The ’80s and early ’90s marked the inception of numerous seminal New Jersey punk and hardcore bands like Vision, Lifetime, Turning Point and The Bouncing Souls. In 1981, as groups like Black Flag and Bad Brains were defining the genre on opposing coasts, one NJ hardcore band emerged, playing harder, faster… and funnier than arguably any other outfit in the country.
Adrenalin O.D., known for iconic tracks like “Rock & Roll Gas Station” and “Trans Am,” incorporated blazing speed—in an era where the limits of playing fast were constantly being pushed—and a unique brand of irreverent, tongue-in-cheek humor into their songwriting and live performances. Never wanting to take themselves too seriously, AOD provided fans and the scene with a bit of levity to ease the, at times, overbearingly intense nature of hardcore in the ’80s.
Countless major acts from Anthrax and Metallica to Screeching Weasel and Rocket From the Crypt have cited AOD as an influence. Chances are, if you’re a fan of metal, punk or anything in between, AOD has affected some of your favorite groups’ sounds and stylings.
Later this fall, AOD drummer and one of the band’s founding members, Dave Scott Schwartzman, will release his new book, If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Walla Walla: The Wacky History of Adrenalin O.D. (DiWulf Publishing), a funny and illuminating tell-all that chronicles the group’s early days and nearly a decade on the road. Included in the book are loads of never-before-published photos and show flyers (with commentary) that feature some legendary bands like Circle Jerks, Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys and Gang Green.
Following the book’s official release (scheduled for this Halloween), AOD will reunite for the first time in seven years to play two shows, one at the Bowery Electric (NYC) and another at Dingbatz (Clifton) on Nov. 4 and 5, respectively. Schwartzman will also do two book signings on Nov. 6 at Randy Now’s (City Gardens) Mancave in Hightstown, NJ, and John & Peter’s in New Hope, PA—the latter will be supported by live performances from Philadelphia’s Flag of Democracy, Fear Gods (AOD bassist Jack Steeples’ band), and Battalion Zoska.
This week, ahead of the release and reunion, we chatted with Schwartzman about the book, reuniting with his bandmates, the history and impact of Adrenalin O.D. and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What inspired you to write the book, and why did you choose to write it now?
I never thought about writing a book, especially about the band, but there was a website called Metallipromo and it’s run by a fan who was able to meticulously put together flyers and ads; every single show we ever played in chronological order. So it made it really easy to go back and recall all these things. I started posting some of the stuff to my Facebook page and I got a lot of people responding, “You should just turn this into a book.” Next thing I know I’m writing a book. It came out pretty quick; I got a deal with DiWolf publishing almost right off the bat and that was it. I started writing, and it took about a year to do.
You’ve played with some amazing bands at legendary venues, but there were so many shows. When you looked back at all of these flyers, were you drawing any blanks? Did you have to make some phone calls to refresh your memory?
Oh my god, yes. There were a lot of blanks and, you know, I was a straight-edge kid in the AOD days but the other guys were partying their asses off all the time. So their memories are way worse than mine but, there was a lot of stuff, especially from the later days that I didn’t remember at all. I mean, a lot of these shows could have been canceled, too, for all I know. The ones that really stood out, though, going through the flyers on that page, became the crux of the book. I had so many funny stories that were involving those shows and things behind the scenes that people didn’t know about, like the history of the band and stuff. Also, we knew now would be the time to do it because if I didn’t do it, but somebody wanted to later on, they might not have all four of us or five of us around to talk to. So, at least you’re getting a pretty accurate story.
There are a lot of cool pictures in the book, and apart from the flyers or album artwork, are some of these never before seen?
Yeah, well, some were pulled off of the internet. I had saved just about everything I could find and put it into files according to the album era. So, I built a really gigantic file plus my own pictures and friends’ pictures that had never been seen before.
I know you’re based in Florida now; did you do most of the writing down there or did you take any trips up to the tri-state area for some inspiration?
Actually, I did. I had come up to visit my mom and the guys in the band. I was up for a week and I spent every night at a little Irish pub near my mom’s place, banging out the book. So I would say at least half or more of the book was written in New Jersey, which did help spark some memories. I would, like, drive around the place where we did our first show and more things would come back to me from that night, you know? So it was definitely worthwhile going to New Jersey to do this.
It’s been widely documented that AOD has influenced a lot of bands like Screeching Weasel and Jersey groups like the Bouncing Souls or the Ergs!, but I wanted to touch on Adrenalin O.D.’s influences and how they might have changed over time considering how your sound evolved. Who were the big influences for AOD?
Well, we all came out of the first wave of punk so that’s what we listened to when we all met each other. A lot of those bands like The Damned and the Dickies, The Dictators, Plasma, Misfits, those were really our early influences. Then when hardcore started, we were lucky enough to get in on that early part of it. Most of our influences were from the California scene—Black Flag, Circle Jerks, FEAR, bands like that. Then the D.C. scene that was starting out at the time with Teen Idles and the first Minor Threat stuff was very influential. SOA, as well, with Henry singing. We wanted to play that fast, you know? We wanted to be the fastest freaking band who could ever play.
Yeah, speed is one thing that is always mentioned with AOD. In the early ’80s playing faster was sort of a frontier that hadn’t been fully explored yet. Was playing faster and faster always on your mind?
