Election results, no matter how historic or hard-fought, don’t signal the end of the good fight, at least not for Richmond’s Strike Anywhere. The punk act—which plays Feb. 14 at Ottobar—has taken leftist rhetoric to the stage since 1999, and its latest, Iron Front, isn’t relenting now that we have a Democrat in office. In fact, the band turns up the ideological heat, delving into issues deeper than the finger-pointing and sloganeering that’s par for the course in daytime news commentary or talk radio. Singer Thomas Barnett spoke with The A.V. Club about (what else?) keeping pressure on The Man.
The A.V Club: With all the leftist reforms and right-wing protest against those reforms going on in American politics, is this an interesting time to be a radical punk band?
Thomas Barnett: It’s always an interesting time. This is a time when I think there’s a little more depth of field or vision. The whole Rock Against Bush era—we don’t have to call it that, but let’s just say it for right now—is similar to the mid-’80s Rock Against Reagan era. Things got a little glossier with Rock Against Bush, and it became a little cartoony. It was pretty easy to find the villain and not have to go too much deeper. You could blame the president and hope it gets better the next time. As much as we enjoyed some sort of momentum from that, there’s a need for depth and to go beyond that.
AVC: Without the specter of a Republican in the Oval Office, do you fear punk may lose some of its ideological fervor and focus?
TB: [The duty of] punk bands, to quote our own song title, is to be the opposite number, to say it’s not going to be all roses. We don’t just get to kick back and have microbrews because Obama’s president. It’s already happening now. It happened really fast. As far as punks go, it’s going to make people have to write a little deeper songs and talk about the sources of these cultural diseases that are always going to be a part of American life.
AVC: You have band members living on opposite coasts now, and turned to swapping home-recorded demos to develop the songs on Iron Front. Did that change the way you approached songwriting on the new album?
TB: I had a lot of time in this garage in this house in south Los Angeles that I rent off Crenshaw Boulevard where a lot of black helicopters are flying around. You can take some of those little GarageBand recordings, the first little steps into the song, just vocal and guitar, and you can hear these helicopters beating their wings overhead. There was a certain amount of atmosphere that was already helping the songs gain momentum. It has that tension of urban conflict happening all around you and still a great deal of economic apartheid in giant cities and rural areas and a highly manipulated population.
AVC: A lot of Iron Front seems to center on people desperately trying to find something to believe in, and being manipulated in the process.
TB: Part of the vulnerability of American life is that the American dream is to leave identity behind and to go recast yourself as something else. Instead of that being a creative and progressive ideal, it’s become just a backwater, our whole country. A backwater that still is a global superpower but there is no cohesive culture. It has a lot of conflicting, superficial expressions of ideas instead of ideas that have depth and move through culture, like something real. It’s hard not to give into that. You wonder if people just want to feel part of some awesome emotional movement, for example, the tea parties.
AVC: Isn’t a lot of punk’s appeal that it gives people a chance to plug into an awesome, emotional movement of their own?
TB: I would say that, but there are a ton of other genres of rebellious youth culture out there. It’s easy to psychologically map them all together. The thing about punk—since probably even before American hardcore, those generations of bands really set it off—is the inward-looking critique and the self-loathing and the injection of “I don’t know if I even agree with all these people who call themselves punk.” There’s nothing else like that that revels in its contradictions. It challenges its own notion as a movement as anything monolithic or conformist. The nonconformists and their conformity pissing everyone off.