INTERVIEW: MIKE “UNION” JEFFERS

Mike “Union” Jeffers has become a household name in the Buffalo metal, hardcore, and punk scenes. From being EVERY band’s drummer, to spearheading indie labels, to practically writing the book on band life, Mike has had a pretty busy, and diverse career behind the kit. I’m probably being redundant by now with my “where do I begin?” bullshit, but I honestly never know when trying to cover decades worth of material. Here’s what “Union” had to say for himself:

Hey, dude. Where do I begin? I obviously missed the ’80s and most of the ’90s, and by the time I caught up with you, Herod was going strong. I think For Whom the Gods Would Destroy was about to come out when we first met. I remember Greg was just transitioning from Threebelow to Herod around that time. But if we take this interview all the way back to your beginnings, we’ll find a slew of hardcore bands paving the way for what would eventually become Herod’s career in metal.

Nice! Greg joined Herod in 2005 a year after our “For Whom the Gods Would Destroy” release.

What was your very first band? I’m talking about the very first time you ever got in a room with guys and made music. This doesn’t have to be the first band you played with to actually take the stage.

I started my first “band” around 1987. I had some friends from my skate crew who all got guitars for their birthdays and we agreed we’d start a band. I was just starting to get the hang of playing my drum kit. Before that I was only playing snare drum in the school band. We didn’t have a bass player since nobody asked for a bass for their birthday, Chanukah or Christmas. My parents would go out shopping and I’d call the guys over to my house to “jam”. We’d set up on my deck outside. My neighbors hated it. I don’t blame them. We were terrible. Nobody could play their instruments yet except me. So I would teach the guys “riffs” I had written and then attempt to play them. We sucked but at least we had one song and named the band “Fat People Shouldn’t Wear Spandex”. My parents found out from my neighbors about the excessive noise and banned me from playing outside ever again! The guys didn’t progress because all we wanted to do was say we had a band and skate. After the first band it was a series of false starts until about 1989. I had a band called “Bagok” (chicken noise) and we played the sweet sixteen party circuit. Our originals were decent and we played tons of covers to appease our skate crew and lady friends. Minor Threat, Ramones, Agent Orange, Social Distortion, and Violent Femmes. The band evolved into my first serious band called “Hard Down”. We played originals and had a live tape. We played talent shows and booze bashes for our disenfranchised compadres. We were heavily influenced by Fugazi and The Cure.

Way back before social media, getting signed to a record label was even more of an imperative for up-and-coming bands. You’ve always been known for your tireless efforts in shopping your bands around to labels, on smaller, medium, and larger scales. Where does this drive come from, and what were some of your tactics for getting pro distribution for your projects before the internet basically took over promotion?

I have always felt that any band I’m involved in should have the backing of a label, big or small. I guess in my head a label adds legitimacy to a band. If someone is willing to spend their money on your band, which is risky, they must see some value in taking a risk mass producing it. Plus, years ago, labels paid for everything. Why spend your own money when you can spend someone else’s. I always approach labels based on if I know them (owners) personally, which is often the case with the hardcore scene or if I have familiarity with the label’s roster and how the bands are promoted.

For those unfamiliar, just list off every active band you’ve been involved with in chronological order:

Bagok-’90-’91(live tape)

Hard Down-’92-’93(live tape)

Go Dog Go/Filter-’93-’94(demo+live tape)

Facedown/Union-’94-’97 (3 demos, 3 records, 1 comp, 1 movie soundtrack, 1 live tape)

Voicekiller-’98(2 demos)

Dead to the World-’98-’00(1 Demo, 1 live tape, 2 records, 3 comps)

The Control-’00(1 record, 1 comp)

Herod-’00-’15(?)(3 demos, 7 records, 8 comps, 1 movie soundtrack)

Face the Panic-’06-’08(2 records)

The Grail-’08(demo)

The March-’10(2 Demos)

Area Denial-’11-’14(1 record, 1 comp)

Longest War-’12-present (4 records, 2 comps)

G.O.A.-’15-present (4 records, 2 comps)

Juggernaut-’16-present (2 records, 2 comps)

Wrong the Oppressor-2016/present (1 CDEP, 1 compilation, 1 live CD)

It’s going to be hard to narrow this down, but talk about maybe your top 5-10 road experiences going back to the Union and Dead to the World days.

Shit! So many! On Union’s 1997 Tour with Despair and Brother’s Keeper, we broke down in Indiana after our show in Indianapolis. It was the middle of January. In the Midwest. Snow, wind, and below zero temperatures. The tow truck driver wouldn’t let us in his cab, so he hooked up our 15 passenger van. Backward, and we all had to hide inside so the cops didn’t see us. We got the van fixed the next morning and depleted all of our money. We went on our way to Detroit. Then the heat stopped working. I managed to put some cardboard over the radiator so we could soldier on. We were freezing, and felt defeated. We finally make it to our show in Detroit after driving through what can only be described as a post-apocalyptic side of town. Lots of fires and gunshots. We played with our tour mates as well as hometown heroes in Earthmover (Walls of Jericho with a different singer) and our hometown homies Lockjaw came out to play as well. Buffalo owned Detroit that night! We all killed it musically and Union sold so much merchandise that any van repairs were long forgotten! Union played so many great shows. It was great for us to play at Coney Island High in NY with Snapcase, Deadguy, and Mouthpiece. It was a homecoming show for us Union guys since we are all down-staters that moved to Buffalo for college. My favorite shows were always in the NYC area where we were from. Some of the shows were so violent down state at that time. It was magical! Union played with the biggest bands of the era and even shared the stage literally with Limp Bizkit and Sugar Ray. We played everywhere from skate parks to basements to clubs and VFW halls. We were Buffalo’s first band on Ferret Records which eventually would release music from Dead Hearts and ETID.

