Hazen Street
by Mike D'Ariano

3/2005

During the later half of the 90's, I was about as big a fan of the New York Hardcore band H2O as was humanly possible. I saw the band play roughly three dozen times over a four year span. I was also a big fan of Madball, another band popular in the NYHC scene whose lead singer Freddy Cricien was the younger brother of Roger Miret, lead singer of the legendary New York Hardcore band, Agnostic Front. I saw the bands play a few gigs together over the years, and was friendly with members of both groups.

If all was right in the world, Toby Morse, the lead singer of H2O would be a superstar. I've never seen a more charismatic front man, or met a nicer guy who was the singer of a big band, which H2O damn sure was in New York if not everywhere else. In this world, where all is about as far from right as it can be most of the time, Toby and H2O got all kinds of flak for non-musical issues like where they lived (not in NY) and what label they were on (not Epitaph) and faded away some over the past few years.

Freddy's story is a little darker. Actually it's a lot darker. Madball shows were known for being excessively violent. I went to many and they actually didn't seem much worse than the average NYHC show, where the dance floor usually looked like some kind of hyperactive tae kwan do riot. The difference I did notice was that for the most part at other hardcore shows, I didn't experience band members beating up audience members that often, something I saw Freddy do first hand on at least two occasions – once, in the middle of an interview I was doing with him backstage at CBGBs. In a world where things went the way you expected them to go, Freddy would be dead, or at the very least, in prison. This is a guy that was involved in New York City street gangs for years, has actually spent time in prison, and has been stabbed twice, the second time coming about an inch away from ending his life.

In 2004, these stories both merged and began to turn around. While on a joint H20/Boxcar Racer tour, Toby and Boxcar guitarist David Kennedy decided that they would form a new band. When the tour came through New York, Freddy – who had recently decided to clean up and try to fly a little straighter – and his Madball band mate, bassist Hoya, signed up to join the group. The final piece of the puzzle was drummer Mackie James, who has played in several groups including Fun Lovin' Criminals and the Cro-Mags. Some fans might also remember Mackie joining up with H2O for a few months back in late '96 while Todd Friend recovered from a broken arm. The new band, named after a nickname for the Riker's Island Correctional Facility where Freddy was incarcerated, was called Hazen Street.

When writing about Hazen Street, I would be remiss if I didn't make the obvious statement . . . hardcore supergroup . . . but that term is not exactly right, and the band themselves say so in their official bio. Toby is quoted as saying, "There's a small world of people that know who we are, but Hazen Street might go to a world that doesn't know what hardcore is." He's right. Hazen Street has the potential to reach a whole new audience, because quite frankly, they're not really a hardcore band.

There's definitely an element of hardcore going on in this music. I could for example easily see crowds of people beating the crap out of each other to the breakdown near the end of "Crossroads". But there's also elements of hip-hop involved, as Freddy tends to rap more than he sings (or screams if you like) along with elements of more straight- ahead mainstream rock. There are songs on here, specifically "Tomorrow", that sound more like late period Red Hot Chili Peppers stuff, complete with vocal harmonies and everything, than they sound like anything H2O or Madball ever did. Then there are also songs that sound sorta but not quite like the rap/metal hybrid of Linkin Park ("Sorry") and yet others that sound kinda but not exactly like the pop-punk offerings of the Offspring or Good Charlotte ("Trouble", "Stick-Up Kids" "All That") When you look at where these guys came from, you'd literally never expect this album, and what's more surprising is that it's as good if not better than anything that I compared it to.

A big part of what makes the Hazen Street album so good, is that while the music is more poppy than long-time fans might be expecting, the lyrics are full of the real life grit that gives it more credibility than other bands with similar sounds. In the song "In Memory Of," the band sings about people dying – two friends who died recently and long-deceased family members like Toby's father who passed away when he was only three years old. Also, throughout the album they sing about the violence, alcoholism and crime they've encountered or been directly involved with and the fact that they're trying to turn their lives around. This is summed up best in the chorus of "Back Home" with the line "know where I'm from, know where I'm at."

The album, which was the first release on DC Flag Records, a new label by Good Charlotte's Joel and Benji Madden, has been out for just under a year and is generating a good buzz. The way I see it, it's more than feasible that a follow-up will come out sometime soon, and Hazen Street will take over the freakin' world for a while. Toby would become a superstar, which would be in keeping with everything going the opposite of how it should, since it seems so unlikely that he'd get a second shot, never mind really make it the second time around, and that would be just fine with me.

Photos by Mike D'Ariano



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