Siege are hardcore punk icons. One of the most revered bands in the genre, they’ve influenced Carcass, Napalm Death and countless other bands. Lars Ulrich of Metallica once described them as “the fastest band he had ever heard”. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and Siege’s journey is coming to an end, so in December of 2017 I managed to grab a few minutes with drummer and lyricist Robert Williams to talk about the band’s history, musicial output, influence and the punk scene.
Jack: Hey, Robert! Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions! How are you?
Robert Williams (Drummer/Lyricist): I’m doing well! My hearing has finally come back now that I’ve recuperated from that string of EU shows. Seeing you and the other members of the London punk family at Dome was really fucking excellent, by the way – a great, great night! Wild crowd, and the sound was really good there…
Jack: SIEGE formed in 1981. Is it scary to think the band formed that long ago?
Robert: Scary? No. It seemed like it was the natural response for our little group of suburban creative-types at the time – to form a punk band. We hated Reagen, Christian fundamentalist types like Falwell, etc. It was the musical expression of this…undiluted teenage rebelliousness, and we non-conformists rising in some kind of protest – much like we all should be doing now. I feel like I’ve hardly aged, really – because there’s abundant opportunity to do something meaningful. It’s like Abbie Hoffman said – ‘if it’s too loud, you’re too old.’
Jack: When forming the band, did you know you were onto something special?
Robert: It was more like that romantic foolishness and quibbling of being in your first band – one part noble dreams to rock, the other part Spinal Tap-caliber interaction and missteps. It was magical in moments, too – when this shit was first actually happening. So that ‘something special’ you’re referring to was springing up all around us; college radio in the city, in the record shops, et cetera. I remember a college professor once telling me ‘don’t think short story, think epic!’ And I’ve come to believe one should always ‘shoot high’ with their art, and take it very seriously backstage. I also recall a long time ago seeing kids waiting overnight for tickets for a show for one of my other projects at CBGB’s, and I was like ‘wait a minute here – these people live for this shit, too!
Jack: What bands were a big influence back in the day?
Robert: For me…Flipper, Void from DC. Everyone loved and was inspired by the early Discharge, of course. I got a bit deeper into the British stuff – Chaotic Dischord, Antisect ‘In Darkness’. But then, classic metal, also, simultaneously…Venom, Motorhead. I used to practice the drums to AC/DC records, but play the 12 inch lp’s on 45 rpm. By the time you get to ‘Beatin Around The Bush’ it was practically hardcore drumming. But DEVO was the first punk-type band all the members of SIEGE were really into.
Jack: The video of you guys playing on Public Access tv has 93 thousand hits on YouTube. What was that experience like?
Robert: Well, it was actually filmed by this guy who was dating one of the musicians’ sisters who videotaped weddings and stuff and who came by our rehearsal space, which was in a church in Jackson Square, Weymouth, MA USA. As anyone in a rock band will tell you – the rehearsals are some of the best times you play together. The early shows SIEGE played back then were crazy, also – just fucking chaotic slamming and noise, like, this could fly off the rails at any second.
Jack: What was the early punk scene like?
Robert: The early punk scene in Boston was diverse in a defiantly non-conformist way; spiky punx rocking beside true metalheads headbanging with collegiate nerds, plenty of out and proud New Wave-loving lesbians and gays. In other words – the punk scene was a place where you could feel safe expressing and being yourself and scream along with this music. We all loved and got swept up in the slam pit and the protest part of it. There was one single glam rock type punk guy – Bob White. He took a lot of shit from the jock-core, straight edge ‘original crew’ kids, who were from the North Shore of Boston, mostly. I just stayed away from them, because I smoked weed, and because bullies suck.
Jack: SIEGE are cited as a major influence on the Grindcore and Power Violence genres – how does it feel to be cited as a key influence of those genres?
Robert: I’ve seen the names change from Hardcore to Crossover to Power Violence to Grindcore to whatever trendy bullshit pidgeonhole tag they use for us next. Aggressive music – or all challenging art, for that matter, should strive to transcend the boring traditional limits of established genres. Some of the collectors who overly obsess about the sub-genres of metal, for instance, strike me as quite close minded, really. They [wouldn’t] recognize the next musical pioneer, because it isn’t some regurgitation identical to something they’ve heard before. True sincerity and wholehearted commitment to energy and extremity in your music, straddling – or better yet – smashing genres – that’s what I respect.
Jack: So what is your opinion of modern extreme and underground music?
