Punk rock in Israel? Yes indeed! A good proof of it is Useless ID. After 2 albums with Falafel Records, these 4 guys from Haifa decided to take a look outside their borders after their split album with The Ataris to start sharing their top quality punk rock with the rest of the world. Today, after 20 years career, and after releasing their last record (“Symptoms”) with Fat Wreck in 2012, Ishay Berger (lead guitarist) tells us, among other things, more about the passing of time, the growth of the band and how today’s multiple musical influences have not altered an inch the recipe they know how to cook best: the most delicious blasts of punk rock of the Middle East.
After almost 20 years, how would you describe the current health condition of Useless ID?
It’s different from when we started, of course! So much has changed. I really think that we are kind of different people in a different band, ALMOST playing a different type of music in a totally different world. When we started the band I was like 16, Yotam was 15, we were just happy to be able to learn a new “trick” or hear of a new band… These days we are almost 20 years older and everything is, well, changed. But not every change is a good one, neither a bad one, and we are just doing everything we can to keep enjoying what we do and things are in fact, pretty cool.
If you take a look back, which has been the best and worst moment that you’ve shared together?
Honestly, the best times for the band are when we are writing, recording or touring… Any other time is just not as cool, so it’s not like 2006 was better than 2013, but more like, the touring of 2013 and the writing in 2006 were awesome times… the in-betweens… NOT so much.
How did the band feel when you became international after your split album with The Ataris in 1999 and the later signing with Kung Fu Records? How did that opportunity happen? Did you know The Ataris personally?
It was a good thing for us, for sure… I remember that not too long after we put out the first album on Kung Fu we were offered to do the entire Warped Tour in the US… We could not believe that we were able to see Bad Religion and about 20 other bands that we really love play every day for 2 months. The split with The Ataris was playing a big part in all of it, so we are thankful for these guys forever, pretty much.
Taking a look at your music, in my opinion there are clearly two different phases in your career, marked by your decision of recording your albums at The Blasting Room. Do you agree that since you released Redemption your sound is somehow more compact? Why did you decided to go to The Blasting Room?
I actually also think that our band had 2 different periods, but not in the same way that you put it. From when we started (in 1994) up until No Vacation From The World Guy was the singer and the music was always super fast, the songs were short and we were always out of tune. After the Bad Story Happy Ending album, Yotam became the lead singer, the music became a bit slower and more mid tempo and we definitely bought guitar tuners.
The Blasting Room was a dream for us because we really loved the way the Descendents album sounded and a lot the bands that we looked up to made their albums there.
When we were able to record Redemption at the Blasting Room we became very close with Bill and Jason who made the album with us and it was just clear that we will be recording with them for the next one as well. We just love them as people and enjoy working on music with them, so it wasn’t like “let’s make it more compact” or anything like that… We just really love these people and they made us feel at home. Just thinking about it now makes me miss the times with them!!!
How did your signing with Fat Wreck come about? What does it bring to the band? Is it something similar to joining the most prestigious racing team of the starting grid? What are the main differences with the other record companies you have worked with in the past?
We knew Mike from Fat for as long as we had this band going, pretty much. We used to order records from the label in the early days and gave Mike our demo tape at a Bouncing Souls show in 96′. I think he always had a soft spot in his heart for us, the punk band from Israel. When we finished our contract with Kung Fu we started asking him to put out our albums and with Symptoms he agreed. Everyone that is on the label is saying that and I know that many people on other record labels had a very sour experience – but FAT are just amazing. They are everything you would come to expect of a family run business, all the bands and all the people that work at the label are extremely nice and helpful with each other. It really is as awesome as it gets.
How would you describe the personal relationships between the members of the band? Do they go beyond the strict barriers of playing in Useless ID or do you guys keep your personal lives away from the band?
Well, my younger brother joined our band about 3 years ago, so I have to say fuck yeah we’re close! We are 4 Haifa guys that grew up playing and spending a lot of hours together, so by now it doesn’t mean we are as close as we are on tour when we are at home, but it’s like we’re 4 brothers anyway, and when we do get together it’s really fun and as far as the music goes, we have a lot of discipline on how to make everything work.
You have always avoided turning political. Have you ever felt somehow forced by your environment in Israel to officially state your opinion about certain issues?
I could sense that not only locally, but also internationally, people would be interested in hearing more of a political statement from us in our songs. The main thing is that it all comes back to the good old “this is our band and this is our life and we will not write about whatever people want us to write about”. I don’t think that there are MANY great political bands out there, some bands get it right, most bands don’t. As for us, we just write about what we feel is right for us.
Is the punk scene in Israel more similar to the European or to the American scene?
The Israeli scene is nothing like these 2 seminal, amazing punk scenes…
How is your relationship with your fans? Which country has more Useless ID fans?
I think we’re very cool… most punk bands are, though. We always hang out with the show-goers, we hang out at the bar/merch/door and say hello to people… I actually have a lot of friends that are “fans”…, it’s all good, I think that’s the way it should go, really, I am friends of people that I like their band a lot, too, it’s like a cycle? maybe? We tour a lot and I think that our strongest fan base has to be Japan… we went there for our 10th time last month and it was amazing as always!
Why did you decided to choose Symptoms as the name for your last record? The song Symptoms seems to talk about the imminent break-up of a couple… but… what do you really want to transmit with this title?
Well, a lot of the songs on the album had this same theme of stress and mental anxiety, and I think Symptoms works as a title that captures some of that vibe… I am pretty sure that we chose it for that reason, and not just to highlight the actual song of that name.
After so many years, already in your thirties, do you maintain your energy and determination intact or do you have a calmer vision of what you do?
We never talk about slowing down, haha. Actually, sometimes I wish we had! Like, we just finished touring after touring after touring and everyone would think it’s a good time for us to get busy on writing for the next album… but wait… we got offered to play Rebellion Festival in the UK, so… Let’s work on the next tour AND write next album! And so… yeah… we’re still into it 100%, trying to get everything done, having a real good time!
I guess you also listen to other kinds of music. After your collaboration with Muki, what kind of influence do other music styles (not strictly connected to punk rock) have on you?
I think music is fucking awesome, and I’m like, into anything that is good or whatever, I can be into Hip Hop, Metal, Reggae, straight up pop music… anything, but I think that for all of us, it’s still all about guitar music.
We were around when silly ska and cute emo took over everything and these things did not change us one bit, we are really only playing what we know and what we like, so any influence we may come across, is probably still punk hardcore and not much of anything else.
Do you know any Spanish bands? What do you recall of your concerts in Spain?
I loved watching Escuela De Odio when we played in Resurrection Festival together a couple of years ago, great fucking band. Spain is where we had our last tour with No Use For A Name… it is a very special place for us, with a lot of memories of the shows, the people and Tony.
If I were to plan a tour with my band… why would you recommend going to Israel?
Honestly, unless you’re as popular as NOFX or as crazy as Atom And His Package I wouldn’t recommend on going on tour in Israel. The world is full of great places to tour in, and if you wanna go on a crazy, unforgettable punk rock tour, I will recommend Russia or China before Israel…
Useless ID in 20 years from now?
…Some of the records worth a lot of money on Discogs.