My good friend, John Hall, came to me some time ago with the idea to conduct an interview with legendary Cleveland hardcore frontman Don Foose. John and I both being huge fans of Don's work—especially with Run Devil Run and The Spudmonsters—as well as his positive and inspiring nature, I quickly agreed, but hectic schedules held things up and it never came to pass.
Cut to a few months ago, when Foose issued his brand new book, Raw Life. It seemed like perfect timing, so John and I finally put together some questions and reached out to the man himself, who graciously agreed—and turned his answers around within 48 hours!
Below are Don's thoughts on his early beginnings; the impact of Krsna consciousness; fond musical memories; and, of course, Raw Life...
As a kid, was performing something you enjoyed doing? What drew you to wanting to front bands?
That's a funny question. When I was in high school, my buddies and I would go out drinking on the weekends and look for parties and chicks... Anyway, we were at some party in Brunswick, OH and there was a metal band playing in the driveway of the dude's house. The guitarist was bitchin' about their singer not showing up and he said, "If anyone knows the words, this is a Metallica song called 'The Four Horsemen'..." I was buzzing pretty good that night and just jumped up on the mic and went completely berserk! Metallica was one of my favorite bands at the time and I knew all the words. After I sang the tune, people were coming up to me saying how much they liked it. Some dude with a wooden leg came limping up to me and said, "Yo, bro, what band are you in?" I told him I wasn't in a band and that that was the first time I ever sang in public, and he said, "You need to be in a band!" I was inspired by that.
Though it didn't work out in the end, you joined the Army after high school. How long were you in, and how do you reflect on that experience now given the philosophical growth you've experienced in the decades since?
I was a paratrooper in the US Army and lasted about a year-and-a-half. I learned a lot about discipline and responsibility, but didn't want to make a career out of it. I got into some trouble, so I got out a little earlier than planned.
At what point did you become interested in hardcore and metal music, and how did that evolve into your participation in early groups like Paralyser and The Bag Men?
I always liked metal in the early-'80s, but never identified with the lyrics. When I heard bands like Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, Uniform Choice, and various other hardcore bands, I found my real passion in music. The early bands I played in were more for fun, but when I got into The Spudmonsters I felt like I was locked into a lifestyle and loved it.
Musically speaking, you are probably most remembered for your run with the now-legendary Spudmonsters. How do you view the legacy of The Spudmonsters in hindsight?
When I joined The Spudmonsters, my life changed so much. We practiced six days a week. We went through the set—without breaks—twice a night, and we were very tight musically and as a brotherhood. When we toured, we experienced so much, and we played throughout 16 countries. Everything was so new to us back then, and very exciting. When we returned from our first European tour, we were selling out 1,200 capacity clubs regularly. We were the first "local" hardcore band to be on the cover of Scene magazine, and that was a real honor. I feel blessed to have spent that time with my Spudbrothers, and our local followers were the sickest pitmongers ever!
It's been widely cited that you were introduced to Krsna consciousness by John Joseph when The Spudmonsters toured with the Cro-Mags in the early-'90s. Had you felt any sort of spiritual connections prior to that, or was that transition really more of a sudden awakening?
In the fall of '94, I was a little down and out searching for the purpose of life. I remember going to churches and speaking with priests and not really getting satisfactory answers about why bad things happen to good people, and why there was so much struggle in life. I prayed that I would get some solid signs to point me in the right direction. In the winter of '94, The Spudmonsters did a short US tour with the Cro-Mags. Cro-Mags vocalist John Joseph was backstage at the first gig talking philosophy to some kid. He was speaking about reincarnation, karma, meditation, and vegetarianism. I was blown away by the philosophy and asked him many questions. I was pleasantly satisfied with the answers, and he gave me a book by Śrīla Prabhupāda called The Science of Self-Realization. He handed it to me, and with his thick New York accent said, "Yo, man, enlighten yourself." That book changed my life and it was a slow, gradual awakening that is still in action today.
Certain factions of the hardcore scene of that era were staunchly anti-religion. Since you consistently self-identified as Krsna conscious, did you ever feel like people started to act differently towards you?
Some of my friends thought I changed too drastically because I gave up intoxication and meat-eating, but after a while they realized I was still Foose: same as I ever was. I was more thoughtful with my decisions, though. I became more compassionate and tried to live for a higher purpose, but I was never fanatical. Religious fanatics have always turned me off. My spiritual master, Śrīla Prabhupāda, always said, "Be strict with yourself, but lenient with others." I never became that grave, grumpy person that some people turn into. I love to laugh and have fun. That's a sign that someone is actually practicing Krsna consciousness (or any religion, for that matter) properly.
