I met Arty Shepherd in 1996, when we were both employees at a closet-sized record store in Manhattan’s West Village. But I had known Arty’s name for years prior to that—he was a columnist at Rich Black’s essential (and now-defunct) Long Island-based hardcore/punk/metal zine Under the Volcano, and more notably, he was a member of two of the Long Island hardcore (LIHC) scene’s seminal acts: Mind Over Matter and Bad Trip. Since the breakup of Mind Over Matter in 1995, after the release of their amazing swan song, Automanipulation, Arty has played in a handful of excellent and criminally unknown bands around New York City, including Errortype: Eleven, World’s Fastest Car, Instruction, and God Fires Man. Perhaps his most successful recent venture is Gay For Johnny Depp, a performance-art hardcore band that has released three EPs and three full-length albums since forming in 2004, including the brand new What Doesn’t Kill You Eventually Kills You. For contractual reasons, for most of GFJD’s career, Arty went by the nom de plume “Marty Leopard” (rhymes with, um, Arty Shepherd), but the cat (or leopard, as the case may be) is out of the bag. Arty is one of the coolest people I know—he has great taste in music and can drink like a champ—as well as one of the people who put Long Island hardcore on the map. Along with GFJD, Arty is in the bands Primitive Weapons and Icebergs, and he’s opening a rock bar/venue in Greenpoint called St. Vitus (like the legendary doom band) with Justin Scurti from Milhouse. In the immediate future, Gay For Johnny Depp is doing a record release gig on February 10 at Union Pool in Brooklyn, and from there, they are heading straight to the UK, where they are superstars. Check them out…and, for God’s sake, buy the man a drink.
I see that you’re doing the record release in NYC, then heading straight to the UK. You’ve been in a bunch of bands over the years, and pretty much all of them have been big in the UK and sort of not-so big here in the States. Is that accurate? Why the hell is that?
It’s somewhat accurate. “Big” is a relative term. I can play to a lot more people over there than over here. It’s a small country (but insanely expensive) and can be properly toured in two weeks. In recent years, I’ve always had to work a job—two weeks at a time was easier to get off to tour than, say, two months for the US. Plus you can actually make an impact as opposed to a US tour where you have to keep going and going for years at a time and never get anywhere. Other than that, labels, agents, etc., have taken a shine to us over there, thus enabling us to operate as a band with proper releases, press and tours… Or maybe they just have great taste and drink more, like me.
You’ve been doing GFJD since 2004 – in that time you’ve also done Errortype, Instruction, God Fires Man (am I forgetting anything?). It has seemed (to me) that GFJD was always sort of a side project to your “main band” but has GFJD taken on the role of your “main band”? If so, how did that evolve?
I’m also doing a band called Primitive Weapons with some LIHC superstars (EP out on March 8) and an electro, e-mail project called Icebergs that’s pretty interesting. The Gays have actually done better than most of my other bands exactly because we haven’t really given a shit about it. Its fun and our shows are like a very unpredictable hardcore party. Sometimes things are amazing, other times they can go horribly bad and I end up in the hospital (it’s free in the UK). Recently, I wanted to take a break from writing rock/pop songs; what was expected was getting depressing. I just don’t care about selling records (doesn’t exist anymore) or making publishing money (I signed an awful deal years ago). I needed to recapture the passion I had, the Gays seemed the obvious solution for my dilemma. Our anti-marketing attitude kept us current and a cult following has emerged. The only things I really enjoy doing anymore is writing and being onstage. The rest of the “industry” is bullshit.
You came from the LIHC scene and a hardcore background, but since Mind Over Matter, your bands have really grown away from hardcore—into metal, Britpop, shoegaze, and so on—but GFJD is a hardcore band, and thus (I guess) a return to hardcore. Was that a conscious evolution for you?
Mind Over Matter was a band that consciously thought we could change the hardcore genre. In retrospect, I realized that when you made hardcore progressive, it was no longer hardcore. Hardcore is a genre that will always exist and never change. [Hardcore bands] don’t really go beyond what they do, which is awesome. Our final record, Automanipulation, had Ride ripoffs and Oasis ripoffs, not to mention all the noise influences (Swans!). No one noticed. It wasn’t a hardcore record. We had intentionally created our own idea, I’m not sure anyone has figured out how to label it, so they went with hardcore. We felt that record transcended a label and I’m very proud of that. Gay for Johnny Depp is six years on. I was asked to join as a goof. The first record barely had lyrics (like Obituary’s first album). The band’s music really took me back to all the Gravity Records bands in the ’90s (or the “stand up/fall down chain wallet bands” as we called them) so I went with it. There are no conscious decisions made in Gay for Johnny Depp, it all just happens. It’s really, at its best, performance art. At its worst, a joke that’s gone too far. The one thing we did want to do was challenge the testosterone-driven silliness that hardcore encouraged. We thought Gay for Johnny Depp was an amazing companion to shirtless boys rubbing against each other in a sweaty room. Although, I don’t consider GFJD to be a hardcore band. Just a great band.
