For anyone who has spent much time listening to ’80s New York hardcore music, news that Rival Schools is composed largely of the remains of hardcore moguls like Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today, Burn, Die 116 and CIV is sure to get the blood boiling in anticipation of the raucously-quick drumbeats and serenely simple chord progressions that propelled these bands to cult stardom. However, Rival Schools really sounds very little like any of the aforementioned New York hardcore groups.
The sounds of Rival Schools are a bit puzzling to classify. Like many post-punk acts, there is no single dominant gusto offered to the musical palate. Rather, there is a stew of flavors: The power chords (although made laggard and deliberate in comparison to hardcore music) comprise the primary substance, the meat and potatoes, if you will. There is a little tang of early ’90s Seattle grunge. And the syrupy sweet lyrical style and dramatic delivery of singer/guitarist Walter Schreifels almost invite one to consider the term emo. But in an August interview in SPIN magazine Schreifels repudiates that label and pretty much any other musical classification, saying, “When I think emo, I think stereotypically nerdy dudes with glasses. That’s not me. I don’t think what we do slips into any category.”
Although Rival Schools emerged less than two years ago, they sound like they have been playing together for years. Which is probably because they have—for the most part. Forgive the name-dropping, but it’s essential to understand where the members of Rival Schools have been and where they’re at now. Schreifels and drummer Sam Siegler met at the age of 12 and soon found themselves rocking together in a couple of super-influential straight-edge hardcore acts, namely Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today. When the New York hardcore scene began to die out, the two parted ways for a few years—Schreifels formed the aggressive grunge group Quicksand in the early ’90s. Siegler played with Judge and a Krishna-core band called Shelter, before joining up with pop punk project CIV where he met Rival Schools’ current bass player, Cache Tolman.
Rival Schools’ second guitarist, Ian Love, also did some time in the New York hardcore scene, playing in bands like Burn and Die 116, but Love evolved beyond that sound in due time as well. Equipped with many hot licks and a name that was destined for rock, Love was the missing piece of the puzzle in the formation of Rival Schools.
“When I first met Ian, people called him ‘The Prod’ for prodigy because he was so talented. Either that or we all sucked,” says Siegler.
On Rival Schools’ only current release, United By Fate, Love’s guitar wizardry earns him the name, “The Prod.” In the November 2001 issue of Guitar One, Love describes his musical approach by saying, “What I put over [Schreifels’] stuff is ‘airy.’ He comes in with riffs, and usually from the root notes of his power chords, I’ll come up with a counter-melody. And sometimes I won’t even play, I’ll just do neat effects stuff—hit one note and add some delay and let it create cool space over the vocals.”
The sound of United By Fate is much more audibly accessible to mainstream listeners than the blasting hardcore of past incarnations of bands with these guys. Is that saying they’re more radio-friendly? Probably so. Is that saying they’ve sold out? I’m not so sure. It seems more so that with age, they grew bored with the hardcore sound and it was time to do something different musically.
“If we sell 100,000 records,” Schreifels says, “I’ll be fucking psyched, but I can’t cry about it if we don’t.”
Now that’s keeping faithful to their punk-rock roots.