On July 17th 2020, Strike Anywhere are going to release their new EP Nightmares Of The West – their first music in ten years! Chrissy had the chance to talk to singer Thomas Barnett – not just about the upcoming record but also about the current situation in America. Since Thomas is and always has been a political and very empathetic person he got a lot to say about the horrible things happening but also about the hope and the beauty that always arise in such chaos.
We didn’t wanna crop any of his thoughts, so take your time and a cold beverage and have fun reading.
AFL: Hi Thomas, thanks for taking your time. I know you’re very busy so I’m really thankful you found some time.
Thomas: I thank you for taking your time on a Saturday.
AFL: Oh sure, I mean there’s no way to go out so….
Thomas: Yeah right? Which crazy times to live in and to release a record! I’m quarantined in Berkeley / California, but I’m in touch with my family and friends and bandmates in Richmond. And look at it in the media and all the beautiful craziness of the uprising protests.
AFL: I watch it every day and it’s so crazy to watch it from far away. I mean we also have our problems in Germany regarding police brutality and racism, but it’s not the same. Seems like a madhouse you’re living in.
Thomas: Yeah that’s about right. But I think it’s more safe to have the community, and enganged and talking than if we’re all stuck in our houses just letting the system do it work.
I feel like this is a great awakening, everyone’s like woken up and like: This is ours, this country, these streets, the police, they are meant to be ours. And now these are the things that are killing us. It’s been worse for so long and now people are opening up to the idea that we can have democratic control. The people most vulnerable and most hurt by this – you know it is meant to be the other way round. Also the monuments coming down, the discussion about history and propaganda is so beautiful and important.
AFL: Yes, that’s finally happening. I mean you can say a lot of bad things about social media but there are so many good things about it, like things are getting filmed and spread over social media and people are awakening cause it seems like they have to see it to believe it.
Thomas: Yeah and in real time too. Before instantaneous global communication there was the reporting of generalist papers and publishing but it was already over by the time you heard about it. Now as things are happening we’re seeing it happen, the horrible stuff and the beautiful stuff. Seeing people pull down the monuments, seeing everyone to organize.
The global instantaneous global media is like a giant brain that we built. The whole earth is now one brain, one human brain that can flicker back and forth information, or lies. But I think it’s harder for the lies to sustain now. There’s definitely conspiracy and fake shit but it’s more possible for the truth to be empowered.
AFL: Let’s come back to Strike Anywhere. I already listened to Nightmares Of The West in full and what can I say, I love it. I mean it’s exactly what I wanted it to be. 100% Strike Anywhere, the same energy, which is a good thing. Change is a sound but your sound doesn’t change luckily. 😀 Besides the fact, that this album is exactly what we were anticipating is there any new attempt? Any particular message you wanted to express with Nightmares Of The West?
Thomas: We always want to go further, go deeper with what we write. Of course we don’t have the same songs. But we’re older. It’s been ten years since our last record, so a lot of stuff has changed and the world has gotten both – horribly much worse and then also the potential of much better. At the same time.
They’re sacrificing people, the amount of people that were killed by police brutality in the last years is terrible and hard to count, the refuges and famine all the horrible things that happen, because of the foreign policy of our country for decades. It’s not just about Trump being horrible, but he’s been enabled to a much greater extent, by the apathy, the almost mass psychosis of our country. It’s terrifying, but it’s also what bands like ours have been writing about for a long time. Like we don’t solve these problems at the root, this it what grows, this is what happens in the end. That’s what the record is about, it’s reflecting the times.
But there’s a part that is not just about the police and some drama but more the personal stuff, you know not just me, our just the five of us, but the things we ALL have to deal with as we get older, as we lose friends as things get complicated. Not like when we were in our twenties or just teenagers. So I think that part is new about the record. But there’s also like a lot of joy. Some of our bandmates have children now, and that’s new. The last time we wrote a record no one had kids. So there’s a lot of beauty and possibility.
And on the other side we lost friends our age. Some of them was to addiction, some of mental illness, or accident and all of this is horrifying. It could have been any of us. And we think about it. And some of the songs were written with that in mind, grieving, healing and trying to reach out. Not to stay isolated as you get older but make sure people are okay. Make sure to talk about your hard feelings some time.
