You Can’t Fake Rock’n Roll – An Interview With Gabi Hun of Sledgeback, By Holly Homan

With Sledgeback, May 2012

With Sledgeback, May 2012

The driving force behind Seattle band Sledgeback is Gabi Hun, a force of nature who began playing in punk bands in his native Hungary back in the early nineties. Sledgeback looks the part of seasoned punk rockers. They’ve been around the punk rock world a few times and they sport piercings and chains hanging off their clothing. They’re pure oi! The second they started their set when I saw them live last year, a massive circle pit was started and never let up. I was slammed against the stage so many times I was sure I’d end up with cracked ribs. They play punk the way punk was meant to be played. I will definitely see them again and highly recommend them to any oi fans out there. I sense these guys are going to be big.

Holly Homan

What inspired you to start a band and what inspired you to play punk rock?

Easy– I hate disco. Ok, for real when I was 12, I moved to my mother’s apartment in the working class north end of Budapest. It was a big change for me after living with my dad and the situation created some tension. I had to keep myself busy, or else I would have turned to things way worse than punk rock. Ha-ha.

I guess music was my way of letting out the anger. My mother’s boyfriend was a magazine editor and kept bringing me music like the Pistols, AC/DC or the Stones. I also remember a song from Billy Idol which I heard in a summer camp when I was 12. I was drawn to that type of music before I even realized it was called punk rock.

My mom bought me a used guitar for my fourteenth birthday, giving me the final push. I never took a guitar lesson or any kind of music class. Actually, I remember being thrown out of the classroom in elementary school when we had to sing together.

I learned songs from the UK Subs, The Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Partisans and The Exploited. I played on one string for a while. Later a friend showed me how to play raw power chords on two or three strings and that is the way I have played ever since. Not much has changed; other than I only use five strings instead of six on the guitar (I do not use the E4).

This 1989 article about punk rock in Hungary shows Gabi in a teenage Mohawk. This was his first  appearance in the media.

This 1989 article about punk rock in Hungary shows Gabi in a teenage Mohawk. This was his first appearance in the media.

What was it like coming of age in Hungary? Is the punk scene vibrant there or is it more of an underground cult like it is here pretty much?

I only knew from the older generation’s tales that the early and mid- eighties were probably dangerous. The system those days were strict and the regime didn’t like freedom of speech. When I started getting into the subculture around the late eighties, just about everything had changed due to the collapse of the Communist state. But the society didn’t respond as quickly as you would think. I got into fights almost on a daily basis.

Sometimes I got beaten up, other times I won. We were out of control– sniffing glue, drinking and hanging out at places like the Black Hole, a club in Budapest. I got my first Mohawk in 1989, but I couldn’t get hair dye so I used colored shoe polish. That was the year when a big youth magazine (“IM magazine”) came out with a multi-page article about punk, the first time since the regime change, and illustrated it with my photos. I was 14 then. My mom freaked out…

These days I think it’s just about the same as the US. It’s not really in the mainstream but slightly more than underground. There are bigger bands and more underground performers. I am sure it is different from the nineties. The internet changed the world. It is good and bad at the same time, I think. The novelty and mystery around the subculture is gone for good.

I have to tell you, I like to laugh at people who come up to me on tours and telling me tales, how tough it was growing up in LA or NY.

How old were you when you first started C.A.F.B, your original band?

I was about 15 years old when my best friend Mike and I started C.A.F.B.. Later, in 2001, he passed away fighting an addiction to heroin. We practiced and wrote our first songs in his mother’s apartment which was located in the 8th district, one of the toughest neighborhoods of Budapest. Mike’s classmate Benedek Fliegauff was our so called band manager until 1993. Today he is a successful movie director.

Later, in 1994, I served in the army for roughly six months and after I returned I rebuilt the band. It was hard to find the right musicians, and for a short period of time friends filled in and kept the ball rolling. Guys from the Hungarian jungle band “Brains” worked with me until the line-up finalized around the summer of 1996.

In 1997 we received a pretty good record deal and that changed everything. [Click here to view the cover of Metal Hammer magazine featuring C.A.F.B. and Judas Priest.]

Sledgeback

Sledgeback

What made you want to leave your home country and come to Seattle? Why did you choose Seattle as opposed to any other city?

