(All material here is quoted from the liner notes of Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts 2. These were written by Mike Apichella, aka your humble blogger)
The experimental garage band Within was my most ambitious attempt to transform art into political action. I was 17 years old when I began working on Within’s material using borrowed guitars and amps off and on from 1991 to mid ’92 while killing time during breaks at the band practices of the various Matt Bray/Violet LeVoit-led groups that I played in (more details on those bands can be found in the TGAF blog posts on Violet LeVoit and Matt Bray, and also in the notes to The Retarded Dogs track on the first Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts collection).
That all changed in late 1992 when I got a part-time job working as a telephone surveyor at the Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens Funeral Home & Cemetery. $110 earned at this unbelievably boring job got me a tiny Grand Prix brand guitar which I purchased from Schubert Music in Reisterstown, Md., a store that primarily sold school band equipment and uniforms, as well as a hodge-podge of new budget priced music gear. Soon after that, I bought the piece of equipment that would go on to define Within’s sound: a Boss Hyper Fuzz pedal. A somewhat fried, vintage Juggs practice amp (borrowed from Violet LeVoit) would be the next contraption added to my sonic cache. With all of this tweaked gear in tow, I began to constantly write songs for Within, which remained a nameless project until late 1993.
It actually took me more than a year to find other musicians to join Within. My intense perfectionism, a sincere desire only to play with untrained musicians, and my invented musical approach all made rounding out the band’s membership quite difficult….
The first void to be filled in this band was that of the drummer. Claire Mysko and I had been friends since around the spring of ’93 after we met through mutual (political) activist friends…. I told Claire that my ideal drum sound would consist of ultra primal beats played on a kit with only a snare drum, a floor tom, and a crash cymbal. Mysko had no issue with this set-up, and actually seemed even more excited to give it a go once she knew about the stripped down specs. With a successful try out rehearsal in summer ’93, Claire then officially joined Within.
For the vocalist’s role, my friend Tricia Lane recommended that I tap her Spastic Cracker bandmate Lisa Starace. Lisa had done some ear-shredding back up vocals on one of SC’s harder songs. After Tricia played me a tape of that impressive performance, I asked Lisa to do a try out rehearsal in August of ’93…. so after we successfully ran through a few of my songs I convinced Lisa to join the group…. as she already had a leadership role in Spastic Cracker, she decided to join my group just for the change of pace provided by the work of a side musician. Nonetheless, Starace alone would go on to write most of Within’s blaring vocal parts.
Like many other TGA kids, Claire Mysko was an accomplished student. This led her to skip over a grade to become an 11th grader at the young age of 16. Not only that, but in her junior high school year she was incredibly busy and stressed out preparing to skip her senior year in order to make an early admission to college at The Eugene Lang New School For Social Research in NYC. The New School gave her an offer of substantial scholarship money as a result of her superlative SAT scores and her participation in several of the prestigious writing workshops that catered to the mid-Atlantic’s gifted teen scribes. With all of this frenzied academia, initially, getting Claire on a regular Within practice schedule was a bit daunting…
(Claire) managed to make just enough stray practices throughout early fall ’93 to prepare us for our first show – an October 29th Food Not Bombs* benefit gig put on at my mom’s house which also featured my performance art/joke band Young Death and a headlining set from Pittsburgh, Pa. crust legends Aus Rotten.
Around December ’93, the three of us began rehearsing about once a week at my mom’s house in Glen Arm, Md. and occasionally at Claire’s parents’ house in Lutherville. Like Lisa, Claire also turned out to be exactly the kind of musician that I needed for Within – a drummer who didn’t give a crap about solos or playing fast thrash beats or weird time signatures; she was just a hyped-up kid who loved pounding the hell outta the drums…. By the end of any given Within practice or show, Claire would always emerge from this zoned out haze drenched in sweat and flushed beet red as if she’d just completed the most grueling triathlon imaginable.
The odd parameters I set for Within were created to highlight my extreme political leftism, something which, for the most part, was shared by my bandmates. Playing my own style of music was not merely done to “show off” how original I could be, nor was it a pure reaction against other kinds of music. Instead, by using invented music theory, I felt that Within’s work served to demonstrate an ideology which could be constructively applied to more than just artwork. The invented concepts of Within were things that I had hoped would inspire oppressed/disenfranchised people to refuse any kind of constraint imposed upon them by evil authoritarian forces. An invented chord, an alternate tuning, a thick layer of distortion coating a melody – these were all examples of how the utility of music composition itself could be radically manipulated in many unusual ways while still providing a strong backbone for something more individualistic, therefore far outside of what most musical “authorities” thought of as melodic structure, technique, or dynamics. To me, the fact that I could create songs without either destroying or strictly adhering to the tenets of conventional music *proved* that a better way of life was inevitable for those who really wanted to create a grass roots political system outside of the corrupt bureaucracy run by the world’s exploitive “super powers”.
