This interview was done in the early months of 2003, just before the USA and UK invaded Iraq.
RN: First off a question I’ve wanted to ask since I got the album. In ‘Today’s Empires Tommorrow’s Ashes’ you have three songs referencing ‘pretend anarchists’, what do you mean by that phrase?
J: .(laughs) Well…that’s uh that’s a difficult question! We don’t come into contact with a large contingency of that type of people but I guess like it’s meant in such a way that if you’re going to appear to have those kind of principals then you’ve gotta live by it as much as you can. Not to say that you have to have an existence that’s just this bland, sinister character that dosen’t have fun in the real world or anything like that but it definetly more than just wearing a patch on your sleeve or turning up to a demo, and hunking a rock at a Starbucks window. Saying that the mainstream media has done a great job at portraying the anti-globalisation or anti-capitalist movement as such, as just brainless acts, whereas I think alot of those people’s actions are legitimate, and what they’re fighting against is of course legit. But it’s kind of like the classic media portrayal of anybody in a time of crisis opposing the powers, as being some kind of mohawk wing-nut or something like that!
But in reference to anything that we do I think it’s more of fretting a lack of solidarity and the fractionlisation of the radical movement. Unfortunatley we’re getting down to a point where, this isn’t everywhere, it gets down to the stage where you think you’re in high school – or something like that! It’s the wrong picture, and finding more differences among ourselves than the common elements.
RN: On that note then do bands like Pennywise, and Goldfinger who always seem to use politics for their own means, annoy you?
J: Umm well I’ve never listened to either of those bands so it’s kind of difficult for me to say when I don’t really listen to that kind of music either. I find it difficult to comment on that kind of stuff! Yeah I – I don’t know – I find with alot of American bands there was a post-seattle, pre-9/11…everything seemed to come up. Like this sort of anti-globalisation movement became much more focused and it was going straight ahead. It was really gaining momentum, and popularity and I guess the case could be made that there are some oppurtunists in the punk rock world that latched on and were like ‘hey, yeah, we’re disenfranchised youth as well!’ Or turning into this movement…but with good reason I guess because there isn’t very much that society has to offer to young people anymore with the…it’s such a bleak landscape and such a bleak future, that I…I totally understand people becoming alienated in their early to mid-teens, like I did. That being said though I think the 9/11 world it seems like punk rock in the US kind of did a double take and it was like ‘Oh well we’ve got problems in our society, but we are better than anywhere else’ that kind of thing you know. But if that’s the case regarding the bands that you just mentioned then I have nothing, no appreciation for that kind of maneuvering because I think it’s obvious that we’re fighting something much bigger than just some bad corporations this is literally Empire in it’s size, and in it’s most brutal moment as we move up to this seemingly inevitable war against Iraq.
RN: Talking of the war on Iraq what’s the news reporting like on your TV?
vJ: Well it has many many different little facets where anti-war or more proper news journalism finds its little niche but it’s usually later at night and on certain news speciality news programs. But the main news is pretty much news speak direct from the pentagon or that kind of thing. I just spent a week in San Fransisco, last week actually, and I found an edition of the Guardian in the news stand and I was reading alot of quite interesting articles for the most part in that paper, and then at night before going to bed I watched CNN and it was amazing like, and like obviously the Guardian is not a radical newspaper, but they report substantially better than anything that you will see in the United States, and it was unbelievable just the scope of what was not told on CNN, and I think, I believe it was the end of last month that the UN inspectors reported back (Jan 27th ‘03) and there was this quote in the Guardian with this bloke saying ‘look we were brought here to do this operation, which is going to take many many months, eight weeks and we’re told that time is running out – well what’s going on here?’ So you get that kind of quote in The Guardian and that is not present in any US papers, CNN they have speaking to people who ‘are familiar with the situation’, well actually they were speaking to William Collin, who’s like this ex-CIA director, it’s like you know – it’s troubling how Orwellian the corporate news is becoming in America, and I’m assuming in Britain as well.
