To me, punk has always been about serving a positive encouragement for younger kids feeling confined, uncertain, or lost, willing to do things their own way. On the other, the conscious and clean-living way of straight edge living emerged in reaction to the excesses of the community’s radicalization. Even though it’s difficult to master ther art of finding balance between specific, nested viewpoints and staying open minded for different opinions and perspectives, you can easily tell when someone is trying to his creative work as a therapeutic and learning process. Detroit straight edge band LAW is surely one of the finest examples of such approach. These guys have been the anchor of the Detroit scene the last several years, running the DIY venue The Sanctuary, organizing the annual Don’t Call It A Fest as well as playing in bands like DEAD CHURCH and SUNLIGHT’s BANE. We sat down to discuss their work, Detroit punk scene, straight edge, women in punk, the role of politics and message in music, and more. See the full interview below.
LAW are: Nick – Vocals, Maxxwell – Guitar, Evin – Drums, and Chris – Bass. The band released their debut EP on Michigan based DIY label Dropping Bombs in October 2016. The 7” serves a solid dose of crushing hardcore in the vein of BURIED ALIVE, THROWDOWN, and MARTYR AD.
Hey Nick! Welcome to IDIOTEQ! Coming off our recent feature for your buddies from HELL MARY, it’s so nice to have another Michigan hardcore pack in our pages. How are you? How’s Detroit?
We’re doing pretty well. Thank you. The city is preparing for another cold and bitter Michigan winter.
Considering the recent crisis, how’s it doing? I’ve read that the city still faces the ongoing decline of the number of jobs and your local government has managed to demolish thousands of properties, which made Detroit a one hell of an undervalued housing market. How do you view the problem from the inside?
People are always saying that the city is coming back in some way or projecting some rise in jobs, opportunity for business, ect. But the only benefit I have seen in the city at the moment is for those buying up property and demolishing abandoned buildings. I have not seen anything more directly beneficial to the people of Detroit other than a few cheaper businesses finally being brought within city limits. But after the state voted against mass transit for the city (an issue voted for by people hundreds of miles away who have never been to the city and who have no care for the city and the people within it), and the state has slashed the budget for the education system to ribbons, I remain entirely skeptical of any bit of hope that people mention to me for the city at present time. I feel as though you can best understand the state of somewhere and its true improvements by asking the poorest and most disenfranchised people of a given populace, and I don’t believe that if you asked that populace of the city of Detroit about it that they would tell you they have seen much change occur.
No good examples of renewal or well-thought reinvestments for the people? Also, what changes you’d like to see in the ruins of the 2008 recession? What major challenges does Detroit face these days?
Following the recession, I’d like to see not just service, entertainment, and food industries return to the city, but honest blue collar work that caters to much of the skill sets already available within the city that can provide quick transition for work. As we await that, the lack of work that further draws people away from the city limits (as well as their free spending revenue) remains a large problem that the city must continue to face.
Alright, so let’s switch to the main reason for this interview and let’s have just a couple of lines of the official introduction. What other bands have you been before LAW and what prompted you to launch this new project?
Aside from LAW, I sing in a grind/black metal band named SUNLIGHT’S BANE and I sang in a now defunct hardcore band named REST IN SHIT.
I have been straight edge and lived a sober lifestyle since I was 16 years old (I am now 28). And in all that time, I have always wanted to sing in a straight edge band, with songs about progressive politics and condemning the alcohol, pharmaceutical and tobacco industries (not those addicted, like some younger straight edge bands foolishly do), but I never had the opportunity to do so until my friend Maxxwell and I found ourselves with the extra time and material on our hands.
What ideas was it founded on? Have you ever felt some kind of an inner pressure to express certain views, especially in such a tense socio-political situation like the on Americans are facing today? Where does your anger come from? :)
Mostly condemnation of false praise for those masquerading inaction as progress, for industries literally monopolizing and profiting off of human lives which we are taught to accept as a product of capitalism (it is a product of if, but I choose to not accept it), and other unabashed opinions that we could frame as part of a straight edge band without falling down the path younger bands do with misguided anger or outrage.
I feel that the current political climate has never forced me to keep my mouth closed, but merely reflect on my thoughts and challenge me to perhaps analyze them and present them in maybe a more focused and inclusive way. It’s foolish to believe that any of us have ever “figured it out”. Politics, and moreso life, is about learning and growing. If a thought of mine that I feel is progressive is revealed to not be and I am offered some insight on a better or more optimal version of that truth, than I accept that chance to analyze it and reshape it before opening my mouth.
Most of my frustration is a reflection of both inner turmoil and frustration with my own mistakes/shortcomings and with the outside world and its failures to learn and its refusal to change.
That’s actually interesting! So what’s your view on the political and social tasks of artists today? Do you believe there should be some kind of goals that punk related artists should meet in their work apart from their strictly creative, artistic process?
