In the second summer of the year of our lord COVID-19, a thousand punks showed up to watch Warthog play under a bridge in Brooklyn.

Fueled by a gasoline generator, 16 months of isolation, and recent double doses of vaccine, the permit-free show in an alleyway flanked by junkyards very quickly erupted into chaos. As some fans crowd-surfed and pitted, others climbed on top of parked big rigs to get a better view or set off fireworks; back in the pit, someone was breathing fireballs. The NYPD pulled up mid-set but had zero chance of clearing out such a completely unhinged scene. “The show happened, and no one got seriously injured, no one got arrested, and then we fucking bounced. And it was the most surreal, insane, adrenaline-fueled ‘what the fuck’ kind of night,” says Warthog drummer Ryan Naideau.

Warthog 1, Cops 0.

Warthog have played many shows that will go down, possibly on a slightly lower rung, in punk history. There was the Mexico City gig where fans made and destroyed a giant pihata of the band’s mulleted skeleton mascot, Larry; an eviction party for the last concert at the fantastic venue Brooklyn Bazaar; and a drug-fueled set of pure destruction at a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles at about six in the morning. The list goes on.

Warthog’s next historic NYC performance came less than a year after the generator show, when they played night 2 of their 10-year anniversary weekend at the iconic Bowery Ballroom on the Lower East Side, a 575-person-capacity room that sold out within 30 minutes of tickets going up. Moving from a free, ask-a-punk gig to a legitimate, sold-through-Ticketmaster show might seem antithetical— but this is how the weird popularity of Warthog works. “The anniversary weekend wasn’t just a celebration of 10 years of Warthog,” says Alex Heir of the clothing label Death/Traitors, who created and drew the Larry character. “It was a celebration of how far this band and our whole scene have come.”

In 2012, three friends—drummer Naideau, guitarist Mike Goo, and vocalist Chris Hansell—who all played in punk and hardcore bands in New York City and, coincidentally, all grew up outside the five boroughs on Long Island and in Westchester, were hanging out outside a show in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn. Nobody remembers exactly who played at the Polish dive bar Tommy’s Tavern that night, but that’s not really important. It was an absolute shithole of a venue that would open its doors to just about anyone (including the Proud Boys, who would eventually hold their early meetups there), with a nondescript room in the back that could hold a very crammed 50-or-so people.

We’re a Happy Family. Photo by Ryan Muir

“I wanted to continue playing music immediately after my departure from [genre-defying punk/indie band] the Men...[who] kicked me out because we weren’t getting along,” recalls Hansell. “But I also went on a 52-day-long U.S. tour-— that was 54 shows or something—about five days after my father passed away. And so navigating that as someone who was, like, 23 at the time, being on tour, not really processing anything, I don't think I was a joy to be around.”

Hansell, who had spent four years in the Men, considered skipping the two months on the road with the band. “I only did it because on his deathbed, my dad told me that I better not cancel the tour. Those were some of his last things he said to me. So I just went because he told me to,” he says. “The Men were a pretty serious band, and we did a lot of touring. We put out some records that got some attention. So when that was done, I was like, ‘I need to do something else, otherwise I’m going to go crazy.’”

That night, outside Tommy’s Tavern, Hansell, along with Naideau and Goo, spawned what that “something else” would be. Naideau had played in the power-pop/ rock band Nude Beach, and Goo was in the hardcore band Nomos; together they had also played in Dustheads. The three of them started recording a demo and approached a couple of other locals: Mateo Cartagena, originally from Jersey City, on bass, and Sully Sullivan, who hailed from Boston, on guitar.

“We wrote the demo and kind of just wanted some people from outside of our little scene to be in the band. So we enlisted Mateo—none of us were really friends with him, which was funny. And then Sully, because we went to the Speakeasy [where he worked], but none of us really knew Sully that well, either. We just knew that they were in bands and stuff,” says Naideau.

When Cartagena and Sullivan heard the initial tracks, they were hooked. “I wanted to play in a ripping Poison Idea-meets-Cleveland band, you know, Inmates and HI00s and all that shit, meets Japanese hardcore,” says Cartagena. “Those are my favorite things in the world. That was what [the demo] sounded like to me.”

There was only one problem: At that point the band was called Chain Wallet, and there was no way Cartagena and Sullivan were hitching their wagon to that star. As a result, the band rifled through potential serious and joke names (many of which sounded phonetically like Chain Wallet, including Wine Chalet and Shame Wand) before settling on Warthog, an ode to the Ramones song. But Warthog still played their first show—at a legendary, unprintable punk warehouse in Bush wick, Brooklyn—listed as “Chain Wallet a.k.a. Jammin’ Guitar,” since the show bill had already been printed before the name was swapped out.

