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To build a world within a world: Strike Anywhere interview

punkrockhardcorefolketc
5 juin 2008

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Des entrevues comme ça c’est pas souvent que ça arrive. Évidemment des réponses comme celle de Thomas n’auraient pas été possible autrement que par e-mail. Mais en même temps par e-mail des fois il y a certain band qui ne se force pas trop. Pas que je les blâme, ils doivent en arriver à un point où ça devient atroce de vraiment taper tout ce qu’ils ont en tête. Surtout quand, veut veut pas, les questions sont inévitablement redondantes d’une entrevue à l’autre. Mais ici Thomas est vraiment allé plus loin que les simples questions et c’est ça qui rend la chose encore plus intéressante. Je trouve.

Strike Anywhere est clairement un des groupes punk rock les plus intelligents présentement alors je savais que j’allais en retirer quelque chose d’intéressant mais le résultat dépasse vraiment toutes mes attentes. Il n’était pas question que je traduise tout ça. Le résultat aurait été moins bon de toute façon. Alors la voici dans sa version anglaise intégrale. C’est lourd à lire jusqu’à un certain point mais ça en vaut la peine.

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Did you see the movie American Hardcore? If yes what did you think of it? What do you think of their statement saying that punk/hardcore died in 1986?

I enjoyed the movie a lot, I thought it was a little heavy on the East Coast, especially with D.C. punk personalities getting so much screen time, but for me, that fits in nicely with my regional loyalties and my own history as a participant in that community. I also think it ruled that several Richmond Punks (Greta Brinkman, David Brockie) appeared in it. Those are folks who specifically helped build the ship I was sailing in, the third generation of hardcore punk counterculture in my hometown…I am sure there are valid criticisms of the film’s brevity, some narrative choices, and the glaring lack of any participation by the aesthetic, sonic, and political giants of those times: The Misfits and the Dead Kennedys. Aside from that omission, which I know wasn’t the filmmaker’s intention, man, I was thrilled to see it and think that it’s one of the few essential works of film scholarship about this thing.

I think that, in an academic sense, it was more like the end of its beginning…not a proper «death» at all. Only the kids can say when it’s over. The innovation and first artistic life cycle of American Hardcore can be said to have ended, sure- but the next wave of mutations, and pulses of evolving synthesis from those days of articulated rage against the physical, political, and psychic Armageddon of what the Eighties wrought had yet to manifest. This is where the late Eighties can be said to be crucial, ’cause things got further abstracted, brought back to center, and then refocused on an even larger tapestry. It was weird to watch the movie with some friends and have it end right where our personal beginning with American Hardcore began. The room got quiet for a second….then someone stage dove onto the couch.

Last year many people said that we «celebrated» the 30th anniversary of punk rock since the release of Never Mind the Bollocks by the Sex Pistols. Do you think that the punk rock «movement» aged well? Is it still relevant today in term of a mean of protestation? Which bands or people still inspire you in term of work ethic they kept or things they have to say?

I think its challenging (but rewarding) to trace a clear line from the kind of AgitProp media spectacle/vaudevillian hoax that Mr. McClaren was perpetrating to the present day – but it’s worth it, I think, both emotionally and intellectually to see this evolving, contradictory beast as one with pieces of the original still embedded and active. That anarchic re-working of cultural dissonance, shock value as art, and Situationist reality engineering by the Pistols and McClaren was a cool yet strange and probably incomplete, but utterly appropriate (including its appropriations) midwifing of punk.

Since then, the conversation/argument that this subculture has had with the status quo and within itself has been a testament to its strength as a purer product of the power of music. As much as there exists static musical forms within punk, it’s still hard to see how its level of popularity, no matter how superficial, as a dead end street. There is as much inspiration and articulation coming out of creative bands in response to mainstream commercialisation of the subculture, as their ever was, and now, at least in the U.S. there seems to be a real understanding of who the real enemies are, and how to empower the positive common ground between bands who choose different approaches to getting the same message out there. With this said, I definitely think that the independent and DIY Punk and Hardcore scenes generally have more to offer to the world as the bands on the mainstream radio, and there can, should, and will be both a  »trickle down’’ of impact and visibility from the popular groups who bring their roots and rage with them, and a ‘’trickle up’’ of creative power, activism, and integrity from the underground bands who have their heads out of their asses, know what time it is and care about liberating people more than defending their status as righteous college town prophets.

