Sunday, October 14, 2018

Interview with FAIM

Faim are a relatively new band based out of Denver (with one member in Seattle) who play ripping hardcore punk. I don't even remember how I discovered them but I'm very glad I did, because they are one of the best bands I've come across recently. Their new 7" will be out very soon on Convulse Records, be sure to pick it up once it drops and keep your ears to the ground; I hope we all hear lots more from these folks.

Editor's Note: All questions answered collectively by the band except where a specific individual is identified.

So I gather y'all are split between Seattle and Denver. How did you all meet, and what inspired you to roll the dice and try to start a band where you knew you'd all be separated by hundreds of miles?

I think we all found each other from being older and Denver transplants from similar hardcore scenes on the East and West coasts. When we all met, it wasn’t hard to realize we all know a lot of the same people. Matt and Nick’s old bands had played together too. Kat had mentioned really wanting to start a band, and it resonated with the rest of us so we just sort of jumped in - we were just angry and anxious and wanted to express ourselves the only way we really knew how. We honestly didn’t have any expectations beyond that. Kat moving to Seattle was a recent thing - which was a bummer, but we like playing music together and are at a point in our lives where we can make the distance work.
I'm assuming the writing process involves trading ideas online...up to this point, what's it been like taking rough ideas which have been swapped digitally and bringing them to life when you are physically together?  Do you wind up making a lot of adjustments or do things generally stay true to their original conception?

We all were in Denver when we wrote the last record - most of those songs began as acoustic recordings on a phone that were later fine tuned in practice, and vocals were written from those recordings. Even with Kat living in Seattle - we’ll probably continue to do it this way.
I read in the New Noise interview that corresponded with "It Follows" that the song is about Jim Hesketh (and people like him)....when I first read about that a few years ago my initial thoughts were A) How did the other guys in the band not know about this? and B) How did nobody in the wider punk/hc scene not know about this? They were such a big band and toured so hard for so long. I have no idea how close you all were to that situation or to the people involved,  but being that some of you are from Seattle, had you heard rumblings, what it an open secret, or did it truly come out of nowhere?

Kat: So, I originally lived in Seattle from 1999-2003, and the main reason I left was because of my own incident with Jim Hesketh.  When I spoke out about it back then no one believed me and Jim just told everyone I was obsessed with him. It made me hate Seattle for a long time because of how I was treated by him and others. 

This most definitely didn’t come from out of nowhere, and I strongly believe that everyone in the band knew what he was doing. This is still a very touchy subject for me, and it takes a lot for me to not get very upset over how Jim treated so many girls, and everyone close to him turned a blind eye. 

This behavior was all too common amongst many guys in the hardcore scene, and nothing was done about it. When it finally came out what he did, it was a relief, and of course I had people apologizing for not believing me in the first place (ugh). I think now that this is all out in the open, it has allowed for hardcore to finally not allow this behavior.

"Midlife Crisis" seems to address the topic of aging and the inevitable self-doubt/self-reflection that comes along with it....I'm turning 40 in a couple of months so those issues have definitely been swirling around in my head as of a little bit more about what you were trying to capture with that song, specifically as it relates to growing older while maintaining a connection to the punk and hardcore community.

Kat: Yeah so this song is pretty much about how as hardcore punk kids we are stuck in this limbo of not wanting to be like all the normies out there, but we also kind of want to.  I think a lot of older people in this scene are well-educated with good jobs, yet I think we feel like if we end up like everyone else we aren’t “fighting the system.” So this song was about how now that I am 37, I do want to buy a house, I do want to be an “adult” but I also want to stay a hardcore kid forever. It’s finding a balance between the two worlds.  

