Speaker of words, juggler of objects; Trial, Between Earth & Sky and many more. Greg Bennick is a person who needs no introduction, so let’s him speak for himself about the great band Trial and his other endeavors.
The interview was conducted via email in 2009.
Hi, Greg, can you start with a brief history of the band Trial, why you’ve made two reunions (in 2005 and 2009) and what have you achieved with Trial throughout the years?
I want to start by saying that this is the first interview I have done since the death of Brian Redman, our bassist, in a traffic accident two months ago.
As a result, it is very difficult to be answering questions related to the band. We all had the highest hopes of not only being able to spend a lifetime enjoying and loving our friend, but to also play more shows, and now the grief is endless, and the band is on hold. Please be sure to remember Brian as the passionate, devoted, fun loving, and creative person that he was. He will always be an inspiration to me and to us all.
About the band: Trial started in 1995. We went through numerous line-up changes and recorded two EP’s before finally solidifying our line-up and recording “Are These Our Lives?” in 1999. That record has recently been re-released as a ten year anniversary issue, with new liner notes about the writing of the songs.
We played the reunion shows in 2005 and 2009 because the ideas in the band and the connection we experienced with other people mean just as much to us today as they did years ago. It was just difficult to get along over the years, but once we worked out those dynamics, the choice to play shows was an obvious one.
How long have you been involved in the hardcore/punk scene and what attracted you to it in the first place? What is it about it that keeps you involved in it, even when you have so much things to do outside of the hardcore/punk scene? What’s the best thing about being involved in the band? In political hardcore/punk?
I have been involved in music since 1985, and what attracted me to it was the freedom of expression that one finds in this genre. We can be serious or silly, political or personal. That struck me and continues to as a much more open art form than standard radio rock, which tends towards formulas, and boring ones at that.
What keeps me involved is the passion and creativity that I encounter from listeners in the genre. Its a sincere form when it all comes down, and I hear from people all the time who have been impacted not only by my bands but by the ability to share of themselves as well.
The best thing about being involved in the band was and is the feeling that something very real was happening every time we played or every time I listened to the CD. The best thing about being involved in the genre is the passion I encounter from people all the time.
If someone is reading this interview and they just got into hardcore punk and straight edge for a first time, how can you define what is it to be part of that scene and what can you find in it that no other youth subculture could offer?
I couldn’t do that. It means something different to every person to be a part of the genre. Overall, there is a sense that this is a “place” where one can connect to vitality, hope, potential, and to get involved with ideas and passionate connection to life. Other subcultures also offer these things, but the music sounds different and they have different social structures as well. Ours is a loose social structure, but it feels tightly knit like a community which is reassuring in an unsure world.
Why, in your opinion, it is so important to include explanations, quotes and further insight into the songs lyrics in liner notes as well as express feelings about song meanings and other issues between songs live?
I like to include song explanations because they allow listeners to get a feel for the poetry in the lyrics and music and then interpret the songs for themselves from that concentrated base. Without direction, there is a chance that a song might be misinterpreted. Live, the speaking between songs helps to synthesize the energy of the live show. Speaking to audiences has always been a passion of mine, and what I get out of it always is a deeper connection with the members of the audience. It becomes less of a “show” and more of a shared experience.
How important to you is love and friendships? Do you feel that hardcore scene hates too much? What would you like to see more off in the hardcore scene? What less off?
Love and friendship are tremendously important to me. The outpouring of love when Brian died was unprecedented. Hundreds of people wrote to me, many of whom I had not been in contact with in years. It felt in those days like the scene truly was more tightly knit than it in fact might be.
We don’t have social structures in place to replace the world that many think is corrupt or unkind, but we approach one another in ways that support generosity and compassion and that was felt deeply two months ago without a doubt.
The hardcore scene does not hate too much. Some people are filled with hate. That’s true inside and outside of the music scene. They are the minority. What would I like to see more of in the genre? Intelligent lyrics that challenge me to think in new ways about social conditions, psychological conditions, and personal experiences.
What less of? Rehashed lyrics that offer nothing artistic to the listener.
What is your opinion on recent books about hardcore like American Hardcore and Burning Fight? Are you satisfied with the Burning Fight book where you have been featured and the release party that gathered some of the most important 90s hardcore bands, including Trial, on stage after so many years? Is the 90s vegan straight edge hardcore so important for raising awareness on political issues, animal liberation etc. within the youth subcultures? Don’t you think that the 90s vegan sxe hardcore was too trendy, while anarcho-punk and crust bands like Nausea, Aus-Rotten or zines/labels like Profane Existence have done much more important things to the political hardcore/punk scene in the US than commercial bands with questionable politics on some issues like Earth Crisis etc.?
