American Idols

They won't quit their day jobs, but the members of Kill Your Idols can still set an example of what hardcore's all about

It's 5:30 p.m. on Friday -- quittin' time at Korg USA headquarters in Long Island, N.Y. -- and Gary Bennet has just clocked out. The guitarist and co-founder of hardcore punk quintet Kill Your Idols works full time at the facility along with his boss, KYI bassist Mike DeLorenzo, both of them part of the chain that gets Korg synthesizers and Marshall and Vox amps into the hands of customers across the country. On his cell phone as he ambles through the parking lot and hops into his van, the 31-year-old Bennet wonders if the other guys in his band -- singer Andy West, guitarist Brian Meehan, and drummer Vinnie Value -- have gotten off work as well; between them, the three hold jobs as a school custodian, a deliveryman, and a rock-band T-shirt maker.

While day jobs are nothing new for most up-and-coming musicians, one might assume that for each member of a band like Kill Your Idols, which is fast approaching a decade of existence, the 40-hour-a-week grind represents a burden, an evil, or an ever-present reminder that he hasn't yet "made it," at least by typical rock 'n' roll standards. But, as Bennet explains, to assume that would be dead wrong -- those jobs are precisely what's keeping the group together and true to its firmly held values.

"We decided the best thing to do for Kill Your Idols was to rely on real jobs to make our living, and doing that will never, ever corrupt the band. We'll never change what we do over the pursuit of money or status or anything, we'll never have to compromise or do anything we don't want to do, and this way we'll always enjoy playing music when we do play shows, and, due to all of that, have a loyal fan base in the process. That's the most important thing for all of us."

Because that approach precludes the band from mounting full-scale national tours (employers are only so generous in allotting vacation days, ya know), KYI's April 9 show at 924 Gilman Street marks its first appearance here in quite some time, and, in all likelihood, its last appearance here for quite some time. That wasn't always the case, however; up until about three years ago, the quintet was accustomed to playing the West Coast quite frequently and traveling the entire country pretty much nonstop -- more than 40 lengthy tours in shabby vans, Bennet wagers. While that netted the band a small but die-hard following in the hardcore underground, the guitarist says, KYI finally hit a ceiling in terms of generating new fans and new interest.

"After all that touring, the only place to go was to pursue the upper end of the music industry, ya know, to try to appeal to a wider audience, and that wasn't right for the band or just who we are as people. We despise most avenues of the music industry; it completely goes against all of our ethics."

And as the guys in KYI are aware, most hardcore punk fans have a famously low tolerance for bands that so much as lift a finger toward the mainstream brass ring; they can smell sellouts like sharks smell chum, and when that happens, a band's reputation within the scene is forever shredded.

"There's a possibility we may have been able to profit from going in that direction, but we could have also fallen flat on our faces, and either way we would have alienated a lot of our original supporters," Bennet notes. "I wasn't completely against the idea of trying to make a living with the band, but I was absolutely against the idea of having our fan base turn their backs on us, and so this is the route we've chosen. We don't really make any money from playing shows or selling records, but we love what we do more than ever."

Not that he ever realistically thought there was much money to be made in hardcore. When Bennet and West, who had already cut their teeth in a few New York-area bands, first linked up in 1995, their only goal was to play songs in the vein of their primary heroes -- Minor Threat, Negative Approach, Poison Idea, and Sick of It All -- at friends' parties. At that time, Bennet recalls, they were an anomaly in Long Island; most of the local bands were more interested in post-hardcore, emo, or "crazy screamy metal," and after KYI grew to a quintet (featuring a rhythm section different from today's lineup) and started playing some shows, it got its share of detractors claiming it was just ripping off those aforementioned bands.

"We didn't start it to make any big artistic statements, we just wanted to fuckin' play hardcore," Bennet laughs. "And the only real expectations or hopes or whatever you wanna call 'em that we had were, like, 'Imagine if we could go play shows with this band or that band,' or 'Imagine if someone actually moshes when we play!'"

Both of those things happened in pretty short order, and nearly 10 years later Kill Your Idols can boast a healthy stack of 7-inches, full-length albums, and compilation appearances; concerts in more than 14 countries; and the opportunity to share stages (and friendships) with Sick of It All, 7 Seconds, Agnostic Front, and Slayer, among many other idols it prefers to worship rather than kill.

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