Ray: Sleeveless t, cut off jams, original Air Jordans...classic VB punk look. 1986. Ray: Sleeveless t, cut off jams, original Air Jordans...classic VB punk look. 1986.

Through the Years with Raymond Epstein of Disarm & More

Interview with Ray below by Sean Epstein (2018):

SEAN: I'll kick it off without fanfare....Ray if i'm not mistaken your first appearance as a live player was "Disarm" around 1984. I assume this was a Virginia Beach band with all 4 guys living in VB proper? What musical events took you to where you were stage ready?

RAY: Back to the dawn of time so to speak. I turned 13 in 1980 and at that point I was already listening to The Ramones, The Clash, Psychedelic Furs, DeVo, B-52's and other assorted punk/new wave bands from that time. However, upon hearing The Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Angry Samoans, and The Cramps all in one afternoon about a year later at my friend’s house I was hooked. Shaved my head, ripped up my t-shirts, drew band logos on said shirts (see below) I began looking for punk and hardcore music anywhere I could. Much of it came from reviews and ads in Thrasher magazine to which I subscribed as a fanatical skateboarder. Not long after this, the same friend, Clinton Carpenter (Rowell Amps, member of tons of bands over the years), who had turned me on to the aforementioned bands was now playing guitar. I would go hang at his house with other friends and watch him play for hours (my goofy ass probably drove him crazy) and eventually he and some other pals began playing as a band. Again, I would go sit in the tiny garage space and just watch them for hours and would plink around on Clinton's guitar when they'd step out to take smoke breaks. I had zero idea of what I was doing and the fact that he was left-handed made any attempts on my part to "play" his guitar even more pathetic. However, I knew I wanted to play. Having no money and really no clue on what to do, get or even to look at regarding guitars did not improve my endeavor to pick up guitar. All the guitar shops worked overtime to make beginners feel like morons too. Even worse if you liked "trash" like punk rock. I was now going to shows, local and in Richmond, as well as collecting every hardcore record I could get my paws on.

Meanwhile, in the fall of '83 I was diagnosed with type one diabetes. Leading up to this I would not shut up around my parents about music, guitars and the lot. Upon being dismissed from the hospital they had purchased me a guitar, amp, case, cord and a Mel Bay chord book. For $25. From Clinton. It was worth more than that, but the deal was that eventually upon selling it I too would have to sell it for $25 which I honored. I played the damn thing nonstop, begging anyone I could for lessons, tips, taking some lessons from a local shop creep who taught me some ZZ Top and Sabbath (the first rock record I owned at 6 years old was Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" which I wore out on my Disney viewmaster record player) riffs. Eventually I met up with some others through skateboarding with the crazy idea of being in a band. Leading up to this, I actually "sang" a couple of shows with Roy Buni's (Old Scars, Lost Tribe, etc.) and Tommy Pitman's (now Norfolk restaurateur) band, but I really wanted to play guitar and let someone else do the singing.

That someone else was Brian Zentz, son of Bob Zentz, Ramblin Conrad's owner. We would hang out skateboarding around his Ward's Corner neighborhood and obsess over everything punk. He had tons of music plus he was a killer artist. He had filled notebooks with lyrics too so we started making noise in his garage as he actually had a PA, a plus of having parents in the music biz. We eventually found a drummer in Chris Wassell, (now an artist in San Diego) a Navy kid that lived close by also a skater, artist and obsessive regarding music. This was how Disarm began. We loved the heavier more metallic hardcore of Discharge, C.O.C., Crucifix etc. along with the high velocity DC and Boston stuff so that's where our sound landed.

Jon Graf, who was a few years older and playing in Schmyzër (Jeez, they ruled! Often blowing away the touring acts) at the time knew Brian and offered to play bass with us until we found a full time player. We were blown away because he could play and helped us out immensely. It was Jon who got us our first show opening for his NY pals in Agnostic Front. (stupid trivia moment...Roger, AF's singer gave me an autographed copy of their "United Blood" ep at this show. I was never really a collector, but hung onto it for more than 30 years until going through some old boxes found it still in mint condition. I actually sold it in 2014 for nearly $900!!!) This was late '84 early '85 and to say I was nervous was an understatement. All of AF and their crew, all skinheads, surrounded the stage with their arms crossed to watch us. We blasted through our 20 minute set and they all seemed to dig it with Vinnie Stigma, coming up to me after saying "Sounded good, keep it up, kid!" in his thick NY accent as he slapped me on the shoulder.

