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Video interview with John Joseph of Cro-Mags at Hellfest 2018

Hellfest’s Warzone stage on Saturday was dedicated to hardcore and you should have thought about bringing your mouthguard: among Madball, Hatebreed and legendary hardcore bands, I was really excited to see Cro-Mags and couldn’t be more delighted to have an interview with John Joseph. The guy is truly inspiring, has a lot of stories to share not only about his main band, but also about veganism, spirituality, sport and history.

As you played a major role in the NYHC explosion, how do you see nowaday’s scene? Are there any new-coming bands you love or you are close with?

Not just from New York but these bands from all over the place. I love Turnstile, bands that do it original stuff. The new Madball record is amazing. Then, you got the old style Sick of it All, Agnostic Front, H2O, you know, everything. Everybody’s been around this. Some good bands coming out too. I’ve been going to concerts since 77, punk concerts in New York City and everything. Then you had the whole DC scene which I was part of. SOA, Minor Threat, all that stuff and then Black Flag.

I said this the other day: it’s like a tree and the roots are in the ground and the branches spread out a lot of it. The roots are still in punk and then it goes on from there so I love when I hear something really unique and new. That’s why I tend to gravitate toward people doing something a little different.

‘The Age Of Quarrel’ is still a cornerstone for New York Hardcore, even if it was released 32 years ago. How do you feel about this?

People asked me the other day: “Did you ever think when you did that record that it was good to become?” You just do what you love and even though today’s day, I’ve never received one penny from that record. It’s a record I’m proud of. I was proud to contribute to writing a majority of the lyrics on the album and performing the songs. Over 30 something years and then I’m alive. So, we recorded it. Nobody could take single credit for anything because people contributed, from Mackie Jayson, Parris Mayhew, Harley Flanagan and myself, so it’s something that just went out to the universe and spoke a lot of truth.

He said: “The beef ain’t over, I’m just here for the paycheck”. Fuck that dude!

I know you don’t want to waste your time talking shit about former Cro-Mags members, but what has to be done to expect you, Harley and Parris play together again?

That’s never gonna happen because a lot of shit was done to me. I wrote about it in my book “Evolution of a cro-magnon”. The amount of things that was done in the past, from the stealing and turning me to the government, that Harley did and everything else. I forgave him in 2000 and I wiped the slate clean. I said: “Okay man” and he said “The beef ain’t over, I’m just here for the paycheck”. Fuck that dude!

I don’t have any beef, any qualms but there’s no need to do it. Our shows do fine. Kids on the scene said that he was starting trouble with, you don’t need that motherfucker. People will still support the Cro-mags and he starts shit everywhere he goes. I do this to have fun. I have a career outside of music. I’m a writer. I write books or for television, I’m involved with films. This is my passion since I was a little kid so I respect the hell out of music and I want to enjoy myself doing it. That’s why who’s in the band now is in the band. It’s family: it’s Craig, Mackie, AJ and myself.

You have a third book about PMA in the making. Could you tell more about it and when can we get it?

I just finished this book on mindset. It’s become a big thing and it can help anybody to achieve their goals, to beat addiction or abuse from a childhood. Whatever the hell issues you might be dealing with, it’s teaching you how to train your mind as a tool to get you to where you want to go, to be a better musician, to be a better athlete, to be a better father, to be a better wife, whatever.

PMA comes from the first time I heard, it was the Bad Brains from HR, but that was taken from Napoleon Hill and his teachings on PMA. That’s where HR got it from, so I went back and I researched all of that greatest books and then interviewed and talked to some of my friends who are elite athletes or in the Navy SEALs. Whatnever it is, these guys that do amazing things. What was it that helped them to overcome shit that nobody can do ? Less than 1% of society. Whether it’s Ironman or martial arts, the common denominator was your mental strength. When the physical was going to give out, the mental strength kicked in and that’s what the book’s about. So that’s coming out this summer. It’s going to the printer any day now so I’m very excited.

