By Theron Moore
1991 was a decidedly bleak year for me. I hit a wall in life regarding work and school. I was involved in a toxic relationship and felt like I needed to escape out of the corn fields of Northern IL. So I did. I joined the USAF in September with a report date of March 15th, 1992. Little did I know that all of a sudden my life was about to get seriously interesting again.
An old friend of mine made the trip from Rockford to DeKalb to track me down. It was Mark Snodgrass. He told me he had a nighttime radio show on WLUV and that the Rockford hard rock / metal scene was going pretty strong. He told me about bands like Decadenza, Stone Mason, Blind Witness and one band he was really into, Pure Aggression. He said I’d love this band and I did.
I think he knew I was struggling and this was his way of trying to draw me back in and it worked. I left DeKalb and returned to Belvidere to wait out my time until March 15th. Looking back I’m torn on joining the military. I left Northern Illinois at a time when music was thriving and the scene was strong and opportunity was everywhere.
I wasn’t a soldier boy, never was, not now, not then. But the military gave me structure and taught me a few things about life I didn’t know. Mark called me one night and said we should all hang out together, talk, see if there was chemistry and we hit off right away.
Greg was a cool guy from the get go. He had an energy unbound that burned its way through Pure Aggression’s music as well as Greg’s personal and professional life. He knew he had this energy but he also knew how to harness and control it and that I believe was a huge factor in both him and Pure Aggression being as good as they were.
If I remember correctly, we ended the night late at “Uncle Nicks” gyro place downtown Rockford by the bridge. It was a local hang for just about everyone I knew. And that was it, we were off to the races after that. Pure Aggression is another band that made an indelible impression on me. Great band, great guys, fun music and their shows were pretty amazing as well.
Theron Moore: How did the band start out?
Greg C: It was the mid to late 1980’s. At the time I had a few friends in high school. I felt like an outcast since I was a metal head.
I was made fun of and bullied for being Polish and being a metal head. I was called a devil worshiper and got into fights with people over that shit. I didn’t drink, never been high, and went to church more often than many of the others in my Catholic school. Needless to say I fucking hated damn near everyone.
The few people I got along with at that time were either Metal Heads, or friends I had in the Martial Arts school I trained at. Back then there was no internet so we used telephone modems and computers to dial BBS’s (bulletin board systems) to connect with people. I got into that and met other people who had similar interests, specifically with music.
I met Mark Atkinson (guitars), Jim Gade (drums and guitar) and several others who became good friends and roommates when we left our parents homes. Myself, Mark and Jim didn’t meet face to face for a while but constantly typed with one another on the BBS about music and other stuff. If I remember correctly, one of the first times I ever met them was probably at a Zyklon B (Later known as Sarkoma) show.
The first local show I ever went to was Zyklon B and Bludgeoned Nun (I think), New Year’s Eve 1987-88 (?) in Loves Park. After that was The Accused, The Brotherhood, and Bludgeoned Nun in downtown Rockford at Endless Nights. I tried to start a band in high school with the 2 close friends I had, but they were taking to long for me while they were working on their “musical style.” I wanted it NOW.
The feeling I had going to a live metal / punk / hardcore show, being in the pit and getting out all my frustration and aggression, was like no other feeling I ever had. Metal was therapy for me, and shows were the ultimate way of connecting with myself and others, purely sharing in the love of music.
Once I had that live Metal / Punk / Hardcore show taste I wanted to be in a band and write music and lyrics. So I got closer to Mark and Jim and eventually we started jamming together. But we needed a base player. Mark jammed with several others leading up to our sessions and one person that stood out to him was Jason Stewart. We made a couple of crappy recordings on a boom-box and Jason liked it and came over to check us out and saw something there. That was the beginning…
Theron Moore: What were the initial expectations for Pure Aggression? Gig around as a local band, have fun or were there expectations that this would turn into a career?
Greg C: It started out as some young kids that hated a lot of the world, loved Metal and just wanted to create something special to ourselves and share it with other pissed off youths.
Theron Moore: Were there local bands that maybe inspired you to start a band or was it just the heavy hitters at the time like Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, etc.
Greg C: We went to see Sarkoma, Bludgeoned Nun, Forchristsake / Mirrored Image. They were the big bands in the Rockford scene at that time. And one of my favorite “local” bands from Springfield, IL…NIL8. But there were many other bands brewing in Rockford — Decadenza (later Watership Down), Atonement, Necrosis, Blind Witness, Devoid, hell I can’t remember all of them.
