The Truth is a hardcore punk band with members scattered between the countries of Serbia and Croatia. Uncompromising in their attitude, the band has always been 100% dedicated to spreading the message of DIY ethics, progressive politics, sober lifestyle, and touring as much as your bones permit. This interview was done after their Balkan tour with Addenda in 2019. It’s already getting old so it’s time to be published somewhere.
I have my The Truth totebag with me every day on my way to work. It’s a precious memory from your gig in Ankara. As I assume, the print on it reflects your motto the best: Drive – Play – Sleep – Repeat. Am I right?
Gajo: Hey A., and everyone else reading this! I’m Gajo, The Truth’s drummer and the guy who sometimes screams something from the back. Yes, “Drive – Play – Sleep – Repeat” is our motto, you got that right!
We love to tour—which sometimes is not all just fun and joy—but there’s something deeper, a dedication in all of us to tour and play a pissed-off kind of hardcore punk in front of 50 people. To play in distant town or a country, far away from our precious homes.
Sometimes we drive around 900 – 1,000 kilometers, but, as I’ve already said, we are truly dedicated to our cause of touring and playing live wherever we can. So I really think this motto suits us well. And the show in Ankara was truly great!
You come from three different cities—Kraljevo, Belgrade, and Zagreb—and from two different countries—Serbia and Croatia. How on earth do you manage to rehearse together?
Gajo: This is a question that literally everyone is asking us, haha!
Well, for me, personally, it’s not that big of a deal since I used to play in a band from Macedonia (FxPxOx), and in a few other projects with friends from Slovenia. It’s not so much of the rehearsals to be our main concern, it’s rather how to make new songs when we play these at home. Usually, we have a really tight schedule when we finally meet, so we only have a limited time to practice our set. The distance makes the whole process much slower when it comes to play new songs together.
As for the rehearsals, it depends on the circumstances. Sometimes we do it in Zagreb, sometimes in Belgrade, and other times in Kraljevo. It all depends on where we have play our next show, or from where our next tour begins. So, there’s no some secret cabal behind our practice.
You’re all involved in other bands, you book shows, run distros, and publish zines. I praise your dedication to the DIY punk community. But what does DIY really mean to you? How did you get into punk rock? What were the first bands or artists that made you want to pick up a guitar, mic or drum sticks? Why did you form The Truth?
Gajo: I will begin with this part how did I get into punk-rock and what influences I had that made me try to make my noise. My transition from a heavy metal kid to a hardcore punk kid began around 1991/1992, which is also the period when I first started playing music.
My first musical projects—I wouldn’t call them bands—all started in my bedroom, and I was only 13 years old when I first felt the urge to play and record my “music”. I did it with the help of my friends and a few of my cousins. We had these silly names for our room “bands”, like Stinking Socks, Ručna Bomba (Hand Granade) or Kaos! (with a circled A, this was actually a pretty good hardcore punk project, I still have the room demo on a tape somewhere!)
I guess, the first hardcore punk bands I’ve heard at the time inspired me to try and play my own music, and those were definitely Dead Kennedys and The Misfits. Also some Croatian hc/punk/grind bands like Anti Otpad, Analna Psoriaza, Buka, Patareni, etc. It wasn’t long until I discovered even faster hardcore punk bands, like early DRI, Ripcord, and Jerry’s Kids, which also had an influence on me wanting to play fast as hell. Their music taught me how to make fast but still catchy riffs, which I still practice to this day.
Later on, of course, I’ve discovered even more bands, zines and stuff related to the DIY hardcore punk community, so my horizons of this music broadened up even more. However, my love for fast and pissed-off hardcore punk has never faded away. Black Flag and Tear It Up were a huge influence on me regarding touring and not giving a fuck what anyone else will say. Just get in the van and play wherever there’s any DIY hardcore punk thing going on!
As for the meaning of DIY, I’m not gonna pretend and try to present you The Truth as some of those DIY life-coaches, no one from the band makes their own instruments, their wooden tools or whatever like that. But we do—or at least used to—make zines, book shows, play in bands, run record labels, and so on. So DIY in our case is mostly connected with our own hardcore punk activities. For me, personally, I live in the capital city of Croatia, I pay the rent and bills, and I buy all my food so I’m a consumer just like everbody else. But I still don’t wanna be consumed by consumerism, so I pretty much only buy stuff when I really need to. I rarely buy clothes, I usually get them from alternative sources, like take it or leave it free shops in squats/social centers, or I find the clothes on the streets, or someone just give me their old stuff.
