The first time I saw Ink & Dagger would have been sometime in 1996. In my particular corner of the hardcore scene, their use of theatrical elements — painted faces, fake blood thrown into the audience — was a huge change of pace. Their lyrics borrowed supernatural imagery and built it into extended metaphors — much of them vampire-related. Their first two seven inches were collected on an album called Drive This Seven Inch Wooden Stake Through My Philadelphia Heart; their first seven inch, Love is Dead, featured removable tombstones.
But all of that shouldn’t distract from the fact that Ink & Dagger were really, really good. The theatrics were bolstered by taut, gripping music, and Sean McCabe’s vocals escalated horrifically over the course of many a song. Later albums — one self-titled and one titled The Fine Art of Original Sin — would move further afield from traditional notions of hardcore. McCabe died in 2000; in recent years, a reunion of sorts took place wit h Thursday’s Geoff Rickly on vocals.
This interview was conducted over the phone with Sean McCabe in the spring of 1997. It appeared in issue 2.
What is the band’s lineup right now?
Sean McCabe: The lineup right now is myself, Sean, on vocals and other programming and orchestration, Don’s playing guitar and doing programming and orchestration, Jorge is on second guitar, programming, and orchestration, Ashli’s on keyboards, bass, and other programming stuff, and Ryan is programming, orchestration, and drums. And there’s about five other people who contribute to the sound.
Is that Ryan from Prema?
You guys have had a bunch of lineup changes since I saw you last summer; what led to those?
The first major one was losing our bassist-although he’s still with the band, he just doesn’t play bass anymore. He has his own band, and that was something that he wanted to put more time into. So he helps us out when he can, doing other assorted things other than bass. Then we lost our drummer, because he was planning on moving away. He quit, he moved, and then he moved back three months later. Either way, we got a new drummer. That drummer, Terrence, found out that he had carpal tunnel syndrome in his hand. So he does a lot of work for the band while turning over the reins of drums to Ryan.
It seems like the band has a concept behind it-
Oh, we definitely have a concept.
Did you come up with it alone?
The whole concept of the band when it first started was the need for two things that we felt that… Me and Don had this other band, the Mandela Strikeforce. While we had discontinued that, we had also felt that our work was not yet done. We made plans along the lines of doing more of a dark band, while still keeping the main positive aspects of what was left of the Strikeforce. So, pretty much the concept of the band…as far as its main contributor, we pretty much all contribute. It’s the core unit of five, and we get help from friends and stuff along the way, who pretty much agree with what we’re saying.
Before, you mentioned that you’ve added keyboards and orchestration. Is that part of the live show now, or is it just on the record?
We’re working on working it in. Right now, it’s behind-the-scenes stuff. The main objective of why we even went that way is because of the need for… The reason why we’re doing this band is pretty much to break the rules that have been set. While a lot of punk rock and hardcore [bands] maintain a grass-roots, three chord, one guitar, two guitar, loud screaming vocal aspect, we decided that we’d pretty much be fools and ignorant to ignore the aspect of electronica. While most bands are looking back ten years for inspiration, we’re looking ten years ahead. It will eventually be a part of our live show…we’ve got a sampler running in our set now. We’re working on having a keyboardist full-time. Most of our keyboard stuff is done by me. It’s behind the scenes, in the studio right now. We haven’t found someone who can handle the electronic aspect of the band full-time.
When’s the new CD going to be out?
Actually, it got mastered today. We’re leaving for tour in exactly two weeks, so we should have them by then.
The CD is going to be the first seven inch and….
The CD is going to have a new seven inch on it, that we recorded back in September. It’s going to have the old seven inch (originally released on Happy Days-ed.), and it’s going to have the song that was on the Extent magazine comp.
It’s going to be on Initial?
Yes, it is.
Who are you touring with?
We’re touring with Nineironspitfire, who are a great band from Seattle, and another band from Seattle called Botch. It’s kind of a meeting of the East and West Coasts. Well be touring the country together and seeing what happens.
What bands have you played with recently that you’ve been into?
That I’ve been into?
That you’ve really been impressed with.
As snotty as it sounds, I’m not really impressed with a lot of bands. That Delta 72/Twelve Tone Systems show was awesome, because [Twelve Tone Systems] are our old bassist Eric’s band. Delta 72, having just relocated from Washington DC to Philadelphia, it was great to have them. And Endeavor played, who are pretty much the top of the line hardcore of today. I like as all of those bands, but as far as being impressed, that hasn’t happened in a while, at least in the hardcore realm, which is pretty much the deciding factor in why we push so hard to do what we do. We’re not really impressed or satisfied with what is going on around us right now.
Do you consider yourselves a hardcore band?
We are definitely a punk rock band, with hardcore being one of the many aspects within the genre of punk rock.
What inspires the lyrics that you write?
