I got to sit down with Sturgeon (Stza) of Leftover Crack at the Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia to discuss his lyrics, the crusty punk phenomenon, and why there's never any leftover crack.
What do you think of pop culture’s continuing role in the dumbing down of society?
Stza: What do I think of it? I think that it’s very successful, and it will continue to perpetuate itself until everybody’s really stupid--not that they’re not right now, but they’ll just get dumber. People won’t even really notice it; generations and generations will pass, and people will just become dumber and dumber.
Did you go to College?
Stza: Hahahahaha, this is a funny interview--I like this. I am well-educated--the High School I attended in New York City is difficult to get into--but, I couldn’t get up early enough to actually attend so I started underachieving, and eventually dropped out. I ran away from home and started riding freight trains.
What’s your stance on education?
Stza: I'm proactive about self-education--I read books.
What are your views on how mass marketing is targeted towards processed, eradicated, indigestible food products (like fast-food and preservative abundant/nutrient deficient packaged foods)?
Stza: I think that I don’t eat that crap. There seems to be a lot more marketing these days towards healthy, organic foods as well. A lot of people are looking for healthier alternatives to disgusting, plastic-y, nutrient deficient, indigestible foods. Currently, there’s a boom in the health industry. Grocery chains like Whole Foods, as well as local organic markets, are giving people the option of purchasing healthy, nutrient rich foods.
You talk about homophobia and anti-sexism in Gay Rude Boys Unite.
Stza: Yes, well most cultures around the world are sexist. I think that there are a lot of people who are hip to the fact that people are sexist; however, I think that a lot of people are homophobic nonetheless. They may be anti-racist and anti-sexist, but they’re still homophobic.
Is that why you wrote the song Gay Rude Boys Unite?
Stza: At the time, there were a whole lot of people jumping on this unity band wagon-- I think that maybe Bad Brains brought it up. So, a lot of people were preaching unity and anti-racism, but they were still sexist and/or homophobic. It was actually specific to Hellcat Records, during Unity Fest, involving certain bands; but it’s a long story, and an old one, too.
Tell us your views on Anton LaVeys’s Satanic Bible.
Stza: The Satanic Bible has something like nine rules and eleven laws--it’s mostly just common sense, and I don’t think that he necessarily believed in the devil. Other than the sexism and debauchery, his Bible preaches autonomy and common sense. I believe in living in autonomy with common sense; sometimes it's mislabeled anarchy--a mislabel that creates a misrepresentation. Ultimately, I don't agree with sexism, and that’s why I will never call myself a Satanist, or a part of the Satanic church.
In your song Born To Die, you wrote: “the weak sense of autonomy when I 'm drinking in my squat.” What is the weak sense of autonomy, and what is the vision of the full sense?
Stza: Well, we are in our own building and we have the door locked; the police can’t get in unless they bust down the door, so the weak sense of autonomy is we can do whatever the fuck we want in there. There was a time, probably ten years ago, when we could’ve killed somebody, buried them in the basement of our squat, and cemented over it, and the cops would’ve never found out...shit like that. We lived in a building where our neighbors weren’t ratting each other out to the police; so we had a sense of autonomy in that we could do things to a certain level and that we were self-governed. When people got too out of line and everybody hated them, they were kind of beat up, kicked out of the building, and not allowed back in. The police were never called. The full sense of autonomy might encompass being on an island, or your own planet, or somewhere that there is no 'legal' governing force. A moderate sense of autonomy might be somewhere in the woods—or anywhere for that matter—where the police would have a hard time to get to you; for example, finding you with helicopters and airdropping cops in to get to you.
Was the building you spoke of in New York or Philly?
Stza: I’m talking about my place in the New York; the reason it would be harder to get away with in Philly is because squats don’t last as long. But it’s funny that you mention that. I used to live on 49th street at my friend’s place. It had a building behind it, which we used to walk past, where some guy lived. One week during summer it started to smell really bad, and they went in that building cuz they hadn’t seen the guy for a couple weeks. (Have you heard about the garbage juice guy around 1503? Have you heard about Mikey and Filthy Phil?) They found this guy and he was a bloated corpse, all wet and decaying. They went in his pockets and found eighty bucks. But they couldn’t get the smell of dead body (the garbage juice smell) off the money--they kept cleaning it so they could spend it. He was in there, dead and decaying, for three weeks and no one noticed until it smelled really bad.
