Vanity, Semper Eadem, Loud Boyz, Heatwave

By David Poole

Punk rock and hardcore have been constants in my life for almost 30 years, and of course I always remember those days when I was first coming up. It was a cool time to be coming into your teens; the ’80s were wrapping up and the weird-ass ’90s were coming to life.

It was a period of time where aggressive music had seen all of the first-wave artists introduce the world to that raw energy – putting all that anger and pain and love and power on the line and tying everything up into neat little minute-and-a-half windows into a world most people have never seen and couldn’t begin to understand.

As those pioneers burnt out, died, or somehow fell into oblivion under the ground that they broke, the next wave came through and carried the torch, but as things evolved you started to feel like things were safer and the margins of error were greater (even the national and international political climate was a little better – Reagan was gone, we were pretty sure the Russians weren’t going to blow us up anymore, etc.). I mean we definitely still partied our asses off and it was a crazy time and everything but it felt like a safer impersonation of the previous generation, except for on those amazing nights where everything lines up right.

I know most of us have been to a million shows and honestly most of those are a little tame and routine. You pretty much know that nothing out of the ordinary is going to happen and we will mostly go home safe, sound and satisfied at having heard some good tunes and seen some cool friends. However, we have also experienced those out-of-control-nights where the energy is in the right place and you don’t know what’s going to happen. The crowd is an unusual mix. You might meet someone new. You might meet someone you want to meet. The world seems open. Something might alter your perspective, change your mind. Things could change at any second, in a good way or in a bad way. The music is hitting. The crowd is acting like a bunch of rowdy philistines.

This was the case at Slash Run.

This show was set up as a birthday show for Parsons. Any man who can throw himself a birthday party like this has accomplished something in his time in the punk-rock scene. It was clear that a lot of people wanted to party with Parsons. I get it. I was there too. I’ve known Parsons a whole bunch of years at this point and he has always been one of my favorite members of the D.C. hardcore family. He had my back when the PC kids were treating me like some kind of asshole pariah. That’s how he works – a man who judges you because of who you are, not because of how you party or the name of your band. The type of dude who will set up a birthday party show for himself with all his pals’ bands and then when tragedy strikes, co-opts his own party and makes it a benefit show (in this case for Tim No Justice who recently went through brain surgery).

… The show got off to a late start.  Nothing revolutionary there but it gave everyone the chance to get a few beers in, say hi to a hundred pals, or go into some sort of claustrophobic fit (it was crowded; this was the first show at Slash Run; good-size room; not huge; seems like a cool spot).

Heatwave kicked things off. They were a good act to get people ready for the rest of the show. They played energetic hardcore with some technically really solid ’90s-worship going on, including a cover of “Juggernaut” by Crown of Thornz. The singer did a good job of keeping people involved and engaged, which as the opener can be a real problem. I thought they were a good, fun band with some things going for them. I will never be bummed out seeing them on a lineup anywhere.

As previously indicated, one of the noteworthy things about this show that was the diversity of the characters involved. The different styles of the bands, the weird mix of fans – it was great. It easily could have become a powder-keg at any moment too, but whether it was the youthful punk rockers trying to find their footing in a scene they are struggling to understand, the college-looking mama-jamas in sweaters and nice jeans, the metal dudes with cool beards, or the gang of skinheads, it was cool to see everyone getting along – for the most part.

One of my favorite moments was when one of the younger attendees came up to Sharad (from Ilsa) and I. He was wearing a long vest with a lot of patches on it, but it was a really long vest that came down to his thighs (it was a “trench-vest”). The kid asked us if there was a mosh pit inside and Sharad let him know that he would need to find the mosh pit inside himself and then he could take the mosh pit wherever he went. That seemed to please the young man. For the rest of the night he seemed like he found his internal mosh zone and had a blast.

Speaking of which: If I told you that people went off for Semper Eadem it would be an understatement. It was so much fun to watch all the wild motherfuckers bouncing around, throwing themselves across the room, throwing each other across the room, climbing around on the ceiling. I seen it all. Motherfuckers were acting up … and who can blame them? Good hardcore with heavy doses of street punk and oi can do that to you. I want to say that this band has been around for four or five years and I always remember it as “the new band featuring Steve from 86 Mentality,” but throw in Parsons (Time to Escape, a lot of other bands), Pat Vogel (a million bands), and Connor Donegan (Genocide Pact) and you have one hell of a lineup. Semper Eadem rules. They probably played a 25-minute-set of high energy, in-your-face hardcore and nobody in the room was able to resist the fun. There were finger-points going up from the front of the room to the back, people who knew the songs singing along and jumping into the fray for their favorites, people fake singing along when they didn’t know what was going on. It was so much fun and then it was over. Semper Eadem did a cover of No Justice during their set and the room just about lost it. It was great to see the love and respect for a solid dude and if mosh energy can send healing energy then Timmy should be up and about in no time.

Vanity was up next and I was super-excited. I love punk rock ’n’ roll with cool hooks. If you can throw in a sense of humor and an awesome “fuck you” vibe on top of the great music then I’m sold. I don’t want to diminish the value of this event as a fundraiser for a great cause, because that wound up being the focus of the evening, but this show was also a birthday party and Vanity really seems to know a thing or two about partying.

You could hear the singer’s fine-ass voice and discern his words. The band purveyed distinct styles in different songs. It’s kind of rare to hear a band cover this much terrain. They delved into punk, straight rock ’n’ roll, and trashy garage music for a sound that is unique and catchy and accessible enough to take them a long way. Vanity is from New York City, and New York does seem to do this type of thing better than anywhere else. I can’t wait to see them again, with a little more familiarity, because I feel a real kinship with this band. Vanity doesn’t seem like they let anyone tell them how to party.

Both Vanity and Loud Boyz write songs catchy enough to stick in your head for days after the show.

Loud Boyz have made an impact on our local music scene by being the biggest and best party night after night. The music is super-tight, the bros are top-notch, and their crowd comes out and represents in a way that very few other bands around here can equal. Loud Boyz play punk rock party alternative core and my favorite thing about seeing this band play (besides the fact that there are always lots of pals there) is watching the audience while the show is happening to them, because the party just kind of happens to you at a Loud Boyz show. This band takes the guesswork out of it. There was a look of elation on the face of nearly everyone at this performance.

Loud Boyz played a kick-ass set as expected and played all the hits. There was a ghost of a party shaman looking down at Slash Run with a single tear running down his face.

There was dancing and there was celebrating. There were hugs, high-fives, beers, and cigarettes. There were drugs and yelling and laughing and a kid finding his internal mosh zone. There were trench-vests, faux-fur coats, and headbands.

It was the kind of night that keeps you coming back for more.



Lackluster, Newish Star, Secret Tombs, Laughing Man

At The Chill Factory
By James Doubek

When the legendary Seth Feinberg asked me to review this show I was intrigued. I was already planning to attend, but hadn’t written a show review in about four years. Seth’s promise of 25% of this blog post’s proceeds sealed the deal.

The show was at the Chill Factory, a longtime D.C. punk residence and practice space on 13th Street, in a neighborhood apparently called 16th Street Heights. It is not a regular performance venue. I’ve heard about incidents involving the neighbors, which is probably a primary reason why shows there are a rarity.

The punk scene has lately suffered from a distinct lack of house venues.

Don’t get me wrong: There’s an abundance of DIY house venues. But not punk houses, where punks live and host shows that feature punk and hardcore punk music. We have lots of indie and experimental house shows, and occasionally they will throw a punk band on the bill. But since the demise of the Rocketship, the punk scene has been at a loss.

The show was advertised as beginning at 6:30 and ending by 9:30. There were only a few people there when I arrived (around 6:45), but attendees slowly filtered in.

The show cost a whopping $7 (or less than the cost of one drink on U Street), specifically because two of the bands playing were on tour.

One of the people I spoke with felt that house shows should not cost more than $5. I recently had a similar discussion with a friend who felt the same way.

Let’s talk about this for a second. Critics point to the fact that the overhead of house shows is low. The sound quality is usually poor. There is no readily available bar. They say they’re willing to pay eight or 10 dollars to see a band at the Black Cat because professional venues are cleaner, bigger, and you can hear everything clearly.

I respectfully disagree with this line of thinking. While it’s true that the quality of house venues varies, I value the intimacy of house shows.

Equally importantly, I think one should be paying more for the value of the performers than for the value of the venue.

Besides, inflation seems to not have affected the price of DIY punk shows the same way that it has infiltrated the rest of the economy.

There exists evidence of $2 shows in the ’80; there are lots of examples of $3 shows from that period; and there were also shows that cost $5 back then.

In 1982 dollars, $2 is about $5 today, $3 is about $7.40, and $5 is more than $12!

So, most of the DIY shows of yesteryear cost more than the standard $5 expectation in 2015.

To be fair, most the examples I’m providing are from the Wilson Center, not houses. But the sound quality, lack of a bar (with the option to BYOB, this becomes less of an issue), and DIY ethos was the same as at a house show.

Anyway, what’s a measly two or three bucks extra to help a touring band? Gas is more expensive and nobody buys music anymore, so bands depend more than ever on the money they get from the door.

While I was waiting for the show to begin, I was treated to a discussion of Morrissey and his autobiography. One person described him as a “smug racist.” I’m kind of perplexed as to why “the Mo” is so popular among fans of punk music. I’ve heard the Smiths and have even given them my best listen, but I just don’t like his voice, though I appreciate the sentiments expressed by some of his lyrics.

Such considerations were pushed to the background when the evening’s first band, Laughing Man, began shortly before 8 p.m. I’ve heard allegations that this band is influenced by jazz, but I wouldn’t say that’s the case.

The lights go out. The effects pedals go on. The drummer is playing an impressive and driving beat, while the guitar and bass amps are awash in noise. Laughing Man’s music can be heavy at times, but it’s very groove-based. It’s spacey punk with a touch of noise and experimentalism.

This was my first time seeing them in several years, and I definitely appreciate them more in 2015. Their final song stuck out for me; it had a great mix of time signatures and accents. All three members put musical talent on display.

I think of this band as approaching punk from the outside in. Some bands grow up within the punk scene and then try to experiment within its confines. I suspect that Laughing Man stamps their take on this style from a greater distance, though with a certain familiarity. All of the members of this band play in other projects, in different genres, and Laughing Man is a great convergence.

Laughing Man is a band’s band. Their greatest appreciators may be those who have a well-developed understanding of music.

Secret Tombs, on tour from Pittsburgh, was the soiree’s second band. This band had a lighthearted demeanor. The singer spoke between songs and made jokes.

They began with a heavy, power-chord-based song with a fairly straightforward chord progression. But the opening song quickly proved to be an outlier. The guitar parts were very riff-oriented – single-note melodies – and the vocals were the most audible of any of the bands of the night. The bass player threw in some great noodles here and there as well.

It’s hard to describe this band, but perhaps calling them “pop-punk with a hint of old rock ’n’ roll” will just about sum them up. Others mentioned that this band covered Dead Moon and had a Dead Moon influence, but DM is a band I’m sorry to admit I know very little about.

My favorite part of this set was watching the drummer. His ability was quickly obvious and he drew my attention. He had a determined look on his face, hit really hard, and threw in odd and unexpected beats on occasion.

They did a Motorhead cover, too. I don’t have a strong opinion about Motorhead.

Overall, this band was very good.

The other touring band played next. Newish Star, from Buffalo, were billed as power-pop. I would describe their music as driving, heavy pop-punk.

The thing about this band that stood out the most was the frequent sections where everything stopped except the guitar and the vocals, before the rest of the band came crashing back in at the appropriate moment. These song elements can be particularly effective live, when so much of any band’s music, at such high volumes, can at times sound the same. Chords can become indistinguishable when they are part of the same crushing wall of sound. By employing quieter parts, as Newish Star did, it breaks up the songs and makes them each sound distinct.

I enjoyed watching this band’s drummer as well. So far, so cool: Three good bands, three killer drummers. Newish Star’s drummer had an emotionless look on his face. So serious and so precise. He hit hard. He was like a robot … who happened to be really good at drums.

I noted this band’s vocal skill as well. I genuinely look forward to seeing them again.

The last band was Lackluster, a new local band comprised of people who are in way too many bands already … But this is one of their best. There is actually some luster going on here.

Lackluster is a trio of “hardcore kids” playing pop-punk. Two of them wore the same shirt, of a little-known, but amazing, Massachusetts hardcore band called Out Cold.

One person said Lackluster reminded her of “Insomniac”-era Green Day, and I don’t disagree. It’s not revolutionary; it’s not reinventing the wheel. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I couldn’t hear the vocals very well, but I’d heard and enjoyed their demo beforehand. The chord progressions were standard but catchy. Their bass player frequently downstroked, a mark of picking skill.

But oh man. I couldn’t believe it. ANOTHER badass drummer. That’s every band tonight. This NEVER happens. He had a deep grimace. He looked tough as fuck. Great drum face. And even greater hi-hat. Like down-stroking shows the stamina of guitar or bass players, the ability to play 16th notes on the hi-hat is the mark of a talented drummer. He hit hard. Goddamn.

They did a cover of the Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks.”

Their set only lasted 12 minutes in an effort to end the show at 10 p.m. exactly.

The show was attended by a couple dozen people. It was a good night. Hopefully more house venues with predilections for punk music will spring up in the near future.

Glen E. Friedman at the D.C. Public Library

As part of the D.C. Punk Archive’s one-year anniversary celebrations, on October 25, 2015, renowned photographer Glen E. Friedman appeared at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. Alec MacKaye interviewed Friedman. The photographer also took questions from the audience.


2015: The Goons reunited, and a scene reunited with them

Bands come, bands go. Most don’t leave a mark. The Goons made an impression on many people, an impression on a scene. That fact reflects the passion and power and value that they had.

I have been to many Goons shows in my life, and they all meant something to me. They all frightened me. They all left me wondering why I couldn’t make those sounds.  They all left me wondering how far I could bend over straight backwards while screaming and not fall over.

In the end, those questions and feelings, and many others, proved meaningless, because there is only room for one The Goons. There will never be another The Goons. And for the last 10 years or so there hasn’t been a The Goons. On October 24th, 2015, The Goons reunited, and a scene reunited with them.

The bands were to be there by 8 p.m. for a proper “load-in,” (I’m in Copstabber, one of the bands lucky enough to be asked to open this melee, so this is a real behind-the-scenes account!), which is generally no big deal and is basically just a pseudo-requirement that is pretty much more or less disregarded by most punk bands, but for this show I think everyone understood that if you didn’t get there early you were going to have a hard time getting your stuff into the building. The house was packed, and everyone knew it would be.

