I get to the hotel where we’re staying for the fest and start paging through the dense, brightly covered booklet that describes the bands playing and other events over the course of the weekend. Bz tells me, “just read the first sentence of the description,” and I do. It says, “Welcome one and all to the biggest punk rock, shirts off, stale beer smelling, bear hugging, cheap booze swillin’, high five greeting, coosie totin’, family reunion, holiday, circus of fools we lovingly embrace simply called THE FEST.” It’s cheesy and frankly, I have a hard time feeling myself in those words, but I’m here. Amidst the amped up party atmosphere, there are some great people, and their great bands. Playing fewer and fewer shows with Defiance, Ohio has made being together and the shows we do play seem more special, which is kind of exciting. It makes it feel like this year, the show we play will actually be special instead of the anticlimax that comes with it being just another show, albeit a hyped one.

It is really nice to see people. There is a comfort in being reminded of the things that you know deeply about people, but sort of forgot. The hotel room table is covered in stacks of books from various authors and I remember how hyper-literate my band mates are, yet we’re still able to indulge in America’s Next Top Model marathons. There’s the ability to be goofy as we take videos of our own top-model style commercials for the fest. We take turns making sultry eyes at the mobile phone camera and end with our best “I love to fest.” Whether it was the last-minute, homemade togas the last time we played in Bloomington or these videos, the ability to make weird, theatrical things for our own enjoyment has been one of the most pleasurable experiences with my friends over the years.

We heard that the Max Levine Ensemble was playing a house show, so we wandered around Gainesville for a while until we found the house. It’s easy to spend a lot of at the fest wandering around and getting lost, but the walk felt nice and I like not feeling stuck on University Avenue.

After The Max played, we saw the Hot New Mexicans who were really good. I’ve seen them play a lot, but since we haven’t played many shows this year, I feel like my attention span for shows is so much longer. It’s nice because it helps me really enjoy seeing bands, even ones I’ve seen before, and notice new things about their music.

When their set finished, Bz, Sherri, and I went over to see 7 Seconds. The last time I had seen them was at a Warped Tour when I was a teenager. Unlike Bz, they weren’t really a band that I listened to a lot when I got into punk, but the first time I heard them, I realized that they were a huge influence to so many of the local hardcore bands in my home town. As, I get older, I’m inspired by people much older than me continuing to play music. We have a narrative of people touring and playing music until they burn out and self destruct or dropping out into a more conventional life, but there are many people who have decided to have families, or maybe careers who struggle to strike a balance with still being involved in punk music and I think their stories often go unmentioned. Kevin Seconds is an engaging performer, and a good storyteller. After performing for a few decades, its obvious that telling stories or connecting an old song with current events comes more easily, but not without sincerity. It’s so important to me, and one of the things that drew me to punk initially, that the songs come from somewhere, that there is such a direct link from experience or perspective on the world to lyrics and performance. It was interesting to hear the story behind the classic song Walk Together. Apparently, it was written after a show was canceled due to fear of metalhead vs. punk violence. It’s nice that their response was to write a song celebrating unity rather than a call to kick some metal ass.

Punk can be so contradictory, at once macho and positive, crucially critical and irrelevantly divisive. Listening to the radio and reading Billboards, I realized how conservative Florida can be. There was one stretch where there was an anti-choice billboard with a giant fetus every few miles. After seeing the preserved fetuses at the You: The Experience exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, the billboard seemed even more manipulative because the fetus next to the text “My heart beats after 18 days didn’t look like the 18-day-old embryo that I saw at the museum. This is besides the point, though. For me, the debate isn’t really about what constitutes “life” at a certain stage of prenatal development, but about a consistent cultural desire to control the bodies and lives of women and a lack of support for health care for women and children as well as support for families that don’t fit the one mom, one dad, 2+ kids model. It’s just scary to think about all the energy and resources that went to put giant embryos beside the highway.

