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Interview: Punk Rock Politics

11 Jan

E-mail interview with Rockstar Journalist blog.

Photo by Michelle Damitz

Do you feel that the style of music reflects the lyrical content?
There is a lot of rage and desperation in both our music and our lyrics. We try to tie all of our political themes to the human experience — how societal and economic pressures affect the individual. That said, we primarily operate as an instrumental band when we’re writing songs. After a song is more or less complete, we try to figure out how to fit some vocals in. We tackle some fairly heavy themes because there’s nothing worse than a good song with dumb lyrics.

I ask because songs like “ILO Convention 169 and the line “ancestral lands now have to earn” are certainly both stark in terms of throbbing music, and political discourse.
This song has always had a sort of a mournful and desperate cry to my ears. The song is about how indigenous peoples around the world are facing more and more pressure by governments and corporations to allow their homelands be exploited. In particular, this song deals with a 2009 clash in Peru. When face-offs turned violent, 23 police officers and at least 10 indigenous people were killed. Riot police used tear gas and shot 82 protesters.

The musical influences are little easier to parse (I certainly hear a lot of Fugazi in “The Concept of the Urban Guerrilla”), but from what sources do you draw lyrical inspiration?
Musically, Fugazi has been more of idealistic influence but certainly part of our musical world view. (Our bass player has some beautiful nods to Hoover’s Fred Erskine.) I’ve always seen the songs as based on Amphetamine Reptile noiserock filtered through chaotic hardcore and more recent post-metal textures. Lyrical inspiration is primarily drawn from current events, historical research, and authors like Chomsky, Zinn, and Marx. The expert wordplay of Jawbox’s J Robbins has long been a roadmap about how to map concrete ideas into more abstract language.

What sort of response does United Sons of Toil receive in Madison? I know it’s a pretty liberal town, but it’s still the Midwest.
We have a small but loyal audience here in Madison. Sometimes we feel a bit like we’re preaching to the converted, but we try to push people away from the passive left-leaning liberal Democrat mindset towards more of a radical reconstructionist viewpoint. But we don’t lecture on stage. We try to draw people in with the rock and let them discover what’s behind it later. We do try to keep our politics in the foreground through our social media presence though. It may turn some people off, but we don’t really care. In our experience, people who are attracted to extreme music aren’t really willing to accept reactionary politics or feel comfortable with the status quo.

Is When The Revolution Comes, Everything Will Be Beautiful your first release? If not, what else have you put out?
Actually, it’s our third full-length. Like our first two records, this one was tracked live in the studio and then completed at home with guitar and vocal overdubs. We mixed the records ourselves and sent them to Carl Saff in Chicago for mastering. All our records are available as name-your-own-price downloads at Bandcamp or can be purchased on vinyl.

Any plans for an upcoming tour?
We’re still recovering from a pretty grueling European tour last summer. I think we’re going to start writing new songs soon and if that happens, we’ll be touring regionally in the Midwest for most of the year — possibly East and West coast tours in 2013?

Advice for aspiring musicians

18 Nov

Shamelessly lifted from an interview with Conformists singer Mike Benker. Words to fucking live by.
  1. DO NOT PLAY LONGER THAN 35 MINUTES, TOPS. Leave people wanting more not less. The first Black Sabbath record is just under 38 minutes. Are you better than that record? Nope.
  2. GET THE FUCK OFF OF THE STAGE. Grab your drums and move out of the way. When you set up, take as long as you want. You are burning up your 35 minutes. When you are chit-chatting about how you just weren’t “feeling it tonight” while you remove wing nuts from cymbal stands, know that a band is ready to run you over. If you see another band helping you off the stage, that is a bad sign. Figure it out.
  3. STOP FORMING BANDS AND TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO SOUND. Get in the basement and play your asses off. Write ten songs and play the shit out of them then plays some shows. Scrap seven of the songs and write more before you dare record. The first ten songs a new band writes are usually not that good. Keep the best three. Not all of your ideas are good, numbnuts. Stop recording and releasing everything.
  4. IF SOMEONE SAYS “GOOD SHOW” SAY “THANK YOU”. If you complain about your set to someone who liked it, you look like a douche. Don’t be a whiner. Take the compliment and try harder next time.

Merchandise Update

1 Oct

Revolution LP: 40 copies left.
We returned from Europe with just 10 copies. Phratry Records has 30 copies. Gorgeous red vinyl with a 12-page booklet and download card. Don’t sleep on this.