Rich Roll wrote the foreword. Rich Roll, famous author, podcaster in the United States. The Rich Roll podcast is one of the biggest podcasts on health and fitness and wellness. He has like top people on it and he has a book out “Finding Ultra” and a bunch of vegan cookbooks.

You also are a top-level athlete. What does sport bring you that music can’t provide?

It’s a different animal. I’ve been on tour. The last two full Ironmans I did, I was training out on the road as I’m touring with Cro Mags, or the other band Bloodclot, whatever I was doing. So it’s a discipline because when everybody else wants to stay out late and go and hang out with people, I gotta be like : I gotta get up at 6:30 in the morning and go swim two miles in the pool or I gotta run 15 miles or I gotta hit the weight room or I gotta get on a spin bike somewhere, so it’s all about the discipline and music takes discipline to do this.

No, I do Ironman to keep in shape for Cro-Mags because I gotta keep up with Mackie Jayson behind the drums!

As long people that live the sex drugs and rock’n’roll bullshit, they’re not doing what I’m doing at this point in my music career and I’m still able to do at 56 years old : be on tour, training for Ironman and the rest of it. So it teaches you to be very disciplined and it takes me to another place spiritually. Running, for me, I get on the spiritual high. People said to me: “How do you do Cro-Mags to keep in shape for Ironman ?” I said : “No, I do Ironman to keep in shape for Cro-Mags because I gotta keep up with Mackie Jayson behind the drums!”

You released ‘Up In Arms’ with Bloodclot last year. What is the next step with the band?

We might do some shows next year. Everybody’s involved in different projects, you know. We’ll see what happens and I think like the music, the record, did really well in the States. We toured with Negative Approach, the shows were like sold out and we’ve never been to Europe with it, so maybe next year. We’ll come over and play some shows, some club shows.

Do you still do New York Crime Tours?

Yes! So my tour actually is crime, music and art. It’s been on NBC TV, on all the newspapers: The Times, Time Out, The Today Show in New York and they said it’s one of the most informative tours. Shit you’ll never hear anywhere else because a lot of it is like I’ve been on the streets in the 70s and doing all crazy shit: trafficking drugs, do all the drug dealers, wars with the drug dealers. And then, the music, the art and the culture and everything that’s happened. I do those when I’m in town when I can. Fox 5 News is doing a new special, July 5th at 10:30 New York time. It’s with Steve Lacey and it’s called “When New York rocked” so it’s all about the hardcore scene, the punk scene from the 70s and 80s and it’s going to be a good one.

The primary part of the whole special is he came and took the walking tour and he was like : “I just learned shit I never knew”, like “This is what happened when the Clash played at Bonds”. You know, in 81 and there were riots and the fire department came and Patti Smith playing CBGB’s theater at 66 2nd Avenue which used to be the Anderson theater, where Grateful Dead did a benefit concert in 69 for the Hell’s Angels there. I’ve researched it for years and a lot of it I knew personally.

You don’t talk much about religion. Are you still Krishna ?

I mean it’s not religion. Religion is dogma. I don’t subscribe to religion. My thing is spirituality so I meditate every day, I chant, I do my devotions, I maintain a strict plant-based vegan diet and it’s service: I always help other people. I feed the homeless in New York and have been doing it since 1982. Vegan meals. I fed KRS One, the rapper, when he lived in the men shelter. So I’ve been doing that, it’s about service and helping other people.

Especially in music, everyone wants to be worshipped like they’re fucking gods or something. Fuck all that shit!

People write me all the time: “I’m going through all this stuff. I’m depressed, suicidal. I have addiction. I have this. I’ve that. How do I do this ?” So part of that whole process is service and placing yourself to say : “Hey man, you know if you need me, I’m there”. You should always be trying to.

That’s the problem: especially in music, everyone wants to be worshipped like they’re fucking gods or something. Fuck all that shit! Stay humble and help other people, that’s my philosophy and that’s what I do in New York whether it’s music, triathlon, feeding the homeless, a couple of people get off drugs so that’s what my religion is, if you want to call it religion, it is the service.

