No Such Thing As A Stupid Question #2 w/ Billy Werner (Saetia, Hot Cross)
Finally, here is the second part of ‘No Such Thing As A Stupid Question’ featuring Billy Werner of Saetia and Hot Cross. Billy answered a few questions on occasion of the reissue of Saetia's discography.
Hey Billy. Thank you very much for your time. For the unlikely case, somebody of our readers doesn’t know you: Please, introduce yourself.
Billy: Hi! Billy Werner.. I was in a couple of bands – Hot Cross and Saetia.
From our perspective the past few years have brought us a little renaissance of 90s and early 00s screamo and hardcore music. Many young bands are going back to play a style that had been out of focus for quite a while. One of the most prevalent names that has been around since then is your former band Saetia. For the first question I would like to get nostalgic. Take us back to 1997 and tell us how Saetia became a band. Could you define your reasons back in those days to start a band like that?
Billy: In 1997 I was between my sophomore and junior years at New York University. I grew up in NYC and had been going to hardcore punk shows since 1992 or 1993, so I was already acquainted with a bunch of kids both inside and outside the University. Adam Marino, who was the original second guitar player in Saetia, was a kid I knew from going to shows and being around the hardcore scene for a bit. We worked across the street from one another in Queens and got to know each other pretty well. The rest of the guys in the band were other NYU students – Jamie, Greg, Alex, Colin, Steve – we all went to University and were volunteers at ABC No Rio and regulars at NYC punk and hardcore shows throughout the 90s. I met Greg at school between classes, and met Jamie at the NYU radio station and ABC No Rio. Colin worked at the bookstore and was already friends with Alex and Steve. Back then you talked to people with t shirts or patches of bands you liked. There wasn’t a real ‘internet’ the way it is now. No real social media platforms. We were forced to strike up in person conversations and talk about forming a band. Saetia was the result of all of these social circles and acquaintances getting to know each other and mobilizing.
The term “screamo” had come up much later than a lot of bands that count as very influential for the genre. Yet, a lot of those artists don’t seem to like this term. How about you?
Billy: The first time I heard the word “screamo” used was in 1994 by a close friend named Alex Nakos, who referred to Frail as “emo-screamo”.. He was literally the first person I heard use the term. It never bothered me because I like Alex, so why not have one of his words attached to whatever we were doing? I think it’s taken on a life of its own. I don’t pay much attention to genre names any more.
After just a few years of existence, Saetia ended up as one of the greatest and most influential screamo bands of all time. More than one and a half decades after the breakup of the band, we feel like many of the great bands of the 1990s respectively early 2000s have experienced some kind of ‘Van Gogh-effect’ by gaining a much greater popularity after breaking up. What is your opinion on this?
Billy: It’s fine. It’s nice that anyone decided to care at any time, whether it was while we were together or after the fact.
We are aware that this is probably glorification of the past but unfortunately, most of us, did not witness the active time of Saetia and all the other fantastic bands, back in this era. Do you have some defining or favorite moments with Saetia you’d like to share with our readers?
Billy: I wrote a bit about this in the insert for the reissue that is coming out and I don’t want to spoil that. Let’s just say we were like anyone else – we were a bunch of kids that wanted a means to express ourselves and to have fun and travel as much as we could for as little money as possible. The mythology of Saetia came a lot later. We were really ‘normal’ in comparison with other DIY bands that began in the mid-90s. Most of the shows count as favorite moments… There was that time I threw my lower back out during a show at NYU – the same show where Chris Jensen offered to release a record for us. There was the time Colin punched a hole in the wall of a small Ohio venue called The Legion Of Doom (shout out to Mike Thorn!) …. There was Scott Beiben (Bloodlink Records) showing up to the show we played with Bleed (their last show) in Philadelphia dressed in a suit of armor…. What I realized is that our notable moments (and injuries or temper tantrums) had a lot more to do with the specific times and places of our experiences than the band or music itself.
Let’s talk about a more current topic. A few days ago Jeremy Bolm unveiled the reissue of Saetia’s discography by his label Secret Voice. How did this cooperation come about?