…Imbuing Within… with a political consciousness, however, was not the only action used to spotlight the progressive nature of our work. Attracting even more attention to that element was the way in which Within worked in aesthetic realms beyond music through our conscious effort to put on visually spectacular live concerts… These elements were further complimented by the use of instruments that were compact in both size and number, a choice which led the audience’s attention to focus upon on the fact that we were sweaty flesh-and-blood people first and musical conduits second. In no uncertain terms, Lisa Starace has expressed that this was the most unique, powerful element of Within:
“People responded to our performances viscerally…we were so brutally raw emotionally, physically, and sonically, so demanding of ourselves and of them, our audiences couldn’t just sit and watch/listen. We dragged them into the moment and made them experience the whole thing with us. So people loved it or hated it…they either embraced the rawness and honesty or they were afraid of it…. I was always proud that we were never easy and never just ok to anybody…”
If reference points must be named, some of Within’s main influences as a group included the chaotic leftist hardcore of Born Against, Man Is The Bastard, Huggy Bear, and Universal Order of Armageddon (UOA). My personal influences, however, were a little more “across the board” than that of my bandmates, particularly when it came to my songwriting choices; these were often informed by the noisey garage punk of bands like The Gories, The Cramps, The Swamp Rats, and The One Way Streets (aka my all time favorite punk band). Though Within’s music theory ideas were mine and mine alone, these were certainly a by-product of my love for Sun Ra, Beck, Ornette Coleman, Stereolab, and other artists who refused to jump on any bandwagons or stoop to the bottom-feeder level of reactionary pop music. Phil Ochs, Woody Guthrie, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan gave me a’lot of my lyrical ideas and reinforced my belief that music could be fluidly combined with political sentiment….
As Within’s avalanche of noisy art rock plowed through central Maryland throughout the early/mid 90’s, many of our most defining moments were those shared by the group’s original line-up: our hyperactive live shows, our 7″ e.p. (released on Matt Bray’s short lived Sunshine label/distro and produced by scene veteran Christian Sturgis), and high profile gigs supporting Unwound and UOA at a suburban Annapolis house show and Half Man in NYC at ABC-NO-RIO. Still, to me, Within’s most important recorded work was made in late 1994/early ’95 towards the end of our existence during the group’s brief period as a duo featuring only Lisa Starace and I, and, also, when Lisa’s Towson State University classmate Tim Kabara became a Within member. At around this time we arranged to have my friend Eli Jones come in to produce what would end up being Within’s last and only four track sessions (most of Within’s earlier material was recorded/produced by me on a boom box).
Jones was already a big Within fan before I asked him to produce some music for us, plus, thanks to his seminal work with Lesbian Chicken Maggot Blasters and Glorious Fourlane, he’d developed a special knack for getting the most out of any recording driven by effects processing and unconventional melody, so he was very enthusiastic about the work we offered him. My favorite of Eli Jones’ Within productions is the medley ‘Golden/Your Wound’….
Hear ‘Golden/Your Wound’ by Within here: http://nunsliketofence.bandcamp.com/track/within-golden-your-wound
…the first chunk of the track… is highlighted by an aggressive performance from Tim Kabara whose bestial vocal attack interprets critical lyrics that I wrote about a problem which often impeded the success of the political activism in Baltimore city that me and my north County friends occasionally took part in. In the mid 90’s, the city’s leftists were plagued by a ‘law and order’ attitude that was supposed to make protests and such more efficient, but really this only stifled creative thinking and diplomacy in order to support a form of weaponized elitism designed to eliminate the participation of those who didn’t follow the “rules”. These “rules” governed how often activists were to demonstrate, what they were to do when those demonstrations commenced, and even the acknowledgement of political correctness as a crucial part of activism.
This all seemed totally fascist to me. It just seemed like the most overzealous activists were setting an unobtainable ‘gold’ (or ‘Golden’) standard so they could have a sense of power and accomplishment at the expense of everyone else’s dignity. (i.e. “You should just totally quit fighting against oppression because you’ll never be as politically correct or aware as those who follow the rules”). The snobby ‘law & order’ attitude made activism in Baltimore ineffectual and boring, so, consequently, around late 1995/early ’96, I chose to cut any close ties that I had to most leftist organizations in that area.
….the ‘Your Wound’ section…deals with a subject frequently found not only in Within’s lyrics, but also in those of all my other early bands. This was my belief that a complete return to a rural/agrarian way of life and an intense focus on natural beauty could save the world from environmental disaster. I also surmised that the competitiveness which often characterizes inner city life contributed to the conflicts of Baltimore’s activist culture; this latter assertion is why I felt that ‘Your Wound’ was a perfect companion for ‘Golden’….
Looking back now, the entire concept behind ‘Your Wound’ is completely impractical. I no longer maintain the belief that all cities must be sacrificed in the name of Arcadia. None of life’s problems (urban or otherwise) can be solved with such a simple/’cut & dry’ solution….
Regardless of all that, it was great to have Within as a therapeutic outlet for the aggression provoked by my once distorted view of political turmoil. The group also taught me some important lessons about how to helm an anomalous creative project in a democratic way, something which was a fringe benefit of the kinship that Lisa, Claire, and all the other former Within members shared with me. I wouldn’t have been able to pull off something this weird and complex without their creativity, patience, and dedication. Really, what set Within apart from many other noisy young 90’s bands was a ridiculous sense of idealism, something that, for better or worse, was destined to be smashed to bits by the unforgiving rigors of the “real world”. Bearing that in mind, the fact that Within’s work remains interesting or entertaining in any way seems almost miraculous.
(*for more info on Food Not Bombs go to