There was an electricity in the air, and the doors hadn’t even been unlocked yet.

My bandmates and I went around the corner and posted up in the parking lot with some 40s and drank, just like we have been doing since we were teenagers, which started to bring to the forefront a feeling that emerged again and again throughout the whole evening: A feeling of being in a different time and space.

This was us, all of us, getting ready for a Goons show, in 2015.

The lineup was stacked: Station, COPSTABBER, Supreme Commander and, of course, The Goons. This was officially going to be a hell of a night, and none of us could wait to get started.

Shortly after the doors opened and the room began to fill in nicely, Station took the stage. They were furious and sounded tough, and with a powerful dual-vocalist attack they were able to give the crowd the inspiration to move. As a veteran of a two-vocalist project, I have long been a fan of that aesthetic. The different ways that you can play off of each other, the increased stamina you get by sharing the vocals — in the hands of the right band, it can all really add to a performance in a big way, and these guys definitely took advantage of that. I was happy to see that the crowd, although not as large as it would be by the end of the night, was full of energy and looking to participate. Bodies flew around the skinny, long room, and after each song the crowd gave the band back plenty of love. It was one of the best opening band sets I’ve seen in some time. I recommend going to see Station if you have the chance, because they are going to be Baltimore heavyweights if they keep at this. Both the songwriting and the performance were at a high level.

Before long, COPSTABBER took the stage, and in a show of seasonal festivity they were in costume, looking fearsome, and they had a set prepared to match that ferocity. For the next 30 minutes the crowd was peppered with insults, sprayed with ludicrous amounts of beer, moshed on constantly, subjected to tone deaf sing-alongs, and served a thorough mix of time-tested crowd favorites, a few lesser-known gems, and some unreleased new material. Outside of their idiot singer forgetting how one of their songs began, it was a damn-near perfect set from one of the premier punk rocking hardcore bands from the Baltimore/DC area. Unfortunately, the evening’s first and only noteworthy casualty happened during their set when their bass player Luke’s girlfriend suffered a horribly broken ankle while moshing and enjoying herself. I’m sure the injury had absolutely nothing to do with the half-inch of beer covering the tile floor of the bar. Obviously, we hope her surgery and recovery are speedy and successful.

Supreme Commander is a flagship band that rose out of a D.C. scene that was left in a state of confusion, perhaps even what many would call a pile of ashes, after the Goons stopped playing shows. This is a band that is probably not new to any of the readers of this website, as previous show and record reviews of theirs have graced this URL, but no matter how familiar I am, it gives me the sensation of being a lion tamer when this band goes on. You might have been there and done this a thousand times before, but you dare not get complacent because this outfit is dangerous. The all-out assault that these guys produce, along with the tightness of the performance, is a sight to behold. Everyone in that room was lucky to be a part of that, and that is the way I feel about every show of theirs that I have ever seen. These guys are pros — bottom line. They didn’t come to ask permission. They came to rip the party right out of you, slam it around for a half an hour or so and then give it back to you while you beg them to do it over again. I have personally known these guys for a long time, in some cases more than 15 years, and this was another set that, no matter how many I’ve seen, will always stand out to me.

They make catchy music angry that it can’t party like that, and they make angry music furious that it can’t throw down like that, and they do it with more style than most bands even have the potential to try to emulate.

Following a three-pronged attack of Station, COPSTABBER and Supreme Commander is no easy task. Frankly, I would be pretty intimidated if my band was about to come on next — but I’m not in The Goons!

Most people from the DC and Baltimore scenes who are over 24 have seen The Goons before. This band is the reason why half of the bands in this area are making music — and of the bands that are any good, the reason they are is because they got to see and hear and learn from bands like The Goons.

Whether they were playing a basement house show, a big-time venue, or even an international fancy-pants energy drink skateboard music festival, this band proved itself a cut above the other acts they performed with.

After almost a decade, they decided they were ready to knock the rust off for this show in Baltimore — and whether we knew it or not as the first notes rang out, we still don’t deserve this band.

I wish I had any kind of concept of how long their set was. I can tell you I heard pretty much every song I wanted to hear. I can tell you I watched an entire room piling on top of each other trying to get closer to the action. I can tell you that the couple hundred exhausted, sweaty, disgusting, filthy people in attendance were absorbing the energy and style and swagger that Serge and the guys were letting off. These jerks looked like they haven’t missed a day.

I wish this show was still happening. I wish I was still watching The Goons reminding everyone what we’ve been missing. I felt recharged.

I wish more of you could have been there to see it, because it was one of the most special nights of punk rock I’ve had in years.

The beer tasted better, the sweat was sweet, the drugs were awesome, the music was everything, and in the end it was all of us, standing there, thankful.

I’m thankful for The Goons.

— By Dave Homeowner

Dave Homeowner lives in Baltimore, works in Rockville, and sings in Copstabber. He does not let anyone tell him how to party.

As in the Sky — Interview from 2005

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“Goddamn — you got a lot of fucking questions.”                                                                           — Photo by Shintaro Doi

Ian MacKaye made a lasting impact at a very young age, and by keeping up the good work in the decades that followed he has inadvertently provided a guiding light for generations of idealists and iconoclasts.

Washington region recording wizard Chad Clark once told me that Minor Threat, the band the teen-aged MacKaye fronted in the early ’80s, is “kind of the punk rock ‘Dark Side of the Moon.’ Every day there’s a kid who buys a Minor Threat record. It’ll be around forever and it’ll stand for what it stands for – forever.”

That quote describes my experience.

I was an eighth grader in a rural town. Everything was just dirt. My friend’s sister’s boyfriend was a high school senior who gave me a tape with Minor Threat’s complete discography on it, and a group that broke up shortly after I was born became one of my favorite bands. None of my friends liked it much at the time – it was too abrasive and raw (which was why I liked it) – but it was the next step beyond the raging alternative rock on my cassette deck, and I continued carefully venturing down the rabbit hole, and 20 years later here I am, writing to you via this severely D.I.Y. media outlet.

It was characteristic of MacKaye to take the time to do the following long interview with a college newspaper reporter in 2005.

I particularly appreciate this quote: “I think it encourages people to work, and to follow their hearts and really stick by it and to let it develop. I think you’ll find that if you follow your beliefs – really – whatever they may be – you’ll find that down the road they will develop in a way that they’ll come true. Things will happen. … Yeah, 25 years after the label started I’m in a good fucking position. But five years after I wasn’t. I was working three jobs, you know? I was working my ass off.”

Ian: So what are we doing [this interview] for?

The Hoya; Georgetown’s newspaper of record.
I know it.

I was wondering, actually – maybe we could start the interview by talking a little bit about Georgetown. I know you saw the Cramps in Walsh and you worked
It was called Hall of Nations, actually, back then. You mean the building on 36th Street across from the Tombs or whatever it’s called, 1789.

When I first started listening to punk stuff in late ’78, early ’79, there was a radio show on WGTB {Georgetown’s student radio station}, a couple of punk shows on there that were pretty legendary. They were pretty great shows.
I used to listen to a Doo Wop show that was on every Sunday morning – great show. Anyway, just around the time I first really started getting into punk stuff, as I understand it, this dean – I think it was Healy, actually, although I’m not certain what his relationship to Healy Hall was – but Father Healy, I think that he was very angry with the station. Have you ever studied the history of that station?

I mean, they were really radical, and I think they agitated the school a lot, and eventually, I think the school was looking for any way whatsoever to get rid of them, and, as I understand it, the straw that broke the camel’s back was that they ran an ad for Planned Parenthood, and Father Healy yanked their charter, or whatever, and sold the station to UDC for a dollar or something ridiculous, and there was a huge uproar and there was going to be a protest.
And I skipped school – I was in 11th grade at the time – I was going to Wilson, up in Tenleytown – and we came down for the rally. It was in the middle of the afternoon in front of Healy Hall. Is it called Healy Hall? Where the circle is.

It was pretty rambunctious. They set a fire, and they tried to get in the door and there were cops there. They were really angry about the station being shut down, and it was decided that they would have this benefit concert to raise money, I guess for the legal fees that would be needed to get the station back, and they had the Cramps come down.
I had heard of the Cramps. I didn’t really know their music at all – they only had one single out at the time.
We went down and it ended up being my first punk show. I had seen Ted Nugent before that, and Queen.
It was so incredible to see, because it was the first time I had ever seen the underground, the counter-culture.
It was like, “Oh, well, this is what I’ve been looking for.”
I certainly didn’t feel at home at the Capital Center – at the arena shows. I just didn’t like those shows.
I knew there had to be some kind of revolutionary or rebellious music, something that was challenging conventional thinking, and finding this collection of freaks and deviants made me feel right at home, because I certainly felt like a freak and a deviant as a kid, and I still do.
Coming into the room, they had regular, big folding tables, two rows of them perpendicular to the hall with maybe 10 tables with folding chairs around them, from the back of the hall to the front, and there was a low stage, which I think is probably still there.

It’s a pretty tiny room, actually.
Yeah, in my mind it was massive. I felt like there were 900 people in there or something. There might have been, because that thing was so

They might have remodeled it.
Maybe. It was so, so big.
I actually played there when I was in Embrace and it was the same size.
I remember walking in and it was about as big as this room (his dining room) we’re sitting in right now, which was shocking, because in my mind’s eye it was giant, but I think you’ll find as you get older, you go back to the first gigs you saw and the experience was so profound that it made the actual setting seem much larger-than-life.
So the room was just packed, so if you can imagine it, people were standing on chairs and on the tables, like wall-to-wall. You can imagine: You have the one row of people who are standing on the floor, and you have a few people standing up on chairs, so they’re a little bit higher, then a whole row of people, maybe 8 or 10 people per table, standing on the tables, and they were all higher.
And the show was so packed and over-sold that people started breaking in through the windows, and the windows were on hinges, so people would pop the window – they opened horizontally, sort of, so the top would open and the hinge was on the bottom and people would squeeze through.
It was mind-blowing.
Then people started dancing and the tables started to collapse. So you’d see these 10 people who were all higher than the crowd and the whole thing would just drop into the crowd. That’s the way I remember it.
This is actually of the show [shows photo]: The Cramps at Hall of Nations.
… Anyway, it was epic. He threw up on stage. He’d apparently been sick. They were doing two sets that night. He threw up, they cleaned the stage, then they came back out and did the second set.
It was fantastic. It was an incredible night.

It seems like you have kind of a love/hate relationship with Georgetown. I read “Our Band Could Be Your Life.”
I never read it. What did I say in there?

In there you said you worked at the Hagen Daas and on Saturday nights it would be time for all the idiots to come down.
Yeah, but why is that about Georgetown University? Are you talking about Georgetown, the area?

Oh, I thought you were talking about the students out of Georgetown.
It’s funny, I don’t think of the kids hanging around in Georgetown as necessarily Georgetown students. It’s just the cruise strip. I actually had way more problems with Marines then. They’re the people that were most problematic.
You gotta remember: I worked down there for many, many years. I also grew up there. I grew up in Glover Park.
I actually quite liked Georgetown. It was a freak scene in the ’70s. It’s very hard to believe how crazy that area was.
You know Fruits de Mer, at the corner of Wisconsin and Dumbarton? I don’t know what it’s called now; it’s probably a clothes store or something.
When I was a kid it was called the Bar and Grill, and it was the most hardcore gay club. It was a slugfest – a brawl there every night. It was so jacked-up down there.
Georgetown’s been through a lot of changes. For years it’s had sort of a boutique-y quality to it. We’re talking about not the university, but the area.
My boss at the Georgetown Theater – which is now the Jewelry Center, that place, it used to be the Georgetown Theater – I worked there for five years … My boss down there, the guy that owned it, grew up above Nathan’s – at that time Georgetown was a really bad neighborhood, really rough. You know, it was a black neighborhood for the most part, and it was also full of immigrants, a lot of Greek kids – just a tough, tough, tough neighborhood.

It’s hard to believe.
Yeah. Even when I was growing up in the ’70s there was a glue thing down there. They used to bring rendered horse parts down to K Street and they would melt them down there. It’s insane, the way Georgetown used to smell so bad. They had a train that would come up and down K Street all the time to get to the coal factories – there were a bunch of factories down there. It was a really different place.
By the mid-’70s there were so many burned-out hippies and a really crazy street scene going on down there.
I’d say in the ’80s, for the punks, we were the Georgetown punks.
You see, all of this, I just don’t think about the university. It’s not connected really, to me. I understand it’s “Georgetown University,” but them students tend to stay over there by 37th St., you know?
I don’t think about them so much. There is the quintessential university student, which is not necessarily from Georgetown or GW or AU, but just that kind of roving pack of students: They were a problem, period.
You gotta remember that in my mind in 1979, 1980 and even ’81, the opposite of punk rocker was college student. You go to college or you went to punk.
Obviously that’s changed immensely.
By the time Fugazi was touring around, it’s fair to say that college students were our fans.
But early punks, I think the college students wanted to hand the punks a beat-down all the time.

Guy went to Georgetown, right?
Yeah, he did.

Did he graduate?
Yeah. He went to Georgetown, Jenny Toomey went to Georgetown – a lot of kids went to Georgetown.
I don’t really have a relationship with Georgetown University other than I got 21 stitches in my knee at the hospital there.
I’ve played the Hall of Nations, but that wasn’t really the university. Georgetown University is kind of, actually all the schools here, they’re kind of – it’s almost by design – they kind of close off to local culture it seems like. I remember AU had a series of shows.

They still do.
This is a long time ago I’m talking about.
We actually had a police-riot with AU police in 1981 at an S.O.A. show. You know, it’s hard to say – we’re talking about two different eras here.
I know that there are shows – AU’s been having a pretty good series of shows in the basement up there. I like those shows a lot, up at that chapel basement. I’ve seen a couple of gigs there. They’re weird. Sometimes they’re in that food court area and that’s just an unsettling place.
My brother saw Patti Smith at Georgetown. I guess I’ve seen a couple things in the hall in Healy – Gaston Hall – I’ve seen a couple of things there. I saw Jay Leno do stand-up comedy there in like 1983.
I’ve never played Georgetown, but it’s mostly because it seems so decentralized. I don’t know who does what there.
For instance, I think you mentioned that hunger-strike thing. I heard about it by reading the Washington Post – I’d never heard about it prior to that. I feel like there is a lot of activity going on there, but obviously it’s not connected with the circles or the things I would hear about.
There’s been a couple of gigs over the years at Georgetown that I’ve gone to, but not many, in terms of punk shows.
I spoke at Georgetown once. I spoke at a thing with Patti Smith, actually. I spoke with her for the Future of Music Coalition conference. Twice, I did that. I did another one, too, and I’ve forgotten what that was – some other panel.
I remember the first time I ever saw a microwave oven was at the Georgetown hospital little coin joint down in the basement.
It was a special trip – you’d ride your bike or your skateboard down to Georgetown cause they had the frozen hamburger in the case and the microwave oven. I never saw one before that. I was like “Goddamn! That’s cool.”

