Terror’s Scott Vogel: “I was pissed off and a little bit lost, and when I found hardcore it gave me a place to belong”

Terror frontman Scott Vogel has been a hardcore punk mainstay for more than 20 years. In celebration of their new album Pain Into Power, he talks growing up, how he’s no longer a “maniac”, and how turning off social media cured his writer’s block…

Terror’s Scott Vogel: “I was pissed off and a little bit lost, and when I found hardcore it gave me a place to belong”
Alistair Lawrence

Somehow, Scott Vogel helped put Buffalo hardcore on the map by switching coasts to Los Angeles and almost quitting band life. Seemingly preordained to make the music that gave him stability during his rocky formative years his life’s work, Scott sat down with Kerrang! to discuss the scene that made him, and how Terror’s latest record Pain Into Power hopes for the best by dealing with the worst…

How did you get into hardcore?
“I trace it back to my step-brother, who got me into everything underground. Buffalo’s not a huge city and I lived out in the suburbs, but my step-brother was always really on the pulse. He got me into really early rap, like UTFO and Run-D.M.C., and after that he got into punk… and then we both discovered Minor Threat. After that, we went over towards New York hardcore – Agnostic Punk, Warzone… – and I was really hooked.

“Truth is, [at first] I was just kinda along for the ride, trying to figure out who I was. A big part of that was coming from a broken home. First my mom and dad getting divorced, then my mom giving me back to my dad and me moving to Texas. That led me into being a little confused about who loved me and who didn’t. I think that made me need hardcore.”

Did you have a tough time growing up?
“I wouldn’t say I had an identity crisis, but I came from a broken home and was given back and forth between my mom and dad. I don’t know what you’d call that. I didn’t have much stability. What drew me into hardcore was probably the aggression of it. I was pissed off and a little bit lost, and when I found hardcore it gave me a place where I felt like I belonged and where I wanted to be. Another part of it, I’ve realised, is that when people call someone a ‘jock’ in the underground world, it’s an insult, but I was a jock and I still am a jock. I love sports and before I found hardcore all I did was play sports, so another aspect of it I liked was probably the full-contact aggression!”

Did you ever see violence get out of control at early hardcore shows?
“Buffalo is six hours outside New York City, so I saw all the New York bands growing up and we had our own thing, too, with bands like Zero Tolerance. It wasn’t a soft place but there wasn’t New York-level violence. There was a big group of Nazi skinheads from Buffalo and Rochester who would come out to certain types of shows and would try to flex their muscle on people. Sometimes push would come to shove… there were always little beefs, but I was just young and not trying to get it anyone’s business. I was definitely known as someone who would goof on the dance floor to any band, but I wasn’t trying to cause any trouble.

“Shelter have a song [Song Of Brahma] about coming to Buffalo and getting beat up pretty bad by local people, not from the show, and getting taken to the hospital. So there was stuff that happened at shows, but I don’t really find myself – now or then – going to shows and being fearful of things.”

So were those early days generally a positive experience?
“Going to shows was very exciting. My first one was DRI, and at that show I got a flyer for 7Seconds and Zero Tolerance, and then it just snowballed. I saw every band from New York, bands from California… I saw hardcore shift when Integrity came around, then shift again with Earth Crisis. Buffalo was smaller than other cities but it had a great scene and the right club for shows. It was called the River Rock Cafe, and when bands came usually there would be 200 people, which made a packed, small bar. Everyone there knew every word to every song and it was a super-magical time.

“When Cro-Mags came to Buffalo, they played a bigger venue, the Connecticut Street Armoury, and when Shelter were at their peak they could draw 700 people. That was their early phase, when they were travelling with a bus full of Krishna monks! The first time they came to Buffalo I think it was their second-ever show. They had Quicksand with them and the show was headlined by Inside Out [Rage Against The Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha’s previous band]. That I was there to witness that was unbelievable.”

Were there any frustrations?
“The running theme was: all my bands in Buffalo – Slugfest, Despair and Buried Alive – put out some music, started building some momentum and then we broke up. A lot of that was because I was just a maniac: all I cared about was hardcore, pushing everyone and kind of being a crazy person. When Buried Alive broke up, that was me quitting the band. I was like, ‘I’m done with this shit.’ I moved to the west coast and was going to have a life not being in a band. In the middle of moving, I got a call from the Connecticut band 100 Demons, who are an amazing band and who had just lost their singer. They asked me if I could sing for them, and I turned that down, so I really was done with music.”

