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Authority Figures

Everything is overlabeled now," Against All Authority guitarist Joe Koontz asserts during some rare downtime at a chiropractor's office where he works as a masseur. "In the '80s, bands like the Circle Jerks and Bad Brains would play together -- bands with totally different sounds -- and no one would complain. Now it's, "I'm only going if it's an indie-rock show, or a ska-punk show.' It's stupid."

This remark might come as a shock to those familiar with Against All Authority's first release -- a split single with Gainesville's Less Than Jake -- and the ska-punk boom that both bands rode to worldwide popularity. But a sampling of Against All Authority's discography reveals much more depth than the flavor-of-the-month outfits (remember Goldfinger?) that went the way of the Hula-Hoop when the ska trend fizzled in 1999. Its members never caught at a loss for words, Against All Authority has evolved from party-with-a-message ska-rock to the musical equivalent of David Lynch's "Angriest Dog in the World." They're snarling, brutal, and punk as hell.

Against All Authority began in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew when Koontz and high-school buddy Danny Lore played acoustic guitar to pass the time during a month-long power outage in south Miami-Dade. "We were so bored that we got the idea to climb a bridge and play acoustic punk songs to the people driving by," Koontz recalls. After the juice was turned back on, Koontz and Lore went electric and recruited Koontz's pal Millan Aguero to drum. Aguero's inability to perform didn't faze Koontz: "We wanted to play out desperately, so we weren't going to let a little thing like his not knowing how to play get in the way." Six months and three house parties later, Against All Authority did its first club show at South Beach's Gallery of the Unknown Artist. Shortly afterward Aguero left the band. He was quickly replaced by percussion whiz Kris King, and Against All Authority became a sonic force to be reckoned with. "For the first time," Koontz affirms, "everyone in the band was a real musician."

With renewed confidence Against All Authority set about making a name for itself. Lore drew up an American Automobile Association oval logo with anarchy signs replacing the standard letter A; it soon became the bane of janitors all over South Florida when Lore, Koontz, and King blanketed the tricounty area with stickers. In order to beef up its ska-punk menu, Against All Authority added a horn section. In 1994, after a series of successful shows at the Kitchen Club in Coconut Grove, Farout Records owner Tim Farout was hip to Against All Authority. Not only did he want to release something by the band, but he offered to play trombone with it. Unable to resist gaining both a label and a band member simultaneously, Against All Authority hitched its wagon to Farout. In May 1995 AAA entered Miami's Tapeworm Studios and recorded both the aforementioned single with Less Than Jake and the full-length Destroy What Destroys You. A snapshot of the tastes of the times, Destroy combined snarling slamcore anthems ("Hard as Fuck") with bouncy, horn-laden calls to arms ("Disobey," "The Corporate Takeover"). Lore's sneering, machine-gun vocals weave in and out of King's rock-solid drumming and Koontz's melodic guitar lines.

To peddle Destroy What Destroys You, the band members embarked on a two-month U.S. tour. For transportation they bought a yellow school bus and engaged a certified mechanic in case it failed. This precaution turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. "That damn bus broke down in practically every city we played in," Koontz grimaces. "Brad, our mechanic, had the roughest tour ever. We didn't even make it out of Florida before it broke down. Once he had to remove the engine in a parking lot in Alabama." Over the next few weeks, Against All Authority performed in some bizarre places. "We played a racquetball court in El Paso, Texas," Koontz chuckles. "The acoustics were so bad it was like playing in the Grand Canyon." Living rooms, church basements, and city parks were typical stops. As can be expected, the compensation left something to be desired. "We were so poor that we had to siphon gas from parked cars just to get to the next town," Koontz recalls. "We became rock 'n' roll criminals."

Against All Authority returned from the road to find its grassroots tour had created an insatiable appetite for Destroy What Destroys You. Farout couldn't afford to produce more than 1000 copies at a time, so demand grew. To date the album has been pressed 50 times. Independent labels began tripping over themselves to sign the band. Epitaph records offered to fly Against All Authority to Los Angeles. Unfortunately no contract was inked. Maybe it was the band's lyrics: "Take your money/Shove it up your ass/I ain't selling punk for cash."

After severing ties with Farout in 1997, Against All Authority signed with well-funded California independent Hopeless Records. The following year's All Fall Down was an instant smash. Hopeless aggressively plugged the group, putting full-page ads in skateboard magazines such as Thrasher and many of the planet's punk zines. A booking agent was hired to keep the band in clubs and off racquetball courts. Against All Authority even toured Europe with labelmates Falling Sickness -- then came a cease-and-desist letter from the American Automobile Association regarding the pirated logo. Undaunted, Against All Authority kept the oval, then superimposed two cops and a corporate honcho holding a contract on it. All three had their legs spread just wide enough to make perfect letter A's.

When the time again came to record, much had changed in AAA's inner circle. King had left the band to fulfill his father's dying wish that he finish school, and Radiobaghdad drummer Chris Goldbach had joined. The group had also streamlined its sound. "We've always had a problem keeping horn players in the band," Koontz explains. "When it was time to go tour, we were constantly looking for horn players to join us, and then spending all of our time to teach them the old stuff. It was holding us back." And Koontz changed his songwriting style. "Instead of adding ska parts to my punk songs," he says, "I kept them as punk songs, and it felt natural." The resulting record, last year's 24 Hour Roadside Resistance, is a modern-day punk-rock masterpiece. Lore's vocals have grown throatier with age. Sounding like a pissed-off Tom Waits, Lore combines a poet's touch with a mad bomber's anger. Both CNN ("Dinkas When I Close My Eyes") and local news ("The Source of Strontium 90") serve as fodder for Lore's lyrical mill. Not eager to be mistaken for TV junkies, AAA also includes songs about its members' personal trials. "I Think You Think Too Much" is a recounting of their 12-hour detention at the Canadian border. "They told us we couldn't come into their country and preach revolution," a still incredulous Koontz recalls. "The Next Song" is a brilliant dub reggae tune about the tough-guy posturing AAA witnesses at its shows: "I've seen your face in every town/I've seen your face in every crowd/Tell us why it is you gotta prove/Just how easily the others bruise."

The year 2001 found Against All Authority releasing Nothing New for Trash Like You, a CD compilation. With drummer Goldbach soon to become a father, the band's touring has been temporarily restricted to Florida. So Lore and Koontz are working on material for the next record. Recently the group did a state tour with old friends Less Than Jake. "It was cool to see how we branched out differently," Koontz declares. "They're on a much bigger scale than we are, but I'm totally happy with the choices we made."

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Tom Bowker

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