I mean I know just a lot of regular folks that I’m friends with here in Winnipeg and people are beginning to see through the cracks but it has to approach some kind of critical mass of people just thoroughly discrediting the corporate media. I think that’s a huge step that needs to be made. We simply just need a very very large amount of people who just start boycotting this sort of media overtly…I don’t know, or more vigorously supporting other forms of media!
RN: Did you think actually – strangely – that 9/11 actually woke up the punk scene to an extent and re-politicised it?
J: Well again it’s difficult for me to say we’re somewhat isolated up here in Winnipeg and we haven’t done a whole hell of alot of touring over the past year. Whilst we were in Europe last October (I think we’re talking ‘01 here!), right around the 9/11 period…yeah we’re toured around the August and the September and then I stayed around for another month on a holiday, and stayed with a bunch of people in Spain and stuff and I definetly think – not to over generalise – but I think that people have a better understanding of that event and especially on motives and understandings, and why some people would want to attack the US, over in Europe. I think that understanding is a little bit less in Canada and almost entirely lost in the United States. I think alot of people are just totally clued out and are just like systematically kept away from any kind of objective or potentially positive understanding of what happened. Not to say that all Americans are idiots, because I have a lot of friends down there and some of the brighest, most active politically people are down there. But just generally the media and education and that sort of stuff that happens down there pretty much keeps people away from the truth for obvious fuctional purposes.
Uhh but in the punk scene itself – again it’s hard to tell again if we’re not touring around actively alot – Winnipeg is a fairly small town relatively speaking, but yeah I was really, really shocked, and a little bit scared after 9/11 just in terms of this… I perceived a shift right-wards in the scene in the United States, like you hear about these tours that these larger bands are organising, like the ‘American Pride Tour’. It’s like ‘Oh my god, what is happening here’! And this is whilst at the same time all these middle eastern, pakistani, afghanistani men and women are being rounded up and put into jail without any formal charges. Whilst all these laws are changing like crazy, whilst all these punk bands are doing these shows like you know supporting this idea that you know that their freedom can’t be taken over by any mad man or whatever and then …. you know!?! And yeah we got a couple of emails regarding some postings that we’d put up on our label’s website, and they were less than friendly, and for alot of the people that have been around in the punk scene for years they’re going ’shit’ cause they weren’t expecting that kind of reaction from people in that kind of music scene!
RN: Do you ever worry that your lyrics are too difficult as a band?
J: Uhh well sometimes we get people asking us why we’ve used certain words or phrases in our songs, and that kind of thing, that sometimes complicates the message somewhat, but you know…especially for people where English isn’t your first language. But umm I don’t know Chris does most of the lyric writing and I think that it’s just something that we as a band take pride in. Just not being the sloganeering, simplictic sort of approach – which is fine – but it’s just the way we do things, like the same that we do with music, we try to arrange the parts to be more interesting. But yeah I think that we like to spend a little more time and it’s less churning things out as fast as we can, or stay on top of the sales or whatever. I don’t know it’s just the way that we’ve approached it since the start!
RN: So as a band do you all agree on all the lyrics or do have conflicts over some of the issues?
J: I think issue speaking we’re very much on the same page. I would say that any differences are fairly minor, in sort of maybe approach, attack and stuff like that. Definetly, though, we’re all under the same label I suppose, as being thoroughly anti-capitalist – you know? I don’t think that there’s any institution that we’ve attacked in our lyrics that either one of us would purport to back in any way (laughs)! We’re thoroughly political, dis-enfranchised, piss off fuckers! (laughs)
RN: You were originally going to be a teacher weren’t you?
J: (laughs) Yeah that was years ago.
RN: Do you have a national curicullum like we do over here?
J: I think there are certain national standards yeah..
RN: Was that one of the things that put you off teaching … or what was it that put you off teaching?