Split 7″: Only 3 copies left!
We sold most of these German-only splits while we were on tour. The pressing plant messed up nearly half of the initial pressing and it is unclear whether it will be repressed. Get yours now.
[UPDATE 10/31/11: We just received more copies of the split from Fidel Bastro in Germany. We now have 30 copies and all 7 designs.]

Genocide Tee: Now via mailorder.
The now-classic red genocide USoT t-shirt is now available on-line. It’s not tour dates; it’s a litany of man’s inhumanity to man. 20+ left (1 each of S and XXL). Grab one now.

Interview with Russell Emerson Hall

1 Oct

Throat torturer/guitar abuser Russell did an e-mail interview with Julian Kaapke for the German print-only zine, Die Eelritze.

Everytime I hear your new record, I think of the William S. Burroughs quote “We intend to destroy all dogmatic verbal systems.” Your thoughts? Is this just me being weird or is this a legitimate connotation?

I think that accurately sums up how we think about the world. There are so many big lies that are sold to us in Amerikkka in the interest of maintaining the status quo. We are often told that we have a two-party political system in this country when, in fact, it is simply a single party unified by wealth and status and whose only interest is to entrench their position and power. The political, economic, religious, cultural, and anti-science dogma only serves to prop up a failing capitalist system. As Marx said, “question everything.”

Sticking with this theme for a moment — to call your lyrical themes highly literate and political would be an understatement. Which authors were influential on your worldview and when did you realize that the average person was basically getting it unlubed up the ass by the powers that be?

I became enthralled by Burroughs and Bukowski in my early 20s and they sort of warped my mind to think about the flip side of the American dream — the seedy underbelly. My skeptical inclinations grew as I was exposed to Chomsky and other media critics while studying Journalism in college. I had long had an unease that things were not as they seemed in this country and while I had long embraced Marx’s views on religion, it wasn’t until my early 30s that started really examining my views on the political and economic climate that we’re living in.

Part of it was this band. I made a decision right from the start that I did not want my lyrics to be the sort of intensely personal heart of darkness that I had trafficked in before. As I pushed myself to think about other areas of emotion, I tried to put myself in the place of people who had real problems (not “white-people problems”). I started exploring and researching the exploitation of indigenous and working class peoples and became increasing radicalized. I revisited Marx and Chomsky and Zinn and became involved in various socialist organizations and activities.

You pointed me to a quote by Howard Zinn about that moment of awakening and the responsibility it requires: “We all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas.” That is the mission of this band. That, and ear-splitting noiserock.

Martin Amis recently caught a lot of flak for his unabashed and unapologetic bashing of Islam, being called a racist among other things. However, I’ve noticed the tendency in the secular left to take a lot of shit from these assholes it would never take from the Christian right, e.g. outlawing same-sex relationships, pre-martial sex, atheism etc. and chalk it up to ‘cultural differences’. Personally, I think that these people are full of shit and every bit as dangerous as the born-again zealots. Your thoughts?

While I am a fan of Amis’ novels, his statements are clearly the ignorant rants of a reactionary racist. That said, I view Islam through the same lens as I do Christianity: religion has no place in truly democratic society. It is harmful on both a societal and personal level. Not only has it inarguably been incredibly damaging throughout history, it prevents individuals from finding their true potential and self-worth. As Richard Dawkins puts it, “atheism is life affirming in a way religion can never be” because “the here and now is all we have.” Of course, this exactly the   reason the elite encourages religion for the masses: it helps them ignore the brutal realities of the here and now and focus on a final reward after they are dead and gone.

Now you’ve been playing music all of your adult life if I understand  correctly, and it shows. If you hadn’t turned to music as an artistic expression, what do you think you’d have become? 

A drug addict, dead or in jail. Not a joke. I actually was very close to joining the military when I was in high school, which means I probably never would have discovered the Sex Pistols or Gang of 4 or The Clash. I suppose I might have become a visual artist (a designer or photographer) as that’s something I dabble in to this day. It’s difficult to conjecture because music making has become so intrinsic to who I am. I suppose that’s why I’m still doing it without much, if any, in the way of financial reward or public recognition.

What bands have you been currently following and what band would you  love to tour with if you could choose one, past or present? 

Current obsessions:

Touring in the past? These Arms Are Snakes or Unwound.
Touring in the future? Young Widows or Shipping News.

What was your impression of Europe on your first European tour?

We felt almost guilty every night when we were fed and housed. American clubs/promoters don’t give a shit about taking care of unknown bands. We had a lot of fun but the shows were not very well-attended and we didn’t come close to recouping the cost of our plane tickets. But I am proud of the fact that we booked the tour 100% DIY. No one was going to send us over there, so we fucking did it ourselves — just like everything we do.

