Pop Break Interview from Autumn 2011
Thomas Barnett: Early on, there was a lot of ‘he’ll get a real job soon’ snickers from family, but there was that certain time where we were able to go on tour and have it be sustainable. Truly sustainable. Now in the time of YouTube, it’s so much easier for anyone to experience the authenticity of what we do. We were striving for a certain legitimacy to what we do, to have it be kind of an event. Once that happened, there was a level of respect that came with what I was trying to do. It’s something that’s fun for everyone to make fun of I guess. But then we toured South America and Europe. To break even with such an amazing sustainable event, that bred acceptance — it’s not just a hobby. Everyone was like, ‘Whoa, oh my goodness what’s going to happen over there, you’re going to be in Europe for 6 weeks!’ And I’m saying, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re on tour!’
There was a new level of respect that put us on a certain platform …
PB: Obviously, being a cause-driven band, there are different yardsticks or mile markers used to identify and measure personal or group success. Tell me a little bit about the rewards of your toil as community-minded rebels with many a cause …
TB: It’s always been a lateral kind of thing. I think the reason people get into punk and hardcore culture is it doesn’t rely on the same dynamic as many other things in life, and even other art forms and genres of music. Everything we have done has been on a level of sharing laterally, not trying to achieve some grandiose step. There is definitely something about sewing your community together with songs and having them react and relate on a personal level and having them react with courage, the courage to maybe quit their job working at, I don’t know, a bank and instead starting fundraising for community gardens and maybe having them go back and get their Social Work degree. That not to say your bank can’t claim some influence on that, but that is kind of more what happens when people follow your lyrics and music. And then the culture we’re all a part of — it’s not just a medium for information, data and ideas to challenge the status quo — but it’s more than that. The thing about punk and hardcore that is cool is that it has a certain progressive innocence to it — so there’s spontaneous acts of kindness and defiance.
We get a lot of ‘Hey man, I’m managing a women’s shelter and clinic right now, and 10 years ago, I was skateboarding and kind of adrift and your music got me into punk and those other bands. so I’m hoping to sleep on your floor tonight!’ And yeah, I’m not saying we’re the only band that ever did that, but sticking to it and keeping our message, staying visible and showing up in people’s hometown year after year can sometimes be that certain push that some people need to get inspired. The whole sticking to it and deepening our message can be the push that got you out. It’s still there and everyone is contributing to it and that is big, how we interact with our audience, and the community it has created worldwide.
We went to Moscow in 2008, and that was kind of crazy, overwhelming, beautiful, great, strange and dangerous.
And then there are small things, too — like, we played an acoustic show, a benefit for the Richmond chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World and the Anarchist Black Cross Copwatch Litigation Fund, so not only having those two groups share a table and speak, but other people, maybe two generations of folks who’ve gotten into our band, being in our hometown, that was really special, a milestone of sorts. Plus just playing an acoustic show led to some exciting discoveries about our old songs we’ve played a thousand times. Like what would this be like, one guitar, one voice, will it work? So we had that nervousness again. That’s been something we’ve recently been doing when we can.
We played the Ramones museum that’s in Berlin, acoustic. It’s awesome. Hell, it’s awesome they have a Ramones museum in Berlin! Then we played a Polar Bear Club release party in Rochester … a Bridge 9 acoustic affair, with Defeater as well. Funny to think about because Bridge 9 is associated with heavy music — thoughtful, progressive hardcore, but hardcore nonetheless. Just things like that have been recent mile markers. And we’ve had to prepare in different ways, getting to know our songs again in new ways, and the meanings behind them and not hiding behind distortion and a fast drumbeat or screaming.
PB: You’ve come full circle in a certain sense. Protest music in general, thinking of Woody Guthrie with ‘This Guitar Kills Fascists’ scrawled on his acoustic guitar, you’re going back to the source, the roots of where it all began.
TB: People who have been a part of our lives in the Richmond punk scene for literally decades — our friend Tim Barry from Avail, who is now acoustic folk singer, we find a lot of resonance in that. It’s always been that way, like after a hardcore punk show bands would hang out on porches or rooftops with friends — there’s no reason to stop playing music after the show is over, outside of the venue. Also, power outages, when police shut shows down and all that stuff, everyone still stays so passionate about it, we like to have another way to do it, to combat that and not be too dependent on civilization. I think that’s a huge part of it, too. And also tying punk rock and hardcore and the social consciousness and values of personal and social revolution of it behind and beyond rock and roll itself.
PB: Having such a strong ideological bent — Strike Anywhere connects the dots from The Refused back to Nation of Ulysses — what were your inspirations that made you comfortable throwing that heavy of a message into the musical stew?
TB: Well, there are almost two different generations of band members. 11 years separates the youngest from the oldest member in the band. What tied us together was always Richmond punk and hardcore, and D.C. So what’s interesting is, I’m 38, the eldest, certainly Crass And Conflict, but sonically, Dischord Records and melodic punk — Dag Nasty, Gorilla Biscuits — that sense of intense cathartic personal experience that bands like Cro-Mags had. That authenticity was huge for kids like me growing up as a teenager in the late ’80s. Now the younger band members, bands like Refused were huge for them fast forwarding to the late ’90s. Kid Dynamite was a spectacular band. My band before Strike Anywhere — Inquisition — had toured with Lifetime and were friends with Dan [Yemin, guitarist for Lifetime and later Kid Dynamite], so there was this sort of continuity of influence where you realize you buy a record and get really inspired by it. Then. a couple of years later, that person is your peer. That’s the punk rock thing, though — is it naturally destroys power relationships and power differentials and people can really share ideas and collective efforts can be recognized without anyone having to think about it, or like having to have an ‘interest meeting’ — there’s no internal bureaucracy. It’s a natural way people want to interact and represent themselves, and that’s really cool. Certainly D.C. has a huge influence, and Richmond bands like Four Walls Falling- they were the first hardcore band I ever saw, and they were definitely way ahead of their time and the first Jade Tree full-length LP release, second overall record put out on Jade Tree. Of course, Fugazi and all the Dischord stuff including the earliest stuff Deadline, State Of Alert, Teen Idles … really primitive but very honest punk. And no conversation with any American hardcore or punk band would be complete without admitting to a great debt to Bad Brains.
PB: You jumped into the music industry, I think, at a great time when you released your first full-length on Jade Tree in ’01, in that any time there’s profound change in a medium the natural outcome is growth or deterioration, the process of adaptation. The bloated old music industry model being broken down, with the old gatekeepers no longer the power brokers, different means to get recognized then came to the forefront. Different methods to become self-sufficient, a self-contained unit. You used a Tony Hawk video game to earn a huge amount of exposure. Do you look at this industry sea change as a positive or a negative? You can see where I lean …
TB: I agree with you in that it is a positive. We were right at the cutting edge at the end of predictability within the counterculture. Where scenes were trying to figure out how to have an online presence, and everyone having these quick intense arguments about what we were compromising by ‘giving into’ the Internet. Or how awesome and punk rock it is and how it can never be co-opted!
PB: Very polarizing, no doubt …
TB: Totally. There were all these massive swings of opinion on it. And certainly, trying to figure out the Tony Hawk thing, we all like skateboarding ostensibly, and there are problems in anything. Any time you move your own music out of your own head you are going to start having compromises and be faced with things that seem hypocritical. For some reason the Tony Hawk thing really appealed to us. We were like, ‘fuck it,’ let’s roll with that. And everywhere we go in the world people know that song because that game was so popular. No one knew it was the dawn of all this alternate media being a platform for music. And trying to decide what to do with that, whether to keep our subculture really, really precious and guarded. And a lot of kids that may need these ideas, and get a chance to contribute to change, may never be able to hear it because they didn’t grow up in the right town with the right scene.
