Home > Interviews > Punk Rock in the Wrong Hands: An Interview with Pageninetynine

Punk Rock in the Wrong Hands: An Interview with Pageninetynine

“You gotta let them know they are shit.”
– Sam McPheeters

I don’t remember the first time I saw Pageninetynine. It could have been at The Wilson Center in DC, The Sidebar in Baltimore or any venue my failing memory doesn’t remember. All I know is after that, I saw them every possible chance I had from Orlando to New Orleans and all over the Virginia/DC/Maryland area.

They changed my life. They opened my eyes to punk rock: not just as a genre of music, but as a way you conduct yourself. With them I figured out what was good, and I was never the same.

Pageninetynine, also known as Pg99, formed in Sterling, Va., a suburb outside of Washington, DC, as a six piece punk band in 1997. At times they had upwards of nine members, released 14 documents of music, played around 300 shows including a European tour (From what I hear, Europe was pretty fucked up as they were only provided with enough gear for a three piece jazz band. Not cool for a band that used three full stack guitar amps and 2 of those really big and heavy ampeg bass cabinets.) The band split up shortly after that tour in 2003, but they have reunited for a handful of gigs since then including Best Friends Day in 2011.

Marquee from Pg99/Crestfallen show in Rock Island, IL 2002

Pageninetynine’s records are called documents: documenting not only music, but a time and place. For me and my high school band, Crestfallen, these albums mean more than any shitty yearbook ever could. PG.99 and Majority Rule are directly responsible for every cool thing we did as a band.

Those guys took us on our first tour, gave me trucker speed for the first time, loaned us gear, got us on shows that no one but them wanted us on. Mike Taylor even joined the band on bass! Mike Prophet, as he’s known by some, made me mix tapes which opened doors to the music world my hungry heart was searching for. The Taylor brothers basement was a mess but a punk rock treasure trove to a sheltered kid from Arlington.

The 14 Documents challenged and expanded on punk rock as a sound, but also on what punk rock meant as an concept and feeling in the late 90s and early 2000s. Popular music was shit then, and it’s shit now. Not only is pop music still shit, but it seems like everything is going to shit. Couldn’t we all benefit from the release of seeing Pageninetynine again?

Pageninetynine live, Richmond House show 2002 (?), Photo by Nathan Grice

They are still, hands down, the most mesmerizing and intimidating live band I’ve ever seen. A large group of scary men dressed in black, louder than hell, attacking the audience. Chris Taylor, seemingly on a death trip, was my idol. Mike Taylor destroying merch tables and ramming his guitar through his Marshall made me want to do something with my life. And Johnny Ward was at the center of the chaos, one of the greatest live drummers of all time, not to mention some kind of fucking unicorn.

Each of the sometimes nine members of the band brought a unique mood and influence to their performances and documents. They even wrote songs using friends phone numbers.

And now in 2017 the band has reunited for a string of dates carrying them up and down the East Coast. Each date of their upcoming reunion tour benefits a charity or non profit who is fighting the good fight everyday to keep this fucked up world from getting worse: the first date of the tour on Thursday, September 21st at The Broadberry benefits the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project.

In anticipation of their first Richmond show in six years, I was able to ask these my three old friends a couple questions about growing up together and what it is like performing for the first time in years.

It has been twenty years since Pageninetynine formed. What is it like returning to the band and those songs after some time apart?

Chris Taylor (Singer/Lyrics/Artwork): If you’re asking if I am still upset my girlfriend broke up with me, no (laughs). But singing for Pageninetynine is easy. I just think about all the things that make me wanna scream, and standing in front of this massive, pummeling train of noise, I just let it all out. There is a lot of shit these days that makes me wanna blow an O-ring, so this is good timing.

Mike Taylor (Guitar/Songs/Lyrics): No, the feelings aren’t the same. They will never be the same. It’s impossible for it to ever be the same thing. We aren’t the same people. We’ve grown. We are better people. We’re adults now, or at least some of us are or are trying to be. I don’t want it to be the same, I want the music to have a certain feelings of being something real and organic. I’m hoping they take on new meaning with a bunch of grey bearded aging punks, and I think it does.

