Spirits: Straight Edge is Not Here to Segregate
Boston Straight Edge band Spirits discuss hardcore and changing the world for the better
Last year Boston’s Spirits released Discontent, not only our favorite straight edge LP for the year, but actually our favorite sXe album for quite a long time. We’ve been dying to get you more familiar with the people behind the band and take a deeper look into their driving forces. Not to mention we had to do the regular check what does straight edge mean to them… and so we did. Even though that according to Facebook DIY Conspiracy and Spirits are dating it took us a while, but well, it was quite worth the wait, we swear!
Who are you and what was it that made you play hardcore music in the first place? I’ve already have met some of you through your previous bands, respectively Test of Time and Beartrap. How did you come up with the idea to form Spirits?
Charles: My name is Charles Chaussinand and I play guitar in Spirits. I went to my first hardcore show when I was 12 at a community center in Naples, Florida, where I did most of my growing up. It was such an interesting thing to see because I always had thought bands played on huge stages, made tons of money and did enormous tours. Walking into this show, meeting people barely older than me playing in bands and putting the show on really made it accessible to me and I realized right there “I can do this!” It was nearing my birthday and I asked my parents for a guitar. They grabbed me whatever was cheapest and it came with two lessons. At the first lesson, I was shown how to play a power chord and just ran with it from there. I started playing along to Pennywise records and learning any songs I could based on the early years of the internet and guitar tabs. It was an exciting time to be learning something new and just starting to get involved with a scene that would shape the rest of my life. Spirits was an idea I had before Test of Time. I had wanted to start it with my friend Derek that sang in Dead Hearts. It never materialized and Test of Time started. After that fell apart, the three of us from Test of Time that wanted to keep going with a band were working on a name and I had suggested “Spirits” since I had never done anything with it. Eventually, they warmed up to it and here we are. I had thought of the name only because I wanted to make a rip off shirt of the old “Shorty’s Skateboards” shirts that had a “S” printed on each sleeve.
Mike: I am Mike Assatly and I sing in Spirits. I started playing hardcore music because I listened to hardcore music, I listened to hardcore music because I was an outsider who didn’t want to live the “status quo” but I didn’t figure that out till I was much older. Spirits started right when Test of Time ended and 3 of us wanted to continue writing music together. We had known each other for years and years but hadn’t successfully been in a band together.
Kevin: Kevin Merriam here (drummer of Spirits). Like pretty much everyone I got into hardcore when I was a young kid. It was something I could be a part of when I didn’t belong anywhere else. I’ve known Mike for a long time and used to play in Beartrap, which is how I met Charles. They needed me to fill in for Spirits once and the rest is history.
What kind of a challenge it is to play in a Straight Edge band 35 years after Minor Threat’s song of the same name?
Kevin: It’s easy.
Charles: This was an interesting question to answer. After thinking a while, representing straight edge the way I live it is probably what I will say. That is, with the rise of social acknowledgement of straight edge, there are people out there using it as a flag to be aggressive, violent, or the like. I don’t see straight edge having anything to do with aggression. It is a means of personal self expression that just lets the person claiming know that they are part of something larger when it is difficult to say no to social pressures. Trying to impress views on others isn’t a motivator for me with anything I have done. Everyone in Spirits feels the same and we try and make sure that we present ourselves as that kind of a straight edge band. We are not here to segregate, only to include.
Mike: It’s not really, I haven’t faced any adversity about it. I also think that we are more “low key” straight edge, meaning we put it on some of our merch and I have a song or two about it but we don’t push it down your throat. We have all come to the conclusion on our own that straight edge isn’t for everyone, but it does happen to be for all four of us.
What lyrical subjects do you cover with the songs and what does meaningful lyrics mean to you? How to write lyrics about Straight Edge and Hardcore Punk without being cliché?
Charles: As I have only written a couple sets of lyrics for the band, I will leave this to Mike to answer.
Mike: A lot of my re-occuring themes have been “The American Dream”, poverty, veganism, and time as a concept. I feel like if you mean what you say you can say it with conviction and not sound “cliché”.
The only song in which I actually say “straight edge” in is actually about me growing up and realizing that you can’t hold a grudge because people have changed, people grow and change every fucking day, so basically I’m really lucky that I found what I was really into and stuck with it for so long.
What are you personal experiences and reasons to live a drug-free lifestyle?