You have to live your message, you have to be self-effacing, and understand not that you’re just engaging in some kind of angry entertainment, there are realities to the compromises bands make, and the illusion of success. So I’m not saying every punk band should be giving their music to be played at the Super Bowl either. That would not be effective or make any sense, and would contradict a lot of the good work that everyone is doing around the world building a grassroots democratic artistic and political movement that also has a component of being therapy — being a psychological outlet and release, and that’s huge. And something I think everyone underestimates while they’re a part of it. and the thing people miss the most when they haven’t been to a show in a while, when they get older or fall a little out of touch — they miss beyond everything else, that release. That feeling of community, and that your true self was revealed. That’s the title of a Spitboy record, speaking of the early ’90s again! The activist community in Europe before we were even there, in 2000, we were hearing about totally unethical police actions and protests ensued. There was a litigation fund for protesters and we had only recorded demos at that point, so we gave our demos to be pressed on a 7-inch. It was just cool and exciting and crazy that they wanted us, so that feeling of discovery right there, that compelled us to do a tour over there. It’s those spontaneous decisions in being a punk band. It’s not because you’re having business meetings about being in a punk band or because you’re trying to finesse your survival strategy. You should be pragmatic in your choices, but also be able to do things purely out of joyful abandon. And experimenting with the process and changing media, it’s everyone’s job otherwise everyone will be controlled. I think the dawn of the digital age is a very punk rock moment in history — there’s a lot of liberation and anarchic philosophies at work all across the board as far as people trying to make sure the internet isn’t a corporatized and mapped out resource to be extracted and bought into by the individual, but is something everyone can participate in, which in a way is very similar to punk rock.
PB: Well, anything that provokes a discussion and examination of the contradictions, that requires a lot of deeper thought, there’s a value there inherently. As opposed to knee-jerk rejection of the internet, and instead determining how to use it as a tool to be more self-sufficient and self-sustaining and community-minded.
TB: And that said, there are bands that have no Internet presence at all that are extremely popular and loved, like Tragedy, who are also incredibly progressive musically and lyrically and not just a hardcore band reveling in the hardcore sound of the ’80s. Not that I don’t love bands that sound like that, but it’s just incredible that they’re still working on strictly a human-to-human-based realm. I find that amazing and relevant because it shows there’s enough room at the table for all those viewpoints. As long as people aren’t extreme and intolerant in thinking that only their way is the right way. I have a feeling that specific era of punk rock is behind us. I think there are a lot of different approaches and textures that have all had successes and are a good part of the toolbox of what we do with this counterculture we’re working to keep it alive. That’s another awesome thing being that it’s 2011, and being involved in this for a lot of years and seeing the changes and how punk has adapted, and how we made it work for us, just like what you were saying.
PB: Being in bands since 1991, some things grow tired and less meaningful and other things take on greater meaning as time marches on — what do you feel, either surprisingly or unsurprisingly, holds greater meaning to you presently? Is it still having a community of sorts to foster?
TB: Yeah, like when we did that local acoustic show most recently there was still this glowing sense of purpose and connection from that that I probably won’t shake off for awhile. It doesn’t mean there’s any less of a reason to plug in and play loud, fast hardcore! Every moment is extremely precious.
Honestly, it’s also just writing songs with your friends and then having that be something real, that’s played and recorded and having other people feel what you felt when you wrote it. And even discovering new ways to add to it, where the song isn’t dead, it starts there, it doesn’t end when you record it with your band. Whether it’s a fan in Idaho or Tokyo, they add meaning to it, and texture when they bring it into their lives. If you have the luck or tenacity or both to meet these people face to face and share what it means which inspires continually — that perpetual motion and energy is something I’ll never take for granted and I’m barely able to explain. It’s taken me nearly two decades of being immersed in it to try and give it shape with words. And that’s a huge thing that I’m honored to be a part of, and it’s very exciting and always will be.
What follows is a bunch of frequently asked questions, culled and shuffled from the hundreds of interviews we've had the pleasure of participating in over the years. . . .Thanks to all the journalists, kids with recording devices, pen, paper, & soul. .
- - -All questions probably answered by Thomas, except where noted, because the answers are long winded and grammatically, um, experimental. There will be a lot of repetition, contradiction, and random musings. . . get ready !
Q : You and a few of the other band members have since relocated, but Strike Anywhere formed in Richmond. Like most Southern cities, Richmondâ??s music community is thriving but under-represented in the press.Â Whatâ??s the press missing?
If you ask me why - this unique, optimistic yet defensive ' island ' of counterculture has had so many consistently good bands and fearless artists, I'd imagine it could be interpreted from the following point.
There's a collective inwardness down here, that originates in how people combat the oppressive, Southern aristocratic cultural environment. There's a learning curve here to psychically surviving the shapeless hostility of wealth and shadows of vibrant , nearly forgotten, histories. ln every roofless rotting tobacco warehouse there are spiritual footprints of past citizens rioting and usurping the hatred, and the administration of ignorance and false duality. There's also intense beauty , growing right through the rubble and architecture. This improbable beauty thrives despite disconnection and corruption, a beauty that remains standing when all the mouthpieces of leadership and industry are rotten and exhaling their poisons.
Also , folks in Richmond like to get out and have fun shows, art events and parties in unlikely spots like bike lots, alleys, abandoned barns and factories and the million year old rock islands on the James River . This investment grabs you by the heart and doesn't let go. Wherever you go.
Q : What do you hope to accomplish, if anything, while touring, writing, and talking to other folks?
We also are regular jobs-between-tours-having, acoustic guitar porch-sittin', carpenters, motorcycle mechanics, baristas, animal lovin' , good times havin' fellows, who love a good protest march and bit of direct action every so often but also enjoy life, smile a lot and try to laugh with our friends even when the world seems lost . We are honored to help out the activists in our hometowns with a benefit show occasionally, and have fine speakers add content and passion to our shows whenever possible. Often, it feels like our role is a kind of bombastic, alternative media, and the pychological nourishment and group therapy of a good punk/hardcore show is as important to the delivery of a message as the message itself.
We try to remind ourselves of these positive ideals, and try not to get too shrill or stressed out about finessing our strategies as a punk band.
And finally, we realize that mainstream media/American culture tries its damndest to capture political punk and render it into a toothless cartooon of tired slogans and one dimensional rage. We will be happiest if we never give them this opportunity.
Q : What kind of input did you have on the video for â??Instinctâ?�? Do you like the video?
Q : 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?
Q : 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 as a mean of protestation?
Q : 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?
Q : 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?
Q : So explain to me again the Antifascist Circle .
Chumbawamba, the RedSkins, The EX, RASH, and other groups used it in the Eighties and Early Nineties to establish a united anti-racist culture in, around, and beyond the punk movement.
Q : The song Sedition is based off of your grandfatherâ??s unknowing role in the Manhattan Project. Could you elaborate on this for us?
Q : â??Sunset on 32nd Streetâ?� paints a very honest picture of the justice system. Was this song based on an actual event in your life or just an observation?
Q : So, how was that Tour in Europe with Rise Against, and How was Russia?
Prague. the Nomads Compound. Czech Punks from the Early Nineties Squat Scene invest in a compound warehouse structure retro-fitted for soundproof rehearsal spaces, two bathrooms , a kitchen, a screenprinting shop, a garage for customizing Crafter and Sprinter Vans for Touring bands and their equipment, a Jungle Internet DJ in the basement, and a living space with lofts full of mattresses and a heater that kicks on late in the dark of morning. We call this place home for nearly a week, rehearsing and writing a shit ton of new songs, enjoying a very focused creative time together. Each day is divided by manic crashing of jet lagged dudes, all struggling to get on the central European schedule. This takes a long time, so we zombie around the wet fog of Wintry Prague , staring at absurdly sad ancient structures and statues, wet and cold edifices of stone and metal, Doleful Saints with floating gold crowns of stars, Baleful Dark Age Knights with Bright Gold Swords, frozen forever watching the river from the Charles Bridge. ' Sad Girl Holding a Bird' , ' Vaguely hominid burnt scary ghost figures, lurching backwards up a government staircase ' : Prague's got all the hits.
Ales, our 7 ft. tall Prague Punk Guide, friend and tour manager, driver and stage technician, gives us a hand drawn map, and we spend a lot of time in one of two drinking establishments, enjoying good Czech beer, catching up with funny and fragmented conversation, and unavoidably enduring/ enjoying wild distorted hard jungle and drum n bass ( always present where humans exist in Europe ! ) . Our hosts are traveling-looking, counterculture fusion ambassadors partying alongside us, complete with dreadlocks, happy dogs that run around the bar, and a good deal of good will. Even though we keep to ourselves, and retire each night from the bar to explode into another five hour, after midnight practice session ; we get to feel more or less like locals for the week.
The first days of the Rise Against Tour are cancelled. One due to snow grounding the planes in the UK, the other due to the Munich venue owner not having all his building codes approved, or something like that. We were happy to catch up with everybody, enjoying a free meal from the catering set-up, and laughing with Tim, Joe, Brandon, and Zach about how we are doomed not to ever get to play together. We listen to their soundcheck in the eerie stillness of this huge empty hall, then load into the van and break out to the edge of Munich to a place called Kafe Kult.