I also saw a billboard advertising the Fraternal Order of Police’s gun show and I just don’t see how encouraging people to buy guns helps ensure safety or order. The kicker was to hear a commercial for a conservative “Black Tie and Blue Jeans” event that said, “Conservatives, come eat MEAT while those liberals are eating their granola and driving their hybrids.” Note to progressive punks, snark and irony won’t change anything. The reality of talk-radio-style conservatism is so ridiculous that it will be more bizarre and gross than any parody. It really feels like there is a culture war, and I don’t want to fight in it. It feels like a test of faith, that there are enough people, coming from all different experiences, who want to be connected and empathetic to other people, who want to really solve problems, who want to base their perspective on things that are external to their experience on a careful, comprehensive discourse. I don’t want to “win” over people or organizations who promote ideas that I think are really harmful. I just want there to be a critical mass that makes them irrelevant.

awesome punk rock shows, kids, and change

For more than a decade, I’ve identified with and invested myself in punk music and subculture.  As I get older, I struggle with feeling like punk as I know it can be a little too much like Project Runway, “one day you’re in, the next day you’re out”.  Perhaps that’s overly cynical, but I do feel like my standards of what makes an ideal show have changed since I first got into punk.  If I can trust my memory, I think what made for a good show as a teenager was feeling like shows were a space made by and made for youth (without being mediated by adult regulation or supervision) and feeling part of a group of people who I knew and who could identify as separate from the dominant youth culture of my community.   The absence of violent dancing wasn’t a huge part of my standard for a good show, nor was equitable gender dynamics.  Both are things that I notice and agonize over now.  These days, I think a lot about who is encouraged to be in and who, by neglect is pushed out of punk subculture.

What is hard to reconcile is identifying with a subculture that rejects adult authority and now feeling like some of the people I most respect are parents or teachers.  It was never this cut and dry, of course.  My first introduction to a diferent way of making and experiencing music, one that was exciting then and remains endearing now, was at the hands of two teachers at my high school, Mr. Nagle and Mr. Barnes.  They formed the Alternative Music Club  and through this club helped students set up shows featuring bands from my school, nearby schools, and friends of the teachers during the club period of the school day and after school.  I still see this as an awesome and totally appropriate collaboration between adults and youth where the adults shared what they knew and loved without totally mediating it for their students.  This, I would imagine, was not an easy line to tread for Mr. Nagle and Mr. Barnes.

Living with kids and meeting  more and more parents in the last few years has made me realize a changing standard that I have for punk music.  One thing I’ve always liked about punk music, and live performance in particular, is that it has been a fun or celebratory expression of shared politics or values.  One of my greatest wishes for the music I’m involved with is for it to be a fun, excitng space that I can share with people with whom I have shared politics or values, even if they don’t have any affinity or history with punk subculture.  I see the comfort of people coming to shows with kids as one of the ways of judging how close we’re coming to this goal.  Most of the people who are my punk peers don’t have kids and most of my friends with kids don’t identify as punk.  When they come together at a show it’s obvious that there is a huge barrier between navigating the distance between the concerns and responsibilities of people who have kids and the absence of any of those considerations for many who don’t.  Furthermore, I see people with kids struggle to break out of an identity centered primarily around their role as parents (whether they’ve chosen this for themselves or had it imposed on them) and engage with people without parents as another person and not just as a person identified as a parent.

Will tried really hard to set up the last show of Defiance, Ohio tour in a way that might break through some of these dynamics.  We had it start early, made it a pitch-in, and had it in a picnic pavilion at a park near some nice hiking trails, a creek full of wildlife, and a bumpin playground.  Most notably, he put ‘kids welcome’ on the flyer.  These efforts had mixed results.  More people came with kids than most shows I’ve been to in Bloomington.  People seemed to enjoy eating together and it was nice for kids to have a place to play around the show, or to watch and listen to the show where it wasn’t so loud.  One friend’s middle-aged mother who was in town visiting came to the show and hung out and rocked out.  Unfortunately, the show was pretty slow to get started which tried the attention span and bedtimes of many kids and their parents.   There was also a noticeable division between the people who usually come to shows and people who brought kids, though this probably has more to do with people not knowing each other because the parents didn’t come to shows often.  Still, its something that needs to be worked on.

