by Brendan Rafferty

SFA was formed in the winter of 1984 by local zine writer Mike Bullshit. I wasn't in the band yet at that time, but I was their friend. SFA began like most bands do; it was just some friends playing music together for fun.

They played their first gig on Easter Sunday 1985 with Major Conflict, Sheer Terror and Token Entry. Coincidentally, our first drummer, Tim McArdle, left SFA in 1986 to sing for Token Entry and wound up singing on all their albums. Today, he is the road manager for Green Day.

Not much happened with SFA for the first couple of years. The band made two demos. A handful of gigs were played, and members came and went. Other than Mike Bullshit, the only members that mattered were Jan Lorenzen (guitar) who joined in 1987 and lasted until 1997. Bill Arbizu started on guitar and switched to bass. He was there from the beginning and he's still with us. I joined in early 1988 right after getting out of the Army. At the time I joined, SFA had a very small following and was not taken seriously. Mike had a tongue-in-cheek style of writing and singing, whereas mine was a little more hate-filled. So for a few months in 1988, Mike and I both sang for SFA. Sometimes him alone, sometimes just me, and sometimes both of us at the same time.

That summer we recorded our first 7" EP with both of us singing. Mike, who is admittedly tone deaf, mixed the EP himself. Surprisingly, my vocals were mixed very low. The EP was crap. It didn't help that our engineer was doing lines of coke on the mixing board while we were laying down tracks. If you're one of the unfortunate few who bought out first EP, I apologize. It was so bad that I used to break copies of the record before giving it to promoters and zines so they could judge it without having to suffer through it.

Shortly after the EP came out, Mike left to go hitchhiking cross-country for a few months. While he was gone we started playing more often and people started to take us seriously. We even began to build a following. By the time Mike came back in the beginning of 1989 he realized we had changed too much and had written a lot of new material with an angrier edge to it. We got better. We were a different band with the same name. So Mike left SFA and started a new band called GO! that did pretty well for a few years, putting out a few records and touring Europe and the U.S.

SFA played all the time back then; a couple of shows a week and at least one four-day road trip a month. Our only problem was a weak drummer with a bad attitude. In the summer of 1989 we had a significant line-up change when we added a second guitarist named Dray and replaced our deadweight drummer with Kid Lynch, who played with us for the next eight years. We had never realized how bad our previous drummer was until we got a good one. Once we had a solid drummer we sounded much better, and we were able to write songs with more than one tempo and even a few changes.

By this time we had a good local draw as well as a following in other places like Boston, D.C., New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Baltimore. We were at the point where we could headline a show in a small venue like CBGB or support bands like the Bad Brains or Agnostic Front at larger venues.

We were also one of the few local bands that could appeal both to drunk punks at a Saturday night squat show and hardcore kids at a Sunday matinee. For some idiotic reason, in the mid-'80s the New York scene split in two, and you were either a hardcore kid in jock clothes or a punk with a million band names written on your studded jacket; however, we always thought of it as being one type of music: hardcore/punk. That was the scene we emerged from in the early '80s. To us, bands like Minor Threat and Discharge belonged to the same scene. I could go see the Angelic Upstarts on tour on a Saturday night and then see Negative Approach play a Sunday matinee, and the same crowd would be at both. But in 1989, I didn't like the fact that we were being called a hardcore band. By that time, "hardcore" came to mean all this positive-unity, bleached-blond, Nike-wearing, hand-holding, animal-loving bullshit that was spouted from the mouths of egotistical, straight-edge rock star hopefuls who had turned an angry and rebellious subculture into a popularity contest. I didn't want to be associated with that, so I came up with the moniker "hate-core."

We were a hate-core band, because to me, hardcore/punk was supposed to be angry music. It could be funny or sarcastic, but there should always be some disdain for the world coming through. In my opinion, if you're happy or you want to spread some sort of positive, hopeful message, then you shouldn't be playing hardcore/punk; hell, you should have never gotten involved with it in the first place. That's why I came up with hate-core and started putting it on all our flyers, T-shirts and eventually our albums. I wanted to distance SFA from all that feel-good, hippie hardcore that was going around and show our allegiance to hardcore's original, angry intent. Unfortunately, years later the word "hate-core" caught on and got twisted around. "Tough guy" thug bands who played bad metal started using the word hate-core to show everyone how badass they were.