Disarm continued through early '87. We went through different line ups and played many shows opening for tons of well known bands (C.O.C, SNFU, Toxic Reasons, The Faction, Nuclear Assault, MDC, Soul Side, Youth of Today, Christ on Parade, Gang Green, Adrenaline O.D., Negazione and many others) in Norfolk, DC, Baltimore, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Philly and Richmond. I wrote most of the music and lyrics as well as doing all of the later artwork, show booking, etc. Unfortunately we never really captured much of it in the studio. We actually recorded a full LP in '86 and had a record label (I forget who) ready to put it out. However, upon breaking up in the spring of '87 we could not pay the studio for the tapes/masters and that was that. The closest record I've heard to it was Final Conflict's album from the same time. Sure wish I had that stuff. Oh well, it was a blast and amazes me that we did as much as we did having no clue about much of anything, musically or business-wise.

SEAN: Around '87, you were in Backwash with Nelson Ala (hope I have his name right, going off memory)...were you out of Disarm awhile & then this came together? Give a little history.

RAY: That was actually a little later in '89. Following the end of Disarm I was finding new sounds and otherwise super busy in college. I played with a DC band The Legendary Swamptones for maybe a year or so and put out one ep. The music was an homage to The Cramps, Birthday Party, Mel Haggard, Motorhead and just arty craziness with our shows mostly being inebriated trainwrecks. Once again, we got to play some amazing shows we probably did not deserve (Dead Milkmen, Das Damen, Honeymoon Killers, Live Skull), but it's who you know I guess.

I kept up with my Disarm bandmates (Bryan on bass and Jamey on drums who now plays with Fang) and in the spring of '89 we began playing with Nelson Ala (that kid absolutely shredded) on lead guitar under the name Backwash. That was a huge time musically in Tidewater and we got to play some interesting shows. I sang and played rhythm guitar and this lasted until early '90. We managed to record a decent demo that was almost too clean and radio friendly, but sounded not unlike all of the alterna-AOR stuff that was everywhere at that point. We did not stay together long enough to put it out, but again we did some fun shows in DC, VA and NC.

SEAN: I just remembered a band Hemlock 13 when I came across you on a Richmond sampler CD. Also, you'd mentioned a band with Sara Trexler (tidewater FM DJ for those unfamiliar)...so what happened after Backwash in short?

RAY: I graduated college in December '89 and had high hopes for Backwash. So much so that I deferred my acceptance into dental school because I knew we were gonna break through or whatever. I even turned down an offer to play with the recently formed Jawbox in DC as a second guitarist having been friends with them. That would have been different, but it wasn't meant to be. Thereafter, I lived in Norfolk working a shit job as a burn tech and went back to VCU with my tail between my legs to see if could get back into the '90 school year dental class. Meanwhile, I auditioned for a spot with Matt O's pre-Candy Snatchers gig, Treetfort and played some shows with Bryan's pre-Combine noise pop disaster Trailer Park. Much debauchery (dollar pitchers/cocktails on Sundays at Friar Tuck's, good lawd!) aside I headed up to RVA to start at VCU in August of '90.

Dental school is/was no joke and seemed like a 24-7 job for the first couple of years. I did well, but was itching to play some music again and had begun jamming with some characters at local practice space. I met the guys in Hemlock 13 as we shared the space with them and Chrome Daddy Disco. The Hemlock guys asked me to join replacing their original guitarist and away I went. They were some of the most creative and talented players I ever was in a band with and we did some fun recordings as well as played a ton of shows in VA and DC. Hemlock 13 were absolutely crazy and it was a laugh riot nonstop with them. I really liked that we could actually get people dancing (not just slamming) with that group, but it was still heavy and powerful as all get out. To this day, the recording we did called the "No-fi" sessions consisting of a bunch of covers remains my favorite of all recordings I've ever done. The stuff on that RVA compilation came from a session we did with Kramer (of Bongwater notoriety) up in New Jersey. It was well done and very slick making us sound like all of the alternative bands at that time in '93, but I did not think it really sounded like us. Hemlock 13 dissolved in the spring of '94 as everyone was finishing school and moving on.

Following dental school graduation I moved back to VB and went to work. I met up with my high school pal Bobby Parker and started playing music again. Bobby, besides being among the most amazing people I've ever met, coincidentally took me to my very first hardcore show (Void) in RVA back in '82. He always was a drummer first, but could play anything and went on to be in bands like the Larchmont Trash and others. We were crazed with all things garage, surf and trash and such became Velour. We needed a bass player and Bobby, out of the blue asks Sara Trexler, the musical director and well known DJ at 96X to join. We were blown away when she agreed. While her bass playing skills were decent, she had an unreal stage presence like a much better looking female version of Lemmy. We had a decent following pretty quickly and Sara naturally drew people in to see us. Plus her connections got us some huge shows including twice playing the outdoor stage at Strawberry Banks. She finagled us into the opening slot of the 96X-fest where Bush headlined and we played in front of the sold out crowd of ten thousand.

