Speedealer’s Music Is Back In The Spotlight Thanks To The Skateboarding Video Game’s Re-Release Alongside Its Original Soundtrack. But Is Anyone Listening?
Arguably the greatest lasting legacy to come from early-2000s gaming music was born from the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series soundtracks. The leaps and bounds video game graphics have made over the last 20 years are to be considered, too, but in the words of German philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche: Without music, life would be a mistake.
That is just as applicable to a soundtrack that turned how-many-millions of unsuspecting millennials and older gamers alike onto punk rock music. It’s a much-discussed historical abstraction, actually.
Nietzsche’s sentiment is echoed by the words of Dallas-based former Speedealer frontman Jeff Hirshberg, who reiterates that a culture that doesn’t express itself is a dying culture. Speedealer, or course, had two songs merged into one on that original game release in 1999, and with the rollout of the incredibly popular remake featuring that original soundtrack (along with some great new additions), we thought it would be apropos to sit down and visit with Hirshberg to reminisce.
We also talked about things to come for the newly reformed Speedealer lineup, that in the just-before-Covid times had just released its first new album in 15 years.
Though he’s no longer a part of the current touring lineup of Speedealer, the music still means everything or nothing to the rock band’s founding father.
Hey Jeff! How’s it going?
I’m alright. Answering e-mails from students, that’s all.
Oh, you’re a teacher?
Yeah, I teach philosophy at a couple local universities.
That’s good stuff! Maybe I can come take one of your classes when things calm down! Speaking of good stuff, tell me about Speedealer’s latest album, Blue Days Black Nights. It’s been 15 years since the last release. What made you want to come back to write and record that album?
Well, I have no interest in playing live anymore. Eric, Harden, Rodney and I — Rodney played bass and we actually had to part ways with him a long time ago — stopped playing together in 2004. We did a couple of shows, and then we got asked to go to New York and play a show. Between 2008 and 2012, we played something like one show a year. Then Eric and Harden decided they wanted to play the songs again, and they knew that I didn’t want to do that, so the guy who played bass for some of those one-off shows, Ricky Pearson, he stayed on and they got Dan Barron to do vocals. It’s a one-guitar band now with just Eric. Then they were doing that and it kind of came to the point where they were serious about it and setting up tours and going on two-week runs and whatnot. So it became a matter of, if we were going to do it then we should do it right, and they needed a record. So, I wrote that record within like two and a half weeks or something. I took it to those guys, and we hashed it out in the rehearsal space, and went into record with a local guy Jim King, and then Daniel Rey who did some Ramones and Misfits records. He did two of our old records as well a long time ago.
Wow. So, you are still working with the same people from all those years ago?
Yeah, except we used Jim King’s studio. He did a lot. He’s fantastic at his job recording, producing, everything.
Did your hesitancy to jump back into it bottleneck the process at all?
Yeah, and Eric and Harden have their own bands too. Harden was in Rigor Mortis before Mike Scaccia tragically passed away, and then last year Bruce Corbitt passed away, so all that went out the window. Eric and Harden both have another band called Hint of Death they were in before doing the Speedealer thing again. I enjoyed writing the songs, and I still have some of that stuff in me, so I enjoyed getting back into it at the rehearsal space and working on the tunes and recording. It was an enjoyable experience.
As a philosophy teacher I imagine you read a lot. What kind of literary elements go into these Speedealer songs? Do the other guys in the band get into it at all?
I don’t know about Eric, Dan or Ricky, but I do know that Harden is really into horror fiction. When we were on the road, he used to always read these fictional series of books, but he also is an avid reader of the sciences. I buy him books like that for his birthday. He’s a pretty well-read guy. As for myself, I read a lot of philosophy, history, science and some fiction as well. The fiction I read is mostly by Germans — Goethe, Schiller, the Mann brothers, etc. I’m not trying to sound pretentious, but that’s just the truth. I enjoy that kind of stuff when I do read fiction… As far as literature in songs, I mean, we’ve done a lot of records, so that’s a lot of lyrics I’ve written but for better or worse. There was a song on the last record called “Absinthe” that absolutely was influenced by French literature and paintings. Then there was a song called “Kill Myself Tonight” off Second Sight that was about a work of art I saw once. But that’s not a huge influence on the lyrics I write or the direction of the songs.
