Meet: 80s Mod/Punk band The Reply, and their Complete Collection release

Ever heard of The Reply? No? If you were ensconced in the D.C. Mod / Punk scene of the mid-80s you will have done, for that’s where The Reply found their natural habitat. The band – bassist-singer Gary Roth, guitarist Ted Riederer, drummer John Lyons, and keyboardist Mark Thorp were active between 1984-1989 after meeting at school.

Taking the UK punk sound of 76, pulling in some of Coventry’s Two Tone movement, and adding a US Garage Rock / Soulful feel, although no less political – the band played with a host of the scenes usual suspects The Mondays, The Untouchables and were around the legendary DC hardcore scene headed by Fugazi.

The band have just released ‘The Complete Collection’, out now on deluxe double vinyl and download that collects together the bands output, including the band’s previously released EPs, The Reply (1987) and All Good Things (1988), as well as 8 previously unreleased tracks recorded in 1989.

We spoke to Gary, Ted and John from the band to find out a little more.

Hey thanks for talking to us – firstly, how are you coping with lockdown? Has it affected any plans? 

Gary: Coping well so far, thanks.  It’s affected lots of life plans for sure, as far as the band goes we were looking at a “reunion”/record launch show in Washington, DC in mid-June but that’s been postponed to the end of October (hopefully).

Have you been able to do anything creative in the time?

Gary:  Yes, been working on a few demos of new songs and have done a few livestream acoustic things with friends on Facebook and Zoom.  

Tell us a little about The Reply? Did you bond over the same music?

Gary: We met when we were at school (spot the lyric!). We all independently but around the same time (age 13-ish) all started getting into what was very much “alternative” music for our time and place.  Gary was discovering and becoming obsessed with The Jam, John the same with The Clash, I think Ted found The Specials and Two Tone and Mark was into The Ramones and The Damned.  We all liked all of it but those were our individual lenses.  And we decided we needed to do the same thing and start a band, so we did!!!  

And the music you made – those influences fed into it?

The music we made was heavily influenced by a perhaps unlikely combination of all those bands mentioned, but with a keyboardist in the mix we also sounded maybe a little more “new wave” looking back on things.  Mod, 77 punk, 2 Tone were the heaviest influences early on, but as things evolved there were some post-punk influences as well as the DC scene. 

What was the scene like in D.C. at the time? Evolving? 

Gary: We were active from 84-89 and there was a lot going on in DC.  The outside world knows a lot about the harDCore scene and that was evolving at that time and Dischord and everything around that was a big influence.  We were, at first, much more aligned with the local mod/ska scene but over the years our music evolved and we merged to an extent into the broader DC alternative scene playing with bands like Scream and at the same venues as the hardcore bands, but playing our music.  We shared a similar social consciousness and a belief that you could make a difference in the world through music. 

How much of it – the burgeoning punk/mod scene, came out of what was happening in the UK with The Pistols etc, or were you looking back at the Stooges / MC5 / Motown, or a mixture? Or was it just the attitude

Gary:  We were very influenced by everything that happened in the UK circa 1977 – again, I was massively into the Jam, we all loved the Clash, definitely the energy and attitude of the Pistols, and we all loved 2 Tone.  We were “discovering” all of this a few years after it actually happened, but since most of it never caught on in the US it seemed brand new.  I’d say we were looking far more to the UK for inspiration in the early years, but blended with a love of original ska, 60s soul, etc.  

Tell us who you were playing with a lot, in terms of other bands? Wild times? Have you got a good stories?

Ted and Gary: We were part of the DC music scene of the 1980s which includes bands like Fugazi, Grey Matter, Scream, Swiz, Modest Proposal, The Mondays, Vile Cherubs.  We played with more national acts at the time like The Untouchables, The Toasters, Bim Skala Bim and others.    We had an “all-dayer” at a club in DC called East Side with 4 bands and a DJ between sets that we headlined which was maybe our first big headlining gig and that really stands out in March of 1987.  By the time we got on the place was completely packed (sold out actually) and people were just bouncing from the word go.  The irony was Gary was getting really sick but didn’t know it – he asked (through the PA) for someone to bring hot tea to the stage and it magically appeared a few minutes later – felt like a rock star being able to ask for something and have it happen!

We also had a Saturday night when we headlined CBGB and carloads of people drove up from DC for the show.  We played all the time but it was the fans and the other bands that made it special.  People saw the shows as an event, which was amazing.

In terms of recorded output, what did The Reply have out?

We had a 5 song Cassette only EP that came out in 1987 and a 4 song vinyl EP titled All Good Things that came out in 1988.  The rest of the tracks on this album were recorded in anticipation of a new release with a regional label that went belly-up after we recorded the tracks, and they never got released.

Can you tell us more about the new record?

Gary:  I think it shows the progression of a young band across 3 years and 4 recording sessions.  It is in chronological order and the sides of the vinyl mostly correspond to the sessions themselves.   

Some of the early songs in particular are definitely cold-war era themes of potential nuclear destruction (this was 1984-1986, the height of US/Soviet tensions at that time).  Then lots about inequality, hatred and prejudice – specifically about them being bad things!

Ted: I describe it as Mod but that doesn’t always resonate so then I go to dc punk. In actuality its sounds like the cure from Boys Don’t Cry era . Might call it power pop?

How did the deal with dischord come about for the release?

To clarify it’s not a dischord label release.  We produced the record and they are distributing via Dischord Direct.  

What one song really sums up The Reply and why?

Gary:  The record is compiled from 4 different years so it’s hard to pick just one.   I feel like Mirror Image is a sampler of every influence that the Reply had, so maybe that one.  It’s also about believing in yourself regardless of what other people want or expect from you, which I think was a recurring theme in our music.

Ted:    I think All Good Things is a great representative track. It’s a tribute the Olaf Palme the Swedish prime minister who was assassinated for his political beliefs.

John:  Remember, one of the unreleased songs now getting released, is weirdly serendipitous. Gary wrote it when he was probably 18. But it’s about someone older looking back on their younger days. Now that it is finally getting released, we actually are older looking back on the energy of youth…and hopefully staying a little true to it by trying to get the music out there and hopefully play some to support it.

What happened to and after the reply? Are you all still in touch?

Gary:  We were at a crossroads when we all reached college age and our record label blew up.  We were also at a musical crossroads where we wanted to go with a more guitar heavy sound, but being all friends from a young age it was hard to look at it purely as a business decision, so I think we just decided it was easier to call it a day.  We are all still in touch and though we live in 3 distinct corners of the world, we are all still close.  

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