"Bought and Sold" and "Beatty" both seem to deal with economic issues, gaps between rich and poor, etc. We are obviously living in a moment with GOP control across the board in our country, which generally means pro-corporate, pro-rich policies. To what extent do you see the Dems as offering solutions to these problems, and how (if at all), can they offer a progressive alternative on one hand, but still appeal to enough people to win elections?  
Kat: “Beatty” is based on the novel Fahrenheit 451 which I think is very relatable to what we are going through in our current state in the United States.  We have too many people in our country who are drones and believe everything our current administration tells them. We also have so many people in this country who avoid anything politically related because they want to stay in their la la land.  
Chris: At best, Democrats slow down or mitigate the harm that the GOP has caused but they don’t solve issues of wealth inequality -it can’t be solved until we start dismantling capitalism. Wealth inequality isn’t a side effect or symptom of capitalism, it is necessary for its survival.
Voting won’t solve the fundamental crisis we find ourselves in, nor will the Democratic Party (fuck the GOP, but also fuck the Democratic Party). On the other hand, it is so simple to do and there is a concerted effort to deprive people (disproportionately poor people of color) of their right to do it (barring felons from voting, Voter ID, etc.) that it feels stubborn and privileged to say “I’m not going to do this thing that will take me less than an hour to do”. Voting isn’t the end all be all of political participation - it shouldn’t be the only thing people have faith in and it certainly shouldn’t be the *only* thing that people do. To reference an old anarchist campaign from 2004, “Don’t Just Vote, Get Active”.
That brings us to the latter part of your question - how do you balance electoral success against progressive policies. The answer isn’t relying on a politician or political party - it is from building a mass movement from below. Anything except that dooms us to continue to swing left to right to left to right, treading water. At the end of the day - the goal is far beyond votes, it is freedom which requires dismantling all the terrible systems that make our world unjust - capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, etc. Systems that mostly benefit us, but got to go.
Speaking of the 7", how did you hook up with Convulse Records, and what else can you share about the release in terms of the writing process, artwork, etc?

Faim: Convulse is our friend Adam - who drums for so many amazing bands that we’ve played with (Product Lust, Euth). In terms of DIY punk (the ethics, the politics) we speak the same language so it was a no brainer when he asked to put out our next recording. He let us do our own thing (from recording to artwork) and we’re really happy with everything. Adam is the best.
I know the metal scene in Denver has been blowing up quite a bit lately with bands like Primitive Man, Blood Incantation, etc. What can you tell us about the punk and hardcore scene?  What venues and bands should people be aware of?

Faim:  Denver has a really diverse scene - which cuts both ways. There is so much talent and really interesting things happening under the broad umbrella of punk, but also at times it feels really fractured. With a city that has been inundated with so many transplants (us included), I think it just takes time for the new to settle in with the old. There certainly has been more awareness and steps to try to bringing together the different parts of Denver’s scene. Some of our favorite bands from here are Raw Breed, Product Lust, Cadaver Dog, and Soul Vice.
Denver is also lucky enough to have its own DIY venue - 7th Circle, that has been able to sustain itself with volunteers in spite of Denver’s rising costs and growth. A local bookstore/coffeeshop called Mutiny Information Cafe also lets people book DIY shows there pretty frequently.
It seems like you've been getting out and doing as many weekends and small runs as possible, who are some of the best bands, promoters, and venues you've encountered thus far?

Faim: We’ve all had our fair share of complete and utter disaster tours in our early 20’s - but we’ve been fortunate enough that the few times we’ve gone out have gone smoothly. Some of our best shows have been in the smaller towns, like Redding where we played a generator show in a gazebo (the punkest show ever) or a small basement in Iowa City. There’s something special about those small towns whose DIY scenes don’t have the luxury of being fractured - everyone’s got to support it for it to survive.
We love playing with Discourage, and are so excited to go back out with them. Our favorite band to ever watch play is Drain from Santa Cruz. Some other highlights have been playing with Enemy in LA; D-FY in Redding; Beyond Peace from Iowa City; our show in Santa Cruz at Subrosa with Jawstruck and Bottled Up. Our collective mind was most blown playing with Faded Prisms in a house in Las Vegas.
What are the plans going forward in terms of writing and touring once the 7" drops?
Faim: The 7” will come out in early October and we’re doing a tour in the Pacific Northwest in November with Discourage. Since Kat is a teacher and Nick, our drummer, is in school we are trying to do some stuff over their spring and summer breaks - the West Coast again and then Europe in late summer. In terms of writing - we had been so focused on this new 7” we haven’t really thought about what we want to do next but are going to start working on stuff this winter.

All photos by Jackie Vitetta

Friday, September 7, 2018

Interview with Mnasse Tekle of Bitter Truth

Bitter Truth is an up and coming hardcore band from Grand Rapids that’s been making some noise the last couple of years. My long-time friends Nate and Jacob recently brought them to my attention after recording/releasing their new EP "Reality Check" via their studio/label Smog Moon Recordings.

