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A Talk with MikeUnion Jeffers on the Resurrection of Despair, Union and Playing with Integrity

(EDITOR’S NOTE — On Dec. 30, a sold-out hardcore blowout will go down at the Rec Room featuring Despair and Union, each of whom will be reuniting for the first time in more than 25 years. They will share the stage with hardcore band, Integrity (Relapse Records). The show was the brainchild of Buffalo hardcore legend Scott Vogel — founding member of Terror, Bad Blood, and former member of Despair, Slugfest, Buried Alive and World Be Free. Scott broached the idea to MikeUnion Jeffers, a Buffalo hardcore drummer and institution unto himself, whose bands besides Union include Juggernaut, GOA, Wrong the Oppressor, Herod, Longest War, Dead to the World, Face the Panic, and Area Denial. Recently, Mike was generous enough to sit down and speak at length with 1120 Press about the upcoming Rec Room show and reuniting with the band that was spawned during his days as a college student in Buffalo during the mid-90s. Other members of Union include Vic Lazar (guitar), Ben Kumpf (Bass), Rob Antonucci (guitar), Scott Sprigg (guitar), and Keith Brown (vocals). Please read our interview with Mike below.)

 

1120 PRESS: Thank you for speaking with us. So, the Dec. 30 show at the Rec Room — Despair and Union are both reuniting after 25 years. It’s kind of wild and the response to this show with Integrity — which also features Holdout, Smash N’ Grab and Selfish Act – has been amazing. How did this all come about?  

 

MIKEUNION JEFFERS: It was all Scott Vogel. Back 25 or 30 years ago, Despair and Union would always play shows together and tour together. We went to college together. Even after the bands had broken up, Matt and Bryan from Despair played in a band with me and Rob from Union and Chris from Chokehold, and we’d always cross paths with Scott whether it was going to see Terror, or my old band, Face the Panic, with his brother, Jay.

 

We toured with Terror back in 2008. We’ve always been in close contact with one another, but it never came up about the possibility of doing some sort of reunion. Over the summer, Scott brought it up to me when Juggernaut played with Hoods and asked if I’d be interested. And I wasn’t.

 

1120: Why?

 

MJ: Well, because that was 25/30 years ago. I never stopped playing in bands. I’m always just pushing forward.

 

But for like a month, or month-and-a-half, I thought about it and then I told Scott, ‘You know; I’ll do it.’ And he said, ‘Good, because it’s not about you.’

 

And you know, he was right. It’s not. There’s a lot of people who want to see it. And Integrity was a band we toured with all the time, and we’re friends with and it just sort of made sense to do it now because all of us are hitting that 50-year-old mark and who knows if we waited any longer if all of us would still be around? Not to sound morbid, but... One thing with COVID, a lot of friends of ours just started dropping.

 

The hardest part to this was people have moved all over the place…. So, logistically, it’s a pain in the ass, but when are we going to be in a situation again where we all agree to do this, and with Integrity (on the bill, too)?


So, it’s like a perfect snapshot of not just the Buffalo hardcore scene in 1995, but the

Northeast and Midwest hardcore scene at that time. Chris Ring (of the Rec Room) is our buddy. He wants to do it at his venue, and we’ve always been the type of bands where we record with our friends, we have friends do artwork for our records, and we want to play a club that is owned by our friend and who understands what this is all about and knows how to run the show properly.

 

1120: So, the time was right to do this, but was there an overarching reason to want to do this kind of show?

 

MJ: Hardcore in the mid-90s wasn’t as big as it is today and there are so many bands now. If kids want to know the history of this town, and why they have a scene, and why it’s still here — that’s not easy to find.

 

Scott’s definitely into the history of Buffalo hardcore, and all of us, I think, feel Buffalo hardcore never got a shot the way bigger cities did. So, I think it’s just a way to let these younger kids know that ‘Hey man, this scene was great and you’re making it great again. Let’s let the world know about the history of this place, and the younger generation and older generation can co-exist and play together.’

 

I’m a history teacher by trade and I’ve always enjoyed the history of Buffalo hardcore because I didn’t grow up here… I like finding out about all these bands that we’re around.

 

1120: What do you make of the response? This show has sold out.

 

MJ: I never expected it. I never expect anything positive at all. Buffalo is one of those places where on a Tuesday night at the Tudor Lounge you can have five people, and then on Tuesday night a week later there could be 400 people. You go to a straightedge show and there’s 20 kids, and then a week later there’s hundreds of kids. You just never know, and I never want to get my hopes up. But, yeah, it’s pretty cool.

 

Nineties hardcore is popular again. There’s a lot of young bands too. Magnitude was just here, and they sound like a mid-90s hardcore band. Selfish Act sounds like a mid-90s hardcore band. I think people are appreciating it more than they did 10 years ago, which is cool.

 

1120: How were the younger bands picked for the bill?

 

MJ: Well, Smash-n-Grab, the kids in that band do a lot for the scene. They book a lot of shows, they play in other bands, they run fanzines.

 

Selfish Act, Griffin (guitar) also plays in GOA with me. His parents are friends of mine and I’ve known him since he was born. And Selfish Act as a whole, those guys are at every single show in Buffalo, and they mosh for every show:  they are the Mobile Mosh Unit.

