Secret Selector: Tough Justice – 3 Seconds of Silence (1985)
When punk record collectors dig into Newfoundland’s earliest contribution to the genre, they typically recall such sought after staples as The Reaction’s 1979 single, Da Slyme’s 1980 double LP, or Schizoid’s 1987 crossover classic 7″. These releases were the few of the era to make it to vinyl, and are rightfully remembered as noteworthy cornerstones of NL’s provincial punk rock heritage. With that said, it is the pieces that slip through the archival cracks where you’ll find the adhesive that bridged the onward progress of the ever-expanding independent music in St. John’s.
Much like the recent reissue of the lost P.E.I. hardcore gem Slow Death by Unknown Coast Records, the neighbouring isle of Newfoundland also hides its fair share of hand dubbed treasures. Releases like these have quite literally dwindled down in physical supply to some near nonexistent collectors status that may someday occupy the space beneath “rare”. Under-heard and under-appreciated, mostly due to the sheer tenuousness of D.I.Y. physical releases, some of these bands have never gotten the proper nod for representing such vital shifts in the sound, direction and ethos of their respective music scenes.
As one of the few in the earliest days of hardcore punk in St. John’s,Tough Justice are a great archetype of the second wave of Newfoundland punk. A few years after bands like Da Slyme first took the brunt beneath showers of beer bottles for daring to challenge a Newfoundland audience to anything but cover songs and crowd favourites in the late 1970’s, a new tide was washing through the busted down doors and into 1980’s. Soon some kids began to play harder and faster along the sidelines of the bar circuit, and within this community spawned such bands as Tough Justice.
Tough Justice were a spilling of American and Canadian hardcore influences onto a seasoned plate of UK punk rock records. With the ferocious and aggressive direction a lot of the American hardcore punks were honing, along with the breakneck speed of anthemic Canadian contemporaries such as Youth Youth Youth or SNFU, an equally inspired crop of Newfoundland punks were responsible for housing such urgent sounds as Tough Justice 3 Seconds of Silence.
It is near impossible to get your hands on a copy the 3 Seconds of Silence cassette, and the digital rip that has been floating around the internet for the last decade has recently fallen victim to dated message board posts and broken download links. To prevent this amazing slab of Newfoundland punk from fading into digital obscurity, we’ve upped the full 10 song stream to youtube.
To accompany our preservation presentation of the 1985 Tough Justice tape, we deemed it necessary to have a chat with Tough Justice guitarist Johnny Fisher about the history of the band, the release of 3 Seconds of Silence and a look into the life of a Newfoundland punk in the 1980’s.
How did a kid like you stumble upon punk living in Newfoundland in the early 1980’s?
I myself kind of discovered punk rock through the back door. 12 year old me was obsessed with Billy Idol and I ordered everything I could of his at Fred’s Records. This included the Generation X back catalogue, and when I finished with those the staff suggested I try The Clash and Sex Pistols. The Locke brothers heard tunes coming out my window and knocked on my door and took me under their wing.
When and how was Tough Justice formed, and when exactly did you become involved?
Tough Justice formed in 1983 and played their first gig at a MacPherson Jr. High variety show. The first lineup of T.J. was Rod and Dean Locke, Danny Thomas, and Sean Doran. They were totally into the British punk at that time. They played “Belson Was A Gas” by the Pistols, but the school made them change the lyrics so it became “Esso was a Gas”. I joined the band in late ’84 / early ’85 around the same time we discovered North American hardcore.
So when you joined the band and North American hardcore came on the radar, how quickly did that influence the direction of the Tough Justice material? Was there anything from the more British-inspired era before you joined the band that made it to the 3 Seconds of Silence tape?
The moment we heard Youth Youth Youth, 7 Seconds, Bad Brains, (and) Government Issue, we knew the way we were going. I think songs like Young Problems and Fight Fight Fight were some of the first written, and then sped up to meet the new flavour. No Proof was definitely written after we listened to North American hardcore.
Is it clear who was the first hardcore band in Newfoundland?
Hats off to Public Enemy. They played half a set of DOA songs when they opened for them (DOA) the first time they were here while Tough Justice was still playing Exploited and GBH at that time. I’m pretty sure the Public Enemy demo was done before ours.
Who was involved with the recording of 3 Seconds of Silence, and what was the process like?
The line up for 3 Seconds of Silence was Danny Thomas on vocals, Rod Locke on lead guitar, Dean Locke on bass, Don Ellis on drums, and I was rhythm guitar. We rented a bunch of mics, a 24 channel board, and recorded live straight into a normal cassette deck. DIY at its finest. It was recorded over a weekend in the basement of the Ellis family home. Then we hooked up a second deck and dubbed each copy one at a time on dubbed over Arthritis Society medical cassettes that we managed to acquire through a parents left over medical supply stock. Some of the demos actually finish with information on arthritis.
