Punk rock band Strike Anywhere has toured relentlessly and remained outspoken advocates of social justice ever since they started playing basements and living rooms in Richmond, Va., more than 10 years ago. With eight records on foundational labels like No Idea, Fat Wreck Chords and Jade Tree, their most recent was 2009’s Iron Front on Bridge Nine Records. While contemporary indie music shies away from its political roots, Strike Anywhere’s radical, anti-capitalist values remain at the core of their aggressive, yet pop-friendly, punk anthems. PW spoke with frontman Thomas Barnett to talk politics and here’s what he had to say.
On Strike Anywhere’s Facebook page you posted about the recent student-police clashes in England. Why does this rarely, if ever, happen in the U.S.?
I don’t think Americans are apathetic, as much as we don’t have the same kind of entrenched student protest and organizing culture. This probably comes from an unfortunate but very simple confluence of inertia, fear and vast geography, which is also a primary explanation for why we have such a fractured, limping, low pulse on our working-class intellectual tradition. People have surely been psychically beaten down in recent times, but our ability to devalue the power of the individual and the energy of public consciousness while simultaneously enshrining in media-projected, morally infantile absolutes the manipulated idea of “the individual” has been a profitable trap. Names for this trap include such vetted falsehoods as Patriotism, Nativism, A Christian Republic, Security Moms, Liberal Elites, “Taking Our Country Back” and the, ahem, Free Market. But those fevers of awake, angry, bleeding citizens that we watch from the Internet are extremely healthy and fight the static that grips the world: Weaponized hate coming in bright billion dollar packages is still a shadow compared to what truths and ideas are within our reach as a species.
On the same post, a fan asked: “Can a conservative, like myself, still listen to Strike Anywhere?” Care to respond?
We are honored to have thoughtful conversations and true friends all across the political spectrum. As long as people are thinking and respecting where we are coming from, the table is shared, and the tent’s as big as the whole damn world. Punk’s early roots were in Situationism, absurdist anti-fashion and anti-politics: punk’s DNA of Anarchism, nonconformity, and emotional honesty is informed by this primordial soup. This is art, not politics, and as much as we have a worldview and an evolving critique of society, there’s no party line or uniform expectation. The songs stop being ours to decide what anyone else takes away or needs from them. Much like The Boss versus Ronald Reagan using “Born In The U.S.A.” the right is reserved to prevent our music from promoting a fascist, macho, or militaristic agenda. For example, it’s possible that our anti-police brutality song “Sunset On 32nd” was a popular tune for U.S. ground forces that did house-to-house searches in Iraq’s burning cities. We were notified of this by more than one fan in the military. By the way, it’s certainly beyond coincidence or trivia that the entire second verse of this same song is dedicated to Philadelphia’s M.O.V.E. organization.
How do you think capitalist forms of power influence how we listen to music and what we listen to?
I think punk rock at its best is the street-level folk music process. It’s just been modernized to reflect the aggression and distortion of our post-industrial physical and emotional reality. All the punk and hardcore bands who’ve mattered, who’ve moved the little world within and beyond a shared counterculture of rage and vision, naturally tapped into the sonics of what it feels like to be frustrated and alienated. Here’s an alternative media broadcasting the hidden data of community self-organization, and the private truths that are deconstructionist therapies writ large when shot through the genre lens of hardcore and punk ... the idea of urban/suburban rebellion and that culture’s been taken away from us so we have to invent our own. Now, I don’t think punk has to be necessarily political, but I think it always is despite what it thinks it is doing, if you’re doing it right. By choosing to do punk you’re not fulfilling the demands of mainstream culture and you’re not prostituting your talent or vision for what you think will necessarily fill your stomach or allow you to pay your rent fastest. You’re doing something that is almost a rational leap outside of capitalism, outside of living your life just to develop a career so you can survive, doing something more from the heart.
How does Strike Anywhere position itself against, or disrupt, this power?
My good man, clearly I’m not gonna walk into this trap of grandiosity and self-importance that you’ve set! But I respect the question and will try to answer as authentically as I can without dissolving into deflection or snark. At best, we’re a catalyst for the good times and energy that get people in the mental and spiritual place to defend themselves from the beasts of fear and self-loathing. It works the same way for the individuals in the band, and we hope to give people the experience of weightlessness and catharsis that we’ve taken home from punk shows that moved and strengthened us against the foolishness and cruelty of our structured existence. This community artistic platform is a place of empowerment and inspiration, and if we can just let that energy flow through us and get to you, that’s a fairly humble, but honest and maybe rare achievement. Power will be disrupted in the day-to-day, minute-to-minute revolutions of honesty and compassion, creativity and resistance on every individual’s path through life.
Your songs are as politically optimistic as they are critical. What keeps you hopeful?
Throughout the band’s 11 years, when writing songs I’ve been careful to look for and celebrate solutions, both social and psychological. Many are inspired by real-life events and the stories of close family and friends. I definitely tried, and I hope occasionally succeeded, in anchoring the political rage with a more continuous thread of living in this world and not proclaiming its disorder from some lofty academic distance. This, I believe, can be quite the problem in connecting revolutionary music and ideas with the people who need it the most. The esoteric postures and elitism of many arrogant and disconnected loudmouths of the Left are complicit in the sorry state of protest, in our country, for certain. I’ll be damned if I’ll let myself degrade into that.
If the Tea Party embarrassment chapter in recent history can teach us anything, it’s that the medium and not the ideas is the critical thing to move forward, evolve and punch truth through the spectacle. We have to be honest and listen to the times, not try to graft old vehicles of social unrest into the ever-changing and brilliant present. Pathological condescension on both sides of the political spectrum has greatly underestimated the human potential for Great Leaps and improvisation. We have structures inside us of equity, balance, hope and survival waiting to fill this husk of a world and this knowledge keeps me young.
As a band, through the years we recognized the need to anchor our politics in personal stories. Confessional and narrative writings, we feel, can give a political protest song a lot more depth and longevity. It’s also more fun and artistically coherent to celebrate hopefulness, healing and personal autonomy in the face of all these government and corporate deceptions, and war culture. There are enough slogans and complaints out there already. As far as being labeled a political band, we don’t see the difference, or care. Neither, perhaps, should you or your readers. Just come out and feel something with us.
Strike Anywhere perform Mon., Dec. 27, 6:30pm. $10-$12. With Daytrader + One Win Choice. The Barbary, 951 Frankford Ave. 215.634.7400. r5productions.com
PW's Music Issue 2014