When was that?
’76, maybe. ’75.

I wanted to ask you about your involvement in the local hardcore scene or just the local music scene, and how much you pay attention to it these days. Like, are you familiar with 1905?
Yeah, I know them. I know the people better than I know the bands.
I think it is very hard to define “hardcore” or “punk” or “alternative” or “independent.” I feel like there’s a series of different fingers – the scene just continues to split, which is natural, but I don’t follow all the bands.
For me, punk is alive, but punk is always going to be the front of the wave. It’s going to be the thing that disturbs the water, not the foam behind it. That’s what punk is to me.
What I’m looking for is music that is challenging on some level, provocative, that makes you feel something, and there’s human connection to it. It can be referential, but it’s not necessarily referential. It’s inclusive. That’s punk, in my mind: It draws you in, so you feel compelled to get involved, and usually it’s performed in front of like 25 people.
A lot of times I see bands that denote themselves as hardcore or punk rock, part of the way that they shore up that classification is by using referential imagery or sounds, which is not bad, just not necessarily what I’m interested in.
I’m not speaking about 19o5. I think they’re a decent band. They’re good. It’s a more general statement about music and the progression of music.
Think of it like this: Right now it’s 2005.

30 years.
Exactly. I got into music in 1980. If I was to use rebellious music from 30 years before that I’d be doing some ’50s stuff.
We were trying to make something that was completely new – and our own.
I feel like that’s the mission of all kids: to take what’s been given, examine it, get rid of what’s not needed, what’s not wanted, and fashion something new, and not think about what people are expecting, but rather what you desire.
I think it’s happening all the time. The problem is that so much of the music we’re aware of is music that’s being presented or played in conventional settings: nightclubs or whatever, these sorts of circuits, and those settings, they’re great, except that they’re venues that require clientele, because they’re paying the bills.
The way you create a clientele – you have to have an audience, right? That’s the clientele, an audience.
But new ideas don’t have audiences.
So what you end up having a lot of the time in those situations is bands that are already known, have members that are known, or are playing a genre that is known.
I think it’s more engaging to try to find spaces that are off the beaten path …
I do hear about, “Oh, these crazy kids did a show at this house party.”
That’s interesting to me.
It’s funny, on occasion I see bands that I think are very good and I like what they’re doing, and I’m happy for them. I’m not necessarily blown away by them, because it’s hard to blow me away.
I was talking this morning with someone about improvisational music. He had recently seen somebody do an improv set.
For that to work for me, either they have to be extremely gifted musicians whose relationship with their instrument is so profound, or they have to have some kind of spiritual craziness that makes it, but if it’s just, like, “Well, we’re pretty good, we’re just going to see what comes out of this,” usually it’s pretty tepid, doesn’t really do much for me.
I want visionaries. I want people to either be extremely good with their instruments, or extremely visionary, just going for it. That’s more compelling. That’s how you shake shit up.

What does the phrase “blessed not lucky” mean? 
I have a problem with the word “lucky.” People often say, “Oh, you’re lucky,” like, “Well, you’re lucky – you can live off of your music.”
First of all, I don’t live off of my music. I’m not playing music right now. I’m working. I work all the time. I don’t play guitar for weeks sometimes, because I run a label, I administrate all this stuff – and it’s work. So that idea of luck, to me, tends to supplant work.
I feel I’ve worked hard and I’ve made decisions in my life that have afforded me the opportunity to do things. It was not luck …
I think people are so busy thinking about the things they desire that they don’t think about the things they have. I think about the things I have in my life, and I’m blessed, but I’m not lucky, because that would suggest that I won the lottery or something. I didn’t win a fucking lottery.
But I am appreciative of the things that are in my life. I think it’s important to be appreciative. What’s tricky about that phrase, “blessed not lucky,” is that it evokes a Christian ethic.
I’m in a wrestling match with the religions of the world over the use of language. I don’t know why Christians or anyone else thinks they have a corner on blessings. I think human beings, all of us, are blessed.
Hey, we’re talking, we have a moment, we’re drinking tea, you got a thing that takes pictures, you got a machine that takes voices and sounds, puts ’em on a tape. I mean, come on – we’re doing pretty good.
I’m not a Christian and I’m not a subscriber, but I can’t think of a better word to describe what it is I’m getting at, so “Blessed, Not Lucky.”
I think it encourages people to work and to follow their hearts and really stick by it and to let it develop.
I think you’ll find that if you follow your beliefs – really – whatever they may be, down the road they will develop in a way that they’ll come true, things will happen.
Again, people will say, “Look at you, you’re in a good position to say that.”
Yeah, 25 years after the label started I’m in a good fucking position. But five years after I wasn’t. I was working three jobs. I was working my ass off.
With the label, for instance, with the 20 year box-set – I know a lot of labels and bands celebrate anniversaries. I didn’t celebrate the anniversary with Dischord. There was no celebration, there was no party, there was no backslapping. The box-set had two distinct missions, as far as I was concerned.
The first mission was to honor all the bands that have been on the label. You’ll notice that on that box-set each band has one song and every band that has been on the label is represented. The point being that the label could not exist without the bands. It is to them that we are indebted.
There are plenty of bands that have no label. There is no such thing as a label with no bands – bands, of course, can mean musicians, if you want to parse it.
The second mission was a little more pointed on my end. Since the beginning of the label, people, time and time again, accuse us of being too idealistic and unrealistic

It won’t last.
Right. They kept saying it won’t work, because we’re not following a rational business plan, especially in terms of the American business model, but I think the American business model is an obscenity. I do not believe the oft-repeated tenets that people chant, like, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” and, “What the market will bear,” and that sort of stuff. That is just nonsense. I reject it and the label rejects it.
So, after 20 years: Alright, are we real yet?
It’s 25 years now. Is this a real business yet? We’ve never had a really negative year; we’ve never lost much money. We’ve had a few years that were tighter than others, but we’ve always basically come out in the black. We have four or five employees who all get a decent wage, plus health care, plus benefits.
In a way, that was the mission – to say, “Yo, this can be done.”
If we had abandoned that early on, listened to the critics or to the people chanting that American business model mantra, we would not be sitting here, because I would have been discouraged. We would have stopped.

How is being in a band with your girlfriend different from being in a band with your friends?
(long pause) Every band is different, whoever you’re with. Bands are relationships, period.
Amy is not Brendan, Joe, and Guy.
I don’t know, I can’t really say. I’m not a comparative person. I don’t really think about things like that.
I’m interested in making music and I always work on that mission. Playing with those guys, they’re my family, and we made music that only the four of us can make together. And the music that I make with Amy – she’s my family, and only the two of us can make this music, but I can’t really compare, because the initial difference has very little to do with the fact that she’s my partner: it’s that she’s a different person, with a different musical aesthetic. That’s the most profound aspect of it, in terms of being in a band. The other stuff, I’m sure I could discuss it, but that would really be irrelevant, I think, ultimately.

Do you feel a kinship with bands like NOFX, who have been independent for the same amount of time?
As who?

Well, as you.
Have they?

I guess they started out in ’83.
I mean, I know Fat Mike – I’ve talked to him a few times. I guess there’s a connection there. I think they try to do the right thing. I feel like in their earlier years they were trafficking in obnoxiousness and humor, which was never my kind of humor. I have a much drier sense of humor. I think that they were a bit more reactionary than I was. I’m not a reactionary person. I’m an actionary person. I think that they were looking at a situation and reacting to that situation. Like, “We just want to get fucked up,” or, “We’re just gonna drink beer,” that kind of thing.
I’m not talking about NOFX, necessarily specifically, but I think that there are a lot of people in punk rock that celebrate destruction. Not necessarily the bands, but they create music that becomes fodder for destruction workers. But I’m a construction worker. I’m more interested in building things than tearing them down. I wasn’t trying to smash the state, I was trying to build a new one – separate, but equal.
I guess I feel a kinship. I don’t know those guys that well. I’ve just talked to Fat Mike a few times on the phone. I respect the fact that they’ve worked hard. Obviously this Punkvoter thing was pretty cool, that was a lot of work, and he meant it. It was cool.
… I’ve never heard any of their records. They opened for Fugazi – or we opened for them, I forget which – I guess they opened for us. It was in Amsterdam in 1988, but it wasn’t really my thing.

Why did you pick the photo on the back of the Evens CD?
Seemed like a good photo to put on our record, I don’t know.

It’s kind of an unflattering photo. No offense.
It’s interesting – everyone says that. Why is it unflattering?

You look old. You don’t look as old in real life. You look like 60 years old [in the photo].

No offense.
Oh, I’m not offended. It’s funny. I’ve got a friend that’s a photographer and he called me up, just appalled. He was like, “Why would you fucking use that photo? Both you guys look terrible.”
I have no idea. Seemed like a nice photo. We saw it as: We were just sitting there at a gathering for a friend. It was an important gathering and it was totally candid. She just walked over and took two pictures of us sitting there.
I just think we look like real people. If you want to spend four hours with me looking through band photos on the Internet, I think you’ll see this really intense repetition of very similar poses: usually four white dudes, staring into the camera with a firm jaw, or maybe with eyeliner on with a button-up shirt and a tie. It seems so affected.
You know, when I first started playing music I went to this music store called Rolls, out in Falls Church. This was probably ’79. When I walked in they had one entire wall plastered with 8 by 10 pictures of bands.
Keep in mind this was 1979, so the bands that were up there were all these ’70s rocker bands called like, “Angel Wing,” and “Feather Devil,” and “Touch of Class,” and they all had this really uniform look.
I remember looking at all of these bands – hundreds of people – on one wall in one fucking music shop on Route 9 in Falls Church, and I thought “that is seriously depressing to me.”
It was like looking through somebody else’s yearbook or something, and I realized that what was depressing about it was not the fact that those people were playing music; it was that they all were engaging in this clichéd presentation.
If you put them together, what you see is – not the bands, not the people – the cliché, and I feel like that is still practiced – it’ll probably always be a practice – but it’s not something that I’m particularly interested in being a part of.
I’d rather just look like people, because I think it’s more important that we’re recognized as people than as performers.
Also, I like the fact that we’re sitting in this lush, green scene, but on the front you have this giant creature [an elephant] eating what looks like shredded newspaper. We probably should have changed places. He should have been having a snack on that nice green stuff.
I don’t know. I’m not going to defend it. I can’t defend it. Perhaps I wanted people to think that I was ugly and 60.

I thought that’s what you were getting at – looking like a normal person.
Well, I don’t think normal people are ugly. I also don’t think that picture’s unflattering, but it’s interesting that you said that, because many people think that.
But that’s all right – there are plenty of photos that people like of me that I think are just horrible. There are other photos I like of me that other people think are horrible.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really make any fucking difference at all.
All we were trying to do with any record cover – this is what really will, I think, fairly secure the existence of the record or the CD as opposed to digital formats: that jacket gives you some context of where this music is coming from …
Bands who hire graphic designers are sending a statement.
It’s like wrapping a gift. It gives the person the idea of, “OK, this is where they’re coming from.”
If you take it to the store and have them wrap it, you get a really generic kind of wrapping. It might be well wrapped, but it doesn’t have any kind of personal impact. If you wrap it yourself you might use newspaper – you have an endless assortment of options of creative wrapping. It suggests the energy or the emotion or the emphasis in which you were making the gift.
So, we wrapped it with that.

Shintaro Doi: I personally am a great fan of John Frusciante and I listened to the DC EP and I was actually very, very impressed.
Yeah, that came out nice.

Maybe taking that EP as an example, what do you bring to what you produce, what do you try to bring to the studio, to the artist?
I think I usually try to encourage people to think about the music and not about the convention. There was aspects of that recording, for instance, that John had never done. He sang sitting down in front of the mixing board, and he was like, “Wow, are you serious?” And I’m like, “Yeah, just sit here, sit next to me and sing.”
I just got into that idea of recording sitting there, and people think it’s odd, but if you’re standing in a room by yourself, you’ve got a glass window, you have a microphone and you’re singing, then you’re in a kind of isolation tank and your performance is lonely.
If you’re sitting next to people in the room and you’re singing along to the speakers, then it’s a shared moment. There are people in the room, so you have to perform. If you’re a performer, you have to. And that tension brings out great, emotional performances, because you’re feeling the energy of the other people in the room.
From my point of view, all I was trying to do was make music with him.
As a producer, I was involved in the arrangements of some of the stuff, and the textures, and I thought it was great. I was surprised it didn’t get more notice. I thought it was a really, really good session.

I think it was one of the best that I’ve heard.
Thanks. It was amazing. I kind of thought he’d come back and do some more. He may – they’re in the middle of work on the new Chili Peppers record.
That guy is immensely gifted. There’s just no fucking around, he’s one of the greatest guitar players I’ve ever seen, and he just knows music. All he does is study music, all day. He just sits and listens to music all day long. He can play any song – if he can hear it, he understands it and he can play it, which is completely beyond me. I can’t even figure out how to play my own songs.

I just got the Minor Threat DVD, and on it you said that you were an angry person. Are you still?
Of course. Don’t I seem angry to you?

Not too angry.
I think there is a persona of anger, the way people visualize it, then you have what an angry person is. I’m still angry about things, of course, but when I sing, the work I do, I’ve always thought about: make a better life, make life good, that’s what we desire.
And, at some point, probably 20, 15 years ago, maybe a little longer, I made a conscious decision that, if I really believed in the songs I was singing, I would live that way.
In other words: I would live happily. It doesn’t mean that I’m not angry – it just means that I would live happily.
I can still be angry about things that I think are unjust, that are obscene. For instance, war is obscene. Period. So I’m always going to be angry about the fact that there are people who are sort of forcing other people to engage in that kind of behavior, and that there are people who do engage in that behavior. That makes me very angry.
At the same time, if I were merely to live my entire life screaming about how everything was so fucked up, then it would suggest that I didn’t actually desire for things to get better or to repair, because I’m wallowing in the disrepair. Do you understand?
So it seemed clear to me that we should be happy in life; we should celebrate life and not just agonize over death. I think if you look at the lyrics of the songs, they’re still pretty critical of things, and I also celebrate things. It’s a balance.
In Minor Threat, you know, 1980, ’81, there are a lot of different factors, a lot of different things going on at that time. First off, it was a new punk scene. Brand new. Any time anything is new, there’s a lot of attendant friction at the birthing, right? A volcano, that’s something growing up, an earthquake, something’s moving, that’s the friction.
That was a new cultural movement that was causing an immense amount of friction in this society.
I think it’s difficult for people now to understand just how tense it could be and how easy it was to infuriate other people. I mean – your haircut would have gotten you into a fight in 1979.

