History and Hardship – An interview with the man that started Christian Punk Rock
by Steve Ruff; photo by Drew Domkus
Allan Aguirre… The ‘Godfather’ of Christian punk. Allan and his band Scaterd Few broke into the scene back in the days before there was a real punk band in Christian music. All you music history buffs may disagree, but Scaterd Few was the first genuine punk band in the market. Not Undercover, not the Altar Boys… Allan and Co. were it.
The history of the band is long and established, but it went way deeper than I even knew. I had the opportunity to do an email interview with Allan a couple of months back, and now it is coming to fruition. It has taken me quite some time to wade through the knee deep pool of exchanged emails, dates and times, but finally it has come. It was a great opportunity for me, a fan, to catch up with the man that started it all. So, sit back, grab a cup of coffee and enjoy this interview about the history of Allan’s bands and what he is up to now.
Punk music has been around for quite some time. There are many facets and faces to the punk scene. For me, the core that has always defined punk was the music and the message. There was the Boston scene, the LA scene, the DC scene, the Ramones in NY, the Sex Pistols in England, etc. etc. etc. The arguments and origins are tiring and exhausted… but the music has survived. The DIY ethics are still intact, and I still believe that punk is one of the few genres left that has the ability to organize and promote change. It is what it is, and it is hard to define. It breaks through boundaries and defies the definitions. The variety of styles that are infused are long as well. The OI and skinhead music has been infused, the reggae beats and island vibe that has been bread into the music still exists. The three cords and lack of proper guidelines are what still carry the music today. Punk is punk.
Allan has fronted several bands, and each one is varied and unique in their own right. Each one has been before its time, and each one has blown doors off of the conventional Christian thinking and set a standard that has yet to be touched by any other band in the market. Just for a reference here also, I will go by the name Allan, not Ramald Domkus. As fans know Allan went by Ramald for quite a while. He explains, “My school records were Allan R. Domkus up to first grade, then my mom married Ray Domkus, my Lithuanian step-father. He’s Roumald Domkus. My birth certificate has a middle initial of R for a middle name, and no middle name. It was supposed to be Riley but my mom didn‘t think Riley was a middle name, she thought it was a last name, so she left it as the initial “R“.(my biological dad’s middle name was Riley even though it should have been his last name – he was illegitimate so his mother gave him her last name, Aguirre, and his biological dad’s last name as his middle name) So, when my mom married my step-father, my name changed to Allan R.Domkus. In my pre-Christian/pre-Guatemalan days my punk name was Allan Ramald (I changed the spelling) and when I went to Guatemala, I had to use my birth certificate name of Aguirre. I had never used that name since the first grade. When we started Scaterd Few in ’83, our singer was Allen Pellerin, so I went with Ramald Domkus”. For more info on the name change, and a great article as well go to this link – http://www.chrismshort.com/aguirre.htm – it was an article that ran a few years back in HM Magazine and has a really cool story behind Allan going back to the name Allan, and leaving Ramald behind.
Allan wasn’t raised in a Christian home. The concept of a ‘Christian’ music industry was the furthest thing from his mind. His first ‘experience’ with God happened when he was only five years old. “I remember playing in the dirt with my toy trucks, Tonka trucks actually, and the Lord just started speaking to me saying that I wasn’t like the other boys, and I said I knew that. He said that I wouldn’t have many friends, that it would be a lonely life and I said that I knew that, but He said that He would always be with me, and I said I know”. “I’ve never forgotten that”. “Did I understand what was happening? No, not consciously”… but Allan absorbed what he heard. In January of 1980 Allan’s parents kicked him out of the house and sent him to live with an uncle who was a missionary in Guatemala, Central America. His uncle was an ex hippie Jesus freak who had gotten saved during the Jesus Movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s. His uncle knew of the music in the Christian world, and this was Allan’s introduction. “My uncle turned me onto some early Jesus movement music and one of the albums was Shotgun Angel from Daniel Amos. There were some real gems on there like “Meal”, “He’s Gonna Do A Number On You” and “The Whistler” that I could relate to. Even though I was a punk rocker I knew the importance of the Beatles, Elvis and I was a Bowie freak so…” “Then on a trip back to the states in ‘81 my cousin Eric and I picked up DA’s Horrendous Disc, Alarma, a band called Lifesavers and their album “Us Kids”, Andy McCarrol and Zionic Bonds and a band called Barnabas. Hey, now we have some Christian New Wave! I remember telling my cousin that if I ever went back to the states to do music, I wanted Terry Taylor to produce it”.