I dug out this whole basement—8 feet—in Philly. I think it’s leveled now, but I could’ve definitely buried some one under my room there; it would’ve smelled bad, but not if I would’ve buried him deep enough, so yeah, you could do that. But I got that whole “frail sense of autonomy” from a Citizen Fish line—I think it’s from the record Flinch.
Would you say there’s more autonomy in New York, than in Philly?
Stza: No, it used to be that way. Philly is a poorer city, so there's more fucked-up neighborhoods there, and thus more autonomy—there's less cops in fucked-up neighborhoods. In fact, there are neighborhoods that the cops don’t even go into because it’s so fucked-up.
Like north Philly?
Stza: Yeah, in North Philly there’s some fucking places. There are squats where cops won’t even go to, because they’ll get shot at. On the other side of it, if you’re a white person walking around a black neighborhood, you might get picked up by the cops, because you’re probably there to buy drugs.
Leftover Crack is rooted in the urban jungle, yet you’ve grown widely popular with suburban teens.
Stza: I understand that a lot our fans are from the suburbs living in a cookie-cutter house with ultra-conservative republican parents, they want to to rebel against that whole thing, so I guess we’re a good choice. Why not?
Did your band start this crusty punk phenomenon?
Stza: No, we did not start crusty, I merely happened to be one. There were many before me; I definitely didn’t start any trend there. Crusty was always “cheek” back before I was a punk. But I grew up in New York City, and I think that crusty has a longer history in NY. I’m not sure where it started, but there were probably a lot more crusties when I was growing up in NYC than there were in most cities.
How did crusty get started?
Stza: I would say that it got started somewhere in the early eighties amongst political punk bands. Rob, how did crusty get started?
Rob: With the Orphans.
Stza: Yes! With the Orphans. When I think of crusty, I think of bands like Amebix, Reagan Youth, and Nausea. I think of them as the prototypical crustys--crustys are a cross between hippies and political punks. They were into peace, but not passive peace and love like hippies. They were about revolution---but I don’t know the whole story, you’d have to ask someone above my generation, because I’m definitely a second generation crusty.
You’re critics have described you as a symbol of failure for the youth. What do you think of that?
Stza: I don’t think I’m a symbol of failure in society, but a representation of people who don’t want to be a part of society; society has failed me, and it’s failed most kids.
As a symbol for kids, you’ve amassed an army of followers; what do you think of that?
Stza: We’re in Philadelphia. This is one of the two cities where we have a lot of people that come to see us play.
Then you at least have an army in Philadelphia, right?
Stza: I don’t know about that. We are here to influence people to a certain extent. I don’t feel like the kids that come to see us have this undying devotion in that they’ll do anything for us, like an army. We don’t really have a cause to follow and we don’t offer any solutions.
Yet many of your songs sound like a call to arms. “Burn down the malls!” “Kill a cop!”
Stza: It is poetry. It is art. It is free speech. It’s not a textbook. It’s not a law. It’s not a decree. I’m not here espousing lyrics that I expect people to take completely seriously. I don’t expect people to go out and kill cops. But if a day came, per se, where all the poor people in the world were backed up against the wall—where you’re going to die unless you fight back against the police and the government—maybe people will think about some things that we had to say. Or other people that are like-minded to us in what they think about the government and the police will use our lyrics to express themselves. And it might some day in the future, like a hundred years, be a call to arms. And there will be some song (people might not even remember who wrote it, or where the lyric or quote came from) that people might spray paint on the walls in a situation where people actually need to fight the police off, because they are an occupying force in their neighborhood or their town/city/country.
You had a disagreement with the US Bombs over a song they wrote that you found to be homophobic. In an interview you said, “He told me that was meant to be against something else, but a 15 year old kid gets a record he's not going to know what the fuck he's talking about, you know? They're just going to see it for what it is basically, a homophobic song.” Are you concerned about a young kids getting your record and seeing the lyrics for what they just basically are? For example, kids getting the idea that they should quit school and run away.
Stza: I definitely think that the education system needs reform. I think that a lot of people are being taught bull shit, and that school is definitely a training camp for children to accept disappointment in later life, and being able to fit into that cookie-cutter mold where they’re going to be okay with waking up and having a nine to five job and getting paid shit and supporting a corrupt government. If anything, I think that people just fight back against that – maybe have real education instead of false education that the government insists that schools teach. But I’m talking about the stories of my life and my friends’ lives. So it all gets mixed in. There’s not one particular message.
