Spy: Vocalist Peter Pawlak Channels His Political Rage Into "Habitual Offender"

(Photo credit: Spencer Chamberlain)

This one’s for the punks.

Bay Area hardcore quintet Spy put out their newest EP, Habitual Offender, on To Live a Lie records last September. This follows their initial release, Service Weapon, which came out in summer 2020. Both EPs are a perfect example of fast, punk-influenced hardcore done right, clocking in at around under 10 minutes each. I’ll admit, this side of the genre is not one I’m always paying attention to, but when I checked them out in anticipation of FYA, I was instantly stoked to see them.

Habitual Offender, like many sophomore releases, takes Spy’s initial sound and makes the tweaks needed to bring it to the next level. Vocalist Peter Pawlak’s voice harnesses more aggression and disgust, the riffs are harder, the tone is crunchier, and drummer Cole Gilbert hits the drums like they owe him money (but anyone keeping up with Bay Area hardcore, such as his other band Scowl, already knows that). While I love a good heavy, slow band just as much as anyone, there’s an importance to keeping hardcore diverse - and the influx of awesome faster bands like Spy is keeping that dream alive.

This interview with Peter is a long time coming. Read on if you’re interested in hearing about Habitual Offender, how Spy went from a side project to what it is now, Peter’s unparalleled love for the Bay Area scene, the importance of political lyrics in hardcore, and more.

(Photo credit: Chrisy Ivette)

AA:  Introduce yourself with your name, what you do in Spy, and a random fact about yourself.

PP: My name is Peter, I do vocals in SPY. Something people may not know about me is that the first language I learned as a child was Polish. I didn’t learn English until I went to school. 

AA: Who played your first hardcore show? What impact did that have on keeping you involved in hardcore?

PP: Back when I was a kid, my local East Bay hardcore scene seemed pretty intertwined with the MySpace deathcore world. The biggest local bands I remember from that time period were Suffokate, Animosity, Antagony, All Shall Perish, etc. Anyways, my first show was at Lucky Pizza in Dublin, California, in December of 2007. I think these local bands called Moria and I Shot The Sheriff played, maybe Lionheart too? Can’t remember the other bands, but I remember being blown away by how packed out this floor show at a little pizza shop got, how there was a long line to even get into the show.  I was pretty hooked on local shows after that. I loved the energy, had never experienced anything like it before, and I was really young, so going to these local shows felt like the absolute coolest thing in the world to be doing at the time. I thought all our local bands were the best bands in the world. Those early experiences absolutely set the stage for my future involvement in playing in bands, and that energy of a packed out local show is still unbeatable to me. 

AA: How did Spy come together as a band?

PP: I started the band in early 2020 as a sort of side project to do for fun - I had just come off a long 6-week tour with another band I play in, World Peace, and was feeling inspired to put together my own band, but in a totally different style. I wrote the 4 tracks that ended up becoming our first release, asked a few friends to join in, and luckily, it all went smoothly from there.

AA: What made you want to be in a band that sounds like Spy?

PP: I just love this style of hardcore punk. It’s my favorite iteration of all the different things that hardcore and punk can be. 

AA: What kind of things inspired you when writing this record?

PP: I always find this question difficult to answer. I’m self-conscious about this coming off as kinda corny, but it really does feel like this band is a product of years and years of various accumulated experiences and different influences, musical and otherwise. I’m kinda old now, been going to shows half my life - there’s just so much over the years that has been influential and inspirational to me. 

AA: A lot of the lyrics for Spy are very political and anti-police in nature - why is it important to you to write about these topics?

PP: It’s what feels most natural to me - I’ve always felt like these themes and punk music go hand in hand together. Spy lyrics are generally just a simplistic expression of my feelings of disappointment, rage and/or disgust, and these political/police sort of themes are the ones that invoke the most frustration in me. 

Album art

AA: What’s your favorite song off Habitual Offender?

PP: This is constantly changing, I think at various points it’s been all of them. Right now… “Afraid of Everything.” 

AA: Spy comes from the Bay Area - a super diverse scene that has been making a lot of noise as of late. How do you personally feel about being a part of it?

PP: Love it! Bay Area #1 baby!!! Seeing so many great bands coming from The Bay, getting nationwide (and even international) recognition? Gotta love it. There’s a sense of overall community pride to it, seeing the place you grew up in being so highly regarded by people from other places. As far as Spy goes, we always get so much love and support whenever we play The Bay - we appreciate that more than anything and we couldn’t be more thankful for it. 

AA: You guys have been playing some insane shows - what are some of your favorite places you’ve played so far?

PP: THE BAY EVERY TIME! Besides that, we loved playing in New York City, both times we played there were incredible shows, shout out NYC! Denver was awesome, Sacramento was amazing, and southern California (LA/Oxnard) treated us really well too! Can’t wait to hit all these places again, not to mention all the new places we’ll be playing this year.

AA: If I’m correct, it looks like the art on both EPs is done by the same person, Cain Cox - what kind of things do the both of you aim to represent with the album art?

PP: You are correct, Cain has done all our album art to this point. Honestly, we’re just having fun with the art. We love Cain’s work, and I think maybe we provided some of the themes or ideas for a few of the drawings, but it’s more tied to the actual name of the band and the imagery evoked by that word than to any of the lyrics. 

AA: If you had to recommend 5 essential hardcore or punk records to someone new to the genre, what would you choose?

PP: This is a tough one, but the classics are what pulled me in when I was a kid. 

-Pick Your King - Poison Idea

-Self-Titled - Bad Brains

-Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables  - Dead Kennedys

-Out of Step - Minor Threat

I’ll throw in Violence Violence by Ceremony as my last one. Having grown up in the Bay Area, that’s been one of my favorite hardcore records for a long time. 

Upcoming tour dates

AA: Any upcoming plans you’d like to talk about?

PP: Much more extensive tour plans than anything we’ve done to this point! Lots to come this year. 

AA: Any last words or shoutouts?

PP: Huge love to anybody who has ever supported this band, y’all give us the motivation we need to keep this band going. 

I appreciate Peter taking the time to do this interview! If you want to keep up with Spy, you can do so at the links below:

Instagram | Bandcamp

Additionally, if you’re in my area, make sure to hit up the first Spy show in Chicago on April 29th! 

They’ll be joined by Gel from New Jersey, Mississippi rockers MSPAINT, as well as our friends in Instill and Hold My Own.

Last but not least - listen to Habitual Offender on Spotify below!


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