Posted by: Addison – Jul 12, 2012
Some artists start side-project bands to branch out from the aesthetic for which they're better known, diverging wildly from preconceptions and defying all expectations in the process. Iron Reagan is not one of those bands. Comprised of Tony Foresta and Phil Hall from Municipal Waste, along with Ryan Parrish and Paul Burnette (formerly of Darkest Hour), the band utilizes two tempos: fast and faster. Sounding like the best parts of every Nuclear Assault and Voivod song recorded between 1986 and 1989, chopped up and reconfigured into ninety-second hardcore songs, the band isn't likely to disappoint any fans of the members' other bands. However, it manages to avoid turning into a carbon copy, with a darker, angrier edge than the Waste tends to employ and a straightforward thrashy vibe that rarely made its way into Darkest Hour's music. The band released a demo to considerable acclaim, and is currently nearing completion of their first full-length album. I sat down with them over a few beers at Sticky Rice to get an idea of their process and background.
Ryan, you played me the first Iron Reagan demos right after you left Darkest Hour. Was there any downtime there, or did you just crank it all out really quickly?
Ryan: The day that I found out I wasn't gonna be in the band anymore, I called Tony. We'd always talked about being in a band. Actually, I called him here from work and asked him, and he said Phil had some material. A week later we were in the space and had songs, so I guess no, there wasn't any downtime.
But even with the lack of downtime, you still produced a hell of a lot of material in a really short time. Is there any secret to that level of productivity?
Ryan: Phil had riffs.
Tony: Phil had a shitload of riffs.
Phil: It's always great to start from a clean slate. With this band, we had an empty palette. We hadn't done anything, so there was nothing we couldn't do.
Tony: But was this the first band you played guitar in?
Phil: I'd played guitar in bands before, but this is the first band in a long time. I'd known for a long time that Ryan is a fantastic drummer, so getting to play with him is a privilege. And of course, me and Tony know what we're doing working together.
So it wasn't difficult to transition to guitar?
Phil: No, I had played guitar in the studio on the Cannabis Corpse recordings. But as far as playing it in a live band, it's pretty recent.
It seems like the songs you've written are in kind of a grey area compared to your other bands. It's not really a Waste party vibe and it's not really the more melodic Darkest Hour-type thing. Was there a conscious decision to break away from what you'd done already, or was it something that just came together when you were all in the same place?
Phil: I don't think we were trying to emulate either of those bands at all.
Ryan: We were trying to do whatever the hell came into our heads at that moment. I know that one thing that was a focus later on was making sure that nothing sounded too much like Municipal Waste, because we didn't want to get that kind of pigeonhole happening.
Tony: But it was like that with Darkest Hour too. There would be melodic guitar parts and we'd all just say, “Nah, too noodly.”
Ryan: We didn't want it to sound like anything we did previously, but honestly, I think things came out subconsciously.
Tony: I mean, people are gonna say it sounds like our other bands, but it's just because my voice sounds so much like it does on other stuff.
Ryan: But even on what we've recorded, I don't think your voice sounds the same as on the Waste stuff.
Tony: I try to push away from that sound.
Ryan: And the lyrics are different.
So there was no attempt to bring in influences that you hadn't had a chance to already?
Tony: We never discussed it, we just knew what we didn't want to sound like.
Ryan: We wrote ten songs in an hour.
Phil: Yeah, we just wanted to write as much as we could as fast as we could, and we ended up keeping almost everything that we wrote. There's an energy there from not nit-picking it so hard, and just going with the gut.
Tony: We did change some shit, but it was mostly stuff that you could tell was thrown together.
Phil: It was like laying down a blueprint that we improved on.
Tony: We definitely wanted it to be fast as shit. Just fast as shit.
Ryan: Had to go fast.
Phil: I cut all the songs close together so when you listen to them back to back its really relentless.
Tony: It put a big smile on my face. We're probably about sixty-five percent done with an album. Twenty-four songs, which won't all be on the album.
What're your plans for that?
Tony: We kinda just want to get it done first. Most bands would worry about shopping around their demo, but we just want to make a really good sounding LP and see if anyone wants to put it out. If not, we'll just do it ourselves.
Ryan: Yeah, it doesn't matter. Since these guys are so busy, the point was to get as many songs done, fleshed out, and recorded as possible so that during the time they were out if anybody was interested in the band, we would have something to give them. I was surprised because we wrote so much stuff so fast, and the way it's grown has superseded any expectations that I had. I haven't even heard the final version yet, I'm gonna go home and listen to that when we're done with this.
Tony: But that's not even the final, it's only sixteen songs.
Considering the amount of shit you guys do – how active the Waste is, how active Cannabis Corpse is, Ryan being in a fucking dozen bands – how does Iron Reagan fit into the spectrum of all that?
Tony: We like to call ourselves “band whore rock”.
Phil: It doesn't seem that hard really. We may be in a bunch of bands but you can always find time.
Ryan: And all of us at this table, collectively, have been doing music for so fucking long. We get together before a show and have one or two practices, and we're ready to go. If we're not writing, that's all we have to do. We don't have to practice once a week to make sure that we're ready. I'm not saying that to be cocky, I just feel like we have the ability to do that embedded, so being in twelve bands or multiple active touring bands all seems natural because it's what we love to do, and when you love something, you make the time for it.
Tony: I think I can speak for everyone at this table, even yourself, if we're not in a band writing songs or playing a show, or at a show, or listening to bands at home, or even working to get money to support being in a band... We're all lifers.
Phil: Plus for this project, I've been doing all the recording so that it's all in-house. So we don't have to go to a studio to take care of the music. I did the demo, all the guitar tracks, at home.
