Merciless is an online radio show hosted by Howie Abrams and ILL BILL and to put it simply, if you’re a fan of hardcore and metal then you can’t miss the show with its mixture of classic tracks, chat and interviews. We caught up with both of the hosts for a chat to hear all about the show, how it came about and what the highlights of Merciless have been so far and then a separate chat with both to hear all about their metal and hardcore histories. The details for the show are here so don’t hesitate to check it out, its incredible listening!
Hi Howie and Bill, thanks first of all for talking to us here in the U.K., can you tell us a bit about the Merciless radio show and how it came about?
Howie– A couple of years back, I made a few guest appearances on a radio show some friends of mine were doing called the Black N Blue Takeover, which broadcasted from East Village Radio here in New York. They BNB guys had me on to promote my books, but also to talk about In-Effect Records stuff, curate a Thrash special etc. It was always a blast to be on their show, playing and shooting the shit about music. They wound up introducing me to the EVR station manager and suggested he give me a show, so I asked Bill to do the show with me, and we created Merciless. We were on East Village Radio for a year or so, then we did a few episodes from Bill’s living room, and now we’re at our new home, Bushwick Radio.
How can listeners in the U.K. And Europe hear the show?
The best way is probably through the station website, www.Bushwickradio.NYC. Merciless airs every Thursday from 3-5 Eastern Time.
What has the reaction to the show been like so far?
Man, it’s been so much better than we ever thought it would be. It was really good while we were at EVR, but it’s even stronger now. We’ve established a legitimate listener base, and do whatever we can to spread the word to get new listeners.
The show always has a good mix of classics and newer stuff and all different genres of metal and hardcore. How do you choose what’s on the playlist for each show?
We try to do 90 minutes of music, and 30 minutes of talking (bullshitting) for each two hour show. Bill chooses 45 mins of music and so do I. We basically see what we come up with. There are plenty of times when we pick songs from the same artists, so I usually just go with Bill’s picks when that happens. We’re both pretty programmed at this point to keep the show as diverse as possible, but we do have our favorites. I’m a big hardcore thrash guy, and usually pick the political punk/hardcore stuff. Bill’s big into death metal, doom and grind. Oddly, when we drop some hair metal, it’s usually Bill who picks it. We both love the classic metal bands, NYHC and Bay Area stuff, so those picks could come from either of us.
You’ve done a Slayer special for the show. Have you done any other specific shows too?
The only other band we’ve done a special for so far was Motorhead the week Lemmy died. You can hear that here: https://soundcloud.com/mercilessradio/merciless-episode-30-the-lemmy-tribute-152016 Outside of specific band episodes, we’ve done a Bay Area Thrash show, a hair metal show, a rap-metal show and a general thrash special.
Roger Miret recently guested on the show, how did that go and have you had other guests on Merciless in the past?
The Roger interview was amazing. I’ve known him since 1984, and Bill has done things with him over the years as well. We’re both bigtime Agnostic Front fans, so we were super amped to have him on. I love his book, My Riot and had all sorts of questions, which he was very forthcoming in answering. We also played some classic AF songs, and also some live AF bootleg stuff. The show is archived on the Bushwick Radio site. In the past, we’ve had Danny Lilker from Nuclear Assault/S.O.D./Brutal Truth, Away from Voivod, Rob from Metallica, John Gallagher from Raven, Tim and Mike from Vision Of Disorder, Katon from Hirax. We also had Jaret from Bowling For Soup join us for our hair metal show. He’s a friggin’ aficionado.
Who,would you love to have as a guest in the future?
Our dream list would be people like Steve Harris, James Hetfield, King Diamond, Mike Muir… Paul Baloff would have topped that dream list, but sadly that can’t ever happen. We worship Baloff!
What have been some of the highlights on the show so far?
The biggest highlight honestly, is having people remaining interested in the show. We love doing Merciless, and obviously, we don’t get paid, so having a crew of loyal listeners and watching it grow is the best. Bill is the only person I could possibly see myself doing this with, so that’s incredible as well.
You DJd at the Raybeez tribute show and for Venom Inc too. How did those sets go and Have you got any plans to do more live sets? We’d love you to do one on the U.K.!
Both of those events went great. DJing that Venom Inc. show was a crazy full-circle moment for me. I saw their first ever U.S. show in 1983 with Metallica opening, so being involved in any way with one of their gigs, was tremendous. As for the UK, send plane tickets and we’ll be there in a second!
From Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest to Napalm Death, Godlflesh and Iron Monkey, the U.K has always had a multitude of quality metal bands. Are you listening/playing to some of the newer bands coming out of Britain like Higher Power, Broken Teeth and Employed To Serve?
