Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Justin Sitner from Unrestrained/Stuck in the Past

Justin Sitner is a guy I came into contact with a couple of years back when the Great Reversals 10” came out. I was trying to find as many avenues as possible to promote the record and I figured the blog he co-runs (Stuck in the Past) might be willing to check it out and maybe give us a mention. Thankfully, not only did they give us a few mentions, Justin wound up offering to trade me some stuff from his band Unrestrained and we’ve kept in touch ever since.
It’s funny how sometimes you find people whose experience parallels yours so closely….hearing Justin talk about how he started discovering hardcore, what bands first blew him away, what tours came through his town, a lot of it was EXACTLY like my experience, even though he lives on the other side of the country. Even now, Unrestrained and Stuck in the Past both celebrate the sound and spirit of the 90’s scene, which is still my favorite era or flavor of hardcore so to speak.

What I came to appreciate about Justin even more through the process of doing this interview was how thoughtful and honest he is. As you’re about to see, his last several years have not been easy to say the least. The willingness to open yourself up is one of the things that I’ve always felt separates hardcore from a lot of other music, and Justin definitely does so here.
Without further ado……  

I'm always curious to hear about people's backgrounds, so talk a little bit about your childhood, your family, and the path that eventually led you to the core.

My parents were both fairly young when I was born, and I grew up in outer SE Portland, which at the time, could only be described as a lower-middle/working class area. It was never a spectacular area while I was growing up, but it has become much worse over the years with crime of various sorts. The household I grew up in was always loving and encouraging. Music played a large part as well, as my Dad was (and still is) a nut for his vinyl, and he has rather eclectic taste, so I got to hear a very wide range of sounds.
Hard rock is what first struck me, and that put me deep into bands like AC/DC (the first concert I ever went to was AC/DC with my parents), Angel City, Thin Lizzy, etc. But, when I was 12, I discovered my dad's Sex Pistols album. The heinous colors on the cover first drew me in, but the sheer ugliness of what I heard when I put it on the turntable is what hooked me. I had never heard anything quite like it.

I have an Uncle that's only 11 years older than I am, and he had me listening to lots of metal at a very young age with our cousin that played in some local bands. The memories are still pretty vivid of hearing “Ride the Lightning” with them shortly after it was released. The idea of "crossover" was completely alien to me at the time, though, so I just thought I was an odd kid treading the line between metal and punk as I dove head first into the world of punk rock after finding that Sex Pistols album.

It was easy to find the Ramones and The Clash, but it was an issue of Guitar World that first told me about hardcore. This particular issue listed the top 25 albums from a wide array of genres, but on one page behind the top 25 punk albums, they listed the top 10 hardcore albums. They lead the list off by describing hardcore as "the ugly bastard son of punk” or something to that effect. That same week, I picked up Minor Threat and Black Flag. I also quickly discovered Maximum Rock 'n' Roll and Punk Planet at the Tower Records I used to make my mom take me to all the time.

This was still just a little while before I discovered the incredibly great independent record stores of Portland, so I was getting all of my information from these widely distributed zines, and mail-ordering records/CDs from bands I had never heard of just as long as they had a decent review. It wasn't long before I was ordering Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today from the Revelation Records ad in MRR, and those records were the first time I started utilizing thank you lists to discover new bands.

Soon after that I made the next generational jump, and started getting releases from Victory Records, but this was a bit different, because I finally felt like I was dealing with people my own age. At this point, I was just devouring everything I could get my hands on. The metal heads at my school didn't listen to much of anything deeper than Pantera, and the few punk friends I had didn't seem to have any interest in hardcore, so it wasn't until I started going to shows around 1994 that I really started to feel at home.

It's cool to hear talk about how scouring thank you lists and thumbing through mainstream magazines were among your bridges to the underground because that's definitely the exact same way it happened for me. Obviously for young kids coming up now the web has changed everything with so many new bands being at people's fingertips. What would you say has been gained and lost as the subculture has primarily shifted from physical to digital mediums?
There are so many negative and positive aspects to the digital age of hardcore, and I'm not sure if it all balances out or not. On one hand, I want to like that it's easier for kids to discover hardcore, but on the other hand, I think that having such free and easy access to hardcore also has created a crop of kids who can drop out of hardcore just as easily as they got into it. The amount of cool kids in hardcore has grown, because you no longer have to hang out on the fringes and be a weirdo outcast to obtain a portion of this subculture. No longer needing a tangible, physical copy of a band's output could have something to do with it too. Mp3s are unmemorable, and easily discarded with the click of a mouse. Physical artwork, lyric sheets and thank you lists give you a far more intimate understanding of a band, and where they're coming from with the music contained on the album. The newer generations have spawned some great kids and great bands, but I don’t think they will have nearly as many lifers as previous generations of hardcore.