Old friends like Robert Ehrenbrand from BoySetsFire and Aaron Lisi are there, and that night, amid all kinds of bavarian mayhem in this post-squat DIY venue with the soft-spoken Jesus-like man who maybe lives in the back who showed me a fascinating collection of found art objects, deco prints ( beautiful ) , and old musical instruments in the process of being brought back to loving life, a band called To Live In Discontent played a show . Wild, confetti throwing times in a chilly punk venue where, seven years ago, we played our first show in Munich ever while on tour with As Friends Rust .
So, we have to cancel our own show in Saarbrucken, because that day has become the rescheduled day for the Rise Against make-up show in Vienna. Scheisse. But! Vienna is a blast and sets the tone for what we can only describe as ' The tour that grew too fast ! ' Rise Against sells out every show, venues can't keep up with the ticket demand, The show in Hamburg goes up to a Sports Arena and seven thousand people come. We play places that you could park the space shuttle in. Every afternoon after short drives across gentle Germany, while loading into these monstrosities we get to have the Spinal Tap experience getting lost in the labyrinths and tunnels in the guts of the venue.
Before this, we enjoy a wonderful night with our friends in Berlin, including a Mexican dinner with our manager Mike Phyte ( you may know him from Good Clean Fun ! ) , our wonderful booking agent team in Europe; Dave Pollack and Sylvia Hahn . Sylvi assures us that the shows in Latvia, Belarus, and Russia are confirmed and everything is in motion. Everyone is hopeful, yet restless about it. We later talk about Sylvi's early childhood behind the wall in the DDR, Communist East Germany, and the remarkable film, The Lives Of Others, which I had just finished watching the night before. This year, November 9th, will be twenty years since the Berlin Wall was pulled down, and the guards on the east side just turned and unlocked the gates . . .
The show in Berlin is really fun, and we play a new song here, ' I'm Your Opposite Number ' which the audience seem to like and they sing the end in an a capella loop for a minute or two after the song finishes. None of these folks have ever heard this song before. We are surprised, stunned, speechless.
We tell the audience about the Teenage Bottlerocket Show in Kreuzburg, and, once the Rise Against show finishes, we bolt out immediately to catch their last three songs. The rest of the night is spent, like most times in Berlin, with old friends and new ( we hang hard with the Bottlerockets, plotting world domination, and a chance to play in Wyoming ! ) at the RockNRoll Herberge : a fun punk bar/hotel place with a great vegan breakfast in the 'morning' - whenever you can wake up, really.
We have a 'day off' show in Karlsruhe, Germany in a venue which was underground completely. Ales had to drive the van over a public park, with people on bicycles, walking , diving out of the way, to find a remote driveway ramp. When we unloaded onto the wet chilly stone, we realized we were under the intersection of the roads above.
The show was a great time, we played a lot of songs, longer than the sets where we open for Rise Against and just need to give people a fierce sampling of what we are all about. Often the folks at these gigantic shows are not only completely unfamiliar with our band in particular, but the inner world of punk and hardcore . In these epic settings, when we are the guests of a band as generous and popular as our hosts on this tour; its important to hold people's attention and hopefully inspire curiosity, but not overwhelm them with the mystifying and unfamiliar ( Mark and I also look like werewolves by this point on the tour ).
We stay at the apartment of the show organizers in Karlsruhe that night. They are formidable, ebullient hosts, providing food, and drink ( long , nearly formal toasts with Jagermeister . . . . Sure! its tuesday night .... ) and wonderful conversation well into the morning. Garth stays awake the longest, kicking it with the Germans. We all pass out on the mattresses covering the floors .
Its often way more fun and a better time when we stay at someone's house or apartment. Provided they understand our human needs of food and sleep - and also good soulful, funny conversation - the 'human time' outside of a venue, or the adrenalin-drunk madness of the show.
Sometime before this, we realize our young friend Marcus had been taking the train to each city , meeting us when we arrive, helping us load in equipment. Then he eats with us quietly, occasionally offering something vague and friendly about his life in Vienna. He is not a student. Nor does he work regularly. He was with us in Ireland last September. And remember those last days of the UK when we made him stay with us at whatever house let us crash after the shows as the North of England seemed to freeze a little more each night ? Where was he sleeping ? What is his plan? We invite him to ride with us, and then he kind of joins the tour , helping cheerfully, learning quickly and still remaining his smiling enigmatic self. Marcus !
Hamburg is crazy, After the show, everyone seems dangerously, retardedly drunk. lots of kids screaming and laughing like maniacs with blood on their shirts....dudes getting their sort of scared girlfriends to take pictures with us. Wild, painful behavior. That terrible realization that when a band with righteous ideas, a commitment to carrying them into the mainstream/radio rock industry; good,compassionate hearts and catchy unformulaic songs that defy the whining hypermasculinity of most other major label corporate rock; gets really, really popular, their concerts can still attract the crappiest, least thoughtful, least engaged consumers. This is the collateral cultural damage of a popular audience, torn from origins in counterculture or a community of ideas. But, not to get too negative, just trying to be real with y'all : I also had the privilege of a couple great conversations with earnest, intelligent souls, who seemed to find their way through the hooligans, the spastics and the vomit-soaked to our lonely merch / PETA2 table almost by accident. The Peta2 table had filled out their ranks and seemed a a little more animated tonight, so that's good. Sometimes they get a bit . .. .austere.
Shows in Cologne, Wiesbaden, Beliefeld - all fun, with good energy and a hundred ( out of four thousand ! ) or so people singing along with us - even to new songs. I start spitting up blood on the stage somewhere around here. The sweethearts in Rise Against are adamant that I go to a hospital or clinic, I try and delay this outcome, and hope for the best . Not sure if its from my throat, lungs , or stomach. All of us have been bookending chest colds, Flu symptoms, fatigue, and the ubiquitous old friend, the ' Euro-cough'. So, I don't pay my bloody phlegm too much mind. I am touched by their concern , and my bandmates, too. Great to spend time with our old driver and friend Regina who joins the tour from here until . .
Amsterdam ! @ the Melkweg. A fun, but chill show in the way that Holland can often be. Perhaps herbal refreshments and frank and liberalized sexual customs take the angst out of even the punk kids here ! Everyone is pleasant and fun to hang with at the merch table sesh later on . Josh is on fire tonight, making everybody laugh. Somebody finally takes him up on the" Are you Punk enough to Wear an XXL ?" crazy white with purple and gold skulls shirt blowout sale. Also, no more spitting blood from me.
Things are looking up.
We travel to Oostende, Belgium for another day off show. The club, called Terminus, is in the old, beautiful, falling down, train station by the pretty harbor. We enjoy a fine homecooked meal that emerges from some on-site kitchen, have intelligent, comforting conversation with the promoter, and the crew there, and the show is a lot of fun. Eric comes out from behind the drums ( always a treat ! ) and cracks open a box of little bottles of Jagermeister. The three front rows grasp greedily for these libations, and this sets things off in a crunk atmosphere. We play another new song, ' Invisible Colony ' about the innate sublimated violence which holds together even the most 'civilized' and privileged of nation-states, and from the beginning drumroll, the room explodes. Memorable and inspiring. Thanks everybody.
I remembered how Belgium didn't have a government for half of last year, and everything still ran on time, and the streets didn't fill with garbage, and no one welded random shapes of metal onto their cars and drove around screaming , or traded fashionable Western European clothes for fur bikinis and razor-blade boomerangs. Too bad.
Later, after unloading into a refreshing cold Euro-rain , the soundman, Stijn, takes us out to his favorite pub. It ends up being a quiet, warm jazz club with great music, and haunting, inspiring photos of Marvin Gaye on the candlelit walls. We had been spending a lot of time listening to soul music on the drives, so being in this spot was pretty spine-tingling. We buy creamy, tasty belgian Ales for us , and fruit juices for xStijnx ( pronounced' Stain', and yes, I know what your next question is...his last name DOES start with " D " ! We chuckle at this for a while, because we are hopelessly, well, Disturbed, by Nu-Metal and the teeth-gritting cultural hellscape that it truly is . We spare our gentle friend this information, happy that he doesn't have to understand or share in the horror. ), who tells us that this place is where Marvin started his comeback and filmed the video for ' Sexual Healing' in the old casino at the end of the next street. Whoa.
