Strike Anywhere's Thomas Barnett
Thomas Barnett, the perennially dreadlocked crooner for long-running Richmond, VA-based punks Strike Anywhere, is a walking punk rock oral history. Ask this guy a question then sit back and listen to various treatises on subjects that are somewhat related, are not related at all, and occasionally tie back together to the original question. Dude's got a lot on his mind, not the least of which is his band's latest album, Iron Front, which came out late last year on Bridge Nine Records. It's the band's first for the indie hardcore label after spending some time on punk rock mainstay Fat Wreck Chords. But Barnett's not just thinking about that somewhat odd label switch, he's also thinking about the history of punk rock, defying genre stereotypes, and getting contemplative with Tegan and Sara albums. (Not to mention the re-regionalization of bands, the beauty of Canada, and, uh, Gwar.)
What are you up to today?
I'm enjoying a six-day break between the ending of our European tour and the beginning of our Canadian tour. I'm weeding a garden and then I'm painting a boat. I sand and paint boats. I live in Northern Virginia, so there's a lot of water everywhere. The "whatever you can scrape together between tours" hustle is the story of every punk band, but this has been more or less consistent since I moved here; I get to paint these boats. Which I like, working with my hands by the water, it's sort of contemplative. I also work as a clerk at an organic produce depot. Which is the classic job for punk rockers, artists, hippies, and other malcontents.
Now that the album's been out for some time, how are you feeling about it?
We're stoked; we definitely took our time and made the record we wanted to make. To us it feels fresh because we're still debuting songs. All the tracks on it are playable live, and on this tour we're going to bring out more of the back end of the record; we started doing that in Europe. We're also revisiting some of the first songs from the Iron Front sessions that we recorded and released. We have a bunch of other songs that were half-demoed, sonic footnotes that are maybe possibly another full album's worth of material right there at our fingertips waiting to be elaborated on and finished. But we don't have any plans to start recording or get back to writing for a while because there's a lot of touring to do. Anyway, when you are the band and you put out this record, it's the beginning of something, then you move the songs out of the context in your life by performing them, and that's why bands take time between albums. You're still relating to the songs in a new way, playing them live and seeing how people respond, and seeing what happens within the emotional landscape of a two-minute hardcore song.
I can't really place why, but to me the album has a maturity to it that your others didn't. Do you agree?
It definitely reflects the present for us. There's some sort of psychic atmosphere to the record, maybe because there's more storytelling happening lyrically, or more breathing space, musically. I also think we listened to the way we were playing our songs live in the endless touring we did for Dead FM and we listened to the way we were doing little jams and more musical bits and kind of leaning towards more heaviness and more open parts and that made its way into the proper songs on Iron Front. Also we had our only member change, we had [guitarist] Matt Sherwood retire from touring, and his protégé and guitar tech Mark Miller took his spot in the band. So now there's 11 years between the youngest and eldest members of Strike Anywhere. But in some ways we just got back to the fury and mayhem and the sense of barely being able to hold on to the song [laughs].
Maybe part of this change and maturity is a natural thing that comes with getting older.
I think in some ways you're always trying to defy commercial and corporate entertainment with punk. That's the reason anyone gets together and just screams with their friends in a basement. And I think you want to make something that lasts, you want to hold on to a piece of immortality. Like, if you could only have these words, when you shout into the world and you have people sing along with you and you can relate these very personal stories and ideas and they have an effect way beyond the person you are. Having that sense of immortality, it's what everyone goes for with art, and it's very disturbing and strange to think about it with something as fast as punk rock. People look at punk rock as being something that's adolescent ― it's one note, it's based on hormones and blind rage. If you can defy all the stereotypes that are even within the counterculture, that's another bit of carrying it on. It's part of the folk process; it's aggressive and noisy but there's trying to speak truth to power and trying to defy stereotypes or conditions. It's like how there's independent media and journalists who actually speak the truth and ask the hard questions. Many of the traditions running through punk and hardcore are about that too, and not resting on your laurels, but in the meantime, not trying to reinvent the wheel. We know we play a genre, but we love it. It's what we want to hear. It's what it sounds like in our heads. Maybe there's something a little more contemplative about Iron Front, even a little more lost feeling. Maybe there's a sense of open-endedness, like the back end of the record lifts you up into something and doesn't give you any easy answer.
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