Interview: Aaron Whitfield (Great Reversals)
Interview By Jason Gilbert
I have a confession to make: I never really got into hardcore. I've tried listening to a few bands, seen a few shows, etc. and it's never really "done it" for me. The only excitement I've ever derived from a hardcore show was when the band created an interesting live spectacle (see Terror or King810); the music and its content don't really excite me.
Enter Great Reversals, of Detroit, Michigan.
Far from your typical "tough guy fuck authority" hardcore, their long-gestating debut album Mere Mortals is much more sensitive, emotional, and personal than that. Their music and the live experience isn't "stage dives & circle pits!" It's therapy with breakdowns.
The lyrical narrative of Mere Mortals reaches beyond adolescent angst and deep into the maturity of adulthood. Subjects range from the sense of guilt and helplessness in the face of the homeless, to the challenges of pregnancy, miscarriage and parenthood. Great Reversals’ approach to these highly personal topics reflects a level of sensitivity and emotional development rarely seen in any musical genre; especially one so charged with the fury of youth as hardcore.
The live show stands out, too; creating an intimate experience the likes of which I’ve never had at a hardcore show before and a unique energy I’ve never seen from bands like this. Although, that's just my point: I've never seen or heard a band like this before. This is a band that can get people, punks and metalheads alike, off the fence regarding hardcore, which I've always felt existed in this "uncanny valley" between the two styles.
If that opinion is a disservice to hardcore, then it only proves my point that I am an outsider to this scene, and never really wanted in before Great Reversals showed me what they have to offer.
Vocalist Aaron Whitfield met with me for a long conversation about religion, parenting, and what it means to make intelligent hardcore today.
In your blog, you talk a lot about your relationship with faith over the course of your life. What affect do you think your particular experience with faith has had on your writing?
It comes out in language, mostly. I’m the son of a pastor; a retired pastor, now, but I basically grew up in the church. I was always there, playing somewhere while my dad was in his office doing his thing. Faith has been an interesting journey. I’ve been, I guess, a firm agnostic. Is that a term? Can you be a firm agnostic? Anyways, a firm agnostic for about ten years now. I grew up Christian, and Baptist; those ideas of "love your neighbor" and "love your enemy" or "turn the other cheek" and all those other basic tenets of Christianity have stuck with me and still feel real internally. I just don’t believe them as real based on their source. Their source is too foggy, it’s too mired in controversy, and interpretation, and human action and history. These are good ideas but I can’t honor the source that they come from. And some would argue that source is not actually the source.
There’s lots of ways you can go in an investigation of that. But in terms of the writing, I would like to think that Mere Mortals is trying to tap into, "How do I, as a 36 year old husband and father, relate to the world around me in a kind and generous way?" I feel like a lot of my 20s I was developing a sense of "I am not-this" and by the time I got to 30 I kind of felt a little confused as to who I was. I had shunned my faith which, being the son of a pastor, was a big part of my identity, and the world I was raised in was a thing of the past. So trying to think about "how do I love my wife? How do I feel a sense of purpose? Be a good father?" All of those things had to be reinterpreted through a different lense that didn’t have to do with an overarching sense of purpose that comes from the sky or from God or from any sort of deity idea. So on Mere Mortals I try to get into, "How do I interact with the homeless woman who interrupts my dinner out with my family? How do I think about death and dying without the sense of an afterlife? How do I think about reacting to my child when she’s on her downward spiral for the night and I’m at my wit’s end as a parent?" It’s more like trying to take the ideas of gentleness and mercy and apply them in more real and less ethereal contexts.
In the booklet for your album To the Ends of the Earth, there’s a blurb about this sort of philosophy in hardcore that we are masters of our “selves" and in control of our own destiny. How do you reconcile that philosophy as a parent in charge of the day-to-day and, maybe the destiny of your child?
I feel like there’s been a progressive movement maybe in the last five years, well, since I’ve been a parent; I have a five-year-old, so I’ve been trying to keep up on new ideas of giving your child a sense of their own self and their own autonomy. For instance, an article came up today to reinforce the idea that we should ask children if they would like a hug and as parents say, "Would you like to hug and kiss so-and-so" even if it’s grandma and grandpa or auntie so-and-so and to and try to instill in them that they have a choice and a sense of autonomy in that instance. And to do otherwise, to say, "You must kiss so-and-so" or, "You must give so-and-so hugs" can teach early on ideas of conceding to others and not standing up for your own comfort levels.