Stijn and I digress into the mists of time, talking about the flash and fade of the legendary Belgian H8000. A fairly creative and positive straightedge and animal rights-conscious hardcore community that seemed to run things around those parts about a dozen years ago. I guess he is still holding true, but he didn't begrudge us our intoxicants and was as gracious, informative, and interesting a host as we are blessed to have many of on these tours, in these brilliant, fantastic cities.
We talk about the profoundly fucked-up statue of ' Grateful Citizens of the Congo to King Leopold ' . Here was a man who smashed the colonial mold on exploitation and conquest. Almost, as if by accident, by some haunting deeply psychotic delusional untouchable evil his state corporation ( owned by his Imperial regency from the room behind the boardroom - sounding familiar yet ? ) murdered thousands, maimed hundreds of thousands ( the ' hand tax' for the enslaved 'workers' on rubber plantations) , and sowed the seeds that would bear fruit in the Rwandan genocide of the last decade. A recent book called King Leopold's Ghost is available if any of y'all want to follow this further.
So, of course, there is a large statue in his honor here in this town. But, somebody sneaky who possessed an iron saw took one of the hands off the depicted Congolese worker. To illustrate the truth behind the myth of gratitude and cooperation that never was. This severed bronze hand was never recovered by the police. A neat , silent solution that speaks volumes. And could possibly inspire further corrective historical surgeries on other statues depicting racist purveyors of violence and conquest. Perhaps in cities closer to home . . .
In the European tradition, which is mind-numbing to Americans, there were nattily dressed, hip young people at this bar, tattooed, dreadlocked traveler types nursing beers for long silent hours, artists and bohemians of every conceivable occupation or distraction packed into booths, and then also couples in their...fifties ( ? ) dancing to jazz, be-pop, reggae and the occasional Nick Drake song just to chill everybody out. A sweet golden retriever style dog appeared that made us all get serious, calling, cooing, and petting him, each of us gripped by that hard-to-articulate longing for our adopted animal companions back home. The next morning, we walked the narrow streets, found something to eat, and looked at the cold grey North Sea before heading on to Brussles.
Brussles at the Ancienne Belgique, in the heart of this city. A good day of walking through the squares of glistening architecture, francophone cafes, closed ( darn! It's Monday . ) museums. This show was possibly our favorite of the Rise Against ones. A lot of friends from the past eight years of touring many cities and small towns in Belgium were there, and the unique Belgian hardcore passion was in full effect. Flemish and Walloons united : Danku. Merci.
Paris was smaller ( 700 people, sold out, the smallest of the RA shows we played ) , but an amazing last show on the tour, with friends from Spain and all over France in attendance. I could tell Rise Against was loving the small stage, the heat, and the intimacy of the smaller room. We all enjoyed the hell out of playing, and count ourselves extremely lucky to have had the chance to play Paris on average once a year since 2003! And especially this night in February that feels like a homecoming, and a celebration. Merci Boucoups to everybody who came out and talked with us and helped to make this farewell show from the Rise Against tour, and the familiar communities of Western Europe so special. . . .
Now things get deep !
We say goodbye to Ales, wishing he could come with us on our Baltic journey into the hurricane of logistics and problem solving and uncertainty that awaits us when our plane lands in RIga, Latvia . . . .which is fairly Scandinavian at first glance. There is another influence playing across the landscapes, architecture, the cracking ice across the outer suburbs, and the forboding inhuman shapes of Soviet era Block Apartments. But Riga herself is a gorgeous, ancient, and very enveloping , very human city, with old churches, narrow streets to walk in soft new snow, and many places to warm yourself. One of these Depo, is a stone cavern at the end of a basement hallway where we will play.
And over there is a woman walking a cat . On a leash. In the airport.
Another strange, much older lady, with yellow teeth and dull silver-spun hair, wearing what looks like a matrioska doll outfit of asphalt colored burlap sacks, walks over with what can only be described as the confidence of the irrepairably insane, and stands REALLY close to the edge of our circle as we wait for our transport. She chatters in our direction, occasionally responding to the rhythms in conversation, rhapsodic pauses and weird high pitched gibbering from her fill in OUR pauses and breaths in our increasingly nervous communication. She mostly just stands there and stares. Relaxed and with the : " I am friendly but I may also eat you " waveform out of Ancient Slavic folktales, I figure she must be Baba Yaga, that old witch of pagan eastern Europe. All this is happening while we are still in the airport. The stewardesses and ticket agents laugh openly at the North American punk boys scared of the crazy old woman.
We are met by a smart, confidence inspiring young man who leads us into the Old Town to the youth hostel where . . .
We load in up five floors of VERY narrow slippery spiral stone stairs into a group room with snow filled skylights. All the light from outside is diffuse , filtered through the twilight color of ice crystals.
Across the street , the good people of Depo feed us and we work out the interesting sound/drum hardware situation...and then settle in to a night of people watching / meeting , and soaking in the vibe of this town on a Wednesday night . We meet crazy happy people from all over Latvia, Lithuania, and Talinn, Estonia. Its awesome. So many smiles and hugs and then the show feels like a big sweaty sing a long with the people from Talinn taking the microphone and choosing random times to throw me into the crowd behind them . The guy who works at the hostel across the street brings us burnt yet somehow tasty cookies. As well as a new book for us to read and a mix CD . . . .Baldies ( " thank you" in Latvian ) .
I walk out for a few minutes into the Old Town, and see two people in cars doing doughnuts and spin-outs on the snowy cobblestone road in front of the ancient church. Definitely takes me back to the fun , stupid/awesome, redneck times of early punk youth boredom, off-roading in shitty cars while listening to the Cro-Mags in rural Virginia.
Mark, Matt, Eric, Josh and Garth get real serious about a pub crawl, and arrive back at the hostel after the show with about an hour left until the van comes to take us to Minsk. I, who have slept a few more hours than everybody else, load the gear into the van, greet our driver, a funny quiet dude name Jakobs . He says he is also a civil engineer - but no one is building anything anymore due to the crisis ( He means the global economic crisis . . everyone in the Baltic East just refers to it casually as ' crisis ' . . . . a disturbing sense of ' relaxing in the face of the inevitable' permeates this figure of speech ) and now he drives bands across the borders at the edges of the known world. This day turns into at least three different days.
We drive the morning hours south through snowy, monochromatic landscapes of Latvia, Lithuania, listening to Teenage Bottlerocket, all of us wearing full winter gear, double socks, huddle together for warmth. We sleep.
We wake up. Jakobs has started a one-man war against freezing windshield fluid , and stops our journey at about every gas station for a heated water, opening the hood, cursing session ( I think ) in Latvian, trying the wipers a lot...and leaving the driver's door open . Every time. We are cold. Getting colder, hungry, and getting a little worried. Its nearly twilight, when epic forests appear, and the roads get narrower, but not un-navigable. We all fall asleep uncontrollably. This one-meal-a-day thing is starting to affect our ability to conserve energy in these temperatures. Although we'd been in Europe now nearly a month, even starting the tour with five days in snowy Prague, something about the gun metal skies and unheatable elements of these inner Baltic civilizations was making us numb, and distant, and . . . really tired. The Belarusian border appears, giving our half mast, dizzy eyes humans in bizarre military, colorful costumes to marvel at. Before there had been fast crimson foxes and the occasional wooly dog marking the deep snow with their footprints. Now, there are pretty ( ? ! ) women in Russian fur hats with full military border guard outfits, telling us we must get out of the van, and . .. .wait. So, Jakobs kicks ass and figures many things out for us. The Border Girls approve our work visas fairly quickly, then we wait some more. The sun is setting. Wolves may even be howling, no one can be sure.
Finally , Jakobs comes back to us and tells us about something no one had prepared us for : traveller's insurance ? So.....how much is this dubious , bonus fee ? We all look at each other for some kind of guidance. It's always funny when that happens.
Jakobs sees our collective head scratching and rising frustration and goes back to the warm hole in the window where he speaks to the soldier-lady behind the glass. She then stops in what appears to be mid-sentence, gets up from her chair, and changes the lightbulb in her lamp. Or, rather, she tries to do this. The lamp bounces off the desk, shocks her. She jumps, and looks stunned, in real pain. Minutes pass. Then she appears to swallow, refocus, sit back down and proceed with her conversation with Jakobs ( who isn't wearing a coat ) . He comes back to us, we are incommunicative and all in that trance we seem to get into as a group when we are in a situation with lots of unknowns and lots of things at stake. Its that' Getting Robbed By Italian Police / Japanese Detention Cell' state of mind.
