After playing now for nearly ten years, what do you think keeps you stimulated? Is it still the music, the ideas or the social aspect of hanging out with like-minded people? Or should I ask – is punk still a threat to society?
Kris: Learning from and sharing with other people/organizations; taking that knowledge back home and trying to apply it.
Chris: It’s the whole package. I’m thirty-four and have been involved in the punk scene for over 20 years. I don’t really have any plans on dropping out any time soon. Yes, we have been a band over ten years, but if we broke up today, I would be in another band next week.
Sarah: I am mostly interested in social consciousness and community building. Politically charged lyrics and art are what got me into punk in the first place as a teenager. I think there has been a wave of not giving a fuck about anything other than getting wasted and bedazzling your clothes, and while I like studs and spikes just as much as the next punk, I would rather break bread with people who actually do shit then some jackass with a death’s head painted on their jacket because someone told them along the way it was “artsy” or “shocking.” Punk isn’t a threat because you look weird, punk is a threat when you’re ready to throw a wrench in the gears of oppression.
Matt: It’s the ideas, plus meeting like-minded people. When you have been doing this for as long as we have, you tend to make bonds with people you don’t get to see face to face for a few years. It’s always good to see old friends on tour.
At what point in your lives did you realize that music could be used as a weapon for social justice?
Matt: The first notion was probably after hearing Crass for the first time. I sought out anarcho punk afterwards.
Kris: When I first heard Public Enemy.
Chris: I remember listening to the radio as a kid and hearing songs like, “We’re not going to take it,” “Fight for your right,” “Youth Gone Wild” etc. So I knew from a very early age that music encouraged rebellion. I grew up listening to metal and didn’t get into punk until I was about 13, but I don’t think it was until I was 18 or 19 that I fully understood the messages of social justice in punk. Probably because the music available to us in our small town was the more “mainstream” bands that had CDs in corporate stores. Bands like The Misfits, Exploded and Rancid, for example. It was a “pre-Internet” world, and tape trading was the way we got by. One summer, our group of friends got copies of recordings from Conflict, The Pist and Aus Rotten. It blew the lid off our whole scene. The messages of animal rights, anti-consumerism and equality were so clear. I guess I never looked back.
Sarah: Probably as an early teen. Bikini Kill is pretty much how I survived high school.
Lyrically, you are not obscure in your meaning but straight to the point. Do people ever discuss your ideas with you through email or after a gig? Are lyrics a bigger challenge as time goes on, as you don’t want to repeat yourself? Do you think at times that after a major catastrophe that you should write about it? Or is it more, OK, people might not have heard of this, we might be able to clue some people in about it?
Chris: Lyrics are absolutely the hardest thing for us to write. We want them to be well thought out, and that can often be challenging. We try not to repeat ourselves, but at the end of the day lyrics come from the heart. If we do repeat ourselves, it’s because we are passionate about something. I don’t particularly like the idea of writing about every major catastrophe. To me, that’s comparable to the raw d-beat bands that write song after song about war. Yes, war is hell and we should speak out against it. However, at the same time it’s not always clear if a band is actually passionate about a cause, or just following a cut-and-paste formula to sell records. I don’t want to be lumped into that. Our songs about mountaintop removal are close to us because we have seen that devastation first hand. We have all spent time on the Gulf Coast, and our old drummer when we wrote Black Sands was actually from Biloxi, Mississippi, a town that was devastated by the BP disaster. So the writing for Black Sands came pretty easily. We might have a line or two every once in while about something that is happening on the other side of the globe, but in general we try to stick to what we know. I guess the simplest way to put it is a band from Alberta is more likely to be better educated and angry about the tar sands pipeline then we would be, so they can probably write a much better song or concept album about that particular cause then we ever could.
Sarah: Given the nature of our songs, generally, it’s pretty much impossible to not repeat ourselves on some level, but I am perfectly comfortable with that. If I didn’t feel it was worth saying, I wouldn’t. Lyrics are always a challenge and I wish more people showed an interest in what is being said. I am always up for a discussion, and I love it when people want to talk to me about lyrics/etc.