So how did you end up in Terror?
“It was a time when bands like 18 Visions and Every Time I Die were taking off and traditional hardcore was kinda at a low point. Never dead, but taking a back seat to some other stuff. A friend gave me a record by a band called Carry On called A Life Less Plagued and it was fucking perfect. A couple months later, I got a call from the guys in Carry On saying they’d broken up but had a new band and would I be interested in checking them out to sing for them. I went, watched them play their new songs, and said, ‘I will absolutely do this.’”

What are the differences between the Buffalo and Los Angeles hardcore scenes?
“LA is fucking huge, so there can be three hardcore shows on the same night. I’m in LA right now, and last night Knocked Loose played, tonight I’m going to see Higher Power… there’s just shows here every fucking minute. And it’s so spread out. You can drive across Buffalo in 20 minutes. California is such a great place to start a band because there are so many places to play. When Terror started there were so many places to dial our shit in, right in southern California.”

That was during the early ’00s, a time when some hardcore bands signed to major labels. What did you make of that?
“I’m trying to think of how to answer that nicely (laughs). It was never a concern of ours. I don’t say this to disparage those bands, but we saw all those bands that put stuff out on major labels and it didn’t seem to really work out for anyone.”

Has the internet killed the politics of what label hardcore bands are signed to?
“I don’t know, but it used to be a big deal. Back when Boysetsfire signed to Initial Records, which was still a pretty small label, they released a big statement about why they felt it was okay. Now, when I see a young band like Drain sign to Epitaph, or Turnstile and Code Orange sign to Roadrunner, seeing how much press they get and how many opportunities they get, I think that’s really cool! Terror has a Monster Energy sponsorship, which for us is great, because they really do a lot of stuff for us. I don’t see people saying, ‘That’s stuff so corny, Terror have sold out,’ so that stuff is just very acceptable now.”

Probably because fans know that these days bands can’t rely on streaming royalties to earn a living…
“The internet did so much for hardcore. It made so many things easier, but it made a lot of things too easy. For example, I spend so much less time listening to new music now, because there are like 65 new hardcore records each month. I’m always checking for new bands, so I keep myself invested, but being in Terror is so much music – recording, touring – that when podcasts came along I started listening to them. I guess my brain can’t settle, so I’ve got to be listening to something, but I’d rather listen to people converse than loud people scream in my ears right now.”

How has listening to podcasts changed the way you think about things?
“I try to listen to stuff I’m going to enjoy and people I can respect. Just like with hardcore lyrics and reading interviews, people’s opinions have educated me and opened my mind to things, even if I completely disagree with them. You can say, respectfully, ‘I think that’s bullshit and get that out of my face,’ but any time you give your time to listening to people give their opinions you’re opening your mind to new things.

“One of the things I really love about podcasts is that I’ll listen to interviews with artists whose music is outside of my tastes, and when I hear their story and what they’re about, I’ll be more open to it. Before, if someone asked me if I liked a band I might say, ‘Nah, get that shit away from me.’ Now I’m like, ‘Not so much the music, but I checked the dude out and think they’re a pretty cool person.’ I don’t expect everyone to like me or my band, either, but I hope they respect how hard we work.”

Was your new album, Pain Into Power, hard work?
“What I’m about to tell you sounds like a lie, but is absolutely true. I thought it would be really easy, because the world has been so fucking insane over the past couple of years, so you would think there would be this lyrical outlet, and the music that was Terror writing was super-aggressive and really energetic… but, truth be told, when I started trying to write lyrics, I was kinda dead. I had nothing. Every couple months, I get fed up with the time I’m wasting on Instagram, seeing stuff that makes me feel negative, so I turned my Instagram off. I swear to God, the lyrics started pouring out of me. I don’t know why, but it happened and I wrote six songs in two weeks. I usually keep Instagram turned off for about a month at a time, if I can. After that I’ll get people reaching out to me asking if I’m okay (laughs). Man, this world is so fucking wacky.”

How was the recording process different?
“Our original guitarist, Todd Jones, produced this one. Todd is a great songwriter and had lots of ideas, so he was a big part of everything. With the pandemic, Jordan [Posner, guitar] and Chris [Linkovich, bass] were stuck outside LA, so they sent ideas but didn’t play on the record. We had everyone’s input, though, so while it wasn’t ideal, we rolled with the punches.”

What songs best capture the spirit of the new record for you?
“On The Verge Of Violence and the last song, Prepare For The Worst. Terror has always had songs saying, ‘The world’s so fucked up, but if you’ve got some inner strength you can not let it get the best of you.’ On this record it was hard, but the title, Pain Into Power, sums up taking all the shit that is beating you down and finding a way to rise above it.”

Pain Into Power is out now.

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