Its nice to know that others are thinking about this too.  I read an interview with Zegota in a recent issue of Give Me Back and one of the band members said that he evaluated shows on whether or not his mom would b comfortable going to them.  Also, my friend Josh wrote this about an adult and kid friendly show he’s setting up in Ann Arbor:

hey everyone! I’m sending out this mass e-mail to a whole bunch ofpeople to let you all know that this Saturday Sept 13th will be thesecond ROCK N’ ROLL FAMILY PICNIC/POTLUCK.     for those of you thatdon’t know what this is let me explain. the idea is to give parents andkids and friend of parents and kids a day to hang out in the park andsee some bands and do some art and play games and hang out in a kiddiepool and ride on a slip and slide and eat  some food. you know funstuff like that.  since it’s hard to go see bands when you have to paya sitter now you can bring the kids to the show.  the bands are notnecessarily going to be kid bands, but they will be bands kids can rockout to, if you understand what i mean. (like there bands that playaround town for adults but kids could get into them.)  so far PatrickElkins and Charlie Slick are signed on to play as well as a fewacoustic acts and hopefully one more rock band.

folk music and liberalism

I just got an e-mail asking of Defiance, Ohio wanted to do an interview for a zine called Even If Your Voice Shakes which is put out by some folks involved with the Riot Folk collective.  It made me think about some of the discomfort that I have with folk music and that moniker being applied to music I help make (though I also need to think about why I’m more comfortable with the term Punk, maybe just because it feels like more my own, less inherited from a generation I associate with parents and power structures).  One issue with discomfort is regarding associations between folk music and race.  I wanted to learn a little more about this so I found Aesthetic Identity, Race, and American Folk Music, but didn’t yet get a chance to read it.  In the abstract for this article, it talked about folk music being adopted by social movements in the 60s and suggested that while those movements were multiracial, or at least attempted to be, with music being a part of it, that folk music was eventually whitened.  I think I associate folk music with being this very white, safe, established thing, just as some of the more visible remnants of movements of the 60s and the generation that was alive then seems that way.  This made me think about how I categorize the liberalism that I tend to demonize, and this is what I came up with:

Liberalism, as I think about it, is less about a specific set of political ideologies or positions and more about having an affinity to an ideology without being a stakeholder in the realities that underly political or policy questions.  For instance, there are many people in the US who are opposed to the war in Iraq, but I would argue the majority of those people are not necessarily soldiers or family members of soldiers or Iraqi or family members of Iraqis, or in some other way more closely tied with the war.  I am not arguing that one’s political perspective or responsibility rests on the nature of one’s connection to a particular issue, but I think that there needs to be a lot of self-consciousness, and movement-consciousness about how one’s orientation around an issue affects one’s beliefs and actions.  The 60s seemed to be an interesting time because so many more people became stakeholders in the issues of the times.  White, (upper) middle class people were being drafted to go to war in Vietnam, or faced that looming reality.  Similarly, white, (upper) middle class people faced race riots in their schools as students (as my parents did), seeing their schools, neighborhoods, and communities become desegregated and the tensions that came from those changes.  Certainly, white (upper) middle class people are still stakeholders in questions of race and peace in the present, but I think their orientation is much more static and the connections have been effectively obscured.  For instance, with questions of race, I think most liberal people find it easier to identify and critique racism external to themselves or their communities instead of being forced (as I feel desegregation did in the 60s) to come to terms with their involvement in race and power in the US.

gaming reviews vs. criticism

I’m not a gamer, but I found this article, linked to from BoingBoing relevent not just to gaming but other types of media:

Similarly, there would be no point today in writing a review of Ultima IV, since it is long out of print. A useful work of criticism, however, is entirely conceivable: discussing, perhaps, its role as one of the first games to consider the moral implications of a player’s acts, and to use tactical combat as a minigame within the context of a larger, more strategic title. Such an article, well-written, ideally with an understanding of the influence of tabletop roleplaying on the development of the early western CRPG, and of the place of this title in the overall shape of Richard Garriot’s ouevre would be of interest to readers today, even if they’d be hard put to find a way to buy the damn game. And it might find a place in anthologies and studies of the 20th century origins of the popular medium of the game, going forward into the indefinite future.

The truth is that, for the most part, we don’t have anything like game criticism, and we need it — to inform gamers, to hold developers to task, and to inform our broader cultural understanding of games and their importance and impact.
Read more at Pro Gamer Review.

I swear I’m going to stop writing about meta-discussions of punk subculture, but this makes me ask the question – does punk’s (and other musical subcultures for that matter) reliance on the review as a source of dialog about media objects narrow the vision for its social relevence and fail to push media producers to make music with a consciousness of its place in history and the current social context?  Also, what is the impact, with the rise of web content and media review (I heard a piece about metacritic.com on Morning Edition this morning) coupled with the rise of consumption and review of technological commodities, on punk (and musical subculture in general)?  Clearly, a generation of young people, deeply invested in this review culture intersects the listenership of subcultural music.

