Interview: Facewreck's AJ P. Worrell on the Process of Opening His Store, Perserving Hardcore

AA: Introduce yourself to the readers with your name and what you do.

AW: My name is AJ, I’ve been in a few bands that you may or may not have heard, but currently I do vocals for Facewreck out of Pittsburgh, PA & I’ve recently opened a record store and hardcore museum, which I believe is the first of its kind.

AA: This is a question I typically only ask in band interviews, but with your wealth of hardcore knowledge, I feel like your answer would be really interesting. Who played your first hardcore show? What impact did that have on keeping you involved in hardcore?

AW: So… The first show I ever saw a hardcore band at was technically by accident. It was Misfits, Gwar, Speedealer, and Murphy’s Law was the opening band, so technically I guess that’s my first hardcore band and also first show, but at the time I thought it was punk rock, you know? The first show that I, I guess, noticed a difference, was seeing Hatebreed open for Danzig. That show was actually Danzig, Six Feet Under, Hatebreed, and Disturbed was below Hatebreed, and they actually got booed off this stage. Which, to this day - I work in the concert industry as well - and that is the only band to this day that I saw get booed off the stage. It was pretty wild.

My point being, the drastic difference between seeing the singer of Disturbed get wheeled out on like a cart like Hannibal Lecter, and he had his stage crew wheel him out, and he has a strait jacket and a face mask and it was perfectly timed for when he would get on stage and say “ooh ah ah ah,” then get booed off the stage, then Hatebreed coming out and, obviously, they were touring off Satisfaction at the time, and just coming out and just destroying it… I went out into the pit, and got punched in the face within like 10 seconds. I was 14 or whatever. Instantly, that makes you take a  step back and go, “I think something different’s going on here.” I’m sure it’s hard to fathom, but, I don‘t know - how old are you?

AA: I’m 22.

AW: So, yeah, pretty hard for you to fathom not having info at your fingertips. I didn’t even know who Hatebreed was. I had some people be like, “Oh, man you better watch this Hatebreed band, they’re pretty good,” but that was all I knew. So I guess getting punched in the face is maybe what kept me here all these years. It was just obviously a very different vibe. I was going to bigger punk and metal shows at the time, Misfits, Danzig, Anthrax, Linkin Park before they were Linkin Park, so Hatebreed was like, “Oh, shit, this is something real.”

AA: Yeah. I think most of us have that moment when we first go to a show and we don’t realize how a pit works, and we’re like, “Sure, let’s walk into this!” and how well you survive getting hit for the first time is a pretty good indicator of if you'll come back. [laughs]

AW: Yeah, that's why I typically don't have much sympathy for the guy who wants to go out and ends up getting in a fight because, I don’t know man, I was 14 or 15, and it took 10 seconds to figure out something different [was] going on and that I’d better take a step back and figure out what is different. I don’t know, if I figured it out, you motherfuckers are adults and have the internet. Just, like, ask Google: “Why did I get punched in the face?”

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AA: Preserving Hardcore hasn’t always been a physical business - you’ve been collecting and selling via an online distro for quite some time. Can you explain the history a little?

AW: So, not to insult anyone’s intelligence, but a distro is sort of a lost art form of basically helping to distribute bands or labels you like, because at the time that was the option. There was no internet to order from. There was, but it was very primitive obviously. I think in 1999 there was mail order catalogs, but online there was like, nothing. So you’d take your box of CDs and set up at a show - that was where I got almost all of my collection. There were some record stores I’d go to around town obviously. Even though they were on Victory Records, which, at the time, was easily the biggest, probably the only label you had a chance of finding in stores for the most part - you couldn't even find a Hatebreed or Earth Crisis CD most of the time. So going to shows and people having distros set up was really our best way. I started one in maybe 2001 to fund my own CD buying addiction. Back then, before streaming, music sales were much better, So I wasn’t making a living off of it, but I could get the amount of music I wanted for myself. I did that pretty seriously for 4-5 years, until maybe 2007 or 2008, I forgot what percentage it was, but a very drastic amount of record stores in America closed. Music sales in general started their downward spiral. It definitely took a hobby position at that point, I wasn’t setting up at shows as much. I kind of had to because there wasn’t really any income to be had.

So I started doing a blog called Path of Misery, which is the band I was in at the time, and that was when there was - it only lasted a few years before it got shut down - a big .mp3 trading circle going on. There was probably 20-30 blogs every day posting updates of super obscure demos. Some of them were leaking new albums, which was never my interest. I didn’t want to take money out of the bands’ pockets from the small amount of money they were making off of music sales. That scene kinda died out unfortunately with Google shutting it all down for piracy reasons, so at that point I started digitizing all of my old show videos. Now that it’s all done, I think there’s like 1,200 individual sets on my page, which I didn't even know I had that many at the time.

