When sitting down with local hardcore act Sworn Against last week, two things were readily apparent: First, these guys actually know what hardcore music is and what it's about. Second, the band really cares about the local music scene and those involved.
These days, many younger fans seem to equate "hardcore" with emo or screamo drivel that follows a set formula and dress code.
The true roots of the hardcore movement didn't come out of the mopey, "oh-woe-is me" end of new wave and goth, but rather out an aggressive post-punk movement from the Northeast.
Going against the grain, often positioned politically left and uncaring about looks or fashion (leave your white belts at home, please), bands like Agnostic Front, Madball and even early Life of Agony (à la River Runs Red, before the band went commercial) layed the groundwork for a heavier, but truth-seeking network of bands.
As the genre has continued to develop, bands like Terror and Hatebreed have stood out from the pack to provide real hardcore kids someone to look up to, while those without a clue might just lump the bands into the heavy metal category.
Granted, the music is heavy, but there is nearly always a message, which is why three guys from a metal band known as Hatred For All got drawn to the hardcore movement and made a break to make music with more meaning and purpose.
Of course, the band members' initial introduction to local hardcore crowds wasn't without its bumps and bruises. Stepping in as metal fans drawn to the heaviness of the hardcore scene, vocalist Allen Britt and guitarist Michael Ganay got off to a rough start, often showing up drunk and ending up fighting with the local crowds. That set up a precedent that wasn't easy to overcome, but with patience and dedication, the band has done just that.
"We were the biggest underdogs on the scene," admits Britt. "We came from metal bands and were always fighting and drinking...."
Nevertheless, the group developed with both a musical and attitude change. After Hatred For All folded, Ganay moved to Kansas City for a period and when he returned, he and long time friend and drummer Russell Green were ready to give music another go with a cleaner perspective.
An earlier incarnation of the band included another bass player, but differences in perspective, direction and the purpose of the band led them to part ways. Britt, Green and Ganay soldiered on as a three piece for roughly nine months before current bassist Jassen Evans moved from Fayetteville to Tulsa to join the band in April.
While Evans seems the perfect fit for the band musically and personality wise, he admits that his first encounter with his current band mates wasn't altogether pleasant. In fact, it was another drunken night for the boys in which Mike tried to start a fight with him.
Almost ironically, Evans and Ganay are much more similar now, as the latter quit drinking altogether and both are part of the straight-edge movement. Britt and Green haven't stopped altogether but admit to drinking far less than they used to, as the group focuses more on its music and the local scene.
"We knew, because of our past, that we weren't going to be accepted right away," Britt told me. "We understood that. After all, we were the ones that came in and were starting fights. Because of that, we couldn't just come in and be the big dogs--we had to get involved in the scene and let people see who we really are."
After debuting at Murderfest in the fall of 2006, Sworn Against has not only earned the respect of the local hardcore scene, but become one of its best representatives and biggest supporters.
"One of my biggest pet peeves," said Evans, "is bands that come in right before their set then leave the show and don't support the scene."
"We don't do that..." the rest of the group chimed in. "We got there early last night (for the Evergreen Terrace concert) and stuck around through every band."
After nearly two years entrenched in the scene, Sworn Against is a band that both the fans and other bands now respect. "A lot of them even look to us as older brothers," Britt commented. "They know we care."
The bands dedication to the scene and their music is finally coming to fruition with the release of the band's debut CD, All or Nothing, this weekend at The Otherside, 6904 S. Lewis. Eleven tracks hit you square in the face and leave you wondering what happened, but asking for more.
I spanned through the tracks and discussing them with the band. Britt shared "I think the songs are pretty direct and self explanatory. That's why we put the lyrics in it, they aren't just words."
"That's the difference between metal and hardcore," he continued. "With hardcore, it's a message, not just a story. We know the feeling of coming from nothing and draw from our life experiences. Every song says something about who we are and where we came from."
Influenced by what the band members see going on around them, the songs address a number of themes. "(918)" pounds the listener with a brutal riff while standing up for the band's hometown instead of trash-talking it like they've seen other bands do once they reach a certain level of success.
"All or Nothing" and "Prove You Wrong" are solid representations of the band members and their musical and work ethics. Both express the band's never quit, never say die attitude and determination to beat the odds.
The disc closes out with "Who We Are", which the band describes as a "fight song" and is delivered as a mix of chant and military cadence. In truth, the song was written in response to a group of Nazi skinheads who showed up at one of the band's earlier shows at The Otherside.
"We were like 'What the fuck?!?' when it happened," Britt shared. "It was hard to address the situation without having it break out in a fight--which would have happened with the old band."
"It confused a lot of people and for a long time--people were asking if we were skinheads," Ganay added.
"That motivated me to write "Who We Are" to represent what we stand for and who and what we're against. I think it pretty much made our stance clear."
After a year that has included opportunities to open for musical heroes like Terror and Hatebreed, Sworn Against gets a chance to spread its message to a potentially larger crowd next month with a showcase spot at Dfest.
"What we'd like to accomplish at Dfest is just to have people open their minds to hardcore music," Britt shared as our conversation drew to a close. "...That's what hardcore music is really about: acceptance and being open minded."
If you haven't opened your mind (and ears) to the local hardcore scene, you can check it out this weekend as Sworn Against holds its CD release party at The Otherside on Saturday night, June 28. Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the doors and will include a copy of the new CD. Several bands will open up the show: Speak Out, 80 Proof, Streetlight Fight, Theory of Tomorrow and Dirty Mugz.
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