From The Depths: Figuring Out a Way to Keep Fighting for the World We Want
Interview with CrimethInc's hardcore punk band From The Depths
From the Depths is an anarcho-punk band from North Carolina connected to CrimethInc. Ex-Workers’ Collective and featuring former members of bands Catharsis, Requiem, Auryn, and Network of Terror. I’ve conducted this interview shortly after they released their first album “Germinate” in February 2009. Geoff is no longer a member of the band because of his dangerous and totally inappropriate behavior, although I’m posting the interview in its entirety featuring Geoff’s answers too.
Let’s start with an introduction to your band. Who are you and why form the band? What other bands have you played in and how did they influence the music you are currently playing?
Brian: Steve and I had already been playing together in Requiem, before, and Neal and Monica and I all live together and basically do everything together, so we all wanted to try playing music as a group too. Drummers are always the problem, but once we met Geoff, it was easy to get started. As for how our previous bands influence the band we are in now… I’m not sure. All of us besides Monica have been in a lot of bands, and that experience certainly shapes the way we do things in this band. But every band is a combination of the people who make it up, and so this one is different from any of the other bands we’ve been in. For me, this is definitely the most solid group of people I’ve played music with in a long time, in terms of everyone being equally involved in the band and invested in our goals.
You released a debut album called “Germinate,” which is available on the internet. What do you think of the internet as a means of communicating between punx, and of mp3 sharing, etc.? And what are some of the themes of the record?
Brian: Yes, we’ve just released it. We are experimenting with something new for this, making the songs available for downloading (at http://www.fromthedepths.info), which none of us have done before. We’re all somewhat suspicious of the internet, but also have to acknowledge that it is one of the ways that music and ideas circulate today. Our hope is that donations for downloading the music will cover the costs of recording, so when people buy the CDs from us we will be able to donate the extra money to political prisoner support. We just came back from a tour to the West Coast of the US, which was the first time we’ve made money on a tour, and we are talking about who we should donate the money to. We have several friends in prison now and others waiting for trial, and as repression increases in this country that situation is only going to get worse.
Geoff: As far as the internet, I think it can be a good way to communicate between distant and far-flung people and communities, especially underground and marginalized communities such as the anarchists and the punks. A lot of the inspiration, knowledge, and tactics I’ve gotten over the years has been through contact with communities outside my own. However, i think that our best ability to transform our lives and our world comes through connections with the people we have relationships with in the real world, on a day-to-day basis: our friends, family, neighbours, co-workers, etc. I am suspicious that the kinds of communication the internet makes possible distract us from building these relationships that, in my mind, are the most important for being able to act to change our lives.
Some of the themes on this record for me are getting older in the struggle and living through defeats, going to jail, experiencing friends being taken by the state, being killed, or giving up, and coming to understand on a much deeper level how difficult it is to live our lives the way we want, the hardships and pain that come with making the choices we have, and knowing that we may never see the day when we can look out into this world and feel real happiness. And this album is about coming to understand all those experiences and feelings, and figuring out how to prevent that from leading to utter despair, hopelessness, to inaction and acquiescence. Ultimately this album is about figuring out a way to keep fighting for the world we want in spite of all the risks, pain, and deprivations that come with this decision.
How can you describe the music you make? What are your musical influences? I know you have influences from a wide range of musical styles and some obscure punk bands like Contropotere from Italy. The bands released on CrimethInc. label seem to have influences from post-rock, sludge, dub, jazz, folk etc. are you bored of the standardized hardcore sound and what do you have to offer?
Brian: CrimethInc. has released music by a lot of different kinds of people–not just punks, but also folk singers and noise musicians. We’re basically punks, but we all have a pretty wide range of musical tastes. Personally, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard a “standard” hardcore band that I liked, but that’s probably because I overdosed on music in the 1990s when I used to do a hardcore zine. I do really like Next Victim from Poland–that’s one current punk band I think is very original and heartfelt.
Geoff: I am definitely bored of the standardized hardcore sound, and standardized sounds in general. At this point in my life, actively listening to music and playing in bands for over 10 years, I feel like I am much more interested in people who are trying to explore the uniqueness of their own “voice” and willing to take risks in doing so. This is something I am trying to do with my own playing and participation in this band, although I’ve certainly been shaped by all the bands that have touched me over the years and this is reflected throughout my playing and song writing. At the same time, I think for most people the “standard” sound is a starting point for the development of their own ideas, and that is something I can relate to and respect.
