Friday, July 12, 2013

Drew Wilkinson from Run With the Hunted

I love hardcore, but I often find myself frustrated with the stuff that seems to catch on with kids…..flat brim, wanna-be tough guy bands blow up; while bands that are passionate, intelligent and inspiring often fly under the radar. One such band is Run With the Hunted. In fact, I would go so far as to say RWTH is the most under-rated band in hardcore. 

Formed in 2007, the band quickly released their first e.p. “Find Your Way Out”, a solid intro which found the band establishing their footing. In 2009 they first caught my attention with a blazing, socio-politically charged four song e.p. entitled “Destroy All Calendars”, which was released on the even-then dominant Glory Kid Records as a single-sided LP with an awesome looking screen-printed B-side. RWTH continued their progression in 2011, signing to Panic Records and releasing their stellar self-titled LP, an effort that continued the raging formula found on “Destroy All Calendars” but also mixed things up a bit with some slower, more brooding songs.

After a bit of touring to support the LP, the band entered a somewhat dormant stage, playing in Arizona and elsewhere sporadically, but laying low for the most part. It was therefore with considerable excitement a few weeks ago when I read their statement announcing a return to writing and plans to get more active again. I decided to reach out to their vocalist Drew Wilkinson to talk about the band’s past, present, and future. Read on.

I was hoping you could start by talking a little bit about your family, your childhood, and the path that led you to hardcore and punk.

I am an only child and my family is very small; it’s just me, Mom, Dad and Grandma. My parents divorced when I was 4 so I spent much of my childhood shuttling between Phoenix and Tucson. I guess my childhood was fairly standard; we weren't rich but I never wanted for anything either and I feel very fortunate to say that I have wonderful relationships with everyone in my family to this day; we're very close and they have been overwhelmingly supportive of me and the choices I've made, even when they didn't understand why I was doing them (my Grandmother trying to understand veganism for example).

I never really had a strong sense of cultural identity growing up. We weren't religious and we didn't have a strong ethnic background of any kind. I guess that is the ultimate statement of privilege, but it was true to my early life experiences. When I found punk and hardcore, it made sense to me for so many reasons but perhaps the greatest one was that it filled a void in my life that the lack of a cultural identity had left open. I found a community where I was free to express myself, where I could meet a large group of diverse people and an even larger group of diverse ideas. Best of all, I could actively contribute to this culture - I think it's actually more accurate to call it a counter-culture - I could help shape and define it. Unlike a cultural identity, where the norms, rules and language are predetermined, punk is a constantly changing world with a lot of room for change and input.

Yeah I've always assumed the AZHC scene was pretty diverse because my earliest contact with it came from Overcome, which led me to Cori Hale from Heuristic Fanzine/Jeremin, which led me to King of the Monsters Records, Groundwork, etc. What were your earliest experiences in hardcore like, what bands did you connect with, and at what point did you start to feel like an active participant?

I was going to punk shows in Phoenix years before I ever even knew what hardcore was. Eventually I found my way to hardcore and something clicked almost instantly. I was already becoming disillusioned with the stagnation and hypocrisy I encountered in the punk scene; hardcore was focused, clear and even angrier. I found a community with ideas and messages they were actually doing something with. Even something as simple as a "posi" mentality was a stark contrast to the bleak attitude within the punk scene and it was refreshing to say the least. I probably connected most with our local hardcore heroes Where Eagles Dare. They were an awesome blend of punk and hardcore; fast and angry but also emotionally charged and extremely personal. They were also friends with more radical bands like Seven Generations, who played some of their earliest shows in AZ; that band was instrumental to my introduction of radical politics within the scene and especially veganism. 

Many of the bands I encountered early on led me to other bands and eventually other people and that sense of seeking out more, like a kind of journey or something, really locked me in to the scene. Every band, song, or lyric I connected with left me wanting more. I guess I really began to feel like a participant when I started actively contributing to the scene with my band. Booking shows, playing shows and meeting other bands - that's when I really made some lasting emotional connections with people.

What was the impetus for starting Run With the Hunted? How long had you guys all known each other/how did the line-up come together, and what was on your list of "we want to sound kinda like these bands" and "we want to address these topics"?