That started taking off, and then... You know, it became more of an online thing. I started building, like… A worldwide following, I guess, and at that point, I started to open up an online store, quickly grew out of the space I allocated in my basement, and decided to open up a storefront. Opening up a record store in 2019 is kind of a bad idea, but I enjoy challenges & hopefully had enough foresight to realize I had to do some things on top of it being a record store, which is why I have a venue and a museum in there.

AA: How did you come up with the vision for a physical business?

AW: My wife and I just bought a house the year prior. I allocated this certain set amount of space to myself and outgrew it in a year, so that was when I realized if I was really going to go full time with this, I needed to move into something more serious. Which I did, and it would've been much cheaper for me to just rent some office space or work out of a storage space, but I wanted to create something that hopefully others can enjoy that is also enjoyable for myself. No discredit to any other record stores, I just went to some of the best record stores in America, but there's not many good record stores left.  I wanted to give people the opportunity to experience record shopping. I use that term, but I sell records, CDs, tapes, everything. I wanted to create a space where people could not only come and give me money, but I’m only 3 weeks in and already seeing it becoming an umbrella that all these different types of events can fall under.

It's kind of a place... I don't wanna say a community because it’s still in a formative stage, but people have been meeting each other and I've been meeting people that have lived 5 miles from me and we never knew each other, even though we've been going to the same shows for 20 years. Stuff like that has been very fulfilling. With the museum, I’m hoping to create more of an appreciation. I think most hardcore kids these days got into things through System of a Down or Korn or whatever, which is perfectly fine, it's no different from people my age getting in through Danzig, Misfits, Pantera, Slayer. It leaves a big gap between the true roots of hardcore, which is what I go in depth on in my museum, but mainstream metal has been how most [newer] people have got into hardcore.

AA: I do feel like sometimes when people talk about the history of bands starting, it usually comes back to the mainstream non-hardcore artists that inspired them. I feel like the museum will help remind folks of the roots of hardcore instead of saying, “well, this band wanted to sound like Slipknot, but kinda different.” [laughs]

AW: Yeah! And you certainly can’t blame people, that’s the most successful stuff. I can’t name you too many people whose first show was, who knows, 100 Demons. There’s nothing wrong with it, but I do want to create a deeper appreciation and understanding for the bands that truly did pave the way for everything we all enjoy these days.

AA: Do you feel like with the current climate of hardcore we’re creating bands that have the staying power to create history?

AW: It’s hard to say. Bands these days are more musically proficient than, possibly, I don’t want to say ever, because some of those first wave mid-90s metalcore bands were truly pioneers. But I should say - the professionalism aspect is at an all time high. So in that sense, there’s a higher chance of bands having an impact. Code Orange is already obviously established as a legacy band at this point. So you know, you’ll certainly have some other bands follow in those footsteps.

To be honest, I love most of the modern bands. I'm more excited about the current batch of bands than I have been in probably ten years. So while I’m personally excited about it, I question if they’re going to cause people to have a lifelong affinity towards them, or if they’re going to cause change in people’s lives. Because while all of the music is the best it’s been in at least a decade in my opinion, it’s bands like Earth Crisis that would inspire people to do anything from open a vegan restaurant, animal shelter, sanctuary, anything. The fans with that level of conviction from the past is what inspires people to change their entire lives. I just wonder if that is ever going to be replicated, essentially.

AA: One of the most intriguing parts to the business, in my opinion, is the idea of a hardcore museum. What is the coolest thing you’ve been offered for the museum so far?

AW: Ironically, I’ve been offered a lot of things, and the percentage of people that follow through is very low. [laughs] I think in time, once people see the legitimacy of it, they may be more inclined to sell, lend, or give me stuff. I mean, five minutes after I opened the doors, the vocalist of Built Upon Frustration, one of the bands that got me into this, gave me his 1 of 1 Built Upon Frustration hockey jersey. Stuff like that makes me feel very validated in the fact that I have more square footage dedicated to the museum than the store and venue. Probably poor business acumen since I don’t monetize the museum at all. [laughs]

But you know, as with most things, people can be - not lazy, but kind of unorganized, and [they] don’t understand the urgency of getting me this stuff. I think in time, as people remember to go to the post office or actually make it out to the shop, there’s gonna be a lot of cool stuff in there. The general consensus has been that it’s pretty great. I felt very validated when Leeway came in - they were the first band I’ve featured in the museum that came to see it themselves, and they thought it was pretty great. Eddie said he’s really gonna throw his weight behind it and spread the word to his generation and region. I think once more of those situations play out, you're gonna see more of that, because a lot of people are in a position where they wanna share their memorabilia or own belongings. They don't want it to sit under their beds in a box anymore - they want people to appreciate it.