ALL of us eventually played shows with each other and had a blast. I became close with the guys in Sarkoma and Bludgeoned Nun. I looked up to them musically and we had a mutual respect for one another. The music brought us together. I spent a lot of time with Brian Carter (Sarkoma) going to the shooting range, camping, and training in martial arts (as well as the singer for BN, Ray Hart). Even played softball on a team (we sucked but had fun!) with Tony (Sarkoma/BN) and Ray. I always got along with Stu and Mike “Hilly” as well. All those friendships are still strong today.
Theron Moore: Describe Rockford’s metal / thrash scene back in the late 80’s.
Greg C: I got into the scene before I could drive and had to hitch rides with older kids or friend’s parents to go to shows. But as the 90’s came in many of us were out of high school, had cars, and got out. Bands came together, lots of practice, and then we scrounged money to get studio time in the back room of the music store “Jus Jammin” in Loves Park, where I got my first guitar.
Jimmy Johnson created “The Noise Chamber” recording Studio in the closet of the back room of that place. Most of us recorded our first cassettes there on reel to reel tape. A big plug that helped the scene back then was Mark Snodgrass who started a local radio show called “Listen to This.”
He began playing Sarkoma and when we heard it we had to get our band on it! I remember talking to the guys in PA after a practice night at my parents’ house while listening to the show. I said let’s go find that station and give them our cassette. That was our first recording. Our first demo “A New Meaning of Death.” I didn’t know Mark at the time but dammit I wanted to get PA’s music on the radio. We went down there, knocked on the door and gave Mark a tape.
Mark and I talked later on and we found that we both had a passion for local underground music and wanted to promote all of it and help the scene. His radio show promoted our first show at the Cherry Lounge in February 91-92? We sold a ton of our cassettes and Mark said he never had his phones blow up for requests like that.
We were excited and couldn’t wait to play our first show. As a matter of fact I think that is the first night we met, Theron. Then you gave me the opportunity to write for “Louder than God” and I had a blast interviewing and seeing my musical heroes play live. Because of that I went to so many shows and engulfed my life in music. Meeting everyone from Dave Mustaine (Megadeth) to Glen Danzig, Vinny and Roger from Agnostic Front, DRI, to being on the tour busses of Cannibal Corpse and Obituary. The list goes on…some of the best times of my life. Thanks man…
Theron Moore: Looking back on that scene, do you think Northern IL had a shot at becoming maybe the next “Sunset Strip” in terms of metal? What do you think would’ve taken it to the next level?
Greg C: I think that we had a lot of talented bands but it was so hard to get support on places to play and advertising (after Mark got kicked off the air).
If we would have had more support on a higher level, maybe…”Sunset Strip” LOL — never. Maybe in our own minds.
Theron Moore: You did a demo that I believe was called “Trust No One.” What were the expectations surrounding it, were you expecting to sell copies and maybe attract label interest?
Greg C: It was actually call “A New Meaning of Death.” “Trust No One” was written by me and another song that was played a lot on the radio was “Human Flesh” written by Mark, about Dahmer. We just tried to get our music out, pay for our recording and hope we made more so we could save for better equipment and more studio time. We did hope to get some label interest too.
Theron Moore: Was there any indie label interest in the band?
Greg C: If I remember correctly, we may have sent our next recording “Hate” to Metal Blade and Columbia. We did get some interest from Chaos Records, a subsidiary of Columbia. I think Mark helped us with that one. I know he helped us make some videos to send to the labels as well. At that time Mark was a big part of helping us with art work, promotions and management. He had a talent and passion for the scene like no one else.
Theron Moore: Did Pure Aggression ever get a chance to open up for any big name bands back then?
Greg C: A good friend of ours who was also the singer for Necrosis, John Cabrera began to get into promotions. He booked us a show with Six Feet Under.
Theron Moore: Was there ever any doubt in your mind about not going to college and doing PA full time and just trying to make it as a musician?
Greg C: I have always been interested in bettering myself, be it through formal education, real world experience, reading, training in martial arts or training in firearms. When I left high school I went to Rock Valley (community college), studied engineering with the possibility of taking over my parent’s machine shop. But when I started taking the math courses, I realized I sucked at math and I didn’t have the passion for running a business.
I know I could make much more money and have better job security than music, but I wanted to do what I was passionate about. “Cops” was on TV, I was always interested in possibly joining the military and I was always fascinated with good guys vs. bad guys. I was reading “Solider of Fortune” magazines since I was in grade school, and day dreamed about helping the innocent and weak. So when a friend suggested I take a police science class it was a natural progression.
I learned more about all aspects of law enforcement agencies at the local, state, and federal level as well as our intelligence agencies. I began to read more about that as well as foreign affairs and international relations. I was working part time, going to college, playing in PA, helping you with LTG (Louder Than God mag), helping Mark Snodgrass with his TV show “Look At This”, and going to the Kamishin Ryu Club (martial arts)…I was constantly on the move man. I could not stop.