It’s a pretty normal haircut.
Right, but in 1979 you would be a fucking freak. I know it seems odd, but that’s the way it is. At that time, longer hair and wider clothes were so de rigueur. Anything that wasn’t orthodox – it was very easy to upset people. So there was that aspect of it.
The other aspect was that we were kids and we were confronting the outside world. We were leaving our biological families and going into the larger family, and in that process there’s also an awful lot of tension. We were angry a lot, angry with each other, and then you’d go to other cities and there were other kids like you who were also angry, and no problem: You’d get into a fight almost anywhere you’d go. That’s a different kind of anger. That’s just kids’ anger.
But at the root of it all, the things that I was singing about, I sang about it because I thought they were wrong, and I thought that things should be better, that we should do better. So, try to do better.
You know, if I were really angry, you wouldn’t be sitting here right now. I wouldn’t have time for you. I’d just tell you to fuck off.
If your door is locked you may keep out a few irritants, but you’re also locking out thousands of the most interesting, incredible moments.
That’s what I was talking about earlier, when I said, “Blessed, Not Lucky.” The idea’s you have to be open. You never know what might transpire. If you’re just pissed and you don’t want to talk to anybody, I think that is a lonely sport.

You do a lot of interviews. Are you normally happy with the way they come out, are you normally happy with the kinds of questions you’re asked?
I don’t read most of them because they don’t ever send them to me.

You don’t go out of your way to find them?
If I see it I’ll read it, but I don’t go out of my way, because I forget they exist. I do a lot of interviews.
I like doing interviews. It’s a way of having a conversation.
My reputation precedes me, and it’s very difficult for people to get into a conversation with me, because they know me in a way that I don’t know them. They’ve been listening to my records for maybe their whole lives. I’ve been making music for 25 years. So if it’s a 20-year-old, it’s possible they’ve been hearing that music their whole lives.
Maybe their parents were fans. Who’s to say? Maybe there was a massive Minor Threat fan in 1980 who had a kid. And that whole time, that kid’s life, they’ve been hearing Minor Threat. It’s possible!
By the time they come to talk to me the relationship is so out of balance.
I had an experience the other day with a guy who just started asking me all this personal stuff, like, “Am I married?” and, “What’s my personal life like?” I was like, “What the fuck you talking about?”

Was it an interviewer?
No, it was at a show! We played and he started asking me these questions. The problem was: his relationship with me was so intense, because he’d been listening to me and thinking about my music and looking at pictures of me, and all this kind of stuff. I of course never met him, didn’t have any idea who he was. He was a stranger – almost a complete, total, perfect stranger.

And to him it was the opposite.
Kind of. The problem is that his relationship with me was his relationship with who he thought I was – not who I am. Some things may line up, but I’m not the person that most people think I am, because in my little universe there’s so much discussion about who I am, the things I believe in, because I’m outspoken.
Doing interviews is a way to actually engage with other human beings.
For instance, the Frusciante record: That’s a record I really enjoyed making, but I don’t think I’ve hardly ever seen any reviews of that thing and nobody I know has had anything to say to me about it. So, in a way it’s an opportunity for me to be like, “Oh, I’m glad somebody heard it! Somebody liked it.”
‘Cause really I can tell you, maybe nine people have ever fucking mentioned that … (tape runs out)
… Maybe that was the strategy: to surprise people with how youthful I look. I just turned 43 the weekend before last.

What did you do for your birthday?
Oh, just hung out.
But I enjoy interviews because it’s practice, and I get to think about things.
I used to keep a journal pretty regularly – I kept it for 10 or 12 years – and at some point I was writing in my journal that I was writing in my journal and I thought, “I gotta stop. I’ve just lapped myself.” So, I stopped keeping a journal.
But by doing interviews, if I look at the interviews over the years, I can see my growth. It’s like having a mark on the wall of how you’re growing.
It’s practice. You think about how you speak, you learn how to drop words like “like” and avoid using the phrase “it’s about this” and “it’s about that,” which I find repellant.
It so completely riddles American culture. It’s kind of receded in the last year or so, but there was a period where every politician, entertainer, and athlete would use the phrase “It’s not about this, it’s about this.” Or, “It’s about freedom.”
It’s such a strange fucking phrase, when you think about it.
What are they talking about?
I think it is a method to summate things, to sum it up: “It’s not about making money; it’s about having a good time.”
I’m sure if you interview people, you hear it, because people use it all the time.
It’s bite-size, and people go for the quotable.
My family were all very interested in language, so I do think a lot about language. In doing interviews I think about the way I speak, and I think about the best way to make points.
I read a lot – I look at other people’s interviews and some of them are just appallingly bad. They’re just like, “Yeah, I guess. Sort of.”
Or they just talk about what everything is about and say “like” every third word.
It’s interesting.
… It’s a rhythmic thing, to some degree. There’s a cadence to language which I find fascinating. When you’re with friends, when you’re with someone you know very well, you can speak in a way that is almost unrecognizable to other people.
I remember once Fugazi was in New Mexico and we were staying with a friend of ours. We got out of the van, Brendan and I were talking, and I said to Brendan, “so, ugontthelaundrymat?” and he said, “Yeahuneedsomethingcleaned?” and then [our friend] said, “What the fuck was that? What language was that?”
Because of the cadence of it, she couldn’t hear it. We were talking to each other. It’s an intimate exchange.
It’s something that you learn about. It’s tribal, which I’m very interested in.
I love regional accents. I’m very interested in regional sayings. They’ve been largely flattened out by the federal entertainment system, and that, by the way, extends to MTV, because MTV did an incredible disservice to regional music. Suddenly you had flannel shirts, torn jeans, Chuck Taylors, Jaguar guitars – Nirvana – beaming into every house, and that parlayed into a somewhat generic musical wash.
You go around the country as a touring band, and then you start seeing it around the world. The same behaviors – the same guy jumping on top of the crowd, crowd-surfing, pumping his fist, all over the world, the same exact thing. As soon as MTV started showing it, it was just everywhere.
I think that music is very regional. There should be regional attributes and flavors. It should reflect where people are coming from, which has a lot to do with why Dischord is a D.C. label, not a label that’s trying to cover everything … and punk, because ultimately it’s coming from people – new ideas haven’t been put on MTV yet.
So, language is something I’m really interested in and I think interviews are an opportunity for me to engage in language, and I hope I get better at it.
Give you something to think about anyway – that answer your question at all?

How many more you got?

Um, three?
Alright, let’s try it.

You mentioned your Dad and your family. What kind of relationship do you have with the Washington Post?
I don’t have one.

No? How do you feel about it?
In what sense? My father worked for the Post for 19 or 20 years.

He was an editor, right?
Yeah, he was. He was a religious editor. Initially he worked for the Houston Chronicle and the Minneapolis Star. He was on the White House beat and he was in Kennedy’s motorcade when he was assassinated. He was in a bus behind them.
Then he went on to be in the White House press corps for Johnson, he was there for Johnson’s whole run, eight years, and in 1968 when Johnson left my father was not interested in being in the White House press corps – first off it’s a lot of work, and second off he didn’t want to deal with Nixon so he got the religion editor role, which he liked – my father’s a theologian – and then he became the Washington Post Magazine editor.
He kind of got blackballed by the Post, because he was involved in the Pressmen’s Strike of 1975. Our family was on strike for six months. My father wouldn’t cross the picket lines, and it was a really, really ugly scene. So then he became the Associate Editor of the magazine, but they cut him off there. He couldn’t get any higher than that.
And he left there in 1986. So, my whole life the Post was present. I went down there a lot.

And you worked for the Post.
Well, I delivered papers. I guess I worked for the Post. Yeah, I drove a newspaper truck.
I also delivered the Post as a kid.
I also read it every day. I do struggle with that. I never look at television news, I don’t read newsmagazines – I think it’s all ridiculous. I think watching the television news is actually unhealthy.
You think about the number of things that are happening in the world right now and it would fill up five hours – so you can imagine that of the 17 minutes that the half-hour newscast actually has some content, and then split that with the sports and the weather, so you’re talking about nine minutes, maybe.
What they select to put in for news is a really biased and strange decision. It’s entertainment.
They want people to feel like they have to tune in. So, what would be a good way to make people feel like it’s really important for them to tune in? Well, by letting them think that they would have information that’s emergency, important information. Like there’s a poison gas cloud coming or something. But they don’t have any information that’s going to save any lives.
They’re fear-mongers, and they’ve made people feel like things are much worse than they actually are.
If you want some evidence of this, speak to anybody who watches television news all the time. Don’t watch it, ever, and then speak to them.
When you have situations along the lines of the anthrax, that sort of stuff, when that anthrax stuff was going on, people I knew were terrified. I was not terrified. I’m not scared.
So much of that terror was connected to what they were seeing on television. Certainly, the damn plane-crashings in 2001 — you know, the Pentagon is just over there, and I saw all that the smoke – I was sitting right here, had my breakfast, did not look at the television at all. It’s out of my control. People would call me up, like, “What are you gonna do?”
I’m like, “What the fuck are you gonna do? I’m just gonna sit here and answer the mail.”
I answered mail all day. I didn’t watch television. I didn’t look at it. I knew that the planes had crashed.
People kept calling, being like, “Oh, the planes crashed. Well, where are you gonna go?”
I said, “I’m not gonna go anywhere.”
Of course I was discouraged, because it was a really ugly act of human brutality. But humans have been brutal to each other since they found they could hit somebody with a stick, practically. This is sort of an ongoing cancer

Since there have been humans.
Right, that’s it. I felt terrible about it. I have to say in some ways I felt less terrible about it than I did when I think about the insane pounding of civilians in Iraq, which to me seems much more despicable. Think of it like this: there are devices that cost more to make than you may make in your lifetime, cumulative salary, that are being dropped, and the purpose of them is to explode and send millions of flying pieces of metal into human beings, and that’s one of tens or hundreds of thousands of these sorts of things. It is completely insane. That’s a very discouraging, ugly act of human brutality.
If you didn’t look at the television, and I didn’t, my relationship with that experience is really different, because I realized right then and there that there was nothing that a television could tell me. What it would do is show me over and over and over and over a visualization of an incomprehensible act.
Human beings have the mental processes to – when you see something that doesn’t make sense, you figure out a way to smooth it in to the sense. You try to make sense of it. If you look at it enough, you won’t feel it anymore.
“You won’t feel a thing.”
If I brought you a giant bowl of shit with a spoon, that first bite would be unpleasant. We’re not supposed to eat shit. But if you had to eat it, if you felt that you had to eat it, you would figure out a way to not taste that shit anymore. Your body will adjust. It has to. If I slap you in the face, you’ll feel it. But, the tenth or fifteenth time, you will not feel it anymore. Your body will adjust. The mind and the body will adjust to the situation, or it will die.
So I think television news is really extremely poisonous and toxic, and I suspect the Washington Post probably is as well. I’ve been trying to not read the paper, but I do read it every morning. It’s been like that my whole life. My family, you know, we have dinner every Sunday, and everyone talks about, “Well, what do you think about the way they talked about this?” Or you know, just study things.
I think that probably that hour would be better spent reading a book. But I haven’t quite figured out how to work that out yet. I’ve been thinking about this for about two years, and every once in a while I’ll call ’em up and say “Maybe you should cut my subscription off for a while,” then I think “ah, no, keep ’em coming.”
So, what’s my relationship with the Post? (shrugs) Could be a lot better. In fact, recently, editorially I think they’re fucked. There are clearly neoconservatives and hawks involved with that paper, and their role in starting this war was absolutely despicable. A few of the columnists are especially despicable. I think Michael Kelly was insane. I mean, he died in Iraq, but any person that wishes for police brutality against protestors is not OK in my book.

I don’t know anything about him.
Because you don’t read the paper every morning like me. What’s your other two questions?

What do you miss most about playing in Fugazi?
What I miss most about playing with Fugazi is, you know, Fugazi. They’re some of my closest, dearest friends, and we made a lot of good music together, and I miss that. You know, we are extremely close. I’ve been friends with Guy since 1980 or ’81. Guy’s first show, by the way, was also Hall of Nations. It was coincidental – we didn’t know each other at the time. I’ve known Joe since 1983 or ’84. Joe lived in this house for nine years – we’re very close. Brendan and Guy lived in the same house. What do I miss about it? I miss those guys.

How often do you write songs?
Depends. I’ll go months and months without writing a song and then I’ll go through a month where I write 20. It just depends. It’s a little slow right now, but I think it’s normal because there’s so much machinery in place in getting the record out and doing all other sorts of stuff. Life is full of stuff to do, and my life has been extremely full of stuff to do the last few years.
In a way, for me to write songs, I need to be able to get a piece of quiet so I can fill it up. Music used to come to me – songs would come to me – at times where I couldn’t do anything else.
I used to write a lot of songs in the Georgetown Theater. I used to work in the ticket window, just sitting there writing songs.

That’s where most Minor Threat songs were written?
Yeah, so many of them were inspired by these people, walking up and down Wisconsin Avenue, being complete idiots.
I had to be there. I had nothing to do. I was just sitting there, I had all this time – so I just started to create.
Because of portable communication devices, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to have time – I mean, there’s so much to occupy your mind. If you look at television, you can look at 200 channels or a DVD or a videotape. Or, God forbid, if you’re gonna play games, I mean, those things will take your time right away.
I actually feel really fortunate. For me, video games are really – you had to go to an arcade and put a quarter in. I just narrowly missed that home video game thing, but sometimes, if I’m ever at a college or I go by a dorm, there’s those games and people go in so hardcore. I’ve never experienced it, none of my friends play ’em. I don’t fool with that at all. People go deep on that shit. They get so heavily into it. If I were involved with that I would never get anything done. We wouldn’t have time for this interview if I was a video-game guy.
I was thinking about this the other day: There’s so many forms of communication. Recently, for somewhat pragmatic purposes we started using instant messaging between that office (Dischord’s office) and me and this person who used to work for us.
I realized I have email, telephone, with voicemail, two lines, and instant messages coming up on the computer, and I have a cell phone, but I don’t use it – but I was thinking about that: There’s no quiet. There’s no rest.
I remember reading an essay years ago about 24-hour banking, and how it’s pitched as a convenience. You know, there was a time when, let’s say, you needed to check your account, but it was two-in-the-morning. Well, tough shit! You’re not checking your account. Too bad.
I mean, I can remember Sundays where everything was closed except for the pharmacy. For real. And if everything is closed, what are you going to do? Well, I guess you just had to be alive.
Convenience has its costs, and part of that cost is that it’s taken up a lot of the air from the creative space. So, I endeavor to find some quiet so I can do more writing.