Making hardcore punk and touring is obviously a means of expressing dissent ideas and being part of an underground culture, but does it actually enact change against the things you oppose? There are thousands of hardcore-punk bands, but the majority of them are not interested in the things you’re doing. Do you think that just because a band is DIY and working outside of the mainstream it’s a political act in itself or a form of dissent art? As I know, Brian, you are involved in DIY hardcore/punk from 1989, how did the scene changed for you during the years and what constitutes being a punk?
Brian: I can only speak from my perspective, which is biased because at different times I have been less involved or more involved in different parts of the hardcore scene. I think when I first got into punk twenty years ago, it was much less political, but also less about fashion–it was more a subculture of real outsiders. Ten years ago, punk seemed to be more politically oriented than it is now–there were more bands that took a stand openly, whether that was for animal rights or anarchist revolution, and I think more of them were more popular, too (like Refused). But today, I’m not as involved in things as I was ten years ago, so there are probably things I’m missing. I don’t think punk can change the world by itself, but it still is one of the places that people discover radical ideas and possibilities for their lives, so as long as we don’t stop at making music I think it can be powerful to play in a political d.i.y. band. And music is not the main thing themembers of this band focus on–we all have other projects, like living in collectives, organizing direct action, sending books to prisoners, maintaining local anarchist community projects, and writing and distributing literature.
Brian, in the column you wrote for the last ever issue of HeartattaCk you said “Now is the time for punk bands to play in front of enormous banners proclaiming their stances, as Nausea used to; now is the time to bring radical speakers and movies and literature tables to shows, and to hold big potluck dinners before or after, at which entire communities of punk rockers can get to know one another and lay plans for the future…”. Do we really want another Crass? How do your shows usually look like, do you talk a lot on stage and make bounds to the people at the shows?
Brian: We are explicit about our politics when we play shows—we play benefit shows, we explain what our songs are about and what we believe in, sometimes we perform with other speakers, or with banners, or during events like the anarchist bookfairs in New York City and San Francisco. In our home town, there aren’t many punks, so the people who come to see us are mostly people from our radical community here. But we aren’t as influential or original as Crass was! I think that if Crass appeared today, or a band like Crass, they would probably be a noise band, because that is the newest and most unpredictable kind of music right now. They would figure out how to make noise music that was accessible to a lot of people and politically explicit at the same time.
CrimethInc. publications act as an introduction to revolutionary ideas in everyday life for many kids and in this sense it’s most successful. But a lot of people from the anarchist movement are not taking it seriously, especially things like freeganism or shoplifting, they’re calling it “lifestyle Western pseudo-anarchism” for bored middle-class teenagers. Do you think that anarchism can really mean many things to many people and what would you like people to take away from the ideas represented by CrimethInc.?
Brian: Our band is not a representative of CrimethInc.—CrimethInc. is a larger project, involving a lot of other people, and we can’t claim credit for mostCrimethInc. projects. I will say, though, that I think many people who don’t pay close attention have an incorrect idea of what current CrimethInc. projects in the US are like. They don’t only focus on “lifestyle” choices, but also a lot on strategic issues in anarchist organizing too. I think it is too easy for certain conservative anarchists to pick one book, maybe from ten years ago, and use that to dismiss things they don’t know anything about. Anyway, to answer your question, I do think anarchism means different things to different people, and that different approaches work in different situations.
What’s the best lifestyle for humans to live in harmony on this planet and to share it with others? Do you think veganism is a conscious and relevant step in the right direction for every citizen in this society? Also freeganism as a boycott – don’t you think the boycotts only work if they are organized and done by the masses of people or by the workers, and not by the consumers?
Brian: Until industrial capitalism is abolished, it will be impossible for anyone to live in complete harmony with other life on this planet; so the best we can do right now is to minimize our own impact while struggling to overthrow the state and transform the economy. Personally, I’m vegan because I regard animal products as a kind of pornography to desensitize us to the suffering and exploitation of other living things. I don’t eat animal products because I want to deprogram myself in this way. Of course, many corporate vegan products also can desensitize us in similar ways, but I think it is better to draw the line somewhere so you at least keep an awareness of the larger issues. But we all have different choices around that issue in this band; the particular lines a person draws are a personal matter. As for freeganism, of course it’s not going to bring down capitalism if I don’t buy things, but it means I don’t need as much money, so I don’t have to work as much, and I can spend the free time I save from work doing more to fight against capitalism. For example, we gather the groceries and other resources that corporations through away, and redistribute them in our town among families in need. In the long run, we have to seize the means of production so we can produce and distribute food (and everything else) according to need rather than profit, but in the meantime we should steal resources to redistribute whenever we get the chance.