Tony: We did the drums with Bob from Dry Spell.
Ryan: That was one day too. Thirty tracks.
He's done some great-sounding recordings.
Tony: Yeah, that Obsessor stuff.
It's fucking killer. Is there any plan to tour with this band?
Ryan: Eventually. We've talked about it. Pretty much when the Waste and Cannabis Corpse aren't on the road.
Tony: Once we have a record done and a release out. We're getting our cassette demos. They actually might be at my house by now. But once we have a vinyl release out, we'll start booking some out-of-town shows.
Phil: We did play Philly once, but I want to book a solid tour once we have a release out.
Ryan: We've been playing shows with just a t-shirt and a poster. I just think it's weird playing without having something to offer people afterwards.
It's good to prioritize that sort of thing, though. I remember playing with some awful band, I can't even remember who, at one of their first shows and they had seven or eight t-shirt designs. No recordings, just merchandising.
Ryan: I mean, a shirt or a poster is cool, but you need to have a record. If we're gonna tour, we need that.
Phil: This band definitely started as a wild hair up my ass, just a project we were doing for fun. I mean, we're still doing it for fun, but now that we've been hearing the material come together and get closer and closer to being complete, it's taking on a whole new energy.
I noticed you've played with a pretty wide variety of other bands – the Casualties, Deicide, Old Man Gloom, etc. - is there any audience that's been particularly receptive to what you do?
Tony: I think the Toxic [Holocaust] show, with them and the Casualties, went over the best.
Ryan: I will say at the Deicide show, one guy came up to me and said we were amazing, some of the best shit he'd heard in a long time, he just wished the songs were longer, which I thought was pretty awesome. But it's different strokes for different folks. Metalheads want an hour's worth of material, but when we play we may do ten songs, twelve if we're pushing it, and it's twenty minutes. We're still filling your head with a bunch of shit.
Tony: If I see a band I don't own a record of and they play for more than twenty minutes, my mind goes somewhere else. We definitely stuck out like a sore thumb at that Deicide show, but it was awesome. We were the only band with white t-shirts.
It seems like the lyrics are maybe a little more pointed and angry than some of what people might expect based on your other bands. Has it been difficult to break away from people's expectations?
Tony: It's hard for me to write like that because I'm real sarcastic, so I've definitely had Ryan, Phil, and Paul help write lyrics so it's not just my sense of humor coming through.
Ryan: Tony has very distinct lyrical traits, and that's amazing, that's not anything you should ever break from. But when you do other bands it's always good to try, especially when it's something that sounds different. But I think his lyrics have always been top-notch, and it's been awesome helping him write.
I can definitely see the smartass side coming through with some of the plays on words and fucking with different familiar expressions, like “Eat Shit And Live” or even the band's name itself. It's smartass but not verging on joke band territory. But the collaborative process helps balance that out?
Tony: Yeah, totally. There's a song called “I Ripped That Precedent A New Asshole.”
Ryan: Which is a great title.
Tony: Sometimes I just can't help it.
Phil: I mean, the name itself is kind of a joke, but the overall vibe of the band isn't happy-go-lucky.
Ryan: Yeah, you can look at “Eat Shit And Live,” and it's funny because you might not have thought of that phrase that way, but that would really suck. I get mad when I see a movie where a bad guy gets his dick blown off and then he gets shot to death. Let him live. With no dick. That'd be worse than getting killed in my eyes. So “Eat Shit And Live,” what a beautiful thing to do.
But was the band name just another play on words, or was there any sort of commentary behind it?
Tony: I've had that band name for three or four years now. I'd been talking about doing it forever. And Phil was writing songs too, but that was gonna be a totally different project. But we started playing together and we were really on the fence about whether we were gonna call it Iron Reagan or not.
Ryan: And we tried. Man, we tried to come up with another band name. But after a point it was just too hard. We just figured Iron Reagan hadn't been used so we'd just roll with it.
Phil: We thought of a few, but that's the one we kept coming back to.
Coming up with a good name is one of the hardest parts of starting a band. Figuring out something that hasn't been used before that's not stupid bullshit is tough.
Phil: It's better to come up with a band name then start the band.
Ryan: I agree, less pressure.
Have you had any negative reactions to the name? Republicans thinking you were pissing on their golden boy or something?
Tony: Not yet.
Ryan: I can't wait for that day though.
Tony: I will say that with the initial reaction to the demo we put online, we just had a few friends re-post it and within two days or so we had fifteen thousand downloads.
Ryan: Power of the internet.
Tony: Yeah it was crazy, dude. All these websites picked it up and we didn't know what the fuck was going on.
Ryan: That was when we realized we better write a record.
Tony: That was right when we had our first show, we had the four-song demo.
Ryan: Yeah, Phil recorded all that. We did ten songs and chose four.
Tony: I'd look at the Bandcamp page and there would just be thousands of downloads.
Ryan: I'd never even heard of Bandcamp until Tony told me we had a page there. I didn't know what the hell he was talking about.
Tony: I love Bandcamp, I get so much music off that. I like looking for new pop-punk bands, hardcore bands, weird shit.
So what does the future hold for Iron Reagan?
Tony: We're gonna get this fucking record done.
Ryan: Phil, you said sixteen tracks are done?
Phil: Fifteen are completely done and we've got nine more to go.
Ryan: So we should have a full-length or something out somewhere along the way pretty soon. Hopefully play some more shows. I'm stoked on the tunes, stoked on the dudes.
Words by Graham Scala
Band Photo by Luna Duran
Live Photos by Robert Escue