The realization that one will never become an astronaut, an influential statesman, or a rock star hits most people in their late twenties. Most shrug off failed ambition and take up hobbies like basketball or child-rearing, whereas Berkeley thrash quintet Look Back and Laugh continues to play superfast, aggressive hardcore music and tour America all summer.
The colors of youthful idealism still shine in the band's music, even as its members range in age from 27 to 34, elderly in the hardcore world. Active for fifteen years in groups like Yaphet Kotto, Dead and Gone, Destroy, and Talk Is Poison, the musicians also lead busy civilian careers. They say Look Back and Laugh won't lead to a massive record deal, but like a good hobby, playing thrash music feeds a passion for the scene that has inspired them throughout their lives.
"The name is a statement about us stubborn old-time lifers who are still living the life," says thirty-year-old guitarist Casey Watson, regarding the moniker his band pinched from a dour Minor Threat song.
"The name is a reflection of our experiences within the punk scene. And the name is a sarcastic poke at all of the people who have moved on and grew up."
But the five people that make up LBAL aren't your average old-timers that take up space at punk shows and bitch about the glory days.
"The band is a hobby for all of us," offers bassist Brian Stern, a graphic designer who works with bands and small businesses through his Bad Skulls company. "There's not going to be any next level shit."
Singer Tobia Minckler and guitarist Watson work day jobs as youth counselors and use the band as a release. Thirty-four-year-old UC Berkeley grad and guitarist Mark Wilcox catapults himself through the air while peeling off finger-shredding riffs when not deeply ensconced in theological studies. And 27-year-old drummer Moses Saarni breaks from oil painting to rivet audiences with the band's pounding rhythms.
Watson and Stern hatched the plan for Look Back ... while they toured Europe as members of Yaphet Kotto and Dead and Gone in 2002. "The goal was to do a hardcore band with no pressure and no expectations," says Watson.
Within a few months of returning to California, the two recruited Saarni and Wilcox to fill things out. Though the music came quickly, finding a vocalist to match the venom of their sinewy instrumentals proved a more significant challenge. Stern's friend Jake Sayles (the former singer for Filth) had just the right person in mind and introduced Minckler.
"For some strange reason Jake thought that I would be a good singer, even though there was no indication of this being a possibility. I think he wanted a pal to talk to about singing or something bonded by laryngitis," says Minckler.
Wasting no time, they released their first self-titled record, tracked at Oakland's Polymorph in 2003. In 2005, they followed it up with a second eponymous album recorded at the same space, and initially issued in a special "locals only" edition as a thank-you to Bay Area fans.
A communal effort with no specific leader, Look Back and Laugh's music conjures everything from the founding sound of DC hardcore to vintage Southern California thrash. Like bands from those seminal scenes, they inject some much-needed fire into hardcore, directing vitriol at everything from the meat industry to the current war hawks circling Capitol Hill.
"It seems like there's an unspoken, universal resolve in our country that things are really fucked and that it's beyond our control so why bother," Stern says. "It's pathetic, and unfortunately it's found its way into music known for reacting with disgust and expressing opposition."
Recorded over a few days at Grizzly Studios in Petaluma with Roger Tschann, the quintet's forthcoming Street Terrorism seven-inch hurls out five songs that magnify that very sense of frustration in just over six minutes. Minckler leads the attack with her ferocious vocals, spitting, snarling, and screaming like a woman possessed, over Watson and Wilcox's compact and complex guitar riffage. Meanwhile, Stern and Saarni hold down the time, providing throbbing rhythms that stop and turn on a dime. No banal power chords and stodgy D-beats drag down the album. More progressive cadence twists and six-string stunners stretch taut into minute-long burners.
The band heads East this month for its first tour there since August of 2005, a two-week Eastern seaboard blitzkrieg running from New York City's ABC No Rio (a communally run former squat space) to Washington, DC's more traditional Warehouse Next Door club, plus some house shows and smaller spaces.
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