An Interview With
Punk Rock Band 1905
by Matt Dineen
Happy Fourth of July! It’s a beautiful day.
The big parade will be strolling through downtown this morning then we’ll
go home and have a red white and blue barbeque. This is all in anticipation
for the big fireworks show later. We’ll lay out the blanket and stare
in awe as we think about all the sacrifices that our heroic Founding Fathers
made for us. Then we’ll just wait until next year…
Hmmm…How about seeing one the greatest, most
passionate bands around today play their hearts out in someone’s basement?
That’s what happened this summer in Madison, Wisconsin. As leftover
frat boys got drunk and lit off homemade fireworks from their front yard,
I experienced this show that helped renew my faith in the potential of punk.
On a summer tour from Washington DC, 1905 blew us away that night with their
sincere, powerful songs. The perfect antidote to Independence Day nausea.
After the show was over I walked down the street
with vocalist Jess and bassist Brian. We settled down in an empty laundry
mat a block away where we talked about music, social change, DIY and the dilemma
of work as the fireworks exploded outside. It went like this…
Let’s start by talking about your sound.
It’s definitely unique. Tonight you just played the harder songs, but
on your album you have acoustic songs and classical instrumentals in addition
to the hardcore punk. How did you come to employ these different styles?
Brian: Well, as far as the sound goes, all of us have
an attitude in coming to the band and writing songs of not necessarily trying
to pin ourselves down to anything. We’re just playing things that we
want to play and if any of us have an idea we try our best to work with it.
And all of us are really into different kinds of music. We all got really,
really into punk rock but we also listen to jazz and folk, classical and…
Jess: Metal! (laughs)
B: Metal. As long as we feel what we’re playing
and are into it then we’re gonna continue this process of learning about
ourselves and what we can do. We’ve all gotten a lot better at our instruments
since we started playing together. And we all have a tendency to push ourselves
to do new things. With Jess and her piano piece—I never knew she played
piano until one day she sat down and started tinkering around on it and my
jaw just hit the floor. I was like, “Can we put that on our album?!”
Since then I’ve been picking her brain for things and trying to get
all these other ideas in. Nick has gotten progressively better at the guitar.
He’s really into doing all this different sort of stuff.
J: I guess we just play whatever music we are feeling
at any given moment. I think that we try not to get ourselves boxed in too
much. We do consider ourselves a punk rock band and are very much involved
in punk rock and DIY and the community. But I don’t think that should
be something that’s limiting. I think that punk rock should be something
that’s the opposite of that—more liberating, where you can express
yourself in different ways with different styles. I listen to all sorts of
stuff, and why not get everything in there that you can and try to blend it?
B: For me, punk rock has always been this thing of trying
to challenge yourself and challenging everything. When I first heard punk
music it blew my mind and I was really into it and there was all this limit-pushing
of what is music. And over the years there’s been a lot of diehard people
who are like, “No, punk is this. Punk is that.” For me punk is
more of an attitude and a way of looking at things and having a fierce sense
of independence to it. One of the things I’m really interested in communicating
to anybody is that: you don’t have to necessarily play a certain kind
of music to be a punk. I think you’re a whole lot more of a punk if
you’re out there trying to do something new and get an idea across.
In terms of ideas, you guys are definitely a political
band. I’m interested in the role of music in creating social change.
There’s a debate about whether singing about political issues can have
any effect on things. Some people say that protest music has been around for
so long but it has never actually changed anything. What is your band’s
role in expressing a political message and affecting change?
J: Well, I think that everybody sits around and argues
about what’s going to actually create some sort of change. Music is
just one of many ways to express how you’re feeling politically. I think
music is one of the most powerful ways to communicate a message, especially
with punk rock, because you put everything into it. That’s what makes
it punk rock. That’s where you can put all your anger and frustration
and just let it all out through music. I don’t think I write about politics
just so I convert people or get them to rise up or something like that. It’s
just that I think about that stuff all the time. And maybe not obsessively,
but enough that it’s on my mind and I need to get it out and I need
to say something. I don’t expect people to pick up a 1905 record and
be like, “Oh my god they are so right!” It would be really cool
if people could pick up what we’re putting down, to expose people to
ideas through music that they wouldn’t have ordinarily been exposed
to. And also as a means to bring people together that have those beliefs or
are thinking about things like we are. I think it’s important to maintain
your sense of self and then just take what you want from what we say and make
it your own or think about it. And not just to be like, “Oh, they’re
right. I’ll do that.” Punk launched me into politics and political
thinking and that would be really cool if our record did that for somebody.
B: Music is basically a huge form of communication.
Music is a language in itself that can communicate a hell of a lot. It’s
definitely a way of learning about things you’re not familiar with.
Music has always played a big part in my life; it’s what turned me on
to having the political appetite that I have. We’ve played a lot of,
not just shows but political events. We played this thing called “The
Sorry Ass State of the Union,” which was an amazing multimedia event.
While Bush was giving his state of the union address two years ago we were
all out at the Capitol basically telling him why we didn’t agree with
anything he was saying. There were speeches by politicians and activists.
