Interview: Scream Talk About ‘DC Special’

“Pete, you have the wrong hat on.”

One minute into the call with Peter and Franz Stahl and Enoch “Skeeter” Thompson of legendary Washington, D.C. hardcore-affiliated group Scream and Franz is verbally sparring with brother Peter. A sign of combustible sibling rivalry? Not really. “It’s not like Noel and Liam (Gallagher of Oasis), although we’ve come to fisticuffs, but that was years ago,” laughs Franz.

This is Scream in 2023, and while DC Special is the band’s first studio album in 30 years, the enduring bond between the bandmates is immediately clear. The new release marks another significant anniversary—being 40 years since the band released their debut album, Still Screaming, on Dischord (the label’s first full-length release and also home to the latest record). “We should have done a 40th anniversary tour, but we’re not so great at branding,” chuckles Peter.

Just as on their debut, label owner Ian MacKaye came in as producer. Other contributors include MacKaye’s former bandmates Joe Lally (of Fugazi), one time second guitarist Clint Walsh, and Dave Grohl, who played drums for Scream in the late 80s (before moving to Seattle to join Nirvana).

“The record has a real collaborative feel,” says Peter, “with a lot of our friends and also other musicians that inspired us as we were kind of growing up in D.C. That was part of the concept of the record.”

Central, though, is the core of Peter, Franz, Enoch and original drummer Kent Stacks. Some time after recording the record, Kent was diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, he passed away in September. His imprint can be heard all over the record—now not only a glorious tribute to D.C., but a poignant testament to the central role Kent played in the Scream story.

Peter, Franz, and Enoch have many warm recollections of Kent. For Enoch these go back to second grade at Glen Forest Elementary, in Virginia (where the four all lived before moving to D.C.). “I was bullied growing up. When I got to elementary school, I was sort of toughened up a little bit. Kent was getting bullied at one time. Some guy kicked him off the swings.” Enoch intervened and in sticking up for the young Kent their friendship was cemented. “We played in the same woods in our neighborhood. We played sport together.”

Years later, the four friends would be playing together as Scream, first in Virginia, before moving to D.C. where they’d make a name for themselves. Their debut, Still Screaming, was recorded by Don Zientara, whose Inner Ear Studio would become a pivotal part of the local scene. The band returned to the studio for DC Special, in what would be its final recording before the studio was forced to relocate.

Enoch has contrasting memories of the two recording sessions. “We didn’t have a lot of time in the first record. I never really checked in with Franz if he liked my basslines. We just played. (This time) it was a lot more love and consciousness. Everybody was listening.”

The impetus of making the new record was in part a collective celebration of getting through the pandemic and being able to make music again.  “When the lockdown happened, we just continued to write music,” explains Franz. “Once we got together and played, we had this body of work. We wanted to do something with it.” The outcome was a twelve-track record rich in variety—from hardcore, to reggae, to stripped-back acoustic, to classic rock.

“Flam” features Joe Lally’s signature bass playing. Peter certainly hears the association of the track. “Even when Franz first sent me the music years ago, I thought it reminded me of Fugazi.”

“When Fugazi first started, they opened up for us,” adds Enoch. “The influences are gonna definitely bleed into your DNA.”

Bad Brains are another band Scream pays tribute to on the latest record with tracks like “Hell Nah” and “Represent.” The music for “Bored to Life” meanwhile was actually written by Bad Brains bassist Darryl Jenifer.  “He was one of the guys we invited to be on the record,” explains Peter, “but he couldn’t make it, so (he) gave his blessing for us to use the song. Lyrically, it’s kind of about getting back together and coming back to life. All our songs got something to say, that one says it with a bit of humor.”

With so many fruitful contributions, the band ended up adding six bonus tracks. These include a reprise of one of the album’s standouts, the glorious, soaring rock ‘n’ roll of “Lifeline.”

“When we started off the interview, you’re asking about sibling rivalry,” says Peter. “Well, that’s one reason why there’s two versions of it. Franz and I were battling over which kind of style we liked, so there are two different vibes, which is great. The song talks about where we came from, how music energizes our dreams, and the journey this band has been on.”

With the latest album bursting with such creativity and variety, it feels like Scream have long outgrown the “hardcore” tag. So how do they describe themselves? “I always hate to put any kind of genre on us,” says Franz. “It’s Scream Team music.” Enoch has an even simpler answer. “It’s rock ‘n’ roll, man.” And great rock ‘n’ roll it is too.

DC Special is out now from Dischord Records. Follow Scream on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for future updates.

Photo courtesy of Diona Mavis

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