Two worlds came together when Mike Pride, a powerful presence on the NYC underground jazz and experimental music scene, joined the hardcore giants MDC in 2002. Pride played and toured with the band for three years and several years later, he would go on to record his own heady deconstruction of MDC tunes. Called I Hate Work, the album reimagines some of MDC’s signature songs, such as “Dick for Brains,” “Corporate Deathburger” and the title track. Brad Cohan spoke with Pride about the new album and the experience of holding down the drum stool in a punk band.
From 2002 to 2005, drummer and composer Mike Pride, a New York City avant-garde jazz stalwart, toured relentlessly and recorded one album with legendary first-wave hardcore firebrands MDC (Millions of Dead Cops), a seminal group who rank way up there in the annals of punk rock with the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. On the recently-released I Hate Work (RareNoise), Pride combines the two worlds of hardcore and avant-garde jazz, transforming MDC’s politically-minded ragers into swinging acoustic piano jazz that is a thing of beauty. For this project, Pride was ably assisted by pianist Jamie Saft and bassist Brad Jones, alongside guests JG Thirlwell, Mick Barr, Sam Mickens and MDC vocalist Dave Dictor.
A wildly innovative composer, improviser and jackhammering noisemaker, Pride has put his indelible stamp on New York City’s underground jazz and DIY experimental music scenes over the last two-some decades with freethinking aplomb. A vital community-driven linchpin, this jack-of-all-trades has worked with just about every genre. He has deconstructed and mastered a stylistic breadth that runs the gamut from modern and death jazz and doom metal to noise alongside such titans as punk godhead Mike Watt, trailblazing avant-jazz guitarists like Mary Halvorson, Joe Morris and Brandon Seabrook, Lydia Lunch Retrovirus and Child Abuse bassist Tim Dahl, piano maestro Jamie Saft, Trevor Dunn of Mr. Bungle and Melvins fame and many more that can’t fit into this space.
Pride’s newest record finds the drummer pulling from his shit-tons of experiences and influences. The monumental I Hate Work reimagines and revamps the white-hot, system-railing ragers banged out by MDC—the hugely influential hardcore OGs that Pride enjoyed a drumming stint for in the early-to-mid 2000’s—into swinging piano-driven jazz.
This is territory Pride has been mining and working towards since 2003 when he was a fledgling, twenty-something straight-edge punk jazz head who found himself auditioning for the drummer spot for MDC.
“I went on tour with them right after I auditioned so that was late spring or early summer of 2003,” recalls Pride of joining MDC. “Their drummer was in prison, Ex Con Ron (born Ron Posner), their guitar player, and bassist Mikey “Offender” Donaldson (deceased, 2007) wasn’t in the band. It was just Dave (Dictor), the lead singer, Matt Van Cura, who was a Long Island hardcore bass player, a guitar player and this drummer Al Batross (a/k/a Alan Bazin). Al was a film editor. Ruth Underwood, the mallet player in Zappa’s band, was his aunt. He was the sub drummer in MDC. I knew him and he was an adventurous music listener. He also played in a band called The Spunks, which was a Japanese punk band that my band Dynamite Club used to play with a lot. Al was a fan of that band and he was no longer going to tour with MDC. So, he suggested I audition and I did. I really didn’t know anything about them. I had a straight edge, hardcore background insofar as aggressive music.”
An eclectic listener whose fandom extended from Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys and Fugazi to Naked City and Mr. Bungle, Pride’s knowledge of MDC was pretty much nil when he rolled the dice in hopes of scoring their drummer spot. “I didn’t know MDC. I didn’t know anything about them. It was just a big hole so I shut up and auditioned,” says Pride. “I bullshat through the audition and I just played what I thought was the typical hardcore beat. Personally, they could tell I was a nice, responsible kid and I wasn’t showing up fucked up and I maybe made it clear that I was straight edge.”
At the same time Pride was on the cusp of taking over drum duties for MDC, he was already immersed in NYC’s avant-jazz underground. He’d hit it off with likeminded peers like Halvorson (the future MacArthur “Genius” grant winner who he met at The New School) and Dunn, leading a trio who squelched out a confluence of time signature-crazed prog-rock, no wave-ish jazz and metal. “At that point I was working a lot,” explains Pride. “I had the MPThree, my trio with Mary and Trevor. I had done the Scrambler record with Tony Malaby, William Parker and Charlie Looker. I was doing the jazz thing as soon as I showed up in New York in 2000.”
In fact, it was Dunn, who Pride first crossed paths with at a John Zorn-hosted free-improv night, who nudged Pride into taking the gig with MDC. “Trevor is somebody who when I was given the option to join MDC after that second audition, Trevor is one of two people I spoke to to get his input,” remembers Pride. “He was like, ‘Do it and get points on the record contract. And take a multivitamin every day.’ That was his advice. I asked Mick Barr about it even though he didn’t have the travel experience back then. It was him and Trevor who were the people that convinced me to join the band.”
The inspiration gleaned from his three-year stretch of nonstop touring and recording with MDC (Pride held down the furious and dizzily intricate backbeat on MDC’s 2004 Magnus Dominus Corpus) planted the seed in Pride’s mind for what would become I Hate Work: jazzy renditions of MDC’s trademark hellraisers. Just a few years after his departure from MDC in 2005, Pride dove headlong into the undertaking where the finished product wouldn’t see the light of day until over a decade later.