Appalachian Terror Unit: We Don’t Need Them
Label: Profane Existence
Do your families get where you are coming from, and are they supportive of what you do?
Kris: Yes and yes.
Matt: My family are oblivious for the most part. My younger brother gets it; he was a punk and will still go to shows from time to time. My older brother and mom think that I am in an Allman Brothers cover band or something.
Chris: My family is great. We disagree on some things, but agree on most topics. They have always been supportive.
Sarah: My dad was cool with it as long as I handled my shit, but he passed away a few years ago and I haven’t seen my mom since I was 16. I am lucky to have a really rad brother who does art for us sometimes. He even house/dog sat while we were touring Europe. My 5 year old son thinks its “badass.” The rest of my family doesn’t always agree with me on some stuff, but the love and support is there.
What part has your environment played in shaping the way you see the world?
Matt: The crippling poverty that I have to see day in and day out.
Chris: Punk changed the way I looked at things by encouraging me to actually look around at the real world. Once I started to look around and notice things like injustice and poverty, I felt the need to change the way I live my life by going vegan, engaging in corporate boycotts and speaking out against things like oppression, environmental destruction, etc.
Sarah: I moved around and traveled a lot as a kid, and the time I have spent in West Virginia has been the most stationary I have been my entire life (almost 15 years!), and sometimes it’s hard to believe. I feel lucky to have had the opportunities I did at a young age and be exposed to life outside the bubble that is the dominant white/hetero American culture. Spending so much time in one of the most impoverished and toxic places in the country makes me want to fight back.
I see on your facebook page you posted in regards to the sexual assault by a member of The Casualties. Perhaps a very longwinded question, but how do you think the DIY punk community should deal with such individuals? What would you think of police involvement?…Is your new song Casualties Of A Rape Culture meant address by this event and issue?
Sarah: I believe the only way to tackle sexual violence within the scene is with direct confrontation. I don’t give a fuck who you are friends with or what band you are in. Victims deserve a mouthpiece if that is an action they are comfortable with, and they should be supported instead of being overshadowed by rape apologist bullshit. It was disgusting seeing how some people reacted to that particular assault, and it definatly came across like some people would rather not burn bridges with people in popular bands as opposed to standing with the victim(s), and that should be absolutely unacceptable among a culture that claims to fight for equality. The police are not the answer, nor is our (in)justice system, and most often the cops subject victims to unfair character judgments and try to bring victims’ sexual history or outward appearance into the conversation, leaving the victim victimized once again. Fuck the police. The song in question is not just explicitly about that particular circumstance, but more generally about rape culture as a whole and how it manifests itself within the punk community.
Chris: Although lyrically the song is much deeper and tackles rape culture worldwide, we did very purposely choose to name the song “Casualties of a rape culture” as a direct jab towards the band The Causalities. The reason being is we have been part of the punk community since the mid 90’s. We have friends from all over, and have heard many serious accusations against The Causalities over the years from reliable sources. Not just about sexual assault, but also for them having very inappropriate behavior towards young women in general. No one can deny the fact that there are multiple public accusations against their singer. I personally feel like they have dodged the topic for the last 14 years and I don’t understand why any band or venue would allow them on their stage.
Matt: I am very proud to be in a band choosing to tackle this subject. Too many times I have heard hushed stories of sexual assault and rape, not just the band in question but punks/bands in other towns. It’s shocking and disappointing.
Is anyone in the band an avid reader, and if so, what books are you reading right now?
Kris: I’m reading Fire On The Mountain by Terry Bisson. It’s a what if John Brown won the battle of Harpers Ferry, and the south was a black utopia story.
Sarah: I am in college and a parent, so the only reading I do these days is either academic stuff or children’s books.
Matt: I really enjoy fantasy/science fiction. I just finished a new spring by Robert Jordan and hope to start on so R.A. Salvatore on the road. My favorite author though is Michael Moorcock – read everything you can by him!!!
