Sunday, June 20, 2010

Interview: Erich Foster Vegan Straight Edge owner of Rise Above Tattoos.

Getting back to the interview series I started awhile back. If you have not read the past interviews check them out. I have interviews with Novelists Gina Ranalli and Cody Goodfellow. Bookstore owner Robert Garfat and novelist Jeremy C. Shipp. Ok Erich...
Life is strange, I am not sure how I lost contact with Erich for a decade or so because he is one of my favorite people. When I met Erich I was visiting Syracuse in the early 90's and we were going to fur protests together. Erich had already been straight edge (100% drug-free subculture of punk rock) for several years. So we bonded quickly. When I moved to Syracuse, I left all my stuff in Ohio where had been going to college at Wright state. I didn't know how to drive But Erich, who barely knew me at the time offered to ride the unholy greyhound with me to Ohio and rent a u-haul. We loaded up my shit and made the 12 hour drive back.
We had a great conversation, more importantly I made a great friend that day. Erich is hard working dude, who has created a DIY niche for himself owning and operating his own Tattoo shop. He remained true to his beliefs well into adulthood proving that Vegan straight edge is not a phase of youthful angst and idealism.
And I named the hero of my first novel after him. Names in my novels are often random and meaningless in the case it was intentional. The idea behind this series was that my 400 plus FB friends ought to know more about he other when they are trading here meet Erich Foster.

David Agranoff: So What do you do for a living?

Erich Foster: I make tattoos for a living. More specifically, I own and operate a tattoo parlour in Buffalo, NY, called Rise Above, in which I am also a tattooer. I consider myself a tradesman, not an artist. I specialize in traditional Americana imagery, with a strong focus on pre-1940's style and design.

DA: How did you get interested in doing tattoos?
EF:I have had an interest in tattoos as far back as I can remember. My father had a few smaller tattoos on his upper arms that I thought made him look tough. I loved seeing old guys with blue-green "blobs" on their bodies because I knew it meant they had stories to tell. I suppose being a fan of music added to the interest. Ozzy had some well done tattoos for the time, and those struck a chord with me. Punk rock, skateboarding, heavy metal, my father, then finally the hardcore music scene all had an important part in my fascination with tattoos and tattooing. At sixteen years old, I received my first tattoo and it's been all downhill since! I loved being around it, the smells, the sounds, the chit-chat, the pirate feel to it all. I knew I needed to find a way to make that my life. I began an apprenticeship at the ripe, old age of twenty-six, now ten years later and I love it more than I ever would have dreamed. It's my life.

DA: How did you discover hardcore?

EF: Hmmm... I have always gravitated toward music that had passion as it's motivation. I grew up on hip-hop and metal for the most part until my sister got into punk and I followed suit. She hung out with some skater kids, and she was listening to Black Flag, Dead Kennedy's, Circle Jerks, etc. This was 1985-86 probably. I got into GBH, The Exploited, X, Sex Pistols. She ended up getting into The Dead and weed and such, and I stuck with punk. I started hearing Minor Threat, Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front, Slapshot, etc. on the local alternative college station, and was relating a bit more to American hardcore than to British punk bands. I had some issues with alcohol and decided to be straight edge in January of 1988. I fully immersed myself in hardcore, more specifically straight edge hardcore. Youth of Today, Chain of Strength, Uniform Choice, Slapshot, Judge, DYS, SSD. I still call myself a hardcore kid, although I am a bit out of touch with most of today's bands.

DA: How did you get into straight edge and Veganism?

EF: I guess I answered the straight edge question. The story behind me going edge is a bit graphic, and embarrassing, so I'll keep that one out of it. I went vegetarian shortly after going straight edge in 1988. The song "No More" from Youth of Today got me to do it. It was on and off for my through high school. I wasn't armed with the knowledge to back up my decision, just a bit of guilt and being trendy wasn't enough I suppose. After high school I committed myself to being a "real vegetarian" until I read Holocaust zine out of Syracuse. I decided to become vegan in January of 1993. I became very active in the animal liberation community in Syracuse, and created the Animal Defense League in Buffalo.

DA: What was it about the Syracuse ADL that was such an influence?

