Raw Power is Coming to America Again! Why So Glum Chum?

In addition to holding the illustrious (or dubious) honour of being one of my personal favourite bands of all time, Italy’s Raw Power is undoubtedly one of the most enduring and consistent hardcore punk bands to emerge from the world of hardcore punk. They formed in 1981 (with roots going back to the late 70s), have eleven awesome full-lengths comprising their extensive discography (yes, even Too Tough to Burn has its latent charm), have weathered unexpected popularity, sinking obscurity, personal tragedy and gone through more ex-members than dudes sitting on the roof of the 3:45 from Mumbai to New Delhi. Their latest album is called Tired and Furious and in issue #115 (which you can order here), you can read an engaging story penned by Adem Tepedelen investigating the perpetual issue the band has had in being too metal for the punks and too punk for the metal heads. The band has also been mentioned at various points on the blog as well: here, here and here.
It seems that slotting into neat categories hasn’t been the only problem that’s plagued the Reggio Emilia ragers. I’ve always maintained that Raw Power got the short end of the stick when it came to the business side of things and the following interview with vocalist Mauro Codeluppi, which was supposed to be a little chat promoting their upcoming east coast tour, only confirms the ongoing and frustrating reality that the band has dealt with since the mid-80s when the Screams from the Gutter and After Your Brain albums and the Wop Hour EP were selling five figures apiece. Read on and discover what’s really behind Tired and Furious’ jams like “Things are Bad,” “Stabbed in the Back,” “Enough is Enough” and, of course, the title track.

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OK, I’ve got a story for you. I’ve been a huge fan of the band since I was a kid, but had never seen you live. Last year, when you guys toured the American mid-west and were playing Detroit, I happened to be on tour myself. I was a few hours away, so I took a day off from the tour I was on to fly to Detroit where I made the questionable move of wandering around the city all day until the show, all so I could finally see you guys live.
[Seeming either totally nonplussed or scared shitless by my borderline stalking behaviour] Hmm, OK. Hopefully we weren’t that bad.

Nah, man. It was great and something to scratch off the bucket list. Throughout the 90s you toured the US pretty regularly, then there was a gap and now you’re back for a second time in two years…
Well, actually since my brother [original guitarist, Giuseppe Codeluppi] died in 2002, we’ve been back almost every year since 2004.

Oh, OK…Really? But most of those have been just a couple weeks, correct? Have you been looking to do longer tours?
Yeah, yeah, most of them have been two weeks, definitely less than 20 days. Probably the last seven or eight years, most of the tours we’ve done have been on the west coast, up and down between Seattle and San Diego. Sometimes we’ll get out to Reno, but it’s mostly up and down like this. Last year, we did the mid-west just because we were going into the studio in Wisconsin to record Tired and Furious and that was the first time we had done that in many years. This year, we’re pretty much only doing the east coast for a change. But between 2004 up until now we’ve probably been back every year, not that anybody knows, but we have been.

That was going to be my next question. I didn’t know you’d visited the states so regularly and I consider myself a big fan.
It’s mainly because between the bands that tour with us, the organisers of the shows and us, we’re all coming from the small-time world of organisation or whatever. We’ve done shows with the Pyrate Punx [a coalition of punks from different cities that have set-up a network to put on shows, events and tours]; they’ve done two or three tours for us and they’re spreading all over the states and are even in Europe where they have a base in a few cities in Germany and England. They’re going to be involved in a couple of the shows this year. They’ve been very good for us, but unless you’re one of their circle, it’s difficult to go into or find out about one of their places. So, it’s difficult for, say, “normal” people to know about those shows and they tend to have the same group of people going to their shows. Then, the other people who organise shows and tours are very small agencies and seem to have the sort of mentality where they have a year to organise something, but don’t actually start doing anything until two weeks before you get there, so most of the shows aren’t advertised and no one knows until it’s too late.

You’re doing this year’s tour with Wartorn again, right?
Yeah, this one should be good. Last year we toured with them and it went very well. [Wartorn vocalist] Eric is really good and there’s no messing around with him, so this year should be very good. On paper, it’s looking like it will be one of the best things we’ll have ever done in years.

Last year, part of the time you were over here was spent recording the new record. Are you doing something similar again?
No, this year the first show is on August the 2nd and the last is on the 16th and there are shows every day. This is just going to be a normal tour.

There’s a song on Mine to Kill – I can’t remember the title – where you sing about touring hazards like shitty cops, crappy clubs, shady promoters and so on. Are you still dealing with all the same stuff from that song these days?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know which song you mean, I can’t remember the title either [laughs]. Nothing’s really changed and things are more or less the same. It’s a bit better for us because years ago, until we met up with Wartorn, either we shared a van with another band or started renting vans and doing our own thing, stopping when we wanted to stop, drive when we wanted to drive. Last year was one of the first times we had somebody drive for us and everything was organised properly.

If the situation is still the same after so many years…
…Why do we do it? [laughs]

Well yeah, but also, how frustrated do you get in doing it? Maybe it’s because you’re only doing it a couple weeks a year and you’re not doing it enough that it’s going to piss you off too much? But if that sort of thing was going on eight months a year…
Ah, no. I wouldn’t do it then. A band like Wartorn does it all year; they tour all year around. Two weeks in a van is all right. Three weeks is stretching it. I couldn’t live like that. It’s not too frustrating because we already know that this is how it is going to be and nobody makes us do it. It’s not a job and it’s not like if we don’t do this, we’re not going to eat or whatever. To me, it’s a couple of weeks off work and instead of going away on holiday with the family, I go away and do what I want. We’ve gone past the time where we thought something big could ever happen with this band and the whole idea that maybe we’ll hit it this year. If it was going to happen, it would have happened 20 years ago, it’s not going to happen now. So now, it’s just time off and having fun for a couple of weeks.