The books that have come out about the scene are excellent and necessary. They document slices, angles, opinions, and the more of them that are released the closer we will be do actually documenting the experience of this genre accurately. Its impossible to say which bands did more, because we aren’t clear on what or for whom that “more” was accomplished. When I get a letter, email, or facebook message from someone who has had their life transformed by a song, then the band in my opinion is complete. Take the song “Scars” for example. The number of people affected by that song just astounds me. People have connected deeply to it and have been empowered. Earth Crisis turned thousands of people onto the idea of compassionate living.
Punk bands turned thousands of people on to the idea of questioning one’s value systems. Who did the most? Its irrelevant. Its not a contest. Its about individuals being transformed and then contributing to the greater good of the society at large. If “hardcore music” is just about the changes made in the scene, then we’re limiting ourselves. Its about how we feel, transform, and then move this energy out into the world OUTSIDE of the scene which matters most.
What are the struggles you feel strongly about and want to raise awareness, personal and political? In the booklet of the reissue of “Are These Our Lives?” you wrote that you get the inspiration for writing “War By Other Means” from an interview with Russian military commander in military magazine, where he is quoting an insurgent saying “The struggle is never over. It will assume a new form.”, can you go more in-depth into the different aspects of political struggle you have in mind with this song?
I feel most strongly about involving ourselves with others and the world around us on a sincere level, regardless of, and inclusive of our suffering and our condition as mortals who are destined to experience life for a limited time. Socio-politically, I support and counsel victim/survivors of rape and sexual assault. I believe that the silently suffering need and want to be heard and I make myself available to people like this on a constant basis. The quote from the song was intentionally reworked. The person who spoke it is of questionable intent, so I took his words, and reworked them to be about the necessary dodging and weaving which anyone involved in a struggle needs to connect with. Expect opposition, breathe into it, and creatively come up with alternatives.
Take the Western Shoshone Nation in Nevada USA. They have been involved in a land right struggle with the United States for most of the last century. Their land rights, traditionally and legally granted, are at stake. Again and again those interested in owning Shoshone lands use tactics inclusive of threats, theft of cattle, and oppression to force an upper hand, and the Shoshone have had to recreate themselves constantly in the face of that.
In an interview with Peter Young he said “Those making up the face of vegan straightedge are not making themselves credible as vanguards of a new movement. (…) We are too comfortable making our music our activism. (…) When politics are limited to lyrics and lifestyle, we have a scene. When we take those politics into the world and start to tear it down – we have a movement. Let’s make vegan straight edge a movement.” What do you think of these words and don’t you think Peter is going too far with his claims and desires to view the hardcore/punk scene and vegan straight edge as a movement, when it’s just a subculture based around music and lifestyle?
I think that it’s limiting to criticize music listeners for not doing enough when sometimes those music listeners are experiencing vital transformation of themselves that could lead to the support of any political or social cause. Is everyone who brands themselves as “vegan straightedge” necessarily a vanguard of a new movement? Some might be. But not everyone. The movement itself needs to be defined clearly before criticizing Peter’s statement though. When we’re onstage talking about experiencing passion and connecting deeply with our suffering, that IS a movement. It might not be the specific political one that Peter wants. But in my mind and heart it is steps towards a redefining of a status quo.
Again, maybe not the specifics of the status quo which Peter wants redefined, but that’s why we have labels. I can speak to those passionate and heart-connected people who want to transform and change themselves and the world around them in their image. Peter can speak to those who want to transform the world in different ways.
Veganism, Straight Edge, those willing to suffer and survive, can all be blended, woven, and have concurrent “movements”. My mission in life is not to make vegan straightedge a movement, but if it was, I would certainly want to expand beyond music just like I try to do with my own personal goals.
In the press release for the “Burning Fight” book it’s written this passage about you “he recently went raw and organic, in addition to being vegan and straightedge. This means that in addition to having no friends, that he is hungry almost all of the time.”, is this true? Do you think that food production in it’s modern form is slowly killing the planet, be it imported foods, out of season food, genetically modified food, etc. and we should go raw and locally produced organic?