If I was never introduced to DIY hardcore punk ideals, I’m not sure if I would have this anti-consumerist point of view at all, and I see this as a direct link to the DIY philosophy. I’m not sure If I’m the right person to say why The Truth formed in first place since I came into the band later. Although, joining the band was pretty natural for me. The guys from The Truth were some of my best friends for a long time.
Vojkan: I’ve got into the DIY punk scene in the late ‘90s after I discovered some local DIY punk bands. Back in the days, Kraljevo (the town where three of us come from) had a really interesting and very influential punk scene—with bands such as: Hoću? Neću!, Totalni promašaj, Sedativ, Smudos, etc. Also fanzines like Kontrapunkt, Podzemlje dosade, Akupunktura, etc. There was also a distribution called Kontrapunkt, so I could easily find new issues of local and regional fanzines and cassette tapes of different bands. So that’s basically how it all started and the rest is history.
In early 2000s, we formed our first band(s), we started our fanzines and distros, organized some shows and did all other DIY stuff. The Truth was just a side project—we wanted to start a typical straight edge band—with songs about not drinking/taking drugs, backstabbing “friends”, real friendship, and all the other SXE/HC clichés. Even the name was that lame, it was The Truth of XXX (because all three of us—me, Felix and Nikola—were straight edge). But later on, The Truth became our only band and we decided to make something more serious out of it.
I know you emphasize a lot on the lyrics and spreading a certain message throughout your music, but what’s the deal with the name? Do you think that The Truth reveals any real ‘Truth’?
Gajo: Well, I see the band’s name more as “our truth”, whatever there is that the band represents in our lyrics, music, or personal opinions about the DIY hardcore punk scene and life in general. But as I’ve already mentioned, I wasn’t in the band from the beginning so I will let someone else explain more about the band’s name itself.
Vojkan: Like I already said, The Truth started off as a side project and later on became a serious band (I guess we are serious.) Still, the name is kind of funny because there are so many truths out there and no real Truth. Maybe someone can be fooled with the name and think of us as some really tough and stubborn hardcore band. But we are just trying to spread our message and make people think outside the box. The lyrics are important to us—we don’t sing about our favorite foods or how we missed the train while we were coming home from a weekend party. We believe that punk is a music for social changes, therefore we sing about antinationalism, antisexism—especially within our own DIY punk community—and all other important social issues.
We’re not here to entertain, we are here to point a finger!
The Truth represents the straight edge attitude. It’s somehow odd since drinking is an inseparable part of Balkan culture. You are also taking part in a historical documentary about the straight edge scene in Ex-Yugo countries, which I really look forward to watch! What’s the meaning you put into being a straight edge and also live in the Ex-Yugo region? Could you also give us a brief info about the movie?
Gajo: Yes, everyone in The Truth is straight edge and all of us are edge for a long time, so the straight edge philosophy is a big and natural part of our lives. You’re right that drinking is a inseparable part of the Balkan culture, so I would say that being straight edge in the Balkans today means you have a pretty stubborn personality. For me, being straight edge is both a personal and a political choice, and that means having a critical point of view from a straight edge perspective towards society in general. Critical of my surroundings, which includes being out of step and refusing to be part of the general status quo.
I will add that being straight edge in ex-Yugoslavia is also something very specific in the context of ex-YU hardcore punk, at least I can speak for Croatia where to this day, straight edge hasn’t been totally accepted, or even understood from the majority of people into hardcore punk, which only shows how even punx in ex-YU are under the huge influence of tradition when it comes to drinking. Drinking is totally normalized and socially acceptable within the scene.
Although, lots of people in ex-YU (including hardcore punx) will assure you how they are drinking just to have some fun or because of socializing with other people. This kind of friendly and social drinking is oftentimes only an excuse for many people to get away from their problems, just to act like assholes and refuse to come face to face with their inner-self. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to sound as a preachy, righteous straight edge asshole, and I don’t think that straight edge is for everyone, but at least I’m not a hypocrite here. I don’t pretend to be something that I’m not.
It’s pretty simple, I don’t mind if someone is drinking alcohol but if drinking or doing drugs is ruining your life, and other people’s lives around you, than I have a problem with it. Also, it’s too easy to be a selfish asshole who doesn’t take accountability for your own actions, blaming alcohol or drugs for your selfish behavior. Once again, I don’t think I’m better than anyone else just because I’m edge, I also do mistakes; we all do, we are all human. But, I see the only valuable choice is taking responsibility for my own bullshit, and I don’t need to hide behind some substances just because I fucked up something. I could go on about this topic but I think I’ve already said pretty much all the basic stuff about my point of view of being a straight edge in ex-YU.
