Interviews

FREE CHILDREN OF EARTH on punk and modern-day political crisis

I’m super excited to give you my interview with FREE CHILDREN OF EARTH, a punk rock from Washington DC, feaguring members of DARKEST HOUR, TRIAL BY FIRE, THE EXPLOSION and MAJORITY RULE. Their new album “Terminal Stasis” (streaming below) touches on its members’ previous bands, but also has surprising influences including MUDHONEY, THE MC5, and THE JESUS LIZARD. This pummeling hardcore and punk rock sound is combined with vocalist/guitarist, Jason Yawn’s highly political lyrics, making for a really unique presence. I wanted to take the opportunity of this new release to highlight the band, dig deeper into the exceptional work they do and ask them about political content in music, some bothering political issues and the recent terroristic attacks in Paris. The result is is the following informative and eye-opening interview, which I recommend wholeheartedly to all of IDIOTEQ readers.

Photo by Pablo Van Winkle.

“Terminal Stasis” by FREE CHILDREN OF EARTH was released in November 2015 on Cricket Cemetery Records.

Hey guys! Thanks a lot for doing this interview for IDIOTEQ webzine. How are you?

Doing just fine. Fortunate to be alive, and able to speak with you.

First of all, I have to tell you I really respect what you guys do and I’m really impressed with your new recording, which we will definitely discuss in further questions, but first things first. I’d like to learn a bit more about your background. Growing up, was music always a big part of your life? Were your family and friends supportive of you pursuing music? Tell us more about your experience in music and other bands you’ve been in before FREE CHILDREN OF EARTH.

First of all, thank you. Really appreciate that. I grew up a minister’s son. So, one of the requirements was to go to church, and part of that duty was singing in the choir. So I learned a little while singing about Jesus and shit. Grew up in Newport News, VA, so there wasn’t a lot of culture, but they did build destroyers, and air craft carriers. Not a lot of exposure to underground music, or even good music in general. My best friend’s older brother used to blast Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Rush, and a little Black Flag here and there. I fucking loved it. Didn’t really get exposed to what a local scene meant until my family moved to the Washington DC area.

My folks probably didn’t know what to make of me as a kid. I was troubled, as they say. When I got to Fairfax, VA, and was exposed to punk and hardcore through friends, I knew what I wanted to do. My folks were supportive, but they probably had extreme fears about my general well-being, much less than a future playing music. So, yeah there were definite doubts from them.

When I met John Henry and Mike Schleibaum (DARKEST HOUR), Jason Hamacher (FRODUS, BATTERY), Shelby (FRODUS), and all those kids, it was one of the greatest things to ever happen to my life. It probably saved my life. I found a gang. These friends that hung out all the time, all went to hardcore shows. We had a community, not just amongst ourselves, but in the extended hardcore scene. It was beautiful. And the values that community instilled, seeing your friends play for hundreds of people, and the example already set forth by the DC hardcore revolution that came before, made being in a band seem possible.

Why were you attracted to more extreme genres of music and punk in particular?

It was honest. It didn’t require insane proficiency. It primarily conveyed a feeling free of pretense. It moved me. When I heard “SEEIN’ RED”, I heard a voice that conveyed how I felt. It was a genre where anyone could express themselves in that fashion, and had a space in which to do it, that celebrated that kind of direct expression. To me, when you hear BAD BRAINS, you’re moved. When you hear VOID, MINOR THREAT, BATTERY, SICK OF IT ALL, DAMNATION A.D., BLACK FLAG, on down the line, it hits you in the chest. But all of our music tastes are really varied. We don’t remotely, solely listen to, or love aggressive music.

FREE CHILDREN OF EARTH by Pablo Van Winkle

Photo by Pablo Van Winkle.

Do you think that there are a lot of American musicians that still feel the urge to express their discontent and release music with political content? I get this feeling that today’s fashionable punk rock and hardcore movement hardly show any interest at all. What’s the state of modern punk rock and its core meaning, the message?

I don’t know, I think artists, or bands, are entitled to express themselves in any way they want. This is our way. I do understand what you mean, however. There can be seen a more escapist strand today that doesn’t excite me remotely. But to me, a band should write about what they’re authentically driven to write about. Punk does not always mean it has to be political. That would erase some amazing legacies from the canon, but I couldn’t write about anything else than the world I see. Punk rock, and paying attention politicized me. Then, getting in the streets, and being in contact with communities in struggle brought it home.

