Listening to SPINE’s L.O.V. is like being on the receiving end of a road rage incident. The heart-palpitating snarl of Max Chaney‘s bass, the blitzing blasts of Dillon Bendetti‘s kit, and the machine-driven grind of Alex Tunks‘s fine-tuned guitar work all work in congruence to create a fearsome, white-knuckled panic for the listener. The greatest threat of all to your person and property, however, is vocalist Antonio Marquez, a titan of size and sound, whose outraged bark gives one the impression that he is at the driver’s side window, grabbing you by the ears, and pulling you onto the hot asphalt during rush hour traffic.
L.O.V., SPINE’s first release since 2018’s amazing Faith and their second release through the ever-reliable Bridge Nine Records, is simultaneously their most honed and most pummeling album to date. For the last decade, SPINE has been masterfully blending California powerviolence, New York hardcore, Japanese crust, and old school death metal with a dash of Youth Attack and Iron Lung Records. For some years, the band was billed as Weekend Nachos-adjacent because of founding member John Hoffman, the releases on his fantastic Bad Teeth Recordings, and the similarly excellent take on tough-guy hardcore and powerviolence. At this point, though, without losing track of its roots, SPINE has become its own beast, and L.O.V. is bound to secure the band’s rightful place as a legendary musical force.
Musically as seamless as it is relentless, this bulletproof EP will win the hearts of the most jaded and discerning hardcore listeners. While SPINE’s record of perfect, genre-defining releases speaks for itself, L.O.V. manages to rise above the rest. A runaway train from the start, the only ebbs in the gushing torrent of L.O.V.’s ferocity and frenzy are the occasional salsa interludes, brief strokes of intercontinental genius that serve to set the stage for the next sonic bull rush by lowering the listener’s defenses. This is a band whose chemistry means they’ve found that balance of perfect synchronization and total organic humanity. It is heaviness with heart, and nowhere is this clearer than on sister tracks “L.O.H.” and “L.O.V.”
Marquez–also of Contrast and Sorry Excuse–is a formidable and frightening vocalist, landing tonally and attitudinally somewhere at the intersection of Martin Sorrondeguy, Barney Greenway, and James Trejo. However, he is also a poet, laying bare his own feelings while aiming a mirror at a world that may be broken beyond repair. “L.O.H.” and “L.O.V.” are as punishing as any fight music out there, but their lyrics offer a sensitivity, an intimacy, regarding global woes chronic and acute.
The pandemic has stripped much of our society of any pretense of compassion or equality. Humans, under stress, can be selfish, inconsiderate, bitter, and hateful. Like Langston Hughes responding to the Civil Rights crisis in “Harlem,” Marquez responds to today’s crisis in “L.O.H.” with rhetorical questions, many of which you may have found yourself asking over the last year: “What kind of world is this anymore? What happens when we decide to hoard what is needed to survive? When needs and wants become so lopsided that there is nothing left? What happens?” Indeed. What does happen?
In the same way that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. answered his own series of questions in his famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” Marquez answers the question in “L.O.V.” What happens? “Violence happens! Violence always gives way when resources are depleted. Once there is nothing left, violence becomes that guiding light that binds us. Violence. Happens.” And just as Hughes’s “Does it explode?” is still recited with a backdrop of images from 1967’s “long hot summer,” Marquez’s lyrics may well be sung with a backdrop of our own national unrest, our own global unrest, as he himself becomes a channel for popular frustration, a “voice of the unheard.”
In the hands of filmmaker Joshua Dubois, the audio poetry of “L.O.H.” and “L.O.V.” become visual poetry, and he succeeds in doing what only the best writers and directors can: making the beautiful ugly and making the ugly beautiful.
Enjoy Cvlt Nation’s debut of SPINE’s “L.O.H.” and “L.O.V.”
SPINE vocalist Antonio Marquez was kind enought to talk to Cvlt Nation about L.O.V.
2018’s brilliant Faith was the first time SPINE released an album on Bridge Nine and the first non-Bad Teeth release since the demo. What has it been like working with Bridge Nine? How did the band approach Faith as compared to the earlier releases?
It’s been great working with Bridge Nine. I’ve had so many weird requests and questions about things that I’ve wanted to change or add to releases that most labels would probably tell me to fuck off. But we hadn’t ever worked with a label before FAITH. Bad Teeth released most everything, which was essentially self-released. So, this was a big change all around. But it’s been nothing short of great!