Robert: There are some great, great new bands and artists out there, man. And playing this string of special events over the last two years with SIEGE awakened me even further. We do a lot of listening around our house; we don’t really watch tv – we do shit like read aloud to one another, and throw records at random on the turntable. There are always new noise, darker ambient, or free jazz artists in ‘rotation’. When the more popular and established shit has exhausted itself – reach deeper underground! And anyone who says punk is dead is talking out their asshole.
Jack: Many bands such as Napalm Death, Exhumed, Mr. Bungle, and Heresy have covered your songs – do you think these covers were a factor in keeping the band’s legacy alive?
Robert: I’d say the covers came about as a result of the legacy – but also contribute further, a bit, to perpetuating the longevity of the recordings. ‘Walls’ by Napalm, off their Peel Sessions, is still, to me, the definitive version of that song. Matt Harvey from Exhumed was able to join us on stage at California Deathfest this year – which was an amazing honor. I love them all, man.
Jack: The Drop Dead demo is now 34 years old. How do you view Drop Dead looking back on it? What was the recording process like, and would you change anything?
Robert: Drop Dead, and the Cleanse The Bacteria cuts a few months later, were recorded at this historic studio in Kenmore Square right in the middle of Boston, Radiobeat, which happened to be walking distance from my Emerson College dormitory. All or many of the original Boston hardcore and pop punk bands had recorded there, and it was all done live with a minimum of overdubs, and it was just savagely fucking aggressive. Afterward, while Lou Giordano was mixing, I went up to the second floor of the parking garage across the street overlooking the giant Citgo neon sign and smoked a joint with a feeling of great satisfaction and contentment. No, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Jack: Why did you include a sax on Grim Reaper?
Robert: “(SIEGE singer) Kevin Mahoney and I were really into ‘Sex Bomb’ by Flipper and James White and the Blacks. He was into ska as well and he had a sax, so we were like ‘lets go for it, and make some real noise’. Revisiting that piece live recently has been absolutely amazing, because we’ve had some sick sax players…a cat named Carl DaSilva, for one, and Otto from Dead Neanderthals when we were in The Netherlands. One of the most amazing jams was when we played it with John Zorn in Brooklyn.”
Jack: SIEGE has a new line-up for this recent run of shows. How’s that line-up been performing?
Robert: The reviews have been good! The newer guys have all been in bands around Boston all their lives. The ‘bar’ was set high – we want it to sound just like the recordings! And we’ve worked seriously hard to bring a hammering show for the fans who come out.
Jack: How would you describe the band’s relationship with the UK?
Robert: Well, I think (current vocalist) Mark Fields said it best at Dome when he said ‘we played two sold out nights in Leeds which were crazy, but you GOTTA play London!’ The original tape traders, SIEGE’s earliest fans, are from ‘across the pond’, and of course all the greatest rock bands and audiences are from the UK. I know some crazy Brazilians and Mexicans who would disagree with that last part, but…
Jack: What are your plans for the year?
Robert: Right now I’m promoting an album of mine that just came out – SO BE IT is an anti-war LP similar to CRASS stuff, in that I’ve gathered a family of some of the best punk singers around to make the harshest anti-war statement we can make together. The album also mocks shallow American warmonger ‘patriotism’ by weaving in hardcore versions of songs and themes like the ‘National Anthem’ or ‘Taps,’ and ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy.’ The singers include Stoffel from Yacopsae, Guilio from Cripple Bastards, Jeff Sykes from Lunglust, Ami Lawless, Larry Lifeless, Izzy Ryan, Jeff Hayward from the legendary GRIEF, and Harrington from Fistula. I think it’s some of my heaviest shit. The vinyl edition just came out from Deep 6 Records in California, and I can’t wait for listeners to hear it.
Jack: Finally, what was the Seth Putnam era of the band like?
Robert: It sucked. Kurt Habelt (SIEGE guitarist), had just dropped out of Berkley, and was pressuring the band to play some third rate, dreadfully one-dimensional imitation King Crimson kinda stuff. We recorded one demo of hardcore (later released as ‘Lost Session 91’ 7 inch on Patac Records) which is absolute shit, but people are falling all over themselves to fucking get a copy of it. Eventually Seth and I just looked at one another and threw our hands up, and formed our own individual bands (me forming Nightstick, Seth AxCx) – and there was an awful lot of debauchery along the way. I’m glad to be ‘back home’ now, making music that’s positive and meaningful to audiences again, like we did when I started out with SIEGE so long ago. I’m grateful I survived it.