A couple of years back, At Wits End and Above This Fire were major players on the local hardcore scene. Then, they went on hiatus. But just recently, a group of fans circulated a petition and collected some 300 signatures to convince Above This Fire to perform its first album, In Perspective, in its entirety. It worked. The band agreed to play its first show in two years and invited At Wits End, which also hasn't played in a couple of years, to reunite and also perform. We met At Wits End singer Aaron "Pants" Sechrist and Above This Fire guitarist LT Magnotto at lunch at Noodlecat in downtown Cleveland to discuss the upcoming show and reflect on their respective decade-long musical pasts.
When did you guys first meet?
Sechrist: There were so many shows when we were silly kids. There was a standard crop of kids you would just see. So we'd see each other at shows.
Magnotto: The scene was much smaller back then. The music we were going to see and the music our bands were playing at the time was not a popular thing. It was still this small thing. We were supporting the local music and the labels that had been pushing those younger bands, Early Victory and Trustkill bands.
Sechrist: I can't remember a particular show that we met at but I know we acted like dumbasses and exhibited the same kind of bad behavior.
How did you end up starting the band?
Sechrist: I had never been in a band but I always wanted to be in one. I brought my buddy Brendan Moore into the fold. He was a cool guy that I was going to art school with at the time. Our guitarist's little brother happened to be coming along on drums and he came into the band.
Magnotto: He was like a child prodigy. I remember seeing the band and he was younger than most of the drummers I knew and he was great.
Sechrist: He was 15 when we started. I just thought I couldn't be the worst at doing this ever.
Do you remember your first show?
Sechrist: Our first show was at the Cleveland Music Festival at the Phantasy Niteclub on a brisk September evening and we were called Red Sky Falling. That name was equally terrible. I always liked our band, but the one thing I never liked was our name. That's true for At Wits End. There's no apostrophe. It's grammatically incorrect, I know. Being a graphic designer, I just couldn't stomach putting an apostrophe in our name. My whole life is branding myself with terrible names.
Magnotto: Our first show was at the Blind Lemon with [hardcore act] Thursday. I was a sophomore in high school. We were so terrible but a couple of months after that, we became Above This Fire. I've never had a problem with our name. There are worse names. At the time, sentence names were big. Sky Came Falling. Poison the Well. Everytime I Die. That's just what you named your band. I liked our name because we were at the top of lists, alphabetically speaking.
What was it like playing in a hardcore band at a young age?
Sechrist: I wasn't that young. I was like 21. It was super fun for me. I was called the singer but I was just getting on stage and yelling, which is what I would be doing anyway if I were in the crowd. I was never more nervous in my life — aside from my wedding — than at my first show.
Magnotto: Hardcore music and that whole scene kept me out of the trouble. I grew up on the west side of Cleveland, and I could have gotten into more trouble. After school, I was in the practice room and we were all straight edge. I was 17 and it gave me something to do.
Sechrist: Being in a band got me into more trouble, but I don't regret any of it.
Which of your albums would you say is your best?
Sechrist: Paint the Town Red. That's my personal favorite. I think most people like 15 Minutes.
Magnotto: The album we put out called Last Ones provides the most complete picture of what Above This Fire is all about. That's the most complete picture. The kids would tell you it was our first album, In Perspective. That was the album that has the sound of the time.
What's the best live show you ever played?
Sechrist: We played with Bleeding Through at Pirates Cove in 2004 and it was sold out. That was an awesome show. We played a benefit show at Peabody's at Pirates Cove earlier that year that was nuts. There's something about each show that we have played that stands out and makes it memorable, except for the show at the youth center where some kid got run over outside the show. I think it was in Elyria. We played the Metroparks Zoo and we played the same set twice. We had to stretch it. They put us up on a riser between the elephants and monkey island. They just told us not to throw anything.
Magnotto: They're all kind of special. Our CD release show for the Last Ones album is my favorite show. That was the peak of what we had been doing. We packed Peabody's and it was the best time. We put that album out ourselves and it was a total success. There was no drama. All those old VFW hall shows were great, too. Everyone would promote and do flyers. Those shows were so amazing and showed the power of what kids could do and what good promoting from bands could do.
Have you had any super-fans over the years?
Sechrist: We were fortunate to have kids be receptive. I don't recall anyone carving my name into their arm with a butter knife. We were well received. We had a few kids super into us, but there was no one knocking on my door at four in the morning on a Tuesday.
Magnotto: We had a couple. Recently some guy got our album cover tattooed on his forearm. We've had kids who have had our lyrics tattooed on them. That happens a lot. But never have I seen anyone with our album cover tattooed so prominently. There's no hiding that. This girl who lives in upstate New York would do whatever she could to come to our shows. We were playing this shit show in Boston at a sports bar in front of 20 kids and she walks through the door. She had work off and came to the show. She used to do that shit all the time. She's a real cool chick.
You have any good most pit stories?
Sechrist: I accidentally punched a couple of kids in the chin. I feel fortunate to have been in that era before it became all about trying to jump over dudes and kick dudes.
Magnotto: My favorite moment was when I saw the Hope Conspiracy at the old Grog. It was on a school night and I didn't get to go to many shows on school nights. They were my favorite band. I remember singing along and piling up and going for the mic. I surfed on top of these kids and got up to the mic. The singer of the Hope Conspiracy punched me in the face with the microphone. I had a microphone stamp on my face for a week and I was the most proud dude. I thought that was so great. My face was at the wrong place at the right time, I guess.
What's it like now that you are the old guys on the scene?
Sechrist: I'm 33, so in band years, that's Alzheimer's age. I don't feel old. We were silly kids at shows and now we're silly men.
Magnotto: There was a period when I wrestled with getting older. I remember we drove to Pennsylvania and played some VFW hall. It was nothing but 15-year-old kids doing the stuff we used to do. I got so sad on myself. I thought I was losing my grip.
Sechrist: At the risk of sounding sappy, you can grow old but you don't have to grow up. That music carries you so you never feel like you're getting bummed out. Hope Conspiracy lyrics mean as much to me now as they did back in the day. The music at that time is about what the scene is and what it meant to you. To this day, there's something to that.