In the fall of '89 we recorded our first album, The New Morality, over at Don Fury's studio. Musically, we were tight as hell and finished the album in record time. Beyond that, we didn't know what we were doing. We had planned on pressing 1,000 copies of the album and selling them at shows. We had finished the recording, but we still had no idea how we were going to put it out. We didn't realize how much it costs to make an album. Don Fury was proud of how The New Morality sounded and when he found out we had no label he asked if he could shop it around for us. We said OK, and never imagined being able to sell more than a thousand copies, so we never even considered signing to a label.

This was a stupid time for us. We were a bunch of young, drunk punks who couldn't fathom the idea of selling a record, so check out some of the dumbass decisions we made: Don Fury had a finished album by a then-popular band with interest from various established labels. Caroline Records wanted to sign us, but we said no because Richie Underdog warned us against them for what turned out to be no good reason. Hawker, which later became Roadrunner, wanted us for a five record deal. We didn't know what that meant, so instead of finding out, we said no. New Red Archives also wanted us, but I didn't like the way they remixed the Reagan Youth album, so I said no. Finally, In Effect/Relativity wanted us. They would have been the smartest choice; we would have taken off like a rocket. So, sitting in a bar with the band (as usual) I suggested to the other guys that we should choose In Effect/Relativity. Bill, our bass player, had gone to school with the guy who ran the label. Bill said, "Nah, that guy's a metalhead, forget it." So we turned them down and continued drinking.

We ended up signing to DeMilo Records. I know what you're saying; who? If we had to do it over again, we would have signed to any of those other labels. Any of them! DeMilo gave us full artistic control, which didn't matter because I didn't know what I was doing anyway. I was cutting and pasting pictures on a layout sheet at 3:00am. All the type was press-on letters, and the black background was magic marker. Plus, I was drunk while I was doing this, and it shows. It didn't matter. DeMilo waited until 1991 to put out The New Morality.

The only way the album was promoted was that it took so long to release that by the time it came out there was already advertising in magazines for our second album on a different label. But I'll get to that later. In the meantime, by the end of 1989 we had to get rid of Dray. He was missing rehearsals and canceling gigs. Finally, on our way to headline a gig in Baltimore, we stopped to pick him up and he was off hiding somewhere. So in January 1990 we had a kid named Aaron playing second guitar for a while. He was with us for about five months and then he left New York and we got John Lopez, otherwise known as Og from the band GO! He was amoral, a heavy drinker and good guitarist. It was a good time for us. The ban all got along. We had the same taste in music and bad attitude. When we weren't playing together, we were out causing trouble. As far as gigs were concerned, we started screwing ourselves. We still had a good local draw, but we stopped playing out of town as often as we used to because we were waiting for our first album to come out. The record label would tell us that it was going to be about a month before it was released, so we would put off playing out until then. Each month the label told us the same thing until it was more than a year and still no record. As a result, we lost some of our out of town following.

That fall world events forced us to make a second album. That sounds cheesy, but it's true. During the allied build up in the Persian Gulf before the war I was, along with thousands of other recent veterans, notified that I might be recalled to active duty. I began to go through reprocessing back into the army. I spent a week at Fort Hamilton going through paperwork and being medically tested. Everyone was expecting a long drawn out war that would involve not only toppling Saddam Hussein, but also defeating the remnants of this entire defeated army. Instead we wound up with a half assed unfinished job. I was an airborne scout who served in a Ranger reconnaissance unit (a LRSD.) In a long war, ranks from units like that would be depleted quickly, so I expected to be reactivated and deployed shortly after a ground war began. As it turned out, processing my paperwork at Fort Hamilton was to be the extent of my reactivation, thanks to a short unfinished ground war, much to my dismay. None the less, at the time of my call up I wanted to hurry up and record something new. We didn't have enough material for a whole album, but I figured I'd be going away soon and for some time. So we went back to Don Fury's and recorded what little we had, which would later become about half of our second album, "So What?" (The good half.) In fact, if you have it, the song "Ready To Die" was written while I was reprocessing and the lyrics are obviously about it.

