Released in February, Power Alone’s debut LP Rather Be Alone is definitely among my top hardcore records of this weird year.
This new metallic hardcore outfit features three members of vegan straight edge powerhouse Gather. Both in their uncompromising lyrics and mid 90s inspired metallic hardcore sound, the band is the perfect continuation of Gather’s legacy as one of the best politicized straight edge bands to come out of the Californian scene.
The following interview was conducted by email in March this year, shortly after the official release of Rather Be Alone, and continued all throughout the month of April when I was spending all my time at home, working from couch during the lockdown. The sole reason to publish it just now is that constantly adding new and new questions to the interview, most of them remained unanswered. So here it is, my unfinished interview with Dustin of Power Alone. Hope it still makes sense.
Power Alone is a new band consisting of three members of our favorite Gather. Since then you have been involved in a handful of other projects. How come you start a new straight edge band now?
Gather and Power Alone were started in late 2003 and late 2018 respectively, with surprisingly similar social situations: Republican presidents and Hardcore scenes growing in popularity. In 2003, we felt that the hardcore scene might be thirsty for mid-tempo music and a political message (like the ’90s), so we created some. A ‘lifetime’ later, in 2018, heavy, moshy hardcore was popular again! I never thought I’d hear new music as good as Vein or Knocked Loose or Inclination, and I was super motivated to contribute to that momentum by writing music with Allan, Sean, Joven, and Eva. For us, there was never a question about whether this would be a straight edge band. Straight edge bands and records are so important to the few who decide to stay true. We want to keep the torch burning!
So what does this union between straight edge and political music mean to you today? Any similarities or differences between today’s Vegan Straight Edge bandwagon and the past? I mean, you’ve been in and around the scene for all this time, but—more than what it sounds like—have also been looking at what it actually means in terms of empowering communities and bringing something important to the table?
It has always seemed to me that when a young person makes an empowered personal vow to become straight edge, they say to themselves, “I’ve seen the future that has been laid out for me and I don’t like it. I vow to create a different future for myself. I am not like my family. I am not like the people in advertisements. I am never going to do what they tell me.” Personally, it was a great relief to take some control over my own life. I was not powerless. I decided to not end up addicted in the same ways that my parents had.
There seems to be a natural progression between this form of young, personal empowerment and a confidence that the same effort can have an effect on this world’s problems. This, to me, is the birth of political music for young people. The connection between straight edge and political music is the similarity in feelings between the change we make in ourselves and the change we think we can make in the world.
I imagine this feeling of growth and self control has been the same for vegan straight edge zine people in 1995 and XVX Instagram people in 2020. 25 years ago, part of the Gen X zeitgeist was that our fabricated identities and what we bought or boycotted would constitute a threat to “the system.” Nowadays, it is pretty clear that our chosen lifestyles only result in new, niche markets that, in effect, strengthen and ‘civilize’ capitalism. Nevertheless, to me, the cliques that we form around shared values end up being our greatest possible form of rebellion by staving off alienation inside this shit system.
Do you think that we can draw a line between use and abuse, or, in a society that has normalized addiction, there’s no real distinction to them? It’s easy for vegans to realize that any kind of animal exploitation is an abusive relationship with sentient beings, but it’s usually not the same thing when it comes to human’s personal intoxicant use. Is there anything in particular about your own understanding of straight edge in a broader social context that has changed for you over the past few years?
It’s common sense that there is a difference between use and abuse, and what I think sets them apart is how much someone’s drinking or doing drugs constitutes their social identity. I’d feel sad and alienated if I stopped playing hardcore and going to shows, but some people feel that way about drinking and bar culture. Some people may see no difference, but of course, me being straight edge, I do. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting people in the past few years who live balanced, responsible lives, who also happen to drink or do drugs for fun. It isn’t a part of their day to day social identity, so it doesn’t define who they are or what they do. If anything, I probably look like an addict to them since I love straight edge and hardcore so much.
Do you think that playing and touring in a DIY hardcore punk band can give you some quality of life rather than being a constant sacrifice of your personal and family life?
The only way to stay sane in a hardcore band is to think of it as a hobby. Some people spend their time and money on hobbies like snowboarding. We spend our time and money on touring. Finding a balance for all of our relationships and responsibilities is tough, but the pay-offs are all of the things people associate most with hardcore: meeting new people, seeing new cities, hearing new bands, seeing new fashion, and, most importantly, hearing China cymbal breakdowns.
Hardcore, punk, and metal are still really white, cis-male and middle-class dominated, however, there seems to be much more diversity now. What do you think we should do to make it easier for everyone to be heard in a scene that’s supposed to be about that?
To me, the most important thing is to realize that punk and hardcore is a balance between the music and the community. So, if a new band comes out with folks from underrepresented walks of life, support them no matter what their music sounds like. It is important to realize that what sets punk apart from other types of music is that the people playing the music are usually learning their instruments and have had no lessons. If they are supported, time will go on and each musician will get better. Then their next band may be the coolest fucking shit ever. And don’t you want to be able to say, “I was cool with them during their first band”?
The current Covid-19 situation is taking its serious toll on the economy and political decisions all over the world, people’s lives—especially the most vulnerable of us—and the hardcore scene too. What are some things that we as individuals can do to make it through not only for ourselves but also for those we care about? What does solidarity mean in a situation like the current one? What hope do you have for the future?
Solidarity is an old word in need of a new realization. COVID-19 has created a world where once-impossible demands are now being tried. Better workplace conditions, working less, breaks in rent, and an exposure of what jobs and infrastructure are truly essential. When we collectively come out the end of the tunnel on the other side of this pandemic, I’d hope that we could maintain solidarity in supporting the workers and medical institutions that got us through this all. The best thing we can do, as individuals, is to try and understand the science behind pandemics so that we can be motivated to stay home and save lives.
With Biden running for president, and probably a second Trump mandate, do you have any hope for a world not so horrendous as it may seem?
I have no hope for a better world. Trump will be reelected, but no matter who becomes president, human populations will continue to grow, our avarice for stimulation will overpower our yearning for community, and wild nature will burn.
In the past 25 years almost every problem that drove people to become Hardline in the 90s has doubled in severity, exposing the feebleness of our strategies. Merely increasing our awareness, our concern, and living eco-urban lifestyles has done nothing but afford industry further years to squander life in pursuit of profits. The most vulnerable populations will suffer the most: wild nature, wild animals, colonized people and territories, and domesticated animals and plants; these groups will perish before our eyes, reported to us in news articles read on our phones. And then we’ll be next, subjected to rises in fascism and xenophobia in the process. Fuck the world!