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This Zine Sucks Fanzine
I used to trade with Robert Conrad, who did This Zine Sucks fanzine back in the 80’s when I would go to shows at City Garden’s and when I re connected with him on Facebook I asked him for an interview and here it is:
MC: Robert, how crazy it is to connect with you after all these years. What have you been up to the past few years and do you still live in NJ?
RC: Chris, I last lived full time in NJ in 1993. Since graduating from college in December ’92, I have been in the greater Syracuse, NY area. I’ve been married for just about 16 years and the last six have been busy raising our triplets. I’m doing a lot of dad stuff like coaching soccer. More recently I’ve been riding my mountain bike and have recently purchased a road bike. My goal is to ride a 50 mile event later this summer.
MC: Now we are gonna travel back in time. Did you end up growing up as a young boy in NJ and what were you like as a young boy?
RC: I grew up in suburban Trenton (Ewing Township) in the 70s and 80s as an only child.
MC; What kind of person were you in your teenage years and and were you into music much at that that time and if so what were some of the bands you liked?
RC: Music was always on in our house – mostly Philadelphia rock stations like WSYP and MMR so I had a great dose of “classic” rock before it was “classic” rock. Bands like the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Who were in the air, as were Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan and Frank Zappa. One of my early favorites was an 8 Track of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” that we’d play in our ’74 Subaru. I loved the ca-chunk track changes in the middle of the song.
MC: Now how did the underground scene come into your life. I know you were more into the punk scene side of things so tell me how this came about and what were some of the early bands that you got into and became a fan of?
RC: Trenton had a strong “alternative” scene in the 80s thanks to college radio (WTSR and WPRB) as well as the club, City Gardens. I actually started out listening to more metal – early Metallica, Mercyful Fate and Raven. People I grew up with introduced me to WTSR and listening to DJs like Randy Now and Don Rettman who played more punk and post punk than true metal. Early punk favorites were the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Butthole Surfers, the Minutemen and Husker Du.
MC: Now once you got a so called taste of the punk/hardcore scene was it like a drug that you wanted more and more of? How did you go about discovering new bands?
RC: More and more my friends were all getting in to the punk and hardcore scene. We found out about bands mostly from college radio – WTSR and PRB, along with just going to shows and picking up the odd zine here and there (which were hard to find.)
MC: Did you at this time ever go to some local records stores like Vintage Vinyl or Rock Dream Records?
RC: I spent a lot of time in record stores and still do! Early on it was having mom or dad take me to Princeton Record Exchange (back when they were a tiny shop on Nassau Street) and Vintage Vinyl. Later when I and my friends were able to drive we made nearly weekly trips either to Philadelphia (Philly Record Exchange, Chaos, 3rd Street Jazz, Tower) or up Route 1 to New Brunswick (Cheap Thrills, Music in a Different Kitchen) to Vintage Vinyl. Another great place at the time was New Hope and the surrounding area.
MC: What were some of the early shows that you went to and did it all blow you away when the bands play live with that intensity and the crowd going nuts and did you ever go into the pit yourself?
RC: Most any weekend at City Gardens or later on going to shows at Scott Hall in New Brunswick you were blown away by someone.
MC: Did you ever do any tape trading at all? What did you like best vinyl or cassettes or a little of both?
RC: I never did much tape trading. I swapped a few City Gardens board tapes back then but I don’t recall getting anything too exciting in return. I continually received demo tapes in the mail; probably around 150 over the years.
MC: Do you still have any of that stuff you brought way back when and is any of it rare?
RC: I still have a sizable record collection. Most of the demo tapes and boxes of zines were tossed or recycled mostly due to space constraints (and my parents not wanting my stuff in the basement any longer.) I tried to hold on to anything I thought might be valuable someday or held some serious sentimental value and have kept some and sold some. But I just heard from my parents that they unearthed three boxes of zine stuff in their basement. Who knows what’s back in NJ…
MC: How did you end up discovering the world of fanzines? What were some of the early fanzines that you checked out and did you read them from cover to cover? Were they the big zines like Maximum Rock N Roll and Flipside or was it a combo of both?
RC: I first saw Flipside back in 1984 or so during a trip to Boston and coming across Newbury Comics. It was around that time I found out about MRR from my friends at school. I was quickly a subscriber to both. Around 1985 or 86 my schoolmate Jon Levine did his own zine, Faith. If there was a single point of inspiration and encouragement to do my own zine, it was Jon.
MC: What led to you deciding you wanted to do your own fanzine? Looking back it harder or easier than you thought it was gonna be?
RC: I wish I could recall exactly what made me do This Zine Sucks. Again, Jon Levine was a good source of encouragement and DIY attitude. Producing the zine wasn’t very hard and the first few issues looked that way. The first issue was pure text created on a manual typewriter with only the cover having a drawing.