Well, the war ended quickly and we were stuck with half an album recorded and nothing to do with it. By chance one evening I stumbled drunk into a married couple on the street that had done an interview with us sometime ago. We struck up a conversation. I mentioned our unfinished album and they mentioned that they had a label in Europe, but as they were now living in New York they wanted to restart it. So a union was formed and I became good friends with Amber and Pavlos. Their label was WRECK-AGE RECORDS, started in the U.S. with our second album. In the next few years they put out dozens of other albums and singles and launched a score of unknown bands like Yuppicide, Bad Trip, Mind Over Matter, Die 116, Indecision, Neglect, Madball and Stillsuit, just to name a few. We weren't completely honest with them, though. We told them the rest of our incomplete album was already written; it just hadn't been recorded yet. They booked studio time for us in a few weeks, and in truth, we hadn't written a single note. So we rushed to write six more songs. We were still writing while we were recording. It was somewhat comical. I would distract the engineer by telling him jokes to get him to turn away from the band while recording so they could teach each other new parts they had written between takes. It was laying down vocals with a notebook in my hand, writing down lyrics as I went. There were a couple of times I told the engineer to punch me in to redo a line or two because I thought I could do it better when in fact it was because I had just written completely new lyrics. For a couple of the songs, like "Rude Boy" and the title song "So What?" I didn't even write anything. I just made it up as I went along, with no retakes. So our dirty secret is no out! If you have that album I apologize...for half of it anyway. I also apologize for the layout on the back cover. Our bass player Bill was going through a shallow arty phase and only wanted his hands in any pictures. He also made up an insert that included a lame ass junior high caliber poem accompanied by a pen sketch of him falling naked with his legs spread. He insisted that this insert by printed and put in al the pressings or he would quit. I had no choice but to trick him. I had 100 inserts printed and put in al the copies that the band got. As far as he was concerned there was one in every copy out. I didn't tell him the truth until years later.

I always regret not running the band as a dictatorship. I used to do all the work: booking shows, flyering, dealing with labels, making contacts, etc. The rest of the guys were content with me doing everything. One day I got sick of it and called a meeting. I told everyone that I wanted a truly democratic band where we all shared equal responsibility and had equal say. I stressed the point everyone had equal input on what we did as fat as artwork and design was concerned. It totally backfired on me. Everyone made a half hearted attempt at sharing the burden for about a month and then went back to letting me do it all. They only stepped in if they didn't like what I was doing. But, they still insisted on equal input on artwork or big decisions. So everything became a long compromise while I took care of it all. Few things got done unless I did it behind everyone's back. It wasn't until Eric joined the band that someone else volunteered to share the burden. As a matter of fact, he did the layout for this web page and had the unenviable task of transcribing my pages of chicken scratch handwriting into the elegantly printed (yet long-winded) tome of a band bio you're reading now.

When our first two albums came out within a month of each other on two different labels at the end of that summer in 1991 we were playing as often as possible. It was at that time that WRECK-AGE hooked us up with a promoter in Germany and suggested we go to Europe. We knew our records got good reviews over there and were selling, but we couldn't imagine going over there and playing to more than 20 people a night. At that time only a couple of the hardcore punk bands from New York had gone over and those were bands with label support. We had none. We had a hard enough time surviving on short mini tours on the East Coast. But off we went with no merchandise, no support, and no clue.

Europe was phenomenal. We didn't have to worry about getting by. We were doing incredibly well. It went far beyond our expectations. Some nights we were playing small tightly packed clubs, other nights we were playing large tightly packed halls. And we were treated so well. We never had to worry about food, a place to sleep, money or beer (which flowed plentifully and freely like a gift form the gods.) More importantly, we fell in love with the people and the scene. We were all hardcore punk veterans of the early New York scene and were disgusted with the fad it had become and the shitty music coming out of it. Europe was alive. The people we met were really cool and not hung up on the who's who social standings of the U.S. scenesters. Politics still mattered and I'm not talking about the bullshit P.C. holier than thou posturing of a lot of elitist U.S. bands. We all agreed that the scene in Europe reminded us of the NYC scene of the early 80's. It was still outside society. Unfortunately, eventually the European scene would also betray itself and become the clique-oriented fad filled with thug bands and elitists just the way the U.S. scene did. But, it was great to be there then. It was revitalizing. It reminded us of the scene we started in. It was like being kids again.