No Cheap Holiday, These Other People’s Ecstasy: A 2014 Dennis Lyxzen Interview



Lxyzen pop & politics, I asked them what the use is:  Members of the “industrial pop” group INVSN after performing in Washington, D.C. in March of 2014.

If you ask Dennis Lyxzen what he feels his late, great, future-punk band Refused’s greatest accomplishment was, he might say something like,  “the greatest accomplishment was that we – in Sweden, ’93 to ’97, we toured and toured and toured, and we built a movement in Sweden of bands, of people that are still active today, still playing music. I think that was our greatest accomplishment: that we managed to become something that meant a lot to people in Sweden at that time. The touring we did in ’95, ’96 around ‘Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent,’ that was when it really meant something. People came out and people were really excited. And we were building something new, you know? Not only Refused, but a bunch of our friends – we built a hardcore scene in the ’90s that got kind of big in Sweden. All these cities that we played – people showed up. It was really cool. We built something, for real. And 15 years later you go on tour and play Terminal 5 in New York for 5,000 people, two nights in a row.”

Two years after playing those reunion shows and nearly a quarter-century after beginning Refused, Lyxzen was on the road again, hitting up D.C. and playing the nondescript rock club DC9 with his current band, INVSN, which sounds nothing like Refused. The closest point of reference for INVSN would be something like the Cure.

The ‘VSN will be too glossy and shiny for many – particularly in its recorded form, particularly upon the first couple of listens, particularly for those who only listen to Refused-style spastic arena punk-metal – but INVSN’s 2013 eponymous album grew steadily upon me as I did my duty by listening to it repeatedly. INVSN purveys pure pop replete with memorable hooks that stick where they should (in your brain) and cool Occupy the Horizon, pictures of fields without fences, God damn the man-type lyrics.

INVSN cuts minimalistic, dark, shimmering gems so expertly that they evoke craftsmen like the Replacements or Tom Petty or something, (while, to be sure, far more strongly evoking Joy Division, ’80s-era U2, etc.). Some of these choruses are ocean-sized. This is my favorite INVSN song, I think; it illustrates well the qualities I’ve described and which are discussed subsequently.

INVSN’s D.C. performance for an audience of about 30 to 50 or so showed that Lyxzen remains a fantastic rock ‘n’ roll frontman. He is a good singer, now, too. Another small audience was won over.

Lacking an assignment from a reputable media outlet for this here Q-and-A, before the gig I threw my professional rectitude to the wind (where it now flies high, along with my potential and prospects and, of course, the answer, my friend) and I seized the opportunity to act the fan I am, giving D-Lyx a copy of Ian Svenonius’ new book and a signed copy of a book I’d recently published (with a personal inscription!!!), and so on, and thus my signature journalistic tactic of “establishing a rapport” with my unwitting prey again paid off and Dennis spoke for more than an hour, offering an apparently candid portal into his life and music.

We spoke about human nature, capitalism, summer holidays versus punk routines, becoming a middle-aged rebel, his childhood, Inside Out, Fugazi, and getting “dragged down into a life that you were not ready to be a part of and you didn’t want to be a part of – you never wanted to be a part of.”

Do the classics go out of style?
No. I guess that’s why they’re classics. I mean, we said that they do, but there’s a reason why bands like the Clash or Minor Threat or Neil Young, stuff like that, people keep coming back to. I think there’ a certain timelessness in it. I do, however, think that the cultural importance of it definitely diminishes as time goes by. But there’s a reason why some stuff is classic.

So the classics don’t go out of style?
I mean, some of them do. It’s funny. That’s a reference to how critics and “knowers,” they’ll be like, “Yeah – this is the best band to ever come out of the U.K.!”
And then two years later it’s totally forgotten. It’s that mentality of always trying to find something new and exciting.
But the real records that became landmarks in their own right, they’re going to be there for a long time to come.
I think the Refused thing was also one of those obscene, bold statements about, like – there was a lot of talk about burning museums (laughs), you know, rejecting the tradition of rock ’n’ roll.

You mean within Refused?
Yeah. That whole Bakuninist sort of idea – you have to destroy something in order to build something. That was a lot of my inspiration – that whole mentality of, “What we got now is fucking horrible. Just tear it down. Destroy it and we can build something new.”
It definitely still applies a lot to the rock ’n’ roll cliché and the rock ’n’ roll genre and so on.

I meant to start out by asking you:  What are some things you’re tired of being asked in interviews? Probably, “Do the classics go out of style?”
No, no. That’s the first time I got that question, actually.
I don’t like it when I do interviews and people ask me, “So, what does the new record sound like?”
That makes me really angry, because it’s like –

It’s on the Internet.
Exactly. It’s just courtesy. “OK, I’ve listened to the record. This is what I think.”
That’s it. That my only thing that kind of annoys me – apart from that I’m pretty flexible (laughs). If I’m not interested in the question I’ll just come up with my own answer.

Like a politician.
Yeah. Just maneuver around it.

Politicians do that every time, whenever they get asked a tough question.
Yeah. I think they do it every time, no matter what question they’re asked, because it’s more a matter of the rhetorical approach –

Talking points, you mean?
No – the language of politicians is a language that – you don’t want to give straight answers, because then you can be held accountable, even if it’s something really petty and really small. So you always use this language – the political language ­– to circumvent actually promising something or taking a position.

Taking a stand.
In Sweden, I do a lot of debates on TV. I haven’t done it in awhile because I got kind of tired of being the political musician that has ideas.  And most of the interviews I do in Sweden I talk about politics, so it’s kind of my role, but then people ask me, “You always talk about politics ­– maybe you should become a politician.”
I’m like, “No, that’s the exact reason why I talk about politics ­– because I’m not a politician.”
My political ideas and what I think is at times very unrealistic, which I think is what an artist should be.
The world is super-complex and very fragmented and if you’re a politician you have political ideas, but it’s all about compromise.  “If I do this, you can give me that, and then we can crisscross to some sort of compromise.”
It’s always about compromise, and as a musician and an artist my purpose is to be unreasonable.
My purpose is to say shit that’s way off, just because that makes people react and think, and if it’s here now, maybe I can bend it back here and in the end it’ll be –

Bend the discourse.
Exactly. And I think that’s the cool thing about being an artist. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent well-thought-out –

Action-plan. 100 steps.
Exactly. It’s ideas. That’s why I love music and that’s why I’m so fascinated by the power of music or the power of art or the written word – because you don’t have to be like, “This is exactly what I mean.”  It’s an artistic expression. It gives you a certain amount of freedom to exaggerate, which I think is good.

So your role in society is to be an idealist, not a pragmatist.
Exactly. An idealist, but also, maybe more – as a musician, you’re working more as an inspiration for people to get energy.
I mean, I like it when I see something or I read something and it gives me this seed of an idea that I kind of pick up on myself and I can go with it or roll with it, you know?
And I think that’s the roll of the artist.
Yeah, I’m an idealist. I’m a pragmatist in life, because I know how life works. But as far as my art, you have to be open and you have to be like, “Anything is possible.”
That’s the thing punk rock taught me:  Anything is possible. Why limit yourself? Anything is possible.

The lyric “Hats off to hatred” reminds me of the lyric “Anger is a gift,” by Rage Against the Machine.
The first question is: Do you like Rage Against the Machine? I had seen before that they were potentially an influence on you, so I wonder if you think you’re along the same lines as them. And secondly, do you think that lyric is kind of the same sentiment as “Anger is a gift”?
Yeah. When Rage Against the Machine came out that was a big deal.
I saw Rage Against the Machine right when the first record came out, and the only reason I saw them was because it was Zack from Inside Out. I loved Inside Out. They’re one of Refused’s favorite bands, actually.  We loved Inside Out. We played Inside Out songs.
So we went down to Stockholm to see Rage Against the Machine in front of 45 people and we hung out with them all night, because, you know, we were wearing our hardcore shirts and they were like, “Oh, you guys are hardcore kids.”
And then three months later they were like the biggest band in the world. And I followed their career.
When they came out it was right when we started Refused, and we didn’t want to be Rage Against the Machine, but we were like, “Holy shit – a mainstream band that’s radical, that talks about politics and that made sense.”
Some of their music has not [aged] 100% well, but some of their songs are still great and some of their lyrics are fantastic.
And I do think it’s sort of the same sentiment. When you grow up as an outsider or a freak or someone that feels left out – for me, taking that negative energy and that hatred, because I hated my teachers, the whole adult generation, my peers, the fucking jocks and bullies.  I hated everyone.
And I took that energy and I started a band.
I tried to focus that energy into something creative and positive. It’s a weird sort of revenge.  No one believed in me. I was not a popular guy in school. The girls did not like me. People just thought I was a fucking weirdo. And to take all that energy –

Everyone was just totally un-encouraging? There were no teachers that –
Everyone was like, “This guy’s just out of his fucking mind.” He’s weird.
And to take that energy and to turn it into something creative and eventually positive – that was a big deal.
I wrote those lyrics to “The Hate” just to be like – it shaped me into the person that I am today. And I’m not a hateful person at all, quite the opposite.  I’m a very easygoing kind of guy, but those formative years, they made me who I am today, and I’m really thankful that the bullies were bullies. I’m really thankful that I had to go through that shit, because it gave me character and it built me up as a person. I had to be a strong person and be like, “I’m not going to follow.”
Because that’s the thing: Peer pressure, in school, it’s so strong. And I never fell for peer pressure. And it made me a strong person today. And it made me fucking go about my own way all my life.  And I’m thankful for that.
I wanted to write that song because I think a lot of people recognize that feeling: “Fuck these guys. Fuck them! I’m going to fucking show them.” And if you can turn that into something creative, then I think that’s fantastic.

You “never followed the herd.”
No, never. I fucking hate the herd. Still, to this day.
As a young kid I was always a loner. I grew up kind of just hanging out by myself. And early on I was super-allergic to male group activity. I think the man as a social construct has to be the worst idea ever. And whenever guys get together and (makes vaguely ape-like noises), it freaks me out. It really bums me out.
And to this day I’m super-allergic to that. All the way through school I couldn’t stand that. And it made me the person I am today, because I was not a part of it.
I mean, I’m a man (laughs). That’s how I was raised. But I was very much outside of the norm really early on and, you know, it made me into where I am today. I’m very thankful for that.

You must have had a small group of friends, right?
Not really. I mean, no (laughs).
I’m trying to think of it. I mean, when I was 12, 13 I started getting into music for real. Before that I was kind of on my own. When I was like 12, 13, I was into David Bowie. I listened to the Beatles. And everyone in my class listened to AC/DC, and I was the weird kid. And I got into heavy metal, of course, eventually, and I got so into it that all my friends, they couldn’t keep up. I was so into it.
And then I found one guy who was as into it as I was, and I’m still friends with him. We had a hardcore band called AC4 together until recently. He’s always just played hardcore. And he was as into music I was. So he became my first real friend. This was when I was 14 or 15.
Actually, I had a friend that was in my class. He was the only guy that could play guitar. So I was kind of like, “You’re my friend. You can play guitar. We need to start playing music together.”
I couldn’t really play, but he was the guy. I forced him to become a punk rocker. We had a punk band together in ’87, so I was like 15. And one day he shows up at the practice space and he wears a button-down shirt, and he got rid of the earring, and he cut his hair.
I’m like, “What happened?”
He’s like, “My dad won’t let me be punk anymore. He’s going to give me a car because I’m not a punk.”
And the band broke up.
It was hard.
We started our first band – first real band hardcore band – this is ’89 – and it was the same thing: We met some kids who were skateboarding and they played heavy metal and me and Jens, the drummer, we were like, “We’re going to start a hardcore band. We need you guys to play in our hardcore band.” And we kind of made them start listening to hardcore and we kind of made them play in a hardcore band.
And eventually a small punk scene emerged and then when we came out with Refused it was us and a circle of friends and all of a sudden I had a community that I did belong to, but I was like 20, 21 until I had a bigger group of peers around me that was into the same stuff as I was.
So it’s been a very weird journey, because I’m a very social person. I like to hang out with people, but for a long time I was like, “Yeah – I’m that weird guy.”
I’d try to get friends into it. I forced my friends to be straight edge (laughs).
They’re like, “Um, I don’t know about this,” and I’m like, “Man, we need to be straight edge. It’s like the thing.” And they’re like “Yeah, I don’t know” (laughs).

What did your parents think?
They thought I was a weirdo from day one. I got into music and they were like, “It’s a phase,” and then I had a mohawk and fucking killer boots and they were like, “Yeah, I guess it’s a phase,” and then I came home from school one day and I’m like, “I’m vegetarian. I’m straight edge,” and they’re like, “What the fuck is going on?”
When we started Refused and we started touring they got really worried. They were like, “Yeah, I mean, it’s cool that you’re playing music, but maybe you should get a real job, because you’re not going to be able to do this forever.”
And one day they just turned, and they love it.  They go to all our shows.  My dad has INVSN and Refused shirts and he’s always supporting our music.
I have two younger brothers; they also both play in bands.  I have a brother who’s 10 years younger than me. He does what I do. He’s actually INVSN’s sound guy when we tour Europe and he plays in punk bands and he has a studio. So he lives a similar life to mine, and my parents are super-supportive.
But it took them a while.
I mean, my dad’s a working class guy, so for him, success always equals money. It’s like, “If you’re successful, then you can buy a better car and you can buy a better house.”
For years he didn’t get it. He was like, “Maybe you should write a hit single.”
[Laughs] I’m like, “That’s not how life works! All life is like a piece of art.  All life is like a project.”
He’s like, “But you’re not making any money!”
I’m like, “That doesn’t matter. I live life as a free agent. I do whatever I want.”
Now they’ve kind of accepted that. With the Refused reunion we made some money, so my dad’s like, “Yes!”
He’s happy [laughs].