AA: That’s always been one of the craziest - and coolest - parts of hardcore to me. Hardcore is, in theory, a blue collar genre, we’re all regular people for the most part, but a lot of us own super high-value things that end up sitting in our parents’ garage or something. With the museum, there’s more of a chance people are going to see something, realize it exists, and get enjoyment from it.

AW: Yeah! My YouTube channel was very motivational and representative of, you know, realizing items have more meaning when they’re shared with everyone. My initial reasoning for doing that is because I had 1200 shows worth of VHS tapes taking up space, and I needed to make room for all my records and CDs. [laughs] I digitized them for myself initially and put them up so I could have easy access to them. I never once promoted the channel, it just took off on its own, but seeing how many comments I get of people saying they’ve been waiting to see a certain show or how many bands they discover from the channel is pretty cool. I remember a guy from the band Mean Season told me they’d been looking for a show from 20 years ago. That serves more purpose than hoarding it in my house. I’ve found in other genres, people take some sort of pride in not sharing anything and keeping it very exclusive. That's very strange to me. I don't see the purpose other than bragging that you have the most rare… Surf rock recording of all time. [laughs]

AA: How do you feel that others are doing as far as actually preserving hardcore, i.e. respecting it and not letting it fade away?

AW: I fully understand people are always gonna be partial towards the band and style of music they first got into. To be totally honest, I have relatively minimal interest in the mid-to-late-70’s punk rock that is hardcore, but a generation earlier. I’m sure you can find some 50-year-old guy complaining about the fact that I don’t really care about  that. I respect it, but it’s not musically what I’m really interested in. I dont think theres any style of music anyone is obligated to enjoy or anything like that. I do think there is somewhat of an obligation to respect the actual people and the bands who created the framework for the scene and community that still exists 40 years later.

As far as other people preserving it, other people do their part, such as with fests - This is Hardcore is doing an anniversary with Agnostic Front this year - but I don't know if there is maybe enough interest being shown my younger generations. It's hard to answer this question without naming bands I don't personally enjoy because I don't wanna be disrespectful, but even if I’m not personally interested in a band, if I know they helped create the network and platform for the bands I do enjoy, I stay when they play. I don’t try to dictate anyone’s musical taste, but I do think there needs to be a more concerted effort towards paying respect, as cliche as that sounds.

AA: That reminded me of an interesting point I saw you make recently. You made a Facebook status asking why people don’t end up staying from beginning to end for a fest and some reasons why. I never really heard someone mention that old bands also could stand to give respect for newer bands and watching their sets. Do you feel like that could be a reason for the disconnect in respect?

AW: It’s a possibility. It’s all personal interpretation. The common saying is “show respect to those who show it to you,” but, well, someone has to go first. I’m 30 years old. I’m in between the first generation and the kids of today. I’ve got one foot in both worlds and see both points of view. If someone really looks at it, I wasn’t weighing in one way or the other, I was pointing out - “Hey, there’s an issue, and we better all figure it out, or it's just gonna get bad.” I see both sides, and obviously it’s easy to point the finger and say, “hey, everyone leaves early and it’s really messed up.” I just always make a point to be there beginning to end. I think that’s something that’s personal preference, but whose duty is it to show respect first? I am a bit old school in the mentality that I think the guys who’ve been around 40 years should maybe be shown respect first, and, hopefully, they show it back, but I have seen younger bands never get respect shown back to them when  they do extend the hand first. It does get frustrating.

AA: If someone walked into your store having never heard hardcore before, what are 5-10 essential records you’d tell them to listen to?

AW: Definitely a loaded question, and I know I’m going to want to revise my answer as soon as I say it, but -

1. I gotta give ‘em at least one Agnostic Front album. Take your choice, they’re all essential for me. We’ll go with Victim in Pain.
2. I’ve been on a huge Minor Threat kick, so we’ll give them the discography CD.
3. Satisfaction is the Death of Desire by Hatebreed.
4. Master Killer by Merauder to convey the metallic side of things.
5. If I had to represent the political side of things, I’d give them Destroy the Machine by Earth Crisis.

Before I list off 50 albums, I’ll stop myself there.

AA: What is your favorite thing about the current state of hardcore? What about your least favorite?

AW: I like that the bands are heavy. Even if, admittedly, I could sit  there and tell you where they got all their riffs from, I'm just glad people are playing heavy music, because that wasn't the case for a while. Locally, in Pittsburgh, bands were always heavy, but there was a good decade where that wasn’t really happening in most places. That’s why it’s great to see Year of the Knife on Pure Noise, Knocked Loose as possibly the biggest band in hardcore, you know. That’s my favorite thing.

