New Jersey outfit Elements DEC took shape during the early- to mid-'90s, featuring members who had previously performed with such acts as Out of Hand, Colorblind, and most notably Lifetime. The quintet initially operated under the name of Cool-Out Breed before resurfacing as Elements DEC—short for "Dead End Concept" or "Dead End Crukz" (a nod to the hip-hop collective Myndcrukz, to which the band had ties)—and formulated a truly inventive style of heavy music that was as diverse as their steady diets of metal, hardcore, and hip-hop—fronted by socially conscious lyrics that brought a message to the madness.
I first encountered Elements DEC way back in 2001. Through my adoration of fellow New Jersey innovators Train of Thought, I stumbled onto a new group called Agents of Man that shared some lineup ties. Another of my fanboy freakouts ensued, which led to me being informed that there was also another Jersey crew that fed into Agents of Man, and that band was called Elements DEC. Their vocalist, Larry Cooney, was kind enough to send me mp3s of the band's two demos, at which point I lost my mind again. Elements DEC was damn-near instantly elevated to one of my all-time favorite bands, and I listened to those demo mp3s almost daily for the next several years.
Eventually, I started a pathetically short-lived record label around 2005 or so, and my first release was supposed to be an Elements DEC discography CD. There was just one problem: no one could find the masters! I've been periodically hounding them ever since, and here we are: 20 years after hearing—and writing about—Elements DEC for the very first time, the band has digitally distributed both of those demos (1995's Win or Lose and 1997's Hesitation, The Enemy) across all major services through their own Ruins Records—alongside superb music from Train of Thought, Agents of Man, and the almighty Bulldoze!
Portions of the following interview actually date back to late-2001, when I first spoke with Larry for Aversionline v1.0 to learn more about Elements DEC. That interview has been offline for probably 15+ years now, so to celebrate these tracks finally becoming officially available in some capacity, we decided to revisit the interview and discuss some additional trivia that I had picked up over my decades of ridiculous super fandom. The results are below, and I must give immense thanks to Larry for being so open, honest, and thorough!
Since there's still not a ton of information about Elements DEC available online, get the standard "band history" requirements out of the way to start things off...
Well, to make it as brief as possible, I met Raj [Rajan "Bronze" Joseph, drums] and John [Doherty, bass] back in 1987 when I lived in Elizabeth, NJ (I was 11 or 12 years old). We were all basically "headbangers," more or less (for lack of a better term at the time). John and I also both skated. They were a grade ahead of me and we found out that we had mutual interests in thrash metal, hardcore, and just music in general. There was a whole crew of cats that listened to early New York hardcore like Warzone, Youth of Today, Underdog, Cro-Mags, Crumbsuckers, S.O.D.—just basically all heavy underground music, anything from that era. We all sort of met through either music or skating, which pretty much went hand-in-hand back then.
I wound up moving away from Elizabeth after 8th grade to a town called Middlesex, about a half-hour away. I met Scott [St. Hilaire, guitar] out that way. Around the same time, Raj and John started what would be the first of many bands, and Scott and I had a project called Out of Hand with a singer named Bill Rhodes. Years went by, and during that time Scott played in a band from Jersey called Lifetime. Bill later played with Raj and John in another band called Colorblind, and the whole time everyone from both towns continued chilling whenever we could. Then, Bill died in a car crash. It hit us all hard, 'cause we were anywhere from 15 to 18 years old, so it was really tough. A couple more years passed and we all kind of faded out of the scene a little bit, for whatever reasons. I know we all basically felt that the caliber of music wasn't all that great anymore, and the good bands had either passed on or were few and far between, and honestly we were growing up and expanding our musical horizons, going to college, etc.
I then recall a show that we were all at where a friend of ours from the scene was saying something along the lines of, "Why don't you go to shows as much anymore?" All of us basically said, "The bands suck now," and more than one person replied back to us, "Why don't you all do a band?" We realized that none of us were currently doing any other projects, and we had all worked with Bill before his untimely death. It seemed to make sense. We had a mission to make good music and to represent our boy who was no longer with us...
Our original second guitar player was Raf [Rafael Norat]. He had played with Raj and John in one of their older bands. He was nasty, for sure. He's the one that does the solo on the song "Win or Lose." But, things didn't quite work out with Raf, and then Rey [Fonseca, guitar] from One 4 One (and later Agents of Man) joined us right before the Hesitation, The Enemy demo. Toward the end, Scott left the band and Zack [Thorne, guitar] (also later of Agents of Man) took his place. We played a couple more shows and then eventually broke up.
How did Rey and Zack land on your radar? You all were probably already somewhat close with One 4 One and Train of Thought by that time, but I don't really know how all that unfolded. I'm especially curious about how Elements DEC aligned with Train of Thought, because to me those are two of the most criminally unsung "hardcore" bands EVER. Period.
