lot, but so did everyone else in the neighbourhood too—it all evened itself out though. It was a great way to grow up.

I grew up with both my mother and father teaching me how to fight and learning to stand up for myself, what’s right and for those that might not be able to defend themselves. If someone was being a jerk, you’d knock them on their arse and they wouldn’t mess with you again. I dealt with a lot of bullying and racism growing up.

SM: Yeah! Not like now—don’t have a Twitter war with ‘em, just sort ‘em out! [laughs].

Things are so different these days.

SM: Yeah it is, and it wasn’t always about violence… it was more about, hey you’re crossing a line, back up or shut up!

I was looking back at an interview I did with you in 1998 and you told me that the philosophy of Toe To Toe was: protect what’s yours, respect what’s others.

SM: Totally. It definitely still is the same. We’re happy for everyone to do what they want to do, as long as they’re happy to respect what we’re doing.

Where did you grow up?

SM: In Alexandria in the city—South Sydney. It’s all changed now and been gentrified. My dad still lives there, he’s the last of my family to live in the area, everyone else is gone now. There’s still little bits of the neighbourhood alive but the house prices are through the roof, there’s definitely no culture there anymore. It’s full of yuppies really.

How did you get into the hardcore punk scene?

SM: There was a couple of other guys at my school that were listening to heavier stuff. I was listening to heavy metal to start with, some Motörhead and Metallica; Sydney had a pretty happening punk scene back then. From there you’d drift into other stuff. I heard Discharge and I thought that was the heaviest, scariest thing I’d ever heard in my life! I was just like, wow! I was intrigued that people make that kind of music. I would go look for other stuff like that, it blew me away that you could make music that wasn’t that nice but it still had a message to it. I wondered, what kind of people play this stuff? It was fascinating.

You get into hip hop as well, right?

SM: I love hip hop.

You’re friends with Aussie hip hop legends, Def Wish Cast?

SM: Yeah. We played shows with them in ’92-’93, I used to live with Paul from Def Wish Cast. I worked with the guys, I got ‘em jobs. We also did a recording session with them. I definitely love hip hop.

Tell me about the beginnings of Toe To Toe. You started in 1992?

SM: Yeah. In 1992 we were bumming around and skateboarding, I said, hey do you guys wanna make a band? We didn’t know how it was gonna turn out. We got some songs and played, in a backyard next to a skateboard ramp was the very first show; people were into it and we kept doing it from then. There were some other bands trying to get stuff happening and we said, hey play shows with us! And, that was the rebirth of Sydney hardcore. There was other stuff going on before us of course but it really kick-started a scene for people that were around our age.

You guys were the very first Australian hardcore band that I got into.

SM: Cool. I was really influenced by all the Melbourne stuff – Vicious Circle, Death Sentence, Permanent Damage—Melbourne was really happening. I thought, wow! This stuff is awesome. We came a little bit after those guys and started doing our thing.

Where you influenced by any of the overseas bands?

SM: Probably, Poison Idea, straight away was one of Toe To Toe’s biggest influences. We were inspired by a lot of things. That was the good thing about being Australian, you could listen to New York hardcore, you could listen to West Coast hardcore, you could listen to Japanese hardcore, Swedish hardcore – all the European stuff. I’ve heard people say that sometimes people from American hardcore would only listen to bands from their scene, but being so far away we got to listen to everything, which is cool.

Do you think there is anything that is unique to Australian hardcore?

SM: Probably the humbleness of it. I suppose back in the day I thought it was unique because in Sydney no two bands sounded the same. Now, I think that maybe because hardcore is seen as a genre of music, a lot of bands are sounding the same because… guess what?—apparently it’s just a sound now. Not being able to play properly and not knowing what you’re doing creates a unique sound. If you get a whole bunch of bands that don’t know what they’re doing, so they just go, this is what we do and this is how it sounds, I think that’s what creates unique bands. You can’t really say that everyone from Sydney or Melbourne sounded the same back then ‘cause everyone was really different.

Toe To Toe have done so much, what have been some of the highlights for you?

SM: Playing some of the Warped tours. It was so good to get up in front of a big crowd, or even Homebake festival. We were something unexpected on those bills, when we got up people would be like, who are these guys? [laughs]. We got such great responses. Now that we’ve made good friends with a lot of overseas bands, like when Sick Of It All comes to town, we’re like, we’ll play for nothing ‘cause we just wanna get up and play with our friends. Stuff like when we went to Japan with Madball back in the day… really just stepping on stage is a highlight.

What feeling does that give to you?

SM: It’s like you’re in a fight, the first song starts and you’re like, oh, how’s this going? You gotta catch your breath and get into the whole thing, it’s that whole being up there and making sure you’re being in sync with everyone—you’re just feeling it.

