By Dave Schwartz
Brooklyn's own Sworn Enemy passed through Hollywood last Valentine's Day in support of their major label debut album, "As Real As It Gets." Even though they were just across town, I caught up with Sal Lococo and Mike Raffinello by phone. The pair were enduring a busy press day and, as Lococo explained, they were also taking a moment to "stuff their faces." We exchanged muffled greetings, words stifled by Lococo's BLT and Raffinello's hamburger. It was obvious that time was just too tight to anticipate having more than 15-20 minutes for the interview, so there didn't seem to be any point wasting time with softball questions to break the ice. There might be time for that later, but for now, I was interested in addressing some of the more poignant questions.
I hope you don't mind, I started, but I would like to jump right into the middle. I explained that in my research, I had found a quote by Lococo from three years earlier. There seemed to be a sudden, apprehensive quiet on the other side of the receiver as I began to read:
"My goal for this band is to get signed to a big label and one day tour all over the world. My goal for our music is to write shit that people will want to kill each other to." Sal Lococo, March 2000.
As I finished the quote, there was an awkward moment of silence and then Lococo started laughing, "Hey, I remember that. I still live by that. I mean, so far we've accomplished some of it. We've got the label, now we need to go all over the world. We're doing pretty well here in the states." Joking he continues, "If we can get people to kill each other all around the world, then that would be great! You know I don't mean literally kill each other, I mean dance hard."
Sworn Enemy began touring in support of "As Real As It Gets" in January. Since then they have made the road their home, touring with a multitude of bands, from Hatebreed to Kitty, and are currently out with Soulfly. Sworn Enemy will take a short break in June before assuming a well-earned spot on the Ozz Fest tour.
Lococo's desire to tour outside the U.S. has begun to come true too. They have made brief detours into Canada and were fortunate enough to secure a couple of shows in Puerto Rico. I asked about the experience.
"That was great. We didn't know what to expect." Lococo explained, "Being who we are, I mean we really aren't a big band. But in the eyes of these kids in Puerto Rico, they made us feel like a huge band. It felt so good to be down there and the kids loved it and they truly appreciated the fact that we came down there to play for them. It was a great feeling, you know? Plus we got two days off! We had a great time touring the island. It was 30 degrees and snowing a blizzard in New York and it was 75-80 degrees down there. What beats that?"
As you might have guessed, this band and this album has some attitude. The songs were written only a few short months after the 9-11 tragedy and the rawness of their emotion is abundantly clear. I asked Lococo and Raffinello which song stylistically best represents Sworn Enemy on the new album, their answer was straight and to the point.
"As Real As It Gets," Lococo replied in a dead-pan voice.
The lyric through the chorus was perhaps most heartrending.
"The sight of you I despise, I'll help you meet your maker and I won't think twice."
There was no point in asking them to wax philosophic about 9-11, their feelings were draped across the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center like a tapestry. When they made this record, they voiced their opinions and there would be no apologies.
All right, I thought, maybe it was time for one of those softball questions. Hobbies, yeah, that's it, I would ask about hobbies. I asked what they did to relax. And that's when I got the rapid-fire answers...
"Sleep all day," Lococo barked.
"I don't get to sleep!" Raffinello objected.
"That's right, Mike doesn't sleep, he has to drive!" Lococo teased.
"Relax? What do we do to relax? We argue!" Raffinello spat.
"Yeah, we argue!" Lococo agreed.
Well, at least they were in agreement about something! But no hobbies, No pets back home?
"We don't have time for anything bro," Lococo said.
Raffinello lamented, "We can't even play video games because our converter broke! So now we have a TV that just sits there. Now it's an armrest!"
So much for the glamorous life! Those who believe that life on the road consists of fancy hotels and nice restaurants would be surprised with the sacrifices that so many of these young bands are forced to endure. Imagine, no Nintendo! It almost seems inhuman! Joking aside, life on the road can be tough and it can be eye opening too. I asked about some of the differences the band has noticed at their shows. Lococo shared his observations.
"From the East Coast to the West Coast there's a little difference in the dancing styles. West Coast is more old school, whereas on the East Coast."
"There are more beatings!" Raffinello interjected.
"Yeah, there is more punching and hitting people." Lococo continued, "It's a beat down style on the East Coast and more of an old school style on the West Coast. You know, we had the greatest compliment about a week ago in McClelland, Texas. There were three or four kids that came up to Mike and I and said, 'You guys had the most insane pit I have seen since Pantera played here in 1994.' I asked him what kind of bands had been playing there and he said, 'I've seen Slipknot here, I've seen Deftones,' this guy was naming off all of these bands. To be honest, it was an amazing show; the pit was sheer insanity. I've never seen anything so crazy. I was so amped up. It was probably the best show on the tour for us. The circle pit was like the whole crowd. It was crazy."
For anyone researching this band on the Internet, one of the common threads through all of the reviews and interviews is the manic pit that forms up for every show. The nightly beatings and the energy exuded have become legendary!
"We do have a lot of energy," Raffinello agreed.
Lococo added, "I have to say that a lot of it has been from the kids. I feed off them, I vibe off them. The crazier they are, the more I'm into it. So I really have to thank the kids for the things they do for us. They make the job so easy."
All right, I should come clean. When I first signed up to do this interview I had some preconceptions. The band is from Brooklyn, names like Raffinello and Lococo enjoy the Italian stereotype and have you heard "As Real As It Gets"? I expected some attitude. But what I took from the interview was confirmed later that night, as I met Lococo when he exited the stage. There is plenty of attitude in this band, but they are also very approachable and love to laugh. In as much as the common thread through this interview was Lococo's vision of a world united and moshing to a common beat or beating as the case may be, there was also a sense of humor.
Sworn Enemy understands what this business is all about. They are out on the road and working hard to bring the energy to every show. Lococo and I chatted briefly as he sold merchandise after the performance. He may be an imposing figure on stage, but with that big smile, he's even more so off the stage! You will see more of this band this summer when Ozz Fest comes to your town.
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