What are the similarities you see between hardcore today and the hardcore of the LIHC scene? Are there any?
Again, hardcore is a specific term. I didn’t necessarily consider a lot of the LIHC bands to be straight up “hardcore.” There were so many original bands. From Silent Majority to Scapegrace to Clockwise to 1.6 Band to Milhouse and, of course, Glassjaw, Neglect and VOD. All considered LIHC, none of them sounded remotely alike. They all took their influences and did something special with it. That’s what made that time special, and I have a lot of love for it. It was a true golden age for a culturally vacant locale that was so close to the cultural center of the world. A weird dichotomy. I don’t know too much about today’s hardcore scene. I’m just happy that LI has been represented by the likes of great bands; obviously, I have to mention Taking Back Sunday and Brand New. They carry that legacy of originality.
You grew up in some pretty important scenes: LIHC, Britpop during the era of Oasis/Blur, NYC during the time of the Strokes/Interpol/etc. What do you think of the scenes occurring today? How do they compare to the ones you saw (and were a part of) coming up?
The Internet has changed the game for scenes per se. Younger kids listen to everything; they are very much the iPod Shuffle generation. Most times they don’t even know what bands they are listening to. They have no concept of genre, which can be great (unless it results in bands like Attack Attack or Enter Shikari). Way back when, there were filters for “quality.” Labels, radio, press and MTV were tastemakers. Today it’s the Wild West. The older scenes I’ve witnessed develop were somewhat organic and based on songs and a little bit of luck and timing.
Do you ever get back to LI? Do you ever hear any bands out here? Anything good?
I have some family on LI but I don’t make it back often enough. I know of and have played with some of the Long Island bands like Incendiary, and I like Iron Chic and Capital. [Mind Over Matter vocalist] George Reynolds has a new band called Wiretap Crash—they seem pretty cool, but I’m biased. Bomb the Music Industry has a great name and ideology, but I haven’t actually heard a song. I love some of the old hardcore folks doing metal these days, like Gary and Paul from Kill Your Idols’ latest band, Black Anvil, and Ryan from Motive’s band, Unearthly Trance. Both their new records are amazing! I’m sure there are some other great bands out there, but I’m old, and that scene is a youth culture. I just make music now. I do what I know.
People really react to the name Gay For Johnny Depp. Do you ever regret that choice? Or was it the best decision you ever made?
It was Joe [Grillo]’s band before I joined. I made it a persona. It’s the best band name ever.
As Gay For Johnny Depp, you guys all go by pseudonyms (yours being of course “Marty Leopard”). As GFJD has grown, have you become more inclined to use your real identity? Was anyone ever really fooled by the fake names?
It started because I was signed to Geffen and couldn’t contractually put out records with another band. We’ve recently pulled our real names from as much as we can. The internet culture has recently come to bite me in the ass and I hate that someone can know so much about another person by a Google search. In the UK, I often get called Marty by the younger kids so I guess it works on some level. Personally, it works for me as performance art.
You are a voracious music listener. What are you listening to these days?
As you well know, I love to talk about what music I believe in. You also know my tastes are diverse because I’m a bit long in the tooth. For impure metal, it’s Deathspell Omega. Their last three records are black metal masterpieces, sometimes sung in dead languages. They are Univers Zero (odd jazzy orchestral ’70s prog band) done by Satan in France. America’s fucking nightmare. I think Elbow is still the best band on the planet. No one touches them for pure emotion and songwriting prowess. They are Spirit of Eden/Laughingstock-era Talk Talk but with a sense of pop. Or a sense of any sort of song structure really. Frankly, Guy can sing anything and make it amazingly melancholy. Jesu is my dream band. If someone told me in 1990 that the dude from Godflesh would start ripping the shoegaze scene, I would have laughed at them. Jesu is the Reese’s peanut butter cup of my musical tastes. I also love Torche. They touch on so many great ideas. They are doom pop. Amusement Parks on Fire is a Silversun Pickups/old Dino Jr.-style band from the UK whom I have loved for a while. Of course there is Biffy Clyro, whose new records I don’t love (pure pretentiousness) but I still think they are one of the best rock bands on the planet. I wish the US would figure that out, but such is life.