Stories

Tony and Aaron

Songs age in the same manner of a story being told. Like a tale passed from generation to generation a song’s lyrics often take on new meanings and interpretations. I have recently been watching videos of the One Week Records tour in Europe. Yotam Ben Horin has a new song called Tony Sly that he plays in tribute to his friend, and in the song he uses a lot of Tony inspired phrases and melody. Yotam has also been playing Tony’s Feels Like Home as part of his set. Feels Like Home was a song Tony wrote about one of his best friends from childhood, Aaron Villalba. Aaron passed away in 2001. The song kicked off the Hard Rock Bottom album that came out in 2002 and was often the opener for the No Use set on the Warped tour that year. In typical Tony fashion he was understated and respectful about the song’s subject and never really identified who the song was about. I had a pretty good idea it was about Aaron and when I asked him about it, he just kind of nodded and said yes. The song really encapsulates so much of the way we all feel when we lose someone close to us. Unfortunately, I have now heard it played at several memorial services including Tony’s. It was at that service that I told Aaron’s parents the song was actually written for him. Thinking about that moment now sends me back into the shock that both those beautiful kids are gone. Both of them gone way too soon. I think the song helps to bring solace to the mourning in some small way. It is not an answer to all the questions, but leaves us with a hope for a place that feels like home.

In 1986 I started a hardcore punk band with some old friends I’d known since grade school, Steve Papoutsis and Rory Koff. Bassist Steve was my best friend since kindergarten, and I had known drummer Rory since about 2nd or 3rd grade… in fact, Steve, Rory, and I had been trying to start a punk band since 1983, except Rory was the only one of us who could actually play an instrument. After a few previous incarnations (Angry White Boys, P.S.A.), and a couple years for me & Steve to get our shit together and figure out how to play three chords in a row, a “real” band was born. Steve brought in his pal John Meyer for vocals, and we started rehearsing at Rory's dad's warehouse in an industrial section of Sunnyvale. For a while we debated whether to call the band No Need For A Name or No Use For A Name. Eventually the consensus was we actually NEEDED a name because people had to call us something. Plus NUFAN had a better ring to it (“new-fan”) as opposed to NNFAN. We started as a four-piece, with me on guitar.We added a second vocalist, Ramon Gras, and a second guitarist,Doug Judd, so we grew to a six-piece which ends up being a hell of a lot of dudes on stage for a basic punk band. We were this completely bizarre hybrid of punk, hardcore, suburban youthful angst, heavy Black Flag worship, and lack of coherence overall. We played anywhere, anytime we could. Our few close friends supported us, but after a while it felt like a bit of a chore to be in this band. And since there were six of us, our schedules were always conflicting, and there was always someone who couldn’t make it to practice.

Around this same time, my friends Chris Wilder, Todd Wilder, Big Wayne and I started to hang out with this punk band from the Peninsula called Anxiety. We went to their practices, and our band Stikky played a couple shows with them. The main man behind Anxiety was Mark Tippin.They were a three-piece, but after a few months Tony Sly was brought on board on second guitar, and eventually he sang a few tracks as well. Even that early on, it was clear Tony was the more melodic of the two frontmen.

Meanwhile in NUFAN-land, not all was well. In the summer of 1987, one vocalist quit.Then the other guitarist quit. So, our pal Tony Sly from Anxiety joined NUFAN as our second guitarist. It was just the beginning of a constant revolving door of members, myself included, but at least the main core of the band – Tony Sly, Steve Papoutsis, Rory Koff -- was now established. I left the band soon after because I didn’t enjoy playing, and I didn’t feel like we were going anywhere. NUFAN continued as a four-piece, and finally began to gel, although Tony was still limited to guitar duties.

A year later, NUFAN vocalist Ramon had a falling out with the band, and quit just a week before they had a big show at Gilman and a live-on-the-air KFJC performance scheduled. They were in a bind, so they asked if I could join on vocals. Previously around 1985 I sang in a San Jose skate punk band called The Legion Of Doom, and thus I was used to being the frontman for a local punk band that no one cared about. I was a 19 year old pipsqueak from the suburbs, and my “intense” vocal approach was sad at best. We wrote a good number of Flag rip-off tunes that were supposed to be “power”, but were more or less a pathetic attempt to sound tough. We recorded a few times, and part of our studio efforts came out on vinyl. Our first record was the debut self-titled 7", released by another childhood classmate Jeff Maser, bassist for Anxiety, and head of the short-lived Woodpecker Records label. NUFAN continued to play numerous shows and house parties to a sparse and yawning South Bay scene. Again I wasn’t enjoying it, so I left the band for the second time. On my way out the door, we released a second 7” called “Let Em Out” on my own label Slap A Ham Records.