J: I think if I, see I was 18 years old, and it came to a point. It came upon me reallly quickly that I had to decide whether I was going to spend one half of my first year of University going to class and basically being a teachers assistant in class. The first time that I went I was basically just standing around and collecting kid’s comic books from behind the school books that they were supposed to be reading! (laughs) So they, I was just basically a class room cop, and I had to decide kind of right then whether I wanted to continue with that or not, or whether to voluntarily withdrawn and go and do something else. And that’s what I did. I still think, if I would have stuck through it that there is a positive role for let me see…enlightened teachers, and I know a few here in Winnipeg that are doing some really amazing things by bringing some outside ideas into the classroom, and I think that’s extremely important. But it just wasn’t right for me at the time and I just went on to do other things at university that I found interesting at the time and uhh ….Now I don’t know I’d consider going back, if like the band wasn’t happening that would be something that I would potentially consider.
RN: Your often say that there’s no party – obviously – that dosen’t represent your views. Do you think that there’s any way that you can make your opinion heard through the election, or do you think that the only thing you can do is spoil the ballot paper?
J: Like I’ve tried many different scenarios in the elections, like voting for the lesser of two evils over a very large issue like the North American Free Trade Agreement back in the late 80s, so I voted for the arsehole party that said it was against it…and they lost in that election but they’ve since come to power and have nothing to revert the process. And yeah I’ve simply spoilt my ballot and wrote a message on there. You know you’re pretty much powerless and for that to be called democracy where you get one little choice, and you sign it off to someone for years, and it does get down to choosing between a single issue, choosing between people that are going to dictate your economic policy and environmental policy for four years at a time. It’s totally ridiculous, in an age when we have the technology, where we can represent ourselves on a large amount of issues, you’d think that there would just be a large amount of referendums on important issues all the time. But that’s not the case. I’m no fan of tactical voting but in certain times like if there was an anti-war platform just for example and if there was a canadian election coming up right away and war was either advocated by one party and opposed by the other then I would vote in that kind of election on that issue alone because I don’t think that this so called first world and our privaleges should ride over the deaths of thousands or hundred of thousands of people in that region.
RN: Why do you think that there are still things like sexism, homophobia, racism and the like in western society – or actually in any society?
J: That’s a … like that question could be argued in book form (laughs) but in a nutshell I think umm the kind of society that we live in, the culture and our history is rooted in alot of religious nonsense that advocates some very, very sexist and homophobic ideas. And like when you’re from a colonial nation like Canada and the United States and so many other parts of the world, where racism was the prime feature for moving in, settling the land and clearing the land out. And, here in Canada, we’re not too far away from the path…I mean that only happened a few hundred years ago and we’re still seeing that, or the effects of that in everyday life over here.
That being said I think that the powers that control the system currently – it totally works in their favour for people to be, for people at the bottom to just be fighting each other in general, and to be divided up. It just works all the more in their favour, the little arguements down at the bottom that just keep everybody distracted, it’s definetly a functional thing. I guess that’s part of trying to get over that and understanding these issues and trying to get people to put that into their past, and understanding that that is a distraction and that the real criminals are going by unnoticed.
And in terms of sexism like in … I find it very strange that people in our supposedly enlightened first world that people have accepted that by pointing the finger at islam and the middle east that they think by totally misrepresenting their culture and by pointing out that women’s rights are subjagated in certain areas there that they miss the point, since women can walk around without wearing something on their head, or they can drive a car. Somehow they think that we have somehow emancipated women. But I personally don’t think that a Madelin Albrite, or a Margaret Thatcher is any kind of prove that points towards any kind of equalisastion of power in our society. And if you look, just for example, all the people that are modelling this war it’s entirely a male driven, patriachal kind of thing, and I think that the patriachy does exist in this secular first world.
RN: Well it’s not very secular!
J: (laughs) yeah exactly…
RN: Yeah I mean personally for me that’s the other problem of pointing to Islam and complaining just how awful it is that people are so radically religious when Bush talks about Christianity far more than Saddam talks about Islam.