Punks Against Apartheid

6 Sep

The Collective has signed on to a declaration from the group Punks Against Apartheid. We’ve long been supporters of the Palestinian struggle (our latest record has several songs written about the subject) and are proud to support this call to support Palestinian liberation. We were alerted to this group on the Rebel Frequencies blog written by fan and supporter Alexander Billet. The full text of the declaration is below.

POINTS OF UNITY

In whatever our capacity as artists and musicians, we pledge to respect the 2005 call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel, andhereby endorse the following points of unity:

  1. We, Punks Against Apartheid, exist to foment greater solidarity between the global punk community and the struggle for Palestinian liberation.
  2. We honor the call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) in its entirety. We will not play or do public speaking events in Israel in violation of Palestinian civil society’s call for cultural boycott.
  3. We will not perform, exhibit or otherwise participate in events which deceptively suggest symmetry or shared responsibility between “both sides” for Israel’s ongoing colonial oppression of the Palestinian people and its system of apartheid.
  4. We seek, wherever possible, to use our art, music and expression to provide informational support and real solidarity to the cause of Palestinian liberation.
  5. We will uphold the cultural boycott of Israel until it meets its moral and legal obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination.

OUR PURPOSE AND MISSION

Punks Against Apartheid is an emerging global network of musicians, artists, and activists opposed to all forms of oppression, exploitation and racism, with a particular distaste for apartheid and colonialism. We maintain that the policies of the Israeli government both in the Occupied Territories and within “Israel proper” towards Palestinians qualify as apartheid, and consequently that Palestinian struggle must be supported.

We urge all artists–especially punks!–to heed the BDS call and recognize the importance of their voices being raised against the apartheid state. Punk has had an important history in politicizing its listeners and forming a distinct counter-cultural message against the complacency of mainstream industry music. During the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, punk bands around the world responded to the call for solidarity. As punks and people inspired by this legacy, we hope to maintain the integrity of that history by expressing our unwavering support for Palestinian resistance to the occupation and convincing our fellow punks to do so as well.

As PACBI writes, “international visitors who insist on including Israeli cultural institutions in their itinerary, in violation of the boycott, should not expect to be welcome by Palestinian cultural institutions.”

Artists in solidarity with the Palestinian call should not alienate the very people they claim to support by playing shows in Israel, but rather openly and clearly refuse to do so. We guarantee you–the allies and fans you will gain will be more faithful than the suits who will use your show as a justification for Israel’s respectable status on the international scene, in order to cover up 60 years of ethnic cleansing.

The cultural boycott of Israel, as a key component of the global BDS Movement, shall be maintained until Israel meets its moral and legal obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination by:

  1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
  2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
  3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

Viva le punk! Viva Palestina!

Remix Project

4 Sep

Godflesh - Love And Hate In DubI’ve been a long-time fan of the Justin Broadrick’s Godflesh. Ever since we released our first record, I’ve wanted to do a remix album similar to Love And Hate In Dub. That record took material from Godflesh’s 1996 Earache release, Songs Of Love And Hate, and re-imagined it as a hellish ambient drum’n’bass record. Have a listen to how the song “Wake” was transformed into “Wake (Break Mix).”

I never got around to remixing Hope. Then the release of Lions came and went. Now, in the wake of our European tour and its subsequent hiatus, we’ve resurrected the project. However, the prospect of doing it all myself seemed daunting, so we’re all pitching in and inviting some friends to lend a hand as well.

We’ve established only two rules to constrain this project:

  1. No additional audio may be used. Everything must be sourced from the original track. Things may be mangled and chopped as much as desired, but nothing may be added.
  2. The end result must relate the the original track somehow. In other words it should be recognizable as a remix.

While we’re encouraging participants to produce tracks in dub, glitch, breakbeat, industrial, or ambient styles, we won’t say no to a dance remix or a dubstep track. The primary focus is on songs from Revolution, but all three records will be represented. We’ve set a completely arbitrary deadline for ourselves and our collaborators of November 1 March 1. We plan on releasing this project as a free download as well as super-limited edition, deluxe CD in early 2012.

Tour Video: 7th and Final Installment

21 Aug

Donji Miholjac, Croatia; Belgrade, Serbia; Novi Sad, Serbia; Paris (travel day).

Tour Video Part 6

15 Aug

Prague, Czech Republic; Leipzig, Germany; Zagreb, Croatia (day off); Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Tour Video Part 5

6 Aug

Neu Tramm, Berlin, and Ansbach.

Tour Video Part 4

18 Jul