[As for the US Bombs] they had this really homophobic song on their record War Birth. But I’ve already talked about that story. They’re good guys. I think that their singer wrote some fucked up lyrics, and we talked about it, and he tried to explain it to me, but I didn’t really buy it. But it’s old. Let laying dogs rest. I’m not mad at US Bombs. I’m not mad at Duane Peters. Whatever, those people are all right. I don’t think that they meant any harm, but the song was pretty fucked up. It’s called Don’t Need You. Read the lyrics.
Another fellow punk band you’ve disagreed with is the Dead Kennedy’s. You’ve made negative comments about the band and also Jello Biafra, whose label, Alternative Tentacles, you signed to.
Stza: No, I was talking shit on the Dead Kennedy’s without Jello Biafra.
But you attacked the character of Jello Biafra by calling him a cop caller.
Stza: I heard a rumor that he called the cops. I asked him about it, and he said he didn’t. So I think we cleared it up. I think that was a rumor that a lot of people that I knew very well told me that I believed for a while, and I talked to him about it. When we were going to sign to Alternative Tentacles, I asked him about it. It was all over this situation where he got beat up at Kill em in the street, which was kind of a publicized thing. But we cleared it up, because he is against that. He’s against the police, too, and I couldn’t in good conscience sign to Alternative Tentacles if he had done that. So I was glad to clear that up with him.
Jello's a genius and a legend in the political punk scene.
Stza: Yeah, Jello’s a good friend. Jello’s one of my main influences in my political views. When I had heard about him being a cop caller, it really disappointed me, and I had to get to the bottom of it. But he’s not a hypocrite, he’s good people.
In some occasions you have to call the police, for example, if you are robbed, for insurance purposes you have to file a police report.
Stza: I don’t have insurance. And sure, you’re car gets stolen and you got to call the cops, but I’ve never owned a car, so I can’t relate. And I can’t relate to insurance, because I’ve never had it. But if you get robbed, you should just kiss your shit good-bye. What’s so important that’s going to get stolen from you that you can’t get it again?
You’re referring to materialistic attachment?
Stza: People shouldn't put that much importance on material things, but I still get bummed out--I had my passport stolen from me. That was the biggest pain in the ass in my life, but I didn’t file a police report. If your shit gets robbed, you’re not going to get it back – might as well not involve the police. I don’t really need anything to live. Food, obviously, but there’s food in the garbage.
A simple way of life as opposed to greed.
Stza: Just treat people nice. Don’t be money grubbing and greedy; don’t fuck people over. You can make a way of living where you’re not tricking people or fucking them over and you can do well for yourself and your friends.
It's important to love your neighbor and work things out together, to live in peace.
Stza: Yeah, like if you’re neighbor is playing loud music and having a party, talk to him and work it out. Deal with it, don’t call the cops. Realize that they’re just trying to have a good time and they’re not doing anything wrong. You’re just causing friction and giving the cops a chance to go out there and fuck with them. What’s ultimately going to happen is that the cops are going to end up fucking with you. See what happens is that people who are doing illegal shit always are the first ones to call the cops. Then they get busted on their own shit, like fucking idiots. So those guys should call the cops, Fuck ‘em, they should go to jail if they call the cops. It’s like the people that believe in heaven or hell. They’re going to hell, because they believe in it. They’re not going to heaven...nobody’s going to heaven.
Tell us about the Star Fuckin Hipsters.
Stza: Our record’s coming out September thirtieth on Fat. And we’ll be touring. And Leftover Crack will be around trying to go to other countries. We’ll be around. We’ll be in Chicago playing a festival in October and November in Texas. Stuff next year: We’ll be going to Australia maybe and Japan if we can make it.
Tell us the difference between Star Fucking Hipsters and Leftover Crack?
Stza: Star Fucking Hipsters has dual male female vocals. And we have more members. We have Frank DeGeneric (Frank Piegaro)--a great guitar player and song writer, Yula (Beeri) from World Inferno, Nico (de Gaillo) and Ara’s (Ara Babajian) in the band right now, but we’ll probably be touring with a different drummer. Its fun, we’re getting some different stuff out there.
It focuses on different issues?
Stza: Yeah, we’re trying to do something different with the band. Maybe be not so in your face political, but still all the songs in a way are more political. We’re trying a different thing.
Stza: Nah. I got to get to drinking, because it’s almost time to play.
Interview with Stza, frontman of Leftover Crack by Roya Butler