Scaterd Few had a couple of incarnations. The original SF was between 1983 and 1985 earning them the moniker of the first Christian Punk band in the USA!!! The original lineup was Allan on guitar, his brother Omar on bass, and then briefly in ‘85 it was Allan on drums and Ben Escbach on guitar. The original Scaterd Few lasted about fifteen months. They started as a band along a grass roots ministry effort to the street punks in Hollywood. The street ministry got them in front of the punk gangs as well as allot of other bands. The Cathy DeGrande was the big club hangout in Hollywood back then and SF had a regular presence in the scene, as well as the respect of the punks on the street. Allan says, “We wanted to start a band that had a positive spiritual message. Bad Brains were the only punk band with a positive message back then, but they were Rastafarians, that’s why SF started”.
Scaterd Few’s dealings with Terry Taylor did come to fruition. Within a few weeks of Allan’s returning to the states he was in the studio doing a SF demo on March 8, 1983. Upon completion of the demo he started tracking Terry down with a number for Rebel Base Products. The rabbit trail ended up with Allan finding Ed McTaggert. Allan says, “ I left all my info with Ed along with a request that he would have Terry call me. I’m at my parent’s house one night (before getting kicked out again) and during dinner Terry calls on the phone. We chat for a bit and decide to meet in two weeks at a North Hollywood studio where he’s producing someone. We meet, talk for maybe ten minutes, I slip him the demo and that was that. He actually listened to it, called me back, came out for a day to do some pre-production, and then we spent two days in Whiefield Studio with him and Thom Roy in July recording eleven songs, five of which made it on “Out of the Attic” along with the two song demo”. “Terry had tried getting us a deal back in ‘83 with the eleven songs we had recorded, but it basically freaked everyone out. The words “Christian music will never get harder or stranger than Undercover” were spoken a lot back then from the labels in regards to us”.
Allan stayed in touch with Terry after Scaterd Few ended in ‘85. “I met with him in ‘87 regarding Cygnet, but the label he was on wasn’t interested”. Cygnet… another one of Allan’s bands. Let’s leave the Scaterd Few trail for a second and talk about Cygnet. Cygnet is a French word that means ‘young swan’. It was the blueprint for Allan’s last band Spy Glass Blue and it included Allan, his brothers Drew and Omar, and Paul Fig, all of whom were also Scaterd Few members. They existed about three years, between early ’86 until about early ’89. “We were playing 3-5 shows a month in and around Hollywood for most of early ‘87 and well into the end of our run in early ‘89. We had the support of KROQ and their DJ’s, their local music showcases at The Palimino. Peter Murphy endorsed us during an interview on KROQ, that was special, and the late great David Byers of the DC hardcore and Human Rights fame played guitar for us for about nine months”. (more on David Byers/Human Rights in a moment -) Cygnet broke up in the spring of 1989 and only put out a 5 song cassette E.P. and a 7” vinyl E.P. If you’re super lucky you might have one of those, if not, eight of the twelve tracks on Spy Glass Blue’s “Shadows” were Cygnet songs, as well as “Look Into My Side” from SF’s “Sin Disease” and “Holding Stare” from SF’s “JawBoneOfAnAss”.
Again, here is another rabbit trail before we get back to Scaterd Few. As we mentioned David Byers and Human rights earlier, this needs to be stated. HR is the lead singer of Bad Brains, who Allan is a big fan of, and I’m sure that if you have ever listened to Bad Brains you can hear their influence in Scaterd Few. David Byers was the guitar player for Human Rights who had HR on vocals and HR’s brother, Earl, on drums. Earl is also the drummer for Bad Brains. There’s some cool info here so stay with me… in late ‘87 or early ‘88 Cygnet was in the studio with HR doing guest vocals and David Byers playing guitar. Allan had become friends with HR after Bad Brains “I Against I” tour. Working with Bad Brains got Allan and his band in front of Greg and Chuck (punk legends from Black Flag) of SST records. They had a letter of intent from SST but they never did get signed. Cygnet played the SST Records staff party in ‘88 with HR and then again two years later with HR as Scaterd Few. Scaterd Few also played as the opener for Human Rights on the “Charge” west coast tour in 1990, and then played as HR’s band Human Rights on the same tour. So, on that tour they were opening and headlining… opening as Scaterd Few and headlining as Human Rights, with a lineup that was HR: vocals, Allan: rhythm guitar/vocals, Omar Domkus: bass/bgv’s, Jamie Mitchell: electric/lead guitar, Sam West: drums/bgv’s, Drew Domkus: keyboards, Paul Fig: keyboards. That’s an amazing chunk of history right there, so don’t just skim over that, go back and read it again.