I single out punk just because if you look at any of the popular punk fanzines (MRR, Razorcake, etc.) an incredible amount of the content is dedicated to the reviewing of zines and records.  I guess this is true of music media in general, but I am, of course, most familiar with punk, and I want to challenge the idea that punk is somehow ahead of the curve when it comes to cultural behavior.  Looking at mainstream media, I find it even easier to criticize the review because they are increasingly blippy, often dedicating less than a paragraph to a discussion of the content.

Link to essay
Link to bb post

punk as social force?

I feel like I’ve gained and reiterated a more critical perspective of perspective on punk in reading and responding to Daniel Traber’s L.A.’s “White Minority”: Punk and The Contradictions of Self-Marginalization.  Michael Eric Dyson spoke at IU this week and talked a lot about hip-hop as an amplification of culture at large (i.e. critics of misogynist rap lyrics failing to acknowledge the connection between those attitudes and cross-cultural ideas of power and masculinity).  Similarly, though not to say that these roles are mutually-exclusive, I think that punk is more often a reflection of culture-at-large than a provocative agent.  Right now, I’m slowly reading through Jackson Katz’s The Macho Paradox and he refers often to the history of the formation of the battered women’s and rape crisis movements.  He quotes Debby Tucker, cofounder of the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence and volunteer in the first rape crisis center in Texas on the beginnings of those movements:

It all started with women learning to listen to each other.  The battered women’s and rape crisis movements drew strength from our understanding that what happened to individual women was not isolated.  At first we just wanted to help … later we began to hear about women’s experiences, and see commonalities and patterns not only in the abuses they suffered but in the responses to them by the police, the courts, the clergy.  We then began to use what we’d learned to confront men both at a personal and an institutional level.

So, the riot-grrl movement in the 90s, strongly connected to punk subculture, can be seen as a manifestation of a larger consciousness of women listening to women and organizing politically around the injustices articulated through those stories.

In the present, I can’t help but see the rising popularity of punk music that talks about connections to family  (e.g. The Devil in My Family by Ghost Mice, or Grandma Song by Defiance, Ohio) as a reflection of a generation whose parents are more involved in the lives of their children (e.g. “Helicopter Parents“) and whose children are more at ease with the connectedness of their parents.  Similarly, I see more subtle departures in ideology and identity between contemporary punks identifying with D.I.Y. practices and values and their parents, especially when compared with the extreme symbolic choices in lifestyle and fashion that punks in the 70s and 80s used to signify a separation from white, middle-class values.

In the case of riot-grrl and feminist organizing, one can see the positive integration of youth-culture and an important social movement.  In the case of changing perceptions of family in punk subculture you can see how different relationships with the idea of family each offer their own limitations, whether through overly symbolic identifications or what borders on conservatism.  In either case though, I come to the conclusion that punk wasn’t the movement or social force driving the connected dynamics.

Writing this is strange for me, because even though I increasingly recognize that punk media and subculture might not be a driving social force, I continue to contextualize other social dynamics through my own punk identity and my history through that identity.

White Minority

Rawny had said that he wanted to play a classic hardcore cover with Disaster, but I don’t want to just play one because people will get rowdy and sing along. So, the idea of playing a cover kind of got put on the back burner. Randomly, I thought about the song White Minority, by Black Flag, which I think was originally intended as an ironic mockery of white power paranoia. For me, I think that punk was, and remains such a white, middle class pursuit, that the idea of of a white minority does seem very paranoid. The title of the song makes me think about a future where globalization has the unexpected effect of bringing about a movement and mixing of people and culture that makes a purely white minority a reality.  A more careful reading of the lyrics makes me see it as an anthem about trying to define an identity that is seperate from what one views as the prevailing cultural norms for one’s race and class.  This is, and has always been, one of the primary functions of Punk music.  And, while suburban, white culture and the history that lead to its creation can definitely be seen as oppressive and a target for critique, simply manufacturing a seperate identity doesn’t succeed in challenging the culture with which punks want to disassociate.  The title itself also makes me think about another likely outcome, where in the US, as in punk, people become a ‘white minority’, assimilated into the prevailing culture, not fully entitled, but entitled enough to leave those unable or unwilling to assimilate left to fight each other to escape being identified as being the most powerless class of people.

