Interview with vocalist Ron Martinez | By Hutch
This is the fifth reissue of Final Conflict’s 1987 debut LP Ashes to Ashes, this time through Tankcrimes. Why does this album resonate with new generations of punk/hardcore/metal fans?
I think we were fortunate that, musically, what we did isn’t dated. It’s heavy, fast and aggressive, just guitars and drums. No recording techniques or instruments used that sound “typically ‘80s.” With the resurgence of the crossover music scene, we were lucky enough to be one of the bands that people started to investigate. Lots of music blogs helped keep the music alive by posting downloads of the record while it was out of print. It didn’t hurt that you can find numerous old photos with members of Napalm Death and other legendary bands wearing our shirts. So people who like those bands naturally investigate because they want to know what their favorite bands are listening to.
What responses have you gotten live? How does it feel to perform these tracks?
We’ve been surprised at the response. We have been out of the loop for a long time. And there’s so many great new bands playing. Most surprising was [Marilyn Deathfest], because we were sure no one would give a damn or know who we were. MDF was one of our best performances yet, and the enthusiasm from the crowd was overwhelming. Tankcrimes Brainsqueeze Fest was a lot of younger people who’ve heard of the band, but not seen or heard our music. They intently watched as we gained their approval, [and] after the set, we were approached by a ton of people who said they hadn’t heard of us until they saw that Tankcrimes would be rereleasing Ashes.
Do your other records get proper credit? What should fans listen to next after Ashes?
I’m just grateful for what attention we have gotten. I’m not going to get bent if no one wants to talk about the other releases. We were just four kids wanting to play punk rock, and the fact we’ve been able to do so much, meet so many people, and influence a small group of people who started great bands is enough for us. Our second album Rebirth was a misfire due to a lot of factors, but people seem to like it. After the American Scream EP, we did a couple 7”s on [label] Bacteria Sour that were really lethal. All of those are going to be compiled into a full-length LP and [released] on Tankcrimes in 2015. You can find original copies on eBay if people are interested.
What bands first made you play this music?
Final Conflict was the brainchild of guitarist Jeff Harp. He wanted to combine the elements of Black Sabbath, Crucifix, Discharge, and the Germs. When it comes to heavy, you can’t outdo Sabbath, and the others are some of the most important punk bands musically and lyrically. Germs might not have had the best musicianship live, but Darby Crash’s lyrics were quite poetic.
What scenes pulsated with the most energy back then?
Y’know… Back then in the mid ‘80s, both the punk and the thrash scenes were really vibrant. [There was] lots of brotherhood between bands. Especially thrash and death metal, ‘cause it was new; punk had already been around as a genre for over 10 years. But I have to say that the crossover scene going on right now is far superior in terms of the unity and ethics behind the bands playing. Sure, there is a TON of classic music from the past. But the fans, bands, and the labels going today are so damn exciting and have learned from the mistakes made in the past.
What was your message then?
Being a band with political lyrics, people mistake us for having some agenda or belief system that we were trying to push. But that wasn’t us then, nor now. If you want to look for someone to tell you what to do, then join a religion. I guess if anything could have been taken from what we’ve done and said, it is to make sure the life you live is the one you truly want. If not, then change it.
Have your values changed 27 years later?
I remember thinking when we were younger that eventually we’d be a lot more mellow and not be so against authority when we got older. But man, I think we are even more defiant now. None of us have average 9 to 5 lifestyles, and we distrust the police and governments even more than before.
Reagan was the perfect antithesis, and lent such stark iconography, for the flourishing of US Hardcore. If hardcore was starting today, who do you think would replace him?
Christ, what a great question. I think corporations control things now more than ever before. Influencing who the U.S. goes to war against, the media, and what common folk think. People like the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdock scare the hell out of me. The amount of damage/influence they’ve had on the U.S. is frightening.
Do you worry that tele-comm company and retailer options are dwindling via mergers, etc.?
It’s definitely something that makes one concerned, and people should be paying attention to and fighting. When your media options are controlled by only one source, how different is that than living in a country like Cuba or Russia? But people here are so damn complacent. They don’t care. As long as you don’t take away their HBO and reality TV shows, they don’t care. You see more people complaining when Facebook does something to the user interface than when a U.S. drone strike kills innocent civilians. So what does that tell you about the priorities of the average American?
Why was it so important to combine metal and hardcore? What energy did it bring?
We wanted to push punk music to further extremes than the bands we were fans of. Discharge and Crucifix were savage and raw. We wanted to make it even more lethal. The darkness of the Sabbath sound was the perfect compliment to that. Even as younger men, we wanted the music to escalate and have more dynamics than punk was typically known for.
Ashes to Ashes boasts amazing technical prowess. Was that serendipity or hard work?
I’ve yet to play with a guitarist that blows my mind like Jeff Harp. He was as influenced by Hendrix and Johnny Winter as Bones Roberts (Discharge) and Greg Ginn. Jeff was ahead of his time when we were kids. He could play Sabbath, AC/DC, and Motörhead to perfection, and then play a Black Flag tune with the exact precision of the original. Even then, we all listened to different types of music and it influenced our songwriting. We would rehearse three times a week for four hours a day. We knew the songs better than [we knew] our girlfriends. For being so young, we took playing live seriously and worked hard at being tight as possible. We still do.
How do feel about your legacy?
Every time we play a show, I’m grateful that ONE person shows up. Those we get to talk to, the record seems to mean a lot to them. Ashes to Ashes was released in 1987, and nowadays, the public has such a short attention span. So, to still have people interested in it is beyond flattering. Back then, the fact that we got to record and release an LP was enough for us. But after all this time, there’s a few people STILL interested in it? Mind-blowing. Having our record issued on Tankcrimes is like a reward for all the hard work done years ago. It’s a contemporary label that is putting out music they love, and so we were honored when Scotty wanted to put it out.
What keeps you busy these days?
Music dominates all four of our lives on and off stage. I live in Austin, TX, and run my own booking agency full time. I book tours for a roster of bands from the punk and metal scenes: Cock Sparrer, Toxic Holocaust, and Neurosis. I also play bass in the Lower Class Brats. The rest of the guys are still in Los Angeles. [Bassist] Warren [Renfrow] plays in The Cadillac Tramps, Manic Hispanic, and various other projects. Jeff retired from tattooing a year ago. He’s concentrating on his artwork, and [is] the main songwriter and idea man for the group. Our drummer Nick [Manning] plays in so many bands I can’t keep up. We have already recorded a new LP. I just have to record the vocals and mix. That will probably be out late in 2015. More shows when possible, no sign of slowing down yet.