So this idea of "master of self’? I don’t know. I am having a hard time trying to figure out how to be more of “myself”, how to feel comfortable in my own skin, with my own thoughts, and my own decisions and I often worry that my focus on that will lead me to neglect some of the more key decisions or moments of teaching my kiddo. Down the line she might think, "Dad, why didn’t you teach me this?" I’ll have to say, "Well, I was 34 at the time, I was dealing with this or that in my own way and wasn’t able to give to you as much as I wish I could have, or knew in that moment that I should have been giving but wasn’t able to’. So I don’t know about the master of "self’. I don’t believe that there is a sort of universal truth system in any way but, if I can instill in her an idea to give benefit of doubt and not jump to conclusions about other people too quickly then that’s one of the things I value now.
There’s a piece on your blog about the track “Dead of Winter” off Mere Mortals where you talked about the difficulty of sacrificing your preferences in favor of another’s. How does this factor into your understanding of destiny or free will?
I think probably everyone deals with a certain amount of push-and-pull in that regard. By the nature of developing relationships and living amongst people we have to sacrifice a certain amount of our own preferences. It’s a strange thing, being married. I’ll be celebrating eight years [of marriage] next week and every day we’re trying to make decisions that make us feel good and consider our spouse’s feelings. And throw kids in there? I’ve only got one, but our drummer has four. I can’t imagine juggling that many agendas and feelings about what should be happening at this moment in time. I admit the complication in saying "live your own life" and "honor those you love." It’s a dichotomy that is kinda inescapable I think. I don’t feel I have answers to that, but at the same time I’m 36 and still trying to figure out who I am, and seeing a therapist and trying to talk through things about my own folks and how they raised me and how they saw the world and how that influenced me and, I expect down the road I’ll have to talk to my kiddo about some of her frustrations about how I saw the world and how I raised her. And same with my wife.
Those are some of the hardest conversations to have. Now being the age where I’m asking my parents, "Why was it this way?" or, "Why did you do that?" It’s like we’re trying to reconcile two different perspectives that neither of us have now when we’re having this conversation, which makes it even more difficult.
Yeah, "Why did you feel that way then?" Well, because I was that person then. I might throw around the terms "grace" and "mercy" in the writing here and there but that’s because I feel like regardless of those words being so prevalent in Christianity and the gospels, they’re so integral to how I think we have to relate to each other and every day they fly out the window and I’m trying to grab onto them a little closer.
Our parents. How can we hold them accountable for who they were 15, 20, 30 years ago and not allow them to be the people they are now and acknowledge that we have changed as they have changed? Grace and mercy. Those are the two things that I’m struggling always to apply. Can I let these things go? Can I see them for what they are now? Can I express who I am now without the baggage of complicated relationships like father-son, mother-daughter, and just be myself? I think that’s what touches on your idea of being your own master. Can I in this moment be myself with the people around me and if I can’t, why is that? Trying to figure out what is it in the relationship, what is it in me, what are the external factors that are keeping me from being myself in this moment? And how do I overcome those in order to have a genuine connection, particularly to someone like my father, when there’s 36 years of good and bad baggage there and hopes and expectations and ideas about each other and our relationship and what it could have been?
Some of these questions have to do with parenthood because I feel that’s an experience that you write about that I hear so infrequently in any of the…
More "extreme" genres? [laughs]
They don’t really touch on parenthood unless they’re talking about the teen angst perspective of it. Do you feel that parenthood has fundamentally changed the way you interact with the world?
I think it has changed the way I look at myself. I think it has forced me to be more introspective and more aware of my own words and actions. Has it changed the way I interact with the world? To a certain extent, in that I am aware that my kiddo will be watching and sponging in everything that’s fed to her, and that my wife and I are the primary sources of what she will get from that. So in instances where we’re out in public and something awkward happens, how we deal with that I know she will subconsciously pick up on. I try to be conscious that she could be picking up something negative or positive. Usually it’s a reflective sort of thing after the fact where we think, "Should we talk about this and why that was weird? Or should we apologize for how we treated this? Will she even understand that?’