I’ve been chatting with their singer Mnasse Tekle for the last couple of weeks about his upbringing, the band, and what’s been popping off in the 616 lately.

Read on.

I always like to learn a little bit about people's backgrounds so talk a little bit about your family and your childhood.  Are you a Grand Rapids native? What sort of presence did art and music have in your household when you were coming up as a kid?

Well my parents are from a small country in Africa called Eritrea. I myself was born in Dallas, Texas, but I was raised here in GR most my life.

Music and Art has always in some form or another been a part of my life whether it be Eritrean music, which was played in my house all the time when I was a kid, or hip-hop and rap. Then not too long after that I fell in love with punk and hardcore, and that changed things up a bit, haha.

So how did your folks wind up making their way to the U.S. from Eritrea?

To be honest I'm not exactly sure on the details on how they got here, but they were pretty much getting away from the intense war going on between my country Eritrea and Ethiopia for our independence.

Do you still have family there....have you been back to visit at all over the years?

We still have some family out there, but unfortunately I've never met them nor have I ever been out there myself. One day for sure. Better late than never I guess. 

What sort of hip-hop stuff did you get into as a kid and how did you eventually gravitate towards punk and hardcore?

When it comes to hip-hop and rap, man, haha I can go all day with this dude, but I'll keep it short.

I listened to all sorts of hip-hop and rap from every region for sure, but I definitely drifted more towards East Coast hip-hop than anything. From Mobb Deep, Nas, Biggie, Fugees, to one of my all-time favorite groups from the Midwest, Bone Thugs N Harmony. But Tupac will always be my all-time favorite. I still listen to it all. That will never change.

I think it happened sometime during middle school though. Some of my friends from school would introduce me to different bands here and there, and I'm pretty sure that triggered it. I started digging into different styles and bands and finally I came across punk/hardcore and everything related to it. After that, it all started coming together. 

I went to college in Grand Rapids and lived there from 1996 to 2002, and I was always struck by how segregated the city was along racial and economic lines. What was it like for you growing up in GR in terms of your school experience and just living in the city more generally? 

Well I can say this city has changed/cleaned up a lot since I was a kid. We didn't have much growing up, but we made the best outta what we had. GR low key wasn't the greatest back in the day. Lots of gangs and drugs in the streets and schools. Wasn't pretty.  

As for the segregation here, I mean it really wasn't that different than anywhere else. Growing up you knew there were places where you'd stand out just for having a darker complexion than others. Not saying things have changed much since, but growing up it was a little worse then. 

What commonalities did you see between hip-hop and hardcore and what were some of the first hc bands that resonated with you, either live or recorded?

To me hip-hop/rap and hardcore have a lot of similarities. Both have lyrics/stories that are totally similar and relatable. I think that was one of the main things that drew me to hardcore. 

First hardcore band I ever saw live was Remembering Never, and that show totally changed things for me, haha. After that, I started coming across bands like Bitter End, Terror, Down To Nothing, No Warning, and honestly the list goes on. 

Talk about the formation of Bitter Truth. How did you guys meet up and decide to start jamming together?

It all started with Jonny (guitar) and I just jamming out by ourselves in his basement. Then after a few times of just us jamming out on our own we decided to try and see if our friend Xzavier wanted to play drums. Then our friend referred us to our friend Sam who was our first bass player. 

After a while of us jamming we started taking things seriously and then Bitter Truth came to be. Our line-up has changed a few times since then, but throughout all changes and obstacles we’ve gone through the band has grown and matured. 

What has the writing process been like in the band up to this point, both musically and lyrically?

The writing process with us is actually pretty smooth but also interesting for the most part. We all know what we want, but we do fight sometimes on where we want some songs to go. But that’s normal for us. If we didn’t fight like we do I feel like this band would be awkward to be in and it wouldn’t last, haha. 

For me the lyrics are always based on things I’ve either gone through personally or just a situation or person that just needs to be called out. Hints the name. Jonny and l actually put a lot of work and thought into what we write lyrically. We want to make sure it comes out strong and clear, but also makes a very big impact on the the situation it relates to.

I know you guys tracked the most recent e.p. with my old friend Nate at Smog Moon. How did you guys hook up and what was the recording process like? 

We were in the process of trying to figure out where we would go to record, and then my friend Jacob Weston hit me up about us recording a song for a benefit compilation CD with Smog Moon Recordings. 