Rey is just one of those people who knows everyone. Always has, always will. My man loves to talk to everyone and anyone and is just super outgoing, so I think everyone damn near knew Rey. When it was time for a new guitar player to replace Raf, I honestly think at the time he was the only name mentioned and it just worked. Rey was ultimately a part of EDEC longer than Raf was.
As far as how we knew Zack—and by extension Mike [Milewski], Chris [Golas], Puda and everyone else—I think it probably initially goes back to their time in Bulldoze. Most of them were either from or around Irvington, which is only a few towns away from Elizabeth. So, being part of that North Jersey hardcore scene that Raj and John in particular were still with since they still lived in Elizabeth, everyone just knew each other out that way. You may or may not have heard stories about a club called The Pipeline. That was like the major club for the North Jersey hardcore scene at the time, so everyone just knew each other and it was a tight scene. A tough scene.
We eventually started playing a few shows with Train of Thought as we realized that we both had a similar mindset, which was to do things slightly different than they were being done. I think we played at least four or five shows with them? The funny thing is, I most remember the show we did not play with them, but were supposed to. It was Easter Sunday in Long Island. It was an issue from the get-go, as people were dissing their families and shit like that. It was also far out in Long Island, so it was at least a three-hour ride one-way. We all packed in one van and got there only to discover the club's owner cancelled without letting us know. A decent amount of locals were there for the show and we had been partying pretty hard on the way up, so it just wound up being a chaotic scene that I cannot say much more about [laughs]. But they were friends first, I would say, so whenever you had a chance to play with friends, you did. We actually played two shows with them and God Forbid and I definitely remember joking with each other that we were all playing together because no one knew what to do with us individually as bands.
The band was originally called Cool-Out Breed before landing on Elements DEC. Talk a bit about the Cool-Out Breed era—why that name, how you came around to the name change, etc.?
Yeah, I was never a big fan of that name, for the record [laughs]. It specifically comes from a Q-Tip lyric from the song "Jazz (We've Got)," by A Tribe Called Quest. The specific rhyme itself is, "If you're on a foreign path, then let me do the lead, join in the essence of the cool-out breed." We were already into hip-hop more than hardcore, and knew it was going to be part of our sound in some way as that was an active discussion, so that was our way of subliminally (or maybe not so much) letting people know where we were coming from with our approach. While I did not really mind the overall name itself, I really disliked the fact that it was not an original concept of ours. Ultimately, I think both me and Scott kept hammering home the point enough that we were too original and had too many ideas to use someone else's lyric as the name of our own band, and the rest of the guys eventually agreed. I do remember it was not an easy sell, as Raj and John really liked Cool-Out Breed and had it as an idea prior to all of us even getting together, if I recall correctly.
The good thing is, though, I think we only played a handful of shows, if that, as Cool-Out Breed. We spent damn near a year playing almost no shows and just practicing trying to perfect the sound we had envisioned in our heads. Ultimately, people were getting antsy and wanted to start playing out, but since we had spent so much time in "the lab" as we used to refer to it, once we did decide to play out, it was toward the end of referring to ourselves as Cool-Out Breed. I was very happy about that fact [laughs].
As far as how the name Elements came about, I was chilling with two friends one night and we had taken mushrooms in NYC. My one boy realized about an hour in that we were all wearing the same color clothes from head to toe. One of us was in all blue, the other in all green, the other in all tan. I literally mean head-to-toe, all the same color. Because our state was pretty altered it kept popping up, and my boy Slouch Daddy made a joke about how we were a superhero group of the elements. It was the running joke the rest of the night, which was no doubt a long night, and at some point toward the end of the night, I started discussing how "Elements" was kind of a dope name for the band and then would not let it go, much to the dismay of my boys. When I proposed it to everyone else in the band just a few days later, there was hesitation for sure, I recall. Everyone felt it was too vague and too general. We ultimately agreed that if we added something to "Elements" to make it more unique, everyone would be down. "DEC" was added to it, and the rest—as they say—is history.
This is a potentially idiotic question, but one that must be asked: what does the "DEC" stand for?
Two things. The main thing it stands for is "Dead End Concept." Scott lived on a dead end street and that's where the band practiced. And, building on a deeper level, life is pretty much a "dead end concept." Not to be negative, but it's true: at the end of this game called life, you die. Then, for the heads that knew and the secondary meaning, it stood for "Dead End Crukz." We also had a hip-hop crew going by then—me, Raj, and our boy Bill all made beats, and we had a slew of MCs in a collective called the Myndcrukz—hence the Dead End Crukz.
When Elements DEC first started out, how did your musical direction take shape? I assume some intentional measures were taken since you were all so disenchanted with the scene around you at the time, but I can't imagine that your particular style was something that could've been fully planned or mapped out ahead of time.
