Strike Anywhere – Interview
Strike Anywhere’s Thomas Barnett is too damned punk rock for his own good. “Cultural violence?” “Cultural baggage?” He should right a punk rock dictionary. Nice enough fella, admitted that PETA might be a bit off their rocker, even if they mean well. Good times.
Racket Jonathan: First question, and boy, it’s a hard hitter: have you ever named your junk?
Strike Anywhere Thomas: No, I almost feel that anthromorphosising your genitals as separate from yourself is part of a cultural violence. I know it’s funny and affectionate to think about your “stuff” as not you, separating it from your body like it’s a tool or a beer…
RJ: What? My beers come named.
SAT: I’m kidding, I haven’t because I’m lazy. It’s not a focal point of my life.
RJ: What was your childhood pet?
SAT: I had a cat named Silver.
RJ: Yea? What street did you grow up on?
SAT: I know where this is going. Hillside.
RJ: Silver Hillside, huh. That’s a great porn name. I’m Smokey Grant myself.
SAT: That’s way better, all 70’s like.
RJ: What was your worst act of vandalism.
SAT: Wow, either disabling the power box to an entire strip mall or taking fire extinguishers onto the school bus and setting them off.
RJ: I’d go with the strip mall. Did the strip mall do something to you, or was it all part of smashing the state?
SAT: It was part of smashing something, that’s for damned sure. These could also be fictional to protect my liability.
RJ: Is your hair hard to brush?
SAT: I don’t brush it that often, it does what it wants. I certainly don’t brush it.
RJ: How do you get dreads started, cuz I’ve gone a week without washing my hair and I got nothing but stink.
SAT: You have to wash your hair with ultra clean water, rub your hair, wear hats and it starts to weave into dreadlocks. They take their own shape and do their own thing. I’ve had them for fourteen years.
RJ: How do your parents feel about your hair?
SAT: They’re fine with it, now. When I was in my teenage years, it seemed crazy to them?
RJ: Double Doubles rule: True or False?
SAT: Double Doubles?
RJ: From In N Out.
SAT: I don’t know In N Out, I’m from the East coast and I’m a vegan. I know they have a secret menu.
RJ: No vegan shit that I’m aware of. Vegetarian, sure, but crazy, not so sure. Anyways, the answer was true. Thomas, how many cops have you told to piss off?
SAT: None while being arrested, that’s for damned sure, probably one or two at a protest. It’s just not a good idea while getting arrested.
RJ: That’s the first lesson you learn from Cops. Don’t lie to cops, they will fuck you over. Do you think you would be able to point out Uruguay on a globe?
SAT: I think so, yea, as long as it had South America on it with lines separating the countries.
RJ: What is the ideal ratio of selling your art to support yourself to selling out?
SAT: That’s a good question. Part of selling art is not just to sustain your life as a touring band, to be able to afford some kind of shelter when you’re not on tour, healthcare and pet food, but also to spread your message and strengthen the counter-culture and to get other people involved. It wouldn’t be my band, but as part of a movement the music, the ideas and the courage that is part of it needs to grow, and I think that’s a bigger part of it. We’re a semi-self-sufficient band, but if we stop touring for like two months, we need to get jobs. We’ve committed and sacrificed 7 years to get to do this. It’s an ever changing question that I don’t have the answer for at the moment.
RJ: How do you feel about the fans that go from loving a band that draws 20 people, to hating them if they have any kind of commercial success?
SAT: I don’t know, I’ve had that relationship with bands. I didn’t hate them, but you don’t feel as connected to them if another media harvests them. But, at the same time, it seems to help with people’s identities to say “I used to be into that band when I paid five bucks to see them in a basement, now I fucking hate them.”
RJ: I know a lot of bands want as many people as possible to listen to their art and hear their stories. If their music gets played on some network TV show, then more people can hear it, more people can identify with it and be touched by it, but then a shitload of kids say “Oh, it’s corporate, it has no meaning as art anymore.” It seems like a dick move.