As for the xYugox movie, the author of this project is Pavle (also known as Vjetroslav Prdinski) who’s also a drummer in Rules and Left To Starve.
This movie is a big project because Pavle is doing lots of interviews with active straight edge people from ex-YU, and also with lots of people who are not active in the hardcore punk scene anymore but they used to be important figures in the past.
Also, The Truth will be the main band covered in the movie because we are the only straight edge hardcore punk band in ex-YU at the moment. So Pavle is shooting a lot stuff concerning The Truth—like shows, tours and interviews with all the band members. That’s pretty much what I can say so far about the movie because it’s still in the works. You can see some scenes from the movie on their Instagram account: @xyugox_
After coming back from your recent Balkan tour, you’re already packing up for a new tour with your brothers in arms Rules. You’ve already toured with them so many times before and even share two members of The Truth with Zagreb’s very finest punk’n’roll unit. What’s the best thing to come to mind when you think of the previous tours, and respectively the worst? I’ve always liked listening to tour stories.
Gajo: Yes, we toured three times with Rules throughout Europe so far (I’m answering this after the tour you mentioned is already over). Dominik and I are the guilty ones for playing also in Rules, although my role there is playing a bass guitar (I’m a drummer in The Truth).
A few years ago, Dominik and I played in a fast hardcore punk called Ugly Fucks, so The Truth & Ugly Fucks also played and toured a lot together at that time. Rules also played a lot shows and went on a few tours together with Left To Starve, which is another band where Dominik plays guitar.
There are so many good memories when it comes to DIY tours that I don’t even know where to start. I just love getting into the whole tour vibe which is kind of another world when you’re touring for some time, and then you experience a lot of wild things during these tours. I love being a part of the smelly van crew and telling silly jokes, I love seeing old friends on tours and meeting interesting new people. I love seeing cool new places and learning about DIY hardcore punk communities in different towns and countries.
I love the playing, this is one of the most important and cathartic things why I’m going on tours, just playing raw and pissed-off hardcore punk in front of all these new faces every night. This is just a great thing for me. The worst things about touring are getting fucked on borders, van troubles (which we hadn’t experienced so many times, but even few times we did are more than enough), long and exhausting drives and the worst of all, is a cancelled show. Cancelled shows can be such a bummer and there’s nothing worse than having two days off in a row, I fucking hate that!
Everything else is no such a big deal, especially for us when we are a well oiled up machine when it comes to touring, we know what’s up and we don’t complain much. At least we try not to. If we didn’t have ordinary jobs and other obligations, we would tour even more, that’s for sure.
Although Yugoslavia wasn’t a member of the Eastern Bloc, after Tito-Stalin split in 1948. With this huge historical No to the Soviets, we may say, the process of Yugoslavian Westernization has been started. As Aeleksandar Zikic has theorized (October 1958 at NATO’s journal, Revue militaire generale), jazz, rock and other modern dance music genres could be employed in the war against Communism. The idea was that the more time a young person spends listening to Little Richard, the less they would want to read Marx and Lenin. I guess the acceptance of Western trends proved it to be true. With the help of American embassy in Belgrade, jazz stars like Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald have made it to Yugoslavia. Numerous concerts of rock groups have followed. A Museum of Contemporary Arts was founded in Belgrade. Jukebox, the very fist rock’n’roll magazine in Yugoslavia has emerged. Where does punk stand in this picture? It became visible in Slovenia and Croatia, I guess. Did these bunch of misfits and outlaws shook the comrades in Komunistička partija Jugoslavije?
Vojkan: More or less you are right about the Westernization of Yugoslavia and yes, indeed, it was quite different compared to other countries of the Eastern bloc. Rock’n’roll was finally accepted, although in the beginning it was attacked by the ruling party. However, somehow the party has managed to turn it into a tool to control the Yugoslavian youth.
Rock bands released their records for state owned record companies, they played on official state organized big concerts (there was rock’n’roll even for Tito’s birthday, which was a huge honor to them), they’ve got all the attention that they could get. And actually just a few of them have opposed the system. They all enjoyed their rock’n’roll fame back then, and now they pose as being subversive. Also, there’s one important thing to mention—Tito and his fellow associates were hardcore Stalinist, deep down in their core. They’ve never fully accepted any ideas of democracy and freedom.
Anyway. When the punks started to appear on the streets of Yugoslavia, in the late ‘70s, they were seen as just another threat coming from the West which will destroy their communist heaven. Of course, the punks shocked everyone with their spiky hair and obnoxious music. That’s why the secret police and officials started to attack punk(s) anywhere they find them. But it wasn’t long before punk also got under “control” by the state, since more or less all bands from that first wave of punk music started to release their albums for state owned record companies.