I can say that our musical style pretty much took shape from who we were and what we listened to growing up. We all grew up with hip-hop, so that aspect was there, and I know we all also grew up with classic rock—and when I say "grew up," I literally mean it, speaking for myself at least, but I'm pretty sure that also goes for everyone else. Classic rock bands like Zeppelin, Steve Miller Band, and Sabbath were what I viewed as normal music, 'cause that's all my parents listened to and I was rocking out to it in the crib. Therefore, I started listening to thrash and death metal in like 2nd or 3rd grade. Punk came along when I first started skating, and then shortly thereafter came hardcore. So, our music was just a combination of all we had been and done up to that point. To put it simply: we knew we wanted to do heavier music, but we also knew it had to have soul, with a constant groove behind it.
It's a formula that's driven heavier music for decades, actually. We just took that formula and flipped it into what we thought we would like to listen to. I listened to Elements DEC as not only a band member but as a fan. I think we all did (and as a matter of fact, I still do), so in a way the music was mapped out, because we knew we wanted to make good music that we would also listen to, but I don't think we ever sat down and said, "Let's make it sound like this..." The most helpful part of the process was that we all wrote riffs. Scott was the main songwriter in the sense that he always had at least a riff or two to get the ball rolling, but myself and Raj always came up with something, too, which added to the mix 'cause you had different people writing the music—all with very similar musical backgrounds, but different styles keeping it fresh. Then, "Appleseed" (John) would just flip a bassline to it that was always guaranteed to be ill, so it was pretty much a constant process.
Nothing was ever intentional, it just happened, which was most definitely a part of the mystique that the band held. In fact, the more I think about it, the main reason we did come up with something different than the norm had everything to do with the fact that we just wrote what we felt, and never compared it to anything else or said, "Let's try to sound like these guys." So, although it was nothing all that groundbreaking—because I personally believe the plateau for making groundbreaking music is long gone—it was different, and a new take on things.
The Win or Lose demo was recorded in 1995 and the Hesitation, The Enemy demo in 1997. I know one of them was done at Trax East with the mighty Steve Evetts, but I'm not sure which one. Maybe share a little information about the two recording sessions and how they compared/contrasted?
"Night and day" is the first term that comes to mind. Trax East was expensive and ultimately it shows. That is where Win or Lose was recorded. Hesitation, The Enemy was recorded at some spot in Brooklyn, Fastlane Studios I think it was called? I honestly forget the exact name, as I was never happy with that recording for multiple reasons—the primary being that it sounds nothing like we wanted it to.
We wound up at Trax Easy thanks to dumb luck. We had all been saving up to record at a good studio, as that was important to us since very early on. Our goal almost right away was to get into a studio and get our shit out there. More so than playing shows. Originally, we booked some studio that was known for recording rock and metal bands in Lake Hopatcong, NJ. Even though I remember where it was, I could not recall for the life of me what the name of the studio itself was. The night before we were supposed to record at this other studio—like, we had literally just finished packing up the equipment to leave first thing in the morning (I also remember it was July 3, as we were going to start recording on the 4th of July)—the owner of the studio called us and said he had to cancel as he had gallbladder stones or something like that. We were devastated, as we were finally going to get to record, and we were also not happy he decided to wait until the last hour to tell us.
It took a few days, but somehow Trax East came up. We really wanted to go to a studio that was known not for doing hardcore bands, as we wanted a "good" studio to try and capture what we thought was this new sound. Just typing that out it feels so damn arrogant to even think, but it was true. When we called Trax East, they had some time within a month. I believe we even needed some more money to go there, but we made it happen. We were like, "Hell yeah, we get to record where Skid Row recorded!" [Laughs] at the time, not a ton of hardcore/heavy bands had discovered what a great place it was to record. But it is not like we had a sixth sense or something. As I said, we wound up there by dumb luck. Especially for a "hardcore" band, we just thought Trax East was the real deal, and it made us do our best to approach it like a real band, if that makes any sense.
Recording Hesitation... was pretty much the exact opposite experience. It was less like a recording studio and more like a rehearsal space that also did recording. Some bigger metal/hardcore bands at the time had recorded stuff there, and we liked the sound they had on their stuff. I guess they got a completely different engineer or something. Ours seemed like he couldn't care less. He would not listen to what we were saying or asking. He had his idea of how things should sound, even though we were telling him what we wanted. Then on top of it all, for myself, I had a bad cold the entire time. The last day, which was me recording my vocals, my cold was the worst it had been. I literally begged the guy trying to arrange it to come back another day, even if it was two months later, so I could record my vocals without a cold. The studio just kept saying we had paid for our days and they couldn't make it happen. We would have to pay for another day if I came back. So, I basically had to record my vocals with a cold, and also with the band being pissed off in general for not liking how the sound came out.