I think perhaps a lot of people are exhausted by the extent to which the established order has fucked the world. Do I personally think artificially trying to escape from that is wise? No, but I understand the need. Just the pure psychic need to fuck off for a minute? So, I guess I empathize with the impulse. I just can’t afford it. My opinion is that you can still find a space for joy, while never looking away. But as far as the “state of modern punk rock”, I’m not here to speak to it, or for it. Can it be a fucking bore? Yes, absolutely. Is there good shit, and dreck in every art form? Yes.

I couldn’t write about anything else than the world I see. Punk rock, and paying attention politicized me.

FREE CHILDREN OF EARTH bird

Can you share some of your favorite and most inspiring artists of today who make alternative music with political content?

DOWNTOWN BOYS are amazing. I love PRIESTS, from DC. WAR ON WOMEN from Baltimore. RUN THE JEWELS isn’t really billed as a “political” act, but they say some of the smartest shit. I love SAVAGES. Love our brother MC SOLE. Always love for IMMORTAL TECHNIQUE. COUP SAUVAGE from DC. THE CORNEL WEST THEORY from DC. More will surely come to mind, but these are good examples.

Why are YOU still interested in writing with political commentary? What keeps you motivated?

I write about what I see, and what I’m involved in. If I was a sailor, I’d write Sea Chanteys. It’s not really a question I ever pose to myself, because it’s just a product of being a human being in a time when the prospects for any future of the species are in serious doubt. And there are internal questions to ask the self, and clear lines to be drawn to the structures, cultures, superstitions, and norms that fuck up life on Earth, and promise a horrendous future. Why wouldn’t I be engaged with these realities? What more cuts to the core of who we are than considering these realities, and how human beings are dealing with them, or in most cases, not dealing with them? I try to put myself in the picture. I don’t preach. I don’t sloganeer. It’s about painting a picture. I don’t see the songs as editorials. They’re tragedies, or pictures, or dark comedy, or stories.

Does writing and then performing a song about something important bring you some kind of clarity and better understanding of certain issues?

Sure, when you delve into what bothers you most about anything makes you understand your place in the picture to a greater extent. That helps the song, and you. It makes the song become more than some bullshit bumper sticker politics, and it makes you recognize how you can change, and actually have an effect on what you’re speaking about.

What are some of the aspects of the modern society worth mentioning through art and what political issues in the world scream for a political track?

Well, we cover a lot on the new record. But I’m always writing, and onto subjects that I don’t see a lot of coverage about. The ICE detention centers, which are essentially concentration camps for migrants in a no man’s land of legality in the US, are an atrocity. One of the great crimes of the Obama administration, amongst quite a list. Couple that with the H2 Visa program, which is essentially legalized slavery, and the absolute racist demonization our brothers, and sisters from the south face when fleeing conditions in their home countries largely created by US trade policy, and meddling, it’s disgusting. Is the country really in touch with these realities? No. Is there are really burning care for the people who do the hardest jobs, for a boot to the neck? Maybe. How could you tell?

FREE CHILDREN OF EARTH live

What are your thoughts on the recent terroristic attacks in Paris and similar acts in many other countries of the world?

Well, firstly, I’ve hung out with Jesse from EAGLES OF DEATH METAL several times, when I used to work at the Black Cat in DC, so that EAGLES got out, was great to hear. I can’t imagine losing a crew member. I can’t imagine the horror those people went through, or the horror a band feels knowing their fans are being held by fucking lunatics set on inflicting maximum death. We love Paris, and the French people, and they love American rock n roll. Of course, we feel extremely horrible for those who lost relatives, and friends. As well as we feel great sorrow for those killed in Lebanon by ISIS, by drones, and US made weapons in Bahrain, Gaza, Yemen, and Pakistan. Those beheaded for speaking their mind in Saudi Arabia. Not many candle light vigils for these folks in the west. I guess we’re not meant to see them as human.

Why? What to do? There are series of responsibilities to assign, but moreover a series of modes of thought, and blood lust to avoid in the wake of this atrocity. When a nation declares a “War on Terror”, the parameters of which are a never-ending war, for the purpose of driving evil from the world, which will be waged on the premise that “the world is a battlefield”, that nation has set the world on a course of total destruction. What is the logical outcome of that? You’re attacked initially for occupying foreign land, and killing innocent people. So, to retaliate, you occupy more land, and kill over 1,000,000 in Iraq, and Afghanistan alone. So, violence in a more virulent form of fanaticism is brought back to your door again. It’s the tides. These belligerent forces need each other. What else could be the outcome? Is anyone actually ready to change the narrative to get us out of this? Amongst radical movements, yes. I think the public is genuinely terrified. The terror on both ends has worked. But where does that leave us?