You took us up to 94' in your personal history....once you were fully engrossed in the scene what bands became most important for you not just musically, but also in terms of ethics, politics, etc.?

I was going to lots of punk and Fat Wreck/Epitaph shows at first, but the first real hardcore band that really struck a nerve with me live was Sick of It All. They were completely unrelenting, and delivered something that seemed far more intense than most of the shows I was going to prior to seeing them. I was always bummed out to find out that I had missed the Born Against/Rorschach/Downcast show in Portland by a little over a year, but in general, Portland got skipped over a lot in the 90s by touring hardcore bands. Granted, there wasn't a thriving scene for what some would call "new school" hardcore bands here, so a lot of bands toured as if Oregon didn't even exist. The likes of Unbroken, Undertow, Chokehold, Mouthpiece, etc. would all go directly from Seattle down to California, or vice versa. This was also happening before I was old enough to drive, so I didn't have the means of getting to these shows, let alone finding out about half of them.

Along with Sick of It All, Earth Crisis started coming around in the mid 90s a lot. I saw them for the first time in '96 with Damnation AD, and both of those bands blew me away. Having been into punk and thrash metal, the political aspect of 90s hardcore greatly appealed to me, and Trial really struck a chord with me. They had started to play Portland a lot by '97, and they were exposing me to lots of political ideas that I hadn't considered before. I loved bands like Aus Rotten, but somehow, Trial made it all feel more real to me. Being able to see them play on a monthly basis surely helped that as well, as did becoming friends with the guys in the band, but the thoughts embedded in their music lit a fire in my teenage self.

I've asked this question to a couple of other people as well, but on the whole, hardcore and punk are definitely way less politicized and socially aware now (at least in the U.S.) than they were 15-20 years ago. I'm curious to get your thoughts on why you think things have evolved in that direction and if you see any way of putting that more activist-oriented approach back at the forefront of today's scene.

That's a tough one, but I think it might have a lot to do with the question you asked earlier about the internet's role in hardcore. The kids who aren't weirdoes and outcasts probably just aren't going to give much of a shit about the political rants of someone on stage. There's a much bigger sense of "less talk, more rock" these days, and those kids that didn't want to hear about social or political issues in the first place have now started bands of their own, so the cycle continues forward. I just get really bored with incredibly generic lyrics. Bands sound angry today, but when I read the lyrics, I have no clue what the hell they're so angry about. Maybe the teenage worker at Subway didn't put enough cheese on their sandwich.

However, I do not think that all bands need to have a socio-political message. I am just as happy seeing someone exorcise their personal demons through music. Seeing someone that's just as odd or messed up as I am work through things in their life that they probably never thought they would expose is liberating from both sides of the mic. I just want authenticity, and I become especially demanding of  it when it comes to hardcore.

Let's delve into Stuck in the Past a little bit. For starters, how did you and Chip get to know each other, and who had the idea to start the webzine?

I'm pretty sure that Chip and I actually first came into contact with one another via Soulseek many years ago. We live on opposite sides of the country, so we never got in touch in some other form during the 90s heyday, but in the early 2000s, we became acquainted through our love of 90s hardcore, and have become great friends since then. Around 2006, my wife was working nights, and I was bored out of my skull, so I started a blog called x43x where I would rip out of print records/tapes, and upload them. Although it was heavily 90s hardcore oriented, I was also dipping into black metal and punk. Chip had initially started Stuck In The Past as a blog for him to post about his insane shirt collection, and then he asked if I would like to join forces with him. It seemed like a good idea to me, and things just really took off from there rather quickly. We've gained and lost a few other contributors over the years, but I think we have a pretty good team right now.

In terms of your approach, would you say the goal is more to dig up long-lost treasures for old guys like us, or to hopefully turn some younger kids on to bands that laid the foundation for things today?

While I would say that it's a pretty even mixture of both, those two end results both come about from the notion that we want this music to be preserved for the digital age. Primarily, I'm an analog enthusiast, but the convenience of mp3s has become a part of my life as well, and I tend to listen to them through my phone while at work. Combine that with the fact that a lot of these releases were pressed in limited quantities 15 or 20 years ago, and I think it becomes necessary for them to be digitized, so that they can continue to have a presence for years to come. My formative teenage years happened in the 90s, and the hardcore scene of that time had a profound influence on me, so there's also a desire to want to make sure that a newer generation at least has the opportunity to hear even some of the most obscure bands from that era that were still filled interesting thoughts and passion.