Sand in uncomfortable places? Warthog’s mascot Larry risks it for a tan.
Sand in uncomfortable places? Warthog’s mascot Larry risks it for a tan. Photos by Pancho

Warthog have spent the past decade honing in I on a sound that, while maybe familiar to punk heads, is distinctly them. The obvious—and selfproclaimed—point of reference is Poison Idea, the ’80s hardcore punk band from Portland, Ore., led by Jerry A. and Pig Champion that ripped harder than just about anyone ever has. Their 1983 EP Pick Your King, with tracks like “Cult Band” and “Pure Hate,” is absolute hardcore perfection, and their 1990 album Feel the Darkness, full of dynamic, heavy punk ballads, cemented them as legends. Jerry A. concurs: “I’ve checked out Warthog, I can hear the family resemblance. I also hear Electric Eels, Mentally Ill, Koro. I guess we all have the same disease. I dig it.”

That influence rang out on Warthog’s demo, and remained true on their subsequent five EPs (the band has vowed never to put an album out). But as their later releases trickled out over the years, Warthog fell into a groove that showed so much more. “I think we’ve kind of come into our own as a band in a lot of ways. I feel like that started in 2016 with the third record. That’s when we were like, ‘Word, this is Warthog,”’ says Naideau. “Like, ‘Yeah, we have these influences, but we can do whatever we want.' And I feel like that was a shift for us, and we’ve just gotten better since then.”

This willingness to explore is a big part of what sets them apart. “For so long in New York punk, it was ’80s worship, or ’90s worship,” says Heir (the Larry creator). “But Warthog is our music. This is our generation’s sound.”

Indeed, there is an undertone of rock 'n' roll grooviness, an homage to perhaps AC/DC, and an overall respect for Motorhead that hang thick in their sonic head-waves. There’s also a love for metal in the band’s sound, but they also wouldn’t be specifically described as a metal band. It sounds like they love classic rock as much as they love Japanese hardcore,” says editor of Nuts! Fanzine Ben Trogon, who has been photographing the band since the early days. “They’re a loving-sounding hardcore band. It’s a kind of warm vibe.”

Warthog is our music. This is our generation’s sound.

The instruments are perfectly punctuated by Hansell’s nasal but forceful shouts, which sound strained, manic, and coarse. Hansell says most of his lyrics are about his own anxieties. “Some of the lyrics, actually stretched across different releases, are about a fear of developing agoraphobia. I know that sounds crazy, because I’m out all the time, but it’s a really weird fear I have,” explains Hansell, who, especially since the pandemic began, would often spend days without leaving his home, which he found to be a relief.

“I have a hard time doing really easy errands. Like, if I need something from a pharmacy, I’m weird about going. I won’t go until the last second. So some of the lyrics deal with shit like that. Wanting to hide and be alone, and dealing with depression, dealing with grief,” says Hansell. “Screaming those lyrics in general is just a huge release for me. They’re all just about my crazy brain, so it feels really nice to get that out of my system anytime we play a show.”

At Warthog concerts, there’s one song that very quickly became the undeniable anthem of the band. The closer of their third EP, “Coward,” is a track that will inevitably fuck up any room it’s played in, from the sparse guitar-riff intro to the slowed-the-fuck-down pace. And it is this type of dedication to perfecting the songwriting, and willingness to try new things, that made the song even possible.

“I wrote the main riff or whatever, and it was originally supposed to be a Black Boot riff, and was supposed to be at a 1-2 tempo,” explains Cartagena, referring to his blackened punk band who put out one demo and played a handful of shows. “The riff that everybody really likes was originally written as a faster, mid-paced kind of riff, and it wasn’t really hitting,” says Hansell.

They kept working at it; Goo added some more instrumentation, and they reworked it over and over again. “Someone was just like, ‘No, we should play it slow as fuck like that.’ And then once we pieced together the rest of the song—and that’s an example of a song that comes back into that slow riff at the end—it just sounded wild. It sounded powerful,” says Hansell.

With “Coward,” Warthog realized their potential in expanding their own sound, resulting in not only their signature song, but an evolved musical path. "That felt like it marked the shift in our sound a little bit.... We definitely knew that it was ridiculous and over-the-top, and it felt really fun to play for that reason. We were like, ‘This is going to be insane.’”