 

And then Holdout is because of Mark Miller, who went to college with us and has toured with us. He’s one of my best buddies in Buffalo and he’s taken photos of all of us. It makes sense to have him and Holdout there. They’re a great band.

 

The bill also represents the hardcore spectrum here, age wise, and a good cross section of what Buffalo hardcore history has had to offer.

 

1120: Let’s talk about Union. The show gets planned — how receptive were the other members to do this and have there been any challenges as far as reuniting goes? When’s the last time you played together?

 

MJ: 1997 (Laughs). I just put a message to all the guys saying: ‘We got offered this show. I want to do it. It’s the right situation, right bands, right time and I don’t know if we’re all going to be around to do it in the future. This is maybe a one-time opportunity to do this the right way.’ And everybody was very receptive to do it, which I actually didn’t expect.


1120: Have you all been in a room together yet?

 

MJ: No. Rob and I practiced together first. Then, the other day, Rob, me and Scott practiced together. The other guys, after Christmas, will fly in and we’ll practice as a full band. But we still all talk. We’re still cool with one another. So it wasn’t like, ‘Hey man, I haven’t talked to you in 20 years.’ Instead, it’s like, ‘Hey, haven’t talked to you in a few weeks.’

 

1120: Because there’s some distance between some of you, are you sharing files? How is it working in terms of making sure everyone is working on these songs you haven’t played in 25 years?


MJ: No, we just made a setlist and everybody is on their own. Me and Rob and Scott, no problem. We come down here once a week and practice. Vic is a machine and he’ll have everything down. Ben has been practicing and Keith too. Everyone is putting a lot of work into it.

 

You go and you try to play songs you haven’t played in 27 years, and it’s like, ‘Oh man, I don’t have the muscle memory for that. I know how the song goes in my head, but I haven’t done it.’ It’s a lot harder than I thought.

 

1120: Which brings us to the next question: How have the rehearsals been going? What’s it been like being in the same room together playing after all these years?

 

MJ: When Scott got down here, me, Scott and Rob hadn’t played together in 27 years. I mean, we hang out. Scott’s kid and my kid are in the same class at school, we see each other all the time. But it was cool to look over and see this guy whose first band was Union. And now, being better musicians than we used to be, trying to play music that we wrote when we weren’t as good of musicians, it’s been cool.

 

1120: Certainly, back in 1997 none of you ever imagined playing together again 25 or 30 years later. What’s it going to be like when the entire band is finally in the same room together?

 

MJ: I think because we all have kept in contact with each other we haven’t really thought about it. But it’s going to be weird when everybody is in here. I haven’t seen Ben in 25 years in person. It will be interesting to see how much we’ve all changed once we are all here standing next to each other. So, everybody together, it’s going to be strange.

 

We were young men when we were playing together. Our plan was to never… well, actually, we didn’t even have a plan. It was: Let’s just fucking play songs, go out and do as much as possible and see where it takes us. But even back in college, I don’t think people would have expected us to be where we are in life and still doing what we’re doing. That’s pretty cool. I take a lot of satisfaction in that.

 

1120: You said to us a little while ago when we discussed this reunion previously that you were going to have to ‘teach yourself to play badly again.’ What did you mean by that?

 

MJ: (laughs) When you’re younger, you don’t have the experience, and so you tend to make things a lot harder on yourself than it has to be. So, playing the drums: I would set the toms too far apart, for instance, or the cymbals at the wrong height and the wrong angles, which actually makes it harder to play. And because I did that, I came up with more inventive stuff, I think, than I would maybe right now. Now I know how to set everything up where I’m not having to move around so much. But back then, I was playing beyond my ability. You have to go back and put yourself in that mindset. It’s a lot harder than it would seem.


1120: So then are you guys changing the songs, improving them to make up for that inexperience back then?

 

MJ: No. And I’ll give you an example why: Quiet Riot, in maybe 2003, played this dive bar in Cheektowaga. It was the ‘Metal Health’ lineup of the band, the lineup you wanted to see. And (drummer) Frank Banali had gone from playing Phil Rudd drumbeats (ACDC) to using all this double bass like he was Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater). It ruined the songs. Kevin DuBrow (Quiet Riot’s late singer) had no hair in 1983, and then in 2003, he had more hair than Snuffleupagus. Something was up. I don’t want to do that.

 

I want to keep the same tuning. The same tempos. I think we all want to stay true to what the sound was. You want to bring people back to the way the music was. I think we’re going to strive and do a good job at recapturing that sound and that feeling from that era. I think it’s going to be pretty fucking awesome.

 

1120: Thank you for speaking with us. Is there anything else you want to add that we haven’t touched on?

 

MJ: Just thanks to Scott Vogel. Him moving back to Buffalo really primed the pumps. He’s the factor; he was able to bring together the old and young guys and I’m thankful to him because he’s done a lot to help every band I’ve ever been in over the years. And I’m just excited that we can do this with these exact bands playing now, because like I said, in all honesty: If we didn’t do it now, I don’t know if we’d ever be able to in the future. So, why not now?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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