It seems so obvious: if you want an extremely tight, rhythmically inventive hardcore outfit with driving tempos and compelling pacing, take three drummers and add a singer. Although it sounds like some “how many drummers does it take” joke, this is exactly what the Bay Area hardcore group Spy has done, and they used that formula to create one of 2020’s most important punk releases.
Too new to have any live shows under their belt, the Bay Area Brawlers in Spy still have an undeniable live energy on their recordings. It is easy to imagine these tracks being played in your friend’s unfinished basement, the one that looks like it belongs on a true crime special. It’s easy to imagine that show getting shut down by the cops before Spy finishes playing all four songs because this is the kind of aural heat that gets house venues red-tagged.
Pulling from some of California’s most powerful punk-spectrum bands, Spy is a band with experience in spades. “Cole (drums) also plays drums in the bands Scowl, Jawstruck, and Wrip. Vince (bass) plays drums and does vocals in the powerviolence duo called Temptation 87, and they also run a label called Seed Spiller Syndicate. Cody (guitar) plays drums and does vocals in the powerviolence duo Heckdorlan and has a new label in the works called ZestBayCollective. I (Peter, vocals) play bass in the band World Peace and also have a ‘noise project’ called Flesh Cage.” The well-honed talents of these musicians combine to create the four powerful, timely, and white-hot songs on Service Weapon, their debut cassette, out through the always outstanding To Live A Lie Records.
“The origins of the project can be traced to around the beginning of 2020. I (Peter) had (somewhat) recently moved back to the Bay Area after doing grad school in Vancouver, B.C. for a few years and I was itching to do vocals in a band again. I figured the best way to make that happen would be to just write some tracks myself. I put together the skeletons of the four tracks that now appear on Service Weapon with the idea that I would recruit some like-minded friends to help bring them to life. I wanted to work with enthusiastic, motivated, sick ass people who I hadn’t played music with before, but most of all I wanted to work with people that I really liked as human beings. All three of Vince, Cole, and Cody fit the bill and they were all pretty immediately stoked to participate. We met a number of times in January/February and worked through the tracks before the pandemic/shelter in place times fell upon us. Luckily we had enough time beforehand to solidify the tracks and set a recording date. Wanting to keep the recording session as safe as possible, just Cole and I went in to record Service Weapon on April 11th, 2020.”
Combining the crusty, steel-toed rage of bands like Snarling Hate, Hoax, Devil’s Den, and Green Beret with the catchy, power chord-driven guitar parts of Chain Rank, Violent Reaction, Ajax, and Pure Disgust, Spy’s gritty, blown-out hardcore is exactly the kind of punk the world needs right now. Raw, pissed off, and most importantly, honest, Service Weapon turns a mirror on the ugliness of the modern world while trying to bring some beauty to it. “Arguably the most significant goal of this project is to utilize whatever platform we may have – however small – to try to support organizations or groups doing important work in regards to racial and social justice, both in our local communities here in the Bay Area, as well as around the country, and beyond. Our world is so fucked up and so difficult for so many – there’s a lot of people that need our attention right now. We recognize that music is a force in getting people involved and inspired and we want to help contribute – in whatever ways we can – to the progressive work that’s being done right now. The anti-cop themes of this band were established before the recent wave of unrest and protests hit the streets, but they seem to coincide well with the sentiments of an ever-growing number of people. With all that having been said, we’ll definitely be donating any proceeds from music sales, shirts, etc. to groups/organizations doing the heavy lifting here in the Bay Area.”
Because it’s the argument du jour, and because there are some pretty clear comparisons to be made with the white hot fury of the The Impalers and the washed-out, mid-tempo swagger of Gag, there are probably going to be discussions about whether Spy is chain punk or egg punk. As long as those kinds of conversations give this band their extremely well-deserved attention, so be it. No matter what you call it, this music is unfuckwithable. “As far as influences go, it’s sort of difficult to say, as I think most of what seeped out in the writing process was likely various bits and pieces of years of subconsciously accumulated hardcore/punk shit from each of our respective mental collections. Speaking just for myself, I guess I was listening to a decent amount of Warthog, Armor, Protocol, etc. A Polish hardcore band called JAD was (and continues to be) one of my go-to listens. Also, gotta give lots of love to all the bands doing it in the Bay Area (e.g., Fentanyl, Cell Rot, Shadowman, Heavy Stench, Windbreaker). There’s a thriving scene in general right now and I think moving back home to The Bay and seeing everything happening here was ultimately one of the biggest inspirations to start this band.”
Service Weapon wastes no time and makes no apologies. “Violent Majority” is a squealing, overdriven, fist-swinger with a Peace Test-meets-Pissed Jeans melodic progression. It alternates between slinky rhythms and balls-to-the-wall blasting. It’s mid-paced madness that is tailor-made for sweaty circle pits. “Running Out Of Space” is a breakneck d-beat number, with Peter sounding like something between a young Andrew Hinton and a junkyard dog, barking about cutting out unnecessary, toxic people from one’s life. “Bootlicker” is an anti-authoritarian and anti-authority-sympathizer fireball, with understated, sustained sections for meditating on the fact that “They don’t care about us, and they don’t care about you!” The closing, title-track is a circling shark, dangerous and ominous. Its verses’ serpentine melodies break out into a noisy, galloping chorus of consternation, which is the album’s most direct indictment against police and policing, “Targeting the marginalized, cowards in all respects, racist policing be gone.” The song is urgent and alarming, seething and sick of an entire industry’s legacy of brutality.
The potency in the less-than-seven minutes runtime of Service Weapon is exciting, and it makes Spy a definite band to watch. There is so much talent compressed into this four-piece, and the future looks promising. “In strictly musical terms, we’d love to be able to play our first show at some point in the not so distant future – we had a few shows that were meant to happen in April but of course those didn’t go down. We’re stoked and very appreciative that To Live A Lie is putting out Service Weapon on tape but we’d also love to put it out as a 7” someday. The broad plan for now is to write some new music and get ready to play some shows and go on the tour when that becomes possible again.”
Will Butler at To Live A Lie is an expert at curating his label’s band lineup, and Spy finds itself solidly at home with TLAL’s superb collection of hardcore, fastcore, grindcore, and powerviolence bands. Spy have a lot to say, and with any luck, we’ll more from them soon. For now, though, Service Weapon speaks volumes.
Keep an eye on To Live A Lie for Service Weapon cassettes.
Service Weapon was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Charles Toshio at Panda Studios.
Album art was done by Cain Cox.