We definitely try to stay up on the international scene as best we can, the UK included, but there are so many bands these days. I try to see which bands are opening for bands I like over there, and then check them out. Broken Teeth is cool, as is Employed To Serve. Higher Power is a good band too. I like Booze & Glory a lot as far as Oi! bands go.
What can you recommend are the must go to places for a metalhead in New York?
The one spot you have to stay up on is Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn. They consistently have the best shows, it’s a great venue and the people who run it are fantastic people. Gramercy Theatre in Manhattan has been having great shows too lately: Mayhem, GBH, Sacred Reich, Superjoint, Cavalera Brothers… For record shops, my favorite is Generation Records in the West Village. Run by real fans who know what’s up.
Howie has been a mainstay in New York Hardcore since the 80s and was the main man at the influential In-Effect Records which brought out Sick Of It Alls first recordings among many others. He is the author of a number of quality books mentioned herein that you should also check out too.
How did you get into metal in the first place?
I was a huge KISS fan from when I was seven/eight years old (1975/1976), so I suppose you can call them my gateway drug. I first became aware of KISS though the big rock magazines in the U.S. at the time like Circus, Creem, Hit Parader and Rock Scene. Through those same mags, I discovered other groups such as Black Sabbath and Rainbow. Later on, I stumbled upon Motorhead, Scorpions, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Then, magazines like Kerrang! hipped me to the rest of the NWOBHM scene, so Venom, Saxon, Raven…
So you got into hardcore later on?
Hardcore came later for me, beginning around ’83. I was a teenager by then, and venturing into Manhattan from Queens after school and on the weekends to go records shopping. Through those experiences, I started to see evidence of bands like the Misfits, Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, Discharge and GBH. I began to investigate all of that and began to love it. That’s also when I realized there was this tremendous scene happening right in my own backyard here in New York.
Who were some of your favourite bands coming up?
My first favorite hardcore bands were Bad Brains, Agnostic Front, Murphy’s Law, Reagan Youth, Corrosion of Conformity, D.R.I. Suicidal Tendencies. Cro-Mags came a bit later when the dropped their cassette album in 1985, but they were a fave for me too.
Where was was your favourite venues to see shows in NYC?
CBGB Sunday matinees were my absolute favorite, and the Ritz was great for bigger shows, but I always appreciated the smaller gigs at venues off the beaten path. You never knew what was going to happen at those, or if the show would even happen at all.
What were some of your favourite shows back in the day?
There are truly too many to recall with any sort of accuracy, but seeing Agnostic Front at CBGB was unlike anything you could ever experience. The number of people squeezed into that small club, and the energy was unparalleled. Also, seeing the Bad Brains anytime/anywhere was religious!
What were some of the highlights for you when you were running In Effect Records?
The whole thing was a highlight, really. It was a great label at a great period in time. In-Effect truly felt like a team effort. It was the bands, as well as a bunch of driven, like-minded people that made it all happen the way it did. We learned as we went, made mistakes together and figured it all out together. It still amazes me how many people say how influential it was for them.
Which bands did you enjoy working with the most?
I really loved working with Sick of it All and 24-7 Spyz. All of those guys wanted to win in a big way, and I feel as if we really understood each other. They let me in to their universe(s) and we fed off of each other, and motivated each other. That said, there were a lot of tremendous accomplishments involving each band on the label, and I’m proud to have contributed in any way to all of them.
Who would have lived to sign to the label?
I wanted, and tried to sign both Leeway and Primus. Can’t win ‘em all!
You have written a number of books such as Finding Joseph I, the history of H.R from Bad Brains. Are there any more plans to write more books?
There will definitely be more books. Writing is what I do with myself now, so the writing train has left the station, so to speak. I have a hip-hop children’s book called Hip-Hop Alphabet coming out October 17th. I created it with my longtime friend, Kaves, who was in Lordz of Brooklyn. He’s an amazing graffiti artist, and we’re very proud of it. DMC from RUN DMC wrote the foreword for it, and we’re donating a portion of the proceeds from sales to the Jam Master Jay Foundation for Music, which helps fund arts and music programs in schools. There will be a paperback edition of H.R.’s book, Finding Joseph I coming in the spring of 2018 with a new chapter covering H.R.’s recovery, and the reformation of Bad Brains. Randy Blythe from Lamb of God is contributing a new foreword for that one.
Will there be another Merciless Book Of Metal Lists?
Never say never, but I don’t think so. I’d do it if someone asked though.
What are your top five metal and hardcore albums of all time?
