I, along with my roommate Ashley, had the privilege to sit down with Toby Morse of H2O in order to talk his program One Life, One Chance, living straight edge, and the future of H2O.
Emily: Is this the first benefit show for One Life, One Chance?
Emily: Do you think it will turn into an annual thing?
Toby: Yeah, we’re going to do one in New York next. This is the first one.
Emily: What are the reactions like from the students and teachers when you give your talks? Are they surprised?
Toby: Yeah, I think they’re shocked. I think the minute they see me or come into the room, or they hear I’m in a band they automatically think I’m a party animal and I’m going to tell them I’m a recovering addict or something. Then when speak and I tell them I’ve never tried anything, I think they’re really shocked. Because of the stereotypes of musicians and heavily tattooed.... rockers, I guess, it definitely opens their eyes. People in my power point and my friends I talk about who are all living the same life style and trying to kind of introduce these people to these kids. Like Hayley Williams is a very positive role model to kids, as is CJ Wilson of the Texas Rangers, Chad Gilbert from New Found Glory, CM Punk [famous wrestler], and the list just goes on. I’m just trying to let kids know that there are people out there who are successful, that are still cool, you know what I mean, in this world that don’t have to party. And they can do the same thing. So I think they definitely think, “Oh, tattooed rocker, this guy’s full of crap...” There are kids that don’t believe--even though I went to their school and spoke--that I’m a straight edge guy and I keep hearing things now from their teachers like, “Yeah the kids didn’t believe that you’re straight edge". I’m not going to lie to a school, I’m not even getting paid to go, I’m just going to tell my story.
Emily: That’s interesting. Do you have a favorite moment from one of your presentations? Is there anything that stood out?
Toby: The fun part of my presentations is after the presentation when I do a Q&A with the kids and the questions are like, any kind of questions they might want to ask me. From my religion to is my wife straight edge? "Do you think you’re ever not going to be?" "Are you sure you never tried anything?" "How’s the rest of your band doing?" Because he’s (gestures to bass player Adam Blake) in my power point at the airport with alcohol poisoning and now he’s been sober...
Adam: 152 days.
Emily: Good job!
Toby: So great. 152 days, I’m going to shout you out tonight. So yeah, it’s just so many questions, from hip hop, racism--it’s not just about straight edge, it’s about my life story. I moved to southern Maryland, which has a lot of racism so I talk about that, about why I have an “end racism” tattoo on my back. I’m not going to judge theses kids, I’m not going to tell them what to do, I’m not trying to scare straight. I’m not like a DARE program or one of those, I just go there and tell my story.
Emily: Awesome. Yeah, one thing I feel like I’ve encountered myself to is people when they realize you’re straight edge or something, how do you explain to them why you chose that without coming off as preachy? Because you know there’s that stereotype...
Emily: ...that we’re like super preachy.
Toby: That’s my whole point. You know, like perfect example: where we’re at tonight. Travis Barker [who helped fund the show], he’s not straight edge, he’s my friend. He’s supporting what I’m doing as a human being, as a father, as a musician. I never liked that aspect of straight edge, it was never like that for me. This is my personal choice, you know like, it’s a song by Minor Threat. They wrote a song about their personal ideals. It wasn’t about, “We’re better than you because we don’t...” We don’t do this, we don’t have to do this, we don’t need to do this. No one in my band has been straight edge for 15 years. I’m not going to go to schools to preach about it because that’s going to be hypocritical when I’m around people partying every day. There are the stereotypes of straight edge and in the 90s it got really violent and kind of silly. It took away from the whole point of what it was about. I don’t even talk about that time period of straight edge. I talk about the time period of when I was 13 years old and I heard Minor Threat and it changed my life forever, in a positive way. I didn’t even label myself that until like, I don’t know, I mean (asks Adam), did I always say “I’m straight edge” or...?
Toby: You know like, I X’d up and stuff. It’s like, I wake up and I brush my teeth. I wake up and I don’t do drugs and alcohol. I’m 40 years old. I've just never tried anything. I didn’t try anything before Minor Threat, and I was a 13 year old kid. I’m sure kids party way younger than that these days. But in the 80s it wasn’t like that. A lot of punk rock was like, “Fuck your parents” and “Anarchy” and then there’s 7 Seconds and Minor Threat who were like, “Let’s make a difference and change." The Gorilla Biscuits [song] “Cats and Dogs” made me a vegetarian, now 24 years. It was music with a message, and that’s what really connected me to hardcore punk rock music. I like Circle Jerks and Dead Kennedys and Sex Pistols and exploding and all that crazy shit, you know?
Emily: Yeah, that makes sense.
(His friend standing in the corner agrees. Toby gestures to him)
Toby: That’s Brian, he’s from the band Black Train Jack from New York City, great melodic hardcore band you guys should definitely google.
Me: Okay, yeah. Definitely!
Toby: He’s going to play a song with us tonight too.