I think “Losing My Shit” is my first favorite on the new album. How’d that one come about?
That one is very punk rock. That was actually one of the songs that I wrote for those handful of shows that we played from 2008 to 2012. There’s a whole screamed section that is basically a tip of the hat to Nietzsche. Personally, I’m old, but when I was younger and really doing it 15 years ago I was absolutely losing my shit at times, but these days things that make me mad are just things that make a lot of people mad right now. We all have our emotions that are usually somewhere in the Golden Mean area, but there are times they get into extremes.
I imagine Speedealer would have spent this year touring in support of the new album, yeah?
I know that they were going to be out with Fu Manchu for several weeks and then play a festival in Maryland called Doom Fest right about now. They had some other tours lined up as well, and then everything got scotched because of the pandemic. Their day-to-day stuff is not my business. Eric, Harden and I touch base all the time, but from what I understand, everything that they were going to do this year has been pushed to 2021, if they can even do that. Who knows what 2021 is going to look like.
Are you going to miss going on tour with your old buds?
No. If I did I would be doing it. Well before the time we were done touring for a living in 2004 I was so ready to be done with it. I did it to death. That note on our website about playing all those shows written on our website or wherever it says it about 300+ shows a year for so many years in a row is not hyperbole. We started doing that before Eric and Harden were in the band for about a year and a half. Then when they got in the band it really took off, and for almost eight years we played 300+ shows a year. We basically spent every waking moment together for eight years, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, damn near 365 days a year.
Well it’s cool that you’re still friends with those guys.
Oh, yeah. I mean, we’ve had our ups and downs, especially when you’re stuck in a metal tube traveling down the highway, but after it’s all said and done, me, Eric and Harden are good friends. I consider those guys my extended family. I hope they feel the same way, but maybe they don’t. I never asked them.
The new Tony Hawk Pro Skater game was just re-released with the original soundtrack, which includes two Speedealer songs, “Screamer” and “Nothing To Me.” That’s got to be pretty cool, right?
Honestly, that’s the most high-profile thing this band has ever been involved in other than making a record with Jason Newsted when he left Metallica.
Were you included in that process at all, or invited to any release parties?
No. When it first came out, we were approached for the songs, and video games at that time weren’t what they are now. We got a little bit of money for it, and that was it. To this day, though, Eric would tell me that some kid would come up and say, “Hey, my father played Tony Hawk back in the day and we still have it, and I love the songs.” As a matter of fact, Tony Hawk’s son is in a band or something and came out and watched those guys play. They gave us a few more dollars, but we got no points on it — and there’s no invites. I doubt there was a party this time around because of COVID, but the first time around there was, and we sure weren’t invited. And, unfortunately, we don’t get royalties. I wish we did. I’d rather have that than getting paid up front.
Are you expecting more gamers to get inducted into Speedealer fandom?
You would hope! The problem is, again, if the guys get to go out again next year, all of this hype will have passed. The pandemic is on so many levels, right? Of course, a band going on tour and promoting their stuff is the least of anyone’s concern, as it should be. Still, it’s a shame. A lot of things were kind of coming together for those guys and then it was just torn asunder by COVID. I’m sure a lot of bands are going through that same thing.
Have you noticed a boost in track plays and album sales since the album has been released?
I sure haven’t. I don’t think anyone in the band would even know that. I don’t think anyone follows that.
Have you gotten anymore press, at least?