I have talked about this on stage before about how I recognize that I have a position of privilege as the vocalist of a band. Bands are granted an audience and a microphone is placed in their hands to amplify anything they would like to say. I think it is unforgivable to squander that opportunity. There are people much smarter than I who are never given the opportunity to speak their mind or opinions or to share what they have learned, so how dare I waste an opportunity to have my voice heard by talking about “merch for sale in the back” or surface level politics/opinions, an opportunity many other people will never have. It seems like an utter waste to not utilize this rare privilege and therefore, I do not have much of a respect for artists or art that has nothing to say. Even if the message is “I don’t need to say anything to you”, at least take a damn stand for something. People are literally dying around the world for the same opportunity.
Photo by Bvrgundy Photography
Ok, so how important is the straight edge component? What is your reasoning behind promoting this way of living through a band?
For me, I don’t necessarily look at it as a promotion of the lifestyle to people who don’t adhere to it or live their own lives a certain way or another. I write a lot about the alcohol and pharmaceutical industries monopolizing human lives, but to me that is more of a criticism of the inherent evils of capitalism, not of the lifestyles of individuals (which is why I also write songs criticizing the insurance industry’s direct responsibility in the deaths and subsequent murders of innocent lives).
To me, LAW being an open straight edge band is more for other straight edge kids. Being willingly sober, let’s just say it, is not “cool.” Maybe in hardcore it is, but we all have to go home when the show ends, right? We have to go to punch in to our jobs or attend class or see our families and sometimes it becomes difficult to remember why it is you chose this lifestyle when it would be so much easier sometimes to just give up and give in. For me, I decided this was the lifestyle for me at sixteen (I’m now twenty eight), surrounded by constant criticisms and jokes from others for it. So when I discovered bands like THROWDOWN writing songs about their pride in their choices and their ability to choose how they would live their lives and how no one else could make that decision for them, it empowered and validated me. That kind of stuff can be extremely important for something as simple as a kid’s self esteem and self worth, knowing that they are growing up and are capable of making life choices for themselves; they don’t need their parents or friends or teachers to speak for them anymore, especially when they may look down on their decisions. I look at LAW being a straight edge band for other straight edge kids, not a declaration of exclusivity to those who are not. We’re four grown adults with careers and jobs in the real world and we’re still doing it, still strong in our certainty. I hope that serves as a positive encouragement for younger straight edge kids feeling weary or uncertain, the way bands like THROWDOWN and MOST PRECIOUS BLOOD did for me as a kid.
Can you recall your initial decision to pursue this way of life? When and how did you make this personal choice?
Most of it was the fact that by age 15, I had started drinking and very early on, saw similarities in myself with behavioral tendencies of family members who were alcoholics. I was lucky enough to recognize something like that at such a young age and make the conscious decision to change.
Do you think the straight edge has diminished lately?
I’m not sure, honestly. I feel like when I was 17-18, everyone who went to shows was claiming edge at one time or another. I know nearly everyone I associated with at that age now drinks or indulges in one vice or another. I’m not sure though about the younger crowds, as I really don’t know many people in that age range.
Ok, I’d like to touch a bit on Don’t Call It A Fest. Were the 2014 and 2015 editions the only ones organized? What happened in 2016?
There were three total, the final being in 2016 but it was a much smaller event than the prior two years. Booking acts for an affordable and realistic price became more and more difficult when dealing with bands’ agents so we decided to throw a much smaller show in 2016 with friends’ bands to wrap it up.
How do you feel about the current state of hardcore movement in your area? How is the Detroit scene these days?
I’d say there is definitely a love for the genre in the city with a plethora of bands to choose from, but it seems like local lineup draw has plummeted in recent years, leaving the likes of 80+ crowds only for shows with out of state acts on the lineup.
In your experience, what’s the status of women in punk?
Quite simply, there are not enough. There are tons of tons of women coming out more and more to Detroit shows, which is awesome. I just hope we can maintain a scene that more women feel comfortable coming out to and being a part of.
Do you think technology and the omnipresent digital services and tools are a good thing for the punk culture?
I understand that people had an aversion to it a decade back, and it has certainly had its consequences, positive and negative, but in my opinion, in 2017 it has become so ingrained in our culture that we don’t have a choice but to find a way to make it work and coalesce with the scene and its current approach. I would say social media has had more of a negative impact than technology itself, but it has also at the same time given a voice and access to so many people who otherwise would not have in the past. So even that is not without its merits.
Can you recommend some local artists that you are currently into?
Absolutely. Whether you like these artists or not, these are bands that I either love, that I love what they have to say, or I really care for or enjoy the company of the people in them. Locally (Michigan), check out PURE HISS, JESUS WEPT, OSSEOVS, GREAT REVERSALS, DEAD HOUR NOISE, FELL RUIN, MAMMON, and so many more that I know I’m honesty forgetting about.
Alright, I guess that’s enough of this lengthy interrogation :) Would you like to add anything before we say goodbye?
Just thank you for your patience with my rambling!
Thanks a lot for your time!