After I quit, NUFAN wised up and made Tony the lead vocalist. The new formula was Tony as the frontman, accented by a second guitarist. Still, I tended to be the default guy they'd call when someone else quit, so in 1991 I was asked to join the band yet again. This was my third time with the outfit, and this time back on guitar. Tony was rightfully the lead vocalist at this point, and he was starting to tap into what would eventually become the true NUFAN sound. It wasn't fully there, but it was starting to formulate, especially in comparison with the earlier releases. The band was riding the fence between metalcore and melodic hardcore, with a hint of chug-chug “tough guy” tendencies in a few tracks, and a good dose of sing-along Bad Religion thesaurus-core sensibilities in others. I remember giving Tony a bit of a hard time about using the word "mendaciously" in the song “Hole”…. although I'm willing to bet money there is only one song in recorded history with "mendaciously" in the lyrics, so he still deserves credit for creativity.

Me & my tacky, yellow BC Rich made the rounds with them through the course of their second LP, “Don’t Miss The Train”, a five-week European tour, and even more sleepy Bay Area shows. I didn’t lend much to the band on guitar. I was too lazy to figure out any leads. Being more inspired by high speed hardcore, noise, and grindcore, I didn’t feel like I could contribute any new songs that would fit with NUFAN, so I didn’t write anything. I pretty much spent 1991-92 as ballast; extra baggage hooked on to the caboose of the NUFAN train. In line with the adage that “History repeats itself,” again I was bored with what we were doing musically; I was uninspired, especially by the resounding lack of enthusiasm from our hometown punk scene. I left the band for the third and final time in late ’92. Naturally, once I had thrown in the towel for good, positive things finally started to happen for them. They signed with Fat Wreck Chords, started touring extensively & playing high profile shows, and at long last began building a fan base. They abandoned the metal in favor of melody. Tony focused on harmony and memorable songwriting, and at this point established his identity as a songwriter, which helped to cement the trademark sound that carried the band into the annals of melodic hardcore history.

In 1995, I was offered a job at Fat Wreck Chords, just in time to help promote NUFAN’s groundbreaking “Leche Con Carne” album. Clearly I was destined to remain within arm’s reach of the NUFAN camp whether I liked it or not! Like the Mafia, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

Tony was a very even-tempered, mellow, reasonable, likeable person and I always felt like we were on the same page. I don't think I ever had a disagreement with him, and we clicked easily personality-wise. Above all he was honorable, and defaulted to doing the right thing, regardless of the situation. I remember playing a show in (I believe) Essen, Germany, where the club inexplicably shut down the show after we had only played two songs. Everyone who had paid to get in was rightfully pissed. We were equally upset. Feeling responsible, although we weren’t, Tony took the high road and gave out free shirts to everyone who stuck around. Later that night someone gave him a hard time for giving away our merch for free. In a rare moment, Tony was fuming mad and started punching the seats in the van, yelling, “It was the right thing to do!” That raw passion translated into his songwriting, and that incident is just a tiny glimpse into the overwhelming amount of pride and integrity Tony felt for this band and his music.

The first time I saw NUFAN I was 13, I am now 31. It was at the Commador in Vancouver. I got in with my sisters friends ID and it was the first show I ever went to and definitely in the top 3 I had ever seen. I was in the front row the whole show and just want to say thanks to Tony and the rest of the band for changing my life into the little punk rocker I became. I got to see NUFAN a couple of more times and they were always as good as can be!!!

Cheers and RIP Tony.

 

My Dad, Dennis Law Sr. died on the 30th of July 2015. His loss took a massive toll on me and I am still struggling to this day (2nd October 2015). However, one thing that has helped me as I go through the grieving process are the acoustic albums of Tony Sly. I was more of a No Use For a Name fan when I was younger but a few months ago I checked out 12 Song Program and Sad Bear for the first time and I realised how good they are. I could feel real emotion flooding out of each track and some of the songs really resonated with how I was/am feeling about my fathers passing.The Shortest Pier, Therapy and San Mateo Fog Line really hit home. Especially the following line from San Mateo Fog Line: "I am lying when I tell you that my head is doing fine"

I never had the chance to see NUFAN or Tony on his own tour, it's a major regret that I carry. From everything I've read on this website and read online he sounded like an incredibly sound person who is greatly missed by all. Without him ever knowing, he has provided me with great comfort and helped me massively over these past few months.

 Thanks so much for the music Tony.

Earlier this week a co-worker of mine was singing Elton John's "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues." Immediatly, I starting singing NUFAN's Pride in my head. Like a reflex. As soon as I got back to my desk I put my headphones on, fired up iTunes, and put on More Betterness. It was the first time I heard Tony's voice since the day I heard the news. I don't know how else to explain it, but I think I just compartmentalized his loss by not listening to NUFAN. Unconsciously. Subconsciously. However, you would explain it. Everything was going well. Lots of desk drumming. Then I got to Room 19. I don't remember if it was a particular line, or the mood of the song, but I know it took everything in me to keep from sobbing right there at my desk. Twenty years I've loved and appreciated Tony's gift to this world. My wife and I are expecting our first child in May. We're scrambling to buy a house before then. I'm in the middle of two enormous projects at work, etc.  But the heartbreaking thought I can't get out of my head is that this would all be just a little bit easier if Tony was still with us, writing the songs that make everything that much better, or let you forget about life for a little while.

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