I think punk can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I think for myself and our band to be truthful and courageous with our expression, this art form is important. Not playing into a theatrical pre-packaged calculation of a genre, to question your own habits and definitions, this is an important accomplishment, as punks, as artists, and as citizens of this planet. I believe in the honesty and emotional resonance of this music. Whether the song’s subject is expressly about politics, social oppression, conformity, loss and grief, or celebration, it can all be a part of the revolutionary fabric of punk’s original fire and purpose.

So, yeah, I think as a part of a dissonant, urban culture protest spectacle, it’s still damn relevant. From the apocalypse tone-poem haikus and ponderous aural hells capes of the children of Discharge, to the post-neo-retro millennium punks putting ’77 and ’88 in a blender (wait…is this us ?) and killing the contention that this music has no where else to explore with heart, humour and self-awareness; there is a lot to be proud of, and still a lot more left to accomplish.

I am inspired by shining lights across the operational (from DIY to right beneath mainstream) spectrum of the punk world. I love the furious, creative and otherworldly feeling from the radical punks, friends from Memphis who found a home in Portland; From Ashes Rise, Tragedy, War Cry, and on a different note, Criminal Damage and Coldbringer. Another Portland band that I still enjoy a lot, for all kinds of reasons, including their clever questioning of many of the iconic ideas of punk itself, would be Poison Idea. Outside of the States; I love the constant, embittered, but wryly hopeful self-awareness of bands such as Chumbawamba, and Propagandhi- its just playful enough to not kill you with the indulgences of the compromised, self-loathing political artist- but only by a hair, not even a dreadlock. I think our friends in Against Me! are flying over this line, becoming a self-awareness parody, like a colonoscopy of the ‘’artists conversation with audience’’. However, I believe that they believe in what they are doing- very much like Anti-Flag- so fuck the vagaries of perception…They are each intoxicating and interesting in their own right, and of course, you don’t need me to tell you ! Our friends in Modern Life Is War just ended their band at a perfect hall show where the line blurred infinitely between ‘’beloved band swan song’’ and ‘’a bunch of kids trying to have a show’’ after doing something profound and poetic to hardcore. I also get inspired by the legacy, however flawed or oddly sidelined, of bands like CRASS, the DisChord Generation, and the Bowery NYHC kids who lived the streets’ struggles before giving hardcore its beautiful and violent birth. I could go on, of course, but you have a readership’s attention to hold.

Can Obama beat McCain? Are you excited by Obama? Do you think he will really apply progressist politics? Do you think he can really take the troops out of Iraq? Is this something possible or intelligent to do at this point?

Wow. I don’t focus on Presidential possibilities as much as you think I would. Or even should. There are many folks who’ll tell you that cynicism and apathy are manifested when people don’t vote or don’t care to be involved with the unjust processes selecting the rotating heads who run governments. Others will hold back the idea that to engage with this process is itself the exercise in apathy, in cynicism: to cast lots toward the managed perception of a winning team who don’t give a fuck about you…How could they, really?

I don’t know what to expect honestly. American Democracy can be so corrupt and distant from us, its citizens, that I don’t have a real answer for your good question. I can tell you what my hopes are or I can try and prophesize to what I think the realities are. Either way, I would be very surprised if a sense of fairness will be left in the air to fill our stomachs and nourish our faith when the dust settles and the votes are counted this November. I want people to stop waiting around for elections, engaging in the fantasy of these contests and act for their own community, organizing for their own futures each day, unmolested by this holding pattern of speeches, ideological shadow puppet melee, and national celebrity.

It depends on the way you look at what happens to the individual when they vote. The casting away of personal autonomy, giving up your say in the world so these billion dollar campaigns can capture your power, and make it their own. With all this said, and truly from the heart of a punk rock person who doesn’t subscribe to one exclusive ideology of the previous century, I think that a sustained, and emotionally connected movement away from the  »political junkie » typecast, and back into your actual community, its economy, and the power of people organizing against oppression, isolation and the ritualized psychological harvest of personal responsibility and the revolutionary nervous system of everyday life, is what we all should commit to…building a world within a world…even when we vote every four years for the one individual who can affect the other six billion of us, and all other planetary life, at such an immoral and absurd advantage…

In other forums, I haven’t opened my shirt to show this big scarlet letter A that is apparently carved onto my chest, but I think you’ve caught me at a time when I am fed up with the media machine and the madness of the American election spectacle. I do think, since there is gonna be a president elected whether I participate this November or not, that much more should be made about the basic international P.R. value (that may be measured in human lives on every side of every war) of having a U.S. president (or even candidate) who has a Muslim name, African coloring, features, ancestry.