We ended up doing it and had a dope-ass time recording with Nate. After that we felt like we found our spot to record the new EP. We definitely put a lot of work into it and had our good friend Brett come out to do a guest spot which was pretty cool. Overall it was an awesome time recording the EP with Nate, and we’ll for sure be working with him again.

What's the current state of hardcore and punk in Grand Rapids right now? What bands and venues should people have their eyes and ears on?

Right now GR seems to be producing tons of new bands. We got our brothers in Prison Suicide and Worst Self. My boys in Detain are making a big impact in hardcore right now. We also have bands like Death Rate, Justice Decays, Roundhouse, Life Loss, and a lot of others out there. 

Lately people have been booking shows at their houses, which has been pretty fucking dope, but we also have the Wealthy Street Theater which is also a great venue to play at, and this bar called 745 too. 

What's next for you guys in terms of writing, recording, and touring?

We’re currently writing new stuff. We’ll see in the future what touring will look like, but for right now we’ll just play as much as we can. 

Us releasing this new EP was just the beginning.

Final thoughts?

BT has way more to put out, and we definitely are excited to see how far we can take it. 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Interview with Matt Kalbaugh of Search for Purpose

Search for Purpose is a newer hardcore band from North Carolina that pulls influence from New Age bands such as Mouthpiece and Strife as well as more melodic projects like Empathy. I first picked up their 7" from my friend John at Headfirst Records earlier this year and recently saw their new LP will be dropping on Plead Your Case later this Fall. A couple songs into the new material and I knew I had to talk to them to see what was up. 