I do also think some of the other cats thought I was lying about the cold. See, at that time, my voice was the front-and-center topic of the band, and not in a great way. Those guys always wanted more of a singer singer, and they had already pretty much let that be known at various times. It is why I take an even more direct, damn-near screaming approach on the Hesitation... demo. My voice was always such a discussed topic, and I knew at that point especially I was never going to be a singer like they wanted. So, to me it was really simple. I could not sing like that and since that was the case, I figured if things were going to keep working out, I had to take it the exact opposite direction and not even attempt to sing as I did here or there on the first demo. I was sick of my voice, or lack thereof, being a constant discussion. I sound angry on that demo, as I am. That is why that demo is raw. There were raw feelings behind everything. For the record, I would say things did not work out. It just took almost two years for that to play out. But the Hesitation... demo, I believe, was the beginning of the end. No one was happy with how it sounded. All around with the music itself, I know it is that demo that really got a few of the members thinking to themselves that things were not going to pan out with me as the singer.
The truly ironic thing regarding the recording of the two demos is that I actually prefer the Hesitation... demo from a musical and lyrical standpoint. Do not get me wrong, I am proud of and also dig the Win or Lose demo, it's just that the second demo is a bit more in line with my overall personal tastes. I prefer the simpler approach of it musically, as I think ultimately it's more catchy, and I really think I was on the top of my game with the lyrics themselves. It's just the recording that leaves a lot to be desired.
So, yeah, sorry for the long answer, but it is a loaded question, and as I said, very much night and day experiences. Trax East was the recording session where we had so much energy and hope. The Hesitation... session was pretty much the exact opposite. Something felt off the entire time with it.
You had several songs that never made it to a demo—"Bounce to the Next," "Plans and Schemes," etc. "Bounce...," in particular, really seemed like a pretty "hot" track. Was there a reason you didn't try and record everything you had written at the time?
Money. It really is as simple as that. If we could have afforded to do so, we would have absolutely went to the studio multiple times. I specifically remember Trax East telling us for the time we had—which I believe was only three full days—that we should focus on three or four songs tops if we wanted to get anything done.
So, that was hard choosing those three or four songs, as at that point we had about a year-and-a-half of solid material. It really came down to what were the newer songs we had. "Bounce to the Next," "Plans and Schemes," "Follower" or "Shine"—which are two other songs we had that were dope as well—those songs we considered "old." It really was a very hip-hop mentality of the time of not wanting to do anything that was "played out." Being able to look back on it with age and wisdom on my side [laughs], it was pretty stupid as it was only played out to ourselves and maybe a handful of people that knew of us already. And I do mean a handful. With that said, the only song I wish we did not include on Win or Lose is "Fugue," as one of the previously mentioned songs would have been much better.
I really do wish we recorded "Bounce to the Next," and I actually regret that we never did. It was our very first song and I felt it captured our energy and approach perfectly. I also feel it was one of my better vocal performances. Since it was our first song, there was no doubt instilled in me yet, so I sang that song confidently, and as a result, pretty damn good.
What is it about New Jersey and the proliferation of heavy bands that infuse fairly legitimate hip-hop influences into their music? I mean, you had Elements DEC doing it, of course E.Town Concrete a couple years later, Fury of Five got into it a little bit and that spilled over into Boxcutter, and that's only scratching the surface. Can the start of that whole phenomenon be pinpointed?
First off, great question. To answer it simply: diversity. Now, for the story—and I know I'm definitely speaking on behalf of Raj, John, and myself—being from Elizabeth, we all grew up on rap/hip-hop. It was always there, regardless of whether we listened to it or not. I mean, when the movies Breakin' and Beat Street came out, so did songs like "Jam On It," "Rapper's Delight," "Planet Rock"... it was always there. Kids were breaking in the hallways with thick laces and shelltoes, and this was in 1st and 2nd grade, so it was always there because diversity was there.
Around '86 I personally heard Boogie Down Productions for the first time, then Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane... all of the hip-hop from the era after the breaking and electronic types of stuff. All these cats were just so real, talking to the lower/middle classes and talking for the streets, just like hardcore was doing. They were both forms of music that represented a struggle of the people, whether it was from their environments, the government, being outcasts—it was all more or less the same voice of the unheard person. So, to be quite honest, the two really went hand-in-hand, and it wasn't just with our crew, most of the entire hardcore scene also listened to hip-hop. KRS-One was on Sick of it All's album, and that's a perfect example.
The two genres just fused together in their rawness and simplicity, and more or less their purpose. It just came from growing up around it, and even more so from the essence of both styles of music. Hardcore and hip-hop were reality, and the reason I was able to appreciate this fact was diversity. Like I said, though, it wasn't just us, it was pretty much every cat that grew up in the Tri-State area and listened to hardcore and chilled at shows in the city, etc. If you were one of those people, you knew hip-hop, more or less. So, to answer your question more directly, I'm not sure that it can be pinpointed, except for the diversity—and I guess for lack of a better word the "environments" or "lifestyles" of the people from the surrounding area.
You've referred to your lyrics as having been both personal and socially relevant, so what types of content were you dealing with?
On a personal level, it was the same things that most singers deal with: coping with life, and girlfriends [laughs]! That was only a handful of songs, though, and most of the "love" songs were actually lyrics that I had written about four years earlier in high school. (That's when I was mushy and stuff [laughs].) The song "Dust" off of the first demo is pretty much the only love song that made it to being recorded. That's a classic, though, for sure.
Then there comes what I refer to as the "socially relevant" lyrics. The "Dead End Concept" lyrics. Let's take the first song off of the first demo, "The Game Ain't the Same." That's basically just saying that life's not fine and dandy, and it really never was, which has a lot to do with what the generations before us led it to be through their backward beliefs. If we're not careful as the human race, we are easily going further toward the point of no return...
Maybe it's just me
But what I see I can't believe
So many filled with greed
So many that's naïve
But, then again, it's not their fault
It's how they were taught
People with no voices
With no choices
The situation we are placed in
Is hell at its best...
The theme of history repeating itself plays an important part in a lot of my lyrics, because I believe that if people would just take the time to actually analyze the past and see what wrongdoings have been done throughout time—and more importantly throughout America's history—that things might not seem so "perfect" to them, and many things that they've learned to be ways of life, or to be "normal" can then be viewed as questionable.
Then there are songs like "Win or Lose" that are basically saying that this life we're in is a game, and it really just comes down to numbers—the numbers referring more or less to social security numbers, money, credit cards, etc. The chorus of that song is:
Win or lose, it's all just a game
All about numbers, not of names
It's a constant race with no finish
Those who win are those who don't diminish...
I just wrote what I felt about a certain concept. Most of the concepts dealt with how life isn't all that positive, and if people would just accept that and try to build on it to make life more positive, then in my view society as a whole would be better off. But, it seems like people just accept everything that is told to them and never question anything, therefore this vicious circle is achieved with ease. I don't know, my wife is always telling me that I'm too negative, and maybe at times she's right [laughs], but I can't just not question things and ask, "Why?"
On the second demo, my writing got better because I was more specific in my opinions. The first song, "Braille," deals with the same overall concept of society being blind, hence the title. I love every single line of that song. Here's an excerpt:
Stop and think, in a blink the brink could come
What was once known as one could now be none
We risk it all, but the fall we can't take
The future's ours to shape, miss, or make...
That song is basically my take on modern music and the media in general. Especially hip-hop-related music and what it was turning into at that time. Materialism, violence. Materialism, violence. Materialism. That's all these kids know as a result of that, and in my opinion that's as unhealthy as we can be. If it keeps up, as it has, I'm very scared for the world we will be living in—or, more importantly, the world my children and my friends' children will be living in, granted we're lucky enough to have them.
Then there's "Hesitation is the Enemy," my all-time favorite lyrics that I ever wrote—not only from a conceptual standpoint, but also the flow:
A fascination with degradation
But it's all a fabrication
Check the nation
Relations are done
A creation of devastation
Meant for elation
Education with regulations
Frustrations with designations
A realization: no time for contemplation...
Literally every line within the verse can be broken down into a concept, but the chorus was saying that it's all what we make it out to be. I could literally go on forever and break down every individual song that I ever wrote, which—believe me—I would love to do (I actually almost did [laughs]), but I'll refrain.
I definitely wrote with the purpose of sparking thought. Even if you didn't agree with what I was saying, hopefully it at least sparked some kind of thought about how things are. I'll be the first to admit that I never had an awesome voice or anything, but my lyrics and delivery were on point. Lyric-writing is what I miss the most. I take lyric-writing very seriously, and minus one or two songs from the Elements DEC days, all of my lyrics were saying something that I viewed as either things that needed to be said, or things that were socially relevant.
Is there any particular reason that you think Elements DEC didn't get the recognition you deserved? As soon as I heard the demos, I was blown away, I couldn't believe that I hadn't heard about the band more often in the past. It's just a shame...
Thank you very much. If I had to pinpoint one reason, it probably would have been the band itself. We basically thought that everything was going to come to us, and in fact it almost did, but we didn't push as hard as we should have. We were actually kind of picky with what shows we'd play, which also hurt us very much. Instead of taking every show we could get and playing out as much as we could, we were very selective. That definitely hurt us in the long run. I think that was the main reason. We had this mentality that we were going to get signed first, and then play shows, so instead of paying our dues all the way, we just shopped our demos around and played selective shows. It doesn't really work out that way for bands. I mean, it can... but it's very rare.
You've really got to build a tight following, and although we did have a following, it was nowhere near as big as it could have been. I mean, there's a fairly large local college radio station around here called WSOU, and they had a hardcore show on Monday nights, and the DJ at that time (my man Dan Teleposky, 'nuff respect) played the hell out of us. He interviewed us on the air, the beginning of the song "Win or Lose" was one of the loops he used to talk over between songs, and instead of taking advantage of that exposure and playing out as much as possible, we were still pretty selective and only wanted to play shows that we deemed to be "worth our time," whatever the hell that means. We were lazy, when I look back on things. Like I said, we thought everything was going to come to us, but when it all fell through we were so discouraged.
