Some bands do it for the money. Some do it for the girls. And then there are those, such as hardcore punk band Strike Anywhere, who are motivated by something a wee bit deeper.
"These public servants, from presidents to senators to mayors, we’re their bosses. We have to hold them accountable for the murders that they commit in our name, for all the different levels of betrayal, for the money that they give the corporations who own them, and all of those things," offers vocalist Thomas Barnett, who, intense as he is, remains one of the sweetest teddy bears in punk rock. "It’s becoming proven as every issue comes out in our media week after week how corrupt and aristocratic and just filled with malice the current administration is."
So, to sum up, the Virginia-based punkers in Strike Anywhere have spent the past four years campaigning for the republicans. No, just kidding. "Yeah, we’re the punk wing of George Bush’s campaign contribution," the 30-year-old Barnett laughs. "He’s always supportive. We wanted to give back to him and Cheney and Rumsfeld." Strike Anywhere actually spent the past four years touring the planet, spreading their message of peaceful resistance, and otherwise proceeding linearly towards their masterful new album, Exit English, an opus packed with rocking, socially charged anthems that raise your pulse enough to count as exercise. It’s got the blast-beats of punk, the stutter-start rhythmic punches of hardcore, and an arena-rock scope of both melody and content that can incite moderates of any party to revolt.
"As well as the urgency and the catharsis and the fire of the previous records, we needed to bring something positive and a little more hopeful," Barnett says of the album. "People, especially in these times, they need something that has an apocalyptic resonance, and hardcore music, punk music’s always had that, that strange doorway into other worlds of optimism and fighting injustice and kind of saving yourself from becoming the mediocre cartoon that our system wants you to be. The need for something positive and optimistic as well as something honest – at least for us, that’s what the record has delivered."
There’s something a little precarious about trying to affect change through something like punk, which is often associated with violence and therefore dismissed. That’s why it’s important to note that Barnett is playing on his fans’ intellect, not their emotions. "I think a lot of the violent context of punk, all of it has been more like a modified cancer on the face of what punk originally meant and how the best purveyors of it still define it," Barnett insists. "It becomes really macho and it’s really senseless and cartoony. We’re not really supportive of that, we don’t understand it, and we don’t think it has any lasting power to change people or even inspire people."
On indie powerhouse label Jade Tree, Strike Anywhere has been able to impact audiences around the globe, albeit sometimes a handful at a time. But that’s the definition of grassroots, and that’s what Barnett and crew are all about. So, at least for now, to hell with the major labels.
"Sometimes in our weaker moments, we’re like, ‘Goddamn, it’d be nice to have health insurance,’" Barnett laughs, "but we can build this band from the independent point of view. We don’t need four lawyers and three managers, people that would have to call my bandmates for me."
Strike Anywhere will make a stop in the area this month with the Jade Tree United Tour, complete with booths from PETA 2 and Music For America, a non-partisan, non-profit voting registration group. "It’s gonna be hopefully a comprehensive alternative culture symposium," Barnett explains.