He says, " Guys, there is a fee..... . Of Two American Dollars per person wanting entry . . .. "
So, we enter Belarus after two hours, and twelve dollars at the border. That's twenty-two hours quicker and several hundred dollars cheaper than our average time at the border to Canada. Belarus: a state-controlled, totalitarian dictatorship with attractive border guards, and a posted policy against bribes and extortions in many languages at the immigration kiosk. Its still gonna be two hours more until we arrive in Minsk, so we all fall asleep as it gets really really dark. As we enter the outskirts of Minsk, we each painfully wake up, tearing ourselves from sleep, piled next to each other for warmth like cave-dogs. It feels fully like another day. Another life. We are all disoriented, hungry, and can't feel our toes. Slowly, we focus and realize that mid-nineties Madonna techno remixes are playing in the van. None of us can imagine that we are still in the same day, even the same world as that touring punk band on their way to play a show. Its like the whole day turned black and white, the snow shining outside the frosted window like some distant dead planet . Seems to each of us like we died and were in one of those ' infinite purgatory loops' - a journey into the land of eternal night, eternal cold. In a van with an immortal demon driver who secretly loves Madonna.
The constructivist ( epic apartment high rises - blocks of dense grey merciless storage for people's lives of quiet despair during Soviet times ) architecture of outer Minsk pulls us back halfway into the life we are living then, when Jakobs stops at a random stoplight and another human opens the sliding door ( that cannot quite shut ) . A blast of frigid air forces us to realize that this is totally, absolutely our reality. Aleksandr is a happy young man , with warm expressions and a lot of energy. He pays no mind to our collective Frankenstein " ugnnnhh " of a greeting , and directs tired Jakobs to ...... whoa.
THE VENUE !! IS !! A multistoried pool hall, where you climb through a doorway, up some stairs which then project into tiered seating for an ampitheater - like effect. Indoors. There is no way to quite describe this weird place,but it keeps the day's surreal juices flowing. We bump through curiously hostile ( or hostily curious ! ) security guards/bouncers/burly Slavic criminal enforcer looking dudes in suits OR tracksuits , into an upstairs room that has....fucking food! Veggie Burgers - homemade, salads lovingly prepared, beer, wine, water, breads, pastes, Vegan , uh, things . Its awesome.
We all start to wake up, and things come into focus, a little. We look over at Jakobs, making sure he is eating and drinking and we smile at each other like we hold some unspeakable secrets between us. I realize I am speaking a weird mix of Russian and English to the promoter and the other bands, and their friends hanging in the back room. People are amused, generous,forgiving ( My Russian is very limited ) , everyone gets stoked.
Down the room, right next to the stage, Josh sets up his world of dwindling CD's buttons, t-shirts and hoodies with the help of a Belarusian girl who appeared out of the still hard-to-define steps/seats/tiers/ rooms of this . . .sports club? Bar ? None of us were prepared for how much affection, and bright-eyed punk rock hospitality was gonna emerge from, well, Minsk, Belarus .
On the way back up to the room from loading in our things, watching the first band play a ripping Propagandhi cover ( ' A Speculative Fiction ' , complete! ) A young woman in suspenders and a homemade Antifa Circle shirt makes her way over to me shyly and hands me a book. Its a spiral bound black journal about six by eight inches, two inches thick. Its completely filled with messages of love and peace and defiance , written in colored marker and pencil, quotes from our song lyrics in English woven together to narrate photo collages of , first myself and my bandmates, then, images of war, poverty, rebellion, hope, and finally of punks in Belarus, then ending with a smiling picture of the young couple who put the book together. It starts with, "Thank you for coming to Belarus, Strike Anywhere . "
I show it to Mark, then all the rest of the Anywheres, and we are each moved and touched at the heart by this gift. There is something so simple, so thoughtful, homemade and real about it, its heartbreakingly kind. There's that Slavic soul. This will carry us through the next days, re-emerging and growing stronger as we sing to , and share this brief time with all these fine people.
The show was so much fun. We played on a small stage, while Josh was on a tier that was the same height, right next to Mark. It was a funny set-up, but the kids were on fire, lots of girls stage diving and dancing hard with the boys, everybody singing along loud and astonishingly open-hearted. Matt and Mark were looking at each other,laughing, trading guitar ornaments during Sunset, Eric and Garth played their hearts out, and everyone was smiling. We dedicated two songs to Jakobs. Later after the show, a wonderful midnight to three AM session at that apartment followed . We were all talking in the kitchen, finding out about state surveillance, dictatorship, the jail time for peaceful protest that these Belarusian hardcore kids in their twenties had endured . . .All the while laughing , drinking tea, sleeping a little, and getting to the train station like thirty punks deep . . . . . Jakobs says goodbye to all of us, and tells me as he walks backwards out of the station , " So glad to know you guys are punks . "
Me too, Jakobs, Ya Tozhe .
We pile into the train. Two sleeping cars with hyper-efficient fold down bunks for four, over the hallway storage for our bags and instruments, a samovar for hot tea at the end of the car. Rich, old and worn red carpets and tapestries defiantly unchanged or updated for generations. Still, its kind of beautiful, and surprisingly comfortable with a mix of Soviet style functionality, and Imperial style empathy ; the fearsome, affectionate, elemental romance of nineteenth century Russia. On a train ! Also reminds me indisputably of the elegant interior of the Loved Ones Box truck living room set-up. Also amazing. There is a lot of wine, beer and tea to be consumed on this eleven hour train ride through all of eastern Belarus, and western Russia before Moscow. We get in several cool, cross-cultural conversations with Sergey and Roman , who accompany Matt and Garth in their car. These are to of Trick Shots, the band from Vladimir - a smaller city in rural orbit around Moscow. Also, Sasha, the Minsk promoter, comes along. We find out now that he has never been to Moscow before. He is excited. We are all stoked on eleven hours of rest, and walking up and down the narrow hallway, clutching a hot tea in a traditional glass and pewter mug while staring out the windows at frozen villages passing by . We eat a little peanut butter on bread, and get energized as we start to approach Moscow, graffitti appears on walls , and a skyline starts to creep in, like our small world is getting eaten by a dirtier, louder, and unfathomably huge one.
At the platform, as we throw our things out in a human train, there are probably a hundred punk rock Russians waiting for us. They are sweet and smiling - taking our belongings and then marching chaotically in a mass into the streets. Not a lot of explanation has occurred at this point and we are , justifiably I think, a little panicked by the overwhelming mystery of this situation. We are introduced eventually to the promoter, and see the beginnings of some kind of organizing taking place. Our instruments and bags are put into some cars, while we are all separated into threes and marched to other cars, while the rest of the Moscovite Mob are hanging around in clutches, taking our pictures while we try and figure out where and if we will see our belongings again, and where we are going. So we go limp and hope for the best. After a long time in some really bad traffic on lane-less roads, including a kind of awesome action-movie style shortcut through apartment buildings; we arrive at the venue, Plan B, where we will spend the next six hours.
Much later as we are still doing crazy things like : getting the promoter ( whose name is something like " Cone-us " a nickname that has something very impenetrable and Russian to do with a syllable in his surname...maybe this is akin to British rhyming slang, which is already hard enough to understand in our own shared language ! ) to get us cheap pizzas ( 'cause, although I appreciate the strange, cold rice and veggies on teeny tiny plates provided, I imagine my vegetarian and omnivorous bandmates will want their only meal of the day to be, well, let's start with warm . . .) ; stapling our banner to the stone wall above the stage ( friends from Trick Shots wouldn't take: " I'm not . .. sure we should do this. " for an answer! Plus, they really wanted to use the industrial strength furniture upholstery staple gun they recovered from. . . .somewhere . ) , trying to get a drum throne that doesn't collapse without warning, a guitar head that is audible, and the funny dance of gestures and Russian counting words I share with the friendly, patient soundman, trying to understand the monitor mixes, etc. . . . .A group of nattily attired skinheads comes in and sets up their table.