Sometime in 2017 John (our then drummer and head of BTR) told me he didn’t want to do the label anymore and that we should look to someone to release the next LP. He was just over the stress/economic burden (great label though, you should check it out) and wanted to focus on the music instead of all the financials. Which I understood. However, that put is in an interesting position. Outside of 1 label, no one ever offered to put out a release for us. Most likely because we sort of established that we’d essentially just always release stuff by ourselves/BTR and I think people just assumed we wouldn’t ever be interested in releasing something with them. As most readers/people in bands can imagine, reaching out to labels to put out your music is the equivalent to asking a person you sort of know to be your partner. It usually doesn’t lead to much, but worth a shot? In this case, we self-released our promo tape (ahead of FYA 2017) and reached out to two labels. One label heard the tracks but wanted to wait until we were done recording to decide (reasonable but too much uncertainty to go that far and possibly not be a fit). The other label (B9) immediately responded to my email. But I didn’t see it for two weeks! We sort of moved forward with the idea that we may just ultimately self-release the record. It was at that point that I had an email hit my inbox basically stating they were following up and wanted to see if we were still interested. Low and behold, I was super surprised I had missed the initial email, and even more surprised they cared enough to follow up!
All in all, SPINE felt like a band that didn’t fit with B9 but also fit extremely well. If that makes sense. We’ve never really cared to fit into specified verticals of how people think or put us so we were happy to continue that with them. Great label and people and at the end of the day, you should work with people who are just as excited about your art as you are. It’ll take you a long way.
In the two years since Faith, how has the band changed? How have your approaches to songwriting changed?
A lot has changed in the last two years. John (whom I started SPINE with) left the band to focus more on his family and other projects at the time. We had added Max Chaney (singer of Devil’s Den) on second guitar to help fill the band out at the time. We then moved him to bass to go back to a four-piece (which we had always been prior to releasing FAITH). With John being really the main songwriter, we moved back to it being more of a collective when it came to writing. This is where Max and our original guitarist Alex really came into play.
I had had a vision already of what I wanted to do sonically. FAITH saw us inch closer to more NYHC influences being more prevalent than ever before (a friend likened FAITH to our World Asylum). I loved that, however, I really wanted to get back to basics on specific aspects of hardcore and punk I liked and what the band had really been built on. Which ultimately landed with me having a heavier hand with every step of the process for this new release, more than I had ever had before since John and I split duties. Which honestly, from an artistic standpoint has been why I’d say from front to back, this has been the most rewarding.
What were the primary musical influences for L.O.V.? What about the lyrical influences?
You’ll hear a lot of early USHC meets Infest meets Crossed Out sprinkle in some Bastard and first wave DM! I tried to interject some cultural significance with some salsa as well (both sonically and lyrically) to help further emphasize the record.
Lyrically I’m a bit all over the place. I have subtle nods to a few bands on the record but mainly wanted to dive deep on micro issues. Each track is a personal conflict that I’m working through. Tracks like L.O.H. and L.O.V really speak to our current situations we are going through. Truly how man will be man and there is no saving us, even if the solution is right in front of us. FAITH spoke to more macro issues I saw in the world and L.O.V. speaks to more micro issues that I deal with personally. I drew a lot of lyrical influence from those two specific tracks from Depeche Mode.
Damaged City and your planned dates with The Consequence were cancelled due to quarantine. What were some ways this year interfered with SPINE’s plans? How did you all channel that creative energy without touring?
Yeah still really bummed about DC and The Consequence dates. We were supposed to play an NYC show the day before with Sex Prisoner and Brain Tourniquet which would’ve been a monster of a gig! We missed out on releasing L.O.V. in May and doing a tour to support that. Bridge Nine’s 25-year anniversary gig got canceled. We had talked in Jan/Feb about making a run to Japan in the Fall/Winter as well.
Because we started this process in the Summer of 2019, I had already conceived an art exhibit to accompany the release of L.O.V. as well as a booklet (planned two editions) to accompany the exhibit. I also conceived and wrote a music video I wanted to do so I had already gotten a crew together to shoot that (Joshua Dubois directed it, check his art out). So from a creative standpoint, the only thing I wasn’t able to do prior to having everything put on hold was the art show/first edition of the zine. Everything else was luckily in either postproduction or I had the ability to start over on. So during this time I’ve tried to stay as creative as possible. I’ve also continued writing, for future endeavors.