Emily: Awesome. So one last question just about H2O itself: Nothing To Prove was your guys’ first album in seven years, so now that it’s been almost three years since that came out, are there plans for new music?
Toby: Well we’ve got to wait about four more years. (laughs) I don’t know, the thing about it is like, we talk about it all the time. I really had nothing to sing about in those seven years. We took a break because we were touring so much and we were over-saturating ourselves. We still love each other, we moved to different coasts. I think taking that break made us a stronger band, and it could’ve fucked us up--it could’ve been we made that new album and people would be like, “Who the fuck is H2O?” Signing to Bridge 9 [Records] which is like such a young demography of kids, that was the smartest thing we’ve done. It was almost like a comeback album, which we didn’t even try to make. I just want to make a record that I can feel strongly about every single lyric I wrote, and that it was something real. Maybe we’ll do one soon, but I don’t want to force another record. Nothing to Prove, I feel like that’s one of my favorite records we’ve ever done, it was really personal for me and I don’t want to force anything just because kids want to hear something new. We start recording tomorrow, our covers album, and we’re reissuing the first record on Bridge 9 this year.
Adam: The covers record is a good way to knock off the dust you know?
Emily: What are some bands you’ll be covering?
Toby: We’ll be covering The Descendants, Dag Nasty, Madball, Rancid, Gorilla Biscuits, A Tribe Called Quest...
Adam: A Tribe Called Quest is back on the list?
Toby: Embrace, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, who else?
Adam: Did you say Dag Nasty?
Adam: Circle Jerks.
Toby: The Clash
Toby: So like a mix of all these bands we’ve been inspired by. We’re doing that next, and then we have a rerelease of our home video, with the “Nothing to Prove” video and our “What Happened?” video and a live concert from our tour in South America. What else can I say? Have I said a lot of stuff already?
Emily: Yeah, you’re good.
Toby (to everyone else): Anything else you need to say?
Brian: You know, the earlier part of the interview about the whole straight edge thing? It’s like, so many people transformed it into being about “us vs. them”. Being something to fight about instead of just being a personal choice. And what he’s saying, and what I hope is getting out to kids is that it’s for you. I have not always been on that path, I’ve been like, whoa (makes flailing movements), but I ended up coming back to it. It’s a personal choice to me. I’ve got plenty of friends that drink, friends that smoke. It’s not right for me, it’s good for them, we can all get along, it’s a personal choice. Now if I see it hurting somebody, then I might say “Listen dude, maybe...” but that’s it. People make personal choices. Straight edge for [Toby] was a personal choice and it got him to where he is today, and that’s what it’s about.
Toby: Yeah, I wouldn’t even be doing what I’m doing if I only hung out with straight edge people my whole life. I’ve had friends die from drugs, alcohol, addiction, I’ve been surrounded by it my whole life, but I still love my friends, that’s their choice, I’m not going to preach to them. And it just makes me who I am. I do see my friends taking the wrong path, and I have reached out to them. You can only do so much for people. Ian Mackaye wrote a song called “Straight Edge” that I really connected to. I wrote a song called “Sunday”, a personal song about my son and my dad. I let my heart out like that and people related to it in their own way, they had loss in their life too.
Adam: One thing I’d like to point out, that I’ve always proud about H2O is that at one point you had vegans, vegetarians, people who ate fish, and people who ate meat. And at the same time you had people who would smoke weed but didn’t drink, who drank but didn’t smoke weed, who drank and smoked weed, and then the straight edge guy. And we were all able to just do music together and be creative and do something positive. And we never let those things get in the way. Which is kind of cool in a way, because it shows that you don’t, that you can find common ground with people even if certain ways you're very different. You can still do something positive.
Emily: Excellent, thank you.
We were able to chat off the record for a bit, but then Toby decided he had one more thing he wanted to say:
Toby: One of the main reasons why I started doing this too, besides the fact that it started in Rockway Queens with a teacher, a friend who’s a fan and did a memoir project and made a PMA [Positive Mental Attitude] mixtape and “Sunday” was on the mixtape, Out of all the songs, the kids picked that song that touched them and wrote me letters and that’s how it started. I see the world we live in, I see what happens at schools. Luckily I got my son into an awesome charter school, but I see what he’s going to grow up to--being a dad, it definitely scares me sometimes. And that’s one of the main reasons I am speaking at schools. I want some kids I speak to to speak at my son’s school down the line and say “Hey your son inspired me when I was younger and now I’m speaking at your school.” Just pass the torch like that. I mean, my son’s smart and well-rounded with music and knows what’s around him and he gets it. But I can only raise him the values that I learned from music because I grew up with no dad. Hardcore kind of raised me with the positive inspirations I got from it, so that’s what I’m trying to pass on to my son.
I’m just letting kids know that you can still be cool and not party, and here’s my friends, who are totally successful--they’re respected, they’re fun, and they live their lives. They aren’t living these boring lives, they’re living their dream. So, Toby Morse, signing off.
To learn more about One Life, One Chance, visit their website