in conversation with Walter Schreifels
For this issue of Possessed Weekly, I spoke with Walter Schreifels. For anyone who is even slightly involved in punk, post-punk or hardcore, he’s an artist who needs absolutely no introduction. But for everyone else lemme explain: he was one of the key architects for New York hardcore, most notably Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits. But unlike many of his contemporaries, he didn’t get stuck there. He’s continued to evolve musically across multiple genres and subcultures for over three decades with various bands such as Quicksand, Rival Schools and Dead Heavens, to name just a few. We linked up this week and rapped about continuously creating art, how he remains positive, what success means, punk, Warped Tour, Nu Metal and of course... all things running.
Who are you?
I’m Walter Schreifels. I’m a guy who likes running.
What does PMA mean to you?
It's a thing that people kind of try to plug into - to take the tough things in life and put a spin on them that allows them to move forward. Kind of a lemons into lemonade philosophy.
How do you stay positive?
I would say overall I’m just a hopeful person — though like any human being I have moments of despair. I try to see the good in people and in myself, and that helps.
Why are you an artist, and what drives you to keep creating?
I think it’s sort of a mental disorder, like where you hear things, and think of things, and it bothers you so much that you have to manifest them. And that’s the only way you feel better, as soon as you manifest it, you feel good for a little bit of time. And then something else bothers you, and if you figure out a medium - that’s art.
Who or what inspires you to create?
Sometimes it'll come from life experiences…. I’m a musician so, if something touches me musically or inspires me to come up with my own spin on that idea, or see something in some work that makes me want to “top” it, there's all kinds of different things that will spark it, like people, or an emotion. For me, it's usually guitar in songs, and I'll want to regurgitate that connection in sound. Something that exists outside of yourself.
Do you ever look back and celebrate your career accomplishments or are you constantly looking forward?
Recently, someone in an interview asked me to list every single band I had ever been in. Jesus Christ, that was really long to go through [laughs].
Do you have any idea how many exactly you’ve been in?
Shit, I don't ever want to talk about it again — it was too much to go through in my head.
When you’ve been creating for a long time, you can go back to things and hear them in a different context. Like when you listen to it and don't think it was that cool at the time and hear all the flaws in what you made. Then you listen later and you think, “Shit, I should appreciate this more for what it was.” And that also helps in a PMA sort of way. People have a hard time embracing their work. Where really, they should be like, “Shit! I got through that. That was pretty cool!” Having done this for so long, I think it's important that I'm moving forward creatively always, because it got me this far. So I keep on going back to that philosophy.
What's your definition of success and how do you define that for yourself these days?
Success is being able to live freely, to be able to do what you wanna do… I think you can get signs that will tell you if you’re successful. Like, if you create a good piece of work and people give you a lot of praise, that's a good feeling. But it will pass. The success is that continued path — where you can pursue it on your own terms. There will always be compromise, but it can be ones that you agree to, and that is all part of it. Some people can't find their thing, and that's a real struggle. I found my thing [music] at a young age, I got that out of the way. The path has been clear for me, and I’ve been relatively lucky.
What got you to start running?
My mom and dad actually got me into running! I specifically remember my mom in the '70s and they’d be jogging! They would run around the track, and I didn't really get it at the time, because she would do it for long periods of time and I got sick of it really quickly. As I got older, I thought it was a cool thing to do…. but in my 20’s it really clicked for me. I found it very meditative. I found myself thinking more clearly.
As I’m running, I can easily separate any anxieties I might have and come up with solutions. I can listen to music in a more focused way. When the run is over, I feel like I've accomplished something. That little empowerment goes through my day. If I clock a lot of miles during the week…. you know, just getting out there, putting on your shoes and getting out there, getting sweaty…. those are accomplishments that you can apply to other challenges. You made that time…. you ran five miles when you maybe didn't feel like doing it. You can do anything…. running is a really great way to work out those things in life.
Where do you see yourself on those days that you don’t wanna run?
