It's been a long five years, and the world feels a bit of a mess, but hardcore punks Stick To Your Guns are back and ready to lead a revolution with their new album, 'Spectre.'
"We can either dance and descend, or fight back and build something new, something better," vocalist Jesse Barnett states matter-of-factly from a rehearsal room somewhere in France. "We desperately need it because I have no idea how much time we've got left on this Earth – which is not dying, it is being killed."
Building something new requires burning down what's come before. Something has to die to be reborn, and that's what Jesse – joined by bassist Andrew Rose, drummer George Schmitz, and guitarists Chris Rawson and Josh James – aims to achieve on their seventh album.
It begins with dismantling a broken system and throwing a Molotov cocktail from within.
"You have to fight if you're going to win; bourgeois electoral politics is a way you can fight too, but it's going to change very little because the game is rigged. France, Germany, the United States, Canada, England; they own the game. They let us play it, and we call it freedom."
So if freedom is nothing more than a Truman Show fantasy, what do Stick To Your Guns believe we need to do to break the mould and start from scratch?
"I'm simply asking people to break out of that mindset to start their own movements. To organise their own communities and figure out what's needed for them to thrive and not constantly be begging these fucking capitalists who sit on their fucking thrones. 'Please, sir, please can we have healthcare, please can we have food, please can I not work so much so I can see my children'."
'Spectre' is riddled with political figures and historical movements. From revolutionaries like Thomas Sankara and Che Guevara ('Liberate') to labour unions like the Industrial Workers of the World ('Who Dares Wins'), the album invites you to break out through education. Follow its breadcrumbs, go down its rabbit holes, and you'll find the threads Barnett believes we should follow.
"We sit here year, after year, after year, after year, and we beg for these things, and while we beg, they take more and more and more of our livelihood away.
"Eventually, you have a person who rises to power like Che Guevara or Thomas Sankara who say 'enough, enough, we're not asking anymore, we're just going to take it', and that makes the West very scared. That's why they propagandise us to believe these people are evil when they're liberators."
'Spectre' exists to liberate us from the shackles our systems have locked us in. Its ideals are driven by its namesake, a reference to The Communist Manifesto, and its opening line: "There is a spectre over Europe, the spectre of communism".
Stick To Your Guns have never pulled punches, and Jesse isn't one to err on the side of caution. He's fully aware there are more than a few faces in their crowd who'll turn their noses up at their communist teachings, yet it's something he hopes will pull the wool from over our eyes.
"Given that I'm a devout socialist, it's an important text for me. I can understand how that might be a no-go area for a lot of people, but I implore them to not take anyone else's word for it and to look into these things for themselves. We can't shut ourselves off from knowledge. I view the United States as the evilest entity on the planet, so if the most vile and evil entity on the planet is telling me to stay away from communism, then it's only going to pull me in that direction even more."
Stick To Your Guns aren't asking you to quit society for the communist agenda. They're not even telling you to start voting for socialists. They just want to inspire you to change yourself and your environment, to provoke the change we need.
"The band itself and our songs aren't going to change anything. They're only meant to inspire people to change themselves and their environments," Jesse reflects, always speaking so confidently it's a surprise he's not a politician promoting his platform. "The music doesn't make anyone an activist, like me being on stage talking about these issues isn't me doing the work necessary to change the world; beyond all, these ideas are meant to inspire people to take that out into the world and produce real action."
Real action is revolutionary, which Stick To Your Guns believe we're taught to avoid. It's like they're slipping suppressors in our water streams. That's why at all times, 'Spectre' sounds like a rallying cry.
"If you're unwilling to act, they can't perform your action for you. Me watching an anti-racist movie isn't going to make me anti-racist. What am I doing in the world to prove what I believe? A belief is nothing but an idea in your head, and if you don't bring that idea into fruition in the world, it doesn't matter what you believe at the end of the day."
To inspire change, they've undergone it themselves. Stick To Your Guns are no strangers to the hardcore stereotype. They know there's a staple sound, a stencil to draw around. But on 'Spectre', they've chosen to ignore it, to bring big pop choruses to their breakdowns, and to follow in the footsteps of bands like Turnstile, who've redefined what hardcore really is.
"A lot of the time, our band goes into the studio like 'there was this cool riff I heard on a Terror song', or 'there was a really good Architects chorus, so let's try to do something like that'. We're constantly borrowing from one another. We've even tried ripping ourselves off," Jesse laughs, bemused at the sheepish elitism they've helped normalise.
"With this album, we put all that aside and didn't use outside influence. We looked in our own toolbox and used our own tools – when you start to pick the album apart, it seems like it's all over the place, but when you listen to it as a cohesive work, it doesn't seem all over the place, it's strange."
It might feel strange to Stick To Your Guns, but it makes perfect sense when pieced together. The gritty, grungy shoegaze of 'Open Up My Head' is juxtaposed by the police baton bludgeoning hardcore of 'Liberate'. It's intentional, even if they thought they wouldn't pull it off.
"If you were to listen to 'Open Up My Head', and then the next day listen to 'Liberate,' you'd be like there's no way this is the same band, but when you listen to them together, it makes sense in a weird way.
"Obviously, I think critics of Stick To Your Guns have had that over our entire careers. It seems like we're this band that's all over the place, can't figure out who we are, when in reality, we just like a lot of different things. I love big choruses, I fucking love them, but I also love fucking breakdowns that want to make you beat the fuck out of your friends."
That's the line Stick To Your Guns tows on 'Spectre'. It's music that makes you raise one fist and sing while you fight with the other. Whilst Barnett's been accused of being pro-Putin over the past weeks, he's quick to say he's not advocating war, but that violence can't always be avoided in our world.
"People often excuse capitalist violence all the time. Look at the war that's happening right now. There is no reason why this fucking war should be happening. It's inexcusable. The only people this serves are billionaires and people who sell defence contracts, while people's children, brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers are being slaughtered. We're watching this happen all for the capitalist class.
"As a society in the West, we excuse this type of behaviour all the time, but when someone like Sankara or Guevara uses violence to stop the violence that's happening to their people, all of a sudden, we say no one should use violence. What people don't understand is that the capitalist class is not going to wake up one day and decide to do the right thing. They're only concerned about profit, so unfortunately, violence is needed in order to stop that."
Whether they're inciting violence, inspiring revolution, or igniting pits with absolute bangers, one thing's for sure: Stick To Your Guns are the spectres of hardcore once more.
Taken from the August issue of Upset. Stick To Your Guns' album 'Spectre' is out 29th July.
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