EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Mark Civitarese of The Unseen, Tenebrae

The Unseen

LOS ANGELES, January 15, 2014 — Mark Civitarese sings for The Unseen and Tenebrae, both Massachusetts based hardcore punk bands. Last March, Wells On Music spoke with Mark Civitarese regarding the recent happenings with both bands, as well as touring and finding punk rock music.

Kevin Wells: What bands inspired you to start your own bands?

Mark Civitarese: I would say probably bands like Black Flag or Minor Threat, Circle Jerks. I was into music before I was into punk rock. Originally, as a kid I was into heavy metal. I wanted to find something that was not what everybody I grew up with was listening to and something that was kind of different. I found bands like Metallica and Exodus and Slayer, but being a kid, 15 or 16 years old, I never thought I could play that stuff because it was complicated.

Then I met some kids that were into punk rock and I discovered bands like Slapshot and Agnostic Front, Minor Threat. Some of those bands had great songs, but weren’t good musically. I still listen to these bands 20 years later. So, when I say they’re not good, I just mean, they were kids playing instruments and complicated wise there is a huge difference between a Slayer song and a Minor Threat song. Once I heard that stuff and saw the fashion aspect of it and the lyrical content, it was just something I could really relate to. And a lot of times seeing the pictures, even though by the time I was seeing the pictures of Minor Threat, they were adults, but looking back and seeing these pictures, I’m like wow, look at these kids playing this kind of music. It was just something I could identify with.

KW: What is going on with The Unseen?

MC: It’s actually funny we’re doing this interview right now because we haven’t really done much at all since, I want to say, ’08. I think Internal Salvation came out in ’07. By the time that record came out, we had literally been touring like non-stop for about 8 or 9 years. We had been touring for about 10 or 11 years, but as we got a little bit older into our early 20s, we just said screw it, we don’t want to work. Let’s just be a band. So by the time Internal Salvation was coming out, must of us were just really spent on doing the band. We loved the band. We spent so much time on it, but just being around each other so long, it just kind of took its toll on us. We never broke up or anything, we just kind of were like, all right, we owe some people some money. We’ll just pay it off on the next tour. It’s how we always did it, but then there just wasn’t a next tour.

A couple guys wanted to get real jobs, they hadn’t had one in like 10 years. Some people had no place to live, literally, because we were always on tour. So we kind of just put everything on the back burner. We’d get together every once in a while and practice and play a local show in Boston, but that was pretty much it. We’ve played about 4 shows in the past 4 years, but in the last the last year or so, we started kind of talking a little more about it, but never really following through on it. It would always be like me talking to our guitar player, Jonny, or me running into our bass player, Tripp, somewhere. And then Tripp got married this summer and since he got married, I’ve been talking to him a lot more. Me and him started the band together when we were kids. So we’ve been talking about stuff and we actually met up about a week ago. We just went out and had some drinks and are talking about doing some stuff.

KW: Will you be touring with The Unseen?

MC: We are going to be playing, not extensively touring like we used to. None of us just want to deal with that right now, you know, we don’t make enough money doing it to hold everything you have to hold onto as an adult, like bills. We are gonna be doing some stuff this year, for sure. I can’t say what yet, but soon we’ll be making an announcement about some shows.

KW: Will The Unseen be releasing any new material?

MC: We’ve been talking about trying to get together and write and we’re gonna try and see what happens. If the stuff’s good, we’ll release it, if we don’t think it’s that good, we won’t. Another thing we might do is not really aim to record a full length because this day in age, it just seems like nobody buys CDs. 12”s, LPs are back in, but at the same time there is not much money to be made off an LP from a label’s standpoint.

We’re not stressing on it. Making records and making them as good as we could, you know, the artwork is something we stressed over for so long. Of course, we wanted to put out something that was good and looked good and that we were happy with, but it was also like, man, this has got to be good or no one’s gonna like it, no one’s gonna come to our shows, we’re not gonna make any money.