What about the song “A Sante Caserio”? It’s an old revolutionary song about an anarchist who assassinated the French president. Why do a song about revolutionary violence?
Brian: Some of us were originally attracted to the song because we heard a beautiful version of it on a collection of old Italian anarchist folk songs. It’s important to us to place our music not just in the punk tradition but also in a longer tradition of anarchist songs and culture. One of our goals is to keep this song alive that existed more than a century before our band–to help maintain the long-term memory of the anarchist movement. If I did something crazy and was sent to the guillotine for it, I would certainly want people to keep singing the song about me a hundred years later! Today, in the digital age, people don’t even remember things for a week.
Geoff: I also think that it’s important to talk openly about all the different revolutionary acts anarchists have engaged in. Most ‘political’ groups try to sanitize their ideas, histories, and beliefs to fit in with the accepted beliefs of the times. In the United States, the idea of “non-violence” has become such an omnipresent idea that many people refuse to acknowledge ways people resist that don’t fit in with this concept. For example, in the city where I live, there was a general strike in 1877 where people burned down the train station, fought the police, and ran the government out of town. This moment is cherished by radicals, but if the same thing were to happen today, many of them would disavow the “violence.” My goal in celebrating acts like this is not to glorify one kind of action over another, but to foster open discussion about our tactics free from the confines of what the state defines as acceptable forms of dissent.
Crimethinc. published some stuff about the recent uprisings in Greece, how do you get your information about what’s happening in Greece? Do you think you are able to grasp a picture of the situation since as Americans you are looking from a very particular and subjective point of view?
Brian: This really has nothing to do with our band, though all of us have followed the situation in Greece! As for the CrimethInc. text – we communicate with comrades in various Greek anarchist groups, who help us to have more context for the situation than we could get from the corporate media or even from just reading independent media. I know that even in Greece there are many different points of view! I don’t know that we can have a complete grasp of the situation in the USA – we might not get that even if we were in Greece – but I think we can at least try to give people in English-speaking countries more perspective on what is happening there than they would be able to get from the news.
You have been playing in front of both demonstrations against Democratic and Republican conventions and benefit shows for RNC arrestees. What do you think about the mania of electing Barrack Obama as the president of the United States? How do you think America will change in the next few years?
Geoff: As far as the mania of electing Barrack Obama, I think it points to several deeper dilemmas in the US at the moment. One of these dilemmas is the lack of connection between many people in our society who are dissatisfied with the way things are and a community of resistance in which they could be a participant. With the discrediting of communism, the co-option of labour unions and civil rights groups, there are very few groups visibly in struggle against the status quo that people can connect with or relate to. Along with this is the saturation of our society with the propaganda that every aspect of society functions best through a hierarchy of “leaders” and “visionaries” behind which everyone else follows. Whether it is in school, at work, or in political action, the only role people have knowledge and experience with is as part of the hierarchy with leaders at the top. Even radical circles are guilty of clinging to ideas of leadership instead of engaging and challenging everyone to actively transform their own lives and communities.
Finally, I think it points to the dominance of “liberal” thought and the dominance of capitalism in the U.S., especially amongst the demographics represented in the media. The election of Obama was an important victory for them because it offers relief of the tremendous psychic burden of their cowardice in the face of the Bush regime. Capitalism and its war machine will roll on, but now liberals can feel pride instead of guilt in their participation, much like the role of the ‘green’ development movement. All of this reflects the failure of anarchists and our ideas to intervene and disrupt the dominant discourse over the last eight years. As for how America will change, there are a few things to consider. First, Obama’s major promise seems to be making the American machine of global hegemony function more efficiently and “restore America’s greatness” – in other words, expand America’s imperialist ambitions rather than curtail them. As is always the case, don’t expect the government to do anything positive for anyone besides themselves and their allies – as shown by their friendly bailouts of banks, the auto industry, and their handouts to the business community in general.