You’d done enough television appearances by that point.
Yeah, that’s true, too.

There’s that quote of you that you did back when Refused was still around.  “A band should always be pushing itself to the limit.”
I really always liked that quote a lot. Do you think you’re doing that with INVSN? Do you still believe that? And if so, how so?
Yeah, I still believe it.  The music we play might not be –

It doesn’t seem like it’s musically pushing.
No. Here’s the thing: I’m not interested in becoming some avant-gardistic free form jazz player just to break the boundaries of music. I’m always interested in pushing myself to see what I can do and what we can accomplish.
I mean, every band I ever try to be in – it’s always something new for me. I mean, I did a power-pop band because I wanted to see: Can I write power-pop songs? Can we get this shit together?  That was an earlier version of INVSN. We played power-pop for a while. And then we did Noise Conspiracy.
INVSN, musically, when people hear it they’re not going to be like, “Wow. This is really new and groundbreaking,” but it’s a different style of playing. It’s very economical. The way we play is very – everyone plays just a little. And then we put it together and it becomes a lot. There are no fills. There are no guitar solos. There’s nothing fiddling about. It’s like, “You play these two notes. That’s all you do the entire song.” So that’s a challenge.
And the way I sing, to write lyrics, to continually push yourself creatively. That’s my main goal.
I think if you want to, as a band, be like, “OK, everything we ever do is going to be something no one’s ever done before.”
That’s just – that’s just going to end horribly bad. That’s just going to sound like bullshit [laughs].
But it’s about pushing myself. I sing better than ever before.
The whole idea of this band – yeah, I’m still trying to push myself.
And sometimes you’ll try something and be like, “That didn’t turn out well.”
Whatever. We’ll try this instead.
If you follow my career, I’ve never done two records that sounded the same. I’ve done records in similar veins, and in Noise Conspiracy we were building on what we’d done already. I think it’s going to be the same way with INVSN. The next record’s going to be more of what we’re doing right now, but just keep on building on it and keep on pushing ourselves.
It’s funny, because the last record we did, in Swedish, me and Andres have a default thing, where, being punks, as soon as we’re uncomfortable, we just start playing fast. So if there’s a show and like, “Oh, shit, people are not into it – just play fast!” And we start playing fast. With INVSN, that was a big challenge.

Tone it down.
Tone it down.  Myself, the first show I played with my first band, I was like, “No one knows about hardcore. No one likes hardcore. So let’s just fucking go crazy.” And we went crazy. And that’s stuck with me ever since. If people don’t know the band, yeah, I’ll hang upside down from the ceiling. I’ll fucking throw the microphone away. But with INVSN it’s a different energy. Sometimes I’m going to explode and I have to pull myself back.
Yeah, I always try to push myself.

I thought you might say just singing, more singing, stretching your range, that type thing.
Yeah. Totally. That’s a big deal for me. I’ve always been a good frontman. I’ve always been like a spectacular guy live. Half-assed singer, honestly – it was not until like seven, eight years ago when I was like, “OK, I actually got the hang of singing.”
I’m pushing my singing. I’m a better singer than I ever was.

What are your favorite memories of D.C.? I actually wanted to ask you if you’ve met Ian MacKaye.
I met him a bunch of times, actually. We, years and years ago, the first time – this is my favorite Ian MacKaye story: 1991, me and David from Refused and a bunch of our friends, we traveled down to Gävle to see Fugazi play.
They played at a place called Café Q and there were maybe 50 people at the show.
We didn’t know – we figured that was normal. 50 people at a Fugazi show?  Whatever.  And 20 of them traveled down from Umeå to see them play.  And we did what we always did in Umeå – we just ran up onstage and grabbed the microphone and started singing along to these Fugazi songs.
And after the show I remember going into the dressing room.
It must have been early ’92, because we had our first Refused demo. I remember going into the dressing room and I was like [slightly frightened voice], “Hey. We’re in a band from Umeå. We’re called Refused.”
Everyone was like [friendly voice], “Hey, what’s up, guys?”
And I was dumbfounded. I’m like, “Here’s Ian.”
I’m like [frightened voice] “So, do you still skate?”
He was like, “Yeah, yeah – sometimes.”
I’m like, “That’s rad!” And I left.
So, that’s the first time I met him. I met him a bunch of times. Noise Conspiracy opened up for Fugazi.

I didn’t realize that.
Yeah. In Umeå, which is a big deal for me. He’s a nice guy. He always impresses me when he meets me. He’s like, “Hey Dennis. What’s up?”
I’m like, “Holy shit.”
And I’ve been to D.C. a bunch of times. I have a bunch of friends here. Refused toured with Frodus and the Battery guys and that scene.

You toured with Battery?
No, we played shows with them and Damnation A.D. and those bands. I mean, I know a lot of people from here. It’s a cool city.
It has so much history – the history of Dischord and how Dischord Records as a phenomenon inspired me and my friends to start our own labels. I mean, I still do a label called Ny Våg Records, and we only release local bands. We only support the local scene. It’s the same idea as the Dischord idea – you know, if you’ve got a local scene you need to cherish it and nourish it and document it.

I also wanted to ask you if you keep in touch with the guys from Frodus at all.
Yeah!  We’re staying at Jason Hamacher’s house tonight. Shelby lives in Gothenburg and we played a couple weeks ago and he texted me, “I can’t come out tonight.” He just became a dad. When we were in Seattle with Refused a year-and-a-half ago we hung out with Nate. So, yeah – we’re in touch. I meet Jason quite frequently.  Good guys.

“Down in the Shadows” – who’s the “they” in that song?
I think it’s a little bit what I talked about before. As you grow older, the social constructs make it even harder to just live the life that you want to live. I mean, even with me, like, I get this normalcy crisis when I was like, “Holy shit – I don’t have a proper job. I don’t have a girlfriend. What am I doing?”
You know?
It’s even harder to maintain that kind of flexible mindset when you grow older. And that song is about that.
It’s so easy to get dragged down – I mean, it’s very symbolic – but it’s so easy to get dragged down into a life that you were not ready to be a part of and you didn’t want to be a part of – you never wanted to be a part of.
And I have so many friends that are radical people and they’re great musicians, but then their band never took off, and they got a girlfriend or a boyfriend and then all of a sudden they have a kid and they have a mortgage on their house. And you can’t go on tour. You have a steady job. Somewhere in the back of your mind you have all these ideas, but they never come to fruition.
It’s about that.
It’s not patronizing those people. It’s more like: I want to be who I am.
And no one’s going to thank you. That’s a point, too. No one’s going to thank you for some sacrifices that you made for some abstract others. You have to live your life for yourself.

Like your folks, you mean?
More like the way you’re supposed to be. Society as a whole; you’re like, “I want to fit in and I want to do this, because everybody else does that.”
Yeah, your job, or your boss, or your parents.
If you come on your knees to your boss, like, “Oh, please, I’ve done such a good job.”
No one’s going to fucking thank you.
Your life is yours to live, and I think that’s an important thing.
It’s those “they.” The vague, abstract they people (laughs).

You kind of alluded to something that I’ve wanted to ask someone who’s been successful like you, but I’ve never actually asked someone, and that’s: What do you think separates people who achieve like you’ve achieved from let’s say your friends who you think are talented, but their bands never took off. Is it passion, talent, luck?
It’s a mix of everything.
First of all, speaking for myself, it’s been the drive.
It’s been the fucking, weird, “I never want to give up” attitude that brought me here today.
There’s so many times where I could have been like, “Fuck this. It’s not worth it.”
But then I just kept on going and that’s my stubbornness.
Also, I’m good at making shit happen. I talk to people. I know people. I mean, I have friends that are way more talented than me, and they’re never going to release a record. I’ve released tons of records that should have not been released, because I’m that guy.

Like outgoing? High energy?
High energy, and I’m really restless. I’m like, “Let’s make this happen. Let’s make it happen. Let’s make it happen,” and then I’ll make it happen.
Also, one of my biggest strengths: I’m an amazing coordinator. I’m one of those guys. I can have two bands going, a record label, and just oversee everything and make it happen.
And I have friends that are super-talented, but their hands are not coming out of their pockets. They’re just, like, (sighs forlornly). And I can make shit happen.
But that’s me.
It’s luck. It’s the right place at the right time. It’s talent, of course. And it’s hard work. People that make it, they usually work hard. You practice. You fucking do your job. And then hopefully something will happen. But there are no easy recipes.
I like this Ian book (“Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group”). We’ll see if he has some strategies. He might know better than me. But then again, he might play in bigger bands than he does if he knew better (laughs). I don’t know.

(Laughs) That’s true.
But there’s no recipe for success. I mean, same thing with Refused. We put a record out in 1998. I remember talking to David, saying, “No one’s going to like this record. No one’s going to get it,” because the punk and hardcore scene can be a tad conservative at times.
And we’re like, “Fuck it. People are not going to get this.”
And we put it out and no one really did like it when it came out.
Some people were like, “Yeah, this is cool,” but all the hardcore kids were like, “I don’t know. Last record was better. It was more hardcore.”
And then we broke up.
And 14 years later, it’s like winning the lottery. It’s like, “All right – we’re just going to give you all of this because you guys are awesome” (laughs), and we’re like, “Well, we didn’t do anything.”
And you can never foresee that.
But in my case, I think it’s just stubbornness, and I got no backup plan either, you know? I don’t have a degree to fall back on. I have no practical skills. So this is it, you know? (laughs)

And you did stick to your guns with that record, too. Made the record that you wanted to make, waited for everyone else to catch on.
When you start making music based on the assumption of what other people will think about your music, then you’re fucked.
I mean, of course you can write songs and be like, “Oh, this is catchy. Maybe people will like this tune,” but then it’s the other tune that they like.
When you start trying to do that, that’s when you start making poor music.
I wrote music for myself and my friends and the bands we had together. Like, “Let’s make the best songs that we can and let’s make them as amazing as we can.”
And sometimes it connects with people and sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes you do something and you’re like, “This is amazing,” and looking back, you’re like, “Yeah – it wasn’t that amazing. It was just fine” (laughs).
That’s just how it is. I always try to – (pause) – don’t let that get to me. Just write songs, play music, because you’re passionate about playing music, and I think it shows. Once people become calculated and cynical about their music, I think people can pick up on that and be like, “Oh, wait – this is not for real.”

For sure. I interviewed MacKaye in 2005 and I interview Mark Andersen from Positive Force around then and they both said really similar things: If you do what you believe, whatever it is, things will happen. Like, “Yeah, 20 years later, after I made Dischord, 25 years later I’m in a good position. But five years after, I wasn’t.”
Yeah. It’s the same thing with this band. We’re doing it and we’re not making any money and no one really cares. And hopefully – just keep on doing it and hopefully one day people are like, “These guys are great.”
Yeah – I totally agree. You gotta follow your heart and you gotta do shit that makes sense to you. And then hopefully people will catch on.

You’re not making any money with this band?
(Adopts voice of lamentation) We’re losing so much money. I called, talked to Mike, that’s our manager, when we started getting this together. I said, “Yeah, Kajsa0, who plays guitar.” He’s like, “Who’s Kajsa? What are you, five people?”
“We’re actually six.”
He just wrote me an email saying, “Do you hate money?”
I mean, it’s six people. We’re not 19 anymore. People need some money to pay their rent when they come home.
I’m paying for us to be on tour, basically. It’s fine.  You know, you start up something new, you got to invest in it. I believe in this band. I believe in these people. It’s an honor to play with them. Of course it doesn’t matter if we make money.

Spoken like a true punk rocker. Do you expect Refused fans to like this band?
If your favorite band is Refused and Hate Breed, then no, not really. If you like Refused because you like the Stooges and you like Joy Division and you like music, yeah. It’s a good band.
But if why you liked Refused was the raw energy and the power of it – yeah, it’s very different. If your favorite band is Refused, you might like this, but you might also be like “What the hell?”
I mean, I understand. I was at that Rage Against the Machine concert yelling “Play ‘No Spiritual Surrender!’ Fuck this rap-metal shit!”
That’s not what I said, but you know, I’ve been in that situation where I was like, “Why did they do this? This makes no sense.”
But I think with Refused that wasn’t – we were a hardcore band and then we did a journey that very few hardcore bands have done. We transcended that genre.

You also got heavier, while doing that.
Yeah. I mean, people who like Refused are not hardcore kids.

Generally, yeah.
Generally. It’s people who like all kinds of music. A lot of them like heavy music. There are metal-heads who like Refused. I mean, if you’re a metal-head that liked Refused, I can see INVSN not being your cup of tea, but a lot of people that like Refused are just people who love music – they like good music. I mean, in my life, two genres of music: good music, bad music. Some music is great, some music not so great. That’s how I think about music.
If you’re like that, yeah, I think you would like INVSN. If you just want to mosh, you’re not going to be that excited.
There’s some people who followed me from Refused to Noise Conspiracy to INVSN. For them, that journey makes sense. If you only heard Refused and then you heard INVSN – it is totally different.
If you see us live, though, it’s a very similar energy. I’m still that guy when we play live, even though it’s a different band.

Thematically, the lyrics seem similar. Same type of stuff about sticking to your guns.
Yeah. I mean, Refused was really, really extrovert. Really, really in your face, fuck you kind of politics. INVSN, some of it’s more internal, more directed to yourself.
I think as you grow up and you have these political ideas, you start to have these existential crises, when you’re like, “Wait a minute – what am I doing?”
And also because the INVSN lyrics are written in Swedish first, and then I translate them to English. So whenever I write in English – I’m pretty good at English, but I have to translate. It’s not my first language so whenever I think in English or write in English, it’s like, “What’s my thought that I have to formulate?” And I have to formulate it in a different language.
In Swedish, it becomes closer, and it’s much faster. It becomes more personal, because these are exactly my thoughts.
When I think in Swedish, the lyrical content becomes a bit more personal, but it’s the same themes. If you look at the new INVSN record, a lot of the songs stem from my Marxist and anti-capitalist ideas.
It’s all over the place, but it’s not as fuck you, in your face as Refused or Noise Conspiracy. It’s a bit more subtle, but it’s still there. I’m the same person.

Not a lot of love songs.
Not a lot of love songs. People know. I’ve been writing about these topics for 20 years. It’s not like people are like, “That guy’s a socialist! I didn’t know!”
People know. I don’t need to say it every song (laughs).