Touring the states and Canada is notoriously difficult compared to a lot of Europe. Is touring and playing shows in Europe any different for you guys?
No, more or less it’s the same thing. The problem with Raw Power is that a lot of people will call us when they need a band with a “name” who will play for pretty cheap. Because we’ve been around for a long time, when someone does a festival with all these old timers they think about us because they can get us for a little money. That happens a lot in Europe and Italy and I guess that happens in the states as well. We keep going back to the states though, because I love it there. I like it more than Europe and Italy. Although, if you look at the money situation, it’d make more sense to stay in Italy because we don’t have to fly anywhere; we can drive four or five, eight hours at the most and make more money than going to the states or Europe. It’s the opposite here; there are hundreds of American bands that come to Europe because they get paid lots of money and they get treated a lot better. If you put it all together, the labels we’ve worked with have never invested any money because they didn’t have any money, and we couldn’t tour extensively because we didn’t have the money. It’s a combination of lots of things and we’ve never had the chance to put them all together properly. We’re just lucky people keep calling us back anyway.

Despite everything you’ve just told me, have you noticed an increase in interest in the band with 1) the internet and 2) people looking back and discovering the old-school and original bands?
Yes. With Facebook and the internet in general, we’ve been quite lucky. The 90s was probably the worst time for this kind of music. With the coming of the internet and in the last few years, bands like us have picked up and have almost been reborn. We still have all the old people – people who are like my age – who knew us already anyway, and they’re bringing their kids and their kids will bring their friends. Some other people find us on Facebook, see our videos on YouTube and get to know us that way. Technology has definitely been in our favour. We would have probably carried on playing shows here in Italy and the odd show here and there in Europe because they know us, but other opportunities have come up through the internet and changed things quite a lot. But that’s been in general; I’ve seen a lot of bands going down, down, down in popularity, then all of a sudden they’re back and selling out big shows. It if wasn’t for people being made aware they were still around, no one would know about it.

I know Fuck Off and Die Records has reissued the early demos and You are the Victim. I’ve heard a rumour they might be reissuing all of your albums. Is that the case?
All of them? I don’t know. They’ve done the early stuff and they started working on Screams from the Gutter, again and then they’ll be doing After Your Brain, which they just re-mastered and it sounds good. Very good! The original sounds like shit compared to it. There’s stuff on the new version that you couldn’t even hear on the original; it’s like they’ve brought back parts of the songs that have never been heard. For the other ones, I don’t know what they’re going to do, but they’re not going to work on the more recent stuff.

That’s funny they’re doing Screams from the Gutter and After Your Brain because it’s always been super-easy to find those two albums. On the flipside, I’ve never even seen Fight or Resuscitate anywhere.
It’s the same thing in Europe. There are people who are still stuck to the first two albums and don’t realise that’s not all we’ve done. They still think we have two or three albums, not 14 or 15 or whatever we have. Maybe we have too many and that’s the problem? [laughs]

One of the things I’ve always found most frustrating about being a Raw Power fan is watching all this awesome music and potential languish because you’ve never had a decent team working behind the scenes for you. Do you ever think about what might have been?
At the beginning, or maybe from about 1984-86, probably the main people to blame for not having done much were ourselves. If there’s someone to blame personally, it’s probably me out of everyone. In the first couple of years, we had a chance to move towards bigger things and for one reason or another, we didn’t. We had a label in New York asking us to sign up with them for a couple of years and we didn’t. That was because in 1984-85, I was doing everything for the band. Because I was the only one who could speak English, I was the tour manager, the driver, the translator and singing as well. But because we were there to have a good time anyway, everyone was always going off to party here, there and all over the place [laughs], and I was always the one to stay back and look after the interests of the band while everyone else pissed around. After a bit, if you’re not the official tour manager, you just get fed up being the band babysitter. So, a couple times we had meetings set up with a label in New York and no one wanted to go, so I didn’t go either and that was it, they signed someone else. That happened twice; you’re really lucky if it happens once and if it happens twice in the same place two years running, you can’t blame anyone else. I know that part of the problem was also that we were living quite well in Italy. It wasn’t like “we have no money, our life is shit, this is our big chance and we have to do this.” Our lives here were quite good and it wasn’t a live or die situation. Why should we stay in America for so long and eat burgers all day when, instead, I can be at home with my mom cooking pasta for me [laughs]. In the end, we put all these things together, we didn’t go to those meetings and here we still are now. After that, it was like, ‘oh well, let’s carry on and just have fun.’ Unless a miracle happens, this is how it is.

So Raw Power is the ultimate lifelong hobby?
Oh yeah, definitely. It was always like that anyway. In the beginning, it was a hobby; we were all young and if anything happened we’d figure out what to do at the time. In the last ten or so years, it’s had to be. When you look at how much we make, we have to look at it like a hobby-plus-holiday. If we’re lucky, we get to go to new places we haven’t been and it’s still cheaper than paying to go somewhere on purpose. Ultimately, we’re actually saving money.

Have you been to all the places you’re playing on this tour?
We have been to all of the cities, but some we haven’t been to in a long time and I don’t think we’ve been to any of the actual clubs. In 30 years we’ve done all the main cities, but there are places I can’t wait to get back to. For the first time in many years, we’re going to Austin and I can’t wait because it’s very lovely there. New York is another place we haven’t been in a long time. In the past, we’ve done well in these cities, but I don’t know what’s going to happen now.

Well, that’s about it. Thanks for taking the time to do this and good luck with the tour.
Well, thank you for calling. One day, I hope we play somewhere nearer to you so you don’t have to fly to see us again. We need more people like you.

Well, maybe, but I don’t know if the world does.

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