With five big personalities, the constant verbal riffing— whether while hammered drunk after a show or in the band’s extremely active group chat—has inevitably led to some tension. Ten years is a long time to be married to four of your best friends. “There’s a type of familial dysfunction at the heart of the band, where we’re all really good friends, but to the point where fights and conflict are a very normal feature of being in the band,” says Goo.

Some of that dysfunction may lie in the push and pull between the worlds of DIY punk and the establishment music industry. Two members of the band work in that industry—Naideau as A&R for Rough Trade Records and Hansell as a publicist for various key indies. And though the debate rages on as to whether online marketing and distribution of a band’s music, like digital streaming and social media, are just part of the modern ethos, Warthog have clearly benefited from using those tools. Currently the track “Brainwasher” has over half a million Spotify streams, and their Instagram—@larrywarthog, implying that the mascot is actually running the account—has 13.4K followers. “We went all-in on everything, and I think that just paid off because we were smart about how we did it, ” says Naideau. “When we started the Instagram page in 2017, there was a lack of enthusiasm from some of our bandmates. Everyone was like, ‘Are you fucking kidding?’ Now everyone’s like, ‘Yo, let me get the log-in.’”

Putting their music online wasn’t a given either. That was a conversation that we had in depth: ‘Here are the reasons why you don’t do this, and here are the reasons why you should,’” says Naideau. “And for better or worse—and obviously I think Spotify is a shitty company, and I wish we made more money off of our fucking streams or whatever—my argument was that it’s a necessary evil of the world we live in now, that you have to have your music everywhere, as many places as you can, probably for free in most of those places. And once in a while it’ll pay off, or you’ll get a little bit of money or whatever. And I think that was something that I had to push for with everyone. But now it’s become the main way that people discover our band.”

Warthog are quick to point out that their success has as much to do with their scene and the fans as it does with the work they’ve put in to get there. “There’s always going to be something about the punk and hardcore community that will trump any of that music-industry shit,” says Hansell. “It might look like we’re this professional operation from the outside, but we’re just five people in a group chat arguing about what Larry should say on a shirt.”

Yet the punk scene also has a mind of its own. On a Monday morning, just before the May 6 release of the band’s latest EP, commuters heading to work over the Williamsburg Bridge caught a glimpse of a new billboard interrupting the skyline. Warthog’s mascot Larry was displayed in full with a two-word statement to trumpet the arrival of the new record: “Larry’s back.” It took only a couple of nights for the billboard to get completely tagged over with graffiti, featuring the words “Make punk a threat again” and “Defend ATL Forest,” a reference to a current anarchist cause. The punk internet exploded. Debates and memes raged across social media over whether a punk band should advertise on a billboard, and conversely if punk was ever a threat in the first place. The following night, the billboard was tagged again, this time with a giant “Larry” in red paint.

The Warthog billboard snapped a few days before it was covered entirely in graffiti.
Nothing gold can stay: the Warthog billboard, snapped a few days before it was covered entirely in graffiti. Photo by Mike Naideau

Being at the center of a meme war was never top of mind in the Warthog camp. But then, funny things happen when you get really popular. “If anyone in the band tells you that our trajectory has been a deliberate intention or plan or design, that’s bullshit,” says Goo emphatically. “Like the Bowery Ballroom—why did it sell out? I don’t know. How were we able to pull off that generator show? I don't know. We just never tried to change the formula too much— musically, but also in the way we approach the band.... We have a way of operating that we’ve become familiar with, and we stick to that. And it’s been helpful for us.”

Just before that set at the Bowery Ballroom, the band and a crew of their friends were on stage, with the curtains closed, duct-taping toy skulls and skeletons to their guitar amps. They nodded along, smirking, to Rage Against the Machine’s “Know Your Enemy” as it played over the PA. The five members of Warthog took a short huddle around the drum kit and walked away after some smiles, words, and sips of drinks, without the traditional raising of fists in unison at the end. Just like everything Warthog does, there was an intention, a seriousness, but a casual approach. The theme song for Twentieth Century Fox then blared over the speakers, complete with snare fills and magisterial horns (their fourth EP also starts with a sample of the song). The stage curtains opened. The crowd erupted in cheers. Beer cans flew through the air (it was the first time the booker of Bowery Ballroom remembers the venue selling out of Pabst Blue Ribbon). As the band began their set, Hansell kick-moshed back and forth across the stage. Mayhem ensued.

Larry lives.

Thanks for reading CREEM. This article originally appeared in our Fall 2022 issue. If you prefer to read in print, grab a copy here and subscribe to never miss another one.



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