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Your last record came out September 2006. What does the title «Dead FM» means? I don’t think I’ve ever seen an answer coming from you. Almost two years after its release, what do you think of this record? Looking back, would you have done anything differently when you recorder it? Do you have any plan to record anything anytime soon?

Dead FM: a salvo against for-profit media, plantations for corporate interests and status quo placebo, the ‘’entertainment’’ value of banality, fear and distraction all pass though our reasoning in the clumsy disguise of a free press. Yes, the LP title initially emerged from a statement having to do with the militarization of pop culture, and the sickening use of media, video games, art and music to lure dispossessed, uninformed and desperate young people into military service for our country and this war. But it is also a broader concept on the trickle down of violence and the loud emptiness of American consumption- masking connection with coincidence, stealing community, boring us to death and making us fight each other to pay for the privilege…Eventually, it may take on a third meaning about our dear punk counterculture, in all of its fractured and alienated forms of resistance…taking back the tools of expression and finding comfort in the fact that the corporate trend has stupefied itself, and the cash sniffers have moved on…no longer confusing our ‘’dead music’’ for something to strip mine…Like each of our record titles, we’ll allow it time to breathe, and to embrace whatever people who take it to heart need it to mean.

The same should be said for its makers, my band mates and I. Although this will change several times I imagine in the course of compiling songs for the next album, a process already under way, and in some ways started very soon after we finished recording Dead FM. It seems like the bounciness, warmth and the touches of more traditional punk rock song writing elements present may give way to more sonically dissonant, darker and heavier feeling songs. There have been losses in our community that directly touched our band whose effects will certainly be channelled into our expression. Also, the times get ever more crucial, and I think the new songs will reflect solutions past politics, past personal exhaustion. In some ways, I could predict that we may swing back toward the atmosphere and Anti-Colonial narrative in Exit English, but with a more international, and universal message…I don’t know what the next record will truly sound or feel like…there are just shadows on the cave wall at this point.

Dead FM was your first record for the infamous label Fat Wreck Chords. What does a band like you expect from a label in 2008? Are you satisfied of your relation with them? Is FAT any different than other labels out there in their way of working and dealing with band?

These are great questions. Ones that we are asking of ourselves and our peers in the independent punk world on a daily basis. Seems like labels and bands are scrambling to find the gravity in their lives, to figure out what can make music work in the way that it did even three years ago. We have a lot of love and gratitude to Fat Wreck Chords, and a respect that will never fade. There has been a huge economic shift in the Independent world, and even Fat has had to downsize and alter its business model (thankfully only a little, and they are still very equitable with their bands- that hasn’t changed) to survive. Its a trickle down effect, where the label has less revenue to support bands, so the bands can’t tour as much as they would ’cause they are all trying to hold down a job or two, so the band’s visibility and growth are compromised, so they sell less records, which gives the label less revenue, so the cycle feeds on itself…This isn’t particularly happening (yet) to us, but it’s on the horizon for many bands in our community, and it’s changing the way that people in the punk world can operate with their art. Maybe the scene itself will implode, but with the internet, it could become a re-regionalization of punk culture based on geography…It sucks ’cause touring is a huge part of what feeds the ideas and nurtures the international, evolving spirit of hardcore and punk rock.

The terrain of labels and band sustainability, and the past thirty years of independent punk economy are having an earthquake right now, and no one knows what the land will look like when the plates cool. The future is unwritten…

You’re touring Europe right now. Is the attitude of people and what punk represent to people there very different from what you see in America?