I’d like to think that down the road I’ll have a clear picture of who I was in certain moments when I modeled certain things for her. I’d like to think that I’m trying to continually evolve and talk with my wife about how I can be better or react differently or model something a little bit better for her down the road. I don't know if it's changed how I am in the world. I still have social anxiety in public spaces where there’s lots of people. I don’t know that being a dad has made that any easier or any better. I still have a hard time interacting with other parents when that’s our role, like, field trips and things like that. I don’t really connect all that easily. I‘d probably be the same awkward guy in those situations if I wasn’t a dad. It’s hard to say, how it’s changed me but it’s definitely made me a more conscious person in trying to be an example and role model. I hate that term "role model’, by the way. I prefer "a model of behavior she will draw on for the rest of her life’.
How do you handle being the frontman of a hardcore band as a person who has social anxiety?
It’s a strange thing. I was just reading a post by Greg Bennick, who we’re going on tour with next month, and he was saying, "Night after night, I go out and I do the most terrifying thing that I could possibly do: stand in front of strangers and share the deepest parts of my psyche." And, to a certain extent, there’s a bit of a performer in me that has been a little bit comfortable with those blurry faces. There’s a certain comfort that I developed in college that sought that kind of attention. The reasons for seeking that attention, I don't know exactly what they are, but in college I was definitely an attention-seeker. I did all sorts of acting groups and felt comfortable doing that; especially around children. I was on an acting team that performed for children. But I still get nervous to this day being in front of people. Particularly when it comes to trying to articulate my thoughts about a certain song or about a particular moment that I feel is relevant. Historically, I was in a band with our drummer in the early 2000s and both of us would talk about our songs and it would be this foaming at the mouth run-on, stumbling over words constantly. Now in regards to that I pick and choose the moments that I speak about and try to make them more concise and relevant to current events or moments like, "This happened to me today or this week and it applies this way’. We’ve been a band for seven years now and it’s gotten easier, but not easy. I still get sweaty palms and I still run to the bathroom really quick before our sets.
Some of the best performers are known for having terrible anxiety.
Bruce Springsteen! I don’t know if you caught this interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. He talked about how he’s been doing it for more than 40 years, and he said that to this day he still gets freaked out and has to figure out a way to turn on that stage persona and exude his confidence and his sexuality and all that stuff that he brings to the stage. I’m not a fan of him, but I did like that interview.
It seems like a lot of the more extreme styles of music champion a sort of toughness and bravado and in some cases explicitly promote an extreme masculinity, so how do you respond to weakness or shortcomings in yourself and others around you?
Is weakness or sensitivity shunned? I can’t say we [Great Reversals] have been intentional about being anti-aggressiveness or masculinity because that would require speaking out about it in some fashion. What we have been forward about is allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, to write vulnerably about things that are important to me. If it translates to someone else, that's fantastic. Yes, you have it right, across the board, bands that are successful have a tough guy exterior, and I think that applies broadly to the metal scene as well, you have bands with spiked armbands and things like that. And even bands like Terror and Hatebreed, they’re all like lifting, pump your fist sort of bands but they don't sing about… it doesn’t have a whole lot of substance. Their stage presence and their live shows are more about stage dives and mosh calls. "Violence! And more violence!" That’s something we’ve never been about. Not to say that we’re not fans of that sort of stuff but as a band and as a group of five people, that’s not who we are or how we want to represent ourselves.
When we started out I would write more about larger concepts that I was trying to spitball ideas around. With Mere Mortals I really tried to hone it in more about my own personal experience or own imaginative experience that I can draw feelings from.
If I were giving this interview five years ago about the songs we wrote on our demo and our first few releases, I would have had a really hard time explaining what I was trying to get at with certain songs, because one song would contain several ideas on subjects that I’m not a scholar on. But I’m a scholar on my own life, so when I write a song about a particular instance which occurred in my own life, I can expound upon that and draw from that with authority because it’s my own experience. And so in just trying to be an honest writer I’ve tried to just write what I know, not what I’m hoping to know or understand down the road.
