Thomas, the lead singer of Strike Anywhere discusses the bands upcoming release, their affiliation with PETA and their desire to make a difference in the world.
Julia: I saw you guys back in June 2002 and I remember asking you when your new record was going to be coming out. Initially, you gave me a much earlier date than the current release date you have set, what made you push it back?
Thomas: Well, we ended up touring more than we thought we would and going to Europe again. After Europe, when we came back, we just took a lot of time writing the songs. I think us, and our label, and everybody involved didn’t want to rush out a record just to do it. So now we’ve been demoing and recording and we’ll have a new record out Sept. 30th, which actually, is exactly two years from when Change Is A Sound came out and back in the old days that was pretty soon for a punk band. Nowadays bands put out a record like once every eight months, it’s insane. We definitely can’t write like that, we don’t want to push ourselves to do that because we are afraid that it will affect our quality control and the sense of relevancy in our music, especially since the lyrics and the music have such a good relationship to each other and we need to reflect on how we’re feeling and what the present means to us. We didn’t want to make a record like Change Is A Sound again because we think that would be kind of shortsighted. There are all kinds of people that like us so we wanted to do something different.
Julia: So when you say something different do you mean in terms of sound or content?
Thomas: I’m not sure. Bands always think that they are making the most different, craziest shit ever, and then all the people that like their music say that it sounds just the same. So I think that it’s only different because it’s relevant to what’s happening now, and because of that fact the songs are darker, there’s more tension, and there’s a lot more aggression. But at the same time there’s also more hopefulness and more melody in some parts too. I’m not giving you a very good description, but I think that it will have a little more variety and address what’s happening now and where we’re at as people, as opposed to where we were in 2000 and 2001 when we wrote the songs on Change Is A Sound.
Julia: Regarding the state of the world at the moment, I pretty much feel that I know the answer to this question, but for the record, how do you feel about the situation in Iraq?
Thomas: We’re definitely not into it, and don’t feel that it represents the people at all. I think that even the people that are trying to back and support the effort, their resolve and their patriotism are being manipulated by George Bush and his cabinet. I’ve also noticed that some of the greatest slogans about ‘regime change starting at home’ and ‘peace being patriotic’ are really poignant and kind of show that ordinary, regular folks that weren’t even political people on the left or the right are realizing that this is about all the money moving upward from the people that produce it and all the resources being bled out of, not just this country, but any other country that we want to have an economic empire over. I think that everything in the headlines is just really disturbing and insane. Like the fact that even though Tony Blair, the British prime minister, who has been really supportive of the US despite the fact that he’s been kind of chastised by the world for how close he is to George Bush, has gently suggested that the UN have a strong presence in the rebuilding and reconstruction of Iraq and the peace process, George Bush has kind of just waved him away. And the idea that US corporations, particularly the ones that George Bush is allies with, will be able to just pick the bones of that country is insane! That’s what a lot of people, particularly radical peace activists, have been talking about for a long time and it’s actually starting to become an inevitable truth. I just think it’s really scary, these are really apocalyptic times and I think that older people, particularly the senior citizens who have seen war before, realize it. Like in Richmond, we had a peace march and a lot of these senior citizens and war veterans came out, I think that says so much that a lot of people don’t want to look at. A lot of people just want to stay isolated from having to have an opinion and that’s doing their own futures a disservice. That’s what a lot of our new songs are about and that’s how I feel about it.
Julia: Have you or other members of your band participated in any protests?
Thomas: We had one in Richmond on November 9th and we had a show the night before and a rally. We had a lot of speakers come and speak at the show, and a lot of kids at the show came to the march, even young folks from the suburbs who brought their parents. It was really intense. Richmond hasn’t had any kind of a march since like the civil rights marches, they might have had a small Vietnam march, but I’m not sure about that. There have been other really small marches like when George Bush (the first) and Bill Clinton had their presidential debate before the election, they came through Richmond and we had small marches, but not like a general strike of people from all walks of life. I mean, we had about 7,000 people at this protest, and that was incredible for Richmond. A lot of friends of ours have participated in marches in DC, and our drummer Eric has too in his home town, because we’re kind of all spread out up and down the East Coast. But it’s been amazing, we’ve just heard so much from people. I remember being up in Canada and hearing about the activism in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto and also seeing how understanding and cool everybody was up there instead of being completely angry at us for being Americans. It’s the same in Europe, and I think it’s kind of unprecedented that a lot of people understand, finally, that America and Americans are not just this united front of greed, selfishness and isolation. Part of this is because of the media, because there is so much coverage of these protests and because there is a lot of conflict, I’m sure the internet has a lot to do with it as well.