However, once I got my Associate Degree in Police Science, I put more effort into the band to try and get us to the point of playing for a living. Yet, I still took a few classes on the side. I did internships with the Rockford Police Department, and the Winnebago County Coroner’s Office, all while working and promoting the band. However, once the band was near the end, I always said I would leave town, get a Bachelor’s Degree in Administration of Justice, and work as a Federal Agent in a Law Enforcement Agency.
My whole life I wanted to be a warrior. That was my strongest passion, helping others and fighting for what is right. While going to school I spent my money on going to shooting schools and getting trained up. Others blew money on drugs and booze, I spent mine on outdoor equipment, guns, gear, and training.
I ended up meeting my wife during that time, finished a Master’s Degree and I currently work for the Federal Government in Law Enforcement as a Special Agent. I feel like I am the luckiest man alive. I have my dream job, wife, and kids. Now my passion is to spend time with my wife, son and daughter. Eventually when I get closer to retirement I may work towards a PhD, and teach at a university, while training others in firearms at a tactical shooting school.
In my travels in life, especially being involved in the underground music scene, I have learned so much from a diverse group of people. I have learned tolerance, forgiveness, and standing up and fighting for what is right. Even when we didn’t see eye to eye on drinking, drugs, and politics, (which happened a lot for me). We respected each other and loved each other because of our passion for music. All those things helped build my character and allowed me to love life more.
Theron Moore: Pure Aggression didn’t make it to the year 2000. When did you personally know the end was near for the band?
Greg C: Working on our last recording in 96. Jim and Jason were gone a few years back, so the only original members were me and Mark. The other guys who came in later gave us so much musically and we became close friends but they wanted to go into other directions. We were all fighting a lot over BS, stress, frustration, etc.
Jason West, who came to play drums for us had the opportunity to travel with a signed blues act and make some money. Paul Macaluso was getting close with the guys in Watership Down (formally Decadenza) and wanted to play with them. Micky Rosenquist was tired of it too.
So when Jason left to go and tour, Paul and Micky were done also so I said fuck it, I’m out of this town, and going to school far away from here. I will say though, Jason, Paul, and Micky created some of our BEST shit. It was a great team and great time. I still love and respect all of those guys, I still feel lucky to have played with all the guys in PA. I still believe that they are some of the most talented musicians and artists I know.
Theron Moore: Do you have any regrets not taking Pure Aggression further?
Greg C: I don’t regret a damn thing I have done in life. Mistakes and all, they make me who I am. I feel like I had the best of different worlds…music, law enforcement, and the best family life I could have ever imagined. Everything happens for a reason. I love all the steps I have taken to get where I am now, and I am grateful for the highs and lows.
Theron Moore: Any plans to re-release the band’s demo or other music on iTunes in the future?
Greg C: We did a 20 year reunion show a few years back and had a BLAST! Jason West asked me about re-recording the songs before him as well as the ones we did together. Just talk at this point. We are all busy with our lives, but I do hope we can make it happen in the near future.
Theron Moore: Is there a Facebook page or website you’d like to plug?
Greg C: Check out Pure Aggression on Facebook. Mark Atkinson put our last recording which was done on CD, on Reverbnation. Also just YouTube Pure Aggression. That last show we did was professionally video recorded by Brock Hutzler and he put up some music videos of the show…I also posted some OLD PA stuff as well…check it out and enjoy!
Theron Moore: What about your band members? Where are they and what are they doing?
Greg C: Mark Atkinson is a manager at his work where he has been for over 25 years. He’s still playing music and teaching his young son the power of metal. Jim Gade is married, and is using his artistic talents as a multi-media manager for the Rockford Ice Hogs, Metro Center, and Harris Bank Center.
Jason Stewart married with four kids and is a Deacon at my old Catholic church in Rockford and teaches religion at my old Catholic high school. Paul Macaluso is married with kids and works in the cellular industry and still plays music. Jason West is married, lives in Texas, and is a “hired gun” in music. He has toured the world with several different bands and styles of music and continues to do so. I can’t list all the bands he has toured/recorded with.
Micky Rosenquist is married with two kids, teaches music at the Rock and Roll Institute, and is a singer, songwriter, and performer and runs Underground Squirrel Studio. I recently moved back to Northern IL and I work in Chicago with the same agency after working for nearly 10 years in NYC. Don’t play guitar or write songs anymore. Although I have introduced my kids to the guitar and metal.
I am a firearms instructor for my agency, still train outside of work (as well as at work), play with HAM (amateur radio) radio, backpack and camp. My biggest hobby and guilty pleasure is Swiss watches. I collect a few, and hope to have more someday. And at this rate I will probably work in the watch industry.