"I always listened to music for two reasons," says Rob Lind, pulling on a Budweiser at the Thirsty Scholar Pub, in Somerville. "I listened to music that made me want to smash bottles and break things, and I listened to music that made me want to cry." Lind was raised in the Charlestown projects; rock and roll was his ticket out. As White Trash Rob, the guitarist and chief songwriter in a vitriolic tough-guy hardcore band called Blood for Blood, he became known as an articulate, quick-witted, angry young man with a short fuse and a long shit list — though his humor and intelligence were often overshadowed by the mayhem and outright gang violence that attended the group’s performances. (Blood for Blood have broken up and, with typical stubbornness, have also refused to quit playing gigs.)
Over the past year, however, Lind has pulled off an abrupt musical about-face with Sinners and Saints, a band whose sound harks back to what he’s called "classical music for white trash" — the sleazier end of ’70s and ’80s metal and hard rock. It’s a band who wear their influences as plainly as Lind wears his pain — which, with the word "PAIN" tattoo’d on his knuckles, is quite plainly. "Sinners and Saints leans a little bit more toward the maudlin, nostalgic end, I guess," he says. "All I’m trying to do is write songs in the vein of the shit I’ve been listening to when I’m low, when I’m down, for the past — well, for my whole life. Music to get drunk to. Some sad, honest songs."
In Sinners and Saints, Lind shares songwriting and lead-vocal duties with his brother Mark, and a few of the numbers on their debut album, The Sky Is Falling (Bridge 9) were originally written either for Blood for Blood or for Mark’s hardcore band the Ducky Boys. For anyone familiar with those outfits, S&S’s impeccable two-part harmonies and unabashedly sentimental pop sense will likely come as a bit of a shock. Rob Lind’s two favorite bands in the ’90s were Oasis and Turbonegro; put ’em together and you get one of the album’s standout tracks, "The Times We Had," which uses the latter as a template for the verses and the former as inspiration for the lighter-waving chorus. And if the new direction pisses off Blood for Blood’s old fans, well, pissing people off is one of the things Rob Lind does best. "I’m presenting it to them because I’ve found that Blood for Blood’s audience is really down to earth. They’re not as interested in the music as much as the lyrics. Musically, we were never an exceptional band. They’re willing to hear what I got to say for a little while longer. Maybe ultimately they’ll stab me and hang me from a tree."
For about a year while Blood for Blood were breaking up, Rob decided to quit drinking. In practice this meant he would drink no more than once a month. On the remaining nights, he could often be found walking in wide arcs, from Inman Square to Central Square, or up to Porter Square and back, into the early-morning hours, three o’clock, four o’clock, walking just to walk. When he was younger and drinking heavily, he’d discovered that certain albums, played at top volume through headphones, could stop the room from spinning and spirit him off to sleep: Madonna’s The Immaculate Collection and Prince’s Purple Rain. But on his sobriety walkabouts, as he wandered in circles through the darkness at the edge of Cambridge, his companion of choice was a cassette tape of songs from Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska and, on the other side, songs from Oasis’s Definitely Maybe. Perhaps as a result, he has been blessed with a wandering, sublimely idiosyncratic Muse. On The Sky Is Falling’s first song, "Dead So Soon," he finds himself being dragged into a suicidal abyss by a Springsteenian "darkness on the edge of town," to a tune not too far removed from the output of Scandinavian glam-punks Backyard Babies. Two songs later, on the blissed-out, power-pop title track, he makes sly reference to both the melody and the words from Madonna’s "Like a Prayer": "I been walkin’ in the midnight hour/In the darkness I can feel its power."
As the Donnas are fond of saying, a good song sounds like another good song. And some of Sinners and Saints’ best songs sound like Guns N’ Roses songs. "Like a Suicide" borrows its title from the live side of GN’R Lies and its intro from "It’s So Easy" before erupting into a Dead Boys–style style snakedance with the Devil; the sparkling S&S power ballad "Marquee Lights" could be an outtake from the Use Your Illusion sessions (though the line "you were much too high-ee-eye" comes directly — inflection and all — from GNR’s infamous "One in a Million"). None of this is any accident, but it isn’t a ripoff, either. Rob Lind is a self-taught student of rock and roll, and his uncanny musical allusions work like a scholar’s footnotes — it’s an acknowledgment of his sources rather than wholesale musical plagiarism.