In terms of the masculinity thing, we’re just trying to be honest about who we are. None of us come "from the streets" or anything like that or "grew up the hard way" or any of the other slogans that bands throw around. To be honest is to reflect the life that we’ve led and draw from that and not from someone else’s idea or what hardcore’s supposed to be.
I think your willingness to, as you said "write vulnerably" and your ability to step outside of the confines of traditional hardcore is really what sets your band apart. As someone who’s seen Hatebreed and Terror and King 810, it’s a spectacle. Your band is more of an experience.
I appreciate that. If I were to look at my iPod and scroll through the bands that I listen to repeatedly, season after season are all bands that have had more substance, more ability to tap into my heartstrings and gave me an experience at that time that I found necessary. I will throw on a Hatebreed record once in awhile I don’t do it to feed my spirit, I do it more as a, "I’m gonna wash the dishes and bang my head to this.”
My favorite tracks on Mere Mortals are “Gutted” into “Preparing the Way” which I loved because, as someone coming from metal, we champion imagery and symbolism, and you wrote on the blog that it’s one of the only songs you’ve written from your imagination. Why are so few of your songs written that way and would you do more?
I would do more. It’s a new thing, thinking about things that way. I don’t know if I’d say it’s the only song from my imagination but it’s the only song that doesn’t have an experience that precedes it. I think about death and dying a lot, and I think about the idea of an afterlife and have investigated that on other songs.
I love that you love “Preparing the Way”, by the way. That’s one of my favorites songs. So thinking about someone who is in that world and being around death and literally preparing the way for people who have died and watching people mourn people who have died is really intriguing to me. My dad, being a pastor, he did a lot of funerals. He would say this, his end of the ministry should have been direct one-on-one hospice care, for people who are suffering, people who are dying or marching toward the end of their lives. That’s where he succeeded in his ministry, whereas being on a pulpit and leading the herd week after week that was not his strength. He felt he was something of a failure in that regard, but luckily he championed the fact that he felt he was good at speaking about people who have died and connecting with audiences who are mourning that death.
So as an extension, me thinking about someone who is living in that world, who is digging the graves, and watching the tears of people who are wearing black as I referenced in the song and "making mud with their tears’. It kinda feels like a world I could do something in too, and it feels a little bit familiar thinking about listening to my dad talk about his experiences with people who had been dying or had died and connecting with their families. It’s a precious world. He calls it kairos. It’s a Greek word: "the moments of our lives’. To be there and to be present and to be merciful in those moments when people are at their most vulnerable, is something that intrigues me. And, were I to follow a different path in life I could see myself trying to be a part of it. Did you ever watch the series "Six Feet Under’?
It’s a great show. There’s a character with a natural gift for talking to people who are just pouring themselves out over someone's death. I fantasize about being that kind of person and being able to connect in those most deeply precious moments.
To backtrack a bit, the song “Mouths to Feed”. For a genre like hardcore that idolizes coming from the streets and growing up hard, I feel like they overlook the present issue of homelessness in those same kinds of communities. You wrote a couple of blog posts and at least one song about it, do you feel like hardcore overlooks this issue as a whole or not?
I wouldn’t say, as a whole, hardcore neglects this idea of addressing homelessness or those who are in need that way. But on the surface, the websites that promote this stuff, Lambgoat and such, the majority of those bands that are getting press probably won’t address that sort of stuff. It’s in the smaller enclaves of the "scene’, the "DIY scene" some say, that a lot of those people are more socially conscious.
How am I dealing with it? Trying to be conscious about it and figure out within the confines that I have how can I be helpful, particularly in moments. “Mouths to Feed” references an experience with a woman who just popped into our meal at the restaurant and said, “I’m hungry” and in our awkwardness, we didn’t know how to address it. Even my dad, the pastor, who’s dealt with homelessness his entire career, didn't know what to do. He’s with the grandkid, and there’s a guest with us. It’s looking at those sort of moments where we’re actually engaging someone and their needs and figuring out how can we be merciful, how can we help, and how can we set down our own responsibilities or needs at the moment and can we consider helping this person? Like in this instance, do we buy this homeless person a meal in the restaurant and does the restaurant feel awkward about homeless people walking in and "accosting" their customers? So like, trying to look at that big picture and see can we be helpful? And will this actually help? Like every time you leave the Magic Stick and the guy says, "Hey, can I have a dollar?"
