Heralded as one of the greatest outfits of the late nineties street punk resurgence, The Virus gained an international cult following with relentless gigging spanning from 1998, when the group formed in Philadelphia, all the way until their demise following a disaster-ridden final tour in 2004.
The band’s near ten year absence has left a legion of loyal fans solely to their record collections and memory banks, while longing to see the band they once followed from coast to coast.
But seemingly out of nowhere, The Virus has returned.
This past May, the band did an impromptu show in Harrisburg, PA, and shortly after began booking more regional dates. News of their reformation sent shockwaves throughout the punk rock underground—prompting fans from around the world to travel to Pennsylvania for the opportunity to relive a piece of their youth—something not lost on lead singer, Paul Sorrels, who says that the response of fans has been “overwhelming and humbling,” and far exceeding any expectations: “We knew people still liked our music, but none of us realized just how deep that river ran. There has been incredibly positive outreach from fans around the world stoked that we are back together.”
Following the success of their regional shows, The Virus has now booked a two week American tour for this November. But while many punk bands of old have been making their way back out for reunion gigs, Sorrels asserts that The Virus is not simply basking in their glory days—they are writing a brand new chapter: “Our next practice is in October. Part of our homework is for everyone to come with at least two new songs. Unfortunately, we can’t just get together and jam on a whim anymore, because we got guys so spread out—one of the guys (Mike Authority, who now lives in Niagara Falls, NY) is flying in—so time is really of value. But we are going to have at least a couple new songs on this tour.”
The reformed lineup—consisting of Sorrels on lead vocals; lead guitarist, Mike Authority; rhythm guitarist and founding member, Fat Dave; bassist, Josh Howard; and drummer, Jon Emmanuel—are all contributing their share of fresh material, as Sorrels says has always been the case: “The Virus has always been very collective, and I am looking forward to writing new stuff with these guys. We have all had different life experiences and influences in the past ten years, and we now definitely have a lot more to write and say. Our drummer, Jon, is also an awesome guitarist, and even plays piano—a real musician,” he says with a laugh, “so we will have new Virus songs written by a guy who has never written a Virus song—I am very excited for that.”
While fans have been pleasantly taken aback by The Virus’s decision to reunite, this second coming was equally surprising for the band itself. Following their split in 2004, the notoriously revolving-door outfit went their separate ways, and had anything but a reunion on their minds—as Sorrels admits, “Honestly, if you would have asked any of us in January if we thought The Virus would be playing this year, we would have said ‘No fucking way. You’re crazy’ I guess we just cosmically came together, for lack of a better phrase, and here we are.”
This cosmic energy can be traced all the way back to Sorrels’ high school days in Middletown, PA, where during those formative years he sparked a lifelong friendship with future bandmate, “Fat Dave” Preno. The adolescents’ mutual passions for loud music and adventurous living quickly made them inseparable, and it wasn’t long before the two were regularly making the drive into Philly to catch touring bands, and starting outfits of their own: “Dave and I hit it off instantly, and from there had the time of our lives. We spent our high school days skateboarding all over and hitting punk shows. When we got our own bands going, we were always there to support one and other, and that unwavering support has never changed since.”
But the carefree days of his adolescence would take a dark turn, and Sorrels found himself immersed in the world of heroin. After struggling with his addiction for several years, Sorrels began seeing many of his friends lose their own battles with the drug. At twenty three, Sorrels vowed to get himself clean, and shortly after began attending Narcotic’s Anonymous meetings.
After going through the pain of withdrawal and readjusting to a clean lifestyle, Sorrels got a job with his old friend, Dave Preno, at a local candle factory. Though his intentions were to simply pay the bills and keep himself out of trouble, his stint at the factory would quickly lead to much more: “I was honestly just looking for some mindless work to occupy my time and help me stay clean, but I really ended up in the right place at the right time. Dave came to work one day and told me that his band’s bassist had just quit. He asked if I would like to take his place, and I quickly jumped at the opportunity.”
At that point, September of 1998, The Virus had already been performing for the past eight months throughout Philadelphia and was gaining significant attention—quickly selling out their split CD with New York punks, The Manix, and opening for UK legends, Special Duties. Influenced by bands like Discharge and The English Dogs, The Virus’s hard-edge sound and socially-conscious lyrics stood out among the more light-hearted street punk bands of the time. As the group’s new bassist, Sorrels was psyched to continue their forward momentum, and he could now channel his personal demons into the band’s aggressive music.