Honestly, I never wanted to leave Budapest. It just worked out that way. The truth is the opportunity came just in time, I was realizing I was facing some serious problems with hard drugs. My only way out was to leave everything and everyone I cared about behind.

It wasn’t a simple story. My first girlfriend from 1990 brought me to the USA. She moved to her father in 1991. That’s where her dad lived at the time. We kept the connection for eight years with letters and occasional phone calls. She visited me in 1998 and a year later I moved to Seattle.

Were you familiar with the Seattle scene at all before deciding to come here? Were you familiar with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam and others and did they inspire you?

Sure I knew the whole story. Everyone was into the grunge. There was no way to avoid it. I knew labels, if they had a chance they would compare their artists to Nirvana just to sell a few extra records. I definitely listened to some of the bands and found lots to love with the 90’s Seattle music. Did they influence our music those days? They might have. Who didn’t they influence? Everyone agrees on Nirvana’s significance.

When you came to Seattle did you know anyone? I know you spoke little to no English. What was it like for you when you first got here? How did you find people here to start a band with?

I only knew the girl, who is now my ex, following a huge mistake on her side marrying me on the Fourth of July 1999…. Ha-ha.

I left my home behind and didn’t speak a word of English.

I remember the day I arrived, the customs officer pulled me aside and took my guitar apart to make sure I had no illegal substances with me. The drug sniffing dog probably smelled the residue from the last party I attended some twenty or so hours earlier. Luckily I didn’t have more than a bag of clothes and my guitar, which I use to this very day.

As time went by we got married and I received my papers, but… it became hard the first couple of years with the language barrier and huge cultural change. Think about it, I was playing for a popular band back home and then all the sudden…nothing…no friends…no family. It was like a nightmare, but I had no choice.

I learned English on my own, at work, on the street, and watching television.

A few years later I started playing guitar for some local bands, but I didn’t feel that drive or passion I so longed for. I don’t think anyone was really serious with their music during that time. The majority of those guys were in bands to get chicks and/or booze, which didn’t seem to work out in anyone’s favor. In fact, I can’t remember any of those dudes getting lucky in anything they ever did. I hoped at least one of them made it so I could go around and say ”Hey, look, I played with them dudes”- just kidding!

I started Sledgeback in 2004 with a couple of friends I met at a party. Most people don’t know this, but Sledgeback was intended to be a side project. I was still writing music and working with C.A.F.B.. I had a few songs, originally recorded for C.A.F.B. and used those as the first tunes of Sledgeback. For instance “Pants off”, “Regret” and “Gimme back” from the 2004 album were originally C.A.F.B. songs. Slowly I was able to write English lyrics for them and they became the first Sledgeback songs.

sledgebackpromo2What’s in the future for Sledgeback? Are you recording any new music? Are you playing any more shows around town or anywhere else?

We work on the material continuously. I never stopped writing songs and a huge chunk of the new album is done. I feel like the sound changed a bit and the there will be more fast songs than before. I am not sure when it will be available but once we finish the vocals it will go pretty quick. The vocals are always pretty touchy, especially with my accent.

I hope to start playing shows again with Sledgeback this spring. We are trying really hard to finish the album in time which is keeping us off the stage currently.

On the other hand, I still work with the boys back home in Budapest and help them as much as I can. For example we just released a split album last year which features Sledgeback, C.A.F.B., and The Generators from Los Angeles.

I will keep making music with Sledgeback and C.A.F.B. as long as I enjoy it, but not a minute longer!

And for the question everyone asks, who are your major influences? What is it about punk rock you find so attractive?

Most of the time I find my foot tapping to rock and roll bands like The Ramones, AC/DC, Buzzcocks, Die Toten Hosen from Germany, and the Irish indie-metal band Therapy. For example I recently have listened an old cd I had since 1997 from Neurotic Outsiders. I just wanted to hear those chunky guitar riffs, but who knows when it will get to my hand again. I mean I have so much stuff I like, it would be very hard to point out all of them. If I had to choose a guitar sound, it would be Angus Young’s without a doubt.

To be honest, when I was younger I went to sleep listening Miles Davis on many nights. I also listened to the Rolling Stones and many others but the answer to your question is simple-the most important influences came from rock and roll and punk bands. There are so many of them I have loved throughout my life.

I like the raw energy of punk rock and rock and roll. This is the type of music you can only play if you have realistic and emotional feelings. You can not fake rock and roll.

www.sledgeback.com

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