It’s hard to say a least favorite thing, because I’ve been enjoying everything right now. I think maybe the only thing would be - I don’t want to say everything being corporatized, because a lot of ground level things are still going on, but… seeing bands get agents that make their friends sign contracts to pay them $100 for a house show is strange. I fully understand the necessity in some cases and have worked in the concert industry for the past decade. I get it. But I still believe one of the  paramount aspects of hardcore is doing it yourself. And trust me, it’s not fun all the time, it's not easy all the time. I just booked an 8-day tour for Facewreck that we just went live with, and that’s peanuts compared to these bands who are there 6 to 8 months a year. I fully understand its almost impossible for them not to [have agents].

While I don’t have an issue with it on the whole, I just hate how common it’s becoming and how reliant bands are becoming on it. In my opinion, one of the things that sets hardcore apart from everything else is the ability to do things yourself. I can't tell you how many bands would come through when I was working in the concert industry [where] if they had a falling out with their tour manager and he left them in the middle of the tour, the band would fall apart. They literally wouldn’t know how to show up to a venue and unload their equipment. I just want to make sure hardcore stays far and distant from reliance on that business model.

AA: As a person who’s been in a ton of bands over the years, what motivated you to start Facewreck?

AW: For the past 12 years, I’ve been doing a band called Path of Misery, which was very… Intensely…. Some people would call negative, I would call it realistic, but regardless, it’s not a band that invoked the slightest bit of fun. To give ourselves some credit, we were ahead of the curve by about a decade as far as tackling social issues and injustices of the world, whereas now… I don’t want to say that’s overplayed because it’s always good to hear people being upset about things and being vocal about it, but I feel like everyone’s got that aspect covered now.

Whereas, somewhere I felt there was a lack of attention towards was people actually being able to enjoy themselves. Because, as we all know, with heavy hardcore, there’s typically a lot of posturing and bad attitudes and everything that comes along with beatdown hardcore and tough shit in general. So, you know, I’ve seen enough actual scary things within that realm of hardcore that I realized the music spoke to a lot of people, but the lifestyle did not, and a lot of people can’t hang with the violence that comes with a lot of those shows.  To be honest, I’m reaching a point where I probably can’t, but that always has and always will be my favorite style of hardcore.

We just wanted to do the (in my opinion) best form of hardcore, with a bit more of a light heart. Some people call it a “joke band,” which is actually the furthest thing from the case. I’ve put way too much time and money into this for it to be a joke. I just think we have fun with something that is too often, maybe, I don’t want to be taken too seriously, but imitated poorly.

AA: What’s up next for Facewreck?

AW: We’re going on our first tour. We’ve mostly been designated as a weekend band due to everyone’s life schedules, but we’ve been a band for one year now. We have a new EP coming out, we got put on This is Hardcore which is pretty much the make-or-break moment for anyone in this scene and what everyone should strive for. I I felt like that warranted getting off our asses despite me having this store, which I’ll probably close the week or two we’re gone. We’ve paid our dues in the East Coast, but this is pretty much the South and Midwest where I feel like we need to earn our place in. That’s pretty much what it’s about. I also plan on doing some record shopping in between. There’s also gonna be a music video - you know, the whole nine yards.

AA: I’m excited to hear that because bands don’t do enough music videos! I really love that “Guerilla Warfare”  has a video because… It’s a song about moshing. And that’s great. I remember the first time I heard someone mention moshing at a show out loud, everyone sort of acted like, “You don’t talk about moshing, that’s so cringy!” But why? It’s a huge part of what we’re doing here, so... [laughs]

AW: When we wrote that musically, I knew it’d be our single, per se, but I was still wondering where to go with it lyrically. After some thinking, I realized every other genre has songs encouraging people to dance. You know, all the early 90’s club dance stuff - that’s what all of it was about. So I kind of figured, why not hardcore?

I can’t give any spoilers, but the new video, though similar, I see blowing “Guerilla Warfare” out of the water.

Once more, I’d like to thank AJ for his time, as well as one of the most interesting interviews I’ve done.

For the Midwest - you can catch Facewreck in Gary, IN with Tears of Blood, No Reason To Live, and Heavens Die. Click here for an event page!

Check out the band and shop on social media by following the links below:

Preserving Hardcore: Instagram | Official website

Last but not least - if you have anything to contribute to the hardcore museum, I highly encourage you to contact AJ via the form on the website. This is a really cool thing he's got going. Anything that helps carry the legacy of this genre that we as a community value so much is worth sharing with others.


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