MC: Take me through the steps of what you did to get your 1st issue together. What was it like finally having a printed copy in your hand?
RC: It was so long ago I don’t really remember! For the most part, I just typed some stuff up like reviews and had written very short interview questions to a few bands (who actually send stuff back!) I vaguely recall giving copies out to my friends and conning/begging them to write reviews and draw stuff.
MC: Where did you go to get it copied and how many copies did you print and how did you go about trying to sell it?
RC: My mother copied it on the sly at work – that issue and every issue of TZS. I may have brought a few to City Gardens and other shows to sell but I don’t think I tried to sell many of the first issue. It really was terrible.
MC: What bands were featured in the 1st issue?
RC: Bodies in Panic and Will to Live (two of my early favorite NJ bands), Descendents, Doggy Style and JFA. It was only 12 pages and there were only 100 or so made. It was horrible.
MC: I almost forgot, what was the name of the zine for those who don't know and how did the name of the zine come about?
RC: This Zine Sucks (TZS). I don’t recall how it came about, but it was an accurate description. I remember a few years later interviewing Henry Rollins for the zine and at the end I asked him if he had anything to add. He just said, “Well, does it, you know, suck?” That’s stuck with me for 25 years….
MC: How long from issue # 1 till issue # 2 came out. Did you feel with each issue being released that it became a little easier for ya?\
RC: Only a few months elapsed between the first two issues and I was on a roll doing five issues a year from 1986 to 1989 with each issue running about 200 copies. The final number was 19 and a half issues. After awhile it did become easier to write and assemble each issue, particularly with the help of friends and contributors from all over the world.
MC; Did you at this point begin to get promos and stuff and bands either sending you demos or giving them to shows you went to?
RC: Demos from bands and zine trading came along right away, both at shows and by mail; I didn’t start getting promos from labels until around 1988 or so. Combat/Combat Core was one of the first to send stuff and I wish I held on to some of those records! The Great Plains song “Letter to a Fanzine” is perhaps the most accurate tune ever, at least for a fanzine editor.
MC: Did the circulation go up much with each passing issue and did you start having to put more time and effort in keeping up with the zine?
RC: The number of copies for each issue ware more or less dependent on the time between each issue and how many shows I was attending (and sales at those shows). Most were about 200 copies. I still have back issues in the closet….
MC; What was in each particular issue, just interviews and reviews? Did any labels or bands start to take ads out at all?
RC: Each issue had the usual fanzine stuff – band interviews, record/demo/fanzine reviews, photos from shows, random artwork and poetry. I don’t think I ever received cash for any ads, most were purely on trade. Once a year I did an NJ-only issue (bands and zines) and did a few tape compilations. There was one issue that had a tape comp that came with the zine.
MC: Now I want to talk about City Gardens for a bit. What was the 1st show you saw there? Did you go to many shows there and when I mention the name what goes through your mind?
RC: I started going to shows in 1985 and was there most every weekend (if not more often) between then and 1989/1990. From the last two or so years I was the house DJ for the shows. That time around City Gardens was very special and I have many great memories of the people and bands that played CGs. I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in the right place and time to experience the overall underground scene at that time. It’s something you could not duplicate today.
MC: What were some of the best and worst shows that you saw there? Did you get to know Randy Now at all?
RC: I got to know Randy very well through WTSR and City Gardens. Best show? Might be the first time Gwar played. The infamous Easter night when Black Flag opened for Venom is forever etched on my brain. Perhaps the best single bill was the Descendents, Agent Orange, Volcano Suns, Squirrel Bait and Dag Nasty – five incredible bands at their peak. Some non-hardcore shows were equally as impressive, such as Robyn Hitchcock and Peter Murphy.
MC: Did anybody else write for the zine or did you pretty much do it all yourself?
RC: I strong-armed my friends into writing and drawing for the zine right away. I would “assign” stuff for friends to review and pester them to hit deadlines. And I had to use friends and contributors for the artwork as I can’t draw for crap. Getting unsolicited contributions in the mail kept me going. I did most of the interviews.
MC: How many issues did you end up putting out and do you have a favorite one out of all the issues you put out? Do you still have one copy of every issue and is there any extra copies lying around?
RC: I finished with 19 and a half issues; the “half” was a special issued I made for a mass communications class in community college. I have the “first” copy of each issue (each issue was hand-numbered) and have back issues available for most issues.
MC: Have you ever seen any copies of your zine on Ebay for sale or ever did a Google search about your zine?
RC: I have not Googled it but I do have the zine saved as an Ebay search after stumbling across a listing for one of the cassette tape compilations for auction (which went for about $12, if I recall).
MC: Did you know when you put out your last issue that it was going to be your last issue? How sad were you see it end?
RC: I pretty much knew it was the last one going in; I was transferring to college out of state and didn’t see how I could continue it. I can’t entirely recall how I felt; I was probably sad to see it go but after almost six years a bit burned out as well.
