Without a doubt, New York’s Templars were the greatest Oi band of the 90s, reinjecting grit, bite and danger into a genre that had been threatening to turn into laid-back ‘street rock’. What the Crypt style lo-fi explosion was to 90s punk rock, the Templars were to Oi. Omne Datum Optimum, although more rock ‘n’ roll and less ‘brickwall’ than their previous efforts, is this editor’s favourite 90s skinhead album.
While remaining close to the street, the Templars have forged their own sound and imagery without flogging too many cliches. Although a self-defined ‘anti-political’ band, their lyrics are often ripe with anger, even despair, at forces beyond our control fucking up our lives: just check out songs such as ‘Situation Critical’ or ‘Waiting For the Blood to Flow’. Ultimately, though, the skinhead ethos of fighting instead of claiming victimhood prevails: ‘Victim’ is probably the single most on-point tune about not wanting to be one.
Enough introductory talk, you all know the Templars anyway. I’m passing the mic to Girth, who had a chat with Sir Phil Templar.
What do you feel your influence and legacy has been in Oi! music? Where did it all start for you?
I’d say our biggest legacy is keeping Oi music raw and low-fi, rough and rugged as it should be… if people like the polished super clean sound then that’s their choice, but we intended to keep the ‘sound of the street’ I suppose.
Even in our early recordings, there were mistakes we just left in cos we were like, fuck it… The first Last Resort record was recorded on a 4-track, and look how powerful that record was and still is to this date.
For me personally, it started in high school way back when. I played in some bands here and there that never went anywhere, and then I met Carl in 1990 and started jamming. In 1992, we played our first gigs and haven’t stopped since. That’s 27 years of music the way we wanted to play it. We’ve played during the ‘scene’s’ ups and downs, not just – conveniently – when there’s money to be made.
You seem to have been in every single band going. Outside of the big ones, Templars and Stomper 98, are there any others you’re really proud of?
I’m doing a lot less than I was a few years ago with regards to bands. I’ve filled in for bands in the past for a short period of time as well, done session work in the studio too. Templars and Stomper 98 are the only ones I am focused on now.
Every interview seems to ask you the same old ‘Who are your influences’ type question…so who are the bands you really can’t stand from any genre and why?
Hmm. Bands I don’t like I just don’t listen to, really. I’m not really into talking about other band or people, I leave that for the ‘moist’ males involved in sewing circles gossiping to each other.
One pet peeve is bands changing the way they look to get more money or corner some sort of market. Turning your back on the original folks who made the band who they are is ‘fuckboy’ shit. If anyone I know fits that category, don’t take it personally – just my viewpoint.
A Templars live experience is completely different to the lo-fi sound of your records. For me, the records and live performances are a complete contrast – in a good way.
Yes, and that’s 100% intentional. As I said earlier, our lo-fi sound is paying homage to all the bands we grew up listening to. On stage, a full-sound is a must and just adds power to the songs played in lo-fi. Essentially, two different experiences for anyone coming to see us.
Playing live is an experience I enjoy quite a bit: plenty of jokes and interactions with our friends in the front, not to mention I love watching folks go absolutely ape-shit to our music. Another reason why I like playing in smaller venues: I enjoy a super-packed dancefloor as opposed to a huge space that never seems to fill up no matter how many come inside
You were once part of the reformed Battlezone. How did that come about, especially as they were a far-right band when they started?
Actually, it was called ‘BZ’. Alex had contacted us out of the blue, he wasn’t living in England anymore as he had become totally disillusioned with the state of affairs in the scene back in England, especially after a certain event that happened in September 1993. I guess he found out who his true friends were.
When he asked to play a few shows, it was in a sense to end the band on a good note and make amends for the past. He repudiated racism completely and was living in Peru. That explains the name change, and we did some covers and reworked versions of
the old set. We even played a gig with Klasse Kriminale in Boston with the ‘new line-up’.
Did you manage to convince Alex to trim his eyebrows?
His eyebrows can only be trimmed with clippers made from adamantium.
Were you the secretive drummer in First Strike?
As far as I can remember, there were many different ‘unknown soldiers’ in that band… Their identities are protected by the government and considered classified information.
As a native New Yorker, do you think Oi and hip-hop cross over much? Some rappers mix with skinheads and Madchild, for example, grew up as a mod.
I was born and bred in NYC, saw it all growing up here, and I respect it and the message back then. The only way those two music forms cross over is in its original context, as a musical form of youth protest.
Nowadays, both genres have lost their soul somewhat: mumble rap is garbage, and 90% of groups playing ‘Oi’, or street-punk, or whatever they wanna call it now, are shit.
At one time, it was quite perilous to be a skinhead or punk. Nowadays, there is revisionist history, and the original look has been distorted. Skinheads were public enemy number one at one time. This generation has become softer than diaper shit.
So what does the future hold for the Templars – and also, do you have any new bands or projects on the horizon?