How many copies of the cassette were made?
Not certain on the exact amount of how many were distributed but my gut is telling me it was around 60.
Was the cassette only sold locally?
Yeah, as far as I know it was only sold locally, but we did send it off to zines and labels. Pretty sure there was a mention in Maximum Rock n Roll. I also remember getting a reply letter from BYO Records telling us it was good stuff but it reminded them of a cross between 7 Seconds and the Stretch Marks, which they already had on the label at the time, so they offered us a list of other possible labels to send it to. I don’t think we followed up on too much after that.
Roughly how many copies of the cassette are you aware of that are floating around today? I believe it is one of the few releases from the era that I’ve had digitally for over a decade, yet have never seen a physical copy of.
I have no idea. It was either 60 or 100 made. I can tell you that no one in the band has a copy. We don’t even have the master. We, like you, found it online about 12 years ago.
What did the St. John’s punk scene look like during Tough Justice’s tenure? Who were some of the more underrated bands who may not be remembered as much as they should be?
The hay days of Tough Justice consisted of only a handful of bands that had any longevity. The Riot, Public Enemy, The Reckoning, Wafut, Schizoid, Dog Meat BBQ, and Malpractice. Most of the other bands were one-offs or didn’t play shows in our scene. The scene back then was much the same as it is now with about 100 show goers but much fewer places to play.
It sounds like there was some definite influence of other Canadian punk bands on 3 Seconds of Silence. I’ve always found hints of Youth Youth Youth, which you mentioned, and some of the more melodic punk and hardcore bands of that era in some of the Tough Justice tracks. What other stuff were you folks listening to in the early days of the songwriting?
Tough Justice were heavily influenced by Canadian Hardcore such as Youth Youth Youth, Genetic Control, SNFU, Direct Action, The Unwanted. And from the rest of the world it was Bad Brains, GBH, 7 Seconds, Scream, Government Issue, and Youth Brigade.
In Newfoundland in the 1980’s, access to all of the indie label releases and burgeoning punk scenes around the world must have been slightly more difficult to keep informed about. Where did the records and fanzines come from on the island? How did a punk kid in St. John’s keep in touch in what was going on?
We got our hands on stuff through Bob Average who was connected to North America through fanzines. Before the Internet we were all armed with blank cassettes and eagerly shared dubbed copies of music with each other. Us poorer punks depended heavily on the kids who could afford to order records and zines.
When and why did Tough Justice initially call it quits?
The band never really ever called it quits, but we stopped working as a full time band in 87-88 when bassist Dean Locke moved to Ontario. We continued to play once ore twice a year up until 95ish. At that point Rod had other interests and I was pretty busy with Potmaster.
It has been about ten years since the brief reformation of Tough Justice in 2006. How did that come about?
We finally got back on the go in 2006 because I put up a Tough Justice MySpace that go a fair amount of interest. From that I made friends with the 3Tards from Toronto and when I brought them in to play a show they asked if sHeavy and Tough Justice could open. I kind of laughed it off thinking there was no way it would happen, but I said I’d look in to it, and to my surprise when I did everybody was a go.
So we played for about a year more but we officially finally called it quits in 2007 when we opened for DOA. Rod Locke’s health prevented him from playing so we brought in Phil Winters to take his place that night so we didn’t have to cancel and leave the promoter stuck. It’s fortunate that we did because DOA were fogged out for the all ages and we ended up headlining that. It was probably the highlight of my time in Tough Justice that whole day, but when it was all said and done we were sad that Rod was unable to share that moment with us and we decided we would never again play as Tough Justice without him.
What was the most memorable Tough Justice gig for you personally?
I hate to say it but the most memorable Tough Justice performance was the last one opening for DOA in 2007. Never before had I felt that much love and support coming back at the stage. Sadly we didn’t get to share that with Rod Locke who was ill and unable to play that night. I wish he could have experienced that as Tough Justice has always been his band and without him it just isn’t the same.
How would you like Tough Justice to be remembered?
I don’t know how I’d like others to remember us. I remember us as being kids excited to play something new in a time that wasn’t very accepting. We were getting jumped by car loads of skeets, we called them scullies, or headbangers who were pissed off because their girls wanted to hang with us, or they thought we were getting more attention because of the way we dressed or chose to live. But that bonded us together and strengthened our resolve. We never joined a band to get famous. We never expected radio play but it was kinda cool that CHMR played Young Problems so much. It was number one on their chart for weeks and remained in heavy rotation for months. We did what we did because we loved the music and wanted to be part of that movement. Remember us as being friends who loved each other as much as we loved punk rock.