MC: Did you ever get asked or do any writing for any other zines at all?
RC: Not too much. I think I put some stuff together for Eric Szantai’s Stranger zine but that’s about all I remember.
MC: Did you go to NY to see any shows like at The Ritz or CBGB's?
RC: No, being a Trenton guy I got to Philly for shows once I had a car (and knew about them beforehand.)
MC: Did you in the 'scene" much after the demise of the zine at all?
RC: I was going to school near Syracuse around the time their straight edge/youth crew scene started to take off (early 1990s). I went to a few shows but I never really felt part of that “scene” not did I feel much like I fit in with the Trenton scene.
MC; For those who don't know, tell people exactly what a fanzine is.
RC: Historically, a fanzine basically meant a magazine put out by a fan of something, such as music or science fiction. Another term would be ‘self publishing’. Most fanzines were not professional productions but labors of love, using whatever skills you (and your friends) had along with whatever materials you had available (a typewriter, scissors, glue stick and photocopier was how I started.)
MC: Now I know you did some metal stuff. Were you a big fan of thrash and death metal at all? Since your zine was mostly a punk zine, did you get any flack for putting metal in it?
RC: I never got any backlash over covering metal. I was definitely more involved in the punk/hardcore scene but would listen to metal as I came at me. I actually listened to more metal before punk, such as the first Mercyful Fate and Metallica before jumping totally into punk and hardcore. Recently I’ve learned more about the metal tape trading scene of the 1980s, which I wasn’t that aware of at the time.
MC: What was your favorite interview you did and the most disappointing and is there a band or bands that you would have loved to interview, but never had the chance?
RC: Most of the in-person or on the radio interviews went great. My favorite by far was Devo. They were one of my favorite bands from the late 70s/early 80s and when they reformed in the late 1980s I was excited to know they were touring and I arranged for them to be on my Friday evening radio show. Gerry Casale called me from City Gardens after their sound check, but he missed the scheduled time. The DJ behind me let me slide into her time slot to do the interview. I was always amazed at how quickly many bands wrote back; one being the Mentors.
MC: What were some zines that you liked to read and did you start getting large amounts of mail and did you go the pass along flyer thing when you wrote letters?
RC: It took about a year before the mail started to become constant – at least a piece or so per day. It got to the point where I was disappointed when I didn’t get any mail. Most of it was the result of being listed or reviewed in other zines such as MRR and Flipside. Early favorites were mostly local ones, such as Yuck or Faith. Jersey Beat always had good writing and a great mix of music.
MC; Have you ever thought about doing the zine on-line or doing some writing for any web zines?
RC: I’ve thought about it but I don’t have a lot of free time. I just launched a Facebook page for TZS: www.facebook.com/TZSTrenton
. Right now I am scanning and uploading some covers. I have a lot of photos from shows that I want to post but again it’s a time issue more than anything.
MC; What do you think of webzines and do you think back then if what we had now we had back then what we had know the zine could have been bigger and was there any thought of going to newsprint at all?
RC: I looked into other formats of printing but it was always cost prohibitive. Back before the Internet, you were lucky if someone even had a computer and printer let alone software to produce a zine (this was even before the Mac.) Today it seems very easy to start a blog or Facebook page and start rambling about music or whatever.
MC: What are some of your favorite times of this era and what did you think of the crossover scene?
RC: The 1980s hardcore/alternative music scene was very unique. You could not capture the vibe today that I was lucky enough to experience back in Trenton – the people, the bands, the clubs/shows, college radio, etc. It is hard to describe in words what it was like. It was at times very insular and close-knit, bordering on closed. There weren’t any rules or past experiences to compare things to or use as a roadmap. Each show was unique in its own way as were most of the bands and people involved in the scene. Some of the best times were the nights when I had friends over to my house to do paste-up and final artwork for an issue.
MC: Now I re connected with you on Facebook. Have you re-connected with many other people from the old days on there?
RC: I’ve reconnected with dozens and dozens of people from the NJ scene and City Gardens thanks to Facebook. It’s a bit like a high school reunion.
MC: If I am correct, you are not in NJ anymore. Where are you living these days and do still listen to any underground music and go to shows at all?
RC: I live about 15 miles east of Syracuse, NY. I still listen to a lot of music, although I am not sure how much of it would be considered “underground” in the days of file sharing and the Internet. I don’t get to shows as often, perhaps two or three a year. I think the two shows I got to last year was a Converge gig at a club and Wilco outdoors at a brewery which is a good way to sum up my current musical tastes (all over the map.)
MC; I think I have taken you back in time long enough ha ha. Any last words to wrap this up and plug anything you want.
RC: Thanks for the interview – great questions. Sorry it took so long to get back to you. Anyone who wants to connect with me can message me at www.facebook.com/TZSTrenton
. I’ll be adding more stuff to the page over time. Take care, Chris.