Independent Media Center had a lot of stuff going on and all these bands were
playing to get people motivated about this. Music is a way of getting out
there and saying what you need to say and a way of meeting people. It’s
why DIY is such an important part of my life. It’s getting out there
and talking to people and realizing that you have these ideas in your head
but you’re not alone because there’s all these other people all
over the country and the world that are very similar to you and are interested
in engaging you in conversation. As a band on tour for the past 7 weeks, beyond
just going and playing shows, we’ve met amazing people and learned so
much about places we’ve been. From the people we’ve stayed with
and from crowds just coming up and talking to us and turning us on to new
Let’s talk about the politics of performance
spaces. That event at the Capitol was an overtly political setting since it
was basically a demonstration. Do you see the spaces you play as an extension
of your band’s politics? Do you only play non-commercial venues, strictly
within the DIY circuit?
J: We lean towards DIY. We hope for DIY. Sometimes when
you’re touring you take what you can get. If we think a show is too
expensive we won’t play it. I think we have played a not-all ages show
before, but only because we didn’t know it at the time. That’s
a major problem. I don’t want to play those kinds of shows. Any show
that people can’t go to I don’t really want to play or put people
in that position.
B: Also, I do a lot of booking for stuff with Nick and
we have a certain criteria that we work with people on. Basically, we want
to play DIY spaces. In a lot of towns there are clubs where the people who
own them are super cool and it’s kind of an extension of a DIY place
with a bar inside. And sometimes that’s the only place where you can
play in the town. There’s more character in playing in someone’s
house, a basement show or a community center or activist space. But at the
same time, as a band that’s touring you have to go where stuff’s
available. There’s a lot of things I keep in mind in booking shows,
like Clear Channel-owned venues aren’t a place that I ever want to play.
I’m also active in micro-radio, pirate radio stuff and Clear Channel
is eating up a lot of that. Clear Channel is making life extremely hard for
musicians or people who are trying to get any kind of message across because
they’re trying to control everything. I don’t want to contribute
to that at all.
They own six radio stations in Madison and are
sponsoring the fireworks show here tomorrow night.
J: In addition to wanting to be part of DIY for those
reasons, I think it’s also just way more fun. Big clubs totally weird
me out. You don’t have that same feeling. At clubs with big stages you
feel separate from everyone else. I hate putting bands on a pedestal and feeling
really far away from people that are watching us. I don’t like being
under lights looking out at people and not being able to see them. That separation
is really bizarre. When you play a basement and you’re just hanging
out, that’s where it’s the most fun. That’s where it’s
B: It’s also about meeting the people. So when
you go to a different place, like someone’s house or something, you
learn a lot about the community that’s there. Beyond just, “Cool,
this band’s gonna be playing at this club soon.” A club is also
more of a sterile environment than playing in someone’s basement or
an infoshop. You get more of a pulse of where you are and what else happens
in that space, whether there’s a Food Not Bombs or a Prisoner Support
Network that also runs out of there. You can learn about that. And it’s
a space where you can have a conversation with the crowd. It’s not as
impersonal. That’s one of the really great things about DIY. Doing it
yourself means meeting everybody and learning a lot.
J: And building a community. I think the community is
one of the most important things about punk rock. Without it there would be
no difference between punk and any other genre of music where people just
share that common interest. What makes punk rock awesome, in addition to the
music, is the people involved in that community and building a stronger one
B: We were just talking about other folks we know who
are in bands who’ve been at it for a long time. When they talk to us
about being around for 3 or 4 years and this is the third time we’ve
toured the US and doing all this stuff, they’re like, “How the
hell can you do this?” They are amazing musicians that play in bands
but they’re not tapped into this community. We’re not necessarily
the most amazing musicians, but at the same time there’s this whole
community behind it that’s willing to support us. Right now you can
be in a band and just travel and meet people. It’s an amazing thing.
And there’s more and more people getting involved in this. Getting involved
in DIY and making it possible to go to towns that you’ve never even
heard of or can find on a map and go there, play a show and meet people. The
one thing we need to work on is to sustain that and make sure that kids aren’t
just in it for a couple years and then go off and do something else. That
it’s this thing that they have an investment in and we can build this
community. Then we’ll get to the point where we’re getting closer
to our 30’s and having children and people can still do this. And this
isn’t gonna simply be just a subculture. It’s gonna be more of
What about the challenges of operating as DIY
band, despite this strong network, within the larger capitalist system? You
can’t just survive off your music. Can you talk about making ends meet
while still having the time and energy for your true passions?
B: This is something that I’ve spent a lot of
time thinking about. Going on tour and booking shows you meet the kids who
are so unbelievably positive and optimistic about stuff but don’t necessarily
know what goes into doing a show. They’re just psyched to have your
band playing. You’re at the show and having an amazing time but you
play and then realize that there was no one collecting money at the door or
J: And you need gas money.
B: Yeah, you need to get to the next place and gas prices
aren’t getting any lower. It’s a situation where, we’re
an anti-capitalist band and punk rock in itself is very anti-capitalist, but
there’s sort of a vacuum on what that means. If we’re anti-capitalist
then what are we? What is this? Some people think, “Oh it’s DIY.