The idea for Run with the Hunted started in 2006. Jason (our bass player) and I had been in several bands together previously and as one was wrapping up, I decided I wanted to try singing in a band (I had been playing guitar before). We asked around and found JP, who had always wanted to learn guitar and we found our drummer Matt through a MySpace post. Oh man I might still have that original posting for the band, hang on...Found it! Haha ok, here's part of it:

"Jason and I (from Coercion and Can I Say) are starting a new hardcore band. Something truly simple, emotional, original, and powerful should do. Think along the lines of the Hope Conspiracy, American Nightmare, Unbroken etc. This is a return to basics, and yet, a desire to probe forward and avoid the complacent generic hardcore of today. If you are interested, get at me."

As much as I can remember, that was the guiding impetus for what became RWTH. The lead guitar player for Where Eagles Dare, Kellen, was actually the original guitarist but that only lasted a few months. I was finally able to convince Ian to join a second band and that was that. The band, for better or worse, has always been and will always be these 5 people. That's the only way it could have worked.

I didn't have a clear agenda or set of topics I wanted to address early on. My previous bands had all been extremely political so continuing that and expanding on it was a given for me. That was a really formative period of my life; I was finishing up college when the band started and beginning to truly lose faith in the institutions and ideas I had been brought up with. It was the end of one period in my life and the beginning of another and I like to think that shows in the lyrics.

It definitely seems like there has been a transition lyrically from sociopolitical critique in the early material to the self-titled which had a mixture of personal and social topics and now the new stuff which in your “we’re back” statement sounds like it’s going to become even more deeply personal.

It’s funny because for me I feel like I’ve followed that same arc; the band I was in when I exited college was super political and wanted to set the world on fire, whereas the last record I wrote was about my kid, haha. I feel like this is a general trend that happens to a lot of people and I’m curious as to why you think that is… people just become less politically interested, do we simply get jaded? What would you say has driven the shift in your lyrical content over the course of RWTH?

I don't feel jaded so I would really hesitate to call it that. I'm still as angry as I ever was; I guess with time and maturity you just learn to really pick your battles and focus your anger on the things you can actually change rather than just being overzealous and pissed all the time. Plus, who wants to be angry all the time? That's not an enjoyable way to live. In general, yes, I think people do become less politically interested as they age. Life takes over and it's easy to just give up and live your life day to day. Even if I feel myself moving towards that, I know that I could never be the same again: I can never go back to living with the ignorance I had before I learned how the world really works, no matter how comfortable or easy it would be.

More importantly, I think it's easier to write about political topics that are outside of yourself. It’s not that difficult to pick an issue and say "I disagree with that" and then write a song about why. It takes an enormous amount of self awareness and depth to write honest personal lyrics. You have to really know who you are and how you feel and for me, that took a lot of time. I wasn't really able to do that at 21. At 27, I'm getting closer.

Alright so I have a little bit of what I think will be a mutual fan boy type question, did your relationship with Panic Records come together, how did the collaboration with Bennick on "Synesthesia" happen, and how unbelievable has it been for you guys to work and tour with the dudes from Trial?

Somehow Timm from Trial and Panic Records found us when our first EP came out in 2007 and contacted us. We kept in touch and when the time was right, he put out a record for us and it was awesome. He's been a dear friend to the band and we love him to death. When Trial started touring again we were lucky enough to go with them a few times which was really insane for me; Trial had been my absolute favorite hardcore band for years and I never thought we'd get to do anything with them. I knew I wanted Greg on one of our LP songs and I sent him some lyrics and he liked Synesthesia so we made a place for him on there. He recorded it in Seattle with Tad! It was surreal.

Earlier in the interview you mentioned that your parents have been incredibly supportive of your choices, the band, etc. and yet looking at the lyrics to "Silent Conversations" as well as thinking back to some of your commentary when I was fortunate enough to see you guys a couple years back, it seems as though there's been some tension with your father in terms of the direction you've taken in life. Do those lyrics represent a moment in time that has since passed or is there still a sense of underlying disappointment that you've taken a less traditional path in life up to this point?

Tension with my father is an apt way to say it. There are pressures involved with being his son, especially his only son. Everything is sort of riding on your shoulders when you're an only child; if you fuck up they don't get another chance. He hasn't always been as understanding about how I live my life as he is now but to be fair, I wasn't always as agreeable as I could have been. I think we all push back against our parents at some point or another, for me it was my teenage years. But as you get older you realize they're just people like you, trying to do the best they can and far from perfect. I'm sure there have been moments he was disappointed I took a unique path in life but he's learned to see my successes for what they are and I think he values that now. He even thinks veganism is healthy now haha.

