The Exelar Interview


The Exelar was formed in 2000 by members “Puge” Ruhe, Matt Grande, and former member John Ellis. Influenced by bands such as His Hero Is Gone, Bad Brains & Born Against, this band is fast, brutal and politically intelligent. Coupled with the ever present need for raw aggression in the New York City music scene, this formula has always and will always be what makes the substance that keeps The Exelar a working machine.

Being a hardcore band comprised of two African Americans, and two Italian Americans has helped shape their political views in which they sing of. As with all things artistic, it took some experimenting and changes in direction to find their place in the world. It was discovered early on that the band’s dynamics are at their best with the two sets of brothers, Jamal Ruhe on guitar and Puge Ruhe on bass as well as the Grande brothers Mike on guitar and Matt on the drums.

Very early on, the band started pumping out EP’s that were quickly picked up and distributed by independent labels. The first of which, named “DEMO Split”, released in 2001. The Exelar had begun to make a name for themselves and their sophomore release, an EP titled, "Message from a Moving Target" (Pogonophobia Records - UK) was no exception as it too turned heads among the Hardcore scene across the board. With the eminent release of their 3rd LP, “The Newburgh Conspiracy” it too delivers powerful, angst ridden hardcore at its best.

I got to sit down with the band to delve into their minds about current political issues, music, and racism in the hardcore scene.

What sets you apart?

Puge: most of our stuff is more racially charged than anything else, but in the end, that's mostly what sets us apart.

Jamal: I don't think we play any songs about romantic relationships at all. Not to say there aren't truths in love songs. We make music about what it feels like to be American. It hurts to be lied to. Being powerless and uninformed makes you angry. It tears you apart from inside. Once you start to make sense of our world, the next step is even more confusing. What can you or I do? I can only say that it started making a sporadic shrieking sound that got more insistent with time. The effort of keeping myself from imploding on what I can only call a spiritual level makes me exhausted from the minute I wake up. If you know what that means, our music is for you.

How did you start out?

Puge: Matt, our drummer, was in IRobot. They had broken up and they all went to college in New Paltz (a town I lived in). They were having a party and wanted to have a joke Hardcore (Long Island tough) band play. They got their Long Island tough guy accents on and had songs about being tough. We only had 3 songs, so we played the last one 6 times in a row. After that, Matt and I decided to start our own band.

Mike: As the second guitar player, I'm like the drummer from Spinal Tap. I think I'm the 5th person with this job.

Please explain how you share the vocals in your music.

Matt: Usually, whoever writes the song has control over who sings what and when (we never wanted a "frontman" to dictate the sound). We have four individuals with distinct sounds and influences that make each song sound as unique as possible.

Mike: Whoever writes the song usually does the bulk of the singing for that song. The back-up parts are usually broken up between the other 3. This helps to ensure that no one drops dead from screaming before the end of the set. We are getting up there in years and the smoking doesn't help.

Jamal: Basically, everybody sings as much as he can. If you're playing a song, on any instrument, shouldn't you know what it's about?

You've been compared to converge, musically, how do you feel about that?

Matt: People have compared us to a lot of bands, and most of them, including converge, are great. The bottom line is we have always been a "hardcore" band, without falling into a genre-trap, i.e. emo, fastcore, etc.

Mike: That's a compliment

Jamal: We'll take that as a compliment.

What else should I ask you?

Matt: I am usually pretty tired

Puge: My favorite color is blue and I enjoy long walks with "that special someone."

Tell us about your new album, “The Newburgh Conspiracy.”

Jamal: We like to think we make relevant works of art.

Matt: This album is our best music yet. It’s for people that like honest, intense music.

Puge: If there are any Britney Spears fans, they'll love it.

Mike: It screams old and angry.

What inspires your lyrics?

Puge: All of our lyrics are political in the tradition of ‘Bad Brains’, ‘His Hero Is Gone’ & ‘Born Against’, stuff like that.

Jamal: If you're not paying attention to politics... do you really take yourself (or anyone else) seriously?

Tell us about Matt's involvement with his previous band, IRobot?

Matt: I started that band with my friend Pete Bisso as a way for Pete to get songs recorded that he had written while playing in an older band with me. I convinced him to come to college at New Paltz so we could start that band. We toured with another band I was in called ‘Devola’ a few times, recorded a few times, and like many other bands, were semi-successful after we broke up.

Jamal: Lyrically, just an awesome band.

Seeing that you’re extremely political, do you like The Dead Kennedies?

Puge: Their music is not as aggressive and crazy enough for me to get into. I don't think they suck, it's just not really my cup of tea. I'm more of a Born Against type of guy--gnarlier type of stuff.

Matt: Ditto

Mike: I find the Dead Kennedies boring. I think they're one of those bands that people think they’re supposed to like.

What kind of shows do you usually play?

Matt: We like to play with friends, and prefer laid back shows without security, age limitations, barriers, etc.

Puge: We usually play with bands who are as old and angry as we are. At our record release party we had to import a bunch of people. We had two New York bands and three out of town bands.