Dead to the World was always on Tour. We were on Stillborn Records (Jamey Hatebreed’s label). So we played with Hatebreed everywhere at the time when only hardcore kids listened to them. Their shows were always a bloodbath. We were out with Hatebreed somewhere in Western Massachusetts and I was moshing during their set. Some asshole hit me in the nose, and I started pounding on him. Jamey stopped the show, the lights came up, and I had kicked the shit out of a fourteen year old. I was twenty four at the time. I haven’t moshed since. I couldn’t be a good sport about it all, so I’ll just man the stage and rear of the club now.

We broke down in New Haven, Connecticut and while at the garage, the news ran a BOLO for a fugitive. He was in the garage hiding out! Needless to say we left as soon as the van was fixed. We broke down everywhere! Van fires were always fun! “Mike, the vans on fire again” was an oft heard reality. Towards the end of the band we got caught at the border with rolling papers and brass knuckles. Canadian Customs tore up our van and sent us back to the US! Never mind the times we got sent back because we were trying to sneak our merch into the country without permit. At least we weren’t banned like Turmoil was. Touring with One King Down and Shai Hulud was fun. This was before we all could afford cell phones so we had walkie talkies to communicate with each band. Rob from OKD would only talk in Brack’s voice which made it more fun. Our singer once said “What’s up Connecticut” at a show in Queens and everyone turned their back on us. I have so many stories but people could lose their jobs and wives if I keep going. Ha!

Talk about the songs or albums you’ve contributed to that you’re most proud of, regardless of which band they were with. To condense down, try and do a top 5-10 for this as well.

Union- In the Shadows (Ferret Records 1995) – Second release for the band. People really took notice. We had our own take on NY Groove with a Buffalo sensibility.

Herod-“For Whom the Gods Would Destroy” (Lifeforce Records-2004) – We were anywhere and everywhere when this came out. A band from Buffalo that’s not hardcore, grind or DM? Our AR and PR teams did an amazing job getting us out there and the label did right by us. This is the one I want to be most remembered for. Fully realized and executed record. My hardcore friends still hate the band so I know we were on the right path.

Face the Panic- The Reclamation (Reaper Records-2007) – Take some of Buffalo hardcore’s biggest egos and start a band! Classic hardcore! Destined to implode after two records and tours!

I love every band I’ve done. Every project. Every release is special. Every release is meaningful regardless of level of success. Each release is a moment in time.

Growing up, which bands influenced you the most to form bands and get on stage?

Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Suicidal Tendencies, Agent Orange, The Cro-Mags, KISS, Black Flag, Shelter, The Cure.

How have your tastes evolved? Are there any newer (formed in the last ten years) hardcore OR metal bands you’re particularly impressed with?

I still have the same shit taste I did as a pre-teen. I was lucky enough to have a much older brother who got me into the classic metal and punk bands, and I was lucky to come up in a time when Thrasher would inform me of what hardcore to listen to. There are plenty of new bands out there doing some cool things, but honestly, unless I see a band, I’m going to default to a new release by an older band.

If you could live your life over, would you change much? (Strictly a band/music related question)

I think I would’ve taken more risks musically. I would’ve played bass or sang.

If you could have a reunion show with any of your disbanded projects, which band would you reform for a night?

Herod “Gods” lineup or Union “Shadows” lineup.

Have you always been strictly a drummer, or do you dabble in other instruments?

I played guitar from 8 until 10. From 10 onward just drums. I own guitars and basses. I have a bunch of four track demos from the late 90’s with me doing everything. It all sounds like Minor Threat meets Agnostic Front. I’ll stick to drums sine I look like a gorilla with a ukulele according to Gregadeth. I sing backups (gang vocals) on most of my HC releases, sing on a GOA cover of Bad Religion, do a dive-bomb on a Herod record, and have a sweet bass punch on 4 measures of another Herod track. I have no business doing anything except hitting the skins! Ha!

As sort of a “Where are they now?” segment, talk about your currently active bands, upcoming shows, recent album releases, etc. Where can we find all this? Talk about your latest distribution efforts as well for those who don’t know.

Juggernaut just released “Hollow Black” on Halloween through Irish VooDoo Records. Get it at RevHQ, Coretex in Germany, or from the Retribution Network in Japan (Nerds Records). It’s on all streaming platforms. You can pick up the record at local shops that carry hardcore and places like Amazon.

G.O.A. (Gentlemen of Age) will have a new record out by years end on Classic-Core Records. Band and label are strictly old school and DIY so our releases are available at local shops or at shows. They can be streamed at the usual places.

Wrong the Oppressor had a new EP come out during the pandemic called “our Dreams were Meant to Die” on Classic-Core Record (CD) and Press Gang Records (digital)

Longest War is readying a new release for 2023. Irish Voodoo Records will handle the record just like the last LP.

Juggernaut will be playing in early September in Buffalo for the first time since December 2021. We’ve been busy playing out of town so a return show is imminent.

GOA can play at any time, and we usually do. Keep an eye out for GOA in a basement.

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