Were gonna be a white minority
We wont listen to the majority
Were gonna feel inferiority
Were gonna be white minority

White pride
Youre an american
Im gonna hide
Anywhere I can

Gonna be a white minority
We dont believe theres a possibility
Well you just wait and see
Were gonna be white minority

White pride
Youre an american
White pride
Anywhere I can?

Gonna be a white minority
Theres gonna be large cavity
Within my new territory
Were all gonna die

I also found this really interesting journal article titled L. A.’s “White Minority”: Punk and the Contradictions of Self-Marginalization on JSTOR. I can’t read it all until I can use an IU network connection, but I think it will give me some good context for performing the song with a reimagined meaning.


Thanks to the person who sent me the PDF of the article from JSTOR. The general sentiment of the article can be seen in this passage:

This circles us back to Black Flag’s song, seeing how punk’s strategy is to flip the binary of majority/minority. Minority status is the privileged element for this group as they valorize it into a condition to be appropriated. This recognizes the structural racism in American society, yet it does so by essentializing the nonwhite Other into a victim role-romanticizing nonwhites into all that is simultaneously threatening and threatened.

This is an act George Lipsitz criticizes as “the frequent invocation of people of color as sources of inspiration or forgiveness for whites, and the white fascination with certain notions of primitive authenticity among communities of color, [which] all testify to the
white investment in images that whites themselves have created about people of color” (Possessive, 118). What aims to be a critique of repression in L.A. punk ends up an agent of it, for its rejection of the dominant culture relies on adopting the stereotypes of inferior, violent, and criminal nonwhites.

It was a hard article to read because the critique of punk seems to be applicable not to late 70’s/early 80’s L.A. punk, but to the current D.I.Y. punk movement. It also makes me think about how punk seems to lack an internal language or discourse with which to make this critique internally.


Actually, on second thought, I don’t think that the critique can be applied to the current D.I.Y. punk movement in exactly the same way. While the current punk subculture does self-identify with a marginalized Other and romanticizes the lives of the economically marginalized or racial minorities, it does not neccessarily attempt to do so by embracing a lifestyle that interprets negative stereotypes about marginalized groups. Instead, D.I.Y. punk subculture romanticizes poverty or racial oppression in such a way that trivializes the reality of race and class in US culture. There is a hopefulness that suggests that one can be happier or more spiritually or even intellectually full living a life that exists without many of the elements of white suburban culture.  The experience of white, middle-class young people who choose an identity that they see as putting them in the same space as many low-income or racially opressed people is read by the punks as an authentic experience of class and race which alienates people from non-white, non-middle-class backgrounds from the punk movement and misses an opportunity for white, middle-class youth to explore constructive possibilities for applying their race or class privilege.

I thought about this a lot in reconsidering academia for myself and a perceivable backlash against formal study in the D.I.Y. community. A punk lifestyle is often articulated as a more authentic, more liberated alternative to attending college.

I think I wrote recently about seeing an awesome exhibition titled Who We Are. The exhibition is a documentation of writing from participants in the Prison University Project, a California program that offers some men incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison the opportunity to participate in higher-education coursework and obtain a college degree. I thought some of the writing was very good, and it was clear that the program and the college-level coursework was something that was empowering to the men who took part in the project. The contradiction of the experience articulated by these men and the by many punks who escew higher education is so apparant and frustrating. It seems to suggest a lack of imagination on the part of middle-class youth to envision college as only a means to perpetuate racial or class norms instead of an experience that might transcend the boundaries of those expectations.

Actually, the article goes on to address this:

This pursuit of authenticity, no matter how sincere, is as insulting a gesture as playacting when compared to those who cannot escape. That they would freely opt to live like oppressed groups formed by historical and social conditions they cannot claim says much about the political dedication of some punks, but it also speaks to how people of their social status understand their relationship to the notion of freedom. As Grossberg proposes, mobility and access can be configured spatially, for where one is placed on the map of the social totality “define[sl the forms of empowerment or agency . . . available to particular groups” (“Identity and Cultural Studies,” 102). Such places are constituted in a way that can offer either emancipation or further repression-a large number of punks enjoy the former. The crushing realities of racial and/or economic subjugation are trivialized in their search for autonomy. They become mere adornments for differentiation to be discarded when no longer useful to the new subjectivity-just one more brand in the supermarket of identities.

