After the show, I approached Marvin at the soundboard and he gave me a copy of the EP. I booked the band for the first weekend in October at the Pizza Castle. The Pizza Castle served alcohol and allowed under-age attendance at the time only if one observed the nonsensical Indiana liquor laws, which dictated no permanent stage and no dancing. The band and the audience were out of their element with the no dancing restrictions, and as you’ll see during the show, it doesn’t apply. The Pizza Castle always encouraged bands to perform original songs and I think this captured moment in time represents some of the band’s best material .
- Mike Moser – Gnome Park Studio
The Zero Boys changed my life. My discovery of the 80’s Indianapolis punk band as a teenager helped set the course for my adult life. More importantly, the Zero Boys kicked major ass. I first saw the band in the summer of 1981 in Bloomington, Indiana. I watched these four lanky guys in sleeveless T-shirts and canvas sneakers set up their gear. They launched into their set with awesome precision and ferocity, leaving me dazed and disoriented. I’d never heard a band play such short songs at such fast tempos, or with so much energy. I had no context for the music; it wasn’t heavy metal, and it didn’t sound like the punk records I’d heard. The singer, a scrappy kid who appeared to be only a few years older than me, commanded the makeshift stage as he launched one explosive, melodic song after another. I was seeing and hearing the future – a future I wanted desperately to be a part of. I told everyone who would listen about the Zero Boys, a few had heard of them but nobody had seen them play.
In the fall of 1982, a lurid yellow album depicting a grotesque drawing of a severed head arrived at local stores: the Zero Boys’ Vicious Circle LP. By that time they’d gelled into a fierce unit. The material was as strong as any of its time, with accessible, sing-along choruses. I literally wore out my copy. The original lineup self-released a seven-inch EP titled “Livin’ in the 80s” in 1980 and had the EP been their only document, it would probably not have established the band in the pantheon of American punk rock. As represented on Vicious Circle, the Zero Boys’ rhythm section swings. Cutsinger demonstrates a subtle touch on the drums, often adding intricate accents on the cymbals to embellish his thundering backbeat. Clough played the bass with his fingers rather than pick style, adding dazzling speed runs and arpeggios to the bass lines. The ultra-tight, clean rhythm section provided a strong foundation and contrast for the dirtier guitar and vocal. Howe plays actual solos – anathema to hardcore – and they worked. His signature pick drags and controlled feedback bursts colored the spare tracks. Mahern’s assured voice serves the songs perfectly; it’s at once melodic and abrasive, snotty and sincere. The band took its early inspiration from first generation acts such as the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, and the Stooges. Vicious Circle assimilated and transcended these influences. The resulting sound was signature. I saw them perform several times, and each set was better than the last. I lived for the adrenaline rush of sweat, crashing bodies, clenched teeth, while screaming the lyrics with a cluster of kids as Paul held the mic into the crowd. Once I returned from a show with a slam dancing injury: a gash on my chin that required a late night emergency room visit. I lied to my mother and told her I’d hurt myself skateboarding. I didn’t mind being forbidden to skateboard, but I wasn’t about to give up going to Zero Boys shows. The music prevailed and Vicious Circle is considered by record collectors to be a classic in its genre. The most recent re-issue of the album on Secretly Canadian Records, along with the re-issue of The History of the Zero Boys, represents a high-water mark for the album, over twenty-five years after its initial release.
After listening to it for the first time in at least a decade, I completely understand why I connected so strongly with the album as a teenager. They sound as fresh and relevant as ever. They could have – should have – been superstars. But it really doesn’t matter now, because they inspired others and me at the time, and they will likely inspire future generations of fans as well. Rock n’ roll this great transcends time and context.
- John Strohm