Direct from Yosef himself.
xYosefx: How and when did you first get into hardcore and straight edge?
Steve: I first got I first got into hardcore sometime back in '83 or '84. Before hardcore I was into to metal like Sabbath, AC/DC and Judas Priest. I was really into music and read all the metal magazines, but metal was starting to get mainstream. The big hair glam metal style was starting right around the time I heard hardcore. Their was such a difference between the two forms of music. I remember getting into arguments with other metal heads about which form of music was better. Hardcore dropped all the b.s. and played fast, hard music with meaningful lyrics. The first record I bought was Black Flag, Everything Went Black. I was hooked. I devoured all forms of hardcore/punk music and eventually started distributing Maximum Rocknroll to kids at schools, shows and even had a consignment at some record stores.
In regards to straight edge, there wasn't really a straight edge scene back then, unless you were in DC or Boston. Even though I wasn't straight edge at that time, I was really into 7 Seconds and of course Minor Threat. The cool thing about the punk/hardcore scene in those days, at least where I lived, was that there was incredible diversity in the music and style. I mean, it didn't matter if you had a mohawk, skinhead, longhair, whatever. I guess around '87 I decided to go straight edge. One of the Raid guitar players turned me on to Violent Children, Unity (later Uniform Choice) and the first Youth of Today 7”. I loved the spirit and the PMA. Of course there are deeper psychological reasons why people are interested in one thing or another.
x: So did you discover vegetarianism through Youth of Today? When did you go vegetarian, and why? Were you vegetarian/vegan before you started Raid?
S: No, I didn't discover vegetarianism through Youth of Today. Around 2 or 3 years before the song "No More", I was listening to the Subhumans and other peace punk-ish bands. I guess that was my first exposure to vegetarianism. I started researching and experimenting with it, however my parents were not into it at all. I remember getting in fights with them at the dinner table on many occasions. A lot has changed since then. Animal rights and vegetarianism started to become somewhat mainstream by the early 90's.
I definitely became vegetarian for the animal rights reasons and that is still the main reason I am vegetarian today. It's difficult to remember the exact sequence of events in regards to the timing of my conversion/awareness. Raid was always a band that promoted vegetarianism. Shortly after our demo was released the band all became vegan. It seemed like the next logical step.
x:How did you (both yourself as an individual and Raid as a band) get involved with the Hardline movement?
S: Essentially Hardline was a record label in the beginning, not a movement. Shortly after our demo was released I saw an ad in Maximum Rocknroll about Hardline. At that point they had not released any records, but I sent our demo to Hardline Records to hopefully release. Sean was vegan and inspired me to become vegan as well. Before our 7" was released, the entire band became vegan. I think we were the first vegan straight edge band. After conversing with Sean about the shortcoming of the Straight Edge scene we created the movement. Sean's background was influenced by the punk inspired anarchist and animal rights movements. Hardline as a movement evolved quickly into a force within the sxe and punk scene. Hardline was a way of taking sxe into new areas; however we were beyond straight edge and engaged in more social /political struggles. I conveyed some of these thoughts in the song, "A Better Life".
x: Memphis was known by the early 90s as a Hardline mecca of sorts, with lots of folks claiming Hardline as an identity. How did that come about? Did Raid actively promote the Hardline lifestyle and message within the scene? Had there been a straight edge scene already? Were a lot of folks already vegetarian or vegan, or did they jump on the bandwagon?
S: Yeah. We were an inclusive scene, despite being "Hardline". Growing up in the south and being into hardcore/punk could be a dangerous lifestyle choice. I say that because the south is very conservative and definitely frowns on the counter culture. Because of that, we had to protect ourselves. In the mid to late 80's having a shaved head or riding a skateboard could be an invitation for a jock or redneck to fuck with you. A lot of my friends/crew got beat down because of how they looked. A lot of kids back then bailed on the scene because it was not popular. At some point we realized that we either were going to continue being the pariah or we were going to fight back. Standing up for our selves earned the respect of both the punk and skate scene. There was not really a straight edge scene back in the mid 80's, just straight edge kids. The straight edge scene started around 88 or 89.
Of course a lot of kids jumped on the band wagon. But why not? Remember that the Hardline and/or the straight edge scene was, and probably still is, a youth movement. We, being our crew or what evolved into the Memphis Hardline provided a positive identity for kids that were conscious and into aggressive music. At the apex of the Hardline scene, our crew had around 60 supporters and our shows drew a lot more.
