Like Hand Grenades of Love: An Interview with By The Grace of God
Rob Pennington on By The Grace of God's reunion
Right now Trial – one of our most favorite bands in the universe – is touring Europe with By the Grace of God, a US hardcore gem that has existed in quite a peculiar way. They’ve called it a day few times, but still managed to put out several very important, moreover very good records over the years.
We had the chance to chat a bit with Rob Pennington, the band’s singer, who besides having a fetish for being in bands with the word black in their names – Black Cross, Black God, Black Widows – also sings in another US legend namely Endpoint. Here’s what he has to say. We consider it all a good reason to catch the By the Grace of God & Trial Euro Tour while you still can.
By The Grace of God is a band with an interesting life. You started in the mid 90s and called it quits several times, the last one being around 2001. It seems that you’ve always been able to find something off putting in the hardcore scene, but in the same time there has always been something bringing you back. What’s the reason to be back in 2015?
The heart of By The Grace of God is the relationship between its members. Occasionally, life events have pulled us apart (e.g., living in different cities, marriage, PhD programs), but we’ve never stopped enjoying playing together. In 2015 we are all in a place to commit some time to By The Grace of God. Several of us are still engaged in other hardcore projects and we still believe it’s important to celebrate the scene while being a voice of critical dialogue.
According to what I see, there are many people excited about seeing By The Grace of God in Europe for the first time. How did all this happen, with Trial and the tour in general?
Duncan and I felt really good about the 2012 tour and he put it out there to the rest of the guys. Duncan put it out to Trial and they were down for the adventure.
Hardcore and punk have always been predominantly youth movements, although there are so many older bands right now, reunions, etc. Some of them, like Catharsis or Trial, are still using hardcore as a vehicle to express certain ideas, values and issues they find important. How does it feel to be a part of the older generation, do you find the younger looking up to you already?
The older I become the more I realize that many issues are bound by the same simplistic ways of thinking. Its comforting to be able to dig deeper beyond the us versus them frame of awareness. As older dudes, I think we just feel lucky to still have the fire to play and are less constrained by expectations of others. I think we just want to touch as many people as we can, like hand grenades of love.
Are you still straight edge and if yes / no why?
Most of the guys are but I am not. Straight Еdge is one of the most important parts of my life as it helped shape me into the person that I am. I gave up the edge because I decided to face the world with less rules and become more responsive to context.
What kind of things do you think are useful or necessary in our attempt to build safer spaces for people of all ages, genders, etc.? Do you perceive sobriety as one of the most important values?
I believe sobriety to be important across any context but is often difficult to obtain. We are all under the influence of something that may discolor our view of the world and therefore, it is my belief that we surround ourselves with close and honest friends that can serve as a feedback loop.
By The Grace of God has always been very outspoken about the things in the world you despise. What’s the biggest world issue nowadays?
Too discuss the biggest, you must go broad, so I guess its our unwillingness to share resources at the local level. You can see this played out in the theater that is the division between the poor and the wealthiest in the world.
Do you agree that fighting police is 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?
Well kind of…. I agree the police as an institution must be changed. The path is much more complex than just direct conflict with actual officers. I think it involves changing the role of officers within communities and setting higher standards for their education and ethical performance.
What kind of meaning do you think it’s necessary to put into the words Do It Yourself (DIY) to make it a real alternative and radical scene?
Follow your own road, no matter how difficult it seems. Sometimes being punk means not being punk.
You are about to play in Europe and not only you will meet hundreds of people but you will also have the change to compare and experience different local scenes. What does interest you, what issues or matters do you want to learn more about from the local people, promoters and those involved in some social projects?
I am very interested in the services provided for persons with autism spectrum disorders or intellectual disabilities. I have worked with this population for 27 years.
What’s the bigger plan? Do you think you’ll end up staying active for longer or that tour is the check if the scene has evolved in a place worth staying?
I am not sure what our future holds. We all still have other music projects but love playing together whenever we can.
By the Grace of God have two albums, an EP & a few 7 inches, what are you playing in Europe this summer?
Our favorites from all three, you might even hear a few Endpoint songs.
And have you written any new material that you’ll be presenting?
We have written two new songs but won’t play them this tour. Our friend Kent had to fill in for Thommy on this tour and he was not able to learn our entire repertoire.
Do you think there are certain topics, ideas and events that you think are important to be shared on stage, maybe something you wouldn’t think about when you started the band?
I am really interested in the discussion of sexual abuse as it happens to about 25% of women in the US. I also think that reaching out to individuals struggling within mental health issues is important.
Back in the day you’ve worked with a number of labels, among which Victory Records, which have been criticized for promoting the macho hardcore and in general monetizing a scene that’s been creating to live outside the system. Nowadays with internet I guess you can be DIY to the bone and the financial support of listeners is almost directly coming to you. How are you going to cope with labels and distribution matters?
I am currently in a band called Black God on No Idea records. We take a different approach, we record with friends and No Idea just serves as the platform for sharing. Personally, I enjoy the live experience the most and I’m less concerned about the music we sell.
Are you reissuing some of your classic records? Maybe putting your back catalog online?
Not for this tour particularly, but a couple of years ago Cobra Records re-released our Three Steps to a Better Democracy record.
See you in Europe very soon! We are so fucking exciting to play in Eastern Europe!