Yes, they all changed their music and the message into some new-wave/pop/whatever mainstream thing was popular at the time. During the ‘80s the real hardcore punk scene has emerged, incorporating DIY ethics (with fanzines, independent music labels, promoters, etc) so it was out of reach of the system. Slowly, the DIY scene was building something new and by the end of Yugoslavian era, late ‘80s, you’ve already had a network of people all around the country, who really helped the scene to grow in the last decade of the XX century. The things became more political, both left-wing and right-wing, different ideas started to emerge (antisexism, anticapitalism, antifascism, etc).
During war time in the 1990s, punks of turmoil-ridden Yugoslavia organized campaigns like Over the Walls of Nationalism and War. I believe that was a huge step to oppose the hatred. How did this impact the way of life for punks back in the day? Today, can punks in Serbia rally against autocrat prime minister?
Gajo: In the 90s, when it comes to Ex-YU DIY hardcore punk and the anarcho movement, were very interesting and exciting times. Over the Walls of Nationalism and War was indeed an important project which helped even more in breaking the walls of nationalism and hate between people in ex-YU. But, in general, in the 90s, ex-YU hardcore punx have never stopped to correspond and cooperate between each other, and being against the state and against the war at the time was a strong political statement, not just some hipster trend.
Back in the 90s, hardcore punx and people into alternative lifestyles were often oppressed by state and police on the streets, at shows, and sometimes police would even come to people’s homes and take some active anarcho-punx to police stations for interrogation. Now, the times are different, but I think the state oppression had only more sophisticated than before, so we mostly live in a delusion how things are better, more liberal and free. But are we really free?
Vojkan: After the split of Yugoslavia into many different countries, things have started to become really shitty in this area. A lot of punks were forced to go to war, some of them subscribed voluntarily, some of them became refugees in foreign countries, etc. But a lot of other punks started their own various actions giving their best to end this stupid war.
Nationalism was really strong—and still is—and it was a fuel for new wars, so it was really hard to do anything related to activism. But kids—in that moment punx were really young—didn’t give a shit about that and started to sing against the war, against the heads of state, against their war crimes, etc. It was a small step for them but a big leap for humanity in that part of the world. It showed up that there are some people who are opposed to all this madness. Some of the punx were under surveillance of police and secret services. They just couldn’t get it why there are some Serbs who are in friendly contacts, during the war, with Croats. So some of the people from the scene were called to the police and stuff like that. A lot of them were involved in demonstrations against Milosevic’s regime, going to protests, fighting with police, etc.
Nowadays, it isn’t like that anymore, although all the punks are against our president. Maybe it’s because of a lack of organization, maybe it’s because of social networks, maybe they are focused on other stuff, who knows?
What are your highlights of the year so far? Favorite movies, books, demos, albums? Favorite places, favorite shows? What’s next now? What should we expect from The Truth? More touring, more shows, more party?
Gajo: I’m not sure if my answer will disappoint you, or anyone else reading this, but I’m not even sure if I have a favorite band, record, show, book, or a movie from 2018 and you’re already asking me about 2019, haha!
Some of my favorite bands are The Beach Boys and The Beatles, so, that alone says a lot about what kind of music I listen to these days, and I don’t pay much attention to any new music these days as I’ve used to.
Again, I don’t want to sound like “everything was better back in the days” old fart, but the fact of the matter is that my musical preferences at the moment are mostly focused on the bands from the past, like I’ve already mentioned: The Beach Boys, The Last, Black Flag, Descendents/ALL, Adolescents, TSOL, early Dischord/DC hardcore, early Boston hardcore, Unity, Moving Targets, Youth Of Today, Ripcord, Born Against, Razlog Za, Weezer (old), Dead Nation, Tear It Up, The Rites, The Prowl, Nightstick Justice, and then everything after 2009 went black!
It’s similar with the movies, although I dig a lot of series, even some newer ones like Dark or Mindhunter. As for books, my favorite books are mostly books about hardcore punk and these kind of books are the ones that you’ll find in my collection. And I was always more into zines anyway.
As for The Truth plans, we just finished a two week European tour with Rules (July of 2019) and our main focus will be on writing a few more new songs to complete our album and to start recording the album. We’re playing in November (again with Rules and few other cool bands) in Vienna, Austria on a Making Punk a Threat Again Fest, but maybe will do some more shows in the upcoming months.
If anger were soul, I’d be James Brown!