Billy: It was a lot simpler than one would think despite it being a long process. Jeremy contacted me a year or so ago and offered to release the discography on vinyl. Over the years, we have collectively received numerous requests for reunion shows and music releases, and turned down everything – it always seemed logistically impossible to make collective decisions or even speak about these offers. I must have been in a good mood when Jeremy contacted me because I decided to try to get all of the members of the band on the same page and involved. Somehow my efforts paid off and here we are. Jeremy is a great guy. He’s extremely supportive, passionate and easy to work with.
Since the original releases were pretty limited you ended up spending a fortune to snatch one of your records. What do you think about the price development of Saetia records on platforms like discogs or ebay over the past years? Was this fact also a reason to cooperate with Secret Voice to make Saetia’s physical output accessible to a wider audience?
Billy: Yeah, that was a factor: making the music available in its original format so that kids didn’t have to pay ridiculous prices anymore. That said, I am a record collector myself, so I understand what it’s like to have an original copy of a release and how that can sometimes be more fulfilling than grabbing a reissue. But this is the world we operate in, so if a reissue is going to fill some sort of need that people have, why not? I don’t have much of an opinion on the prices of original releases. I am missing my original demo tape, as well as the tour version of the LP and refuse to pay what the market asks. I am a completest, but let’s be real. Hopefully they will come down in price so I can have a complete collection, but I’m not holding my breath.
Already with the announcement of the reissues you choked off any rumors about a possible reunion of the band. Well, for us, this declaration came quite unsurprisingly. Have you ever discussed about reuniting if only to play a bunch of shows like American Nightmare or American Football? What would you like to say to all the folks who wished for a comeback of Saetia?
Billy: Saetia was a very specific time and place, both personally and artistically. If a reunion had all original members, it would not be like a ‘proper’ Saetia show and to me, it’s not worth going through it if it’s not going to resonate the right way. Collectively and individually, the band members are different people now. It would feel more like a cover band or tribute band than the actual band itself.
Being a DJ and record collector you own an impressive collection. What are your top 5 favorite records on your shelf and why?
Billy: This is a tough one, but I will try. These selections change a lot, but at the moment, these are the top:
Miles Davis – In A Silent Way (1969) – Literally a perfect record. This was one of my introductions to jazz and if you are like me and you had trouble connecting the dots and really understanding the emotional and sonic complexity of jazz, this is a great gateway album and a cheap one to grab.
David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name (1971) – Another perfect record, but a testament to having a lot of talent in the room to collaborate with. Of course the songs themselves are incredible but the creative process behind this album is worthy of investigation. This record should be in dollar bins around the world and easy to obtain.
Slowdive – Pygmalion (1995) – My introduction to ambient, droney styles and abstract electronics in pop music. Way back when this album came out it took me forever to wrap my head around how Slowdive was able to move from the music on Souvlaki to this. This is genius work and could not be a more fitting final album for them at the time… speaking of reunions, they were amazing to see last year. I missed them the first time around (don’t ask about my opportunity to have seen them at CBGB in 1992 or 1993) and musically they don’t seem to have missed a beat.
Kamasi Washington – The Epic (2015) – The best piece of recorded music that was released last year. Kamasi is a virtuoso arranger and musician and is a sight to behold live.
Anderson Paak – Malibu (2016) – My favorite thing that I’ve heard so far this year. Caught me off guard, as I anticipated a generic poppy R&B record, but this guy is a master of all genres and shows off his chops both tastefully and memorably.
Final question: Any current punk bands you are listening to and would like to recommend?
Billy: I absolutely love G.L.O.S.S. – they’re a perfect reason that there’s no reason for Saetia to play a reunion. You have this current DIY band, comprised of marginalized people writing incredible songs, mobilizing a community that demanded a voice. A furious fucking voice. This band encompasses and reminds old folks like me exactly what DIY punk is capable of and why it can be so important. Reunion shows of old men trying to get paid or relive their college years dilutes these possibilities. Why draw attention to ourselves now? A band like G.L.O.S.S. – this is their time and the time of the kids that get so much from them. No reason for old folks with day jobs to be in the mix trying to make space for ourselves in a community that already has very limited space for necessary voices.
That said, there are a handful of other bands I’ve been enjoying – I’ve liked demos from Free (Boston) and Combatant (Maine). I also really like the majority of bands that Mark Winter is involved in – Coneheads, CCTV, virtually everything on those “Cool Bands” compilation tapes. I can’t imagine being that prolific and investing that much time in so many projects.