SAT: You can become a cartoon of what you believe in and have the rug pulled out from underneath you. Then you find yourself standing in this space that used to have all your friends, ideas and passion and it’s just A&R people, different levels of management and things that are just plastic and hollow and you never meant for this to happen. You can’t have a hard and fast line with this, you have to take it on a case by case basis. These ideas are important to get out there we’re part of a continuum of music that’s before punk, like revolutionary folk music telling the stories that the news won’t, trying to build something around the corporate choreography that passes for free speech. It’s poetry and it’s loud and aggressive and personal, but it’s also trying to tell more truth. Whatever choices people need to make to do that, whether it’s only pressing 400 of an album and playing basements or being Rage Against The Machine or The Clash or anywhere in between, they do that.
RJ: Does all this state-smashing make you hungry?
SAT: Honestly, man, we’re all hungry people, we eat well. Eating’s a big part of the band ritual. Talking to people about smashing the state makes you starve, but working together makes you fulfilled.
RJ: Huh? Whatever. You’re website is www.strikeanywhere.org, are you a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization?
SAT: No, I’m not sure what our tax status is, actually. I think we’re going to avoid that altogether. Yea, I’m not sure.
RJ: Do you pay taxes?
SAT: I have to admit, when it comes down to it, I’m a tax-paying anarchist. We’re probably going to have to be pushed into being a more legitimate as a band, we have to figure out a way to live with this band and make it work. The amount of strange theoretical and practical compromises, ugh.
RJ: Word. Do you think that the Lifetime network offices are filled with misandronists?
SAT: Gosh, I don’t know.
RJ: Because that seems like one hell of a sexist channel.
SAT: I don’t know if they’re really that helpful to women, they seem like really sentimental superficial entertainment culture.
RJ: Are you an albino?
SAT: I’m not an albino, no.
RJ: I know not all of you are veggie-heads, yet you have songs about vegetarianism, what gives?
SAT: We don’t have party lines as a band, we all talk about it and vaguely agree, but I’m the only vegan in the band, Garth is a vegetarian and the others eat what they will. They’re still my friends and I love them. We’re not all this or all that, but none of us are Republicans and we all try to examine our bigotries and our sexisms and cultural baggage. Garth and I have been into animal rights stuff and my meat-eating band mates have also been animal rescuers. I think it’s a complex world with many voices and my band mates have adopted dogs and they have been amazing and supportive. The song you’re talking about (Collateral Damage) wasn’t put on the album because not everyone feels that way and we gave it to the PETA compilation so it could be used in a special forum. We wanted to give it to the animal rights movement.
RJ: PETA, huh? In every group of people that shares a common, generalized belief, there are those who want to talk, persuade and work towards their goal, and there are those who want the change to happen overnight, often violently. A lot of things I’ve seen PETA associate themselves with, it just seems like a destructive movement to a cause they claim to believe in, threatening to damage any people on the fringe. The other day I was approached by a guy who told me I was going to hell if I didn’t repent, and approaching me in that way already gets me into a defensive stance, and then I don’t care to talk about whatever it is he’s pushing. However, I have discussed Christianity with friends and acquaintances with no defensiveness. It’s all in the approach and finding common ground and working from there.
SAT: That’s a great analogy. We have a group with us that are being investigated by the federal government for putting up websites that suggest direct action, but they don’t have a case. There’s this huge Green Scare, this witch-hunt for direct action animal rights activists, and I’m definitely on the side of the activists for that. I’m also helping the National Center for Animal Law, a non-profit legal center for animal rights. This group is looked upon as being mainstream and working within the system, I believe in both processes. I believe that there are two fronts in the battle. But people get really caught up in the cult aspect of activism and are not looking at the big picture. I definitely agree with some of the criticisms of PETA, to be honest, we prefer the grassroots local methods. Being crazy and judgmental does not help the animals in anyway.
RJ: Have you ever watched gay porn?
SAT: Yes. Power Tools Volumes 3 and 4. Also, I need to get back to the first question about my junk. My bandmates, and I don’t know how this happened, but I’m a very modest person and my friends started calling my penis “the Phone.”
RJ: Can you call people with it? Reach out and touch somebody?
SAT: It’s not like a phone in any way. They just thought it was funny if I was hung like a phone.
RJ: What a weirdo.