I don't mind taking a day off if I’m on a good trajectory. It comes down to putting on the clothes a lot of the time. I don't feel like running but if i put on the shorts and the shoes…. Half the battle is putting on the clothes. Sometimes it’s cold and you gotta put on a totally different outfit, you know you might have too much on, or not enough. But you get out there and you’re like, "Fuck! I’m doing it! I’m out here and I’m not going back in the house now." Sometimes the first fifteen minutes are a chore, and I’m just out in the streets looking at people. Then usually I get in the zone.
I’m in New York and it’s freezing out often… sometimes I’ll be out there and people drive by me lookin at me like I’m a nut because it’s Goddamn freezing. Thats cool. I’m seeing things no one else is seeing.
Running also helps my lifestyle as I’m always traveling to different cities due to touring. It breaks up the monotony of sitting around and waiting for soundcheck. It helps me see the city I'm visiting, gives me some me time, as being on tour is a constantly social setting. It's good psychological self care and helps me feel in shape, and that empowers me as well.
Aside from touring, where do you normally run?
I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I also run around Greenpoint and Bushwick. I run in the city.
It’s running in the city, you know, so… there’s pretty parts, but it's great for people watching. I'm in McCarren Park, and I’ve got this cool observation on life, watching people playing soccer, doing calisthenics, whatever it is, I’m checkin it out [laughs].
I have a house upstate and I’ll run around the Delaware river. There’s a riverside drive with all these houses where I trained for a marathon up there last year during Covid. I’m kind of a weekender up there, but I had people cheering me on during all my training, just asking me about it, it was cool man, people were rooting for me. It was awesome.
What does a normal run for you look like? How often do you go?
I generally go about 5 miles when I don't have a goal in mind. I’ve been trying to pick it up since the weather got warmer. Last week I ran 25 miles which I’m pretty stoked on. This week I haven’t been as bold but I’m in between stages right now. I’m looking to train back up to a half marathon. My longer runs will be 7 or 8 miles… It's kind of awesome when you can get up to running 10 miles on the weekends. But generally I run 5 miles 4 or 5 times a week.
What kind of music do you listen to when you run? Do you keep up with new music?
I do keep up with new stuff but with the advent of Spotify, it’s amazing how much incredible music from the past that I've never heard but have reached lately, like, how did I miss all this music? A lot of world music has my attention in that way. I do rely on my Discover Weekly and pick some things from there, and also recommendations from people who want me to check something out.
Running is a big part of my music listening. I've been trying podcasts out while running this past year. It kind of helps you zone out on the information you're processing, different vibe… helps you separate your mind from the effort. Like whoa, I’ve just run two miles and I didn't notice. Music can get you to a place where you’re rockin, and you’re running to the exact BPM, like on this Hot Snakes song I was listening to that was the exact tempo I was running to and I was like, “WE’RE DOING THIS! LET’S GO!” and you’re inside your own music video, you know? It makes it more fun and gets you to a different level.
What's a piece of advice you would give to a younger you?
It’ll pass. Something along the lines of “don't sweat the small stuff.” I'll get hung up on things and then realize I’ve spent too much time on this reality. Turns out what I was stressing on wasn't a big deal. Shit. I need a snappier answer than that. Follow your dreams!
What do you like most about travel?
I love the possibility of it, that you see how people live in different places. I see cities from such a privileged standpoint because I’m there to do something. I’m connected to people who live there who will give me special access to a city. I love to see how people live differently all over the world. And as a musician I’ve made friends all over the world and I feel a commonality and richness. When you talk about success, that's it for me, I’m self-contained wherever I am and I love having a view on what makes us so different. Knowing that ultimately, people are the same everywhere you go, and I find that awesome. Seeing different architecture, seeing why these people think another country sucks, or why is this band their favorite band. You know, being a white dude from the USA and being thrown into that. I love it.
You’re so prolific. What projects are you currently involved with?