EF:The Syracuse ADL struck me because it was young people, with very little knowledge on how to run an activist group, yet couldn't contain their enthusiasm and youthful energy to make a change. They knew that something had to be done, so they did what they could. I realized that I could do the same. Setting up protests, having tables of information at local universities and high schools, arguing at hardcore shows... Haha. We helped to eradicate Bonwitt Teller, a large fur distributor) from Western New York, which allowed Old Navy to move into their former location. So, the place went from animal cruelty for sale, to child labor and human exploitation for sale. I guess we all choose our battles. The ADL era were some of the best years of my life.

DA: Favorite hardcore when your were a senior in high school?

EF:When I was a senior in high school I listened to Underdog's "Vanishing Point" everyday I think, along with Gorilla Biscuits' "Start Today" a close second.

DA: Favorite hardcore band five years out of high school?

EF: five years after high school, Earth Crisis. I saw them in 1993, and they honestly changed my life. I related to the sentiments behind the music, and it kept me energized and motivated to continue dedicating my life to a cruelty-free lifestyle, and continue to be environmentally and socially aware.

DA: Where did you first see EXC did you have any idea they were going to become so huge?

EF: I first saw EXC in Syracuse at the Lost Horizon in 1993 I think. I had no idea they would be anything that big. Their demographic was so specific it seemed. I was really into any band with an ideology I could relate to, and socio-political bands always appealed to me a bit more in that time. I loved the "vegan death squad" atmosphere. Non-apologetic, angry, sincerity. I don't always agree with everything they do or say, however it's the similarities and passion I embrace. I'd love to see their merch printed on organic, fair-trade shirts. It's a bit of a bummer to hold such a militant stance on the environment and human rights, yet pay into an ugly industry.

DA: Favorite today?

EF:Gorilla Biscuits... "Start Today" is played a few times a week still. I never grow tired of it. Minor Threat "Out of Step" is a close second. Still love Earth Crisis of course. Just listened to "To the Death" twice today.

DA: Five favorite straight edge songs?

EF:Best question in a long time.
Here goes... In no particular order... Top sxe songs...

"The Current" by Outspoken
"Promises Kept" by Champion
"Something More Than Ink" by Have Heart
"We Just Might" by Youth of Today
"Just How Much" by Chain of Strength

They may not be the most blatant edge songs, but to me they encompass my feelings toward it.

DA: dumbest tattoo you tried to talk someone out of?

EF:I just talked a great client, a real sweet kid, out of getting a Jeffree Star autograph tattooed on his neck. He came in with the signature on his neck... He didn't get it, whew. If you're not familiar with Jeffree Star, don't bother. Dumb tattoos are a daily thing. Sometimes dumb is fun though.

DA: I admit I looked up Jeffree Star,yikes. Tattoo your most proud of

EF: Tattoo that I have that I am proud of? I love my knuckles... They read "TATT-OOER" which says it all. Tattoo I've done that I am most proud of? Hmmm... I don't really have one. My dad now has a Japanese body suit from me, down to his elbows, and to his knees, open down the chest. 70 years old and still getting worked on by me. That's pretty damn cool I'd say.

DA: Five books everyone should read?

EF: Five books... By the way, I read very little fiction...
"Diet for a New America" - John Robbins, "Animal Liberation " - Peter Singer", The Autobiography of Malcolm X" - as told to Peter Haley, "The Communist Manifesto" - Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Gareth Stedman Jones, "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" - Christopher Hitchens

DA: How has you feelings about veganism changed over the years?

EF:Veganism has progressed for me from a lifestyle within the hardcore/activist community to something I simply am. It has opened my eyes and heart to many other issues. I seek to avoid any non-fair trade, non-organic/local, frozen and processed foods. I avoid sweat-shop products and companies with poor track records for enviromental and worker matters. With the realization of the profit motive driving these businesses, especially the animal agriculture factories, I have also recognized the tremendous flaws within the idea of capitalism. So, through veganism and sober eyes, I have been able to see a larger picture, and can begin to cleanse my life of more injustice.

DA: Straight edge mean more or less to than it did when you were still in high school?

EF: Straight edge has always been a fun way to embrace sobriety. I am forever appreciative for finding the idea of straight edge, and embracing it. I love being straight edge. At thirty-six years old, and Twenty two years edge, I still get chills from listening to certain songs and putting on certain shirts.

With that said... I'd trade 10 straight edge, non-vegan lazy slobs, for one good vegan activist any day.

DA: totally. It's like Earth Crisis said “whats important is what's done with the Freedom.” Alright New Yawkers get some ink!

2533 Delaware Ave
Buffalo, NY 14216
(716) 874-1675

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