After a few hairy eyeballs and catches of breath ( " T. " says Garth with a devilish smirk , " - that girl has a Chelsea ! " .), I walk over and introduce myself. These folks are digging in for the night , and include a smartly dressed young woman who seems to be calmly running things in this little pocket universe of politics and fashion. She is kind, but all business, as she accepts my faulty Russian " Very nice to meet you " placing literature and pins on a table they are sharing with Josh. They are the Russian Anarchist Skin Heads ( NOT Red, they pre-emptively correct me, although they are rocking the classic Red And Black, Anarcho-Sydicalist flags and some have St. Petersburg / Lonsdale appropriation Antifascist shirts on. Whatever peeps, As long as nobody's a nazi or a nationalist - I say let's party . . . and start from here. ) Me and one of the fellows smile and show our nearly identical Sabotage Cat tattoos. If it was the time of Dostoeyevsky or Tolstoy, we'd be Free-Masons with secret handshakes, top hats and cool moustaches . Or maybe we'd be on Kropotkinskaya Ulitsa, ( the street named for Peter Kropotkin the author of ' Mutual Aid ' <------ CHECK IT !! ) Hanging out, writing letters to the proto-Situationists in Paris, finding new comrades, ( " Don't forget Bakuninskaya Ulitsa " says Skinhead Girl in an affectionately pedantic tone . Oh, true. Also, Mikhail Bakunin got up on these streets - a dizzying long time ago. ) And these Anarchists, honored on street-names have survived Empire, Communist Totalitarianism, Drunken-tank-riding Yetlsin's Democracy, still remain, defiant against the Oiligarch strongmen controlling current Russian lives. Now its 2009, and here we all are, flawed poets and blind philosophers, rebel singers, agitators, fighting the conditioning towards consumer drift and apathetic self-absorption, the misogyny, the military-corporate images stealing our conscience and consciousness. We are the place before, and the place beyond, but still in orbit around our tribes: hardcore kids, antifa skinheads, peace punks, sympathetic power-challenging men, women of colossal strength, brilliance and epic hearts . Wobblies across nations, still relations.
They tell me that they are here because there was some internet message board talk of Nazis coming to the show. To hurt everybody. These are our ' Antifascist Security ' . It is also explained to us around this time ( that eternal period of drifting alternating with hunger, hyper-busyness, fixing things that broke the night before, drinking beer, pooping, brushing teeth . . . .. what have you. Between loading in and the doors opening - I swear it's like the world moves in slow motion ) that the horde of folks who met us at the train station were there to help us and accompany us away from that vulnerable transition. Nazis had threatened to meet us there, and prevent us from going any further. So we thank all these kind and focused people for their assistance. Spasiba Bolshoi .
As the doors open, A busload of police in armor and automatic rifles arrive and storm into the club. The RASH tablers instruct Josh to quickly hide the merchandise, and he is tearing the T-shirts off the walls as Russian soldier-police with black armor send in a bomb-sniffing dog. Several different people tell us its gonna be okay. The promoter looks stressed, like maybe its not gonna be okay. Josh, Eric, Garth and Mark are still drinking beer by the table, looking on with curiosity, making silent predictions to themselves about what may happen next. About thirty minutes of uncertainty pass. Then, the T-shirts go back up on the walls, the Cds and International Autonomous magazines are placed back on the table, more people rush in, the police seem to leave. But in the dark margins of the room, there are a few left. I don't recall when they finally leave, if they ever do.
Our friends from Vladimir tell us that the cops wanted to find a reason to bust the show, but their general laziness won out. With no one doing anything obviously illegal , and the bomb sniffing dog finding nothing . . they just marched back into the bus. A few were left behind, turning away some of the kids outside . Later this claim escalates to about a hundred people. Some of the Trick Shots dudes' friends were turned away from the show - the cops saying they were too drunk. In Russia, that sounds suspicious.
The first band, led by the son of the Chilean Ambassador to Russia, called Rearranged, is a very passionate reenactment of mid to late eighties second wave straightedge. They soundchecked with Betrayed by Minor Threat. Before their bassist even arrived.
Ray plays next, and the place is full and moving. Ray is hardcore. And Moscow is ready. A lot of people are running into space,diving into mid-air collisions, and, amazingly, a small boy who looks like a child, and couldn't be yet thirteen, with a FULL SLEEVE of tattoos, is on the stage, diving, and back - taking the mic for a song. This just looks crazy. We kind of love it though.
Trick Shots play a very technical and melodic set which includes a neat cover of " The Godfather " by Dag Nasty. They do well, as the crowd seems to shuffle for them, HC kids relaxing after breaking themselves for RAY, and fans of more melodic punk rotating to the front and a circle pit fires up that never stops.
Next we play . . .and its already a favorite show. The passion and fury of these Russian kids is unmatched, and they all seem to help each other and keep the energy going. between songs there is clapping, chanting, and people still stage-diving. I clumsily speak my odd mix of Russian pleasantries and long winded happy English between songs. People seem to be responding with kindness, singing loud, and understanding - that mutual shared catharsis of our counterculture. Sometimes you forget that its not just a genre, a style of fast and primitive rock music; it's that, but its also a movement made of these moments that pass through the participants - band and audience - like a spiritual storm. Shows like this one help us remember - that after over a thousand performances , this band is still a small part of something real and honest, burning through the distractions of fashion and temporary allegiances , honored to share in this worldwide community of activists, artists, dreamers, maniacs, and thought criminals. Sharing a lot of " We love this shit " looks with all my bandmates, singing a couple verses directly to Josh who I can see standing on a chair at the back of the room, and letting a few kids straight take the mic for the chorus in To The WOrld, It feels like the show has exceeded our most positive of expectations.
Then, we come back, and play Sunset on 32nd, dedicating it to all the folks fighting against fascism and racist attacks in Russia . We also dedicate it ( less positively ) to the cops who were probably at that moment extorting money from the club. The room explodes, and we can't keep track of where the four minute song ( with three minute intro ! Bonaroo here we come ! ) went. Everyone gets on the stage , jumps off, piles on me, its incredible, great fun. Afterward, we are exhausted and happy, hanging out with a lot of the kids from the show. We meet a group of people from Ukraine who came all the way to Moscow for it. We take pictures with hug and shake hands with about a hundred people who are just hanging out . I talk to and thank the RASH , and the girl with the Chelsea hugs me which is sweet and it seems like maybe we won them over to our drunken ( well, not me, but most of us ! ) Virginia redneck antifascist class war ways.
As a band, we have no uniform, no party line . We tend to revel in the contradictions and humanity of these ideas, living them on a scale where we still travel, play shows in a variety of venues, using many different operating methods, kind of on a case-by-case basis. And at the end of a tour, you know, we go back to a relatively safe place where we can live with our little families; groups of hometown friends, significant others who hold it down for us - where we dig into working shitty jobs, writing music, participating when we can in direct action, contributing music and time to benefits for causes we believe in. We try and push the ideas beyond the two minute hardcore song into the world beyond counterculture - rescuing animals, and just trying to be decent to friends and strangers. . . .But we risk so little in comparison to so many . Therefore, Its so disarming and pure to see a community engaged fully, risking everything in defense of ideas, justice and joy against a state apparatus where you can just disappear if you make too much trouble. ( So if the cops don't get you, the nazis will - and if the nazis don't get you , the police will, and if you are alive by the afternoon and no one's chasing you, you CHOOSE to come to our show, set up a table full of subversive, inspiring literature and ... protect us ( a punk band from Virginia, U.S.A. ) from these enemies of your everyday existence ...? My mind was blown by so many things on this tour . )
The men and women in Minsk and here in Moscow were living this everyday, not just through art and theory, but with the sustained courage and discipline that shone like the Winter Sun behind their eyes.
Afterward, we are all tired - but psyched to get out and spend a few of the late night hours in Moscow. We load into a hostel, our fourth of the tour which seems like its gonna be okay . . until we go up four flights of stairs with all our gear, into a shared ( uh . . whoa . ) apartment-ish flat that then reveals a hallway that then reveals an eight bunk room with a door that thankfully locks. The hallway is covered with drunken, unbelievable horrible smelling (and this is coming from a bunch of dirty, ripe hard-travelling punks in a band whose shower availability is . .. often not daily.) half-passed out men. They seem hungry and angry, and we all fear rape. The mattresses actually ( " like in the movies ! " exclaims Garth ) have springs piercing through the heinously, unspeakably soiled cloth. Its actually kind of nauseating to look at, and I pride myself on a strong stomach. But, at least there are clean sheets. So, like many nights before and on many tours, we make our beds, dress our provided lumpy pillows, load into our bunks, and then depart for the urban wilderness. We shrug, and refuse to let these conditions get the best of us, postponing our disbelief until much later when we are really tired and more prone to irrational reveries! We pile back into cars with the patient Russian extended show crew. Drive for about twenty minutes on fast empty streets. And we park. And we peel ourselves out of the cars like so many punk rock clowns. And we are at The Kremlin, on the edge of Red Square.