Okay, so now back on Scaterd Few. Scaterd Few put out four solid releases. “Sin Disease” was the first album and was released at Cornerstone festival in the summer of 1990. Christian music had nothing to compare it to. For this writer it blew the lid off anything I had ever heard in Christian music, and it opened me up to the world of Terry Taylor. Taylor produced this one again, and I promptly purchased anything that I ever saw he laid his hands on again… but that’s a different story. Taylor produced, Gene Eugene engineered, Greg Lawless and Greg Fletsch played guitars and even Riki Michelle sang on one of the tracks. It was a who’s who that collaborated on this album. It was new for the Christian market and it was badly needed. There was never a band before that brought the intensity and the raw sound like Sin Disease. Allan had stayed in touch with Terry Taylor after the first incarnation of Scaterd Few had disbanded, and in late ’89 Allan contacted Terry again, he came to a show, landed them a deal with Frontline records and Sin Disease was recorded between February and March of 1990 with the release at Cornerstone that year.
Scaterd Few soon after courted controversy. Unfortunately, Scaterd Few was pulled nationally and banned in Christian Bookstores. The album had actually sold out before the pull went into effect, but the move hurt the momentum of the band. The reason for the pull? Rumors, lies and jealousy. All of it untrue, and all of it now is what Allan calls “water under the bridge”, but it definitely hurt the band. Benson was the manufacturer and distributor for Frontline records, the label that Sin Disease came out on. Benson’s parent company at the time was Zondervan (Zondervan Christian Bookstores is now Family Christian Stores, probably the largest corporate Christian retailer around). Allan recalls, “A zealous music buyer for the store was told by his then girlfriend, a girl me and my brothers knew, that we weren’t Christians at all, but drug addicts, like heavy crazy drug addicts, and that we had duped the market into thinking that we were Christians. She was pissed because I wouldn’t sleep with her and told her boyfriend in hopes of discrediting the band. Well, he told the sales rep for that store and apparently did a good job because the sales rep told his superiors, who was Benson records, and all hell broke lose.” Evidently the two individuals responsible were confronted and exposed, but it things hard on the band and its members. According to Allan, “If you went into a bookstore back then and asked why they didn’t carry Scaterd Few, you wouldn’t believe the slanderous things that came out of the mouth of the minimum wage earner behind the counter about me and/or the band… it was surreal”.
Scaterd Few went on to release “Out Of The Attic” in 1991 on cassette only. It was a co-op between Allan and Flying Tart records. In ‘91 there was also a botched attempt at making “JawBoneOfAnAss” for a different label. The guy that ran that label didn’t keep up his end of the deal and the record wasn’t made. Around this same time the now infamous article with Allan admitting smoking marijuana came out. Actually, there was the admittance, but Allan also said that he was diligently working on stopping smoking pot, but that seemed to fall on deaf ears. The article drummed up even more controversy for the band which didn’t help in regards to Frontline Records picking up the next album option, but let’s pause here for a minute… this has never made any sense to me. Allan is upfront and honest about smoking pot in an interview, says that he is working on stopping, and instead of people appreciating the honesty, the stones start flying. It doesn’t make sense. The church then, and now, seems more comfortable with freaking out than with trying to understand. Maybe that will change one day… it sure is long overdue. Allan did stop smoking pot by March of ‘92, further proving what he said was true – he was working on it. So, back on Scaterd Few… The band signed with Blonde Vinyl in 1992, but that was short lived. The label where they originally tried to make JawBoneOfAnAss pitched a fit and served Blonde Vinyl with cease and desist papers. That left Allan with two versions of the album only 65% done. The first version had Terry Taylor co-producing and Gene Eugene engineering. The second version had Taylor again, and Dave Hackbarth engineering. Broken records wanted in on the album as well, but the original label blocked that also. The album was finally recorded in the fall of ‘93 at Blood’s Knotty Pine Studio. Blood as you may remember was Mark Rodriguez and Gyro & Jerome from Mortal. Mark and Allan engineered and Allan held the reins of producer. JawBoneOfAnAss was finally released at Cornerstone in ’94. At the same time Allan released the CD version of Out Of the Attic. Both the CD and cassette versions (released in ’91) were identical except for the artwork, and they consisted of the original 2 song demo, five tracks from the 11 song sessions with Terry Taylor from ’83-’84, and the last show/party they played in ‘85. The lineup consisted of all the variations of the band during those 15 months between ‘83-’85.