In "Occam's Razor" you delve into your misgivings with organized religion and it seems Christianity in particular. As a person of faith myself what I really appreciate about the lyrics in that song is you approach it from a much more nuanced point of view: whereas most hardcore bands come at it like "Fuck your god, he's dead" and then put an upside down cross on their cover or some cliché nonsense that's been done a million times over, you seem to be expressing your skepticism but at the same time are seeking to understand what motivates people who do believe. I was hoping you could talk a bit more about your experiences with religion, your qualms with it, and what motivated the lyrics to that song in particular.

It's easy to say something like "Fuck your god" I mean literally, it requires almost no thought to make a statement like that - and there's not much value in it. I've always been a really curious person and as I've struggled with the existence of god, I've often wondered what drew other people to faith and not me. Why was I unable to experience that feeling? The last line of the song sums it up succinctly "I want to know what I'm missing." And for a long time, I did. “Occam’s Razor” was an open invitation to god to show me the way -to make me a believer.

I used to consider myself an agnostic because without real evidence, it seemed unreasonable to me to take a firm stance either way. But eventually I realized that the existence of god isn't even that important; you can't use reason and logic to argue somebody's faith. People believe what they want to believe. Suffice to say that if god does exist, he's bad for you. I think belief in god takes away your agency as a living breathing individual. If you read a book that tells you what's good and what's bad, you fail to learn for yourself why that might be true. When you give thanks and credit to god for something you achieved yourself, you're selling yourself short and projecting your accomplishments onto somebody else. Religion frequently cites god as a moral framework, a set of values we should aspire too. But major religious texts espouse slavery, violence, rape, murder and a domination of all life on this planet – those are values I could never subscribe to. My own morality exceeds god’s; I truly have no use for him.

God represents rigid, set values; a static unmoving force in the universe that demands sacrifice and obedience. To me, this is antithetical to life - especially as a human being. What can you know about love if you wait to have sex until you get married? What do you know about right and wrong until you've made mistakes and decided for yourself? God denies experience and forces value. God is a barrier to being an authentic individual human being.

I agree with you in the sense that if belief in God required all that, it would indeed be very bad. Thankfully, for me spirituality has never required a lobotomy.

So I was really psyched to read the other day that RWTH is going to be jumping back into action. What's up your collective sleeve in terms of new LP, EP, split 7" with Hollow Earth (wink wink, nudge nudge)? Are there plans for you guys to get back on the road again extensively or is writing and recording the main focus in the immediate future?

We're aiming to release an EP but writing has been productive lately so who knows, maybe it will be more. I imagine it coming out at the end of the year or early next year. I would love to do a split, we've never done one, and Hollow Earth rules! But you'll have to talk to them about that one.

Honestly, I think the days of full time touring for RWTH have passed. Everyone but me has settled into full time careers, hobbies, and even bought houses or gotten married. We did a lot more with the band than we ever imagined and while there are times I wish we would have done more, I feel very fortunate to be where we are. The best we can do for now is write and do some short tours in the future.

As a person who's been active in hardcore for a good while now, I'm curious to get your take on where we are as a counterculture, as a "scene"....what's the state of the core from your perspective?

State of the core huh... I’ll say this: if there is one thing I've learned from my involvement in hardcore, it's that hardcore means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. There are countless sub genres, scenes and cliques within the greater hardcore scene and some of them are more in line with that I think hardcore should be than others. I remain hopeful that hardcore can be a safe haven for radical ideas, an open forum for progressive discussion, a place where everybody can feel welcome regardless of gender, sexual orientation etc. (Nazi punks fuck off!) and a free space where people can express themselves.

The reality is that we have a long ways to go and a lot of work to do. Hardcore is often times a playground for the hyper aggressive; a place where unchecked masculinity and ignorance overshadows any sense of openness or progression. Many of the women in my own scene, some who have been attending shows for years, STILL feel unwelcome at shows, STILL feel marginalized, STILL feel unequal and frankly, it's bullshit. I've heard countless hardcore kids throw around words like "faggot" thinking it's totally appropriate. And we've all seen people in our scene who feel they are above reproach and above the rules. 

We have a responsibility to call each other out on these things; to work really fucking hard to make this community something more than a place for people to mosh. Until we make our community all inclusive, we will continue to be a microcosm of the greater culture we are a part of rather than an alternative to it. Hardcore is an incredible, unique thing - it has the power to truly change people's lives for the better. But until we remove the barriers to equality we have constructed, we will remain just another sub culture instead of a true counter culture.

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