J: Yeah exactly and unfortunately people aren’t seeing that piece of shit that’s being slapped right in their face – unbelivable! It’s basically how every president, any person, who has run for the presidency in the States has like won for being a Christian, and it’s just part and parcel for getting that right wing christian vote. You have to identify yourself as such or you’re going to come under extreme opposition! So yeah…there you go…the secular world isn’t so secular!
RN: Have you ever thought about signing to a major label simply so that you can get your message to a wider audience?
J: Umm ….. I don’t think that we would. I mean we’ve never really been approached by anybody so we’ve never actually had to discuss it or anything but just the kind of guys that we are and our tastes for the major label industry, and that branch of the music industry, I just don’t think that it would work out. We’d be way, way too paranoid I think to get into it, and non of us are these legal geniuses so I just don’t think that it would work at all! Not to say that certain bands can use that platform to get out their message. I mean I think that Rage Against The Machine did some amazing things politically.
On the other hand… I mean last week we got asked to open for Sum 41, and I don’t know whether they’re big over in England right now…
RN: Oh yeah they’re huge!
J: Yeah but they were sort of granted a slot in prime time pop music land as being like the cute new punk band…
RN: Oh yeah of course cause they’re Canadian aren’t they?
J: Yeah they are … and it’s just kind of like – punk rock is about fun and it’s been made apolitcal by these kind of bands. But nevertheless, I mean we’re not going to tour with them, but it crossed my mind ‘Shit, if these young kids that are into this heavy guitar, rock sound or getting into this and they don’t know about anything else and that’s what they’re getting exposed to, and that’s what they think is punk, well they need an alternative!’ But yeah I mean especially thinking about the potential war about to happen maybe bending things a little bit and crossing the line in that respect wouldn’t be a bad thing. I mean we could distribute literature or pamphlets and stuff off the stage and just come flat out with it, the totally anti-war message. And the reasons to give to people in the states – I find this current war situation to be the most truly unreal just because it’s so obvious what interests are being fought in this situation. I mean if you look at the Bush Administration, almost without exception they are oil or military people! Like people should be able to see through this very, very easily it’s not like this new Hitler that has arisen out of the desert or all this fucking horseshit that they’re feeding us. So yeah in that way I would hope that younger children would be able to find it easier to understand it and rebel against it. I mean it’s not like you’re going to get it through the news so you’ve got to look at different ways for getting that message out there. And maybe supporting a major label band is one way to contribute to that….but we’re not going to do it anyways so…. (laughs)
RN: If you started to do band practice again (we had to postpone the interview for a day cause they were doing practice) does that mean you’ve started to write the new album?
J: Yeah, yeah that’s sort of what we’re working on now.
RN: So how long do you think that will take to get to see the light of day?
J: Well the length that took us last time to get ‘Today’s Empires…’ out, that was a very difficult kind of time for us because we basically finished touring all together, and we were like right that’s it, we’re not going to be doing any more shows until the new record’s out, but it took us a long time to put together the material for the record and the CDrom itself, and then when we started to recording the record and making it we went through an insane amount of delays, that ranged from just ridiculous things, like Chris losing his voice or I broke my leg one time. Just technical difficulties were just totally frustrating. So we haven’t put ourselves on total hiatus yet, like we haven’t put ourselves into full hiatus mode where we’ve said that we’re not going to tour until the next record is out. I think we’re going to just see what happens for the next couple of months but yeah, we’re working on about five or six new songs right now. We’re also working on four or five cover tunes, because we have an idea about maybe doing some sort of limited EP or something like that with the cover tunes! We’re just building it all up right now.
RN: After 9/11 did you ever consider doing what Anti Flag did and releasing a EP like 9/11 for peace?
J: I don’t know this could be something like the covers idea that we’re doing right now. But we’re just really playing it by ear right now, and just settling in to this whole thing. I think though in a couple of months we’ll know what direction we’re heading in.