Ghostlimb: In This World of Music Where Everything is Disposable, DIY Punk Still Matters
Ghostlimb's Justin Smith talks about the band's new record and underlying ideas within the DIY hardcore punk scene, history and politics.
Ghostlimb are a raging hardcore punk trio from Southern California formed around 2005 as a two-piece guitar and drum outfit. Fueled by a love for all things melodic and ridiculously enraged, the band continues to push the envelope even further and have just released their latest LP in the beginning of 2019.
Vocalist / guitarist Justin Smith maintains a DIY career as a member of Ghostlimb, Graf Orlock, and owner of the seminal hardcore punk label Vitriol Records, while also being a university professor in history.
So, where did it all begin for Ghostlimb? What inspired you to start this particular band and what were your initial inspirations?
Initially, the impetus for starting the band was that I had started my other project Graf Orlock about a year or two prior. That band was directly opposed to melodicism and focused on discussing ideas through the lens of film (Graf Orlock’s style was called “cinemagrind”.)
I needed something else to embrace the melodic. Through Ghostlimb we had a platform to discuss more immediate or topical ideas, like history or politics. It kind of envelopes all of my outside music interests within it, and it is my project through the years to hit on more personal issues.
You’ve just released your new full-length “The Only Measure is Labor Done Not Days”. What is it all about? Do all your releases follow a certain thread about history and politics throughout the record? Can you elaborate on the lyrics on this one?
Usually, the records have a title theme that somehow holds the album together. This time around it was more free and open when we were writing it, which in the end, to me, makes it more interesting in terms of style.
The title is in response to a couple of things 1) I was considering having it based on ideas of time and travel (not time travel) that I like 2) I thought that having been a band for such a long time, a whole lot of things have changed in the course of 12 years or more. Really, it doesn’t matter the bullshit people fluff up about a band or PR, but what you have done and what you are about.
In this world of music where everything is generally disposable and hard to get through all the white noise, I think these things matter. Of course, this connects to feelings of what we do outside of it as well. Thematically though, the record goes a lot of places in terms of what the songs are about.
You teach history at a university in LA. In what ways does being a history professor intersect with your wider political views?
If you are going to get into a profession which isn’t entirely profitable, it better be something you are really into. I think, as a whole, education gets shit on in the United States as a profession, but it’s something we value as a society. I believe in strong union organizing, I believe in social aid and communication. I feel that it is quite a bit of a leap to be a person that holds conservative views and to be a social historian. Hence, I am far to the left and I have been led there by my understanding of history and empirical evidence I have experienced myself.
There is no separation between politics and what you have understood about the world. This doesn’t mean you shove politics down peoples’ throats, but it does inform the accessibility and inclusiveness, they go hand in hand and it would be disingenuous to push another direction.
According to the historian Collin Sparks, the first thing to do in fighting fascism is to refute the right-wing slogans and propaganda. Thus, the people alienated by the system can shift their anger from reactionary politics into mass mobilization, from trade unions to free associations in various spheres. But also, there is no historical example in which anyone had defeated fascism without militantly organizing on the streets, against fascists and forces of repression. How do you see the contemporary antifascist movement and the resistance against Trump in the US?
I think there is quite a bit of self-delusion now, particularly with white middle class votes who don’t seem to think these things are issues. Yes, the systemic issues in governance will always be a problem, but the whole Trump phenomenon has ripped the lid off of things and uncovered, out in the open, racist or insane things people would not have said before, nor been in mainstream discussion.
We have moved so far out from evidence based understanding that somehow the whole political system is “post-fact”, which means nothing and serves whoever is using it. I think there still needs to be organization on the street, there still needs to be a push back and there still needs to be a recognition that those who allow and are complicit also bear the burden of guilt for what happens.
Antifa has become a boogie man in the US and now is widely misunderstood and scapegoated, but as a whole it is necessary. There are some places where this is easier to understand than others and it is becoming way more apparent now that this is not a short term problem.
Do you agree that fighting police is also among the most important struggles today, since its vastly perceived as an institutionalized force whose job is certainly not protecting our societies, but oppressing communities and individuals?
Haha, I agree with you but this is definitely driving the conversation a certain direction. Yes, anyone who has any logical idea about how these things work, the perpetration of systemic racism and violence, etc. know that these are the footsoldiers, the burly minions of justice as my dad would call them.
After 2014 in the US, with the killing in Ferguson and the police shooters of a mess of people, the line has been drawn even further. There is no excuse for those who would willingly oppress their communities around them. Even if I am being an asshole in that way, there is no way to avoid being drawn in and changed. There is no “change that system from the inside” and those who blindly support the footsoldiers of the wider system, again, like the previous question above, are not recognizing that those people on the ground who might be just like you and me in other ways, are upholding and becoming that beast others recognize as a roadblock to progression.
Reminds me of The Clash line “He who fucks nuns will later join the church”. You’re trapped.
What kind of meaning do you think it’s necessary to put into the words Do-It-Yourself to make it a real alternative scene? How do you apply the DIY approach being the main person behind Graf Orlock, Ghostlimb, and Vitriol Records?
The origin of a lot of this stuff is the fact that a lot of bands and people are blocked out of taking part in popular or trendy hyped things because they are not bands like that. Our bands were never bands like that, so we’ve had to figure out how to do it ourselves and along the way found out what our own terms were. What you will and will not compromise on and what the extent you feel comfortable or feel uncomfortable in.
DIY is about communication and about commitment. If you have an idea, you have to believe in it enough to push it yourself. If you don’t, how can you expect others to? I always liked the idea “Write what you want to read, play what you want to hear”.
If the thing doesn’t exist at the moment but you want it, than create it. If no one is presented with that opportunity to go do something for your band, figure out a way to do it and then share that with your friends so they can do it to. The medium is the message of self-reliance and mutual aid in that regard. It is harder and easier in a lot of ways these days, but I still believe in it.
What makes hardcore punk music still exciting to you? What does it make a band interesting enough to listen, go to a show, or release through your label, in your opinion?
Most the things that I put out are my bands or friends bands and people we have done things with for a long time. Coming up now on 55 releases in almost 10 years, the spread gets wider but I think there is a web holding together our particular community that I wanted to document. I don’t mean geographically but between the people I know and all the stuff they were doing, things that would have just been erased or sat on a hard drive somewhere and never have been heard.
That’s important to me, even if this was all gone at some point we still would have done it and that information, what we were feeling then and the work we put into it will still exist. This is what keeps and kept me going with the project.
Thank you very much. Anything you’d like to add?
Thanks dude for the questions. Ghostlimb’s new LP “The Only Measure is Labor Done Not Days” is available through Vitriol Records since February 2019. Go check it out!