As an aside, I wish I could find a link about it at hand, but I remember an act in a This American Life story that documented the difficulties that an African-American boy from Washington DC faced when he tried to cross boundaries of class and race the other way around and attend a prestigious University. Again, I think the difference in the permeability of cultural membranes from different directions is something that is ignored by punk politics.

Reading further …

Acquiring symbolic capital is how the appropriation of otherness “pays,” and it becomes the imperializing gesture in punk’s tactic of escape. Representing themselves as the same tears down the barriers of difference but as a by-product of self-aggrandizement.


By treating them as an exploitable object enabling punks to achieve their own desires, this re-othering allows the center to continue speaking for the Other. By eliding the heterogeneous hopes existing in the sub-urban, they silence the marginal subject’s own viewpoint on marginality.

interview responses about Defiance, Ohio

These are some responses I wrote to a person who wanted to interview me about Defiance, Ohio for a university thesis.  I decided to post them on my blog because I feel like I don’t always get to say the things I want to say or have time to think ideas through in traditional interviews and that they also don’t afford a follow-up dialog or room for critical but non-adversarial response that I think is so important when anyone gets to express their ideas.  Hopefully this blog might afford a better space for this.

Vasco Gamboni: your new record, The Fear The Fear The Fear, is coming only a year after your last one (The Great Depression). Do you think having only a year between each records has changed something for you (and the band)?

Me: We have always recorded songs when they were ready, and in this case, we ended up having some songs that we were happy with and were able to record only a year after the last record. There are no obligations or pressures to make new songs from anyone but us.

To me, in a personal sense, maybe the songs seem less iconic because they I don’t know if I’m in that different of a place from when we wrote and recorded the songs on “The Great Depression”. On the other hand, the lengthy gap between “Share What You Got” and the “The Great Depression” marked many changes in terms of both geography and life priorities, and even the world as a whole.

VG: In this record, which I‚ have already heard (don’t worry, I will buy it later on), I get the feeling the strings are more arranged (I get this “classical” feeling) and the record seems more accessible, easier for people foreign to your music to get into. Am I right or is that just an impression ? Are you trying to bring new people to your music ?

Me: I think one thing that is easy for even me to forget is that we have been a band for five years and that we have gotten better, or more accurately, more comfortable, playing our instruments and also better at playing together, so I think that could account for the newest recording sounding more polished. BZ, who plays violin, and Sherri who plays cello, learned those instruments playing classical music, and I think that has always influenced the way that they write and play parts, even on Defiance, Ohio songs. I think that the strings have always sounded more like “classical” music than traditional American fiddle playing.

A friend recently told me that the new recording sounded more produced than other ones and that she felt that the songs didn’t have the same life to them on record that they did when we played them at shows. I think that making recordings that sound good but that also are lively or convey something more than just the bare sounds of the instruments or voices is something we are still learning to do. We now have six people in the band (as opposed to 3 people on some of the songs that were recorded for Share What Ya’ Got) and it is a delicate balance to make a recording where all of us playing parts doesn’t just end up being a muddy mess, but that also doesn’t sound too lifeless.

I think that it is always our hope to bring new people to our music, but that we never make intentional aesthetic choices to do this. Fundamentally, we make melodic music that has discernible lyrics. This is a way, we saw, through music, to communicate really clearly between people. It’s not the only way to do this, of course – there is lots of music with no words that is incredibly evocative – but it’s the way that felt most natural to me. We certainly didn’t change the way we made songs on the new recording to try to get people to respond to it in a particular way. I think that’s a really dangerous thing to do. Even if you do land on some magic formula for songwriting or recording that attracts people to the music, what they’re ultimately attracted to is something that is contrived, not quite truthful, and somehow hollow for all of that. I like music that has a sincerity to it and that seems to convey something very true. I would like it if that is what brings people to the music that Defiance, Ohio makes.