I’ve always loved the Toe To Toe play with such a variety of bands. I’ve always loved a wide variety of music too, so I’d get to see you guys play lots and all kinds of shows. To be honest, despite loving the music and a lot of aspects and ideas of hardcore, I’ve never really felt like I fit in, in the scene.

SM: Same here! [laughs].

Really? Well that makes me feel better. I don’t go to hardcore shows as much anymore, there’s a handful of great people that you meet but, there’s so many dickheads; in a way it’s a microcosm of the world in general. I always had an ideal that the community was full of pro-active, posi people at odds with society trying to do better and be better, but in my experience it’s not…

SM: Sometimes it goes through periods where it’s really cool, but other times it gets really bad…

I find that things are the coolest before it’s infiltrated by people wanting to be associated with it ‘cause they think it makes them cool or whatever…

SM: It’s like Game Of Thrones, who’s the king of the scene at the moment!

[Laughter] Yes!

SM: I never really felt like I fitted in and I think that’s actually not a bad emotion to have about the whole thing. You get into it because you don’t fit into somewhere. I really don’t think that Toe To Toe fit in anywhere perse. I think Toe To Toe fans are a little different to everyone else’s fans, they’re a little bit more fucked up, which is what I love.

Have there been any truly memorable fans along the way?

SM: We’ve got a kid – Daniel – who is autistic, that remembers every stat about Rugby League and we just love seeing him. If he’s there when we play I’ll go ‘2007 grand final’ and put the mic to him, he’ll rattle off the stats [laughs]. He’s just learnt every ‘wooden spooner’, everyone in the competition that run last and the first try scorer for every Grand Final. He’s making videos now and raising awareness of, and many for, autism. He loves Toe To Toe and we love what he does, he’s a cool guy to have around. We have a lot of people come up to us as fans and they end up being our friends—it’s what it’s all about really.

You’re the only original member of your band left standing?

SM: Yeah, I think so, the rest of them have died from premature deaths, so I gotta make sure I throw some other people in there to keep going… ya’know people leave through misfortune, they have other stuff on. People in the band now grew up on the band, so it still seems pretty familiar.

Has there ever been a really low point for you with the band?

SM: At one stage when we were doing those records on Shock and doing bigger things, I’d stop and ask myself, why am I doing these things, the fun wasn’t there. I remember thinking I don’t really want to do this anymore but we were obligated to do stuff. It didn’t last a long time, other than that it’s all been pretty good, I’ve got no complaints really.

When did the fun start coming back for you?

SM: When you take control back of what you’re doing. I’m not doing it for any other reason other than I’m a massive fan of punk rock, I feel pretty blessed to make my own. I love writing songs. I love still being able to do it. When you lose control of all of that, what’s the point?

I really understand that, it’s why I do my own site and have always done my own thing. I get people trying to give me money and stuff to interview their band or promote what they’re doing and if I’m not into it, it’s like, no, no, NO. I work differently to most other music/culture sites, publishers, writers etc. I’ve always just loved chatting with interesting people, doing awesome, posi things.

SM: I know what you mean totally. I think things are swinging around and people want a bit more substance again, there’s been so much fluff for so long. I remember when pop stars were interesting and made interesting music, some of them were actually cool, it’s not anymore though, some are absolute garbage.

Do you have any favourite song writers?

SM: I do. Put it this way, I just love a good song. I’ve been getting into a lot of hip hop at the moment, I think Vinnie Paz is just brilliant—that last record! I just love how he puts it all together.

The band pore over old music and bands. I say to the guys, have you heard this or this? Listen to this song. That’s what we did with this new record, we really pored back over all our influences; it was more about songs instead of style. Bands like the Descendents, they’ve hit that perfect punk song a few times, that’s brilliant. I always have my ears pricked up for the perfect punk song.

What’s one of their perfect punk songs?

SM: Awww anything on their new record [Hypercaffium Spazzinate], especially ‘Spineless and Scarlet Red’ it’s fucking brilliant …songs like ‘Silly Girl’ and ‘Sour Grapes’ from start to finish they’re just perfect.

Do you think Toe To Toe’s made the perfect punk rock song yet?

SM: [Laughs] I don’t know, I’m not the one to judge that, that’s for other people to judge, I just do me best. I’m happy with some of the songs we’ve done on this record.

What’s your favourite on the, Rise up?

SM: ‘My War, My Way’ or ‘Blacklisted’. This is probably the most satisfied I’ve been with a record.