Simple answer: yes. I haven’t stuck 100% to my raw diet, though I have been 100% vegan for almost 20 years. When I eat raw, I feel better. Not only physically but also about my contribution to local organic farms. I would love to be able to actually grow my own food sometime. Until then however, I will try to balance out my diet between the healthy and considerate raw diet which affects me so much and the Thai food to which I am hopelessly addicted.
Can you briefly describe why veganism and animal rights are so important issues in today’s world?
I feel that compassion for living things is central to the human condition. We have the ability to reason. No other creature has that. We identify and recognize that we want to live and survive, and it goes without saying that other creatures want the same thing. Our ability to identify that fact, and our ability to alter our behavior accordingly speaks to me about the opportunity we have to create a reality where all creatures have the ability to grow and thrive. When we limit the ability of other creatures to exist, it affects our psyche.
The name Trial means an effort, a hardship, but it also means a court process. What are you doing as individuals and as a band to support the vegan straight edge political prisoners and all those brave men and women of the ALF and ELF, SHAC campaign and so on? How do you feel about Green Scare and the repressions against the anticapitalist movements around the world?
Jake Conroy and Josh Harper are very close personal friends. I spend a lot of time with them and in touch with them in hopes of helping them be better, feel better, and live better given their legal situation. As a band, we’ve spoken on behalf of Jake, Josh, and their associates because we know them personally and we focus our attention on them rather than getting scattered in too many directions without knowing what we’re talking about.
It makes perfect sense to me that those opposed to oppression would themselves be targeted by the oppressors of the world. Its ridiculous in a way, that the amount of money existing in the world can’t be reappropriated in ways that support those in need. That’s what I do in my personal life, and I wish that could happen on a political and social level more often. I find it interesting that some of the worlds greatest capitalists are also the worlds greatest philanthropists, which isn’t to say that its fair that one person should have as much money as a million other people, but rather that its admirable when someone who does have money uses that money, that status, for expansive good where governments might be failing or where social systems are lacking.
As I understand the lyrics of the song “When there’s nothing left to lose” is a personal account written about your friend, who was a survivor of bulimia and anorexia. What do you think we as men can do on a daily basis to help women survivors of bulimia or anorexia, sexual assaults, sexist attitude towards them and so on?
We can listen. That’s the number one thing we can do. We can learn how to listen to the needs of women, and hear what they have to say, what their experiences have been, what they need. We can learn to do this without imposing our will on them, but rather helping them define and develop their own will and their own process of healing and growth. Get involved with local rape crisis centers. Get trained as a counselor for those who have been victim/survivors. Learn about the signs of eating disorders. Learn what behaviors suggest that someone is hurting. And then practice listening.
Pick one book (fiction or nonfiction), one movie (documentary or not) and a hardcore band and go into detail about what you love about it and why people should read/watch/hear it in your opinion.
The book would be “The Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker, because of its synthesis of centuries of thought about death and the human condition and how we long to find ways to conquer our mortality and suffer the effects of that process even as we try to diminish it. For more information about Becker and his ideas, you can visit www.ernestbecker.org and also www.flightfromdeath.com.
The movie: “The Big Lebowski”, because its one of the funniest movies of all time and cinematically absolutely incredible. I wonder if people from other countries will find it as funny as I do. Let me know if you watch it and tell me what you think.
The hardcore band: its a tie between To Kill (from Rome) and Bridge to Solace (from Budapest). Both bands have sincerity, intelligence, intensity, and also are working to share ideas which are important to the world. Ideas about passion and compassion, loving and connecting, and getting involved with life rather than just watching from the sidelines.
“Every feeling, every thought, every hope that we supress, is us, commiting suicide in moments”, explain what do you mean with these words you have been said firstly on the Trial reunion show in Seattle in 2005, and why do you find them so important that you’re quoting them again years later.
When we deny ourselves, we die inside every day. Life is so short and we need to be living fully and completely as much as we possibly can. Yes, there are limits to what we are going to experience. Just because I want to drive my car on the wrong side of the road doesn’t mean that I should do it if it endangers others…but within those confines: of not infringing on the rights of other people to exist, I feel that we should be pursuing living passionately and having our desires fulfilled in every way we can. That idea doesn’t get dated. It’s true in 2005 and 2009 and will be true years from now as well.
Which other bands have members of Trial involved in? You’re in Between Earth And Sky and Timm is in Wait In Vain, right? What about these projects?