Shortly after Sorrels joining, The Virus recorded their first 7” EP for Charged Records, “Global Crisis,” and quickly sold out the initial pressing. Following the release, The Virus would part ways with original lead guitarist Chris Expulsion. Continuing on for a few months as a four piece, the group found a replacement in Mike Authority, who has remained with the band since.
Impressed by the group’s work ethic and ability to sell records, Jake Kolatis, guitarist of The Casualties and founder of Charged Records, put up money for the band to record their debut full-length. The group entered the studio in early 2000, and recorded the twelve tracks that would comprise the Still Fighting for a Future LP.
On the drive home from the final night of vocal tracking, the band received shocking news: lead singer, Michael “Mike Virus” Rothstein, had received an offer to take a high-profile programming position in San Diego, and would be leaving the band.
Reflecting back thirteen years later, Sorrels admits he would have likely done the same thing if he had been in Rothstein’s shoes, but acknowledges the turmoil the decision caused: “It was a great opportunity for Mike, and I don’t blame him for taking it whatsoever, but it was a huge shock to all of us at the time. We were in a real awkward spot, because Jake Casualty had put up all this money for our record, and we felt an obligation to push it, but how could we do that when the guy who sang all the songs couldn’t be at the shows?”
After a week of frantic indecision, the band decided to continue on despite their circumstances, and came to the conclusion that Sorrels would serve as Rothstein’s replacement: “We didn’t want to leave Jake hanging, and we certainly didn’t want the music to die. I had already sung all of the backups on the 7” and full-length, and I had been the lead singer of all my previous bands, so it was a natural role for me to assume.”
The group found a replacement bassist in Tim of New Jersey street punk band, The Oi! Scouts, and headed out on a six week American tour with The Casualties. Upon their return home, Tim informed the band that a touring lifestyle was not for him, but vowed to stick with them until they found a replacement. Shortly after, the band recruited their friend Josh Howard, and continued moving forward.
With Howard on board, the group quickly got to work and entered the studio to cut four new songs—“Full Circle,” “The Time Is Now,” “Looks Like Trouble,” and “There Is Nothing Left.” Shortly after the recording session, the group signed on to Punkcore Records, who acquired the rights for these new songs from Charged Records, and released them as a self-titled, picture disc record.
Punkcore then released the Singles and Rarities CD—a compilation including these new sessions, along with the group’s early material, and several unreleased live recordings. Sorrels looks back at this era of The Virus as their finest— both as a band and as friends: “The Singles and Rarities sessions were some of my fondest memories with the band. We were just in the right place, and everything felt natural. If you ask anyone in the band now, they will tell you the same thing. Since getting back together those four songs have been at the top of our set list.”
The Virus’s relentless gigging would only increase with this solidified lineup. The five friends wound routinely end their respective work weeks and pack into Mike Authority’s minivan—playing a marathon of shows throughout the East Coast before getting back to their day jobs Monday morning. Beyond these regional treks, The Virus was getting serious traction on the international stage, and traveled to Morecambe, England to play alongside many of their childhood idols at the Holidays in the Sun Festival.
Following an East Coast tour with Antidote, the band took five months off to write and record their second full-length record, Nowhere to Hide. But just as things finally appeared to be consistent for the group—they experienced yet another loss, as Dave Preno announced he could no longer juggle his personal responsibilities with the demands of touring. Preno’s departure was a huge blow to Sorrels: “That was a big turning point for me. Fat Dave was the whole reason I was in The Virus. Anytime a band gets serious about touring and pushing records, things start to feel like a business, at least to a degree, and that’s when things get weird. Until that point, the band was just five friends having fun, but, after Dave left, things were never the same.”
Despite the disappointment with Preno’s departure, the group continued forward as a four piece and entered the studio. Though he does not appear on the record itself, Preno still contributed to the material on Nowhere to Hide, and continued to be a part of what Sorrels calls the “collective” writing process of The Virus: “We have always been a collective, even lyrically, not every line has come from my pen—Mike Authority wrote several of the lyrics that appeared on that record, and everyone but the drummer was bringing guitar riffs to the table. Dave didn’t actually enter the studio with us, but he was still contributing riffs and ideas, and giving his support.” All things considered, The Virus produced what many consider to be their finest work to date, with fan favorites like “Rats in the City” and “Heroes” remaining staples of the band’s live set today.