We never did any real recording, but there are some random video clips around of the 96-X fest out there. We also played with Dick Dale, The Cowslingers and many others throughout '95.

SEAN: Not to get too much in to "your business" but it looks like you migrated from the guitar to the molar. Had you been in dental school all along?

RAY: Most of that is answered above, but I never really stopped playing throughout school and beyond. I moved to Minneapolis in '96 where I stayed for a couple of years. I played with a band called Thunderball 3 doing garage-y rock-a-billy stuff.

I moved down to Georgia in '98 with a six year return to Norfolk in '06. Once again I met back up with Bobby and we kinda picked up where Velour had left off ten years prior with Jack Leg with Dickie Fulcher on drums (The Cazz) and eventually John Grant (multiple crazy bands) on bass. It was fun and messy.

The last time I played on stage was sitting in with The Larchmont Trash. Again, drunken chaos, dancing devils, but it's okay kids since I'm a professional.

SEAN: You're now in Georgia?

RAY: Yeah, I moved back to Georgia in 2012 and have been here ever since. I live a quiet suburban existence in Milton, fixing choppers, being a dad, riding bikes and dabbling in graphic art occasionally. I still pick up my guitar now and then, but nothing serious (if I ever was). I catch shows in ATL if it's something worth schlepping into town for. Just the other night I caught Red Fang at the EARL and what do you know? Demons from VB opened. They were damn good too. I'm proud to have been a small part in the Tidewater music scene and psyched to see great stuff still coming out of there.

 

MANY MANY PICS AND VIDEO BELOW! Just scroll on down!

Pic Gallery below, ...just scroll over it and read the caption story! 

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Bryan Stahel in Disarm. Bryan was from Raleigh and had gone to high school with the C.O.C guys. He got us shows on several occasions in NC as well as opening for Corrosion of Conformity. Wacky trivia: UNICEF (see sticker on his bass) was his first band down in Raleigh and Phil Swisher their guitar player was in C.O.C. for the "Blind" album. Bryan passed away drowning in a surfing accident in Monterey years later. A character in the utmost sense of the word and sorely missed.
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Paul Wallace in Disarm.
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Disarm continued through early '87. We went through different line ups and played many shows opening for tons of well known bands (C.O.C, SNFU, Toxic Reasons, The Faction, Nuclear Assault, MDC, Soul Side, Youth of Today, Christ on Parade, Gang Green, Adrenaline O.D., Negazione and many others) in Norfolk, DC, Baltimore, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Philly and Richmond. I wrote most of the music and lyrics as well as doing all of the later artwork, show booking, etc. Unfortunately we never really captured much of it in the studio. We actually recorded a full LP in '86 and had a record label (I forget who) ready to put it out. However, upon breaking up in the spring of '87 we could not pay the studio for the tapes/masters and that was that. The closest record I've heard to it was Final Conflict's album from the same time. Sure wish I had that stuff. Oh well, it was a blast and amazes me that we did as much as we did having no clue about much of anything, musically or business-wise.
The story behind this pic...scroll here!
The story behind this pic...scroll here!
The Faction, a "skate rock" band (whatever the hell that meant) brought in all the skater kids to this show as pro skater Steve Caballero played guitar for them. We actually found them to be a bit too polished and poppy for our nasty tastes and instead really dug their openers The Drab who were heavy and nuts. We became friends with them, partying afterwards, and maintained a correspondence thereafter. (wrote letters in the pre-internet age).
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C.o.P. were completely amazing guys. Funny as shit and a killer band, they ended up staying at our crew's punk flop house at the beach. My father had a pizza delivery place at the time and would always give us free pizzas. C.o.P. were the first vegans we met so we actually made them vegan pizzas with special cheese and the whole deal. Also, this might have been the only time we ever played with Ted's (Shifty South and a zillion other bands) band Elvis From Hell. We were always jealous of them in so much that they actually had a regular gig down at the beach, made money and were superior musicians to us. We thought we were more "hardcore" so whatever, ha! Kisses,Teddy!
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Cover for our album that never got made; art by Clay Rice.
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Swamptones EP 1987
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Opening for the mighty Antic Hay who were unreal at the time.
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The Cynics were pretty much holy to us so we were super psyched to get to play with them. The flyer was actually photocopies of the piles of vintage fuzz tone pedals we had collected. We coincidentally covered one of the same songs as them, "Last Time Around" originally by the Del-Vettes. Naturally we played it that night and they all came over to our practice space after to party. The guitar player told me he thought our version was better, but I think he was just being nice. Great band regardless.
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Thunderball 3, Minneapolis 1997
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Velour poster 1995
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Velour 1995

 Video Below: Disarm live in Junction Hall (Norfolk, VA), 1987 (Courtesy of Mark Bishop)