We love Europe, and a lot of our time spent in cities in the punk hotels, bars, squats, youth centers, and in the arms of our near-decades deep friends out there seem still beautifully different and somehow more heartfelt than much of the American scene. There are still-intact traditions (funny word to use…) of mutual aid, non-profit art, multi-use anti-commercial spaces for activism, poverty outreach, art and music that show such possibility and are unlike anything in the U.S. There are also youth culture trends that mirror the same tedious and pre-packaged things as in the States: fashions and commercial rock music with all the mediocre theatrics and lack of personality that you’d expect. Weirdly enough, sometimes in Europe, the hardcore and punk community, aesthetically, seems to STUDY American bands, and build bands to emulate, not innovate. Even in these cases where you’re getting, say, an Italian tribute to Youth Of Today, it’s often still fresh and strangely cool just because of cultural differences….Sometimes people getting something  »wrong » can be more profound and interesting than getting it right. . .

One thing that I think is true, and not often heard about within the media and cultural borders of our country, is the difference in memory of world populations. When we travel outside of the U.S. and further than our Anglo post colonial historical cousins, we find that America has such a religion of forgetting, a collective amnesia so pervasive and entrenched, while other countries and cultures cannot separate themselves from the pasts of their mothers, grandmothers, and prophets. Europe always seems somewhere in the middle of this eternal adolescence-vs-immortal racial memory, but each time we go over there we find more of the viral qualities of our own country affecting the intellectual and material spaces of the Old World…

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The middle page of the booklet of Dead FM represents a destroyed city with war helicopters and tanks. Is this image just what it is or it represents something more for you?

I believe that centerpiece was constructed from elements of our hometown, Richmond Virginia. It’s possible that the image symbolizes the true face of our Western civilization, a thin veneer of the workable industrial fictions of humanity, cracking overtop the howling perpetual Armageddon of a militarized corporate empire, a population morally bloodied before birth, entrenched in participation to the greed and illusion that pits us against each other and the dying natural world. . .

It’s also a peace punk piece of art showing our peaceful (relatively!) American hometown ruined and war torn, like probably how every city in Iraq looks by now… Bringing the war home, if you will.

Age old question…what do you think of punk bands with a political/ socially progressive message (read: Anti-Flag and Rise Against) getting to a major label to get their message to a larger audience. These bands have been on FAT and I’m pretty sure you know them personally by touring with them. Do you think that at the minute you sign to a major you have to do some compromise with your music? That, in a way, you are shown how your record should sound like. Is signing to a major label necessarily a mistake?

I feel almost schizophrenic whenever I try to answer this indeed age old question. There are, for sure, inherent awful compromises in having relationships with major labels- almost always part of media conglomerates feeding directly other arms of many industries involved in weapons manufacture, not to mention the general funnelling of art into its toxic and oppressive one dimensional cultural products. But the sincerity and creativity with which our friends rightly mentioned above engage this broader (but not necessarily deeper) forum of spectacle and influence gives me heart and allows for a  »wait and see » approach. Also, Against Me! seem to be spreading their unique love around the world, directly through their major label debut, especially on the international scene, where there are often less suffocating genre controls in popular radio and music television programming.

I was convinced of this by some friends in Brazil who, although an active part of the hardcore punk community hadn’t been affected by them until this recent record for Sire, or whatever, made its way into the homes of passive radio and music television consumers…

There is a cool subversion there, for sure, and I know it wasn’t easy for any of those bands to make their choices to enter into that world. At least, I need to think it wasn’t easy…

In general, I think it’s great that these bands have the ability to bring their messages to the passive, entertainment product driven mainstream world, I know that they have influenced and brought some new people into the orbit of political rock as a choice that may or may not demand direct participation, or emotional engagement, but at least showing people that the world can be yelled at from the largest stage.

The question at the bottom of this for me, and maybe the closest thing to a reason why I still reserve my scepticism and malice for the cynical industries of content and corporate cultural collusion (including the fact that they probably wouldn’t let me write a sentence like that one !), remains: There was always a moment, for each of us, where we became inspired, angered, and politically motivated by punk rock and hardcore; the moment when we felt embraced and challenged by a whole  »other world » of art and aesthetics and a way to engage the world on your own terms; a part of a movement and a culture that demands your participation and brings down the idol-worship and product-placement-as-counterculture form the shop window screens, smashes their condescending influence, awakening the part of you which knew you weren’t powerless or invisible in this world.