For you personally, what would you say is your favorite link, story, or feature that you guys have been able to do?

There have been lots of great features over the years, but some of my favorites have been the Brotherhood soundboard/rehearsal recordings, the Dave Walker interview, the recently unearthed unreleased track from Bloodlet and of course, Sergeant D's 'Five Things I Miss About 90s Hardcore' guest post. The real beauty of the blog is how incredibly forthcoming members of the old bands have been. We often get contacted by them, and get rare stuff offered to us, which is phenomenal. I've even had multiple readers send me their old boxes of tapes that they don't listen to anymore, so I can convert them, and get them online. I have a nice backlog going right now, but I will get to them all, and always welcome more.

Talk a little bit about the formation of long had you known the other dudes, and what were you guys hoping to do that was perhaps different from your past musical endeavors?

When we first started Unrestrained at the tail end of 2006, we all had other bands that had recently broken up, and having known each other for quite a few years, there was just a heavy desire to start a new band involving all of us. Given how long the core of us had known each other, we set out to create a band that was reminiscent of the scene that was around when we all first started going to shows, which was the mid 90s. We never have tried to emulate any particular bands, but I think we just carry that vibe of the 90s rather heavily. We've had some lineup changes over the years, but the current lineup has been in place since late 2010, and I'm incredibly pleased with it. Things just seem to naturally work themselves out for us, and we don't find ourselves having to force any songs to come together.

You've released a number of 7 inches, splits, comp tracks, etc. over the years and are about to release your first full-length "Forward Onto Death" in a couple months here. My band is somewhat similar in that we've only written and released songs in small chunks; the idea of writing an LP has always seemed really daunting and intimidating. How did you guys approach it, and what was the process like as compared to doing just a few songs at a time?

We're a band made up of mostly 30 - 40 years olds (except Ryan, who keeps us young), so the writing process always moves a bit slowly for us. With wives/kids/careers/school, we normally get to practice once a week, at best, while everyone is actually in town at the same time. That being said, this full length actually came together in chunks, much like how our writing has gone in the past for the 7"s and compilations. I think we've just been pretty good at carrying a certain atmosphere with us throughout our duration, so even though the songs weren't all written in extremely close proximity to one another time wise, the songs on the LP still flow nicely with one another in the sequencing. We have talked about writing a fully conceptualized full length, though, and perhaps that will come sometime in the near future, but we're leaving ourselves pretty wide open for any other ventures like splits to come our way as well.

So lyrically the subject matter on the new record is fairly downcast across the board. In "Ophelia" you paint a picture of a world where humanity has pushed us to the verge.....of collapse, of calamity.....I haven't read Derek Jensen but I saw him speak once and the lyrics had a little bit of that feel. What do you foresee and what informed your thoughts as you were writing that song?
For as long as I can remember, I have never been the 'half glass full' type of person. I've always been a pessimist, and I think that greatly feeds into my outlook on the future of humanity. It's impossible to go more than a day or two without seeing a news story about some form of tragedy that is the direct result of someone's selfishness, and I think that's what fed the direction of “Ophelia” lyrically. Human selfishness is going to bring about the end of humanity, and potentially this entire planet long before any natural disaster can beat us to it. Megalomaniacs that receive power through birthright, and overzealous religious groups are undoubtedly going to be the ones that start the next nuclear war, and I just hope I'm long gone by the time that happens.

Similarly, "Disdain" comments on our crippled national politics. Lyrically it strikes me as really timely considering that in the past week we've seen a woman crash the White House gates with her baby in tow and a man set himself on fire in the capitol, both of which occurred in the context of a government shutdown. It's interesting because in some ways it seems like there are moments of political progress like LGBT rights inching forward ever-so slowly, while at the same time we've got absolute gridlock and a faction of batshit crazy Tea Party types who want to take us back a hundred years both socially and economically. Do you see any hope around the corner for us politically as a nation, and are things any better at the state and local levels in Oregon?
I don't think it's any small secret that the American government is completely bought and sold by large corporations and interest groups. The Koch brothers, and others like them, wield far more power in this country than any select people should ever be able to. We have this two party system that really isn't getting us anywhere anymore, because they both cater to such fringe voices within our nation. I think most people are pretty moderate, but the lunatics to the far right and far left are the ones that are constantly yelling and screaming. Unfortunately, those are the voices being heard, and the divide within the US House and Senate just keeps getting wider and wider.