On the other hand, the rise of Obama has drawn away a lot of the people who clung to the fringes of the anarchist community over the last 10 years, and so I am optimistic that there will be more space for a radical vision to resonate with people now that the “Left” is in power. In other words, the failings of a “friendly” hierarchy can create the space to understand the oppression intrinsic in these systems. Finally, I believe that the Obama campaign made a dangerous gamble in raising peoples’ expectations of what they deserve in our society, because historically when peoples’ expectations have been raised and their hopes disappointed they become disillusioned with the system and radical changes occur. However, anarchist ideas need to be much more prevalent in peoples’ consciousness for this to be a real possibility in the US.
Are you still calling yourself Straight Edge and how could you explain in few sentences your views on alcohol, tobacco and drug use from the “CrimethInc. point of view”?
Brian: Again, we don’t speak for CrimethInc., and there is no one CrimethInc. point of view on this issue though you can find a zine called “Anarchy and Alcohol” on the subject. Personally, I still call myself straight edge, as I have for twenty years, since long before the macho trends of the 1990s (back when it was the macho trends of the 1980s, unfortunately). Our band is pretty much sober, though we don’t call ourselves a “straight edge band.” Of course, many of the old “straight edge bands” had members who drank or smoked, so maybe even though we are not a straight edge band we are more straight edge than the straight edge bands! In our anarchist community here, some people drink occasionally, but most of our gatherings are basically sober, which creates a much healthier environment for getting to know and trust each other and for getting things done. In that regard, I think sobriety can be a good thing.
What about your involvement in Undying and your participation to things like the Total Liberation Tour? Do you think the modern political Vegan Straight Edge scene in the USA with bands like 7 Generations or Cayalyst Records and their involvement with activism is really what the hardcore scene should represent?
Brian: I have been friends with Jimmy from Undying since 1994; he’s one of the most sincere and generous people I know. He’s done a lot to help us with this band, too – he always comes over and shows us how to fix our guitars, things like that. I think Seven Generations is a much better band than Earth Crisis was, much smarter in a lot of ways, so yes, maybe the political vegan straight edge scene is better now than it was in the 1990s. Many people are nostalgic about the days Earth Crisis was together, but in my opinion they were really ignorant people. Likewise, I met a lot of great people on the Total Liberation tour, but I can’t say much in favour of the organizers of it.
I can’t miss to ask you about Catharsis and Requiem. Can you give us some interesting stories and a brief history of the bands? Do you remember Catharsis shows in Bulgaria and of course to tell us how did you come with the idea to use samples from Bulgarian folk song for Catharsis track “Sabbat”? Also what about the zine Inside Front, did you start the zine at the same time as Catharsis?
Brian: There are definitely some interesting stories from the Catharsis days (like the time we played with Gehenna, and then a week later police investigators called my mother and told her I was being charged with accessory to murder!), but you’ll have to hear those from other people now. I have good memories from the shows we played in Bulgaria in 2001, talking with people in Sofia about the political climate and walking along the shore of the Black Sea in Varna. As for the sample from the Bulgarian Women’s Choir we used for the opening of “Sabbat,” it’s true that as soon as I heard that recording I could imagine the rest of the song. My friend Rennie, who sang for Starkweather, was actually the person who sent me the recording. He introduced me to a lot of good music, including the Amebix, back when no one remembered who they were. As for Inside Front, I actually started that ‘zine before Catharsis – in January 1994 – although Alexei (the drummer of Catharsis) and I had been playing in bands together since he introduced me to DIY. punk in 1989.
Is there anything interesting you have experienced with From The Depths while touring around North America recently?
Geoff: We have had a lot of amazing experiences on our tours, and I’ve felt especially privileged by the number of amazing people who took time out of their lives to host us and offer us experiences of where they live that we could not have discovered on our own, as outsiders. While we were in California I was able to see the redwood forests for the first time in my life, and it was such a powerful experience to see relatively untouched wilderness that I had never felt before. We’ve been fortunate to have guides take us to several wild places that I found very inspirational, places that helped me understand on a much deeper level why wilderness is worth fighting for. On the fighting side of things, we’ve found ourselves in impromptu protest marches through several different cities once our performance ended, some of which ended more victoriously than others! This past summer we were able to serenade riot cops by leading a chant of “Fuck the police,” and on this last tour we played benefit concerts for several close friends facing prison, raising money for their defense – it felt really useful to have a project that was able to gather those kinds of resources for people we care about who need them.
Any last words or advice to the readers you would like to impart?
Brian: Thank you so much for the interview! Anyone who wants to contact us can go to http://www.fromthedepths.info, or write us here:
From the Depths
P.O. Box 494