In case you missed it, Useless ID is back. And how! Israel’s finest hardcore punk band recently released their excellent new album “State Is Burning” (out now via Fat Wreck Chords). It’s a back-to-their-roots kind of album and comes with all the bells and whistles you could ask for from a hardcore punk album. Except for actual bells and whistles. Here’s an interview we did with vocalist/bassist Yotam Ben Horin.
PRT: Last year you celebrated the band's twentieth anniversary. Did you ever think you'd be around this long when you first started out?
Yotam: You know how it is, you form all sorts of bands when you're younger and just want to play shows and be heard. You're not really thinking years down the line. I had no idea we would last this long from the early days but I'm glad we did cause we just made our best record and every show excites me more than ever playing these new tunes
PRT: Probably a difficult question to answer... but what is the main thing that has changed since then, both for you as a band and for you personally?
Yotam: As a band we are very good these days with the dynamic between us. We know when to leave each other alone. We don't step on each other’s toes like we used to back in the day. It would be very easy to piss each other off but now I guess we don't do that and plus were older so all those things that may have mattered then don't really matter now. Personally, for almost 9 years out of the band’s existence, I fell into the idea that because Useless ID are a punk band, it's probably good to have some other gig or a job to pay rent and bills. For the past 2 years I've been doing (my) music full time again, travelling the world, experiencing every moment and I'm just happy to step into this new record with this mind set. ALL IN.
PRT: Why do you think it is that all these bands like yourselves, Bad Religion, Descendents, Lagwagon... are still going strong after all these years while so many other more recent bands have already come and gone. Do you think you started out making music with a different attitude?
Yotam: For sure. The bands you mentioned never went major (Bad Religion did for a while but they get a pass cause they're the best band in the world). We play music on our own terms, record when we feel it's time, have a devoted fan base that would always come to see us. We are all friends, all down to earth, just good people out to have a good time and spread a positive message. Why wouldn't we last?
PRT: For your new album you went back to the albums you grew up on... more this one more urgent. What made you decide to take that direction?
Yotam: "Symptoms", the last record we made, was the breaking point for me. I was pushing very hard for us to make a solid rock album with our punk attitude and ended up with a writer’s block, eventually keeping all the slow songs we wrote. At the time, I thought it was great but listening back it just focuses on my deteriorating relationship with my ex and it's like "here you go world, here are my personal problems". When we started touring the record, we ended up playing barely a handful of those songs live and pretty much early on our guitarist Ishay said that we should make a punk record with like 16 short songs for the next one, and it really hit me. To be honest we sound better and get more excited when we play faster, so I thought it was good to get in that state of mind where you just discover a band and it blows your mind. That same feeling you felt when you just heard Bad Religion or Dag Nasty for the first time. You know, try to channel that energy somehow, we ended up writing over 50 tunes and staying with these 15.
PRT: You recently toured all over the US alone and released a solo album... were you eager to get back to Useless ID?
Yotam: Yeah, I actually got offered to do another 2 months supporting The Ataris while I was there which was very appealing but that would mean no new record for Useless ID so it was time to head back to Israel after 6 months in the U.S. I set up my old bedroom at the house where I wrote "Redemption" and started writing again. I then moved to an apartment that had no wifi and no tv for a month so I pretty much isolated myself at night to continue writing. I read Stephen King as well and barely slept. It's good to do that every now and then but living in that headspace is not so healthy. After 6 months of not playing with the guys we headed into a new rehearsal space and it all fell back into place and sounded better than ever so we continued at it.
PRT: What are some of the biggest pros and cons of going at it alone versus being in a band?
Yotam: Pros: you decide when to wake up, eat, shit, drive, sleep and pretty much everything else. If something goes wrong you blame yourself and continue moving forward. Playing live you have complete freedom to do whatever, whereas with Useless ID we try to keep it like the Ramones used to. 16 songs in a row, maybe a word here and there. With Useless ID, you're part of a travelling group of people so you gotta stick together many times and not get lost which I normally do alone hahah
PRT: You are not afraid to speak your mind in your lyrics or in interviews. Being from Israel, do you ever worry that the things you say about your country might get you in trouble?
Yotam: I feel that is my duty as a citizen of a country totally in the shits to speak out as much as I can about it and start changing the way people are programmed. I'm just a singer in a punk band after all that the majority in Israel has a hard time digesting, but even if it's one person telling me the album changed his life and the way he thinks which happens then I feel like my mission is going somewhere and that to me is the biggest prize, this world needs to be a better place.
PRT: In spite of being outspoken, I never really saw Useless ID as a political band. Do you feel that you are becoming more of a political band now?
Yotam: We've always had political views but had a hard time incorporating it into the music, being from Israel it was somewhat expected of us to scream about what's going on on our side of things. So for me, if I was ever going to sing about these things it had to be from a place where I'm so frustrated with it that I feel like I'm going to explode and that's what happened on this record. I want to sing about what it's like to live in the middle of this mess.
PRT: "45 Seconds" is a short hardcore blast... where did that one come from?
Yotam: Around a year before we hit the studio I released a record with another band of mine and Corey's (drummer) called SPIT, we play old-school hardcore like DRI, COC, Black Flag and my brother Nadav sings there and another dude called Nadav, who did the art for "State is burning", plays bass. We had some songs left from the writing process that didn't make the cut so I thought about presenting them to Ishay and Guy, "45 seconds" was one of them, along with the other tunes it feels like it's more of a Useless ID song to begin with anyways.
PRT: "We don't want the airwaves" is your tribute to the Ramones. What is your favorite Ramones song? And why?
Yotam: Wow... Tough question, I love all the classics from the first record... I actually love Mondo Bizarro as an album. But I'd have to say Pet Semetary is my favorite Ramones song, it's just so haunting. The lyrics, the chorus and the cheesy 80's keyboards just make it a time travel experience for me every time I listen to the song. (Stephen King is a genius in his own right so add that to the mix). I added it to my acoustic set a year ago and have been playing it ever since. People seem to dig it
PRT: What's up next for Useless ID?
Yotam: For now we're on the road with Lagwagon in Europe, we’re barely a week in and having so much fun so far. In October we head to Japan with Frenzal Rhomb and that should be followed by a US tour in November. We haven't been there for a while. Besides that, I'm gathering tons of video footage for a movie about Useless ID that me and a buddy of mine are working on so it’s a very exciting time right now. If I can just add one thing… I want to thank everyone for checking out the record. We read what you say and it means a lot so thank you very much!