Chris: Zines and fantasy for the most part.
What music do you really dig, outside of punk?
Chris: I love old British metal – Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, the first two Maiden records. I am also into older thrash metal, and bad 80’s rock ‘n roll, and of course Neil Young.
Kris: I’m a metal and hip-hop head, I also love acoustic instrumentals and bluegrass.
Sarah: I like lots of different music outside of punk. I will unapologetically dance my face off to some shitty 90’s pop. I think part of me still wishes I became a Fly Girl on In Living Color
I see you have recorded at Jam Room Studios in the past. Was this a conscious decision, due to the studio’s history with aggressive heavy music like Nux Vomica, From Ashes Rise, Kylesa etc? Do you prefer a traditional recording studio rather than a home recording environment?
Chris: We don’t have studios in our town and none of us own recording equipment. We originally went to the Jam Room to record with Jay because Dan at Profane Existence recommended him. Since then, we have formed a friendship with Jay and I couldn’t image being as happy recording anywhere else. I think a band should record where they feel comfortable and with an engineer they trust. Be it a studio, basement, or whatever.
Matt: I have never done a home recording for a release. I feel as though Jay Matheson from the Jam Room could record me in a port-a-john and it would sound great.
What are you looking forward to on this upcoming tour? Oh, and what music is going to be rotation in the van?
Sarah: I totally geek out over driving through different ecosystems with my face pushed up against the window looking for creatures! I suppose people are alright too.
Chris: I just love being on tour in general, so I can’t really say one thing or the other that I am looking forward to as much as the experience as a whole. As far as music, we just had an issue with the MP3 player and the only CD we have in the van is the new Coitus album. So it looks like we will be listing to it for the next few days.
Matt: I am looking forward to the dates with ISKRA, as well as shows with other friends. I have to say that the last show on this tour in Chicago is looking fucking crazy!
Do you think that racism is dealt with in the Punk scene or do you think it’s just swept under the carpet like it does occur?
Kris: Unfortunately, it’s far too often swept away, or worse, disguised.
Matt: I don’t think racism is being dealt with. You have people wearing Fascist icons from bands or cheeky racist pins in a lame attempt to be edgy. These idiots are just opening the gate for the real enemy to infect your community.
Sarah: When it comes to confronting racism in the scene, I think it depends on where you live. Some places seem more tolerant of dodgy and racist bullshit than others. Where we live, if you spout some hate speech, expect to get the shit kicked out of you. We come from an area with fairly active hate groups and right wing fucks, so militancy against racism is an absolute necessity.
What are your feelings on the most recent events that took place in Baltimore with the killing of Freddie Gray?
Sarah: Obviously his murder is disgusting, but no surprise. The police murder people on a regular basis all over, and it felt good to see people fight back, but the struggle is really far from being done. We have to continue to monitor and document police abuses, because if the people don’t hold them accountable, no one will.
Matt: I can’t imagine how much anger must have been flowing through that city during the time of protests. How much confusion and sadness Freddie Grey’s family and loved ones felt. I have no words that can respectfully describe my own feelings, but I do stand in solidarity with all people in their struggle against racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and all other forms of oppression.
Kris: I hate it, and I lose a lot of sleep thinking how can we deal with it positively.
Chris: I have been in the back of one of those vans before, and can tell you first hand that the “wild ride” is a very real thing. It comes as no surprise to me that someone died as a result from such treatment. I am sure that it’s happened many times before. Although it’s a terrible situation, I do feel that the unification of Baltimore’s citizens is a powerful thing and very heartwarming. I hope in the end the Grey family can find some justice. ACAB!
What meal do you look forward to eating on this tour and in what city will it be in?
Chris: All of the Vegan meals I can get – anywhere and everywhere.
Kris: Marijuana and local beers – everywhere!
Matt: Coming home to cornbread and pinto beans
Sarah: Well, we have zero vegan food places where we live, so it is exciting to visit places that actually have businesses that cater to a cruelty-free diet.