Oregon is odd when it comes to politics, and that has a lot to do with the population distribution. Thanks to that shit-show Portlandia, lots of people have a very hip view of Portland, and subsequently, they think Oregon follows suit. The valley that stretches from Portland down to Eugene typically is pretty liberal and progressive, but Oregon is a large state, and there is a vast amount of land occupied by conservatives in the rural areas of this state. Local initiatives in the Portland area almost always lean to the left, but statewide initiatives are really a complete tossup. There have been multiple years where anti-gay bills have been struck down, yet gay marriage was also struck down. I never feel very confident about voting for president and national level representatives, but voting on local initiatives has a direct effect. And call me a Pinko all you want, but I think socialized democracy is the way to go.

One of the first times we talked you opened up about you and your wife Carly's struggle to have a child which saw you through multiple miscarriages and has recently culminated in the adoption of your daughter Miles. Much of the new record focuses on that process, none more clearly than "Empty". Not having gone through that particular experience but having had quite a struggle with my first-born, I know first-hand the toll it can take personally as well as on your relationship. So first things first, what was the process for you like personally? Secondly, how were you and Carly able to whether that storm so to speak? Did you find yourselves relying primarily on each other or was there an extended circle of friends and family that served as a support through the process?
“Empty” is a song that was written directly after a miscarriage. It wasn't the first, but it also wasn't the last, and I had just reached a point in the process where I felt completely empty and void, but a large part of me didn't want to feel anymore. I've always been an introvert, and that has manifested itself in many ways over the years. There have been times where people apparently think I'm a dick because I don't go out of my way to talk to them, but I don't fancy myself as better than anyone. I'm just socially awkward, and that usually results in a level of anxiety that leaves me sitting by myself unless someone wants to initiate conversation with me. In conjunction with that, I've become comfortable just sitting with my thoughts, but in retrospect, this was not the time where I should have remained introverted with my thoughts. What we were going through was definitely tearing me up inside, and Carly was always far more open with her feelings than I was. I had this antiquated mindset that she was going through so much that I needed to remain strong and stoic in order to help her. However, it would have helped both of us a lot more if I had been more openly vulnerable. Once I knew that, though, I think I slowly made some strides to be a lot more open about my emotions amidst whatever turmoil was hitting us at the time. Even just answering questions like this is pretty huge for me. I know the lyrics on the new record really kind of set me up for these sorts of questions, though, so I guess this is the head first dive.

So I recently listened to an episode of "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross where she interviewed someone who wrote a book about her experience with adoption where she encountered tons of hurdles, was told she was being given a child only to have that decision reversed, etc. How did you guys come to the point where you decided to pursue adoption and was your experience pretty smooth or were there more bumps along the road?

The choice to adopt was really a natural conclusion t0 the string of miscarriages. Although we didn't have any situations as awful as having an adoption decision reversed, it was still a long, arduous process. Lots of adoption agencies function differently, but our process involved receiving a brief description of a birth-mother and her situation, and we had to choose to show her a short book about ourselves or not. From there, we just had to wait for a decision, which is always an agonizing wait. Sometimes, we weren't shocked to find out we weren't chosen, but there were other times that were harder to take. It was easy to develop an attachment to the idea that we were so similar to the birth-mother based solely on little details in a one sheet, so certain situation stung a little more than others.
Actually, I think the hardest times were when we were told that the choice had been narrowed down to three adoptive families, which included us, but we weren't chosen in the end. Somehow, it just felt more personal to have gotten that deep, and then not been chosen. It was easy to perceive it as a personal rejection. But, after a year and a half, we found a great match, and actually had a really smooth process from there on out.

Now that you've come full circle with the adoption process, how is the transition to parenthood going thus far?
It's incredible, and has actually been a pretty smooth transition. It's funny, because there were lots of people (who don't know me too well) that would tell me things like, "your life is really going to change. You won't be able to go out all the time." Joke's on them, because I don't go out much. I'm a hermit that pokes my head out of the cave every so often to play or attend shows and to play softball once a week in the summer. And it just so happens that my wife is a hermit too, so we're a great match. I love my friends, and I love to see them, but most days, I just want to come home to relax and hangout with my wife, baby and dog.

I've never believed in karma, but maybe the universe is throwing us a bone for all of the hell we went through on our road to having a child, because our baby is the greatest (yes, I'm aware that basically every parent says that). She's incredibly mellow, and generally happy. Her only freak-outs come when she's hungry, or has gone too long without a nap. And for most of her six months on this planet, she has slept straight through the night. But most importantly, she makes me smile, and I miss her incredibly when I'm gone. She's already a lot like my wife in that regard.

For all things Unrestrained, you can head here:
Go get schooled here kids:

Also, be on the lookout for Unrestrained's new LP "Forward Unto Death" coming early next year on Trip Machine Laboratories. Pre-orders will be up soon at

No comments:

Post a Comment