These songs have a lineage that lead us directly to a certain feeling for sure, but I’m hoping they feel different, better and maybe more life affirming. The world is different. Lyrics to songs like “Punk Rock in the Wrong Hands” take on deeper meaning with the first line being, “I feel like a prisoner in a war of idiots.”

I mean, David Bowie is dead, Prince is dead, my true love Leonard Cohen is dead, Danzig is singing with The Misfits again!? I’m just trying to make as much noise as I can while this great world spins.

What inspired you to call the records documents? Do you have a favorite document?

MT: We called them documents because of our lack of documentation of our earlier bands. We essentially thought of these records as documentation of our existence. That’s all really.

My favorite document? Hmmmm….tough one. 5/7/8 are probably what I’d say… I don’t know if I have a favorite necessarily. I like them all for different reasons. So I would say those show the growth of the band sonically. It’s obvious on each of those recordings what we were trying to do. 5 was very inspired and of the very early days, very technical with a lot of ideas all churning at once. 7 was an experiment on slower songs and more mood. 8 was completely raw, emotional and visceral and just seemed to come out that way.

Then there’s the Majority Rule split which I absolutely loved and saw us in a completely different direction but unfortunately ended too soon. We all hate the recording but it’s what we are left with…there IS the long hidden document #15 which I will be releasing in the near future with my own label YRSCREAMINGYOUTH and hopefully with some help of Robotic Empire.

Nathan Grice and Chris Taylor during a Crestfallen gig Tampa, FL.

When we were younger you guys were directly responsible for exposing me to some of my favorite bands, what are you digging now musically? Is music still a big part of your lives?

MT: HA! You’ve gotten me into cool shit as well my friend! Lemme see, way too much for my long winded nature, so I’ll just give you a huge list of old and new. Always The Cure, Leonard Cohen and Hope Sandoval like it came out yesterday. Tons of soundtrack, lots of horror.  Death Waltz and Waxwork labels, Tangerine Dream, John Harrison, Brian Eno, old country comps, ragtime piano, jazz stuff like Donald Byrd and Nina SimoneJohn Fahey like a mofo. Popul Vuh, Born Against always, Townes van Zandt, the new Nick Cave is earth shattering, saw PJ Harvey again and that was amazing. I saw John Carpenter last year and that blew my mind. Big Hush and Big No! I was meant to be on this earth to listen to music so that’s all I do, I’ll stop now. Let’s nerd out together soon!

CT: Music? Just it’s transformative power. It fits snugly with food/water/sleep for me, it’s essential for personal growth and self reflection.  Pageninetynine, I think my brother said it best, is never about the band. The crowd is essential to what we are. It’s mass exorcism. Everyone gets to let go. Let’s go!

Richmond is a hole. Why is/was Richmond a hole? Any Richmond memories that stick out over the years?

MT: HA! Richmond isn’t a hole, and it never has been. The title was more in reference to close friends of ours retreating or hiding away in Richmond and getting into bad shit, like heavy drugs. Initially the title is in reference to a friend of ours who attempted to kill himself, allowing himself to slowly descend into a darker state of existence. I’ve always been scared to lose my friends like this. Everything was so cheap in Richmond that it was easy to live and get away with having a heroin habit. Again, it refers to a time and place involving several close and personal friends of ours over the years. Richmond is full of amazing memories and people and still very much feels like another home away from home for most of us.

Johnny Ward (Drums): I remember we talked Brandon (Evans) into being in the band after a damp basement show one time and how starstruck I was because Kilara. CB in the biker shorts. I remember staying at the dorms with Jonathan. Kev (Longendyke) and Jeph’s (Kane) great house show in Oregon Hill. Playing a festival with Avail. River Trestles at night. One time our friends were hot dogging 95 south drunk driving in cars around our van, and we saw one of them drive through the woods at high speed. They got bashed but lived. Going to the all night diners so hammerjacked. Hito’s pad off Cary St. Honeycomb. Bongalow always. The city was a big part of our time and rubbed off on us.