Julia: On the subject of Canada, I remember reading somewhere that your bass player is from Canada?
Thomas: He is actually
Julia: Apparently his Visa is expiring?
Thomas: It is expiring. Very soon actually, he needs to marry some American girl. He is a favorite though, so he’s got a lot of options. But seriously, I think he’s just going to reapply; he’s not really interested in American citizenship. His father is a Professor in Richmond so I think he’ll be able to get it. If not, maybe we’ll all move to Canada and be in Garth’s band, and we’ll only play Canadian shows or everywhere but the US.
Julia: No! You can’t do that!
Thomas: Yeah, I guess it would be a very strange thing.
Julia: Yeah, it would be. So how did your affiliation with PETA come about?
Thomas: Really, really naturally. The massive-mini head network of PETA, one of their primary locations is in Eastern Virginia, like Virginia Beach and Norfolk, and one of our good friends from the VA hardcore scene is their webmaster and one of their design directors. PETA has always been tabling at our shows and at punk shows in general. So I think they e-mailed us and said, "Hey, you’re touring, are you going to have booths?" because they would always allow us to take a lot of pamphlets and stuff with us and have a whole bin of free literature. So we said to them, "Well, we don’t have any literature right now, can you send us some literature?" and they just said, "Better yet, we’re just going to send a couple of people in every city to come and table at your shows." So we we’re like, "That’s great!" So all throughout the US and Canada we’ve had a PETA table strongly present at our shows. And in Richmond, and as well in DC and Philly, there’s other animal rights groups too that cooperate and share the space. There’s Vegan Action in Richmond, VA and there’s also The Fund for Animals in DC and Philly, and they do a lot of work. Like they’ll have videos and stuff like that, sometimes they’ll speak during the show. It’s really good and it’s something that we’ve all believed in for a really long time so it just feels really natural to have them with us.
Julia: So you do animal rights, and you obviously have an anti-war message, do you do anything on the environment?
Thomas: You know, it’s weird, because our band has definitely consumed our lives and we are just inspired by our friends who are more committed activists and have more time. Like a lot of times we’ll come home and people will tell us about the amazing shit that has happened and we’ll be like "Damn it, we were in Kansas!" You know? And it’s been like that for several years now. I only get a little bit of time now to work with the Coalition for the Living Wage that supports the rights of the working poor to have a living wage, in my hometown, Richmond, as well as the anti-war marches, and Food Not Bombs and things like that. The rest of my band-mates do what they can in their cities too, but at best we can just reflect the inspiration and maybe inspire others who are doing front lines work in the causes that we believe in. So as far as the environment, there was an Earth First group in Richmond like 12 years ago that I worked with, and some of the guys from Avail were in it too, it was really fun, but it kind of dissolved. On a more nationwide level, my wife is a conservation biologist and environmental educator so she is affiliated with a lot of different groups and does a lot of work. That’s kind of another reason why in our community we got involved with Animal Rescue because it’s sort of an extension of those groups. It’s an urban organization that promotes a respect for life and stray animals. There is a cycle that stems from children seeing how their families will abuse dogs or fight them for money, and then they’ll start to treat animals like that, and then treat each other like that. So we’ve done a lot of work with Animal Rescue, and we see that as kind of an animal rights issue, but also an environmental issue. Another thing that I guess kind of crosses over, but I’m not sure how you would classify this, is that we did a community garden in a blighted, urban area over the summer. We started it and then I went on tour for two months, and then we gave it to Food Not Bombs. It survived the drought that we had in the South and gave a lot of people some food, it also gave a lot of people some experience with putting their hands in the earth and getting out of the cycle of having to be so dependent on the shitty food that the working poor can only afford at urban ghetto grocery stores. This was like a way of having nutritious food, unfortunately it wasn’t organic because none of the abandoned lots in the city can be proved to be organic because of so many fires and things like that, but it was really good anyway. There were still some cabbages growing when I left for tour, right through the winter.