Now, we’re so far removed from that, it’s like a breath of fresh air. Now, I’m excited to go get together with everybody and write something. It’s like, hey, if we come up four good songs, let’s put out a 7”. If we end up writing 12 good songs, we’ll see if somebody wants to put it out. I think technically, we’re still on Hellcat Records. We signed for an X amount of records and we’ve only done two out of that number. So they may or may not want to put out our next record. So, we’re just gonna kinda take it slow and do it for fun like we did as kids. We first started doing this when we were like 16 or 17 years old and now I’m 37.

KW: How did Tenebrae come about?

MC: Once The Unseen stopped playing in, I’d say about ’07, I was like I gotta play music. Our bass player, Tripp, played in a band called The Side Effects just for fun. One of the guys from the Dropkick Murphys plays guitar. They just kind of play locally around town and stuff. I still wanted to make music and I still wanted to tour. Everybody was sick of it. I was like, you know what? I don’t care if I make money or not, I just want to tour. I didn’t really have a place to live back then because I was touring so often that I was just homeless, basically. So I just wanted to keep going.

I played in a band called Ashers for a little while. We did a tour of Europe, put out a full length and did a couple U.S. tours. Then that just kind of started to fall apart because people were moving. Again, I wanted to keep playing music. I’ve always been into hardcore and metal as much as punk rock. It’s kind of the same form of music, but I’ve always wanted to do something a little bit heavier. The Unseen had aspects of that, especially on our last two or three records, where some of the songs were a little more hardcore sounding. I wanted to do something more in that vein, something that was a little different than The Unseen. The Unseen was such a huge part of my life for so long. That’s basically what everyone knows me by. So I just wanted to try something that was a little bit different.

One of my friends that lives around Boston, a skinhead punk rock kid, was getting ready to leave a band that he was playing in. He wanted to do something that was a little different too. We just got together and started talking about ideas and a direction. We wrote some songs together. We found a bass player who’s also from Boston. He toured with the Street Dogs, playing various instruments for them. He was looking to do something that was more his band, that he was a member of. So the three of us kinda got everything going and that’s that.

We released a 7”, which is also in CD format and that’s been out for a year now. We haven’t toured. We’ve played Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. We just recorded three new songs that will be coming out as a split 7” sometime this summer, I think. That’s my priority as far as doing something moving forward. At the same time, I’m totally open to doing something with The Unseen as well. It’s just waiting to see what’s going to happen with The Unseen.

KW: Any plans for a U.S. Tour with Tenebrae?

MC: I’m not sure. I’m kind of at a point in my life where I’ve been everywhere, almost. I’m really lucky to have been able to go to the places I’ve been to; Australia, Japan, all across Europe numerous times. I’ve been everywhere in the U.S. more times than I can count. I’m at a point now where I own my own house. I run my own landscaping company. I have responsibilities to be home. With Tenebrae or The Unseen, either one, I’m still open to tour, but I can’t go away for a month at a time like I used to. I’m more into doing something that’s a week or two weeks long.

Going to California and maybe doing a west coast thing is something I want to do with Tenebrae and possibly The Unseen this year or maybe one this year and one early next year. I don’t think I’ll sit in a van and drive across country and play Iowa or Nebraska and all these smaller places anytime soon because I’ve done it for so long and I’ve kind of moved on to another stage in my life.

KW: What is your favorite city to play?

MC: There’s a few, it’s hard to pick. I’ve always liked Chicago. I’ve always had really good shows there. Berlin has always been really fun to play. L.A. has always been great, or the areas around L.A. like Pomona. The Unseen has had a lot of great shows at The Glass House in Pomona. Those would be my top picks and Tokyo. We went to Japan with The Unseen and we actually played Tokyo three times because we were there for a month and all of those shows were amazing. The crowd was great.

KW: What is the craziest thing that happened you were on tour?

MC: It’s funny because we toured so much that we got so used to bad situations, you know what I mean? Sometimes something would happen and then it wouldn’t even seem like it was that big of a deal. Let me think. We stayed at this one hotel, we were on Warped Tour, and sometimes we would try to leave a little bit early because usually you were stuck there until about ten or eleven at night and then you had to be at the next venue at 7am and the drive was usually the drive is like six hours. So that would leave no time to sleep. So sometimes we’d try to sneak out early, if possible, so that we could go to a hotel and not be sleeping in a moving vehicle for once.