This empowerment is a crucial part of punk, to me, it’s the  »teach a man (woman) to fish and he’ll eat forever » part of the independent punk world of parallel economies and the various spectra of D.I.Y. collective / activist endeavours. In these times of the early 21st Century, there are emerging global ways to find out who the enemies are, what the legacy of history is doing across the conflicts of nation-states, and a battery of resources to find a political opinion. There are even ways, although they are a little more embattled, to find a community of protest, people to organize with, ways to combat a system of unearned privilege and reality engineering to keep six billion of us back from our shared treasury of life, balance and peace.

But finding a way to inspire to give the hungry kid looking for a way to create, to find the people to build a new society with, and the psychological tools to catharsis, self-reflection -how to be angry in a sustained, positive and adaptive way at the true enemies to our consciousness, or moral reasoning, our choices to navigate this life on this planet: That’s something that the major label artistic platform cannot give. It’s embedded in the iconoclasm of punk culture, the independent media and the rebel sound that’s more than music. It’s a life. And hopefully, a good one.

One year ago Inquisition did two shows in Richmond. Two shows that created a pretty big buzz. Probably bigger than when you were around in the ‘90s. How would you explain this? Did Inquisition really had such an impact on the scene that last year that many people wanted to take the chance to see them? Or do you think people tend to glorify the past in the punk rock scene?

My former band mates and I had no idea that that weekend would go the way it did. We were just originally trying for a proper goodbye show, for a band that broke up on stage when only half of the band even knew it was ending, in 1996. I don’t think that the actual people in Inquisition: Myself, Mark Avery, Rob Huddleston, Russ Jones, had any pretensions or fantasies about our influence at the time we were a band. Only a couple dozen people in most towns across the country even saw us back in our touring life between ’94 and ’96. We clattered up to their house shows and art spaces in our self-destructing school bus full of self-destructing people. Berkeley,CA, Pensacola and Gainesville,Florida, D.C. and Richmond were our only spots of consistently growing audiences; peers and friends. And, even now, we feel that things in the punk world got a little overblown about our reunion. We loved the fact that so many people knew those songs, and it was overwhelming, honestly, to see the little thing we did back in the pre-internet, pre-cell phone Middle Ages of D.I.Y. punk have such a life. It’s still, a year later to the day as I type this, a powerful memory that makes me grateful to everyone who traveled and spent that weekend with us.

I think we all look to the past for narrative threads between the changing timelines of hardcore punk, because this stuff is so complex and contradictory to sort out -which is one of its strengths too. For a weird example, when Inquisition was active, there was a commonly held convention that people on both coasts accepted as truth. Revolution Summer Dischord Records post Hardcore groups like Embrace, Rites of Spring, etc. influenced (aspects of) the Berkely/S.F, sound of bands like Samiam, Fuel, possibly early Green Day (although I always thought they probably got their influence from the Replacements), which in turn influenced bands back on the East Coast, but in different cities, like Gainesville, Richmond, Philadelphia, etc. I don’t know if anyone remembers this debate, or even how much it matters, but this, and Vegan Straightedge minus Krishna or plus Krishna were important topics back then. But the best one, the actual revolution going on at that time, and the one I think SHOULD have the longest-lasting affect on punk, was Riot Grrl. The cover of the Inquisition: Revolution LP, now tattooed on a fair amount of people, was drawn by a Riot Grrl friend of ours, Mary.

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If you could go back to one period of time in the punk-hardcore scene, that you’ve witnessed or not, when and where would it be?

These three cities and scenes sound fucking amazing: D.C. during the early Eighties, England in the mid Eighties with punk bands organizing the Stop The City protests and fighting with the alongside Anti-racist activists against the Fascist neo nazi BNP and whatever crazy shit was going on in my hometown punk and art scene when I was seven, in Nineteen Eighty !

Thanks a lot for your patience and the thoughtful questions!
I imagine that this may need some editing, as I am not a college graduate, or even a high school graduate. ..

Solidarity,

Thomas

Strike Anywhere/Inquisition

www.myspace.com/strikeanywhere

3 commentaires
  • David Lavictoire
    7 juin 2008

    Génial!

  • moi
    18 juin 2008

    J’ai rien compris…

  • TMcG
    18 juin 2008

    What a great interview with a lot of valuable information both politically and punk rock-related.

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