It definitely was. And it was hard in the very beginning because, I mean, I wasn’t a drummer. I pretty much taught myself and I didn’t know what I was doing. I was playing with gigantic snare drum sticks and trying to play really fast. It took time and it took conditioning, but by the Let’s Barbeque (7”, 1983) era, we were pretty fast at that point. [The speed] just came from a lot of practicing and a lot of live shows. The more we played, the tighter we got and the faster we got… and we were playing a lot back then.
Something from the book that definitely caught me off guard was when you mentioned that you didn’t think you had a whole lot of natural rhythm and that starting out all you had was a snare drum to practice on. From there, you then went on to start one of the fastest hardcore bands of an era… that’s a hell of a transition. How long was it before you felt comfortable with your skills and playing live?
That’s the irony. My mom had taken me to get drum lessons in New Jersey when I was a kid, and after two lessons the instructor came out and told my parents, “You might wanna teach him how to play guitar,” because I was so bad. I really struggled with rhythm; it wasn’t something that was in my family genes, and it wasn’t something that came naturally. I started just playing that one hardcore beat as fast as I could play it and then over time that beat got faster and faster. So, I mean, when you listen to something like HumungousFungusAmongus (1986), I’m really going fast on that but still playing the same beat that I taught myself. It’s just gotten to the point where it’s like light-speed; well, I’m no Dave Lombardo, I mean, I’m very limited in my capabilities.
In addition to playing fast, the other thing that goes hand in hand with Adrenalin O.D. is your sense of humor. While a lot of bands have good banter during the live show, you all took it to another level and the humor was a big part of the songwriting as well. While other bands were striving for a tough or serious image, it seemed like Adrenalin O.D. made it a point to never take things too seriously. How did humor become such a big part of your music?
Well, we were just kind of looking to entertain ourselves, to be honest; and we’re all individually funny. When we hang out together, we’re no different than we are on stage, we bust everybody’s balls… it’s a New Jersey thing, I’m pretty sure. We just got really good at it, you know? If anybody in the audience had ever heckled us, we’d lay into ’em, we’d point them out and it’d be like 10 minutes of just ridiculing that person. So that was great and it was always kind of fun. I’d say that we definitely wanted to keep the fun aspect because hardcore had gotten so hard at that point. It was a little too much machismo and violence, people flexing their muscles at shows, and that really wasn’t why any of us got into punk rock in the first place, you know? So, yeah, we wanted to keep it fun and in doing so we found other kindred spirits in other bands, like White Flag on the West Coast.
After reading the book and watching footage of some of your old sets, it seems like the reception for Cruising with Elvis in Bigfoot’s UFO (1988) is a bit mixed compared to previous releases. I understand the desire to hear classics like “Bugs” or “Rock & Roll Gas Station,” but Cruising with Elvis is a great record. Any insight to its reception and has this changed at all over time?
Yeah, I would say that it’s one of my personal favorite albums. I like all the songs on the record, I love the mix on the record. It was the first time we actually sounded good on a recording. I think, for our fans, there was no warning for them that we were slowing down. We had just gone from Wacky Hi-jinks, which was very fast, to HumungousFungusAmongus, which was super fast. I think they were expecting more of that, especially as more of the thrash crowd kind of started coming to our shows, too. But [thrash] wasn’t what we were listening to at that time… we were really listening to a lot of stuff like Buzzcocks and The Stooges. We were kind of going back a little bit and wanted to make something with a little more melody because we were exploring melody in our songs. So, we didn’t necessarily slow down to the point of, “Oh my god, this is ridiculous!” But, uh, it took a lot of the hardcore, speed-junkies a while to deal with it. And then they ended up liking it anyway, you know?
Do you think you’ll mix in a few tracks from that record in the upcoming sets?
It’s a possibility. Keith Hartel (bass) is gonna be joining us for part of the set, so we might do some of those songs. I’ll have to see how rehearsals go.
Considering it’s been seven years since the last reunion show, and the fact that you’ll be playing such fast/intense songs, what’s the preparation been like? And how much do you get to practice with the rest of the guys before that first show?
My preparation started a couple months ago when I had dusted off the drum set, haha. So, as of late, I’ve been trying to practice the drums every day. When I started, I swear, it felt like there was cement on my arms, dude. The first thing I said to myself was, “How the hell am I gonna pull this off?” I really thought, “There’s no way I can do this, I can’t even get through a song.” But, playing every day, I started getting faster and faster and also eating better. I’ve dropped a lot of weight and I still have like three months to go. At this point I can get through the whole set at the same speed as the record, so I’m very happy. It’s tough, though. I had to remind our singer (Paul Richard) the other day to start practicing on guitar and start doing some vocal exercising or he’s gonna be really screwed the day of the show.
What’s the most enjoyable part of Adrenalin O.D. for you now? Is it the continued support from fans and knowing you have this lasting impact? Is it the reunions and seeing old friends?
Yeah, seeing old friends is really good, especially as we get older and a lot of ’em are dropping off. We were really close with a lot of people up there and especially with me living in the Orlando area and Bruce is down here now, too, we don’t get to see those people unless we have a show and that’s only every five years. It’s kind of like getting to see your family again, it’s great. Everybody’s getting a little bit older, a little bit fatter, a little bit balder, but it’s still great to see everybody again. And the fact that people still know the band at all at this point, it boggles my mind; Paul said the same thing. We never thought that we’d have any kind of lasting recognition at all. We thought the band would last a couple months probably, maybe we get to play a club and that’ll be it, so, we had no expectations. It’s been weird, you know? Every so often something interesting will happen and pique the interest again.