Finally, I think that the idea of trying to be consciously “accessible” is a dangerous one because if you try to appeal to one group of people, you may be closing the things that you make to others, or vice-versa. I heard a story on the radio yesterday that made me think of this question. A person who wrote book reviews for the leading newspaper in Los Angeles, California wrote a book review for a recent translation of a book by an author who was hugely influential to Mexican literature and culture but who was virtually unknown in the US. He was criticized by his editors for taking up so much space in the paper to review a book by an author that no one knew about or cared about. However, when the article was published, the paper received an outpouring of positive response from the Spanish-speaking readers of the paper, to whom the work of the author was important, newsworthy, and even nostalgic. The moral of this, to me, I guess, is that by doing something that you find significant personally, you can create an incredible response from or connection to other people, even if that wasn’t your intention.

VG: You’ve released lots of EPs (including splits) these last years. How important is it for you to work together with artists, including off the road, and release these couple of shorter albums (EPs) instead of, say, put them together in one LP?

Me: As I mentioned in one of the previous questions, we tend to record songs when they’re ready. Sometimes this can be a whole record’s worth of songs, and sometimes it’s just one or two. I think the splits we have done are mostly the result of having only a few songs ready and being asked to release something with other bands who are our friends.

VG: You’re now seen as one of the leading bands in the “folk-punk” movement, along with, I guess, Ghost Mice. How do feel about being put into such a category and also being put in such a leading role ?

Me: I don’t like being categorized in terms of something that seems as arbitrary as a label like “folk-punk”. I would rather people think of the music that Defiance, Ohio makes by the things that our lyrics talk about, the actions we take as a band, or the experience that people have seeing us play. When I hear a label like “folk-punk” or even “punk” it doesn’t convey any of that. More and more, I am frustrated that labels like “punk” or “folk punk” just give us easy identities that we can subscribe to rather than thinking very hard about what our values are and doing or making things that follow from that examination. General labels also allow people to be critical or supportive of things without having to think too hard, and allow people or bands to be grouped together who, when examined, have very different values, aesthetics, and ways of doing things. I worry that relying on these labels will make us all into lazy thinkers.

5) Folk-punk has long been known for its independence towards the music industry. Plan-it-x sells its records for 5$, No Idea (not a strictly folk-punk label, I know…) for a bit more. Does your tradition of letting people download your records for free off your website have anything to do with any ideological or political ideas, or is it just a way for you guys to get people to hear your music ?

Making our music available as a free download on the web is absolutely not a promotional tool. I think that if people have the ability to make things free or cheap that they should. Not everyone can do this, I understand, but with our songs, we had the ability to give them away for free, so I’ve always posted them to the web for download. There are so many things in this world that are made inaccessible to people because of their costs. It is a small thing, perhaps an insignificant thing, to make Defiance, Ohio songs freely available, but it feels nice, at least for the things that I make, to not make them another one of those things made exclusive by their cost.

VG: With Against Me! pretty much dropping the folk off their sound in their last two records, what do you think of the state of punk’s relationship with folk ? Lots of leading punk artists have started going accoustic (Chuck Ragan, Dustin Kensrue, Sundowner, etc) and the folk-punk and riot-folk movement is gaining momentum. What do you think of that ? How do you feel about being in the middle of a (pretty young) genre getting the attention it deserves?

I have a really hard time thinking of folk-punk as a genre because really, other than people living in Bloomington who make music that some would call folk-punk, I don’t listen to a lot of music that people would consider folk-punk. For instance, I’m not very familiar with any of the people you mentioned in your question. This isn’t a criticism of any type of music, I just don’t feel like I have very much to say about folk punk as a musical genre.

I recently read an essay in an issue of a ‘zine called “Even if your voice shakes” that is put out by some of the people who identify with the Riot Folk collective and I wish I could find it to quote it directly, but what it said essentially was that even though they are primarily interested in making mostly acoustic music, with pretty explicit politics, usually performed by a single singer-songwriter, it is important to think of folk music less as a style and to think of it as people’s music. I agree with this idea. To me folk music is music made to tell people’s real stories, histories, and experiences. So folk music could be a singer-songwriter, or a hip-hop MC, or a blues singer, or a punk band.

I think that the real difference between “folk” music and “pop” music is the authenticity of the experience conveyed in the music. To me, a lot of the ideas I hear in pop songs seem really generic, contrived, or not very heartfelt. This isn’t to say that real experiences or political or other human insights don’t exist in mainstream popular music, they’re just filtered through an industry that is very intent on exploiting this any connectivity found in the music for financial gain and a cultural mythology that seems more interested in creating icons than reflecting on ideas and feelings.

