As far as influential musicians in the hardcore/post-hardcore world go, few names loom larger than Walter Schreifels. Not only did he help define the New York hardcore scene of the ‘80s and ‘90s with acts like Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today, but Schreifels also had a major influence on the post-hardcore movement of the 2000s with his most prolific band, Quicksand.
Just as the scene was catching up to his hardcore ways around the turn of the millennium, Schreifels changed things up almost entirely by forming Rival Schools, a more melodic (and borderline indie) band that proved him perfectly capable of a less in-your-face approach. Rival Schools wouldn’t last long though, releasing only one album during their original four-year period of activity.
Like much of Schreifels’ previous work, that one album, 2001’s United by Fate, left a lasting impression and inspired the next generation of emo a la Thursday’s Full Collapse and At the Drive-In’s Relationship of Command. It was recently reissued in an expanded, rarities-packed package by Run for Cover Records as a belated 20th anniversary celebration of the project.
SPIN spoke with Schreifels, 53, to look back at the album, his impact on modern hardcore, and how he’s balanced an insane number of different bands for nearly 40 years.
SPIN: What was it like to look back at United by Fate more than 20 years later for the re-release?
Walter Schreifels: It really makes me think back to a specific time in my life, the group of people I was hanging out with, the kind of things I was into, and how I was regurgitating all of that through the music. It was a really special time for me, and music was interesting in the early 2000s. It was a big switch in that some music styles were really changing. It was an interesting time for music, and I think Rival Schools fits in there in a special way. I think for the people that were into it at the time, it still speaks to them as importantly now, if not more. It still resonates with people who hear it now, even if they weren’t even born or conscious at that time. That’s pretty amazing to me, and it’s kind of what you want when you make a record.
Do you remember how it felt to shift musical gears at the time with the more indie-leaning Rival Schools, as opposed to your more hardcore-based musical projects like Gorilla Biscuits, or even Quicksand?
It was just something I felt like I wanted to do. I had just started to acknowledge that I was on a certain kind of trajectory with the kind of music that I was doing. Even though I initially got into hardcore music and punk, which has a certain formula to it, it was never really what I loved. I was bringing things into that music that I loved from other genres. When I did Quicksand, it was a step away from that. With Rival Schools, I wanted to step away from that again — not to say that I wasn’t into the things that I’d done before, but just that I wanted to progress, take some risks, and develop different kinds of creative paths. With Rival Schools, that was definitely part of it. As a result, I think there are a lot of people who love Rival Schools but never really heard of Quicksand or Gorilla Biscuits. To me, that’s part of its success, in a way. It reached beyond what was already there.
Speaking of reaching different groups of people, each of your bands really influenced musicians in a wide variety of genres. Have you noticed how your impact seems to range from metalcore bands to acoustic singer/songwriters?
It’s been an interesting ride in that sense. For the people who I know have been affected and inspired as artists, I think that’s amazing. That’s helped to keep what I do relevant all along. It’s affecting other people, and they affect other people, and that signal’s being spread. But for me, whether its Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, Rival Schools, or one of the other projects I’m involved in, I’m all about that project when I’m doing it. They all have this connection to me that I think brings some people along, but I also realize that it’s not always going to work out that way. If you’re a fan of Gorilla Biscuits, you might listen to Rival Schools and think, ‘this isn’t really for me.’ But I think that a lot of the ingredients are the same, in terms of my process and how I work with different people, so that comes through to some people over time. It has just been an interesting evolution for me, and it continues on. It’s always interesting for me as far as the different people that get hit by the different bands. That’s just the icing on top for me, and it also means I’m meeting people from all different generations of artists, which is amazing to me as well. I think now I’m able to see the thread that goes through all of the different [bands], but at the time of Rival Schools, I wasn’t really thinking in those terms.
And how does it work for you to bounce back and forth with a lot of your projects? You’ll go on tour with Quicksand, play shows with Gorilla Biscuits, Rival Schools, and Youth of Today, and still continue to do various things outside of those bands.
I’m working with good people, so it allows us to just keep it fun and interesting. We like to see each other, which is really nice. Working out the schedules can be a challenge, but each group has its own parameters and different things to express. When I’m in band form, I’m bouncing back and forth between these different things, but as an individual artist, it’s all part of the same thing for me, to be honest. You think about someone like David Bowie, and he’s obviously working with different musicians all the time and constantly changing his program. That would be an inspiration for me. But for him, it’s always called David Bowie. For me, it’s not like that. I’m working with different people and always changing my direction, but the band names and stuff like that change with it. Within those different groups of people, I write differently and I collaborate differently. It really just keeps it interesting.
The energy that I get from playing with Youth of Today, for example, I’m basically just jumping around with a bass and going crazy, which is really fun. It’s not so much a thinking thing. It’s more like running around and having fun. I take that energy and I apply it to what I’m doing with Quicksand, which has elements of that, so it kind of strengthens that suit. It just works all around like that. Rival Schools is a combination of a bunch of different things, so that chemistry and that experience complements the other ones. That’s how it is from my perspective. From a fan’s perspective, you have to do a little bit of work to follow it all.
Seeing as Rival Schools broke up not long after United by Fate and then didn’t come back for nearly a decade, was it weird to be putting out and supporting Pedals and Found while a lot of that next generation of bands, which were then your contemporaries, had already been fans of and influenced by United by Fate?
Yes, but it would never be weird in a bad way. It’s always awesome. I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager, so every time I make a record, I’m trying to do my best work. In cooperation with the people that I’m working with, I’m trying to create something really special … something classic. So when someone’s influenced by it, or just the fact that we’re talking about it 20-something years later, it just makes it more gratifying. I’m grateful for that. We tried to make something great, and it’s amazing that it speaks to people. I don’t know if it’s pride, but it’s a good feeling that you’re doing good work. It gives you faith in what you’re doing and makes you want to do it more and do it better to reach more people. Music has always been about communication to me. I know 99% of the people in my life through my music. So the fact that bands were influenced by Rival Schools then and still are now, and that they cite Rival Schools as an influence, to me, that’s just like, ‘wow, awesome.’ It’s great. I was happy about it then, and I’m just as happy about it now.
The new re-release of United by Fate has a lot of extra content on it. How did it feel to unearth some of those unheard tracks?
It’s really cool to have opened up the vaults on this stuff because there were a lot of songs that I’d forgotten about that didn’t make United by Fate for some reason. But those songs were a big part of the story, so I’m really psyched for those to see the light of day. It’s very strange sometimes when you’re working on an album, because the decision of what makes the album and what doesn’t often comes down to what mood you’re in at that time. I think that I just thought, ‘oh, wow, these songs are a lot better than that’ at the time, but I don’t know. Also, there are a lot of cool photographs in there, so it was cool to see all these times that we had, because we had a lot of fun. Rival Schools was a good time. I think it was actually even more fun because there was a lot of stuff that I had forgotten about or didn’t even realize existed.