We had been gigging for years, but there is no feeling like playing 7,000 miles from home to a packed club of people who know all the words to your songs. More than that, we felt like a real band. We all had day jobs so when someone said to one of us "what do you do?", the answer would be "I work at the airport and I also play in a band" or "I work two jobs and I also play in a band." But when were on the road it was different. The band was not something we did a few hours a week. On the road, the band was a 24 hour a day, seven days a week, city to city, eating, sleeping, breathing, shitting, drinking, fighting and fucking S.F.A. "What do you do?" On the road the answer is, "I play in a punk band. That's it."

Our first European tour was a lot of fun - booze, brawls, broads and barbiturates. We were drunk and happy every day and played every night like we were on fire. We had a support band from Leipzig called DMB on the road with us. Their manager Imad and his wife Rita came along for the whole tour. We found out several years later that Imad was a command-ranking officer in Stassi (the East German secret police.) He had been running agents who were reporting on and arresting subversives, many of whom had roots in the anti-government East German punk scene. Stassi was still active in Germany when we were on tour. Stassi didn't collapse until several years after the reunification and many of the agents were found out for years because of the billions (literally) pages of documents that had to be sifted through. That's how Imad was exposed. What I think is kind of cool is that somewhere in the tons of pages of Stassi documents is a report about S.F.A. Even if there were nothing bad about us, he would have had to mention us if just to explain where he was for so long. So you could find S.F.A. at Tower Records in some local fanzine and somewhere in a pile in the basement of Stassi headquarters. That rocks.

After the tour we came back full of energy and started writing our third album. Then John Og lost his mind and everything changed. One day he just snapped. He threw out most of his stuff, quit his job, moved out of his place, broke up with his girlfriend, found Jesus and quit the band - all in one day. We were devastated. We were on a roll. Most of our new music was his. So the new album we kept telling everyone was almost completely written had to be shit canned. As a result, out label, whom we had assured that we had an album ready, lost faith in us when we failed to deliver. We had no new songs to record and we canceled gigs.

His departure left a hole in us for a while. We became apathetic and lazy. We went through a series of second guitarists for a while, but it wasn't until Eric joined years later that we found someone who belonged with us. This was a bad time for us, partly because of circumstances and partly because of our own doing.

We lost our momentum when Og left and never quite got it back. 1992 was a bad year for us. We weren't ready to record because we had to write new songs. We weren't able to gig much because of our rotating guitarists as well as family and work obligations we all had. Plus, the scene was changing. Punk was the newest MTV fad and a new generation of idiot kids started playing what they thought was hardcore junk. The scene was split and corrupted. The new generation of so called hardcore kids listened to moronic rap infused metal and called it hardcore. The new generation of punk clones all spiked their hair, covered their new leather jackets with the names of bands they were too young to see and listened to any mohawk band that sounded like early Discharge. We didn't rap and all had our normal hair color now that we had jobs and families so we didn't fit with either scene. That's not to say we didn't gig. When we came out to play our fans came out too. There just weren't as many anymore because our fans were older and hated the new scene too. We won over new faces too, but weren't a headliner hometown anymore. The only other NYC bands to survive from the 80's were the really big ones like Agnostic Front and Sick Of It All. We're the only hardcore band without major label support that survived from that ere. In fact we are the oldest NYC hardcore band still playing if you discount bands that broke up and reunited years later. That must mean something. Maybe it means we're stupid.