Let’s go through the album tracks and you can give us a little insight into each. So there’s 12-tracks and the first is ‘Monolith’…

SM: The whole subject of the song is, well I don’t have a problem with your gods, but don’t try and push it on everyone else. I think if religion is making you a better person, go for it. If it’s making the world a shit place though… that’s probably where all that come from, like you’re thinking I don’t believe in your god so I must be godless and I can’t be saved. Sometimes you write about a subject that you don’t know that you’re going to do and you get a few words wrong and go, yeah this is what we’re writing about.

Next track, ‘Bastard’s Luck’.

SM: I actually had a band I was mucking around with in Brisbane called Bastard’s Luck. We wrote that song. The guy we wrote the song with, Glen [Barrie], actually passed away. He was a very young guy [26-years-old]. I was like, wow! We rewrote it a bit, but I wanted to put it on the record as a bit of a tribute to him. I wanted to keep that song alive. I love the sentiment of having no luck though, but you still have to hang in there.

Totally, when really shitty things happen you have two options and that’s to roll over and die or keep going.

SM: Yeah, you just have to get up the next day and see what happens really.

Your life can change in a moment, I’ve definitely learnt that, a meeting with someone, something can happen and change the whole trajectory of things…

SM: Definitely! If I feel down I just ring me mates and we start laughing and you can forget about whatever is bringing you down.

How about ‘Endurance’?

SM: Ode to a wasted youth – if it’s a wasted life then I’m going twice! It’s about me and my life in punk rock. It’s always a feeling and never a fact, you know how people try to say this is what it’s about or that’s what it’s about, well, ah, no—it’s a feeling, not a fact! It’s my tribute to punk rock.

‘My War, My Way’?

SM: I always got a few hard luck stories on records and that’s just another one. When things aren’t going your way and you think everyone’s against you and wanting to take you to war, that’s basically what it’s about.

‘First Sin’?

SM: Yeah, that’s just the old song about people talking behind your back and being hypocrites [laughs]… the whole people thinking they’re on a higher level and all that.

We’ve all known a few of those kinds of people!

SM: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah.

‘Takedown’?

SM: The bass player actually sings that song and wrote the lyrics to that. That’s [Adam] Checky’s realm; it’s just another frustrated ‘blue collar’ song. It was cool, ‘cause we demoed a lot and he did some vocals and I told him it was sounding good and he should sing that one. He was like, really?! If you write the lyrics you sing that one on the record.

‘DTOM’?

SM: ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ is probably that frustration kind of song, but taken to more of a society level the way society is going and everyone is sort of just stepping over each other to get what we think we want and we don’t really care, we just want that bigger house or car—how people will stop at nothing to get it anyway they can.

Yeah, yuck! That’s not for me.

SM: Yeah! Totally.

The title track ‘Rise Up’?

SM: We were playing around and that riff came up. No one really vibed on the riff but I was like, I like it, there’s something there. We played around with it on demos and I wrote the vocal, we played around with it a little more and rewrote it and we’re really happy where it ended up—positive. Again, it’s a big reflection on what’s going on today. I don’t try to write political but it’s a little hard not to right now. Politically I’m not left or right, I like to think that I’m pretty much down the middle. The left and right I think, are the weirdest thing in the world at the moment, like what’s going on with the political toing and froing? Wow!

‘Blacklisted’?

SM: A lot of stuff went on about two to three years ago, I was dealing with a lot of people and trying to help people out and I realised that people don’t really want to know you if you can’t do anything for them. I was ostracized a bit because I have an opinion, that’s what that song is about.

[Laughter] Yeah, welcome to the club! You can spend so much time helping others and giving and giving, always being there for people and being supportive of them and what they’re doing even if you don’t totally dig it, you still try and support your mates when they’re passionate about something… when people are being creative it’s always an awesome thing… then when they’ve bleed you dry or you’ve helped set ‘em up or introduced them to people, they move on to the next person they can use—it’s unfortunately happened to me way to many times.

SM: Yeah it’s like, what can you do for me? Then when you can’t do any more you never hear from them anymore, they don’t tell you that though, they just do it.

How about the song ‘Turn Your Head Around’?

SM: That’s a Tank cover! That album, Filth Hounds of Hades, is the best crossover record before crossover records were even thought of. I’ve always loved that record. I thought that song was a perfect song for Toe To Toe – the lyrics, the chorus – we just had to do it.

When did you first hear that song?

SM: Probably 25 years ago! It’s the bass player [Algy Ward] from The Damned’s band back in the day; “Fast” Eddie Clarke from Motörhead produced that record. I think old school punk rockers, skinheads and metalheads, it‘s one of those albums that everyone loves but it’s not lorded and put on best of lists and stuff.

‘Rub of The Green’?

SM: It’s the working class ‘got to get up and keep doing it’ song. You just need a little bit of luck. I write a lot of songs about luck, whether having it or not having it.

Do you think of yourself as a lucky person?

