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.
"And I hate to say this, 'cause I don't wanna sound like some stuck-up asshole," says Bennet, "but I think my band in some ways has had a pretty good impact on hardcore, and I'm very proud of that. I don't want a big pat on the back, but a lot of times there's articles about the old-school resurgence and there's not one mention of us and it bums me out a little bit, I'll be honest. But I know somewhere there's someone who bought one of our records or came to one of our shows and thought, 'Wow, these guys are playing hardcore,' and that means everything to me."
Ironically enough, Kill Your Idols is semi-shutting things down at the same time it has released its finest, most satisfying, best-produced (but not slick-sounding) album to date, From Companionship to Competition. Tearing through 15 tracks in 28 minutes, the quintet plays hardcore as no-frills as a white aluminum can bearing only the word "Beer" in bold black letters, gleefully emulating the spat-and-shouted vocals, thrash-crunch guitars, and jackhammer-to-eardrums rhythms of its classic forebears. Lyrically, the songs lean heavily toward the personal (Bennet laughs that they're, "for lack of a better word, emo," because one of West's favorite bands is Jawbreaker) instead of espousing the band's liberal sociopolitical views, and in swerving between laments over broken relationships, admissions of self-hatred, and the occasional rant against phonies and posers, KYI offers as much potential for catharsis in its words as in its aggressive, dust-cloud-generating riffs.
"Even though there's a lot of angst and anger surrounding hardcore, it always manages to turn your vibe into something positive," says Bennet. "It's like, you're pissed off 'cause some jock stole your bicycle or whatever, you're tired of getting fucked with, and you go home and you put on Black Flag and it's like, 'This guy is just as pissed off as I am about the same shit,' and that makes you feel good. And then it actually gets you to a point where you grow confidence knowing there's more people like you out there, and then you don't take any shit from people anymore.
"Hopefully you don't just become an asshole, though," he continues with a laugh. "Unfortunately there are a lot of lunkheads in the hardcore scene -- they just become the people they hate -- and I can't stand that kung fu side-kicking thing and the whole intimidation factor. It's spread all over the world to where there's always a bunch of dudes who work out a lot and wear basketball jerseys and go into the pit to hurt people, and they think that's a cool way to let out their inner frustrations. But they're not doing anything positive, and that pisses me off."
Still, Bennet says, for as much as he loves Minor Threat and 7 Seconds -- two bands notorious for halting shows numerous times for anti-moshing tirades -- his band is hesitant to come off like overly preachy fun-killers.
"I don't wanna be the 'pit police,' because sometimes the kids are going crazy and it looks more fucked up than it is, but if there's some dick making problems for everybody then we'll stop and say something, usually with humor, to defuse the situation. I mean, I don't wanna get my ass kicked, but I guess you gotta do something to get the wannabe pit bosses to settle down."
Deep down, however, Bennet says that he and the rest of Kill Your Idols are savoring every moment of playing onstage -- the joys and frustrations alike -- because the opportunities to play shows, given the lifestyle they've embraced, are fewer and fewer. Though he admits that they're all struggling to get by, just like anyone else, and that making a living as a band on their own terms would be nice, he says they have no regrets about the path they've traveled thus far.
"We've never needed the huge acclaim, we've never needed to headline big gigs on big stages. A sweaty basement show is perfect for us, or a small place like CBGB's or Gilman Street, that's our perfect environment. That's where we're the happiest; that's where we belong."