We stumble across some ice, over a park area with a Metro station/shopping plaza underground and underneath, and through these epic gates into Krasnaya Ploshad. There are about twenty other folks from the show who are converging on us, brandishing cameras, beverages, and good cheer. Its after midnight, and there a few others out save us and some bored looking soldier types. Everybody takes pictures in front of St. Basil's Cathedral ( whose odd patterns, and crazy non-Western colors make you feel like you're using a different visual language to perceive it ) , Lenin's Tomb, The Duma looming behind the Kremlin Walls. And on down to a beautiful bridge overlooking the Moskva River, cold winds blowing across it, freezing and scattering our breath exhaled into ice vapor traveling to the infinity of shining lights illuminating this impossible, immortal city. We drift along, laughing , contemplating, and then back through the square, and into cars to say goodbye to all these wonderful generous people. We are all looking forward to plunging into sleep, just a few hours before we need to get to the airport. But something is wrong.
A police car pulls up while some long ass impenetrable dialogue is firing up between the driver, his friend, and the promoter. Cops start to ask angry questions in Russian of everyone standing around. No one seems to be getting the message that we should be leaving quietly, quicky. The Police start asking everyone for ID's, driver's licenses . We know this dance fairly well by now. They are looking for reasons, in the international language of corrupt police and terror disguised as justice. We are desperate to get out of this situation . Mark, Matt, Eric and Garth squeeze into the car and try to turn invisible while piled on top of each other. The moment passes, the cops let everyone go on to their destination. Me and Josh are staying behind.
Someone who had a car earlier wasn't there, or wasn't able to take us back, or something we never quite understood. So, Josh and I volunteer to stay with the Russian crew until other transport gets worked out. Plus, we are hungry, and still energized by this place. We both agree that we should steal a little more memory from this night in Moscow. Our bandmates and most of the other Moscow kids head off back to sleep . After the cars lurch away , and we are standing in the increasingly colder air, an argument ( ? ) ensues between the collected gang of our newfound friends . I can only pick up a little bit of what anyone is saying. Josh and I are in great moods , and just want to kind of keep the night rolling, maybe finding one or both of us some food, and drink. Our benefactors then turn to us, and the tall kid ( Its hard to remember individual names, 'cause the day happened so fast and we met so many people .This always makes us feel like jackasses and happens too often on every tour . .... please forgive this rudeness . ) with the Youth Of Today patch on his letter jacket explains some murky business to us in tones of contrition and regret. He seems almost kind of embarrassed and everyone is seething. We can't tell which direction the tension if flowing, and its, well, a bit unnerving. The timing of this whole event is alarming, 'cause at this point its just me and Josh on the edge of Red Square. We don't have the address of our hostel on us, and no way of describing its location somewhere outside the ring road, beyond the horizon. Youth of Today tells us that the police extorted money from the club while we were playing, who in turn didn't pay the promoter, who is trying not to pay us. This assembled gang of our Russian friends seem to be having a civil war of lost honor and disbelief with each other, while we try and just get the tone of the disagreement.
Things are left to hang in the air, more of the crew departs, and we accompany about five Russian hardcore kids using a heated tunnel to cross the street, and march through central downtown Moscow. We are puzzled, but not much else can be explained . So, we find Josh some wild Russian crepes to eat and I get a black tea while we soak in the late night atmosphere. Later, we return to the hostel, crawl up the carcinogenic hostel stairway, trying not to touch the walls. In the 'lounge' room next to the shared toilet is a fully passed out African business man of indeterminate middle age, his pants undone . Josh says something I can't remember now but it was wildly funny at the time and we catch our breath once inside the room, ready to fall asleep in our coats. The next day half of us have bedbugs ( unpleasant - and not the first time ), spring burns from torn mattresses and shaking off disturbing dreams. We are all suitably bummed out by the conditions of lodging. That, and the fact that our rides are late. Like, really late. And we need to get on to our flights which will take us back across the world, back to our homes.
We are all loaded down into the leaky cold, sewer of a stairwell, blinking away sleep while sitting on our bags. ... waiting. Too tired to get properly angry, just . . . . worried, and feeling a bit helpless. Finally, an hour later, after I try and make desperate phone calls on the hostel phone to numbers we were given but now aren't in service - two cars pull up, and its Youth Of Today man running the show. Acccording to him, he called the promoter, who hadn't yet mobilized transport for us, and then took matters into his own hands. He flagged down a normal middle aged Russian citizen in his car on his way to wherever, who now joined the train of cars to carry us and our gear to the airport. Kind of amazing.. . . He then takes us to the currency exchange, sorts out our payment for the show, reimbursement of work visa fees, and cheerfully pays us then hugs us as he and this horde of random peeps help us out of the cars and into the airport. Just barely still on time. We'll never know what sort of miscommunications, soul-searching, and planning got us through that morning that started with very real taste of failure and doom, but we're pretty sure that we have that Russian hardcore kid in the Y.O.T. varsity jacket to thank. Spasiba moy droog. And thanks to everyone in Moscow who helped us and supported the show with heart and soul.
Now we are in St. Augustine, Florida, about to ride over to Harvest Of Hope, where we share the stage with some of our favorite bands and favorite old friends from (closing on) ten years of this band. Its morning, but already hot, sunny, and one of those festivals that feels like a constant crazy punk rock family reunion. Smith is beside me playing some atmospheric southern blues on his guitar. We are silent, drifting, thinking about the snow out the window of Jakobs van, the lights on the Kremlin under faraway skies, the voices of the kids in Moscow.
Wanted to ask you about Sherwood leaving since it's pretty much your only line-up change to date. Was that a time for you all to regroup and look at the future of the band? I know youâ??ve probably been asked a thousand time before if you felt conflicted
Joining a label like Bridge Nine would have been a no brainer decision, but why the move from Fat Wreck after the one record? Are you guys collecting labels? ;)
Our four years on Fat Wreck Chords were filled with fine memories and a lot of touring for Dead FM. We are , and will always be, very proud of our collaboration with them, and the perfect home that label is for that particular record of ours. We consider them lifelong friends and have a great deal of respect and affection for the family of bands on Fat Wreck chords, and the dedicated punks who work hard and creatively for that label .
With this being said and absolutely without any personal offense intended for our fine friends on that label, There is a distinct difference between the West Coast , Sunny, happy, sarcastic and sometimes juvenile comedy punk bands and the honest and driving, â?? More Than Music, Itâ??s Our Life â?? bands. The rest of the world often seems to think that all American bands could be like the popular ( 90's ) Fat Wreck or Epitaph bands who are humorous, larger than life characters. . .. But thereâ??s something else to this movement that I hope people in Europe and Japan , and Australia understand.
Not to say that we arenâ??t cheerful , fun-loving people with a love for laughter and good times, We totally are, in fact, it is very important to dance, make fun of all the sacred cows of politics and self-righteousness, and have a good time even when the world is hurting. Beyond all this metaphor, political philosophy , and catharsis, it is so important to dance, shout, and hug your friends at a hardcore show. We are just going to write songs that help us grow, and hopefully help other people to find themselves and focus their strength even during hard times.
And, although this is a subjective opinion based entirely on our locality and how we each first get inspired by punk rock, I'll offer this humble observation : in the modern ( Post- Green Day / Nirvana ) era , lot of the humor in punk is self-referential, irreverent and obscene ( which is often funny and smart, too ) or filled with self- loathing inside jokes ( which can also be literate and endearing of course ) , but, man, a lot of that is repetitive in a way that doesnâ??t offer the listener any connection, or transformation. We need there to be less bloated egos, product placement distraction and more raw awareness, even if itâ??s not comfortable or â?? cool â?? . To us, that isnâ??t really the role of artists in our community.
We have had the absolute honor and luck to be able to work with many of our favorite record labels, and the creative generous, and committed folks who steer those ships. No Idea, Jade Tree, Fat Wreck Chords, and Bridge Nine all feel ( and continue to feel) like family to us , and we were most recently inspired by â?? The Bridgeâ??s â?? enthusiasm for our fourth LP, released on our tenth anniversary of , um , band-hood.