In the last year or so, you’ve performed with Cadaver Dog, Regional Justice Center, Devil’s Den, Tired of Everything, Coke Bust, Healer, Sex Prisoner, Wound Man, Fixation, Harm Done, Restraining Order, and so many other big names in hardcore and powerviolence. When live shows begin again, are there new bands that you’d like to play with? Who are some bands that are especially interesting to you right now?
I really want to see this tour happen with The Consequence. Those are good friends of ours, their demo is insane, and I think live they’ll kill it. There’s a bunch of awesome newer (or ones we haven’t played with) bands that I’d like to play with but a few off the top: Pummel, The Annihilated, Spy, Destruct, Muro, Solvent, Peace Test, Realize, Life Support, Goodbye World, Videodrome, Internal, Terror Suspect, Protocol, damn a ton others! So much amazing stuff right now.
This is a super homer answer, but the Devil’s Den LP Barbed New Religion is seriously one of the coolest records I’ve heard/owned in a while. From riffs to samples to art to packaging it’s a tip-top release and worth anyone’s time to check out.
Drowse is a very interesting band to me right now. They seem to be going off and breaking away from their previous efforts to doing something super weird but creative. I respect that. Punk and hardcore aren’t too kind to that level of creativity so I got to give props when they are due.
I feel like I follow a lot of musicians and what they are doing as of late. Guys like James Trejo, Trevor Vaughn, Connor Donegan, and of course Ian Shelton. If those guys are even farting on a snare drum, I’m checking it out!
On Time Has Gone, you released “Se Acabe,” SPINE’s first song with lyrics in only Spanish. Since then, there have been some exciting murmurs about an all-Spanish SPINE album. Can you talk about that at all?
I would absolutely love to so a SPINE record in Spanish. We’ve thrown around the idea of doing a 7 inch of some retooling or previous songs but all in Spanish (ala Madball/AF) and then the entire material. I think you will see a shift sonically with L.O.V. that will be carried over into future releases which will include mas sabor!
I truly think representation is super important in this world and especially in hardcore. I didn’t have a lot of bands/musicians that were Cuban or Latinx. There were some obvious bands that made their impact (Los Crudos especially) but I want to make sure to not be so subtle with my culture as I’ve been in the past and make it be as important as any other aspect of the band.
What is great about hardcore right now? What would you like to see change?
I think hardcore in 2020 is still as awesome as it was when I discovered it some 15+ years ago. There are some incredible bands that I’ll hear for the first time and just be blown away by. I can say I’m not and haven’t been disillusioned with hardcore at any point. That’s not to say that the stuff that could be popping any sort of year might not be my cup of tea, but if you dig for it, you will find it.
I want to see more zine, DIY labels, and the return of blogs again as a means of find out new bands! I’d also like to see people listen to bands they can experience now rather than spending time with bands they’ll never see. I know that could sound wack especially because I too listen to a lot of old stuff. But the point being is that you may be listening to No Comment so much that you might be missing on what this generation’s version of that could be. A lot of good, newer bands out there to hear!
What should people know about SPINE? What should they know about L.O.V.?
For the longest time, I’ve always said that SPINE has always done our own thing. We’ve never written a song, lyric, or played a show for any reason other than it being for us. It’s great to be able to share our art with the world and people love it, but the motivation has always been for us.
Being from the Midwest, as cliché as it sounds, we tend to get overlooked a lot. Bands must tour harder, write more, and do a lot more to be able to establish themselves. The average drive is 6 to 8 hours to the next big city so it’s understandable. However, I would hope that we not only represent the Midwest but Kansas City as a whole whenever we do anything.
L.O.V. is a record about inner conflict as we manage the world around us. I intended this record to be listened to front to back and truly believe if you want to give it a listen, to just listen to it once through before picking out tracks. The music and lyrics will paint the picture of what there is to see.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Listen to The Repos and Devil’s Den.
SPINE’s fantastic new EP, L.O.V., is available through Bridge Nine.
It was recorded and mixed by guitarist Alex Tunks.
Cover art by Cain Cox.