You blew my mind a few years ago by informing me that Elements DEC actually played a showcase for Bad Boy Records at one point, which is pretty insane. How did that come about, and what do you remember about the show itself?
Yeah. Although I shared above that I felt things were already starting to get contentious with the band right after the Hesitation... demo, we still kept at it. Even with everyone doubting my vocals—myself included—I could still write some pretty damn good lyrics. That was never a question, fortunately. The band itself was still the band. We had damn good music and those guys could play the hell out of said music—really play the hell out of it. I need to stress how fortunate I was to play with those guys, as they were so damn good. They were the equivalent of "The Wrecking Crew" in the hardcore scene. So, even with us internally not fully feeling it and there now being a seed of doubt about my singing, we were still onto something overall as a band and sound. Also, this is going to sound corny, but we did have a look as well, so we wound up getting what seemed to be fairly legit management.
We were also excited since our new management was strictly a hip-hop/R&B management team. We were their one and only "rock band," as they referred to us. I give them credit, as they tried their best. They dealt with us knuckleheads and they did actually get us into Bad Boy Records. Ultimately, there was some A&R at Bad Boy who was strictly in charge of finding a "rock band" for the label. I really wish I remembered his name, as he was a super cool guy. John something, maybe? Anyway, he totally got where we were coming from and what we were trying to do, so he was interested in us. After a few weeks of discussion, we were told Puffy would consider continuing the talks after we did a showcase show for them. The gist of it was if we were "really hot," we should be able to pack a club in NYC any day of the week. It was basically some weird fucking Puff Daddy test that we failed miserably. [Laughs] we played on a Thursday night in NYC at a midsize club called Arlene's Grocery at 8:00pm. Being a New Jersey-based band, it was damn near impossible for us to sell the place out, which was "part of the test." So, even though we had a decent amount of friends and family come out to support, it was nowhere near enough.
On top of that, the day of the show our management let us know they decided we should all wear the same "outfit" on stage to look more like a group. We were all almost immediately against it, but ultimately decided we should try and be team players. We actually went shopping at a local sports store in Elizabeth called Mannings and all basically got black track suits. It was ridiculous, and we were not happy campers. So, knowing we failed the test of not packing the place while playing on stage combined with feeling like idiots for selling out by all wearing the same track suits meant we did not play our best show. The Bad Boy Records dream basically died that night. I also pretty much remember we only had that management team for a few weeks after that before they decided to part ways. I also know one of them told some of the guys in the band if they really wanted to make it, they had to get rid of me, but to try and keep me around to write the lyrics as a ghost writer. I know this as eventually I was told as much by my fellow bandmates. So, yeah, that whole Bad Boy experience really was officially the beginning of the end of Elements DEC, even though it still would take well over a year for things to officially end.
You also dropped the bomb on me that the final Elements DEC lineup more or less morphed into Agents of Man, and that there were initially plans during those early stages for the band to have two vocalists—yourself and Puda—as heard in "If Anything," from AOM>EP01 . I know you have some mixed feelings about how all that went down, but what's the story there?
The initial Agents of Man lineup was the last lineup of Elements DEC with Puda replacing me. Zack had joined EDEC when Scott quit the band, so the last iteration of Elements DEC was Raj, John, Rey, Zack, and me. That is the same line up as AOM>EP01, minus me, obviously. It was shortly after that EDEC lineup formed that the rest of the band approached me with how would I feel if Puda joined us so we had a "real singer" that could handle singing. I was actually more than down, as I knew the writing was on the wall if not. However, shortly after approaching me with that proposal—and I think trying it with both of us a total of one time—I drove out to Elizabeth one day just to go chill, and instead I found those guys rehearsing with Puda. To me, the breakup at that point was years in the making. Scott leaving the band had already really made me question it all, as it was basically me and him out in Central Jersey and those guys in North Jersey. So, yeah, the way it was handled was pretty messed up.
However, to me, it was pretty much over already, so even with them doing things that way and me being hurt no doubt, I eventually just told myself to do my best to let it go. It was not easy as I had felt betrayed, but I like to believe I approached it all in as adult of a manner that I could have. I think they ultimately saw that, which is why they asked me to do the chorus on "If Anything," which was actually the last Elements DEC song written, and the only song we tried the two singers approach on. So, technically "If Anything" is an Elements DEC song, even though it never was credited as such.
And, again, now that I have hindsight, Puda did not need me at all. So, from his perspective, I do not blame him for not wanting to do two singers. I never had any animosity toward him at all, and we are still cool to this day. He was stuck in a weird situation, no doubt.
You released a solo hip-hop track in late-2019 called "The Alarm." Have you been working on any new music or lyrics on that front?