As a former straight edge kid, I used to think, 'No, I’m not gonna give you change for your addictive habit,' but as an older person I’m trying to think, 'Does this give them relief?' Is it more beneficial to help them live the life that they’re living and not just judge them. Obviously they have problems that giving them change or not giving them change is not going to solve. So what is the best reaction in this particular moment? Can I spare it? Can I give of myself? I guess, personally speaking, that's how I try to think about it.
Once in awhile I think about, 'Could I stop working at a grocery store and sacrifice the pretty good pay and the insurance that supports my family and work with an organization that is addressing these problems on the regular?' Could I do that and do I have the heart for that? Do I have the ability to still support my family in the way that I’ve needed to support them? Can I give as much of myself because now I’ve got it pretty cushy; I can walk away from my job and not think about it until the next time I walk in, but can I handle working with a population that is so desperately in need? Can I still be a good father and husband while giving of myself? It’s a balancing act that we all have to figure out. Am I capable of doing this? Can I balance the scales while doing this? I feel like I’ve come to a reasonably good balance in life with work and home and art, and all the responsibilities pulling my attention.
Did you explore any other spiritualities when you were having questions about your faith? Or did you just go straight from point A to point B?
You know, I went to a Christian college and we all had to take a general religions course and I took a semester of "other faiths" and, over the years I suppose, to use a Christian term, my heart has been hardened to any belief system that says "this is the way." The passage in the Bible that says, "Jesus said “I am the Truth and the Way and the Light”" the idea that this is the one way is something that I universally have tried to reject. And at the same time admitting that love and mercy and grace are principles that make people better to other people and maybe that’s the way and truth and light that I’m now trying to espouse, just without all the dogma and the rhetoric and the history of belief systems. I guess I never saw it as necessary.
I bring it up because I was not raised in a religious household; my biggest exposure to religion was through the neighborhood Jewish community, within which we had a lot of friends, so to me religion was community based rather than faith/dogma based. They never talked about faith that much at the holiday dinners we’d get invited to. But then I went to a Catholic high school.
It was a whole different world?
It was absolutely an experience that I needed in my life and helped turn me into the person I’d like to be.
Would you say you grew up without God?
Yes. Yes, I did.
Okay, are your parents subscribers of any direction?
They are not. My dad’s household went to church when he was little but they stopped at some point. Maybe because it was a single mom with four boys and she just didn’t have time. My mom, her parents were religious, but I don’t ever remember her talking about going to church or anything like that.
And as parents they obviously didn’t take you places, like to church or anything like that?
Not even Christmas or Easter? Family ties or anything like that?
Nope. I think my first time I remember setting foot in a church was in fifth grade for my grandpa’s funeral. I don’t know if I’d ever been inside a church before.
Was it a Catholic church?
I don’t think so. It took me a long time to wrap my head around the idea that, 'Wow, all these people have this one common, set beliefs.' As someone coming into pre-adolescence I thought, ‘I was grew up being told about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and those didn’t turn out real, why is this any different? This is just another way to get me to behave.’ It took me a long time to figure out that to most people religion is more about community, or at least the real important parts are about community.
I’ve thought about what it would look like to compile interviews with people who were raised without God and how that affected their childhood, how that affects their adulthood, and just get a sense of what it would be like to grow up without that sort of "Big Brother" feeling from the get-go. As a kindergartner in Sunday school I sang songs about God. I’m not an atheist, but I really don’t want my five-year-old to grow up with a sense of "Big Brother" which is why I’ve suddenly become a little bit uncomfortable with Santa Claus. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love Santa and I’m growing my beard out for something I call "Daddy Claus’, Santa’s so cool, I wanna look like him! I’ve done this a few years, but, last year I caught myself. We were having a hard bedtime and I said to my kiddo: "You better be good, because Santa’s watching" and I immediately thought, "Oh my God! Don’t say that!" Because I don’t want her to be walking around with that fear of "someone’s watching us" besides us, her parents. Of course we want her to try and please us in certain ways, but that makes sense, we have a relationship. A regular relationship every day. I don’t want her to think, "Oh my god, someone’s watching! Even though mom and dad aren’t here, I’m being watched." And that’s so crazy to me that kids grow up in that; feeling like their behavior needs to be dictated by someone who sees everything they do! That’s crazy, right?