Jamal: The bands we used to play shows with in NY are pretty much all indie rock outfits now. I'm not kidding.

How would you describe the hardcore scene in New York?

Puge: the hardcore scene in New York is a little dead these days, mostly because there are no venues for those shows. We play in Philly sometimes, and there's some dirt cheap lofts that you can have a pretty
decent show at, that is rare thing in New York City.

Mike: Is there a hardcore scene in NY? I'm a little out of touch.

Have you had any racial incidents that happened?

Puge: There's certain hardcore scenes in certain cities where being a racist or Nazi is cool.

Matt: I know what Puge is referring too, and I agree, no names needed.

How do you feel racism in the hardcore scene today differs from when you were a teenager?

Puge: I used to be a lot more proactive about it, more so than now. We haven't had a lot of problems recently. Our website initially had a comment page, and someone left a comment "your band is pretty good except for the two black guys in it, fire them," so we took that down. The hardcore scene is a lot different these days than when I was younger. I used to roll with certain kids and racism was not accepted. If we stay away from prejudicial people then everything is delightful.

Matt: When I was a teenager, I cared a lot more about what people thought and how I was perceived as a musician and in a band. I wanted feedback, that sense of accomplishment and admiration for being in a band that played good music. Now I could care less. I enjoy what I play and if people like it, great, if not, oops!

Have you had any songs about racism in the scene?

Puge: On our last record we had a song called black teenagers are moving targets. I noticed they were having rallies from moms from kids being killed by the cops. Now people are getting freaked out about it now due to kids recording it on their phone and putting it up on youtube. This is what the media and police having been trying to hide, successfully I might add, for years now, and it's good that there's new technology so it can be documented and proven.

Matt: I wrote a song called "firing squad" about what it meant to be young and how no one should take it for granted or submit to authorities outright telling you that being young makes you stupid or unnecessary. As for songs about race, I leave that to the experts. Most of my songs now are about historical inaccuracies, problems I see in my city, family, and country.

Has it gotten any better?

Puge: That whole scene has gotten interesting lately. I work in the film industry on set, as a grunt. And there's probably six people total that aren't white. Dudes I haven't spoken to for years now come up
and talk to me, as a result of Obama coming into office. Before, black people were not a part of their lives, but now they're changing that, because everything is changing. It’s been positive in that regards but not in other regards. There's a deeper political problem in every community. It's been positive and negative. It’s pushed some people over the edge.

What do you think about hip hop music?

Puge: Hip hop music is what sorta shaped this generation that seems to be less afraid of black people. It's been good, but it's been bad too. It has also distanced that genre from its people and turned it into something horrible and terrible.

What do you mean by that?

Puge: I mean that when I started listening to that music I was nine years old. I stole ‘NWA’ “Straight out of Compton” from my brother. It was political and gritty. ‘Public Enemy’ was the same way... over the top but somehow acceptable to the masses. These days, to sell records, artists rap about cash and chicks and cars. If they try to say something intelligent they're not gonna get any love at all, it's not gonna happen.

Do you think that has to do with the dumbing down of society?

Puge: I think it has more to do with society being comfortable. When I went to hardcore shows it was extremely political, and now it's just teenage kids talking about how they hate their dads, and in addition than that being bad at what they do. So not only are they a shitty rip off, of a band that came out 20 years ago, but they also have nothing to say about anything.

Matt: I don't think society has gotten dumber in my social circle or city. I feel that society has reached more of a stand-still in certain parts of the United States are people are not open to new types of political thought.

Jamal: I see a direct connection between what hip-hop was and what hardcore was. I won't name names, but what passes for hardcore now is often thinly veiled pop music. Like hardcore, early rap music was message heavy. Even the party tracks had social and ethical content. A haircut doesn't make you hardcore, your attitudes do. If you dress and act and sound like a bunch of other people... take a look at them. Describe them. Try to understand them. Because that's who YOU are.

Tell us about your song 'ABC on TV.'

Puge: About two years ago I was reading the paper where there was an incident in Washington Square Park. An NYU fraternity would play a game where one of the members would dress up and run around the park, while the other members would ‘'find the illegal immigrant.' People were outraged and protested it. The fraternity had their token non-white member defend the fraternity behavior. I saw one of the interviews and read about it; it was all over the news at the time. ABC means American Born Chinese. Chinese kids who were from China hated Chinese kids who were born in America. I thought that was the equivalent to an Asian Uncle Tom.

Tell us about your band name, “The Exelar.”

Jamal: We don't comment on our band name. The secret we keep signifies our commitment to each other.

Tell us why you named your new album “The Newburgh Conspiracy.”

Jamal: The Newburgh Conspiracy (and its dissolution) was an important moment for us all. The commanders of the Continental Army conspired to overthrow the Continental Congress. The goals were to get paid (since the army itself owed money to just about every man fighting in it) and to install George Washington as King or PM or whatever they would have called it. Force would overthrow the government fueled by hunger and the reputation of GW would have instituted a new standing government. Anyway, we owe George a lot. He wasn't into it, and in Newburgh, New York, he diffused the whole plot. For the really curious:

Interview by Roya Butler