I never stopped writing lyrics, even without any band for said lyrics. Writing is just something I enjoy doing. With that said, I have gone through phases over the years where I may not write anything at all for a few years, then out of nowhere start writing up a storm. I just enjoy the process of writing lyrics and never stopped.
As far as potential new projects, I do have a few things in the works. As fucked and messed up as this COVID-19 situation is, it has no doubt allowed me to really focus on doing creative things to keep me busy being cooped up at home.
The one project is called MDM—short for Man Destroyed Man—which actually happens to be what I wanted to originally call Elements DEC, but was told by those guys at the time it was just way too negative [laughs]. As it stands right now, MDM has me reuniting with Scott on guitar and John on bass. On drums, we have Anthony Amodeo (of All Parallels and other bands), but him and John have played together in the past, so they are also reuniting so to speak. So, the band unit itself is tight musically. The thing with MDM is the three of us who were in EDEC all agreed pretty early on that we did not want it to be Elements DEC 2.0 and for it to be something new. Scott has written all of the music and he has no doubt delivered. My lyrics are very, very Elements DEC in nature as they are all about current social situations, but the music itself is something different for sure from EDEC. It is still heavy, but much more simple. Really riff-oriented. Scott said his goal is to write riffs people will hum, and again, he nailed it. I really dig it, but it also means it is taking me some time to figure out the best approach vocally since it is something other than what I am used to.
We are also doing it all virtually, so it makes it a bit of a challenge to brainstorm and try things out. We are all old men with lives, and two of the guys have kids, so things go from moving at a decent pace to standing still. I get antsy wanting to keep it moving and I know I annoy those guys [laughs]. It is all just a different approach than I am used to historically, but at the end of the day I am just happy to be making music again with two of my friends from Elements DEC. And Anthony is just such a phenomenal drummer who instantly got what we were going for, so it has been fantastic and no doubt a luxury having him on board.
We will be releasing at the very least a five-song EP early in 2021, with perhaps another song or two. I am probably more proud of this project than anything else I have done, and I am pretty damn proud of Elements DEC. I just feel like my lyrics are the best they ever have been, and have the wisdom of an additional almost 25 years on this planet behind them. I also challenged myself to make the lyrics simpler overall but still have an impact. I initially thought MDM may just be a one-and-done quarantine project, but we have talked about what comes next once we can physically get together, so that was a pleasant surprise, but also an exciting one. Who knows, we may even try and play a show or two down the road. Regardless, I am curious to see what the future holds for us as a band.
The second project I am a part of is called 647. This one is super interesting as I am the only American member of the band, everyone else is from Finland. Thanks to you featuring Elements DEC many years ago on your website, they had discovered EDEC. About a year-and-a-half ago, I got a message on Facebook asking me if I was the same Larry Cooney that sang for a band called Elements DEC. That got me and Jani talking with each other and I was immediately blown away that someone in Finland even knew about us, never mind liked us. Eventually, he mentioned how he also writes music, so I just casually said if he ever needed some vocals for something to reach out. He took me up on that offer, and things started building from there. I actually really, really dig this project as to me it is more thrash/metalcore and definitely gets me back to my roots, so to speak. It allows me to do my best Paul Baloff of Exodus impression, but I obviously still try for it to be uniquely me, and I think somehow I pull it off. At least that is the impression I get based on initial feedback from friends I have shared some rough demos with.
It's funny, back when EDEC rehearsed I used to fuck around and actually annoy the shit out of those guys by doing my "metal" vocals in between songs and shit. I think that fucking around somehow prepared me for this. And truth be told, there was always a part of me that thought I could potentially pull off that more thrash metal-type singing. It has been eye-opening, as I am realizing that ultimately my voice may be better suited to that style, which is kind of a mindfuck after all of these years. So, as that project continues to evolve, I get more and more excited about it. I am actually taking a more traditional approach to the lyric writing. For lack of a better explanation, I am keeping things pretty damn simple, which in some ways is also more challenging than my normal approach. To me it is pretty easy to write fairly complicated lyrics. It is a bit more challenging to really simplify things but still try and keep a message in there. I am enjoying that whole aspect a lot as well.
Then, there are always going to be hip-hop projects. What I do prefer about doing hip-hop is that I have no one else to rely on except myself—unless of course I team up with someone who made a beat. But generally speaking, I make a beat, I write a rhyme, and it is me and no one else to rely on. However, the other big thing is being a 46-year-old white guy, I do question if I should even be doing it. So, "The Alarm" is very much me attempting to do some "grown man" hip-hop. I purposely slowed down my flow and tried to write some rhymes that had a meaning behind them, just like some Elements DEC lyrics. I think I did an okay job, but nothing special.
With that said, no matter what happens, I am very confident I will release something else musically eventually. I just feel like I am writing the best lyrics I have ever written, and especially during these fucked up times in America, they are very relevant to our current predicament.