An example of this that came to mind is a story that I heard on a really great radio show that is broadcast on public radio here in the US called This American Life (you can listen to all their shows for free on their website http://www.thislife.org. This particular story is at http://thislife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=339). In the story, the reporter interviewed the pop artist Phil Collins about his song “Against All Odds”. Collins talked about how he had written the song while going through a painful divorce. The pain and concern and thought that he described when he talked about the song seemed very real, very universal, and it seemed very helpful to people who might be going through similarly painful times. I would have never thought of that without hearing him talk about his experiences, however. I always thought of the song as being over-the-top, but now I can see why the song would be important to people.

VG: Music has often helped people get a political or sociological idea out into the world. Did you start playing music just for fun or was there actually and idea of getting some of your views over ? And nowadays ? With tons of artists jumping on the political bandwagon lately (rock against bush, etc..), how do you feel when you’re part of a genre largely leaning to the left (or at least more so than other genres) ? Is it time to be more apolitical or actually take even more part of this movement to actually bring change ?

Me: I can only speak personally, but I think that it is never time to be more apolitical. Whether someone is actively involved in politics whether it is through the political process, like voting, or through more direct community activism, or whether someone does none of those things, we are all affected by, and either through our action or inaction, participate in politics. I think that I have always played music both for fun and to express ideas, simultaneously, and this continues to be what I do. The songs I write talk about ideas, not because I see those topics as being a requirement for being in a punk band, but because they are the things that I think about and the things that matter to me.

VG: How did you come to the genre of music you play ? Mixing folk music with punk isn’t that often seen, so what were your influences ? What bands pushed you towards this kind of music ?

Me: I think the style of music that we play came about as an happy accident. The band was originally going to be a pop-punk band, but I didn’t own a very good electric guitar but I could borrow a decent acoustic guitar from my brother. Ryan had an old upright bass that he used to use in a ska band and to play some jazz, and after playing in a metal band for a while, he was interested in playing around with the upright bass again. I think that instrumentation just led to things sounding a certain way, but I still think we’re essentially a pop-punk band with different instrumentation.

VG: Can you live off your music ? If you can’t, how hard (or not) is it to play music you love, know people love, and yet have to have a job on the side to be able to pay rent, food, etc.. ? How does the fact that you can’t live of what you love (or can) affect your relationship with the music you play ?

Me: I can’t live off my music, if by “live off” you mean being able to support myself financially (pay rent, buy food, give money to causes that I think are important, go out for a drink every once in a while). I don’t think that’s the point. Those things are a part of my life, yes, and a part of many people’s lives, and I think it’s silly to say that they aren’t real concerns, but I don’t think any of those things are how I ultimately define my life and if being able to own a house, even if it’s something I hope to do some day, was all I had to look back on when I am old, I would be disappointed with myself.

Being involved with music, and in particular, playing music with people serves a much more important purpose in my life. I like the way it makes me think, I like how it makes me condense a lot of different ideas or experiences into a 2 -minute song. I like how it makes me work with other people, connect with them, feel them in a way that can be difficult otherwise, compromise with them. I will play music whether or not I make any money from it. I will play music whether or not I get to go on tour or release records. All those things are fine, they’re great, but they’re not the point.

I don’t think that playing music is by any means the only thing that’s important to me. I like to volunteer or help out community groups in Bloomington. I like to know and try to understand what’s happening in my world. I’ve always been really fascinated with technology and trying to combine that with all the other things that I’ve mentioned is constantly exciting and terribly frustrating.

I make money to support myself by working as a webmaster and a programmer for the part of a university that supports research with computing technology. Just as I think it’s really exciting to know people who I feel are doing impressive, challenging things with their music or art, I think it’s exciting to work amidst a culture where people are trying to push boundaries with their scientific or technological research. Although the end products of my job are often unsatisfying, I really enjoy the things that I learn and the state of mind that I enter when I have to write computer software. Ultimately, I wish that this mindset with technology, a way of supporting myself and the people and pursuits I care about, my creative projects, and political and community involvement could all converge. Still, I feel like I’ve worked hard enough and have been lucky enough, that the paid work that I do is, in at least a few ways, something that I love. Music continues to be another thing that I love and my ultimate goal is not to figure out a way to exploit one of the things that I love in order to live comfortably, but to live comfortably while doing all the things that I love.