Are you an extroverted person or an introvert?
I’m a Gemini, so I’m an extroverted person when I’m onstage. Apart from that, I’m a social person, but I’m a very inhibited person when I’m not onstage. I wouldn’t say shy, but I’m not – I don’t drink. I’m not the life of the party. I don’t go crazy. I don’t talk to girls. I’m kind of timid. Then I get onstage and there’s nothing I won’t do onstage, you know? (Laughs) Just my dual personality, I guess.
It is a weird thing. People meet me and they hang out with me and they see me play live and they’re like, “What just happened?”

Me too. I get that a lot. 
Yeah. It brings you out. Rock music brings it out in me. So, I’m an extroverted person when I need to be, but most of the time I’m just kind of introverted – kind of balanced – (laughs) – not balanced, that’s complete bullshit.

Yeah. Svenonius talks a lot about the stars in that book – what instrument you should play based on your sign.
That’s funny. Gemini’s a typical frontman kind of character, I would say (laughs).

You read that Village Voice article where they said – first of all: Are you really influenced by Svenonius? Were you really influenced by him? And did you read that Village Voice article where it said that you followed his career trajectories with your bands?
Yeah, I read that. So here’s the thing: I loved the Make-Up. I thought they were fantastic, and Nation of Ulysses – fantastic; Cupid Car Club – really cool.

You were aware of all those bands?
Yeah. I mean, Refused played shows with the Make-Up, and Noise Conspiracy played shows with the Make-Up.
So here’s my thing: I love those bands, and they really influenced – like, at that time when I discovered – my friend said, “You should check out the situationist movement,” and I started reading about the situationists. And in the same timespan I discovered Nation of Ulysses. I’m like, “Holy shit – that’s some weird situationist punk rock stuff.” It made me very excited.
I saw the Make-Up and I was like, “This is really cool,” but when I saw the Make-Up I was really into mod stuff. My favorite band was the Jam. I was really into northern soul. It was right in the line of what I was into. I loved the Make-Up. I loved their political ideas and their sense of fashion – so much that, coming from the hardcore scene, when we started Noise Conspiracy we did everything we could not to sound like the Make-Up.
We could write songs, and we were in the practice space like, “Sounds a little bit like the Make-Up. Scrap it.”
Because we were so aware – your musical references are only as big as your horizon, you know? So coming from the hardcore scene, starting a garage kind of ’60s band with a girl playing keyboard – we knew that we would get compared immediately to that kind of stuff. It’s fine, but we want to be our own band. When we started International Noise Conspiracy, we were really into garage rock, like the Nuggets box-set. The first song we played was a Sonics cover. But then we realized we were actually really good at playing, so we took it a slightly different way. But we were super-conscious about the fact that people would compare us to the Make-Up – so we were like, let’s not be the Make-Up. They’re their own band. They’re fantastic. We’re not the Make-Up. We’re from the north of Sweden, you know? We have this different idea.
That and also when they talk about Born Against– that we stole from Born Against. We stole nothing from Born Against. We just loved that band. We stole –

You did “Half-Mast.” That turned out good. 
Yeah, we did “Half-Mast,” but musically and lyrically it wasn’t like, “Let’s try – ” We weren’t trying to be Born Against. We just loved their fuck you attitude. And then for the “Shape of Punk to Come” we have “Refused Are Fucking Dead” in the booklet, and we just took the “Born Against are Fucking Dead” lyrics because we loved that band.
But I think when you write stuff like that, I think – I mean, it’s easy. In their mind, that’s probably what it was. But we know our musical horizon. We know what we were into. And I think you’re making it easy on yourself. Like, “They stole everything from Svenonius.”
Not really.
I like Svenonius and I love his bands, but we’re our own band, and as I said, when we started Noise Conspiracy, we were like, “Oh, it’s like the Make-Up – no, we don’t want to be the Make-Up. We want to be our own band.” We had to work against that the whole time. So we were very conscious about that.
So yes and no. I love those bands, but we try to be our own band and we try to do something completely different. I mean, Noise Conspiracy ended up being like a ’70s jam rock band at the end (laughs), and then I started this – no, not really.

I’m not familiar with that version of Noise Conspiracy.
The last version. Yeah, the last record we did was really long, jammy songs. Our guitar-player looked like he was in the Alman Brothers or something (laughs).
But no, I don’t think it’s true. I think you make it easy on yourself. But it’s a good way of putting people down, you know? (laughs)

Were you bummed out when you saw that review?
Nah, I don’t care. Whatever.  They don’t know me. They never talked to me. They have no ideas about my record collection or about my past. It’s just easy pickings, sort of. I mean, I’ve gotten worse.
I mean, being compared to the Make-Up or to Ian Svenonius – it’s fine. It’s flattering. He’s an awesome dude, you know? If people want to do that, whatever.  People have compared me to way worse people. (laughs)
So I try not to care about it.

I asked him about that review when I interviewed him and he said, “Imitation, copying, that’s a young man’s concern. Once you get older, you realize, the point is to copy, but to do it well.”  
Yeah. I totally agree. When you’re young, it’s more – we still, to this day I mean, I could tell you INVSN songs that we’re just like, “Oh, we heard that one,” but we made it into our own. It’s the same thing. When we started Noise Conspiracy we took from where we could take it. And sometimes it shined through, like, “Yeah – that’s what they’re trying to do.” And then you find your own identity. And then you still steal, but to your own identity.
He’s a smart guy, Ian.

Yeah. He said, “When you’re young, you try to be original, but it’s just a bunch of noise.”
(Laughs hard) That’s awesome.

Yeah. You kind of said something along the same lines earlier.

I wanted to ask you – do you think capitalism’s the problem, or is it human nature? To me, it seems like it’s human nature.  I mean, people have been oppressing each other since before capitalism.
Yeah, but I don’t believe in human nature, because I’m a Marxist. I think that everything is social construct. I think the way we are towards each other is a construction.  The way we’re taught to be as men or women is a construction. The way our sexuality works is a construction.
Of course, we’ve always had classes. We always had hierarchical societies, patriarchal societies. I think capitalism brings out the worst in it. I think capitalism, as a system, it is set up as a hierarchical society.
Capitalism, compared to a lot of other isms – it’s not moral. It’s not conscious. It’s just an economic effect. People are bummed, “Oh, shit – you’re moving factories to China.”
It’s like, “Yeah – that’s what capitalism does.”
Capitalism has no conscience. Capitalism has no morals. Capitalism is not interested in our lives. Capitalism is a system set up to generate as much profit and money as possible, and then it’s like a weird idea of trickle down – and if we make enough money, the bottom-feeders will also get a little piece of the crumbs. And I do think that capitalism is the problem, now, because that’s all we have. That’s the system that we live under.
No, I don’t believe in human nature.
I think that our brains are capable of fundamentally changing who we are depending on our surroundings and our upbringings and the constructions around us. So I do believe that a change of system would change people. I mean, it’s obviously complicated, but I do believe capitalism is a big problem – is the problem.

What do you think of evolutionary psychology? You could take it back to the apes and the dominant ape.
Yeah, but I’m not interested in that. In a world with abundance of everything, in a world where everybody could be well fed, everybody could have their own housing, everybody could be potentially fulfilled and happy, why would that interest us?  Why would we be like, “Survival of the strongest.” That makes no sense.
One of the things about being a human is that you take care of each other. You help the less fortunate, you help your friends, you help people around you to – to create a better world.
For me, the same argument would be, “Well, we’ve been eating meat for hundreds of years, so we should just continue to do it, even though it wastes resources, kills animals and makes us fat and unhealthy.”
For me, that’s not an argument. That’s just being lazy. So, yeah, social Darwinism holds no real ground in my life.

But you’re familiar with evolutionary psychology – this school of thought that tries to take everything back to evolution.
Yes, a little bit.

But you reject it.
I don’t reject it. I’m not a – (laughs hard).

You’re not that well versed on it.
Exactly. But as I said, for my idea of what I think the world should be like, I don’t think it’s that important, because I think that we have all the means to have a world where we could have a more equal and a better world. That idea of evolution, well, let’s evolve into something better then. But it’s social, economical, religious, political systems and constructions that we need to get rid of or change.

So socialism is what you want to see us go toward?
Yes. As a very abstract idea, yes. If I had figured out exactly how we’re going to do it, I would not be sitting in a backstage room with you, talking about this. I would get the Nobel Peace Prize.
I have no real idea how we’re going to do it. I just know that a world that’s purely based on economy is not a world that’s sustainable. And I don’t believe in that. I believe in the old Marx quote (“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”) – I know it in Swedish. I still believe in that. I think that’s how we need to set up the world.

I wanted to ask you: What happened in the U.S.S.R. and with real-existing communism – it must have made you question the validity of communism and Marxist thought – the way that it all played out.
Yeah, I read up on all of that. Russia was part and parcel very much a state capitalism. It was a state-capitalist sort of idea. And the paranoia – both in China and in Russia, the paranoia and the insanity, also the pressure from the rest of the world just made people go insane.
… You know, in China where they said, “All right – let’s have a real socialism. Everybody can say what they think is wrong with socialism and we can work together.” And then when people started saying what was wrong with socialism they were just like, “Wait! Stop this! We don’t want people to say what’s wrong with socialism. That’s just not going to work.”
And I mean, it is a huge problem. There are so many traps that we can fall into, but it doesn’t mean we should stop trying.
I don’t think there’s ever been a fully-evolved socialist idea that worked. It’s always been very faulty and not my idea of what I’d want it to be.
It’s weird.  I want an equal society. I want a society where we take care of each other. And every time I talk about socialism, people are like (adopts scary tone), “What about Russia?”
That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s pretty far from what I’m talking about. It’s weird to be held accountable for something that happened somewhere else years and years ago. You’re like, “Why am I defending – that’s not my idea.”
You know? I’m not a Stalinist. I’m not a Leninist. I just believe we can have a radically different world.

Do you believe in democracy?
Yeah, I do.

To me, that was the problem: They didn’t have any democracy. They didn’t have any freedom of speech.
Yeah, exactly. It’s very important. If you have an opinion, you should be able to debate it and talk about it and express it.
I do believe in democracy.

When communism collapsed, were you happy about that? I mean, it was so long ago.
Yeah. At that time I wasn’t political. I didn’t really get it.
… The only thing I really care about with that is: There was a time where the world was divided in two. There was different possibilities. You had a very strange abstract idea about communism or socialism, and you had capitalism. And that was interesting, because it kept people on their toes, the idea that a different world was possible.
And then when that collapsed, everything became capitalism, which I think is a huge problem, because people are growing up now and they’re in their 20s – they never had the alternative. They never had those ideas.
I mean, of course, communism itself in the Eastern Bloc was a huge problem, but as a thought, and as a idea, I liked the fact that there was something else but capitalism around. It was interesting. It made for a more interesting world.

I would think that it would have made people more supportive of the West, because the East seemed so awful.
(Laughs) Yes. Yes, it did.

So repressive that if that’s the alternative –
Yeah, that’s possibly true as well (laughs).

I wanted to ask you, who are your favorite authors and writers?
Oh. Most of my real favorites are Swedish writers, actually. There’s a bunch from my home region. We’re all farmers where I grew up and they write about farmers in the 1800s and they write in dialect, the same dialect my granddad used to speak. Those are some of my favorite writers.
Apart from that, my favorite book is still “Revolution of Everyday Life.”

I’m not familiar with it.
Raoul Vaneigem, this situationist guy; fantastic book.
I read a lot – now I’m drawing a blank, just because I got that question. Most of my favorite writers are Swedish, actually. I like a lot of French writers, just because they have this weird attitude – they’re better than everyone else, in a funny way.  So I like a lot of French writers.

How about political writers?
… Right in the gap between postmodernism and post-structuralism, like Foucault or Guy Debord – when you still had the modernist thought that a big idea was a possibility, but you still went deep into it and realized there was big problems with it.
That’s my favorite point of political theory – when that was possible. So those are some of my favorite authors around that time, favorite political writers – because I think when post-structuralism came, like nothing’s real, nothing’s possible, everything is just facades – and then nothing has any meaning, because nothing matters. And I don’t like that. You know, I like ideas. I like the fact that ideas can change our lives, can change our minds, and take us into a different trajectory and make us into different people. I like those ideas.
But I like the breaking point right between postmodernism and post-structuralism where it was a little bit of both.

I’m not familiar with that stuff. I’m a guy who doesn’t like theory. I’m like – history.
All right. That makes sense. But it’s like 1968 – when it was revolution, but it was intellectual. They actually thought about these ideas. They took Marxism and turned it on end and made it into something more powerful.
Political theory, for a while – late ’90s, early 2000s – I thought that was going to liberate us. I thought political theory was going to be the thing. Early Noise Conspiracy was intellectual – we were like, “We need to find a language, we need to find a thought, an idea that makes the changing of the world possible,” and for me, for a long time, that was political theory.
I read a lot of political theory. I talked a lot with my friends about political theory. I thought that was going to be, like, the thing. But then, that was not the thing. At least, not for me.
For me it was just music. It was always music, but you try to infuse music with these ideas that you have and try to make music hold more meaning and have more gravitas and power, you know? So you infuse all these political ideas and these intellectual thoughts into music and make the music more powerful.

Right, and more interesting.
Yeah, more interesting. You know, as we talked about before, challenge yourself, challenge the listener. I think to a certain extent that the language which you speak is also the way you think.
I’m really fascinated by political theory. It gives you another language. It gives you another understanding of the world.

I wanted to ask you what you think about Syria and humanitarian intervention.
That’s one of the most difficult questions to answer. Some of the smartest people in the world are trying to figure that out every day. I mean, I don’t know.

Do you think there’s a role for the West or do you just think staying out is the best thing?
I don’t know what to think, really, because I hate when the West, it’s just like, “Yeah, we know best. Our culture is superior. So of course we’re going to implement that on you. We have freedom and you don’t have freedom.”
I don’t like that mentality, but if you see people are being tortured and being killed by a fucked-up government, yeah, maybe it is good to intervene and be like, “We need to stop this.”
But then look at Afghanistan – that helped no one – completely useless, and people are still being killed and oppressed and nothing good came out of that.
So it’s very tricky. I don’t really know. I don’t have a good answer for that.
I think the most frustrating part is that, you, as a civilian or a normal person, there’s very little you can do to affect what’s happening and what’s going to be the outcome of whatever the Western world comes up with. I don’t know what to do about it and there’s very little I can do about it.
And I think that’s a problem with a lot of leftist people: They choose issues that are more clear-cut, because it makes it easier to have a steady position. Yeah, we support the Palestinians, because it’s easy to see what the problem is, and then you’re like, “This is my position,” but with Syria or a lot of stuff that goes on in the Middle East, there’s so many gray areas. It’s so hard to be like, “Yeah, this is what I believe.” Then you’re like, “But then again –”
So I don’t know. We have to read more – think more (laughs).