Anyway 1992 and 1993 were rough for us. We played out, did a handful of weekend mini tours, and recorded for some compilations. But that was it. Our label wasn't interested in doing a new album with us at the time. They had a few other bands they wanted to concentrate on before they got back around to us. We finally got them to do a single for us in the end of 1993. We wanted to do an album. The rest of the band wanted to jump shit to another label. I wanted to stay loyal to my friend's label. A year later we toured Europe again and the label refused to promote our tour for no logical reason. The biggest insult came the following year when Wreck-Age Records shot a film of a show featuring all of their bands except us, the band that started their label, and incidentally the only band on their label that wanted to be on their label. That was the last straw. We wound up recording a new album for another label at the end of 1995 by which time all the bands on Wreck-Age had broken up. With all their bands gone they called me and asked if I wanted to do another album. That would be the album I spent three years asking them to do for us. I told them we already recorded one. Sorry. Poetic justice. Professionally we couldn't work together. Personally, however, I consider them dear friends and I'm glad to see they're doing well with their new bands. I think this web site is linked to theirs.

So in 1995 we recorded our next album "Solace." We signed to We Bite Records which proved to be a mistake. It's funny how when you're about to sign to a label nobody has anything bad to say about them. "Oh, We Bite, They're good." "They've got good distro and promo." "Tons of tour support." "I head they do right by their bands." But after you sign and it's too late...'What? Are you nuts?" "I've heard they're going down." "Didn't you hear what they did to so and so?" You get the idea! We got taken. We Bite was a good-sized indie label with offices and distributors in the U.S. and Europe as well as licenses around the world. We signed. They gave us money. We recorded. They neglected to tell us they were having money problems and would not be giving us the tour support we were promised. More importantly they hid the fact that they were planning on closing their U.S. office and would no longer be releasing albums in the States. We were suckered. They knew they were going under and figured to make a quick buck off of us because we always sold well. We didn't find out about that until later.

We recorded what I consider to be a pretty damned good album. Eric sent he label professional camera-ready artwork for all the album art. We laid out everything ready to print. All they needed to do was stick on the bar codes and label logos and print. Eric does this professionally for a living so it was perfect. They took our artwork and instead of having it printed they ran it through a cheap scanner, effectively ruining the images beyond recognition, and rearranged and retyped our entire layout. They may as well have pissed on us. We made a good album, but I was ashamed to give it to anyone because it looked so embarrassingly bad.

We set up another European tour for the spring of 1996 to follow the album. We canceled a winter press tour when the release of the album was pushed back. On our previous European tours we relied on our agencies to provide our opening bad, but this time we decided to bring our own. There were too many idiot tough guy pseudo metal rap funk whatever bands calling themselves hardcore out there and we didn't want to be stuck with one of them. Cause for Alarm had gotten back together and they were one of my favorite local bands in the early 80's. They played real hardcore and that's what we wanted with us. So they came and opened for us for the first month of our tour and then we did the next month on our own with local support. Cause for Alarm have since gone back to Europe and headlined on their own. For the last month of the tour we were on the road with the Anti-Nowhere League. That was a great pleasure. As a teenager I grew up on the Anti-Nowhere League. Their record was the one you were most likely to find sitting on my turntable. Even now when I hear their songs it takes me back to my youth. Girlfriend trouble? I put on the League. Problems at school? Put on the League. Hating the world as usual? Put on the League. It was an honor to play with them. The act that they turned out to be really cool was a bonus. We played with bigger bands, Bad Brains ,Fear, etc. but playing with the Anti-Nowhere League felt different. They were apart of my life when it changed and I became a punk. And to play with them and hang out every night, for them to know my songs the way I knew theirs was like coming full circle. If the band ended after that tour it would have been almost all right. I would have had some sort of closure.

Since that tour we haven't done all that much. We came back and started gigging around and played some pretty good shows. We re-released our first album with new sober artwork on a new label. We've recorded for a couple of compilations. We've even written a new album's worth of material, though we haven't recorded it yet.

I guess that brings us up to date. I don't know. I'm really tired and I'm sure the typist wishes I'd stopped writing a long time ago. I just wanted to leave a brief band history and explain ourselves a little without getting too long winded. Believe it or not there's a lot more I'd like to write, but I'm fighting a losing battle with my eyelids and my bed is calling. I'm sure I'll have more to write once we get it together and record our next album and take it on the road. Keep posted.

Source: http://www.sfanyhc.com/sfabio.htm