Charles: Living drug-free is really the only thing that has made sense to me. I haven’t tried drinking or smoking before, so I don’t have any stories about a sudden “awakening” that came out of a drug binge or anything. When I was younger and people talked about drinking, I just never even thought about it. Having analyzed this moment in my life before from past interviews, I think that I was just too focused on other things to feel the teen boredom that usually is a precursor for drinking. Since I never drank and didn’t see a purpose to it, other substances followed suit in my mind. I just always knew it wasn’t for me.
Mike: My personal experience and reasons to live a drug free lifestyle are the lives I’ve seen torn apart due to drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and cigarettes. I lost my mother to cancer at the age of twelve. I watched other friends family struggle with addiction. More recently I had to watch a childhood best friend be buried because he overdosed on heroine. Its an idea the luckily stuck with me or else I could have been in the same boat.
Kevin: When I was seventeen I thought straight edge was a really cool thing to do and just did it for the image. Shortly after I realized it meant way more than that to me.
Can we draw a line between use and abuse, or you’d agree that in a society that have normalized addiction there’s no distinction to them?
Charles: I think that there are stigmas attached to certain addictions and less to others. As someone who doesn’t really understand the purpose of drug use, I suppose I don’t understand where this comes from either. I see addiction as addiction. Those addicted to anything need help. There are certainly recreational users of different substances, and if they live their lives in moderation and feel good about it, great for them. I am not here to judge anyone.
Mike: I personally can draw the line. I have friends who use and just have fun, and I have friends who I know will die young because of their choices. but I also understand where you’re coming from with addiction being normalized in mainstream society, overindulgence is everywhere.
Kevin: There’s definitely a line. People can drink and smoke or whatever and if they aren’t dependent on it and it doesn’t affect me negatively I could care less. But if you go and get fucked up and hurt/abuse people or yourself then you’ve crossed the line and you’re an asshole.
It seems there’s some kind of 80’s hardcore punk sound revival in Boston and Massachusetts right now. Bands like Boston Strangler and so on. Tell me more about the current state of affairs in one of the historically most prolific places for hardcore punk music.
Charles: I am not sure I am too on the pulse of that style of hardcore. I like the 80’s bands, but don’t really find myself drawn to bands doing that now. I think that Washington DC is more a city that redoes old sounds in a way that I really identify with. I am more a fan of youth crew bands.
Mike: I have a love/hate relationship with Boston. You are correct, 80’s hc punk and “burning spirits” Japanese style hardcore/d-beat are what’s popular in Boston right now. In Boston, you could have 5 shows within 5 miles of each other on the same night and no one would ever combine shows, so 5 small shows instead of a bigger show. There is no cross over, its real cliquey.
Kevin: There are always new bands popping up. Some are good and some definitely suck. You get overlooked if you’re not a cool guy.
How did you come up with the idea to release a split 7″ with Tomar Control from Peru? Are you more interested in the broader international DIY hardcore punk scene than touring and releasing together with a popular band from the States or mainland Europe?
Charles: This was proposed to us by Rich at Speedowax Records. I had just heard of Tomar Control a few days before and then Rich hit us up about doing a split and if we would want to do it with them, and I was really excited about it. They are a very cool band making waves in their scene and I love that they are getting recognition on a broader scale for it. I am always interested in what is going on around the world and feel honored that they wanted to do a record with us. I think everyone in this band wants to tour the most distant places we can. I love playing anywhere, but when I can play a show for people that don’t normally get shows, that is really something special and it makes a connection for everyone in the room that can’t be ignored. That is the feeling that got me into hardcore and I love being a part of spreading that to others.
Kevin: I honestly have no idea. We’re doing like four different splits right now.
Mike: We had 3 songs for a split with a different band that was canceled because of the other band, and Speedowax reached out to Tomar Control and they said yes, so it was Speedowax’ idea. We are very interested in reaching a broader scene, but at the same time we have a split with die faster from Virgina beach coming out and a split with a band from mainland Europe coming out as well so we are actually doing all 3 things!
Do you think that the hardcore punk thing, the vegan straight edge and the DIY ethos in their broader sense can constitute a real alternative to the outside world on both a material and spiritual level?
Kevin: Yeah, sure!
Charles: I definitely think that it can offer a positive alternative to other things that are out there. All of my best friends have come out of the hardcore scene. I wouldn’t have made some of the choices in my life that turned out to be the most positive ones had I not been welcomed and included into the hardcore scene. Life, especially when you’re young, can be isolating. It is difficult to grow up and not understand yourself, the changes in the world, etc. It is empowering and motivating to have a group around you that is combating the same types of things. This is a perfect time to make the comment that a lot of people come into the hardcore and punk scene because they are needing a connection. Be that for them. Open yourself up to someone that might need your help. The friendship you offer can literally change their lives. Be an ear, offer a hand, and stay positive.