The whole deal with the lyrics that I write is that I don’t want somebody to read the lyrics and immediately assume so many things from within them. I don’t want them to be too easy to decipher. I try to write in the most sarcastic and hidden meaning manner, I think, a little bit more than the average love song. We want to have a dark band, and I try to keep [the lyrics] in a dark way, without coming off as too cheesy, or too ridiculous. From that first record and that first song, the whole lyrical aspect, and the personal/conceptual aspect of the band has grown by leaps and bounds. At first, it was pretty easy to write the lyrics, and now it’s becoming more of a challenge, more of a good challenge.
How long have you been involved with the hardcore and punk rock scene?
I guess listening to Black Flag on a boom box, watching silent videos of skateboarders. That pretty much did me in for all this hardcore business. That was in seventh, eighth grade, probably 1986. I think I started going to shows in ‘88, ‘89, and I’ve pretty much been sure fire fuckin’ at it in hardcore ever since.
When was your first band?
(laughs) My first band….Summer of ‘89, I started a band with the then to-be Flagman people, called First Defense. Then it developed into many crazy things, and then it became Flagman. That had lineup changes, and I left and joined this band called Crud is a Cult. There have been a couple of side projects-me and Don started to get involved in a lo-fi project called Industry of Savannah, which then developed into Mandela Strikeforce. I currently have a side project going on with a lot of people in the Philadelphia area, that we all contribute to. No one’s thought a name up for it yet.
In your column in the last issue of Extent, you said that you were working on a zine.
Yeah. It’s more of a… I constantly feel the need to write things down and inform people….the whole journalistic side bugging me. The manifestations of the zine have eluded me so far-I can’t tell if I want to go the big route, as far as doing a big magazine, like (something) from Philadelphia, which myself and a lot of other people contribute to. I also write for a lot of other zines, like Extent. A lot of people, in the absence of the zine Hardware, are getting together and doing a zine called Down in Flames, which I’ll be a part of, also.
How would you describe the Philadelphia scene?
Very eclectic. Very progressive. The bands that exist in Philadelphia now are pretty much at the forefront, the cutting edge, if you will. The whole thing behind it is that Philadelphia is often ignored, because of the two great cities that we are in between, those being New York City and Washington DC. A lot of people pass us by, and it’s not until events in the last couple of years that Philadelphia’s gotten any attention at all, and that’s mostly through the rap outlet. We’re trying to keep that spirit alive-we’re doing all that we can to push Philadelphia…
As a band, and to some degree as a person, judging from your writings in the new Extent, you seem to attract controversy. How do you feel about that?
The main reason that I’m involved with punk rock and all that is because there is a need for controversy. If not, what would it be? It would be another typical section in the music store, or a typical fashion, or something like that. The whole controversial aspect of hardcore and punk rock is what keeps it alive. If you don’t have people continually thinking and asking them questions through self-reflection, and calling other people out on what they do, myself included, then it becomes very stale. Seeing that it’s gotten stale enough as it is, that’s why we started the band. I think that we all do what we can to keep the whole edge of it alive, because if not, it would just fall into nothing.
I guess that’s pretty much everything….is there anything that you’d like to say in closing?
As quick as it is to get Ink & Dagger out, for people to call us a makeup and gimmick band, what we stand for is pretty much the total re-evolution of the punk rock genre, pretty much starting from now and going forwards. What has worked in the past has worked, but has also shows itself to be pretty much monotonous, and pretty much dead, if you will. We decided that we would do two things, those things being the fact that people should feel comfort in the fact that they can do whatever they want, and not have to worry about some scene politics, or whatever, that people should feel compelled to move and act on their own actions, as confusing as that sounds. What we’re saying is that people should be able to not hesitate to feel a certain way. So often, people subscribe to rules and philosophies handed down from people long ago. It’s gotten rather old. While that has caused the implosion of the scene, there’s also a sad factor, that most bands don’t give as much as they should.
The whole reason why we go to these shows, other than being informed, is that we need a vehicle for expression. The need to be entertained, while most bands have plenty of interesting things to say, they often fall short on the whole “keeping it interesting” aspect. We want people to be able to express themselves in whatever way they want, but we also want them to want to see us, and be happy and have fun and get something from it. I think that that, in essence, is what Ink & Dagger is about. It takes a permanency. It’s rather hilarious-people are so quick to be like, “Oh, vampire-core”…. We are seeking to redefine the whole word vampire, and so forth.
We would love for people to write us and ask what we’re about, and come up to us and talk to us and ask what we’re about. What we say applies to us, applies to you, pretty much on the same level, for once. Hopefully we’ll break down the idolatry that was so handed down from ten years ago. What we say, we live by, and we hop[e that what we say, that you can draw your own philosophy from it. Like I said, we love to discuss it. If anyone wants to write to us, it’s The Philadelphia Society of Future Vampires, PO Box 2277, Philadelphia, PA 19103.
I guess that’s it. Good luck with the tour….
Good luck with the zine.