You agree, but there’s lots of people who feel like that’s perfectly fine; my parents, included. Had I been introduced to faith as an idea at the age of, say 12, I would have the life experience and cognitive capacities to start thinking about stuff like that and then, at that age, judge: is this something I agree with or is this something that feels right? Do I feel it? Do I not feel it? Do I believe it? Do I not believe it? But when kids are introduced from the get-go to this idea that this is the way things are. There is this being, this being is watching, this being always loves you but, but is always watching. How do you get away from that? So, as a 10-year agnostic and leaning atheist, I still cannot escape that sense of like, 'What if I’m doing everything wrong? What if God is watching?' Because once upon a time it did feel real, as a kid who can imagine all these things as though they are reality, how do I juxtapose that with my adult sense of, 'Well I don’t feel or imagine these things to be real anymore'? How do I put those together and say, 'Well this is now reality' when I still have all that backlog?
My dad has waves of doubt and patiently listens to my thoughts on things. He reads my blog every time I write something and is always very supportive and says, 'Oh, good questions, boy!" and that sort of supportive Dad-role but I can't help but wonder: in the back of his mind, does he worry about my soul? Does he worry about my daughter's soul if we’re not gonna raise her in a way that believes that this is the Way and the Truth and the Light that will lead her into the afterlife? That has to be the nightmare of his life, to be a lifelong pastor who tried to lead the flock, and in particular his own personal flock, to that afterlife where he may believe that we're all supposed to be, and to know that his only-begotten son, to use that language, might not be there with him? How can any father deal with that? So that’s why I guess I get people that are in the faith and believe that, why they’ll do anything they can to try and convince non-believers not to be there. Especially their loved ones.
That song you mentioned, “Swallowing Sand”? That’s about a woman I’ve met who’s one of those extremely devout believers. She believes she’s met demons and talks to God. A lot of faithful people claim to talk to God but she "hears" things from God. Her daughter, who’s sick and dying, is a non-believer. Dealing with your only child’s suffering as they’re sick and marching towards death, put that next to the idea that when they do die, in your belief system, they won’t go where they’re supposed to go. They won’t inherit eternal life or paradise, or however Christianity wants to think of it, and conversely, in her belief system, will perish in the eternal condemnation of a torturer of souls. How can anyone live with that?
That’s something I actually never thought about in that way before I read it on your blog. Isn’t that actually kinda cool of them? They don’t even know me and they’re trying to save me from the worst thing they can imagine.
Yeah. And it’s a twisted version of love, but, they genuinely want everyone to go… not to Hell. Not to eternal burning torment.
That was the first big stumbling block for me, as someone exposed to Catholicism all-of-the-sudden at the age of 13 was: "wait a minute, an hour ago I had one person telling me that the God I’m supposed to pray to every morning is compassion and benevolence and love deified, and now you’re telling me that same omnipotent, all-loving, all-forgiving being will send me to torment forever for something I did’
Or, for just being human and saying "I just can’t wrap my head around this idea.” One of the things I think about a lot is there are intellectuals way smarter than I could ever be, like at Calvin, the school I went to, who teach philosophy and they come up with these philosophical, theological arguments and they say, 'If we are to believe in this direction, then there must be this opposite direction' and still, in their super-intellectual understanding of God and faith, they admit, 'Well, there must be a flip to that coin, if there is this one thing then there must be this other thing.’
Then how can you call yourself a monotheist?
It’s wild. It’s wild to think about Hell, especially for people like you and I who are trying to understand life in more simplistic like day-to-day, like, how do we interact with the people around us? Why will we be tormented for eternity for just not being able to wrap our head around this idea of faith or this particular version of faith or this particular belief system. I believe that to take the faith on its documents, whether it be Islam or Christianity, you have to acknowledge the fact that if you believe these are the word of God, that they at their foundation are talking about these extreme polar opposites: torment and paradise. It’s too much.
In an early blog post, you posed the question, or someone asked you why do you need to change their mind? Do you feel like you’re trying to change minds with the art you’re making now?