We were constantly welcoming new kids into our scene. Everyone was in bands; many were in multiple bands including Pure Blood, Monkey Wrench and Recoil. We started to separate ourselves from the punk scene. We were into causes that didn't fit with the punk ethos, i.e. abortion and straight edge, but we in fact different from the punk scene. The whole punk scene flipped into this sort of gutter street punk thing. Their scene was in my opinion depressing and ugly, where as our scene offered hope and activism. Activism, in that we, Raid, Hardline or whatever tried to provide answers to the questions youth searched for. The idea of thinking globally and acting locally turned many kids into environmentalists and animal rights activists. We wanted revolution, but we were not so naive as to turn others off of our message. In retrospect there were certain mistakes we made, however what's done is done.
I still keep up with several of the kids involved with Hardline back then. I'd guess about half of them are still vegetarian and none are straight edge.
x: So by the early 90s you were actively involved in the burgeoning Memphis Hardline scene. A few years later Raid had broken up and you were no longer involved. What happened? How and why did your beliefs and/or lifestyle change from that of Hardline?
Raid broke up was because I moved to Southern California to be with my pregnant girlfriend, who later became my wife. Initially I was still Hardline in SoCal, however I was out of the active scene. I was tired of all the Hardline dogma and rules. Some kids had this holier than thou attitude, like I'm more Hardline then you because I don't eat refined sugar or processed wheat. In addition, I had some questions/issues about some key components of Hardline, including straight edge, abortion and Hardline's hatred of gays. Hardline was becoming a totalitarian movement. I was unhappy with the extremes and had enough.
Some things haven't changed. I am still vegetarian and I have raised my 3 kids all vegetarian. My oldest daughter is almost 16 and she is practically vegan. Other things have changed quite a bit. I am not straight edge, because I believe certain substances are not unhealthy in moderation. That said, I still think straight edge is a great movement, particularly for youth. I have mixed feelings about abortion, but really think it should be a personal choice. Is a two week old embryo a human being? Sure it has the potential to become one, but the nervous system is not even developed at that point. Another change is I don't care about someone's sexuality. I think there was a lot of homophobia in the scene.
For the most part I am not an activist; in that I don't go to protests, but I am very active in my community and environmental causes. After Raid broke up, I finished college then worked with inner city kids teaching them environmental education, later I worked for 5 years as a camp director, then reviewed timber harvest plans and served on the board of several non-profit environmental groups. For the last 3 years, I have worked as the Program Director and Contract Manager for a community based, non-profit natural resource restoration group. Check it out at http://www.Mattole.org
. Other extra curricular things I am engaged in; include a fundraising committee for a city skate park and serving on a city committee for preserving and acquiring park lands. I still enjoy reading, primarily nonfiction.
x: You said that you're still a vegetarian. What importance do animal issues have in your life now? How have your views on animal rights/liberation changed over time? Do you feel that the militant stance Raid took was beneficial for the growth of a movement toward animal liberation, or detrimental? In what ways?
S: I am definitely vegetarian; however I am not active in the animal rights movement. Not that I am against it, but I have other priorities in my life at the moment. I'm vegetarian for life. My views concerning animal rights have changed a little. There was a time when everything was black and white. All of my friends were vegetarian or vegan, now only a few are strict veg. I used to be opposed to all animal experimentation, now I think there may be a few legitimate reasons for some small controlled experiments. Certainly, I'm not talking about the cosmetic industry, but with revolutionary life saving medicines or procedures.
To be honest Hardline taught me a lot of lessons regarding extremism. If you think eating meat is evil, then what does that make the people who eat meat? Keep in mind, this is where Hardline end up in my perspective, "These things are evil and those people who engage in these activities are evil and we will destroy this behavior or lifestyle that we don't approve of. You see the same mentality across the morality spectrum, be it evangelical Christians or fundamentalist Muslims. I fell into that trap and began act out of hate instead of love. While both emotions are necessary, acting out of hate is self destructive.
I think the militant stance Raid took turned some people on and definitely turned others off. We were hardcore and we were promoting new ideas through our music. Hard aggressive music and militancy seem to go together well. I guess we pioneered a certain genre and it’s cool to think things I did as a teenager had an impact. On the other hand I wonder if it had much of an impact at all. If anything, we exposed kids to new ideas and lifestyles. Raid was here and gone in around 3 years. While we did and said some pretty lame things in those days, I don't really have any regrets.
x: You saidearlier that you can support some animal testing for medical research. There is much controversy in the scientific community over whether animal testing is useful at all.