In 1995 Tim Cook, manager at the time, secured Scaterd Few a record deal with Tooth & Nail records, and again it didn’t pan out. Allan explains, “We lost the deal with Tooth & Nail because Sam and Omar wanted to do more of a Peter Gabriel/world beat CD and not a punk rock record. Tooth & Nail was only interested in a punk rock record. Their words were “We want a ’sin disease’ not a ‘JawBoneOfAnAss’.” So I replaced Sam and Omar and guaranteed them a punk rock record. Then they said they weren’t interested in signing Scaterd Few without Sam and Omar ( I understood and wanted them on board as well ), so I told them I wrote ’sin disease’, Look at the writing credits, JawBoneOfAnAss was written by all of us, you want a punk rock CD that’s what I’ll write”. They declined. It was late winter of ‘96 at this point, Scaterd Few broke up and Tim Cook went on to manage P.O.D. (head scratching here)…
After Scaterd Few broke up Allan went on to form Spy Glass Blue in 1996. Spy Glass Blue was a definite one of a kind band. They have been described as ‘brit pop – edgy new wave – and post punk psychedelic’. There is a definite David Bowie vibe that is present as Allan’s voice is very reminiscent of Bowie, but it truly stands apart from anything that I’ve ever heard. Cygnet was somewhat of the blueprint for Spy Glass Blue and they had a much artier sound to them than Scaterd Few. Spy Glass Blue (SGB from here on out) put out their first release, a cassette and vinyl E.P. Then in ‘96 SGB released ‘Shadows’ on Pinnacle records and in ‘97 released the exact same album on Organic records. The lineup was Allan on vocals, Kris Rosentrator on drums, River Tunnell on bass, Joshua Pyle on keyboards and Kane Kelly on guitar. ‘Shadows’ was a great album and kind of reminds me of Bowie meets Joy Division jumbled up with The Cure and served with a side of New York Dolls. Again, in my opinion, this one was way ahead of its time.
After the release of ‘Shadows’ Allan changes hats and put out another Scaterd Few record, ‘Grandmother’s Spaceship’. The lineup was Allan on vocals, Steve Martens on drums, Steve Meigs on bass and Russell Archer on guitar. It was released in ‘98 on the Jackson Rubio label, and according to Allan was , “a big mistake”. “It hurt the momentum of SGB, and some of the members, because I jumped ship and did another Scaterd Few record. Another bad move on my part. The recording quality sucked because of the gear we were using and the five month tour was an utter disaster in every way imaginable. We almost physically died, it broke us financially and it almost killed my marriage. Sales sucked and I got out of music as soon as I got home. The cool thing is the Lord warned me about what was going to happen in April of ‘98, and it became manifest in September. Grandmother’s Spaceship, 1998, was hard… really hard. The only good thing was the Lord had warned me and prepared my heart to get out. He provided not only a way out, but a means to restore everything; my family, marriage, finances and my sanity”.
Allan went on hiatus from the music industry between ‘98 and 2002. In 2002 he came back in full force releasing two records, one from SGB and the last record from Scaterd Few. “God presented the opportunity to start the record label, Accidental Sirens, and the studio after the internet economy collapsed. Starting the label and having the studio made it easy for me to do one glorious Scaterd Few punk rock CD… ‘Omega 5’. The lineup for O5 was Allan on drums, guitars and vocals, Chrsi Smyers on bass and Brad Bevill on guitar. Allan said, “Closing the chapter of Scaterd Few with Omega 5 was satisfying. It’s a great record, it’s a great punk rock record and we worked really hard on that and I think that’s evident”. 2002 also saw the release of SGB’s ‘Loud As Feathers’, it was a much anticipated follow up to ’Shadows’ and put out on Accidental Sirens, Allan’s label. In 2003 SGB released their last album, ‘The Blue E.P.’ and they toured over 90 cities nationwide.
Spy Glass Blue was innovative and groundbreaking in its own right, just like Scaterd Few was. Their run was too short. I asked Allan why it came to an end… “I stopped after every record label loved it, but wouldn’t sign it. The amount of time, money and resources that go into a band, getting signed, touring, etc. is designed to break you financially and isn’t something that I’m interested in. Any push towards fulltime music would just be bad stewardship”.