I know it's a well worn phrase these days, but don't you feel you're often preaching to the converted? What impact do you think your songwriting can have when the folks who you're probably trying to reach watch mainstream media and listen commercial radio
" Economic poisons of the enemy " ?
For all the years, all the albums and all the touring across the globe do you ever tire and have moments where you just wanna sit at home on your sofa and watch tv? What continually inspires and motivates you?
I guess I need to answer this obliquely, 'cause its probably different for each of us, and our 'civilian ' lives off-tour change throughout the years. We do have the occasional off-month where we get a chance to unwind and light a bonfire with friends; ride our bikes to the river, or the sea,; skate, surf, write, work and volunteer. Last year, Mark and I, having beers with Garth and Eric on his porch last May, jumped a train passing through Richmond to see the stars and the fading city from a top a coal car. This was right before entering the studio for Iron Front. When we are home, we miss touring and playing our songs acutely, and the scramble to work ( whatever jobs let us travel and come back ! Hard to find, esp. now ) and re-connecting with our friends and families requires our energy and focus during these times as well.
What has been the main influence on your new album?
The music, to me, has a more physical, immediate feel to it than our previous records, and I think the songwriting has reflected the live approach of the band as we've toured and become more rhythmic, heavier and aggressive over the past three years . Mark Miller, our new-ish guitarist , has perpetrated a furious and positive atmosphere to his contributions on Iron Front, most exemplified by the opening jam " Invisible Colony " . Further explorations by Smith and I into Northern Soul, Oi and street punk sounds ( " Twilight's Last Gleaming " , " I'm Your Opposite Number " ), as well as some surprisingly volcanic hardcore ( " Failed State " ) comprise the edges of our sound to date.
Garth's significant and numerous songwriting contributions and our collaborations brought excellent dark melodies and exciting new breakdowns to the EP and LP. Eric had a return to very very fast hardcore songs with soaring melodies and dynamic minimalism ( " Omega Footprint", " Spectacular", " Postcards From Home " ) . All in all, every one of my bandmates put their hearts into the record and we hope our old and new friends and fans can embrace all of the new sounds and ideas. . . . .
What's your definition of "good music"?
What there a specific incident that made you become a musician? If so, what was it?
Do you still have dreams or are you living your dream right now?
What has been your biggest defeat?
Maybe losing friends to addiction, depression, isolation and death.. . you always feel like you could've done one more thing to step out of your comfort zone and extend your hand. . . .It's something that you try and live with, but guilt and remembrance follow you throughout your life.
What's the worst song that's ever been written?
Any of the patriotic, war-fever Christian Country and Rock music that do nothing but isolate, insult and soften the brains of millions of people in my country. " Don't Blow No bubbles " by the Bad Brains is a really shitty song ( lyrics ) by an otherwise phenomenal band. Same goes for " Boom Bye Bye" by Buju Banton. What a shame and a waste of talent.
Which person(s) would you like to have on your guestlist and why? (Could be dead or alive)
In England : Justin Sullivan, Joolz Denby, Jimmy Pursey, Paul Weller, Dick Lucas, and Kele Okerele, Poly Styrene, Steve Ignorant and Siouxsie Sioux.
In the States : Ian Mackaye, Henry Rollins, Curtis Mayfield, Barack Obama, Jello Biafra, Exene Cervenka, Michael Moore, Freddie Crecien, Rosario Dawson, Derrick Jensen.
Q : Earlier this year Strike Anywhere went to Costa Rica for the bandâ??s first show in Central America.Â How was it?Â How was the audience?
Q : ( For Thomas ) As a vegan who has been touring the country for the last decade or so, what changes have you observed?Â Is there an increase in options?Â If so, why?
I think that a kind of media juggernaut has occurred around celebrity vegans and the rise of strict vegetarianism as a weight-loss scheme. Like a lot of things in our national culture, there's a great deal of bombast, brightly lit superficialities and soundbites.
The depth of the philosophy and the empowerment of the diet seems buried in tabloid tummies and the temporary culinary fancies of the nouveau riche. Working Class veganism is where I'm at , and where the movement needs to go, in my humble opinion. But at least people can find out how to find animal free food choices and a lifestyle that examines our relationship to killing other creatures. The delicious vegan " Cheeses " ( Daiya, Teese, Sheese , etc ) have finally arrived : melty, savory, excellent substitute. Pizza is back. I am a stalwart partisan for vegan comfort food . But the realities of agribusiness, deforestation, and carcinogenic industrial soy production are not to be swept under the carpet. Essentially, when acres of land are burnt, cleared and/or repositioned for soy production, animals are still being driven from habitats, isolated, and killed. These are realities that moral vegetarians living in the industrial first world need to understand. The ethos of combatting big abribusiness and the corporate consolidation of food itself needs to be folded more concretely into the emerging Vegan culture - I guess I'm saying that there still needs to be a revolution of thinking , not just changing consumption.
And, for reasons both positive and negative, the word vegan has come into the national lexicon finally in the past five years, but its not been defined in all regions properly or defused of its provocative and perplexing atmosphere.
I just try and get people on board in as diplomatic and relaxed a way as possible :
." Oh, no. But thank you, I don't eat animal products, but I'll have a beer ( or coffee - depending on what time of the morning we're talking ) with you . " ,
" Oh, are you a . . . Vegan ? " .
" Sure, yeah. It's been ten years since I've had dairy, twenty since I last ate meat. It was a little hard at first, but it's been a fun and healthy path for me. How are you doing ?"
I find that vegans who utilize this diet to ornament their identities with self righteous condescension dishonor a movement that was built on compassion, critical thinking, and moral reasoning.
Q : On Strike Anywhereâ??s Facebook page thereâ??s a post about the recent clashes between students and police in England. While not romanticizing radicalism in Europe, we rarely, if ever, see similar headlines in the US.Â Why do you think this is the
People have been surely been psychically beaten down in these most recent times, but the American ability to devalue the power of the individual, and the energy of public consciousness while simultaneously enshrining in media projected morally infantile absolutes the manipulated idea of " the individual " has been a profitable trap .
Names for this trap include such vetted falsehoods as Patriotism, Nativism, A Christian Republic, Security Moms, Liberal Elites, ' Taking Our Country Back ' and the , ahem, Free Market. What we define as a nation is actually a different and peculiar construct , alone in the world. A new species, rich with possibility , but unable to shed the weight of the past and the corruption of power to get lean and mean to keep up with they way we need a civilization to evolve. Those fevers of awake, angry, bleeding citizens that we watch from the internet are extremely healthy and fight the static that grips the world.
Just traveling and playing our songs for bright and angry and hopeful people all over the world, staying at their shared houses or apartments, and sharing a midnight meal or drink in , say, Minsk,Belarus or Sao Paolo Brazil, or Dublin Ireland has broadened our view of humanity and given us both exasperation and eternal energy when it comes to figuring out what the hell is going on in the minds of our fellow citizens . Weaponized hate coming in bright billion dollar packages is still a shadow compared to what truths and ideas are within our reach as a species. This country of many diverse regions has a lot of growing pains to own up to, and let go of.
Q : On the same post, a fan asked: â??Can a conservative, like me, still listen to Strike Anywhere?â?�Â Is this disconnect a problem?Â Â
Q : How do you think capitalist forms of power structure or influence how we listen to music and what we listen to?
Q : How does Strike Anywhere position itself against, or disrupt, this power?
We, at best, are a catalyst for the good times and energy that gets people in the mental and spiritual place to defend themselves from the beast of fear and self-loathing. It works the same way for the individuals in the band, and we hope to give people the experience of weightlessness and catharsis that we've taken home from punk shows that moved us and strengthened us against the foolishness and cruelty of our structured existence. This community artistic platform is a place of empowerment and inspiration, and if we can just let that energy flow through us and get to you, that's a fairly humble, but honest and maybe rare achievement. Power will be disrupted in the day-to-day , minute-to-minute revolutions of honesty and compassion, creativity and resistance on every individual's path through life.
As far as actually subverting capitalism, its difficult to measure this, due to our perspective as a traveling band who charges money for shows and sells records and t-shirts to sustain and sponsor our adventures to get to the places where people live. Keeping prices ( and costs ) low on all sides of the equation, thinking critically about our choices to tour ( when, and under what auspices ) , staying involved in the independent recording community , and sweating the details as often as we can at least takes us to the level of not conforming to business as usual or the extravagances of mainstream rock band behavior.
Q : Your songs are as politically optimistic as they are critical. What keeps you hopeful?