Mike: It could if we could convince the masses to think the way we do, but good luck with that. Its all about convenience nowadays. At the same time I am literally in the process of selling all my belongings and moving into a trailer in the mountains to help maintain an Animal Sanctuary, so people out there do exist that believe these things and have them to help escape the mainstream way of living.
Do you think that playing and touring with a DIY hardcore punk band can give you a quality of life? Of course, by quality of life I don’t mean having loads of money neither striving for the constitutionally guaranteed pursuit of happiness, but finding yourself surrounded by people who are nice to each other and make use of their creative force to do everything themselves?
Kevin: I think it can but it doesn’t always. There are a lot of shitty people out there regardless if you relate on certain parts of your life.
Charles: Most definitely! This is what completely shaped and has given me the perspective on my life. Driving a van through mountains at 5am, watching the sun come up while everyone sleeps and just getting to be inside my own head and consider the choices I have made or think about what really makes me happy. It is an enormous part of my life. This is not exclusive to touring, but more-so travel. Anyone reading this, if you take nothing else from what I am saying, please travel. Take time to get out of your comfort zone and see something new. This is what touring really allowed me to do. I have never thought back on any time or money I have spent touring or traveling and thought “What a waste!” Find things you love and pursue them. Traveling helps with that.
Mike: Ive been touring for the better part of 10 years, its all I’ve really known and its the only thing that kept me going for many years of my life. It greatly increased my quality of life, I know people that have never left my home state, I’ve seen over 30 countries. It is the greatest gift i was ever given.It has its downsides too.financial stability, relationships get ruined, but every decision helps you grow and change and this one was definitely right for me for a very long time.
What kind of things do you think are useful on a daily basis to make our lives better, both for ourselves as individuals and as part of communities?
Charles: Beyond anything, kindness. That is a broad stroke that encompasses a lot of things, but if you just think “How would I like to be treated by this other person?” and then go about treating them that way changes everything. A gentle word and a smile can ripple out to help a lot of people over the course of the day. About ten years ago, I started trying to help anyone that needed me if it was within reason. This was just helping people move, working on a project with them, etc. This kind of stuff not only helps others, but in turn, makes the person doing it feel good and perpetuates your desire to help. I work this into my dietary choice by going vegan, or just small things like passing someone on the street and offering a smile. Try it out.
Kevin: Don’t smoke cigarettes, that shit is gross for everyone. Recycle. Eat your veggies, kids.
Mike: I would honestly suggest adopting a dog to anyone that can afford it. It literally changed my life. I always look forward to coming home because I know my pup will be so excited to see me, she really changed my life for the better. I think that staying busy, but not too busy is probably the best advice I can give. Find something you love to do to fill your time. Stop staring at screens. But don’t let occupations and responsibility stress you out, stress is a killer too.
What kind of influences do you have beyond music? Are there any interesting things that you can share about your personal lives or ideas?
Charles: Traveling is an enormous interest of mine, as I mentioned. I love getting to visit places I haven’t seen and having no plan when I get there other than learning what is going on. I like to think of myself as a pretty creative person, so I enjoy working on graphic design projects (I do a lot of the band’s art), or trying to put together new songs. I love all kinds of weird movies and weird shows. I have an old cat named Ripley that I adopted a few years ago and just hanging out with that cat, watching a movie is pretty much all I need right now.
Mike: I ride BMX bicycles. It shaped my life just as much if not more than music. It’s actually where I got most of my musical taste from. There used to be a huge cross over between the two. You’d watch a video and The Get Up Kids would be over one part, and Earth Crisis would be over another, it was awesome. It has changed a lot over the years though, mostly hip-hop now. FBM bike company and Terrible one bike company really made me think about the whole support small business aspect of life and taught me to not let corporations take what I love away from me, so I’d like to thank them for that.
Kevin: I love to cook and anyone that creates interesting food I’ve never tasted before is a big influence.
Anything you would like to add?
Charles: If anyone has read this interview and found something they want to discuss further with any of us, you have questions, you want to understand us better, or maybe just want to say “hi”, please do so. Please reach out and contact us. We love to hear from anyone and if this isn’t a community of accessible people, then what is the point? Consider the impact of your choices, consider the impact of what you eat (think about veganism), and consider your own happiness as well. Find what motivates you and listen to Sick of it All. Thank you so much for your time.
Mike: We have 3 records coming out and will be in Europe late July through mid August 2016, so check back and see when stuff gets announced. Thank you for reading this and don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life.
Kevin: Go Bruins!