On a similar note, I don't know if you're still working concrete, but if you are/when you were, have you experienced any culture clash in that environment living as a sober, vegetarian, Krsna conscious individual?
I actually have a great crew of friends that I work with. They come to me for nutritional advice, and some ask me about spiritual life on a daily basis. Construction sites can be like a warzone, but I'm blessed to be with some cool cats.
Following The Spudmonsters, you resurfaced in Run Devil Run. How did that band take shape, and were you consciously trying to head in a different direction at that point?
When The Spudmonsters disbanded in '98, I received a phone call from a Belgian record label called I Scream Records, and they wanted my new project, whatever it was. I got together with some close friends—Mike Ski (Brother's Keeper), Richie Ferjanic (In Cold Blood), and Kevin Roberts (The Meatmen). We called the band Rāja-Vidyā for a couple weeks, and a week before our album came out we changed it to Run Devil Run. We wrote and recorded our first album, The Killing Civilization, over a three-day weekend. After it was released, we did two European tours and received great feedback, and that's how we got started.
What are your fondest memories of the Run Devil Run days? Sinking Deeper, in particular—with all of its guest vocal appearances, the Gorilla Biscuits and Cro-Mags covers, etc.—always seemed like it must have been a blast to put together.
My favorite memory in Run Devil Run was playing the Dynamo Open Air festival in Eindhoven, Holland with Metallica and S.O.D.! I always wanted to play Dynamo when I was in The Spuds, but we never got the chance. I felt like we conquered that day.
Recording Sinking Deeper was a blast! Dave and Dan Quiggle [Disciple, Jesus Wept, etc.], Jason Anthony, and a ton of our closest friends did gang vocals, and we knew it was a special album when we were in the studio. Many kids to this day say that Sinking Deeper is their all-time favorite album! It was also a huge honor that Victory Records picked us up in America, and that helped us out immensely.
Both The Spudmonsters and Run Devil Run seemed to have done more touring in Europe, would you say that's accurate? If so, why do you think it was that Europe seemed to "get it" more than the US did?
The European scene never dies. '80s metal is still huge there, punk is still huge there, and hardcore will never die. In America, people want the flavor of the week.
Over the last several years, you've been involved in a diverse array of musical projects—Sons of War, Foose, Lifeline, Dancing White Elephants... Do you currently have anything happening musically, either with these groups or potentially new outlets?
I'm taking a break right now. I coached my son's baseball team this year, and released my new book, Raw Life. I love music, but need to take a step back for clarity. It's nice to put things to rest so when I pick it back up I will have a fresh, vibrant energy and vision.
In previous interviews you've discussed your boxing and martial arts background, and you've been a certified personal trainer for some time, too. What's your current conditioning routine looking like?
I run through the hills in the Metroparks. Nature provides the cleanest, freshest air for the lungs, and it's beautiful scenery. I don't box anymore. I need to save a few marbles for the grandkids...
Let's talk about your new book, Raw Life. Beyond just healthy, raw foods recipes, it also touches on herbal remedies as well, right?
Yes, I've studied Chinese medicinal herbs for a while, and love creating elixirs to heal ailments of the body. I also have a section on juice fasting, and a part called "My 'Farmacy'" that is sort of a basic guide to eating for health 101—letting nature be your doctor.
It took three years to complete the book, which must have been quite an arduous undertaking. What was that process like, and what were some of the biggest challenges along the way?
Getting my recipes 100% where I wanted them was a task in itself; and then coordinating photo shoots with my friend, Kevin Kopanski, who did all the photography, was so difficult. Once everything was ready to compile, I had to coordinate with my friend, Scott Schumacher, who did the whole layout. Writing a book was truly a learning experience, and very gratifying.
In the end, Raw Life almost sold out of its first pressing in a single day. Have you been surprised by the outpouring of interest?
I have been blown away by all the positive feedback! Earth Fare reorders every few weeks. My website gets the most traffic, though. I couldn't be happier with the results of the release.
It's early, of course, but has the response to date inspired you to consider tackling another book in the future—perhaps something that extends into the fitness/training aspects of a healthy lifestyle?
For now, I'm outta ink! It was a great experience writing my book, but I'm on to other things on my bucket list. Maybe I'll come back to writing again if inspiration strikes. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share a little bit about myself. Thanks also to anyone who reads this interview and is inspired to pick up my book, Raw Life. Take care, Hare Krsna!