S: Let me restate that I am opposed to most vivisection or animal experimentation. In my opinion around 95% is unnecessary. There should be a governmental commission formed that would set very strict standards and regulations on any current or proposed animal testing. If we accept that there are certain extreme cases where this sort of methodology is the only viable way to conduct specific future life saving experiments, then each proposed experiment or project involving animals would need to conform to a rigid protocol. This protocol would require both the description of the experiment and a detailed explanation of the project and why using animals is necessary.
x: Some scientists and doctors say that animal tests are virtually useless in seeing whether a drug or procedure will work on humans. Do you believe that vivisection can be effective science? What about the animals' subjective experiences in laboratories? Do you think that we should take the feelings of non-human animals into account less when human lives are potentially at stake? How does that differ from the views you held in the past?
S: Sure some scientists are for it and some are against it. You can find plenty of scientists to support any cause you want. There are still some "scientists" that do not believe in global warming. I try to approach an issue with a clean slate. I believe I form my beliefs where I find truths. Call me a speciesist, but I do believe human lives are more valuable then animals and there is an animal hierarchy of sorts. Who doesn't? I think it is intellectual dishonest to not believe humans life is more valuable. I am not a Jain. I do not wear a face mask so I don't inhale an insect or sweep the ground before I walk. Who feels like they slaughtered hundreds of humans when they go on a long road trip and their windshield is covered in insect remains?
x: As a member of Hardline and the singer for Raid, you obviously have made some strong statements in favor of direct action for earth and animal liberation (in "Blood Green" for instance), and against the machinery that destroys the environment and kills animals. Many underground activists have taken inspiration from the Hardline and vegan straight edge movements. Lyrics from Earth Crisis (a band who were strongly influenced by Raid, and who in turn were responsible almost single-handedly for the rise of the 90s vegan straight edge scene), Raid, Vegan Reich and other bands can often be found within communiques from these activists. Do you still support the actions of groups like the ALF & ELF? Do you think their tactics are effective today, or in the past? Do you feel some sense of responsibility for the animal liberation and radical ecology movements?
S: Yeah, the very name Raid evoked direct action. I still support some targeted, well planned direct action. Not to incriminate myself, but most recently I have fiscally supported efforts to stop the clear cutting of the largest contiguous coastal old growth forest in the lower 48. The problem is direct action can be a double edged sword, in that actions need to be thought out clearly. I have seen many ELF or ALF actions that made the movement look bad. I think it is somewhat naïve to think you're gonna change much by burning down a SUV car dealership, a ski resort or a slaughterhouse. Sure economic damages can speak louder then words, however those sort of actions are public relations disasters. I sympathize with their cause, however not there actions. There are other, more constructive ways to address the issues. Early on I had friends serve time for petty destructive actions. Now they have a record and what was the lasting legacy of gluing locks or smashing windows? On the other hand, I knew of a fur shop that closed down because of these sort of actions. The more important goal is to change people's actions and thoughts. Promote awareness and offer possibilities to create a paradigm shift. However sometimes the people's voice or movement is not strong enough to stop multinationals, then that's when we need to reevaluate our tactics and possibly up the ante. The battle in Seattle during the WTO is a classic example.
x: What are your thoughts on the current "Green Scare", in which both aboveground (SHAC 7 for instance) and underground eco and animal activists are being prosecuted as terrorists?
S: Some actions I support, some I don't. I'm not a big fan of PETA, sometimes they hurt the cause with ridiculous protests or over the top statements. Some folks that are involved with direct actions/protests have such a narrow world view that they share many characteristics with evangelicals, fundamentalists and zealots. Overall I think the "Green
Scare" is bullshit. Terrorist legislation was designed after 9/11 for the prevention of another national tragedy. To compare animal rights and earth liberation activists who destroy or alter machinery with someone who directly targets people is a major divide and I am surprised that the courts approve of this sort of logic. Were those people involved with the Boston Tea Party terrorists? They destroyed a lot of tea, but really it was street theatre with a political punch.
x: "Blood Green" is an anthem for militant resistance to technological civilization and its destruction of the wild, or at least that is how I read it. Many, if not most, of those involved in the vegan straight edge scene of today hold some allegiance to anti-civilization ideas, especially the anarcho-primitivism of Derrick Jensen, John Zerzan, et al. Do you still have the same general feelings about technology and society, or have those views changed?
