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“Think for yourself”: FOCUSEDxMINDS on straight edge, veganism and their upcoming European tour!

I caught up with Drew Meier from Milwaukee straight edge hardcore punks FOCUSEDxMINDS to find out more about the band’s views and experiences. We touched a bunch of subjects including straight edge, veganism and vegetarianism, the current state of hardcore and the impact of the Internet on its condition, the band’s plans for 2014 and of course their upcoming Summer European trek with MINDxCONTROL! Scroll down to take it all in!

Hey guys! Thanks so much for your time! How are you? What’s up?

No problem! Currently listening to the new NOTHING and BLOOD ORANGE records and chilling.

Cool :) You’ll hit European roads in July, so there’s plenty of time left. Besides the preparations, what are your plans for the upcoming months?

Very excited, we’ve wanted to play/travel Europe for years. Until then we have a short run through Western Canada with CRUEL HAND and MALFUNCTION starting next week, followed by a few dates with OLD WOUNDS and our buddies in HOLLOW EARTH. Then in May we’ll be playing Heart Fest in Eastern Canada, and RAIN Fest in Seattle.

Nice, lots of fun coming up then. Your summer trek features 17 dates including the almighty Fluff Fest. It will be a hell of a fun ride, mark my words! :) What are your thoughts about the festival? Did you happen to hear about it?

Fluff Fest is one of the few European fests I have heard of, so to know we’ll be part of it this year is awesome. I’ve heard it’s always a blast, and there’s tons of vegan food, both of which sound great to us.

What cool festivals in your area are worth mentioning and why?

Unfortunately none really happen in our specific area, the Midwest isn’t really known for fests. There is The Rumble in Chicago which is usually pretty cool, and this year was the first Midwest Blood Fest in Kentucky. Outside our area though, there’s tons. Our favorites are definitely Rain Fest and Heart Fest. Amazing fests with diverse lineups and run by amazing people.

How often to you perform locally? Do you have a somewhat “strategy” that puts into consideration the frequency of playing gigs in the same places? :)

We use to play locally a whole lot. When we started our scene wasn’t very strong and there were few bands, so we would play every show to help draw kids for touring acts. Now there are a few great bands and the scene has greatly improved. Lately, however, we rarely get to play locally due to our new lineup being spread across the country.

Yup. From the scenes that you’ve travelled to, how would you compare them to your hometown?

Our hometown is cool, but definitely still growing and new to certain things. There are scenes like that everywhere, but obviously we don’t compare to a scene like LA’s or Philly, those are huge scenes that have been running for years.

Ok, so what comes next right after you come back from this upcoming tour?

After the European run, we honestly don’t know. Our touring schedule is unfortunately sort of limited due to our members being so spread out and job/money restrictions on a few of us. We hope to hit the road with something great before the end of the year, but nothing planned quite yet.

Alright, so let’s go back for a while to find out how it all started. How and when did you discover hardcore punk? Also, did you go straight into straight edge? How did it all begin for you?

I was into a lot of metal at a real young age, and I heard the music off the old Tony Hawk Pro Skater video games and fell in love with punk and the few hardcore bands on those. I started getting really into punk bands like THE CASUALTIES, ANTI-FLAG, AUS ROTTEN, etc and I also developed a deep love for my favorite band of all time, AFI. Through AFI I found out about many other hardcore bands and it all progressed from there.
Coincidentally, I discovered Straight Edge through AFI as well, as their vocalist Davey Havok had been edge for a number of years. I was dealing with a lot of drug related problems in my personal life and decided to drop all of the garbage and live a clean lifestyle in 2003.

Concerning the straight edge, do you find it hard to maintain that kind of life these days? What’s the hardest part about being sXe?

Not at all, and I live in a place called the “Beer City” haha. I think if maintaining a clean lifestyle is hard for you, maybe it’s not for you or maybe you have some psychological dependencies to deal with, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all! It’s just definitely not something for everyone. As for me, it doesn’t ever cross my mind to do any form of drug or drink. I work as a bouncer at a bar, and I DJ and take part in electronic music events often. I love partying and am surrounded by drugs and alcohol all the time, but it never seems appealing to me. I’d say the hardest part of it is how annoying other people can be, honestly. Whether it be entirely overly proud or self righteous edge kids, or nosy and non understanding non edge kids, other people are ultimately the only difficult part of the whole lifestyle.

Jack Boaden of SputnikMusic once wrote that “those who don’t live an edge lifestyle may be turned off by the hostility with which [FOCUSEDxMINDS] singer Johnny delivers his lyrics.” Do you think a “militant” or even hardline straight edge attitude is a good thing for the scene?

That was the only part of that interview that bummed us out. We are in no way a militant band hahaha, John and I are some of the most chill people you’ll ever meet. But we’re stoked on the straight edge and chose to write about it. If it came off too aggressive, good, but we hope people know to not take it offensively if they’re different than us. Some of our favorite moments as a band have been when people tell us how much they love our records or live shows even though they’re not edge. We love that. This music was written to express things we believe, not shame others, and we’ve always believed hardcore should be an open and accepting forum for beliefs.

Okay guys. I’m really sorry, but we need to dig more into some allegedly negative stuff ;) What do you think about the judgment that often goes on in the hardcore scene? I mean holding things against others for the way they dress, the way they think about women’s role in punk rock, etc.