As far as I know, no session work with other bands unless I get a call and the band is a group that I rate. Lots of Templar projects ahead, some split 45s, Reconquista Volume 2, re-issues of some titles that are out of print, and a singles boxset that I predict will break the internet once released. More gigs abroad and here in the States.
After 27 years of playing gigs, I predict things will start to wind down a bit. Other band members have family obligations, and also, this semi-pathetic scene is something that has put us off a bit. Nowadays, I spend more time DJing than playing gigs. I’d rather spin records for like-minded folks instead of surrounding myself with jealous internerds looking to fabricate shit to make themselves look good online.
I read that you listen to a lot of prog rock and metal. Any other genres and bands you enjoy outside of the typical influences?
Rock ‘n’ roll, freakbeat, 70s southern rock, early metal… Anything with great percussion will make me curious, I suppose. No mumble shit or honky-tonk garbage.
I read that you used to be the original drummer in Skrewdriver. However, they ‘whited you out’ in the original photos and tried to change history. Is this true?
I used to play the bongos and sing, they dumped me after I wrote the song Black With A Bang and changed the spelling of the song.
Apparently, you’re very much disinterested in politics. Has this become more prevalent with Trump etc, or has this been the case for ages?
Personal politics and being aware of what’s happening around you is normal. We have songs with political themes, opinions and criticisms. We are anti-political and have been against all forms of intolerance and racist shit since day one, which would be obvious to anyone with a brain cell seeing the line-up. Apparently, people are still dumb as fuck and want to think otherwise… not my problem if they have an extra chromosome.
Politics in America is a farce – two political parties that are complete shit. I don’t vote for the sake of voting. I will vote for someone who has an agenda that I can agree with and respect. If no party has an agenda that I can follow then I don’t vote. I use my constitutional right NOT to vote, and I am okay with that.
I don’t respect Trump, Clinton or anyone in the public eye at the moment. Trump is the only president with a wife whose snatch I can see online – he gets no respect from me. My advice is to get involved in local politics, then your vote has a direct impact on the local community where you live.
I wanted to ask you about football. I read you like West Ham AND Leeds United! Are Americans ruining football?
West Ham is my wife, Leeds is my girlfriend on the side that I check in on once in a while – I have a soft spot for the boys at Elland Road. I grew up watching international footie with my dad, my fave national team was and still is Brazil/CBF. Watching Falcau, Zico, Socrates and other legends when young got me hooked.
Nah, football is ruining football these days… corruption and money exchanging hands at the expense of the fans. A working-class sport and pastime has now become a playtoy for sheikhs and Russian billionaires that are bored searching for crude oil to tap.
You seem to be someone who has simultaneously pissed off the far left and the far right. Aside from internet accusations and rumours, have you been the victim of any violent threats or face to face abuse?
I could care less who I piss off. It’s funny that one black guy from NYC could be the point of discussion on message boards – rumours go a long way, it seems. I don’t care about what nazi idiots or what ‘hard-left’ dorks think. I guess they seem to know how a black person is supposed to conduct himself amongst white folks.
I have no time for intolerant folks who think they know what’s best for black people, and they themselves have one or two black acquaintances and one Bob Marley CD, and they have *never* walked in my shoes as a black man at a gig *on my own*.
Maybe the ‘hard left’ should focus on the ‘hard right’ and all the gigs they do instead of focusing on a multi-racial band that has nothing to hide. Sometimes I suspect that some of the folks that obsess about us desire a romantic relationship, and to them, I say “Nah I’m good”.
Our message has been clear since day one… It seems certain folks don’t want to know and have hidden agendas. One hundred per-cent coward shit. Maybe they should stop popping their ass on Instagram and taking selfies with weird-ass haircuts and put their words to action.
Same with nazis. Don’t talk to us because you ‘like the band’, you look even MORE stupid when you do that shit. If you want to surround yourself with white folks, eat mayonnaise and listen to show tunes, then leave us the fuck alone and keep being white.
I have *never* been a victim or gotten any abuse. Fuck the haters.
I know you travel a lot and understand this blends into your music and sound. Where for you are the best places in the world?
As a band, we’ve had the best times in London, Barcelona, Paris, Sao Paulo, Gothenburg and Stockholm, Badalona, Vigo, Lleida, San Francisco, Oakland and LA, Houston and San Antonio.
Personally, I have an affinity for England – London and the ‘Norf’ – Catalunya and parts of Spain, Paris, Berlin, Glasgow, Copenhagen, Stockholm/Oslo, Mexico City, Chicago, Sao Paulo, Montreal and Toronto.
Which up and coming Oi! bands should we all be looking out for?
UltraSect, The Royal Hounds, The Take, Reconquesta, Bloody Gums.
What for you is a skinhead fashion no-no?
Top button shit, scruffy boots, pineapple on pizza, beards, huge cuffs on jeans, flatcaps, belts and braces, going to gigs in sweatpants, face piercings besides nose and/or ear, REALLY shitty tattoos.
Any final thoughts?