“I started working on making reduced charts of their music in 2010,” says Pride. “I specifically remember sitting in my bedroom in whatever apartment that was and starting to work on those with a keyboard while my wife was in another room. It must have been right after our son was born or right before. So I wrote Hate Work in between the two records From Bacteria To Boys on AUM Fidelity (‘10’s Betweenwhile and ‘13’s Birthing Days) and then just kind of sat on it for a long, long time of what to do wth it.”
While the prospect of transforming MDC classics like “Dick for Brains,” “Dead Cops,” “Corporate Deathburger” and “I Hate Work”—piss- and vinegar-filled screeds that stared down capitalism, police brutality, homophobia, oppression and other hot-button social and political justice issues found on their watershed 1982 debut—into piano trio jazz may seem like it’s coming from the radical end of the spectrum, MDC were actually no one-trick-pony, aesthetically speaking. Their styles and influences were all-embracing, including being serious jazz devotees.
Band cofounder and vocalist Dave Dictor, via email, looks back on what helped shape and realize MDC’s vision. “Allan Schultz, (Ex Con) Ron Posner and I were total music heads and Al and I were brought up in the 1960s NYC and were exposed to all forms of music,” he says. “I saw Sam Rivers out in Glen Cove, L.I. along with the Newport Jazz Festivals. In 1973, I attended the Newport Jazz Festival at Carnegie Hall and was exposed to Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Pass, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Sarah Vaughn, Joe Pass…it was so incredible. We were into the newer stuff at the time …Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Al Schultz, MDC’s drummer was a West Manhattan/ Broadway-trained Gene Krupa-styled drummer. He adored Billy Cobham and we followed Mr. Cobham around and caught many shows. MDC was not your typical punk rock band in that we were all serious music enthusiasts before the punk movement began. As kids our philosophy was to try catch everybody at least once.”
The jazz factor in MDC’s deceptively simple hardcore didn’t go unnoticed by Pride during his tenure. He deciphered the rhythmic complexities that bubbled to the surface amid the sonic din and he heard tales of their checking out the cosmic sounds in NYC’s storied loft-jazz scene and how they drew from it. “Like a lot of their music, the intricate parts are specifically them trying to reflect interesting things about jazz music to them,” Pride explains. When I was in the band, Ron, the guitar player, was really into Spanish classical guitar music and the record that I made with them, Magnus Dominus Corpus, you can hear some of that in some of the guitar parts. That’s what was happening in the 2000’s. But in the Eighties, when they were doing it, they were also getting stoned and hanging out at Studio Rivbea and things like that. They all saw Sam Rivers play multiple times. They all talked about Sam Rivers quite a bit. Once I heard them talking about that, we had a lot more to talk about on tour. They really knew about a bunch of shit.”
Pride’s I Hate Work sublimely blurs those lines of neo-political hardcore and avant-garde jazz. He also admits that it’s a “continuation of the From Bacteria To Boys records,” the heady avant-jazz quartet he leads. I Hate Work finds Pride joining forces with keyboards wizard and Bad Brains collaborator Saft and double bassist Brad Jones. As far as piano trios go, the Pride/Saft/Jones combo is topnotch: effortless in laying out transcendent melody, deep groove and a free-improv touch with an ingrained chemistry few can match. As Pride tells it, he envisioned the project as “a piano trio from the jump” with Saft as his go-to player manning the keys. Pride and Saft already owned a special rapport, having unleashed a hellacious doomy sludge-jazz racket together in KALA$HNIKOV and in The Spanish Donkey (a trio rounded out by Joe Morris). He also cites Saft’s own album as inspiration where the pianist did his own reworking of songs by Bob Dylan titled Trouble: The Jamie Saft TrioPlays Bob Dylan. “I always thought Jamie was the perfect person (for I Hate Work), specifically from his Dylan record on (John Zorn’s label) Tzadik. The way he plays those tunes and really brings them a lot of space. It’s a beautiful record and he really opened the things up.”
Ten cuts make up I Hate Work with the bulk offering up finger-snapping, head-bobbing and foot-tapping all-instrumental takes on MDC songs. There’s also three Pride originals plus a few standout numbers find special guests grabbing the mic to belt out tunes. For those, Pride enlisted some pals and longtime musical cohorts to lend their glorious pipes to and to unleash some guitar shredding pyrotechnics. On “America’s So Straight,” Pride and company give the original MDC anthem a dramatic facelift, morphing it an insanely catchy, swinging firebreather for Foetus mastermind JG Thirlwell to add his velvety croon to in a glorious vocal turn. The revved-up “Greedy And Pathetic” showcases Sam Mickens magical lounge-singer prowess and Mick Barr (of Krallice), who lets loose with a frenzied array of riffs, as he does on “Business on Parade,” a jarring shapeshifter in which Pride describes his guitar work as “Messiaenic.”
Naturally, Dictor was brought in to take center stage, deliciously purring on the hook-filled title track, a tune where Pride says he embraced his “inner-Sinatra.” Dictor agrees. “Okay I said that….I try to channel Mr. Frank Sinatra. As a vocalist, yes, I was exposed to the crooner’s all of you know and love…Frank Sinatra especially, but Louie Armstrong, Bing Crosby to Elvis Presley.”
Dictor also had no reservations that Pride would pull off what he’s done with I Hate Work. “Well, I had no apprehensions. I had played with Mike and knew him to be thorough and competent…and that he wanted me to sing and do a variation was exciting. I wrote much of MDC’s music in an acoustic folk style and Ron Posner, my MDC co-creator and collaborator, gave it that double stroking hardcore rock. I had imagined and toyed with ‘John Wayne Was A Nazi,’ our most noted song, in reggae style. So I knew anything is possible.”