On November 7th, 2001, Sorrels would undergo another life changing event—the birth of his daughter, Chelsea. After her birth, Sorrels was committed to becoming the best father he could be, and he knew that he would need the income necessary to provide her a high quality of life. Throughout his tenure with The Virus, Sorrels had been working for a friend’s body jewelry company—initially starting as an in-home operation, the company had now expanded to a 5,000 sq. foot office space, and Sorrels’ role as the company’s manager was expanding as well. Sorrels was starting to make very good money, and with a newborn daughter to care for, continuing to get in the van with a punk band was becoming increasingly harder to manage; none the less, Sorrels vowed to follow his heart, and balance fatherhood with his dedication to The Virus.
After releasing Nowhere to Hide in July of 2002, Josh decided that he wanted to play rhythm guitar, and the band recruited new bassist, Drew, to fill his previous role. The band traveled to England to again play the Holidays in the Sun festival, and did a short West Coast tour with The Riffs.
Upon returning East, the band played the stateside HITS festival, held in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Here the band had one of their finest moments. Wattie Buchan, singer of The Exploited, had watched the band perform at previous festivals and expressed that he was a big fan. As the group got into their cover of The Exploited’s “I Believe in Anarchy,” Sorrels recalls his confusion when he suddenly heard another voice from across the stage: “I heard someone and thought ‘who the fuck is on the other mic?’ I looked over and realized it was Wattie. I then had to think ‘well fuck I guess I can’t be upset he is singing his own song!’ It was awesome!”
In January of 2003, the band entered the studio and recorded seven new songs. Four of the tracks would appear on the “Benefits of War” EP for Dirty Punk Records, with the songs “Follow,” and “Front Page News” appearing on the Punx Unite Three and Punk Aid compilations, respectively. The next month, The Virus celebrated five years together with a show in Philly, and were joined onstage by original singer Michael Rothstein—a heartfelt moment that brought the former front man to tears.
Following the anniversary show, the band began talks of more touring. But with the company he was working for expanding daily, and his daughter quickly growing up before his eyes, Sorrels found himself at a crossroads—The Virus had been his saving grace and the center of his life for the past five years, but his devotion to fatherhood was contingent upon being able to provide for Chelsea—something he had scrambled to do the past year, and with his work responsibilities continuing to mount, he simply could no longer justify his nomadic lifestyle: “The band wanted to tour nine to ten months out of the year. At the time, my daughter was only one, and I couldn’t be away from her that long. In addition to missing her on the road, I had a very good job; I was afraid to lose the lifestyle that allowed me to provide for her by just leaving and hitting the road with a punk band.”
As hard as it was, Sorrels knew the decision he had to make: he announced that he would be leaving the band.
Despite their loss, the band decided to continue forward, and find a new singer. Sorrels helped his friends through the transition, and wished them the best going forward, but admits it was a very hard process: “I went through a very tough time. I wouldn’t call it a depression, because it certainly wasn’t, but it was very hard to just move on and close that chapter of my life. I instantly missed the band.”
The band found a replacement in Jasper McGandy of the Boston, MA band, The Vigilantes, and began vigorously rehearsing in anticipation of a ten week US tour. McGandy adapted quickly and brought a new element to the group’s sound—with his melodic vocals and post-punk influences. The tour was a huge success, and was followed by the band’s first performance in Puerto Rico; but upon returning home, rhythm guitarist, Josh Howard, decided to leave the band.
The Virus trekked forward as a four piece, and in February of 2004, embarked on a six week tour with The Unseen. Halfway through the tour, the band would undergo yet another lineup change as drummer, Jarrod, decided to leave the band—his departure marking the loss of the final original member still in the group. The band replaced him with long time Void Control and Blind Society drummer, Jon Emmanuel, and finished the tour.
With the new lineup of Jasper, Mike Authority, Drew, and Jon, the band travelled to Cleveland and began demoing material, which they planned to release as a new EP for Punkcore Records.
After the session, the band embarked on a ten week American tour with Complete Control and Clit 45. The appropriately titled, Destruction and Debauchery Tour, was disastrous throughout— namely the band’s van being involved in a serious accident, and Complete Control dropping off the tour in their home state of Texas.
Following the tour, the band got news that Punkcore would be unable to release their EP.
In October of 2004, the band announced that they would be parting ways. After three singers, four guitarists, five bassists, and two drummers, The Virus had finally run its course—at least for the time being.
