We apparently live in the age of the podcast, but this has all rather passed me by. It’s a medium that I only occasionally engage with. I get the idea, the opportunity to dive deep into a specialist topic, but I haven’t really found many that deliver on that promise. So, I remain very much tied to the written word.
There is, however, an exception to that rule: it’s the Cult & Culture podcast, hosted by Justin Pearson (Three One G Records, Deaf Club, The Locust, Planet B, Struggle, Swing Kids) and Luke Henshaw (Planet B). The podcast focuses on hardcore punk, with a particular – but not exclusive – focus on music emanating from San Diego. One guiding principal though is that Justin only interviews people that he knows, which lends an easy familiarity to the conversations, that in turn produces interviews of real depth. And, since the show began a couple of years ago, there have been intriguing discussions with bands ranging from Adult to Deaf Club, Silent to Napalm Death.
The episode that I want to touch on today is a recent one with John Reis (Pitchfork, Rocket From The Crypt, Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes). Now I must confess that while I knew of John, I have never had the opportunity to immerse myself in his music. I still crack out Scream, Dracula, Scream! from time to time (On A Rope remains a song to lift any mood), but strangely I had never connected with his other projects. Hence the clear bias towards Justin’s bands in the photo above!
So, the interview itself was not coloured by any preconceptions on my part, and what followed proved to be a genuinely insightful and humorous take on punk through the decades, touching on interactions with everyone from Ian MacKaye to Henry Rollins via Danzig. And it also explored a range of themes from first discovering hardcore – ‘It feels wrong the first time you hear it, like it should be illegal’ – and different bands’ motivations – ‘What’s more grosser than ambition. Such an ugly look’ – to the best definition of post-hardcore that I think I’ve heard – ‘What hardcore turned into for us. Where it went next’. It is also interesting to hear John discuss the contrasts between his three best known projects: the fun, Rocket From The Crypt (‘Nothing more fun than being kick ass’ through relentless practice); the introspective, Drive Like Jehu; and the more literal, Hot Snakes.
I’ll leave you to listen to the interview for the full detail, but there are three overarching themes that really caught my attention. The first is reflections on the gig culture of the late 1980s and early 1990s, notably the random violence and jock culture that scarred elements of the West Coast scene. It is true that gigs in London had a much more volatile feel in those days, but violence of the type described was pretty rare. So, it was interesting to hear that the community co-operative venue Che Café in San Diego was born as a direct result of people wishing to create a space that was, at least initially, free from such behaviour.
The second theme picks up on a topic from one of my recent pieces on The Lost Art Of The Spoken Word at hardcore gigs. Now, it turns out that while John hates singing (which he does only for Rocket From The Crypt), he positively enjoys the role of front person and talking with audiences. This stems, he says, from what first drew him to punk. Whereas metal bands wanted to be ‘worshipped like false idols’, punk was a great leveller – ‘We’re on all the same stage, band and audience’ – and that two-way communication is vital to cultivating this and breaking down barriers. He also picks up very neatly on another important dynamic that arises from this equity and serves to make punk shows unique: ‘We all have a responsibility to make tonight great’.
The final theme is less specific to music and relates to the recent death of Rick Froberg, John’s friend and collaborator across Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu, and Hot Snakes. It was clearly difficult, yet also helpful, for him to talk about his relationship with Froberg. He speaks very eloquently about the nature of loss. That moment when you think you need to talk to someone before realising that, obviously, you can’t. The glimpse of someone at a space you often shared, which is, of course, a ghost of your imagination. Time helps to blunt loss, but it forever shades aspects and moments of our life.
So, dive in for a thoroughly rewarding hour. And in the meantime, I’m off to discover Drive Like Jehu for myself. Better late than never…
‘Cult and Culture’ is available on most podcast platforms, including at ruinousmedia.com/cultandculture.