Total bullshit, and it unfortunately only seems to be getting worse. I got into hardcore to find a sense of community and belonging, and it’s slowly started to develop aspects that all too much resemble the high school jock mentality I was trying to distance myself from. Hardcore and punk rock were always aggressive and open outlets for expression, and to judge anyone or turn anyone away from that is complete bullshit. Internet tough guys, cliquey crews and scenes, and judgmental attitudes are ultimately what will ruin hardcore for a lot of people, and that truly sucks.

Damn right. Do you see a division in your local scene between straight edge crews and the rest of the bands and their followers?

Not really, most people are chill about that stuff everywhere we go. There’s definitely still some kids stuck in like 2004 mentalities, but it’s very rarely an issue.

Do you believe it’s right to say that lots of hardcore kids are apathetic and don’t help out or contribute to their scene nowadays? How do you see it from your perspective?
Do you believe it’s right to say that lots of hardcore kids are apathetic and don’t help out or contribute to their scene nowadays? How do you see it from your perspective?

Absolutely. The internet gives everyone a place to whine and complain about things, and very few of those people ever do anything to change what it is they’re upset about. When we started we booked our own shows, booked shows for our scene, and pushed to make things better in hopes others would follow, and for the most part it worked. We never paid much attention to internet shit talking and all that nonsense, and we still don’t. It’s all ultimately not worth it. Hardcore is a much more enjoyable place if you learn to ignore the internet.

By the way supporting your local scene, there are sooo many bands, tours and shows that it’s literally impossible to follow everyone and support every single undertaking. Whose fault is it? Or perhaps it’s because people are too lazy to attend?

Man, we’re as guilty as anyone on not keeping up with bands and current tours and music. Life is hectic, we all live in a busy world. All of us in FM are in multiple projects, into tons of music outside of hardcore, and it’s hard to keep up on such a rapidly moving music scene. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I think that’s just how music in 2014 is if you happen to hold multiple interests.

Ok buds. Let’s turn the PMA button ON! :) How did you become interested in veganism? Who in the band is vegan or vege and what does it mean to you guys? What got you into vegetarianism and then veganism and what motivated you to cut animal products out of your diet?

I can only speak for myself, but I got interested in veganism the same way I got into straight edge, through AFI/Davey Havok. That, and a group of vegan friends I had when I was younger. They dared me to go vegetarian for a month, and I did it just to try it. Over that month I grew to love feeling healthier, and I researched food production and animal cruelty, and after the month was up I went entirely vegan. That was almost 8 years ago now. So yea, in FM, all of us are vegan and straight edge, meaning John, Andy, and myself. Our fill in drummer and bassist are both straight edge and dabble in vegan foods, though neither are fully vegan, and that’s fine with us.

What do you think makes veganism hard for people? What is the most misunderstood idea about veganism? How can we change the picture of it?

People are ultimately very apathetic, lazy, and unwilling to really try. Most of the excuses I hear is that it’s too expensive, or it’s too hard to replace foods you liked. In 2014, it’s very easy to eat cheap and vegan, and vegan alternatives exist for almost anything you can think of. I think broader information and research is the best way to improve how it’s viewed and approached.

Do you have an opinion or insight on the future of veganism and vegetarianism in today’s world? Where is vegetarianism now and where is it heading in the coming years?

I’ve been vegan almost 8 years and in the short time I’ve lived this way I’ve seen drastic improvements in the quality of vegan food alternatives, the amount of vegan foods carried in big stores, and a general wider acceptance of the lifestyle. It’s been great and exciting. I imagine it will only keep going this same direction.

Alright, let’s go back to the music. Comparing to the legendary times, the golden 80s and 90s, what do you think about the current state of hardcore and its future? Do you know where it’s heading? Gimme a forecast :)

In all honesty, hardcore now is great and there are a lot of really sick bands doing cool and original things and working their asses off, but obviously bands like CRO MAGS, BAD BRAINS, CHAIN OF STRENGTH, CARRY ON, HAVE HEART, bands like that don’t really come along and change everything anymore. I’d love to see it. Don’t get me wrong, modern hardcore is great. That’s just my opinion. I am excited to see bands continue to experiment and try new things, like TURNSTILE and EXPIRE. Bands like that will keep hardcore progressing.

How would you sum up your adventure with hardcore? In what way have you changed as an individual since you first dove into punk?

It’s been a wild ride. I wouldn’t know half the people I know and I definitely wouldn’t have seen most of the places I’ve gotten to see, if not for punk and hardcore music. Eternally grateful to have gotten to experience life this way.

Considering all these years being a part of the hardcore scene, what piece of your own work are you most proud of?

The Focused Minds LP for sure. I love how great it turned out, and I think it is honestly a great piece of fast hardcore. That and our demo. That thing was recorded so quickly and poorly and was entirely for fun, and it somehow launched us on this wild ride, so I will always love it.

Alright Drew! Thank you so much for being brave and sticking through our lengthy chat! Any last words for IDIOTEQ readers? A message for the kids out there or a piece of advice you´d like to spread?

Think for yourself, research your interests, work for what you want to achieve, don’t be an over opinionated internet dork, and take time out of your life to say “fuck responsibility” and do something like travel, tour, anything, just adventure.

Cheers! Greetz from Warsaw and best of luck for the tour and the rest of the year!

Thank you! Go Veg.

Top photo by Olivier Roy / Live pic by Kate Frese Photography / Black and white vocalist photo by Jordan Sandoval.

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