And so now the powers are promising even more violence. None of it makes any sense, but it’s completely logical from the narratives of the belligerent parties. The problem is that this Global never-ending war puts you, and I, the only elements capable of stopping it, in the way of bullets, and bombs. So, it’s up to us to refuse the narratives, and call out this dynamic. Resist the war, its premises, the Empire, the fanaticism, the bigotry against Muslims, and refugees, and recognize our refusal to succumb to the prevailing narrative will only see us out of it.

The way we view this issue, and who we are, makes us just as likely to be called “traitors” in the US, as we would be targets of Religious fundamentalists who we find to be vile monstrous murderers.

Resist the war, its premises, the Empire, the fanaticism, the bigotry against Muslims, and refugees, and recognize our refusal to succumb to the prevailing narrative will only see us out of it.

What do you consider the impact of this year’s European migrant crisis? Do you follow the news on that? Also, do you believe there is a perfect answer to this situation?

Yes, we’re following it. It’s a result of the complete destabilization, and destruction of the region by the US, and other western powers, but also has a climate component that is not being talked about enough. What is instructive is the vile amorality of how refugees are being treated. If Europe, and the US had any decency, these are your brothers, and sisters. You fucked up the world, and created the monster of ISIS, and stoked the Syrian civil war they are fleeing. Your responsibility to these people, at any cost is primary. And if you’re one of these fake patriot right-wing proto-fascist fucks suspicious of any brown person, you signed up for these wars John Wayne, deal with the cost of your fantasy. These people need our help. They need to feel welcome, they need to see the best of our human selves. But, perfect answer? There is no world in which that notion exists.

FREE CHILDREN OF EARTH logo

Ok guys, so let’s close it up with some additional information on your new record. “Terminal Stasis” will be released on November 20th via Cricket Cemetery Records. Can you tell us more about the label and how you teamed up with them for this release?

Well, the label was founded by our friend Ian Thompson. He just put out a really diverse roster of sounds, but it was all really great stuff. We used to be called BEASTS OF NO NATION, and under that monicker we put out a split with his band LTW, on the label. Now we’re putting out our second full-length through the label. I’m now a partner in the label and very proud of it. Our friends, LOUD BOYZ, from DC are on the label. We’re about to put out some of the best stuff we’ve ever done. It’s an exciting time.

As far as the record goes, we’re really proud of it. The band is really coming into its own. We channel a lot of disparate influences through a really loud, wild vessel, and these are the best songs I’ve ever written. It really is an evolution of the sound. It really doesn’t sound like the first record, but it definitely sounds like the same band. We’re determined never stand still creatively, and I feel like we created a lot of space, and possibility for ourselves with this group of songs going forward, to explore new territory. Can’t wait to play out live, and let them be heard in the context in which they were meant to be presented.

How tough was the road to this record? Were there any low point of the process?

The road to anything we do is treacherous. We’re really a tough group to herd. I wrote the songs for over a year, and we really never got to practice them in a room. I had how I wanted them to sound in my head. But as a band we didn’t really practice them until 3 days before going into the studio. Recorded it in two days. It was totally insane. No band would draw it up that way, but it was really the only way possible for us to do it. We don’t ever give ourselves margin for error. But apparently we’re gluttons for punishment because, here we are.

What’s the message you hope your listeners take away from this album? Is there anything particular you want to achieve with FREE CHILDREN OF EARTH?

I don’t really write anything to convey a message other than how I’m viewing the subjects I’m talking about. It’s up to the listener to assign meaning, and to decide what questions, or feelings what I’m saying evokes, but I would just hope they would think about what’s being presented in a way that considers the challenges I’m making. But I would hope that those who feel the same as we do, or just appreciate that we’re trying to engage in an honest endeavor, will get something out of it. Hopefully they’ll come see us play. Say hi. Make friends.

As far as what we want to achieve, I think it’s just to fulfill what we set out to do. Write good songs. Be a good band. Without that, what good is what you’re saying? We want to do justice to the music that gave us all purpose, as much as we want to articulate a point of view. Anything that results from that, as far as following, or appreciation, or apathy, isn’t up to us. We just want to get gas money to the next town. To express ourselves, and free ourselves with music.

We want to do justice to the music that gave us all purpose, as much as we want to articulate a point of view.

Will you be supporting this new album on the road? Can we expect some shows outside the US as well?

We would love to tour. We’re currently addressing our drummer situation. Andrew lives far away, but we are going to play out, book shows, and we want to tour as far, and wide as possible, as time allows.

Ok guys. Thanks a lot for your time and honest answers! Let’s keep in touch and good luck with your future projects, both personal and music-related. Cheers from Warsaw! :)

Love to all in Poland. Hope to see you soon. Thank you for the interest!

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