Yes. Wait in Vain just got back from a full Euro tour and are taking some time off right now though they do have a future of some kind. Between Earth and Sky just mixed our debut EP which will be coming out on Refuse Records from Warsaw sometime in 2010. I am really happy with the BEAS record. We will be writing a full length immediately and then working on playing some shows.
Tell us more about your cinematographic projects like the movies “Flight from Death: The Quest for Immortality”, “The Philosopher Kings”, “The Lot”?
Flight From Death is an 86 minute documentary film narrated by Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects, Assault on Precinct 13) that looks at humankind’s subconscious fear of death and how that fear inspires aggressive behavior. We worked on the project for over four years, interviewing scholars, philosophers, psychiatrists, cancer patients, and Vietnam War veterans from around the world. We filmed in Guyana, Greece, Thailand, Egypt, Israel, the United States, and the film has won seven “Best Documentary” and “Best Feature” awards in the last few years since its film festival debut. Response has been unreal. The DVD is out now and will be re-released as a five year anniversary edition packed with special features in September 2010. We hoped to introduce viewers to the idea of death anxiety and most also, to initiate conversation about that subject with people and have them see their role in the world differently in hopes of bringing about change towards more compassionate living.
The Philosopher Kings looks at wisdom through the eyes of custodians at prestigious universities. It was intended to explore the idea that learning and wisdom are not exclusive to scholars and leaders but actually can be found if we look to those more often than not unseen and invisible in our culture. People don’t pay attention to custodians, so we decided to. The film is also out now and is on tour around the United States.
The Lot is on an indefinite hiatus. We started producing it and then plans and schedules changed substantially. There are other projects in the works instead, including a documentary about a village in Haiti called “Lasource” and the work of one man who has as his goal to bring a system of clean water to that village so that the people there can survive without having to make a 20 mile round trip walk for water each day. There is a campaign to get people involved in raising funds for the project, with links to donate both on my personal website in the “films” section as well as on www.philosopherkingsmovie.com.
How does a usual day of Greg Bennick looks like?
There hasn’t ever been a “usual” day for me thankfully! I would get very bored if there were. I am typing this interview on a plane, flying back from entertaining and speaking at a conference in Florida. I will be presenting The Philosopher Kings next week at Princeton University. After that I will be working on the Lasource project with my assistant, trying to raise funds. And all the while spending time with friends, meet new friends, and write at least three books in the next year. I want to come back to Europe as well in 2010, either with Between Earth and Sky or on my own speaking. We”ll be going to South America as well with The Legacy Project.
And what about the Legacy Project, The Worlds Leaders Project and the political/diy punk website Words As Weapons that you used to run? What about the connection between Trial and CrimethInc.?
The Legacy Project is a series of in-person explorations into transformative justice and reconciliation taking place around the world. My co-trip coordinator and myself have been arranging trips around the world to various places and bringing American high school students to explore the history of oppression and how people heal from it. We’ll be placing hundreds of video clips on line in the next few months so people can learn more about the types of things we’re finding. Check back at that website for updates. As for Crimethinc, they are a mysterious group of ninja-like wizards, cloaked in mystery. I remain really good friends with Brian. We are the yin and yang of hair. He has a lot. I have none. We look good together. Words as Weapons is a great idea in theory, but it never got the support I wanted it to, and as such, I haven’t updated it in a long time so that I could focus on other projects instead. I might revitalize it this year.
Do you think it is possible for humanity to end the suffering, to live in harmony on this planet and share it with others? What do you think is the worst trait of humanity? What do you like to see changed, so that the people are free to live and not brought down by fear?
I think it’s possible to be continually moving towards that goal. It’s going to be an ongoing process of course. The worst trait of humanity is our ability to shut off reason and succumb to fear. I’d like to see people more aware of their psychological motivations, and more aware of themselves. This is essential if we as a species are to survive.
Anything you’d like to impart to the readers of this interview? Is there anything you feel important to say that you don’t have the opportunity to touch in the answers to the questions above?
Thank you so much for the interview, for taking the time to read it, and for caring. I apologize if my answers here are discombobulated, but thinking along the lines of Trial still isn’t easy, though I recognize that it’s one of the very best ways that I can honor Brian’s memory. Be in touch anytime on social media. If you add me, write me a note too and say hi. I get a ton of adds from people I don’t know and I want to know them all.