Post-Virus, the alumni of the group remained musically active with Mike Virus continuing to live in California, where he started the bands Cheap Sex and Evacuate; Mike Authority toured as a guitarist for The Unseen; Jasper moved to New York City and started the post-punk band, The Hunt; Dave Preno became the lead singer of the Nighttime Dealers, and later the guitarist of the Tight Fits; Sorrels and Howard formed the PA-based rock n’ roll band, Kamikaze Zero, which has since disbanded. Sorrels currently plays in a rock band called The Takes, while Howard plays in both The Lookies and The Line.
Outside of Music, Sorrels’ life has become busier than ever. Shortly after parting ways with the band in 2003, he began materializing plans for his own business, and in 2004 opened Razorblade Products Inc — a large scale distributor of tattoo and piercing supplies. On August 2, 2007, he married his wife, Ella, exactly five years to the day they met. The couple has since opened 717 Tattoo Studio, which has expanded into four locations throughout the Central PA area, and regularly becomes a mobile operation as the couple tours various tattoo conventions across America—a lifestyle Sorrels has certainly grown accustomed to.
But despite his success as a father, husband, and businessman, there was still a void in his life, and Sorrels knew that it needed to be filled—he needed The Virus: “You live out of a minivan for six weeks with a dude, and you’re pretty much family. Sharing the same book bag, bouncing off people’s couches across the country and back, and flying across the ocean to play with punk bands you have idolized your whole life—you’re going to build a relationship, and you long for it when it goes away.”
For Sorrels and the rest of the reformed lineup, the decision to get back together and jam was solely to reignite the flames of old friendships—nothing more and nothing less: “The idea of getting back onstage wasn’t the exciting part—the exciting part for me was getting these guys back in a room together and picking up where we left off—really getting to know each other again. If all that happened was jamming for a weekend and then staying in touch, I would be okay with that, but what’s come of it, I don’t think any of us could have guessed.”
Following that initial jam session, and the subsequent reunion gig, it quickly became apparent that aside from rekindling their own friendships, The Virus also had the urge to reconnect with the punk rock community that spawned their journey together, as Sorrels reflects: “Once I left the Virus I stopped keeping my finger on the pulse of street punk—maybe it was still an open wound—but since the Virus has gotten back together it has definitely sparked my interest to see what is out there.”
As the group has ventured back into the club circuit, they have been requesting to play with an eclectic range of bands—to Sorrels the sub-genre of music is of less importance than its energy: “Variety is the spice of life. In this information age, there is access to so much underground music. Street punk is great, but I think if you pigeonhole yourself to one genre, you are just alienating yourself from other people that could like your music. At this point, we just want to play with bands that inspire—when I am watching bands that are killing it, it makes me want to get up there and bring it.”
Transcending misfortune and recurring change, The Virus has come to embody something larger than a single individual or lineup, and fifteen years after forming, the band has come full circle—reemerging hungrier than ever, and as Sorrels sees it, all of these changes have been a positive thing for both the band and fans: “Fortunately, we haven’t been getting too much bullshit or finger-pointing about what line up it is, or who’s singing. In the past, there had been a division of people who liked this guy or that guy, but anyone who has ever sung for the Virus will always have a place in the Virus. We extended an offer to both Mike Virus and Jasper to come up and sing some songs with us at a show anytime they want”—something Rothstein took the band up on, as he joined his former bandmates for a gig in Connecticut this past August.
Sorrels has been thrilled to see many old friends in the thirty to forty year old range that supported the band years ago and have returned to do so again, but he finds even greater motivation in knowing that there will be a new breed of adolescent punks coming out of the wood work to see The Virus for the first time, and that it is these kids who will wave the flag after his time passes: “Punk rock is cyclical. We have seen it pass through the years from the 70’s through the 80’s, and all the way through the turn of the century street punk explosion we were a part—but the truth is this shit will never die. There is always going to be a group of pissed off sixteen year old kids that are going to change everything with their five piece band in their basement—that’s punk rock.”
After all, five street punks from Philly were able to live their dreams and travel the globe in the pre-social media world of the late nineties underground—given the resources and networking of this information age, it should be no problem for another crop of pissed off kids to get in the van and do the same. Time will tell.
For tour dates and all other happenings, check out The Virus’s official site: www.viruspunks.com
Follow the band on Facebook: www.facebook.com/viruspunks
Razor Blade Products Inc: www.razorbladeproducts.com
717 Tattoo: www.717tattoo.com