I contacted Lennon from PYC and he put me in touch with their vocalist Matt (who also plays in Magnitude). We quickly got to chatting, here's what went down!
I'm always interested in learning about people's backgrounds, so talk a bit about your family and your childhood, specifically as it relates to the presence of art and music in your household. There wasn’t a particularly strong musical or artistic presence in my house growing up. My grandma on my dad’s side sang in church and played piano, and my uncle on my mom’s side played guitar and had been into punk and hardcore in the 80s. At home, my dad listened to Willie Nelson and 70's rock, and my mom liked hair metal and 80's pop. These were pretty standard musical interests for people their age and I don’t think that that stuff had a terribly big influence on me getting involved in music. The first bands I really liked were Green Day and Blink 182. I borrowed the "American Idiot" CD from a friend in 5th grade and hid it from my parents so they wouldn’t look at the lyric booklet. Around that time I got really into what I considered “punk” which to me was listening to stuff like New Found Glory, skateboarding (I sucked), and wearing Element shirts. My friends and I would listen to all sorts of music and try to skate and emulate the stuff we saw on MTV. After seeing older kids play in bands at my school talent show, I was hooked on the idea of playing music. From there I started playing guitar and stumbled along for a couple years before finally finding a foothold around age 13. So how did you transition from those bigger punk bands to more underground/DIY oriented stuff? I used to read a lot of Alternative Press around 07/08 and got exposed to stuff that way. Most of the bands in there have not held up for me in the slightest, but it was an important stepping stone for me back then.
At what point did you start going to hardcore shows and who were some of the first bands that really made an impression on you? I got into hardcore in late high school, but very loosely. I wasn’t aware of a real local “scene” (and there wasn’t really one anyway). There were a few hardcore bands active in other cities in my state, but my city was more focused on metal-core and stuff like that. I think the first “real” hardcore show I went to was just a bunch of local bands or smaller touring bands that I don’t even remember the names of. I do remember that it was in a venue that had been converted from a movie theater. As far as the first bands that made an impression on me go, Have Heart was absolutely huge. This was a couple years after their breakup and I would watch the last show video religiously. I discovered Bold from Pat’s shirt in that video. After that I went down a youth crew rabbit hole. Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits got me in to straight edge and older hardcore. So you mentioned messing around with guitar pretty early, when did you get to the point where you felt comfortable enough to want to start a band? I always wanted to do a band but it was a while before I actually did. I think I joined my first band at 18, then started one of my own at 19. Since then I’ve gotten more and more comfortable with doing bands of different styles and expanding my range of influences. What was your first project and how did you wind up eventually playing in Search for Purpose? The first hardcore band I ever did (and the first band where I was responsible for writing most of the music) was called Crash Course. If I remember correctly we played shows for like 4 or 5 months and didn’t release our demo until we were almost broken up. It was supposed to sound like Lockin Out stuff/Warzone but was just really bad. I did a couple other bands after that. I was playing guitar in a band called Substance when I got bored and wanted to do something new. I decided to start SFP as a solo studio project where I wrote everything and had my friend Connor play drums on and record a demo in late 2016.
What sort of influences were you looking to integrate on that demo, and once it was done, how did you go about fleshing out a full lineup for the project? I always tell people that I was trying to emulate New Age bands on the demo, but looking back on it I don’t really know what I was doing. I guess I was trying to do something that sounded like pre-Victory Strife mixed with Mouthpiece. I really can’t stand the demo and looking back I think I really missed the mark on it. When I decided I wanted to play shows, I just pulled people from other bands and had them fill in. We had a couple different lineups but eventually settled on the one we have now. Once you had a line-up more or less solidified, what did the writing process look like for the 7"? Did you still write all the music or did the other guys start adding their own flavors? The 7” was actually a compilation of the first demo and a two song tape we did after it, so there wasn’t anything new. That stuff was all written by me and Connor. We didn’t have any physical copies left of anything and the only tapes that existed were made by my friend’s label in the UK, so not many people had access to them here. I figured that doing a 7” would be a better way to make sure people could have a physical representation of our early music. How did you guys hook up with Nikolay at Ugly & Proud to release the 7"? Niki from Ugly and Proud knows a guy who runs a label here in NC and he got my info from a mutual friend I have with that guy.
In terms of the new LP "Eternal Emotion", what if anything were you guys trying to do differently this time around, either in terms of the writing process or production? The LP is a lot more melodic. I was drawing influence from bands like Empathy, Encounter, Flagman, and Turning Point. The writing process has generally been the same for every release we’ve done. I write guitar parts, Connor does drums, I write the lyrics, then I figure out bass lines last. The LP had a little bit more group input on a couple things. Our guitarist Paul wrote the acoustic parts in the outro and in the song "Eternal Emotion". Other than that it was all me and Connor. Lyrically the new record seems mostly pretty introspective, the one line that caught my eye was "To build an enduring future, the first step must be an act of love." That line could obviously apply to lots of different things, curious if you could elaborate a bit on what you were trying to capture there. My lyrics always come from something I’m feeling and I like to deliver them in a way that leaves them open to interpretation. However, when I wrote that song “Reconsider” I had a very clear intention of making it about animal rights. Everyone in SFP is vegan and straight edge, but we don’t label ourselves explicitly as a vegan straight edge band. However, I wanted to write an animal rights song because it’s a topic that really means a lot to me. In particular, that line you mentioned is referring to how if we want our planet to continue to survive, we have to consider engaging in what I called the “act of love”, which is thinking about the effects our lifestyles can have on our world and life beyond ourselves. Even the smallest change can make a difference and help ensure our future is livable for the next generation.
I noticed you went to school for Sociology which is cool cuz I'm a high school Social Studies teacher and I usually have a section or two of Sociology.  Curious to what extent your background in hardcore and your studies correspond....also, what are you planning on doing with your degree? Man, what’s crazy is that I’m in a grad program to also teach high school social Bachelors on its own was essentially useless for what I wanted to do (social work/counseling with at risk kids), so I decided to get into teaching. I’ll be done with that program this upcoming Spring and hopefully getting a teaching job for Fall 2019. So the LP comes out this Fall.....I know you guys have already toured a decent amount up and down the East Coast....any plans to see more of the country? Any particular bands you're hoping to play with/places you want to get to? As far as touring goes, SFP isn’t my main band but we’ve managed to play enough random one off shows up North to get around a fair bit, which is cool. We will probably do a tour towards the end of the year, to coincide with something cool that we’re doing at the beginning of next year. Anything else to add about the new record or other stuff SFP has going on? If you preordered a record, you should have it by early/mid October. Keep an eye out for information about our record release show in NC, I believe it’ll be on November 3. Thank you to everyone who’s listened and given it such a warm response. While I’m wrapping this up let me shout out Lennon from Plead Your Case and Garrett from Exact Change for arranging the collaboration of a lifetime to help me put the record out. Hopefully we’ll hit a few spots towards the end of the year.
Eternal Emotion:
All photos used courtesy of Spencer Chamberlain: