From the desk of the inimitable Henry Owings:
"As time goes on in the cyber-verse, I'm constantly amazed that both coasts, the midwest, the south and everywhere in between seem to have their fair share of 'deep cuts' that are uncovered over the years. But Pennsylvania? Forget it. Most of this stuff has been ignored and/or relegated to the dollar bin. Such a fucking crime. That brings me to Slag. I think I've known Slag guitarist Mike Banfield (later a founding member of Don Caballero) for the better part of 20 years and it wasn't until he contacted me to promote a show for his new band Knot Feeder that it piqued my interest in knowing more about Slag who put out a total of one single on Mike's Broken Giraffe label (whose only other release was the 2nd Don Cab single) and a song on a compilation called Magic Ribbons. Formed in State College, Slag were a precursor for Don Caballero and sound, fittingly, of that pre-1991 hardcore/postpunk aesthetic. Get ready to have all your questions answered."
So Slag, when did the band form? How did you all meet? Who was in the band?
Slag formed sometime between 1987 and 1988. I’m a little hazy on the exact history. When I moved to State College to go to college in 1987, I eventually fell in with the various punk rocker types. As you can imagine, during the 80s, that group of people was somewhat small. Two of those people were George Draguns and Len Jarabeck. George and Len played in a band called Heart of Darkness. When they left the band, I was somehow recruited to play guitar. I think I was on the verge of giving up the guitar before they asked me to play. George was a State College local and he knew another local guy who played drums: Neal Witmer. And, that was the original lineup:
Mike Banfield – Guitar and Vocals
George Draguns – Bass
Len Jarabeck – Guitar
Neal Witmer – Drums
Neal left the band for some reason I can’t remember. We recruited a great young drummer from Pittsburgh named Darren Zentek. We had played some shows with his band in and around Pittsburgh and recognized how good he was. For some crazy reason, he moved to State College to work at Burger King and play in our band. Darren would go on to play in bands such as Donora, T4, Kerosene 454, and Channels. That lineup lasted a while before Darren quit the band. We then asked Neal to come back. Around this time we had been talking to our friend from Pittsburgh, Jon Good, about joining the band to take over vocal duties. We had met Jon at some shows and he had done the artwork for our 7”. As we were talking about the vocals, George left the band.
Conveniently, Jon was a bassist and had been playing with Punching Contest. He too moved to State College to work at a restaurant and play in our band. Hmmm….seems to be a theme here. That lineup played a few shows. Sadly, though, things kind of fizzled out.
How many shows did Slag play? Mostly in State College? Touring? Any notable shows worth mentioning?
We played sporadically both locally and regionally. The two shows that stand out in my mind thought were playing with Government Issue in Morgantown, WV and with Scream in Harrisburg, PA. The Government Issue show was notable both for the size of the crowd and the fact that both J. Robbins and John Stabb bought our demo tape. We also played the Electric Banana in Pittsburgh. I don’t think Manny (Theiner, Pittsburgh promoter/figurehead/massively annoying Jew) or Norm Veenstra (another Pgh promoter who soon went to succeed at the 9:30 Club in DC) would ever give us a show in Pittsburgh. I specifically remember Manny saying to me, “Why should I give your band a show?”
It took me an eternity to find the Slag single which leads me to wonder that there probably weren’t many pressed. Am I correct? Do you have boxes of them at your house?
Where did you find it? [I found it on eBay for quite a bit of change - h2o] We probably only pressed 100. Maybe 200. No boxes left at the house.
How much did the band record? Is there anything else lurking around other than these three tracks?
That was it from that session. The original line-up recorded 9 songs in December of 1988 that were released on a cassette titled I Want Some Life. I haven’t listened to this in well over a decade and I’m not sure that I want to. Lots of screaming vocals from what I remember. I also stole a lot of the song titles from Flannery O’Conner short stories. Ha.
When did you move to Pittsburgh and what was your motivation? Were you from there initially and just went to Penn State?
I grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and lived there for the first 18 years of my life. I moved to State College to attend Penn State. I ended up working there every summer. So, you could say I moved there permanently for 4 years. After graduation in 1991, I moved to San Francisco with the idea of starting a band with my friend Jon Good who had moved there after Slag threw in the towel for good. After working as a bike messenger for the summer, it didn’t seem as though anything was going to happen in the music department. I heard that Darren was moving back to State College to play with Len and George. I immediately called to get the scoop. It turned out they had already found someone for guitar and vocals. That was Travis Etling. That band became T4. I was kind of bummed out and I finally decided to move back to Pittsburgh. Talking to his friend Damon on the phone one day, Jon mentioned that I was moving back to the ‘burgh. Damon told him that I should call when I get back to get together and play. That of course led to Don Caballero.
Officially, I think I moved back to Pittsburgh to get my MLS at Pitt.
Seeing as how the 90’s were wide open by the time Slag broke up, what did everybody in Slag go on to do? Do you keep in touch with them?
As mentioned before, Darren has played in a bunch of bands and I’ve seen him frequently over the years. Darren has lived in the DC area for some time now. Len and George both played bass in Don Caballero. Len went on to play with Karl Hendricks. Len lives in Pittsburgh.
George played bass in Don Cab for a good bit including the tour with Wool and Laughing Hyenas. This was during the formative stages of the Don Cab 2 era. He quit the band and later was the first Storm & Stress bass player. George now lives in Philadelphia. I have no idea what happened to Neal Witmer.
Ladies and gentlemen, for your listening pleasure, Slag.
I Want Some Life (Self)
3. Five Minutes To Eternity
4. Life Is To Live
5. No Windows No Doors
6. Watch It Burn
7. Burned Clean
8. Only Way Out
9. Close Your Eyes
10. Low Visibility
Everything is Nothing b/w Don't Like (Broken Giraffe)
2. Don't Like
Metal Ribbons (Meat)