The main thing I'm doing right now is Quicksand. We had made a couple records in the '90s and had a really good run of it, but like a lot of bands, got annoyed with each other, broke up, and after a few years, we got back together and decided to try to make something again! Over however many years, we found that our chemistry had grown and was really wonderful. We’re back at it again, and released a new song, and I’m really proud of it. I think it really reflects the chemistry we’ve always had. There's a certain integrity there, but also suits me who I am now. It’s not some pastiche to what I've done years ago, it sits with who we are now.
I’m always kind of doing different projects… I’m doing this show for Vans. They’re doing this thing called Channel 66. It's a livestream channel that's kind of like public access. So I’ve modeled mine after that, but it's about hardcore. It's been interesting to dive back in on that because when i was doing hardcore bands, I didn't foresee its future, and I'm amazed to see it's still meaningful and resonates with people and there is more work on the genre. I've never interviewed people but I am hoping to get better at it.
Haha I don’t know if I'm any good at it.
Yeah, like I hope I don’t become a stupid meme on it. But when someone calls you to do a TV show, you do it right? It's been challenging but I feel stronger for it.
I was looking up some older stuff in your career and I realized Quicksand played the first Warped Tour in 1995. What was it like then?
It was one of the greatest, funnest tours I ever did. Great lineup. And that was before Vans was really running it. It was way smaller, but the lineup was insane. A lot of New York bands were on it, like Quicksand was the headliner, and the other band headlining was L7. They had had a hit on MTV and we didn't have a hit but we had a following so, underneath this was Sublime, and No Doubt, before they were big. It was nuts. We had lots of friends on tour, like Sick of it All. We were all friendly, hanging with all these California people. It was a great camaraderie. They had an early microbrew on tour called Heckler Brau. Everyone was loaded on it. It was funny dude, a lot of great fun and great drama.
DId you hang out with Sublime?
Yes I did, not a lot though, my impression of them was they were kind of wild. They’d play with their shirts off, ass cracks hanging out and just rocking it. They weren’t particularly friendly, although Orange 9mm were tight with them because they shared the same bus WITH Brad’s pitbull on board. They were very stripped down, just the tree of them but no one could deny how fucking good they were. Brad had such an awesome voice. They got kicked off the tour half way through and then rejoined back on the west coast, they were dangerous, wild and great.
It was also awesome to see No Doubt at that stage. They weren’t big yet, but they were on another level. In their own lane on that tour. Gwen at that time was radiant and super cool, and so was the whole band. Different cool bands would jump on tour from different places in the US… it was a very special time.
I remember Deftones citing Quicksand as an influence. What is your take on nu metal when that happened?
I just remembered Deftones were on that tour too! Fuckin insane! I remember them better from the following year when they truly blew my mind. First time I heard them I thought fuck dude, bands are getting really heavy now, we’re gonna have to come up with some new kind of tuning to keep up!
I think the whole image of nu metal how it was packaged and a lot of the content made it really appealing to a lot of people and repellent for those who were looking for more niche hot shit. It’s always gonna be that way. So yeah, it took some time but I do remember a friend turning me onto Korn’s first album at the time and had to admit it was fucking ripping, respect.
What do you think people don't understand about you?
I think people see me in these compartments. I think people see me as a member of Gorilla Biscuits, a hardcore guy. Or a member of Rival Schools. Or a member of Quicksand. So they see me through the eyes of how they were introduced to me.
From my point of view, I've been going through different collections or combinations of exploring myself through different outfits. Since I was young, I've been obsessed with being into a band and how they dressed and what vibe they meant to project. I think people think I can't make my mind up about whatever it is, but it's my artistic path. The great artists I admire are doing that. Like David Bowie. He switches up his bands, his style, because he's not content with things being the same. I'm not comparing myself because he was an example of God on earth but I relate to his way of reinvention and starting new when necessary.
Hardest thing about running is putting on the clothes. The cooler the clothes the easier it is. Get yourself a good pair of shoes, some comfortable shit, and get out there. You'll be better for it.
Walter's playlist on Spotify and Apple Music.
Interview by Travis Keller.