We just get together and it’s free!”
J: But that’s not sustainable.
B: It’s a big challenge that people are facing.
Because right now there is so much stuff going on and so many bands getting
out there, so many people that want to go on tour and who want to see shows.
But in terms of sustainability, like a space that has trouble staying open
because they’re having problems at shows, we need to think about it.
It needs to be thought about as a community. We’re not capitalists but
we live in this system where there’s money exchanged and we need to
go do these things. I’ve been reading a lot about Participatory Economics
and trying to work on viable solutions to this.
J: Yeah, we might be an anti-capitalist band but we
live in a capitalist society. You can fight for change. You can try to support
your local supermarkets or whatever. You can do the small things and they’re
really important small things to do, but you can’t expect to operate
outside of capitalism. And especially in DIY—to think that you can maintain
some sort of network without money, when everything involves money, would
be ridiculous and unsustainable. Not only do you need gas money but you need
to eat. Eating and gas are very important when you’re on tour. I think
a lot of people don’t think about that or don’t want to pay at
shows and say, “If you’re anti-capitalist then why do you want
money?” Well, it’s not like I’m taking the money and buying
a Mercedes with it. I’m trying to get from Point A to Point B.
B: And going on a DIY tour where you’re just making
gas money if you’re lucky, you’re still gonna go home and have
bills to pay and rent to pay. It gets a lot harder to tour when you know you’re
coming back and you know you have to do all this stuff and bust your ass at
your job. You have to make money that you didn’t have when you left.
Keeping that in mind when we talk about changing the face of punk rock and
trying to make it more inclusive to other people. We need to build this community
where it’s possible for people of less privileged backgrounds who are
talented and have amazing ideas to also come in and play a part in this and
have them be able to go on tour too. Touring is a huge financial strain. I
know that when I go home I’m gonna have rent and bills and I’ll
open all those and be like, I haven’t been working the past 7 weeks
because I’ve been on tour but I’ve had an amazing time. There’s
a lot of sacrifices you have to make to do that and I come from a background
where I’m privileged enough to be able to make those choices to do that.
And a lot of other people aren’t and in building a community we have
to keep that in mind.
J: As far as when we’re at home is concerned—we
all have to work. Somehow you have to make money. I think the band just sucks
away our social life more than anything else because that’s the only
thing you can really give up…and it’s worth it.
B: It’s like being in a relationship with everyone
in your band.
J: And I love you! (laughs and hugs)
So, are the jobs that you have totally separate
from your true interests and just to pay the bills?
B: It depends. I’ve had other jobs that are very
related to my interests, except those jobs were also 9-5, 40 hours a week
and didn’t give me enough time to do touring. I ended up getting laid
off from the last one that I had which opened up a lot of doors of thinking
about how to do things. I also went to graduate school and worked on that
stuff. I walk dogs for a living now. It’s amazingly flexible, it’s
a great time but I have my parents being like, “You went to grad school
and you walk dogs.” (laughs) So I make enough money to get by but at
the same time there are other financial stresses. I’m basically going
back and looking for other jobs to do. It’s just a matter of trying
to find a balance between doing the band I love that takes a lot of time to
do and being able to pay my bills and having some sort of comfort zone in
J: My ultimate goal is to be a teacher. Right now I’m
not anywhere close to being a teacher and don’t really know what I’m
gonna be doing for a job when I get back. I think I’m gonna be cleaning
houses, but right now the band is more of a priority. We think about jobs
in terms of: Can we tour? How is this gonna work? Does this enable us to have
band practice when we want to practice? And of course we’re not gonna
just get the shittiest job ever and hate life. But it’s just a job.
Jobs don’t mean anything. You work and you do what you can and it would
be nice to have a job where you could do something that is also important
to you but a job is such a small, tiny little portion of what’s important
in life. You’ve got this whole other world that’s not between
9-5 that is equally as important. And when people ask the question, “What
do you do?”—everybody answers with their job. Whereas for me I
answer with the band. Because what’s more important to me? Clearly it’s
That brings up the question of whether you guys
have thought about surviving off the band. Could you make 1905 your job or
would that compromise your values?
J: We speculate and think about it but everybody’s
drastically different on that. No one has a clear-cut idea of how to do it.
Ideally we’d all love to play music and have that be it and have that
sustain us, but then it gets tricky. How do you do that? Can DIY do that?
For me it’s, do I want to put that sort of money pressure on the one
thing that I know is just gonna be okay in my life no matter what. But we’d
all love that to be our lives.
B: It would be amazing if we could do this band at the
rate we’re comfortable with and make a living off it. That would be
great, but you have to keep in mind that when the thing you love becomes your
bread and butter and it’s what you do to pay your bills then you have
to start doing it a lot more. It can become really stressful and cause a lot
J: And you don’t want to strain your passion.
B: If there was a way that we could all be happy and
all meet our needs and find a way of doing this band on our terms then I don’t
think we’d have a problem. But as long as we can keep it a hobby and
be fulfilled in a lot of other ways we’ll be fine.
* * *
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