We stopped at this one place, I remember, in Waco [TX]. I can’t even describe out how unsanitary and crazy the hotel was. I got my own room because it was super cheap. I had some money on me and I just wanted to be away from people for five hours or the amount of time we were going to stop. So I got my own room and I go up there and there was a full size fridge in the hotel room, which was kind of weird because usually hotels have smaller refrigerators. Then I realize it’s not plugged in and I open the door and it’s just like flies everywhere and mold. It’s something out of a bad movie. The air conditioning didn’t work and this was Texas in August. It was just like completely filthy and I’m not picky about where I stay. I’ve stayed in squats, warehouses, you know, I’ve slept pretty much in every condition and this hotel that I was paying for was way worse than any dirty punk house I ever slept in.

KW: You had a record label, ADD Records. What happened with that?

MC: When we were touring all the time, I was getting to meet so many good bands that weren’t getting recognized by labels. I knew I could sell stuff especially if the band was going to be touring, back in the mid to late 90s. It’s something I did to help bands that I actually really liked and that I thought would potentially go on to be on bigger labels. Then I would think, I’ll have their first record and it will be cool to have the first thing they did. It will be something that people will always want and be more limited because I didn’t have major distribution. I would press quantities of 1000 at a time.

As it got into the mid-2000s, I just started noticing that I was selling less CDs and some of the bands were doing really well. The shows were really good and they were touring. Clit 45 was touring all the time and Global Threat was touring all the time and it’s just like I wasn’t selling. It was getting harder and harder to get checks from distributors when you send them stuff. I used to put my money into it and I would see a return. It might have taken a while, but I would see a return. After a while, it would be like I’m not seeing anything back now. I’m starting to go into debt because of this. It’s not worth it for me to lose thousands of dollars to help a friend’s band out. I just stopped doing it.

A lot of distributors that I was working with at the time were starting to go out of business. I got screwed over by a few distributors by never getting back what I sent them. I never got money or the product back. It was like, I sent you 500 CDs and you won’t return my emails or my phone calls and you never sent me a check. I just lost all that money. It just got to be too much. Also, The Unseen was so busy at the time that I didn’t have time to really be home and deal with following up with distributors and promote all the bands.

KW: If you could go back to 1993, what advice would you give yourself before starting The Unseen?

MC: We’ve definitely made some mistakes, but for the most part I don’t really regret anything we did. We always seemed to have decent shows. We never made tons and tons of money, but we made enough to go home, pay our bills, keep the van running, and go back on tour. I’ve played with almost every band I wanted to play with. We toured with a lot of great bands and been all over the world to places I’d never go if I wasn’t in The Unseen. I don’t really know if I would change much of anything. Except maybe be a little bit more organized as far as the early tours, as far as preparing when you leave, as far as directions to where you’re going. I don’t really have any regrets or anything I could change.

KW: Is there anything else you want the fans to know?

MC: Definitely look for The Unseen to be doing some stuff in the next year or year and a half. I don’t think there is going to be any extensive touring, but I think we’re gonna be looking to do things like short, small tours. If there’s some sort of small or mid-level or big festivals going on, we’ll try to get on doing something like that and maybe play a couple small club shows based around it just to make it worthwhile to travel.

Playing big festivals, to me, sometimes they’re great, but I personally like and most of the guys in the band like being in a smaller room where the energy is just people going off, everyone is close in your face, but the reality is The Unseen is the type of band that can get on some bigger shows and that makes it able for us to actually go out and do the smaller shows. I would say just look for us to be playing.

Look for a Tenebrae full length definitely sometime this year. We’re writing and playing shows. Also look for Tenebrae to be going out and doing dates as well. You can follow all the news on the Facebook pages, my Facebook page, The Unseen Facebook page and the Tenebrae page will have any info will once we get anything, it will be posted up there.

Kevin J. Wells writes about Major League Baseball and punk rock music. Follow him on Twitter @WellsOnBaseball

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