No. And that gets back to the point of trying to write personally and to represent only what I feel is my own experience that I can accurately represent with my own thoughts. I don't think we necessarily have an agenda in any direction besides trying to write in a way that hopes to tap into hearts in a certain way. To touch on things that are real and connect, at least topically, to things that people can relate to the human experience, in a broad sense.
Sometimes I'll just ask questions without answers, because I don’t have all the answers and trying to change minds is declaring you have the answers. When young 20-year-olds latch onto an idea, they have the propensity to really push on it. There’s a hopefulness at that age that makes them more willing to try and change minds. Now I’m just acknowledging that I don’t have any answers for my own life; how can I have answers for yours? If there’s any sort of mind-changing going on, it’s to inspire some of that. Just trying to think more deeply or more about our own experiences and how they’re affecting us and the world around us.
Also from the blog, there was a discussion about when your motives are righteous but your methods are wall-building. No one wants to be pushed around or goaded into another point of view. Do you think this statement is true of hardcore as an art form?
I think we need to be more conscious about our methods of expression. I would be more receptive of ideas if they come from a place of humility and gentleness. But conversely, there are people like the animal rights wing of the hardcore scene that might espouse that idea that interpersonally, gentleness is appropriate, but institutionally, aggressiveness is the only method that will actually create change. I saw Peter Young speak a few years ago about direct action on behalf of animals. He actually went to jail for releasing animals in some capacity, he essentially cut open cages and let them run free and went to jail. At that time he espoused the belief that sometimes aggression is the only way to make change because, at least in that world, lobbying and flyering and protesting wasn’t and often doesn't do anything. It might raise some consciousness or turn a couple ears in that direction, but in terms of actually affecting the outcome he would say direct action, like some sort of espionage course of action, is the only way to create change.
I’m not gonna be that guy anymore in anything that I do, but I can understand the value in that. It’s just not something that I’m gonna be a part of and I don’t think anyone in Great Reversals would say they would be a part of that necessarily.
The bravado of expressing ideas I think needs to come from a place of humility and understanding that these are my experiences and if you can take something from them then fantastic but, obviously you are your own person and you can be inspired by whatever you’re inspired by.
It’s rare that I can have these kind of in-depth conversations, especially in the context of “rock n’ roll.”
I wouldn’t say it’s going by the wayside, there are certainly plenty of DIY pockets that play this sort of aggressive music and juxtapose it with the whole sincere, more emotional, intellectual subjects. But by and large, in the last 10 years to get successful in hardcore it seems you have to play to a lower denominator. I wouldn’t say the lowest common denominator, but the demographic you’re looking to inspire is like aged 14 to 21, right? So what do 14- to 21-year-olds look at or listen to to be inspired by? It’s much more simple than us as 30-year-old guys who take a sound from our previous generation and infuse it with a more mature thought pattern. At the same time there's people our age who are not doing as much as they could with their life experience in regards to writing lyrics. Take a Hatebreed or a Terror, they’re still talking about "in your face" and "the crew" and all that sort of stuff.
I don’t listen to Terror’s music, but I’ve seen them a bunch of times supporting other bands and it's always a great time.
Maximum stage dives.
At least they stand out. I don’t really listen to their music because it doesn’t have a lot of substance. Even when I was a teenager and into music that didn't have a lot of substance, I listened to thrash metal and thought "oh, hardcore, the breakdowns are sweet, but it's not technical enough".
I will never cease to be amazed by people who play technical music but don’t come across like very smart people. You talk to them and they’re not deep people, but they can play the hell out of some music. I was on my way out of that sort of djent thing. The Sumerian roster that blew up in like 2007-2008. I remember listening to them thinking like, 'This is really dumb, but boy does it sound sweet.' Not to say that low-brow, machismo hardcore is completely unintelligent.
I’ve talked to the guys in King 810 a few times and David Gunn is a very intelligent individual, even though the music is not.
I don’t want to admit it but there can be a poetic expression and understanding of doing that style in a way that appeals to people. There can be an intelligence in how you appeal to people and the way you sound, even if to the naked ear, it’s the dumbest expression, but you can do it in a way that garners you success.
Read Aaron Whitfield on his blog, Maybe it's Complicated.
Follow Great Reversals on Bandcamp.