[Laughs.] You’re the first guy I’ve talked to in years. I usually don’t want to have anything to do with this stuff, but none of those guys [currently in the band] had anything to do with that record! It was me, and Mike Noyes from The Dangits, and our old bass player Rodney. The current guys weren’t a part of it. I asked Eric what their plans were before this interview, and he said straight up they are just putting everything off till 2021. We’ll see what happens then.
Weirdly, “Screamer” and “Nothing To Me” weren’t included on the official Tony Hawk Pro Skater Spotify playlist despite being on the soundtrack. I asked Mike Noyes, and he mentioned that maybe it was because Speedealer wasn’t big-time enough.
I have no idea. I don’t listen to music that way. One thing I wanted to make clear about those songs, though, is that the music for “Nothing to Me” was written by Mike. That’s the only other Speedealer song that somebody else wrote the music to, although the lyrics are mine. As a matter of fact, the lyrics are just… most of them aren’t even words! I was just doing it in the studio and would wing it live, except for the chorus part. There were a couple songs on that record that were like that.
Interesting. Like speaking in tongues?
Kind of like speaking in tongues. Mike wrote that music, though, and I like that song because he wrote it. On the Blue Days Black Nights record, there is a song called “War Nicht Genug” that Eric and Harden worked on, and that is my favorite song on that record because they contributed to it. Aside from that song, all the music is me. Vocal melodies, lyrics and music. But I love that Eric and Harden were able to contribute some meaningful sections as well.
That’s a great dynamic to be able to have at the right time.
I could have 1,000,000 songs in my head, and it would be nothing if it weren’t for those guys. We always split everything four ways equally. I would get told by our manager, “Why are you doing that? It’s stupid.” I said, “Fuck it — we’re a band.” I’m not Prince and I’m not a one-man band. I can’t play all the instruments, and I don’t want to hire people. That’s what it’s about. Everyone has their roles. Harden plays drums, and he plays in a unique way, and the songs wouldn’t be the same without him playing that way. The same with Eric on guitar. It takes everyone to do it.
And now there’s the added dynamic of being a stay-at-home songwriter. I guess that all comes with growing up. What else has changed, and how is that going to affect Speedealer in the future?
Well for me, I’ve mellowed out somewhat. I needed to. One of the reasons I had to quit is because, with this sort of music, it’s not complex; it’s a burst of energy. Even the slow stuff is still just intense and fueled with energy, and you have to really mean it. In order to really mean it, everything in life must mean everything at all times. There is no half measure. Every aspect of life is full-throated, and if it’s not, it shows — and it won’t come out the way it’s supposed to. Writing a song is one thing. It’s another thing to get up there and do that night after night. For me to do that, I would have to get back to being in that place again, and I don’t want to go back to that.
Why is that?
I don’t want it to be that way again, where everything means everything at all times. That’s changed. I’ve learned how to control things like that. I went back to school and got some degrees, and now I teach. Growing up, I played ice hockey, so I’ve started playing ice hockey again. I stopped doing anything with music for a long time, but I got the bug when I did the new record, and now I’m writing stuff, and I made a little computer interface studio. That’s life for me. It’s simple. Other than not touring and being a little calmer, I am pretty much the same. I do a lot of reading. I like to have my beers. I read, research, write and teach for a living. You’ve got to publish or perish, as they say. It’s a quiet life.
That’s quite the departure from the Speedealer moniker.
It’s like our bass player Rodney used to say in one of his many hundreds of country witticisms: “If it was all five-star hotels and doing lines off strippers’ tits, then everyone would do it.” Regardless of the message itself, it’s true. It’s hard work, and it takes years off your life when you go on tour and really tour for a living, especially in a van. We are lucky to be alive. The amount of times going 700 miles from a show while shit-faced, night after night, and while whoever is driving is drinking a crap load of Mountain Dew or whatever? We are very lucky, indeed. It was rough. A lot of it was fun, though. Like everything, it has it’s time and place — and, when you get old, it’s hard to do.