I've been bugging you guys for literally almost 20 years now about maybe doing something proper with the Elements DEC recordings to have good-sounding copies more readily available for people to hear, even if—at this point—that were to be digitally via Bandcamp, Spotify, etc. There have been issues tracking down even a solid CD-R burn of the tracks, but progress has occurred over the years, so... do you think my "prayers" will ever be answered here!? [Editor's note: This conversation took place over the summer. As mentioned in the intro, you can finally acquire these tunes now!]
Tracking down the masters has proved difficult, to say the least. What is hopefully going to happen is the stuff will be released for all streaming platforms. I do believe I have located a CD-R that was ripped straight from the master CDs the studios provided us. I am literally waiting on the person I tracked down to share the WAV files with me. Then I am going to pass them off to someone else to see if they can be mastered even just a little to be more in line with modern production. The overall volume level in particular is hugely different from modern production. So, there are still a few steps left to be taken, but I do believe if everything goes according to plan, the stuff will be available on all streaming platforms. I am personally aiming for August of 2020 as that would officially be the 25th anniversary of the Win or Lose demo. I guess better late than never!
I think that's finally all I've got. Any parting words of wisdom?
First off, thank you, Andrew. I feel like even if Elements DEC isn't a band anymore, if people can still hear the music and enjoy it, and then take the lyrics and actually think... just think about how things are and what they can do to make them better, then that is fantastic. Or, if just by reading these words they would do that, then what I always wanted to do through my lyrics will have been accomplished, so I thank you for the outlet.
Over the years, I've had a few experiences that have made me realize how lyrics or music I have a hand in creating can impact someone's life. Even being part of a relatively unknown band in the grand scheme of things, I was able to impact people's lives.
The first experience was pretty early on, before we even released the Win or Lose demo, and pretty much the most impactful. We had some friends who were already down with the group. Any shows we played, any time we rehearsed, they were usually there. So, they all knew our music pretty early on. We had a song entitled "Shine" that was about dealing with a sudden death. In particular for me, the death of my Great Babcia ("babcia" is "grandmother" in Polish, which I am half). The lyrics were pretty deep and very personal, but I purposely wrote them in such a way that they could be universal and it was not obvious they were just about my great grandmother. Although I did not know it, one of these friends had severe issues with depression. So much so, they often thought about suicide. One night at like 3:00am—and keep in mind I am still living with my parents—the phone rings. I jump out of bed to pick it up and it was this friend on the other end. All they said was, "I wanted to say thanks, as the lyrics from 'Shine' just stopped me from killing myself," and just hung up. I thought it was a joke, as at the time I did not know about their issues. Turns out, we had rehearsal the next day, so I asked them about it and it was confirmed right away, it was not a joke and unfortunately they were very serious. Keep in mind, this is pretty much way before depression and shit like that was being openly discussed. It was super heavy and also sad to hear, but at the same time also really damn inspiring. It made me realize if I could impact someone's life like that in such a significant way and had never intended to do so, that I damn well better take writing lyrics seriously.
That is by far the most serious of the two stories. The second one happened shortly after the Win or Lose demo was released. My cousin, who I am actually 12 years older than, was only about 9 or 10 years old. We were hanging out for the day and I took him to play basketball with me and my friends. Out of nowhere, he just started singing the chorus to the song "Fugue." It was bonkers to me that he even knew the lyrics. Even more bonkers that a 10-year-old kid would be singing those lyrics about basically having a mental breakdown. Once again, even if it was a very small lesson, I did learn the lesson that my lyrics could impact people.
The final story I only heard about five or six years ago. I got a friend request on Facebook, saw the person was from New Jersey and we had a few mutual friends. So, I accepted it as truth is I have a horrible memory and thought this could be someone I actually do know from back in the day. Turns out, we did just have some mutual friends and I do not believe we ever met, but my man wanted to share with me how when it was his turn to decide what to play in his squad's Humvee while on tour in Afghanistan, he would choose "Dust" by Elements DEC to get everyone pumped up and also as a way to connect with home. I was fucking blown away, for real. I also wrote almost all of the riffs to "Dust" (the only riff I did not write was the chorus), so to hear something I wrote when I was a teenager was being played by our troops on tour to get them amped up, it is just something I never, ever would have imagined hearing. I know established bands hear stories like this all the time. For me to hear it about my band that I was convinced not a whole lot of people even knew of, well, it just really hit home for me. As corny as it sounds, as many mixed feelings as I may have in regard to Elements DEC overall, it really made me proud of what we had done.
I share the above three stories for the person who may be reading this thinking about doing a band, or for the person reading this who is currently in a band and wondering: is it all worth it? If you are passionate about what you are doing, others will feel that passion often in ways you never envisioned would be the case.
Other than that, I will part with the words of someone who's been a very good friend of mine for years now. Every time I saw him over the years, he would always ask how things were and what I was up to, and I would tell him all of my plans, dreams, etc. Every single time he would simply reply, "Make it happen..."