In addition to his own bands Allan also produced a number of other acts. He gets the production credits on Mortal, Headnoise, I the Passenger, One Minute Halo, The Subject, American Culture eXperiments, Zero Theory and Drama Dust, just to name a few. As you may recall Drama Dust was all Allan’s kids. They have a unique sound and an obvious talent that runs in the family.
I asked Allan what he thought about being the “Godfather” of Christian Punk, and what he thinks about the Christian music industry today. “Being the “Godfather” of Christian punk is a double edged sword. You have those that respect you, and those that hate the fact that it was you that can claim being the first, or the forerunner, or the standard. It brings a lot of professional jealousy your way. It also brought a lot of financial hardship because pioneers are always trodden under foot by commercialization. Everyone else benefits from your hard work”. “The industry is worse now than it was back then because now all the labels are in bed with a secular label and/or distributor. Unless they can guarantee “x” amount of sales from a single release the first time out they’re not going to get a deal, and the Christian labels is not going to get paid… they’ll be dropped and they’ll go out of business. So much for creativity, innovation, art… oh yeah, and God’s leading. Back then, yeah, it was about sales and marketing… now?, even more so because their little secular deals have made them even more subservient to the world”.
When asking about the high and low points of his music career Allan replies, “ The highs?… There are a lot of live shows that come to mind. The lows…? The B.S. that came with it: the record deal fiasco’s, the rumor and slander campaigns against us, the things that made it very difficult to succeed based on fear, hate and ignorance”.
Any chances on an original Scaterd Few reunion? “Original lineup? I don’t see it happening. Sam is committed to Stavesacre, Paul is locked in studios all the time, Omar would never do it because of his religious beliefs. His beliefs don’t condone Christianity or anything we did so he would never do it. Drew is busy being a pod cast star, it was good while it lasted…” Allan does have 2 shows and offstage footage of Scaterd Few that he wants to release on DVD, but it’s not a priority. He’s toyed with the idea of a reggae only CD, and says that many have made that request, but first needs to do a worship CD.
So what’s Allan up to now? He owns and runs a successful interactive and traditional services agency, The Riley Agency. Here’s what they offer:
Interactive Creative Services: (design, front end/back end code architecture, database development, flash animation, 3D modeling, audio/video, consulting, integration, project management, etc.)
- Brochure Websites
- E-Commerce Websites
- Marketing Websites
- Online Contests
- E-Mail Campaigns
Traditional Creative Services: (design, production, audio/video, consulting, product management, etc.)
- Corporate Identity
- Business Collateral
- Marketing Materials
The Riley Agency also does some photography when the opportunity arises.
There is also a MySpace Scaterd Few page http://www.myspace.com/sindisease, and there are copies of Scaterd Few’s Grandmother’s Spaceship, Omega 5 and Spy Glass Blue’s Blue E.P., Loud As Feather’s and Shadows for sale. Allan also has some limited sizes of Spy Glass Blue t-shirts for sale, maybe if you’re lucky he’ll have your size. Also, check out http://www.scaterdfew.com where there are some cool pod casts you can listen to. In regards to the website Allan said, “I want to finish the pod casts. I really enjoyed doing them. What I need to do is scan a bunch of photos of Scaterd Few, rebuild the website and continue the pod casts. That’s what I really need to do”. There is also merch to be purchased at the Accidental Sirens store found here http://www.accidentalsirens.com Spy Glass Blue also has a website found here http://www.spyglassblue.com. The websites are a little outdated, but there are still posts there that are interesting to read, as well as directions to merchandise and cool pictures.
So, I hope that this was as interesting for you to read as it was for me to put together. There is a lot of history here and it was cool for me to learn the relationship between Allan and the DC hardcore/punk scene, as well as the East Coast scene. Allan said that becoming friends with HR put him in front of other great bands like Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Primus, etc. For me, back in those times those bands were allot better too. That was back before the money did the talking and the bands didn’t have the status that they do today. There is something pure in indie music. There is a loyal fan base there and the money is not as good, but the product always seem to be much better. It’s nice when the artist can put out a product that is not hampered by executives, record sales and marketing. Hopefully Allan will be able to put together the worship CD as well as the reggae CD and the Scaterd Few DVD. His bands have always been one of a kind. There is nothing else, new or old, in the Christian market that even compares. I miss Scaterd Few – I love punk that has the reggae vibe to it. I love the rawness and the stripped down bare-bones approach that Allan has to punk music. The scene could definitely use a healthy injection of something real again. My thanks to Allan for giving me the opportunity to do this.