AFL: So it feels the world doesn’t change but you and your lives do?
Thomas: Yeah and of course the way the world is now is so beautiful and terrifying and the idea that people worldwide can see us uprising in America. A lot of the worst parts in our country we exported, so much shit. We were the final breathe of colonialism. Even though we weren’t an empire we inherited the empire in some way. So that is what we are trying to get out now with these protests with these uprisings and that’s also what we’ve been writing about and what other punk bands and musicians and artists have been trying to talk about.
We’re like doctors and looking deep at the problems, at the body. You know the body of our politics and the body of our nation, saying: „Hey motherfuckers, this shit is real and it’s going to kill us in twenty years, it’s gonna kill us in hundred years, it’s gonna kill us tomorrow.“
We have to organize and find completely new structures than the ones we have. All of that is happening and that is what Nightmares Of The West is about.
AFL: You wrote Nightmares Of The West before the biggest Nightmare we’re all living in right now became reality. And you have no chance to go on tour and promote your music. How does it feel to release an album in these trying times?
Thomas: It is insane! Especially a band like us we live to play live. When the songs live they live in that moment when we play them. We love putting out records and the art of it and the vinyl and all that cool stuff, cause we’re punkrockers we love that shit. But it’s really about the moment when you’re playing it.
And we don’t get that. We don’t know when we will or how. What a crazy thing to say! We love these songs and we need to play it, especially cause we need to say this. Like we’re not alone and we’re not crazy.
We need to get to sing along with other people, cause – you know – it proves it. Like the song is the theory, the live show is the proof.
AFL: You just celebrated the 20th anniversary of your very first release the Chorus of One EP this month. The title song of it contains some lines which are more relevant than ever: „To Live In Discontent / Anti-establishment“ and then „A thousand rebellions sleep.“
In the light of the murder of George Floyd we’re finally seeing people becoming discontent and starting a rebellion and bringing the Black Lives Matter movement to a more powerful level. How does it feel after 20 years to still sing and talk about the same issues? Are you positive to finally see a change or are you getting tired of it?
Thomas: No, I’m getting tired of people getting murdered by police. This is the moment, this is the black community beating and like all of us, the protest culture planting the seeds and all the art and everything. Even the quiet moments when you’re connecting with your family with your community, it’s about patience. It takes a lot to turn this country around from its terrible course and I know that at some of the protests people playing over their speakers and the sound system in the street. And they were playing some of our songs amongst thousands of other songs, moments, artists, speakers. It feels incredibly moving to be even a part of that for a second, or two minutes.
But more than that, writing that music – we knew it wasn’t gonna start the revolution, solve all the problems, by the end of summer 2020. *laughs* You’re building something tiny, piece by piece.
We look at that like one cell of the body. But yeah it feels like all the things we’re speaking about, put little benefit shows, tiny little movements and moments can now be part of this bigger historical voice. And I don’t think there’s any going back now. Everything is gonna show the hand of the system, of the government, of our racist system. It’s gonna be back and forth, its not gonna be perfect but
I think the emperor has no clothes and is now riding around aND we’re watching him being naked and showing himSELF being horrible.
We have to write the songs for us and add our voice to the punk rock spectrum, it is just us. And it’s truly every band, you have your influences, the things you like, the music you play and everything that makes you feel something. And that’s kinda of where it starts.
So for us, in all humility, still being able to be a band after twenty years and have our songs still be relevant or useful to people – whatever sparks, that’s more than we can ever even find words or claim. It’s about being part of this larger continuum but having that moment to say something truthful. Even just to yourself at first.
AFL: That brings me to something I was watching recently in social media. For me Punk & Hardcore music always were connected to disobedience against the system, a compassionate and positive way of thinking, and yeah a political statement. These days you could see in the comments of Rage Against The Machine and also Stick To Your Guns Instagram feeds some people writing: „I never new you were political and radical like that!“ and they were canceling their fandomship.
That’s kind of funny because how could you think the band name Rage Against The Machine was meant as being against the washing machine? But I think it’s also thought-provoking. Were we trapped all these years? Can Punk and Hardcore music really make a change?
Thomas: That’s really funny. First of all I don’t know how real that is. Maybe it’s just trolling Rage Against The Machine. If someone actually made that mistake he must – RATM always had mainstream popularity but they were definitely always extreme rhetorical – so you must have some cognitive difficulties to really think that.