Service of others to help people and that’s what I do. That’s what I was taught by my spiritual teacher. He came, he fed everyone, he slept on the floor. Now you see gurus and yoga societies, fucking millions of dollars, driving Rolls Royce, banging all the fucking chicks that’s bullshit! That’s hypocrisy! You know, I don’t subscribe to that. Even in Hare Krishna, the ones who took over the movement did the most abominable shit. They raped children, they murdered people, I’m not down with those people. I have nothing to do with that organized religion. I do my thing and when someone says “What was this about?”, I give him the book and say “Read Bhagavad Gita, man” It will fucking change your life. That’s what it’s all about.

What do you want to say to anybody? Lasts words are for you.

A lot of musicians come to me and they’re like, you know: “What do I gotta do?”. I’m playing music for 37 years now. I started in 81. Cro-Mags started and then, that broke up. In 81, I went on tour with Bad Brains and the roadies formed a band called Bloodclot, so I stay with doing music all this time and I’m gonna tell you how: it’s having passion and belief in what you’re doing and don’t sit there.

In this world today, everybody wants instant results and I just said that I did in the MLS boxing podcast. I said: everybody wants instant fame, instant results, instant mashed potatoes, microwave society. If you do music because you love music, whether the success comes or not, you will never quit and that’s the last thing I say in the “Evolution of a cro-magnon” is “Develop the mindset and attitude of the Warriors code” and what is the Warriors code? “Never give up”.

We slept in the squats. We slept on people’s floors. We had fucking fans plumbing vans that we toured the country opening for Motorhead in arenas!

That’s what it’s all about! You need to love music. I was in the foster home, being abused for seven years as a child, and the only salvation I had was music. I used to dream about being a musician at 7 and 8 years old. I didn’t even know what it was. I wanted to get in a van, travel and play music. This is in 1970. I didn’t know about touring.I didn’t know shit but I wanted to do music. I tweeted that out the other day: Don’t just keep a dream dream. Take action and go for it. Work on every single day. If you work hard at your craft, you’re gonna get good at.

I watch actors and writers and people in music. The dedication that they have, all these bands that are big right now, they did work, man! Cro-Mags too! We slept in the squats. We slept on people’s floors. We had fucking fans plumbing vans that we toured the country opening for Motorhead in arenas! We fucking did it every day. We had to steal food and we were playing arenas because our manager was ripping us off. Did we quit? Fuck no! We don’t quit, so don’t quit!

I would rather have the career that I have now than the bands that came out in the eighties and you know what? Where the fuck are they now?

What I always say is it’s not just passion but you’re obsessed. You have a beautiful obsession and I write about this in my new book: Obsession. People always try to say that that’s a bad thing. That’s not a bad thing if you have a beautiful obsession with music or creating some art. Tell me the world doesn’t need art with all the fake shit that’s out there! We need good films, we need good books, we need good plays, we need good music so I have an obsession and don’t give up.

The results may not come in the beginning. I would rather have the career that I have now than the bands that came out in the eighties and you know what? Where the fuck are they now? I’m still doing it because I did it for the right reasons. I didn’t make money, I didn’t that shit but I kept with music because music has been everything to me since I was a little kid so I didn’t give up.

When I gave up music, that’s when the addiction came for two years, in 87 to 89. I was almost murdered five times, fucking shot by AR-15! Rob, drug dealers and all the insanity came when I gave up on my music so that’s what I tell everybody.

Big shout out to Vinnie Paul. He passed. Those brothers, they were something out to me and they were good dudes. I met them and Phil, and the whole thing, when they were doing pants, hair and … really righteous dudes. God bless him and his family. That’s the last thing I’ll say.

About Greg Legarand

As a musician, I've been involved in bands since the early 2000's and have been constantly releasing records and touring since then. I use to play the guitar and sing in Bare Teeth and sometimes do solo stuff. I've founded Distrolution to provide bands and labels tools and services they need to get more exposure and help them as best as I can.

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