What do you think about NATO? They said the point of NATO was to keep the U.S. in, the Germans down and the Russians out. What do you think about that quote and do you think there’s still a place for NATO?
I don’t know. If you look at what Putin’s doing right now, maybe there is. But no, I don’t think there is. Military supremacy – that’s such a barbaric idea, but it is what we do to prove our position.
America is the most powerful superpower since the Second World War, up until recently. And the economical power of America is definitely diminishing, and Southeast Asia and China, and the European Union, to a certain extent, is outgrowing America and the U.S. economy.
America doesn’t have that economical pull anymore, so let’s invade Iraq, let’s invade Afghanistan and show people that you still can’t fuck with us, because we still got the guns and the power. That sort of thinking is just – it’s pretty insane.
NATO and all that, it’s hard to tell.

It seems to me that Europe can defend itself. It’s not the Cold War anymore.
Yeah, it’s not the Cold War anymore. There are no imminent threats of anyone trying to invade your country. Of course, I am wrong, because Putin’s like, “This is now Russia,” and everyone’s like, “No, it’s not.”
Yeah, it is.
So, of course, it could happen, but it seems very unlikely that some country would invade Germany. I don’t think that’s going to happen. So I think that yes, that is probably a fair assessment, that Europe could fend for itself if something went down (laughs).

Is there a place for the right-wing in punk?
No (laughs). Next question.

How have your politics changed since the days when you were in Refused? Have they changed? Maybe they haven’t.
Yeah, of course they’ve changed. I mean, you grow older, you learn to pick your battles. Some issues are not that important anymore and some issues become more important.

What’s less and what’s more?
My basis for who I am and what I want is pretty much the same, but strategy, approach, how do I talk about this, how do I make this happen? I think that’s probably the biggest difference: how you approach it. When we were in Refused, it was like shoot left, right, everywhere. Go crazy. Now it’s more like you try to focus. What is important? What fights are worth taking? What do I need to focus on?
It’s also a matter of – I don’t like the self-sacrificial sort of political idea. I like the idea of living and also being conscious and revolutionary at the same time.
So, I don’t care about pettiness. I don’t care about the small issues.
Leftist people have a tendency of doing that. I have friends who are super-intelligent, and what they’ll do is, they’ll have a study group that fights another study-group about some Marxist idea. I don’t care about that shit. That’s not important. That’s not an issue for me.
I think that changed as I got older. I don’t have time for pettiness. I don’t have time for bullshit. If I pick a fight, I know it’s going to be worth it.
When I was a young kid, I ran into the room and kicked a burger out of someone’s hand. “Fuck you! Go vegan!”
I’m not like that anymore, you know? I’m a bit more balanced with my political ideas.
That was a rewrite on how life was.
I mean, it changes.
Also, the reality of life – I said it before: When you’re young, it’s easy to be a rebel. It’s kind of almost expected of you to be anti-authority and crazy. And when you grow older, it’s hard to be a rebel. It’s harder to be that kind of person.
It makes it interesting. It also makes you, in ways, more radical, because you have to hold on to these ideas.

Also you’ve seen more.
Yeah, you’ve seen more. And you’ve experienced more.
One of the interesting things is, when you’re a young kid, you’re like, “Fuck this. Fuck that. I hate these guys. I hate those guys.”
And then you grow old and you’re like, “I was right. The gut feeling that I had, it was right.”
I didn’t know – politically, theoretically. I just knew that something was wrong and I spoke out against it. And then, 20 years later, it was all right.

I’ve definitely experienced that.
Oh wow, they’re playing. This is a long interview.

Yeah. I got a lot of questions. A couple more?
A couple more.

Thanks. Now I’m trying to think of my best Refused questions.
Best Refused questions.
(Long pause.)

I guess one thing I wanted to ask you was, what are your happiest memories from Refused, and what do you think are Refused’s greatest accomplishments?
I mean, my happiest Refused memories are from 2012 (laughs).

I thought that was the true answer, but I wasn’t sure if you would say that.
Yeah, because we had a great time. People were really into it and we enjoyed each other’s company and we were not a bunch of tense fucking crazy kids. That was some of my best memories.
But also, when we started the band – you’ve seen the movie and it’s just a fucking disaster and everyone’s in agony. But for a long time we had a lot of fun. The reason why people in Sweden were drawn to Refused is we were a fun bunch of characters and we had a lot of energy and people really got into that aspect. You don’t really see that in the movie. It’s kind of dark and bleak, but we were a fun bunch. We had a lot of good times together before the last year and a half that was kind of a disaster. I have a lot of good memories of that band.
And, I mean, the greatest accomplishment was that we – in Sweden, ’93 to ’97, we toured and toured and toured, and we built a movement in Sweden of bands, of people, that are still active today, still playing music. I think that was our greatest accomplishment: that we managed to become something that meant a lot to people in Sweden at that time.
To me, “Shape of Punk to Come” is great, but it was our swan-song. It was like, “This is the end of it,” and we kind of knew it.
The touring we did in ’95, ’96 around “Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent,” that was when it really meant something.
People came out and people were really excited. And we were building something new, you know? So that was really cool.

Was there not really a hardcore or a punk scene in Sweden before that?
Not at all – nothing. I mean, when we started Refused and we went down to Stockholm to play, like 20 people showed up. We were like, “Where’s all the hardcore kids?”
“There are no hardcore kids in Stockholm.”
So we – not only Refused, but a bunch of our friends – we built a hardcore scene in the ’90s that got kind of big in Sweden. All these cities that we played – people showed up. It was really cool. We built something, for real.
And, you know, 15 years later you go on tour and play Terminal 5 in New York for 5,000 people, two nights in a row.

I was at that show.
It was pretty rad.

Yeah. One of the best shows I’ve been to.
It was pretty fantastic, yeah.

There’s that quote about Refused, where it says that you were unable to reconcile your anarchist beliefs with a career in music.

Is that true?
No. No, I don’t think it’s true. It’s a good afterthought.
When we started, we had no ambitions or aspirations to be anything other than a punk band, and as we grew, I grew more radical.
I mean, it’s partially true, because I was almost impossible to deal with at the end. The other guys spent hours and hours and hours writing riffs, and I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t give a fuck. I just want a revolution.”
They’re like, “What?!”
I’m like, “It’s all about the revolution.”
To a certain extent, I could see how that would be true.
We definitely separated because one of the basic issues was, of course, that I was so adamant.
Music, for me, was just a vehicle to overthrow capitalism, and they’re like, “We just want to be in a kick-ass rock band, and you’re just crazy.”
I was like, “Those guys are not revolutionary.”
So in a little way, but that was not the main reason.
But I was not an easy person to deal with at that time (laughs).

I wanted to ask you how Refused songs were written.
Mostly it was Chris and David that came up with riffs and ideas and then I did the vocals and lyrics and then we, in the practice space, just got them together. Chris and David are super-talented, but they have a very – if you leave them unchecked, they can work on a song for two years. Keep changing, keep changing. I would come in and be like, “Alright, this is the chorus, this is the verse, and now put it together.”
So it was a collaborative effort, but they wrote most of the riffs.  Chris is a genius. He worked on the “New Noise” riff for like a year.

Explain “Summerholidy vs. Punkroutine” – the meaning behind that song.
At the time, Refused was getting kind of popular, at least in Europe and Sweden, and a lot of our meetings and a lot of time was spent talking about economy, and it bummed me out. Because I was like –

Economy, like, being cheap?
Economy as like, we have to do this tour, and this is how much money we’re going to get, and we have to rent –

Like budgeting-type stuff.
Budgeting. And it bummed me out. I hate to talk about it. I mean, still, to this day: Being in a band, it’s a lot of budgeting and a lot of economy. But at that point, I wanted the band just to be a punk band. Just play punk. And we had all these offers. That’s what that song is about: the frustration of being torn between, let’s do it for real, but I just want to be punk.

So it’s like, “Is this a summer holiday, or is this an exercise in budgeting and trying to make a living?”
Yeah, exactly.

Touring is a summer holiday?
Yeah. Touring, for me, that’s what it’s supposed to be like. And then, “punkroutine” – you have all these meetings and label people telling you this and that. It freaked me out.  Now I’m a bit more used to it. Now it’s just a part of everyday life (laughs), but at that point, I think I was not ready for it.



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dc fest st stephens 2014“Ian McKaye was baptized here,” said Positive Force organizer Mark Anderson to a crowd of hundreds of hardcore fans gathered at St. Stephen’s Church in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The throng was assembled to enjoy the music and culture that the Minor Threat frontman helped generate more than thirty years ago.

Washington, D.C.’s Damaged City Fest focused on straight-up hardcore this year. The lineup, while less diverse than last year’s, provided a cross-section of pioneering and contemporary fast, heavy, and sometimes political music.

After Pure Disgust (whose set I missed) kicked off the fest, Andersen addressed the crowd. He outlined the revolutionary history of St. Stephen’s, touting the church’s extremely progressive stances on race, sexual orientation, and other pressing issues of the last 50 years. Reaching out to marginalized groups of people seems to be a goal of the church, which he described as “a church that overthrows.”

Frank Dunn – the church’s priest – came onstage afterwards, wearing jeans and a casual black parishioner’s shirt. He gave a brief sermon, telling the audience “You’re the parish here. We exist for you.”

Dunn expressed some confusion about alternative lifestyles – tattoos, piercings, the music – but he seemed to get the overall gist of punk. He closed his speech by stating that “Christianity isn’t about what you believe. It’s about how you live.”

These statements brought to mind a series of questions. For example: Is hardcore about what you believe or is it about how you live? What purpose does it serve? Why does hardcore exist? What does it mean? Is it just a forum for catharsis? Why should one choose to devote one’s life to it? You can have a pleasant job, a comfortable life, worship Jesus, whatever. Can you do all that and maintain a steely core? Can a person serve two masters? Beyond fast music and fun times, what does hardcore music have to offer?

GREEN BERET was incredibly hard-hitting. I first caught sight of an actual bouncer on stage, wearing a classic black shirt with “SECURITY” in white on it. The band provided breakdowns at a fly-by pace driven by drums played with incredible violence. The lanky lead singer stalked back and forth. Guitars, while heavy, served more of a support for the maniacal pounding. “We’re gonna fucking pander to you people,” the lead singer said before the band ripped into a cover that I did not recognize, but apparently the fans did!

Following the youth of Beret was a 4-piece with a more upbeat style. VIOLENT REACTION consisted of dudes with short hair. A solo with three discernible notes was played, and it worked. The band focused on fast, catchy riffs, with an extra guitar adding depth.

Between sets I saw some old faces from the good old days, and a lot of people from out of town. One “old head” said in passing conversation, “Last time I was here was for Jawbox in 1993.”  A tall German in a Minutemen shirt passed by. His last time at St. Stephen’s was 22 years ago.

RIVAL MOB’s bassist wore a proper cardigan, and luckily the band had longhairs in the lineup. That’s generally a plus. The set opened with the lead singer saying, “D.C.: A city of political agendas. We’re Rival Mob, and here’s our fucking political agenda” before holding the microphone up to a silent band. He had the moves of a professional wrestler, flailing his arms as if he were drowning, and swiping away at imagined foes.

It was very entertaining. Many young men were mouthing the lyrics, as if it was an automatic reaction. Maybe it was.

The virtual award for Best Outfits of the Night goes to GOVERNMENT ISSUE, the self-proclaimed dinosaurs of punk. John Stabb wore an oversized button-down shirt with a bleeding eye symbol painted on it. The gnarly guitar swirled around, with the melody held down primarily by busted bass lines. The guitarist wore a somewhat gaudy vertical-striped button-down shirt and played with sloppy perversity. Stabb shared an anecdote from the band’s first run in the ’80s: A bandmate asked the guitarist, “How do you sound so crazy?” and he said, “I just take old Rolling Stones chords, and you know, speed ’em up.”

GI captured the unfettered imagination and freedom that’s present in their recordings from the ’80s. Stabb made little attempt to make his songs relevant to the audience of 2014, mainly sticking to contextualizing them with anecdotes from his memories. The performance landed closer to tormented and amused art-punk in its delivery than to general-issue hardcore.

Audience reaction was minimal, but for a band that prides itself on alienation, I’m not sure that mattered. A five-second version of “Stepping Stone,” a classic D.C. punk cover popularized by Minor Threat (and, before that, by the Sex Pistols), really pleased the crowd for five seconds. It was pleasing to me to see such interrupted pleasure.

GI is a group of grown men who enjoy torturing each other and the crowd. The security dude smiled and pumped his fist gingerly.

LOS CRUDOS played short songs with the most primal screams of the night. Their songs were paced well, building up to true pulverization. The band’s lead singer, Martin Sorrondeguy, has a way of addressing the crowd as if he were speaking directly to you. He was wearing a GAS RAG shirt and did kick-jumps across the stage. His nimble stage moves accompanied a set that challenged the audience instead of looking backwards.

Sorrondeguy offered stories about the time and place each song was written. The music must have been ahead of its time in terms of its style and delivery. He called out the racial separation in the audience (“all the Spanish people are up front”) and invited everyone to join, saying “We ain’t separatist.” When he spoke to the audience directly in Spanish, I felt a chill of excitement. The pit started up.

I don’t speak Spanish, but seeing Los Crudos share their message in this space – where I have nearly always seen mostly white, mostly English-speaking bands play – was still really awesome.

Oftentimes people enjoy music because it validates their feelings. Bands without political messages subtly validate feelings and sentiments like apathy, disenfranchisement, nihilism, resignation, and conservatism. I’m not interested in supporting any of those things. For me, Crudos were the most relevant band of the night because they spoke directly to race and class.

In line with this, Martin directly addressed the women present in the pit and the rest of the venue. They rushed the stage for “That’s Right We’re That Spic Band.”


Is it possible to change the world or to impact one small part of it through independence, ingenuity, working together, and fast music? Is hardcore still relevant? These are valid questions, and ones that should be asked as we face (or fail to face) difficult social, spiritual, and environmental problems.

Hardcore music is often deceptively simple. Its simplicity is misleading, and consequently many overlook its most valuable currency, which is challenging ideas.

D.C. fest parking lot before the show
D.C. fest parking lot before the show
Mark Andersen speaks during Damaged City Fest 2014 in St. Stephen's performance space.
Mark Andersen speaks during Damaged City Fest 2014 in St. Stephen’s performance space.