SM: I can’t complain. I’m not unhappy with my life. I’m lucky to be still doing what I’m doing; I have two beautiful daughters and good friends—that makes me feel lucky.

Last track ‘Sydney’?

SM: There you go, it’s pretty self-explanatory! [laughs]. It’s the town that I keep banging on about how much I love! I think if you love your town so much, you should just write a song about it, so I did.

Do you find that living in Brisbane now how influenced your song writing in anyway?

SM: Honestly, not at all. Brisbane, I like it but I’m that guy that’s homesick all the time. It’s not that I don’t like Brisbane, it’s that it’s just not the narrow streets that I grew up in, with a pub on every corner. I grew up with a certain style of people, a culture, which is disappearing… but that’s what I love about Sydney. Brisbane has some fantastic people, but it’s just not home. It’s a great place to live but I don’t want to die there.

I love the art work for the new record; tell me about it.

SM: The record company put me into a guy called, Lachlan. I mocked it up, said this is what I want and he retraced it and we to and fro’d with it. At one staged he had the fist full and I was like nah, nah, nah, it’s gotta be more positive; we’re throwing up peace, it’s not that he wants to fight, it’s that he’s gotta. Resistance without just doing it for the sake of it. People have to come together, that’s what I wanted it to reflect. Throwing up the peace sign not throwing up the fists!

You guys made a rad animated film clip for ‘Rise Up’ too?

SM: Yeah we were so happy with that! We’ve got rough heads so it worked out well that we did a clip like that, ya’know what I mean [laughs]. We worked with Fox [Mike Foxall; Nancy Vandal, The Neptune Power Federation & xraystudios.com]. We’ve known Fox forever, I was on his site watching some of his clips and thought I’d just love him to do something for us. I sent him the song and he said yeah, yeah, yeah. I love the clip.

For you, where would you say this album sits compared to your previous releases?

SM: I was hanging out with my cousin and he asked me what the new record was like? He was like, the other stuff is a bit full on, are you saying that it’s a bit more calmer? I laughed and said, you could say that. I think it’s more listenable the whole way through. We didn’t want to make the same record again really. We came from a bit of a different approach this time, we spent a lot of time writing songs. It has different production. We had a bit more fun with it. It nearly killed us! [laughs].

Why is that?

SM: There were some aspects of the whole process that was a little bit frustrating. We’ve gone through two guitarists; Matt who had been in the band for a long time just said, look I’m moving to Adelaide. It’s like, oh, ok… we have this record to do though. He was just trying to pump out songs like, look here, here—they weren’t good enough. He just disappeared one day, we haven’t heard too much from him. We always wanted to be a five-piece on this, so we already had another guitarist lined up, Nick was cool to go… and we got Kev that used to play in AVO and a lot of different bands, he just kind of didn’t work out though, he didn’t work out for like a year though… he played on the record but didn’t do a show with us. There was a few other communication problems with stuff but I don’t wanna give too much away and sound like I’m bitching ya’know what I mean?

I do… just curious.

SM: The guy from Noiseworks – Steve Balbi – produced the record. He said he was actually shitting himself ‘cause he’s never worked with people like us, I don’t know what he eve meant by that [laughs]. It worked out though. The little different approached that he brought to the record kind of made it what it is. I think the production is fucking unbelievable! That’s down to him. If we used someone else that’s tried and true like everyone else does it wouldn’t have sounded as dynamic. It sounds dynamic just from a pure listening point of view of style, songs, whatever… there’s a fair bit going on in there. Steve has never listened to punk or hardcore! To us it could of went both ways, I mean it could have come out really bad. I’m stoked on the production, it’s not over produced, it’s well produced. He’s brought a few tricks of the trade, that guy has had #1’s and stuff. He knows what he’s doing, he’s a musician. He taught us a lot.

What’s one of your greatest hopes for this album?

SM: I just hope people enjoy it to tell you the truth. I don’t have any… I just have to get up and go to work every day, and I happened to make a really cool record. Maybe the same kind of person that I am will hopefully dig it and it’ll resonate with them and maybe it’ll help them through their day. If they’re gonna start riots over ‘Rise Up’ don’t hold me responsible ya’know [laughs].

Obviously you’ll be touring the record?

SM: Yeah, we haven’t played in ages, our label didn’t really want us too just yet… we’re just chomping at the bit to play! We want to get to Europe with this record too—we’re ready to rock!

RISE UP is out now – GET it here. Find TOE TO TOE on Facebook and Instagram @toetotoeshc.

Catch them live at Crowbar this Friday:

And Saturday 10th June at the Miami Sharkbar on the Gold Coast.

Thanks for reading,

B xox

*All photos courtesy of TTT’s FB & IG.

 

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