Metal (not necessarily in order):
IRON MAIDEN – The Number of the Beast
METALLICA – Ride the Lightning
BLACK SABBATH – Black Sabbath
SLAYER – Reign in Blood
EXODUS – Bonded by Blood
Hardcore (not necessarily in order):
BAD BRAINS – ROIR cassette
AGNOSTIC FRONT – Victim in Pain
DISCHARGE – Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing
CRO-MAGS – Age of Quarrel cassette
SUICIDAL TENDENCIES – S/T
ILL BILL is one of the greatest underground rappers in the world and has been for the past twenty years, not only as a member of Non Phixion and Heavy Metal Kings but also as a solo artist. He has always been a metal and hardcore head too and we talked to him about that as well as what he’s got planned on the hip hop front.
What was it about metal that got you into it in the first place?
Who were some of the first bands you got into?
KISS, Maiden, Motley Crue, Ratt, Twisted Sister, Judas Priest, Dokken, Ozzy, Scorpions, stuff like that.
Were you getting into hip hop at the same time you were getting into metal?
Yes I was, I got into Slayer and Run DMC and a whole bunch of other stuff at around the same time.
What was the best venue to see shows in NYC?
For me the best place was L’amours in Brooklyn.
What have been some of the best shows you saw back in the day?
The best shows were always at L’Amours. 1986, 87, 88, 89 I saw tons of bands multiple times like Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, Exodus, Voivod, Possessed, King Diamond, Testament, Death Angel, Kreator, Overkill, Nuclear Assault, Sepultura, Bad Brains, Cro Mags, Leeway, Ludichrist, Carnivore, Biohazard and so on… too many to list at Lamours..we would go every weekend…Anthrax, Exodus & Celtic Frost at the Beacon Theatre in 87 was a crazy one, Voivod, Soundgarden & Faith No More at the Ritz, Destruction, Testament, Nuclear Assault, Carnivore, Heathen and Vio-Lence at Irving Plaza in 88 for some New Music Seminar show …that was the first time Vio-Lence or Heathen had ever played NY and if I remember correctly, Destruction was a no-show which was a big disappointment, but all the other bands were there and they all killed it. I bought a Heathen t-shirt that night too. My two favorite shirts I’ve copped at shows were that Heathen shirt and a Nuclear Assault “Mutants For Nukes” shirt I bought at one of their L’amours shows.
You were in a metal band called Injustice when you were young, can you tell us a bit about them?
We were all just in high school and started the band so we could play the “battle of the bands” at our school. We started out playing mostly S.O.D. covers and then eventually started writing our own original songs and recording demos/doing shows. We even did a bunch of shows at L’amours as an opener for Sepultura, Obituary, Biohazard, Ludichrist, Napalm Death…at this point nobody in the band was over 19 years old and half the band bounced away to college and that was that. We split up in 1991.
Would you ever get Injustice back together at all?
Who knows? Anything is possible.
Were you into hardcore as well as metal and hip hop?
Yeah, NYHC and Bad Brains more than anything tho cos those were the bands I was most exposed to. I kinda lumped the hardcore bands in with the metal stuff to be honest. I never understood categories for some of the bands cos Leeway always sounded like a metal band to me but they were classified as hardcore. It made no difference to me what it was called though cos I fucked with it. Hardcore had that street vibe. It was almost like a really pure crossover of punk, metal and hip hop. I always dug that about NYHC. The hard, almost motorhead kinda rhythms, street lyrics and the graffiti element was what drew me in the most.
Non Phixion had a big metal influence too from the logo designed by Away to having members of Fear Factory on The CIA Is Still Trying To Kill Me When you were in the group, were you still listening to a lot of metal?
I kinda fell back from listening to the newer metal bands that were debuting during the 90s and early 2000s…Alot of those newer bands coming out at the time were sounding kinda redundant to me and I think I just needed to clear my mind for a while and reboot it. But truthfully, I’m just a big fan of the 80s era of metal. That’s where the foundation for me is at and I like being able to present a raw and uncut view into that era from a person who lived it and still loves it.
You reunited Non Phixion a few years back, have you got any plans to do anything else with the group?
Definitely more touring and more music with Goretex of Non Phixion who is featured on 7 songs on the brand new Heavy Metal Kings (ILL BILL & Vinnie Paz) LP dropping Oct 27.
Are La Coka Nostra going to release another album and do you have plans for another solo album?
Yes to both.
What other music are you working on at the moment?
I’m working a new group/album with Nems called Gorilla Twinz. I’m also working on an EP with producer Stu Bangas
What are your top five metal and hardcore albums of all time?
Reign In Blood
Number Of The Beast
Master Of Puppets
I Against I
Age Of Quarrel