"Guns N’ Roses — I don’t know what it is about that band," he says. "Trying to talk in rational terms about rock and roll, it’s impossible. There’s nothing rational about good rock and roll. I wasn’t from Hollywood doing junk — although I’m from the streets, different experiences — but something about Guns N’ Roses, to me it sounds like freedom. And even more than sounding like freedom, it offers the promise of freedom, even if it never delivers. All good rock and roll does that to you. I know it’s hedonistic and Dionysian and Bacchanalian, but it lets you transcend yourself for a few minutes. It’s like religion. It is religion. And all great rock-and-roll bands give that to you, that weird sense of soaring. I don’t think we do that — don’t get me wrong, I’d love to, but I’m not even trying to imply that. But all the bands that I grew up in love with, Guns N’ Roses, the Stones, the Beatles, Oasis, Queen — live, anyway, they’re a little flimsy on CD — Rose Tattoo, AC/DC: there’s a yearning, there’s a desperation, an attempt at fulfillment. For a little while, it offers you the promise of being something more than you are."
SINNERS AND SAINTS BEING THE EXCEPTION that proves the rule, Bridge 9 is a hardcore label, and perhaps the highest-profile hardcore label in Boston since Taang! went west. In the span of about a year and a half, Bridge 9 has expanded from a part-time hobby — an excuse for proprietor Chris Wrenn to put out seven-inch singles for his friends’ bands — to a full-time vocation with national distribution, a roster of bands that stretches from coast to coast and across an ocean (including Seattle’s Champion, local guys the Panic, and England’s Sworn In), and an increasingly hectic release schedule. Next weekend, Bridge 9 will team up with Death Wish Inc. (a Rhode Island hardcore label that’s relocating to Massachusetts) for a two-day, all-ages, joint-label showcase at the Pond.
Wrenn came of age in Connecticut’s fertile hardcore hunting grounds during the early ’90s, and he started his label while away at school in Vermont in 1995. "I felt that I was getting too distant from the hardcore scene in Connecticut," he says, sitting on a stoop near the entrance to the offices of the Initech family of labels, which also includes Big Wheel, Hydrahead, Tortuga, and Doghouse. "I wanted something that would make me go home on the weekends and stay involved in the scene." In its first four years, Bridge 9 released exactly five records, all of them singles. The label released only three more in 2000, but the first of these was an EP by American Nightmare. The band, who happened to be Wrenn’s roommates, toured relentlessly and became cross-country all-ages cult stars; Wrenn leveraged everything he owned to promote the disc, and it became, in the niche world of hardcore, the label’s breakthrough hit.
A year ago, in the summer of 2001, when Wrenn quit his job as Big Wheel Recreation’s marketing director, Bridge 9 was eking out its 12th and 13th releases; this summer, it’s preparing its 30th. The label’s vinyl discography has begun to take over the better part of the office’s one unobstructed wall, and the product — like that of its neighbors, Hydrahead — is gorgeous: custom-made red-and-white "helicopter" swirls, two-tone splits, crisp full-color labels, state-of-the-art graphic design. (These releases don’t sound too bad, either: all the major subgenres are represented, and home-town heroes Cops and Robbers provide a sonic link to the days of SSD.) Beginning with American Nightmare, the label has issued all its singles on both vinyl and CD, losing money on the former and making it back on the latter. "As much as hardcore kids love vinyl," Wrenn says, "there’s still a lot of people who want to listen to stuff in their car."
As for Bridge 9’s identity, he allows that "we’re starting to develop, as a label, I guess, our own style or sound. But if you look at each band side by side, they’re all a little bit different. The Hope Conspiracy is nothing like Cops and Robbers, and yet Cops and Robbers is nothing like Breathe In or Sworn In or some of these other bands that we’ve put out. Everyone has their own take on how to play hardcore, but I feel that as long as a band comes from the hardcore scene and plays their own particular style of hardcore really well, chances are I’ll be psyched on it." That’s a mission statement if we ever heard one.
Sinners and Saints play the Middle East, 472 Mass Ave in Central Square, this Saturday, July 13; call 617-864-EAST. The Bridge 9/Death Wish Inc showcase takes place at the Pond, 20 Concord Lane behind Fresh Pond Mall in Cambridge, next Saturday and Sunday, with Converge, Ringworm, Striking Distance, Jesuseater, Some Kind of Hate, and Horror Show on July 20 and American Nightmare, Death Threat, the Panic, Champion, Sworn In, and Knives Out on July 21. Call (617) 661-8828, or visit www.bridge9.com.