S: I still believe the words of Blood Green, although I'd probably word it differently today. Since I bailed on the straight edge scene I have been very involved in the environmental movement. I have read some Zerzan and I'm familiar with the ideas of anarcho-primitivism. Personally I think they are romantic, idealistic and unrealistic. There was never a golden age! There have always been struggles, losers and winners in history. Armchair philosophers like Zerzan write in the ethers, not in the real world. Ultimately primitive Anarchists fail to address the complexities of modern life. Don't get me wrong, he is a compelling author. I don't know much about Zerzan as a person, except he lives in the middle of a neighborhood in Eugene dreaming he was living in the ancient hunter gather age. Ahh, the good old days - what a joke.
Technology can and should be environmentally sustainable. We still have a long way to go, but there is no stopping technology. Technology is basically a tool to make our lives easier. There is no inherent good or evil in technology per se. Not to get too metaphysical, but I think technology is here for a reason.
When I wrote Blood Green I was somewhat of a misanthropic Luddite. I was then and still am a want-to-be anarchist. I say that because I believe in human potential, however I am all too familiar with human nature. Most anarchistic intentional communities have failed for one reason or another. I think the real issue is how can our society become more environmentally sustainable?
I lived for nearly 8 years isolated in the mountains of northern California. We did have a small country store, but for groceries we would have to drive nearly an hour and a half to town. Living like that it's easy to believe in anarchy. Shit we were living it. There were no cops around and what few neighbors there were looked out for each other.
Most folks had gardens or paid for local produce grown in the valley I lived in. There was a strong community element there because you knew everyone and wanted the best for them. The situation is vastly different in major metropolitan areas. Can the same self sustaining and self governing communities exist in major metropolitan areas? I'd argue no, although I wish they could. Anarchism represents freedom, liberty and justice for all. Coincidentally those same concepts are mentioned in our pledge of allegiance. But where do we draw the line? Does someone have the freedom to drive 90 mph in a neighborhood? If not, who will enforce our standards and regulations? What are the consequences of repeatedly breaking the standards and regulations? What about the militia and at what point does it become a standing army? Inevitably government forms. Government exists for reasons. Personally, I believe in the democratic process and I'm a member of the Green Party.
x: Do you still feel that an environmental apocalypse is imminent due to the careless actions of humans? Do you still think that anthropocentricity is humanity's fatal flaw? Do you believe that advanced industrial technology can be made sustainable in a way that does not lead to ecocide?
S: Most environmental collapses happen with a whimper, not as an immediate catastrophic apocalypse. Check out Jared Diamond's most recent book. Global warming promises to changes that. Of course, I hope there is not imminent environmental apocalypse looming. We know for sure that more plant and animal indicator species will go extinct, more old growth forests will disappear and fresh water will become scarcer.
x: You wrote before that while you have mixed feelings about it, you now feel that abortion should be a personal choice. Obviously this was not always the case. Do you regret having written this song? As time went on, Hardline focused more and more on the issue of abortion, often casting it in the light of the moral weakness of the women involved and tying it in to a larger anti-sexuality ethic. If you could go back would you try to change all of that? Do you think that other parts of Raid's message got lost in the controversy over your views on abortion and sexuality?
S: I don't really regret what I said in this song, except the part about the coat hanger. That is really a terrible thing to say. That line was created by some controversies we had at several shows. Early on Raid spoke out at our shows against abortion and someone, who I assumed was pro-choice, threw a coat hanger at us. We took that symbol and turned it against the person that threw it. Raid definitely pushed people's buttons. There was a lot of over the top lyrics and I think or hope a lot of people can recognize that.
It is awkward explaining my thought processes as a teenager 16 years ago. Raid and Hardline were always opposed to abortion, not because of the idea that there was a soul in the fetus, but that we were opposed to all cruelty to animals. Here's the break down of the logic, "If it's wrong to kill animals, even primitive animals like shrimp, then why is it okay to abort an unborn child?" I still believe abortions are sad and unfortunate. Most women I've talked to about them are not proud of having one, but viewed it as necessary. Abortion is a hard issue to grapple with. Yes, there should be limits. No, banning will not stop it. Sex education and practicing safe sex is the best answer I can find for curtailing it. I'm not sure what you are asking about the anti sexuality issues. I mean we didn't promote sex, but we weren't anti-sex.
Raid was what it was and there's really no point in wishing things were done differently. Yeah, we could have done things differently, but for better or worse, we raised the bar. If Minor Threat created straight edge and Youth of Today brought vegetarianism and Hare Krishna to straight edge, then Raid brought veganism and environmental activism to the straight edge scene. That's cool. I think most things evolve naturally and if we wouldn't have said it, someone else would have.