I think, let’s say Punk and Hardcore are independent. You’re kind of like changing the model in a small way to fit the ideals in a better way. There’s a spectrum of how people engage. There’s the complete DIY punks and folks like us, we engage. And independent record labels, people that are part of the punk and hardcore scene and activist networks, there’s all kinds of sizes of bands. Some of we agreed upon a purpose of this is that, the way we do it is also what it is. It’s not just a music style that sounds aggressive and talks about extreme emotional stakes or politics, it is also a way of life in a way of looking at the world that is more than music.
Yeah, it’s more than music, that’s why Punk and Hardcore have an ability to last, to change the way someone lives.
It’s in a small way. We don’t claim to be massive. We don’t really believe like it works like a little religious movement. Everyone gives away everything. Some people decide to go vegan one day and they don’t have a cook for themselves, usually they slide, they stop being able to do it. It is about learning one of the other and staying resilient and strong. I think the last song on the record – We make the road by walking – is about that.
AFL: So back to your upcoming EP again: You recorded Nightmares Of The West with Brian McTernan at Salad Days Studio again and released it on Pure Noise Records for the first time. Why him again and why not Bridge Nine anymore?
Thomas: Brian is awesome! We actually just talked to him about two years or half a year ago and said: „Hey, we have some songs, do you still have a studio?“ We’ve been in touch with him a lot and seen him but we didn’t know what he was up to. And he was like „Oh my goodness! I just got a new place and reorganize my equipment.“
We would never be a band without Brian. He is very supportive. He really helps us. We recorded actually all the vocals and some of the guitars at his house with his family around us and his dogs and cats. That’s a tradition. It feels honest and comfortable.
And to the labels: We always seal our record labels for five or six years and then we move on to another label. There’s not a real particular reason for it. We had a great time at Bridge Nine and are proud of the records we made and being part of Bridge Nine’s vision. The labels are almost also having another band debate. It’s cool to have that, we see it as a collaboration with another artist. Wether it’s Jade Tree, Fat Wreck, No Idea or Bridge Nine and now Pure Noise and having that collaboration with them is just like a part of the way you’re presented to the world. And we think just staying on one label and being part of the sound that is associated with any one label doesn’t do punk any good. We think its a little bit too like disposable. If you know you can go to one label and get that one sound it makes the band a kind of less relevant, and it makes all more a part of a commodity of it. We like to work with several labels like slightly different beings on the culture, different moments, different kinds of perspective, I think that’s important to us, you know. And it’s also kind of how we’re restless. We like to have like cool different relationships and different artwork and stuff. And we also wanted to be on Bridge Nine and have like a record we really care about on that label. It’s the same with Fat Wreck records, the same with Jade Tree, the same with Pure Noise. We wanted to support and add to those labels
in a little way, cause we believe in them. And that’s a permanent thing, the relationship to that music. Working with Pure Noise now is exciting. They seem to believe in us and care about what we do. And that sounds great.
AFL: As much as I know your song „The Bells“ is about loosing a friend. We’re losing friends, people, even places we knew as children or dreams. How are you dealing with such kind of loss and dissappointment? Do you have any advise?
Thomas: The advice would be to not fight against it changing you. Like when you lose that, you’re different. That’s what we’re really getting used to. You’re grieving a part of yourself that’s – I wouldn’t say gone – but it has changed. And looking at it like a part of nature. You always gonna hear that friends voice in your head, you always gonna see the view of that place that has not completely changed, you always got access to what it was. It’s kind of always in you or in that person.
But I do think the advice would be to let it change you. And try not too hard to fight against that. Because that’s the way you heal.
AFL: When I read the lyrics of the song I stumbled over the lines
Ghosts On The River / Centuries Old Hypocrisies / Monuments Fall
which is kind of a weird coincidence cause in your hometown Richmond a confederate statue was toppled. So actually when you wrote it it had a different meaning and yeah, time changed it.
Thomas: It is! That’s what I meant with „it could heal a city“ and all that darkness and now that’s actually happening in our material world. And it blows my mind. And I’m grateful to see it happen!
AFL: Thank you so much for your time!
Thomas: Thank you. I hope to see you soon in Germany. Take care! Bye!