Despite the number of times we have written about Shlak and his former band, Call the Paramedics, this is the first time we have actually spoken with him, and it took the recent controversy with the band Sparklefight to prompt it. There are going to be a number of opinions about what is said, but we want everyone to read his piece on everything. UPDATE 9/16/2015: Sparklefight’s Mike Beer emailed us to explain the song “Habit of Mine”, and we added what he said to this article.
One People’s Project
When the controversy around the band Sparklefight’s parody commercial for a rape whistle became heated over the summer, culminating in calls to boycott a Philadelphia club until they severed its ties with the band, much of the issues centered around the guy they had portraying the rapist in the video. His name is Martin Schlacter, although most people know him as Shlak, formerly of the band Call the Paramedics and currently the guitarist for Eat the Turnbuckle.
Shlak found himself in the crosshairs because of his past associations with the Atlantic City “Skinheads” (ACS), a neo-Nazi crew out of New Jersey founded in the eighties whose members have a long history of violence, including murder, drug use and other crimes. A few years ago, Call the Paramedics (CTP) was even announced as one of the bands slated to perform at a 2008 benefit show for reputed ACS founding member Chris Arlan. It was this history that prompted calls to prevent Call the Paramedics from getting booked at clubs or shows around the country, but when the band broke up and Shlak and CTP drummer Mike Beer went on to play with Eat the Turnbuckle alongside those who are not only against hate politics but also Jewish and non white, the issue became less of one. With the Sparklefight controversy however, that issue came roaring back.
When Shlak contacted One People’s Project on Thursday, his main concern was to make clear a number of things that have arisen about him, and in particular note that despite past associations with ACS, he had never been involved in Nazi politics. “I am 100 percent happy with the moniker of asshole, but the moniker of Nazi…I am not a racist. I wouldn’t be in band with someone who is Jewish,” he said. “I’ve distanced myself from it and I just walk away because (they) have nothing to do with this.
“I know all walks of life and grew up in AC around those dudes,” he said. “That doesn’t make me share their politics or views. I’m not a Nazi. Just an asshole.”
According to Shlak, ACS was nothing more than people that were in the scene in Atlantic City, NJ when he was growing up and later when he worked at a local tattoo shop. They all were cool with each other, going to local punk shows, to CTP shows when they played in town and even maintaining some associations today. He thought nothing of hanging with them as he would anyone regardless of race or color, noting that Mike Beer, who is currently the drummer for Sparklefight, is Jewish and bisexual. This was something at Eat the Turnbuckle lead singer Jason Goldberg also noted when he spoke to One People’s Project as well. “The first time I’d ever met (Shlak), he was dating a friend of mine’s sister,” he said. “He comes up to me and says, ‘How come you don’t talk to me?’ and I say, ‘Because you’re a fuckin’ Nazi! I’m a Jew, you’re a Nazi! We don’t like each other!’ He goes, ‘Everyone thinks I’m a Nazi because I’m from Atlantic City and I know those guys, but I’m not!’”
Goldberg said it took talking to him and getting to know him before he changed his opinion of him. “Out of all those people, he’s the one that decided not to become a racist,” he said.
The old issues of Shlak’s associations as well as the new ones of Sparklefight’s cavalier attitude towards the issue of rape came with little explanation or apology over the years, but when things came to a head after the Aug. 22 show that Sparklefight had at Connie’s Ric Rac, that was when some explanations were finally heard. Both Shlak and Goldberg said that despite being on the bill for Chris Arlan’s 2008 benefit show, Call the Paramedics eventually never played, something that was never noted in the past. “That dude Chris assumed we would play the benefit show because I know him, but we didn’t,” he said. “He made that post without confirmation. I don’t think music even happened at that thing. I couldn’t tell you, I wasn’t there!”
Shlak said that they also ultimately never played the 2010 Punk Island show in New York City where “Punk Rock Steve” Benford was supposed to have introduced them. “I met that dude Steve twice, he said. Bad Luck 13 played, not us.”
Less than two weeks after that show, Benford stabbed and killed his girlfriend, 22-year-old Gina Schickling, and is currently serving a 46 to 92 year prison term for the murder. Recently, Mike Beer said on an internet post that the song “Habit of Mine”, which is in the rape whistle video and was recorded by Sparklefight in 2011, was about Benford, and it has only been after people expressed outrage that the band has been saying that the song was actually written years before.
Both Sparklefight and Connie’s Ric Rac issued statements concerning the controversy, but Connie’s statement on their Facebook page was particularly pointed, saying that not only do they not “support, advocate or approve of rape, ‘rape culture’ or violence of any kind” but they had a huge issue with anything involving Shlak and his production company Useless Drunk, which was scheduled to have a show at the venue on Oct. 8. “As for our association with certain bands and promoters, several have been banned that demonstrated violence at their shows, including Eat the Turnbuckle and Martin Jason Schlacter,” the statement read. In regard to the upcoming show on October 8th, we have removed that show from our calendar due to the fact that we were unaware of Jay Schlak’s (sic) involvement when the date was reserved.”
It remains to be seen if any of the issues that have been expressed about Shlak or Sparklefight will eventually be resolved. Many of them, particularly the rape culture issues, are deep seated, especially given how actual rape and murder victims had been mocked and with masses of sexual assault survivors speaking up. The petition against Connie’s and Sparklefight continues to gain traction, as of now up to 1,078 signatures. The group responsible for writing the petition, the “Connie’s & Sparklefight Boycott Organizing Group” posted responses to both the Connie’s and Sparklefight statements on their website, and the debate around the surrounding issues continues on across online communities and around Philadelphia.” For many, a lot of the things that have been done has been pretty unforgivable, but Shlak says that he had never set out hurt anyone, and he hopes that the door hasn’t been closed to dialogue at the very least. “I am an asshole at times,” he said. I like to push buttons. I totally deserve it sometimes. I don’t mean it to be vicious. I’m not doing it with any kind of malice.”
UPDATE: On 9/14/2015, Mike Beer, drummer for the band Sparklefight emailed us in regards to the song “Habit of Mine”:
I just wanted to give you updated information. “Habit of Mine was actually written and recorded in 2004 by our singer. It was just meant to be a fictional story about a dude who killed some chick, nothing more, nothing personal. The 2004 version and the 2011 version are identical in structure and lyrics. It wasn’t until 2011 that we recorded it as a full band. Because Steve killed his girlfriend around that time and in a pretty similar fashion it reminds ME of that whole incident but it’s not actually about them. Our singer has the original time stamped copies of the song on his computer. Steve was always kind of shady just somebody we all knew through passing but legitimately killing Somebody that we all knew isn’t funny and I definitely wouldn’t mock that. But I can’t help that the song reminds me of that time period.