CT: Just the basements, all those killer last minute basement shows. This one show with Pig Destroyer, that was just packed and the walls were sweating. It was dark and felt just manic, like the whole room was possessed. That was awesome. Richmond was such a vibrant community in the late 90s, early 00s. Good times.

Why come back now for a benefit tour? How did you choose the charities for each event?

JW: Hoping for another connection. Sure it can be embarrassing to be washed up, but what have I got to lose? Figured if the skipper is gonna call my number, then I might as well go at it because there is everything to gain at the show and if I shit the bed then that’s still better than staying here with spiders crawling all over my face. I’d like to take credit for the band, but if I’m honest it was of it’s time and place. It wasn’t a project to be heard on record much, the best parts of the music were summoned up through everyone in the room. I hope we don’t play as tight as last time we reunited. It was never meant it to be very shiny. So I’m hoping we get our yucks in one and all.

CT: I’m really excited just to enjoy the company of my pals. I am so grateful for all my old friends, still here, still alive, still classic. S’gonna be great to spend that time with everyone. We’re all spread out now, so it’s very rare that we are all in one place. Also I’m really looking forward for this opportunity to meet the people working with the organizations we are raising money for. The whole reason we wanted to do this is because there is a very real sense that if we don’t fight back, and support people fighting for basic human rights and services, the world, as fucked up as it already is, could really spiral into greater, more nightmarish, more novel forms of inequality/greed/hate. The organizations we picked are community based, and are way less funded then mainstream organizations. These projects I feel have a more urgent and immediate need for funding right now. For instance, places like Casa Ruby, getting bricks thrown thru their windows, is just one of many examples where smaller organizations on the front lines are being attacked. So it means a lot to me that these projects feel seen and supported. Normalization of hate and ignorance is disheartening. I hope this tour can give some exposure and our community greater access to these grassroots organizations and inspire people to remain vigilant and keep actively fighting back against hate and ignorance. So getting to know those involved will be rewarding. I’m excited to learn more, and hopefully forge some new alliances.

MT: I have many hopes for these shows. I hope to see a lot of friends that we’ve made over the many years it’s been since Pageninetynine started. I owe so much to this band. So many long lasting friendships and relationships because of those days. Pg99 has always had a nice community feel every time we’ve played. It’s always felt like we were playing with and to our friends whenever we pulled up to play somewhere. I am also hoping since some or most of these shows are smaller than the last group of reunion shows that the feel of the band’s music translates better. We were and are just a scrappy punk band, and I want it to feel like we are just stuffing into a room somewhere turning it up to volume 11 and losing it for 30 minutes or so. Playing big stages doesn’t feel right with Pg99. I very much enjoyed our last two shows, but I just feel music like this isn’t suppose to be popular or played with precision. It’s punk rock. I just want it to have feeling, for all of us. As long as the feel is there I’ll be happy. We will see.

In the end of the day, my biggest hope is that we’ve done good for the beneficiaries. We decided to do this for these benefits. None of us are happy with the state of our country and the people running it. But instead of focusing on people we should all know are pieces of shit, I wanna focus on helping the people who are trying to make a real difference in this world. The smaller organizations doing grass roots oriented work to try and make a positive difference in the lives of folks who are being stepped on by our current administration. It makes me sick to my stomach to wake up every day and see some big bully machine trying to take civil rights away from real people. People of our earth. I’m excited to meet some these folks from the organizations, and I’m hoping people who are coming out to these shows will take an active interest and that we are able to raise more awareness to these organizations and what they are doing.

On Thursday, September 21st, Pageninetynine plays a sold out show
with Majority Rule, Sick Bags and Future Terror at The Broadberry.

Nathan got valuable help from Heather Jerabeck. Nathan and Heather live in Richmond, Va., and have a band called Big No. Nathan has never interviewed anyone.