Strike Anywhere’s first new release in over 10 years arrives at a time when Richmond is addressing many of the political issues the veteran punk band has been singing about throughout their career.
Richmond’s beloved veteran punk band Strike Anywhere is releasing their first batch of studio recordings in more than a decade. Their brand-new EP, Nightmares Of The West, is composed of seven songs that bridge their musical stylings with the state of the world today.
Music and the arts have long been creative outlets to turn to in times of social unrest. Thomas Barnett, vocalist and lyricist of Strike Anywhere, reminds us of this once again with the release of the new EP.
“Music and art, and culture work, are part of the foundation,” Barnett said. “Giving people the space to check their privilege, and understand their spot in history — to break away from dominant culture and see truth. To see through propaganda, and seek courage to take a stand. That’s always part of what we’re about.”
For decades, punk bands like Strike Anywhere have used their voices to bring awareness to injustice, rallying the troops of social revolution. Punks have long been a part of a lineage of people who are discontent with the status quo, and desperate for revolution.
“This is a crazy, beautiful, terrifying, and crucial time,” Barnett said. “It feels like talking about a punk band and its songs is not particularly relevant.” But with a listen to Nightmares Of The West, it’s apparent that the record is entirely relevant to the political and social climate of today. From their sound to their attitude, and their mission as a band, Strike Anywhere embodies the punk narrative with politically-charged songs and motivations for social change.
Barnett has consistently used his voice to bring attention to injustice, and made it his goals to give voices to the underrepresented and disenfranchised people of America. In many ways, the band itself is a vehicle for activism; the microphone is often used similarly to megaphones in protests, rallying and uplifting listeners to scream their anger in the streets and in concert halls. Much like the protests happening in Richmond and across the country, the band encourages their audience to mobilize, sending their message into the faces of their oppressors.
Nightmares Of The West seems to pick up right where Strike Anywhere left off more than ten years ago. The new album is filled with rage and discontent for the status quo, and challenges the systems that are in place. It yearns for something better — a society that is more equal and just. In addition to these familiar ideals, there are topics and sentiments that may be new to the band’s repertoire. As the members age, new perspectives have emerged in their work. Even hardened punks will grow sentimental and nostalgic in time.
The songs are reflective and personal. They explore the outer landscape of America, its ideologies, and social climate, but they also explore the inner world of musicians who are growing older, and the experiences that come with that process. Death and grief are recurring subjects on the EP.
“The past ten years, I’ve lost two close friends who were my age, and that’s affected everything,” Barnett said. “It’s about what you do with grief, loss, regret, and powerlessness… Seeing people’s addictions overtake them, depression and trauma overtake them. There’s always this ghost from your childhood pulling you back, and if you don’t face it and talk about it, it will kill you.”
Barnett explained how this theme of self-care and dealing with trauma relates to the bigger picture, and what’s happening in the world now on a macro level.
“How we keep ourselves open, how we stay positive so we can be available for these changes, for justice, is important,” Barnett said. “And we do it with peace. And when I say ‘peace,’ I also mean burning police cars.” The sentiment is one that many angry Americans on the front lines of the Black Lives Matter movement can staunchly agree with.
As far as burning police cars goes, Barnett showed his insight into what that means as an act of peaceful protest.
“If there’s instruments of violence all around us, to neutralize them is peaceful protest,” he said. “I think that’s where Richmond stands… It’s not just about letting yourself get tear gassed. It’s about reclaiming the streets, taking back all of those weapons that we pay for with our taxes that are being used against us. Punk bands have been talking about that exact dichotomy for a long time.”
Barnett lives in California now, and has for some years, but Strike Anywhere will always be a Richmond band. He visits Richmond often, not just to play shows, but to see his family and friends and walk the city.
“The city is a friend,” he said. Their song “The Bells” from the new album is about those walks and, according to Barnett, what to do with grief and time. He left Richmond for California when he was 30, during a time that he called “the line between New Richmond and Old.”
“Somewhere between 2007 and 2010, I noticed there was more shocking and significant change when I came back, versus tried and true nostalgic pathways,” Barnett reflected. He spoke about the massive transformation that Richmond has undergone in the past decade.
“The way we look at time and space — seeing the past underneath the present, seeing through those layers — it’s a part of being human,” Barnett said. “But I also think it’s a particular part of Richmond.” He explained how living in Richmond has prepared us for this moment, by living alongside the manifestations of systemic racism, and daily reminders that gawk at the people, in the form of Confederate monuments and gentrification.
Barnett went on to discuss social issues during the first decade of the 21st century, and how they informed Strike Anywhere’s last studio album, Iron Front (2009), compared to the issues of today.
“I’m not sure that Iron Front was topically-anchored to that time in any way that isn’t relevant now,” he explained. For Strike Anywhere, that album reinforced the idea that today’s cultural uprisings and Black Lives Matter movement are a culmination of not just years, but decades and generations of injustice. The stories and topics addressed on Iron Front are, in many ways, the same stories relevant today on Nightmares Of The West.
However, one major difference in the eras of Iron Front and Nightmares Of The West is the digital age, and the evolution of social media that has taken place between them.
“We had MySpace back then, with no sense that what happened with social media could happen,” Barnett said. “Another thing that ravages us individually is trying to sort out truth from fiction, and what’s useful in all of this.”
He went on to point out one gift of social media: we have legitimate evidence of police murdering innocent folks, and we can see the real-time victories of this protest, and degradation of police in the state.
“We wouldn’t have had this without this technology right now, and that’s why this particular moment is different,” he said.
Specific lyrics on Nightmares Of The West provide insight into their stories.
“‘The Bells’ is about this idea that no one forgets, but no one remembers until the monuments fall,” said Barnett. “I wrote that song a year ago, thinking we would never in our lifetimes see the monuments removed.”
The statue of Confederate General Williams Carter Wickham was forcibly removed by protesters the night before his interview with RVA Magazine. This event, and the forthcoming removal of all Confederate monuments, gave new depth and meaning to these lyrics.
“It’s strange, because [these songs] seem even more relevant now than they did a year ago when we wrote them, which I can’t explain,” Barnett said.
“The Bells” could be an anthem for what will, hopefully, become a nationwide effort to remove all racist, insensitive, and offensive monuments from public spaces.
“These are structures that aren’t truthful, and are without context. They’ve been here to oppress us — to justify hateful nonsense for generations and to weaponize it,” Barnett said. “You take those structures down, and there’s only people left. These [monuments] are edifices of fear and supremacy, trying to put a lie to the loss. This is the era of unraveling all of that, and re-settling the table.”
“Dress The Wounds,” the second song on the new album, has a section of lyrics saying Do not go gentle into that good night. This line is directly lifted from a poem by Dylan Thomas, of the same name.
“The song is about perseverance,” Barnett said. “Why we are here, why we continue to seek the truth, why we feel this imperative — even through our anxiety, through exhaustion, trauma, and loss, to get back up and get out in the world to connect. To look internally, see what the fuck is wrong with you, meaning me.”
Barnett summed up the meaning of the song, relating it back to the borrowed lyrics from Dylan Thomas.
“It’s a song about healing and finding peace in all the chaos. We won’t go gentle into that good night is speaking to outside forces that want to silence you,” he said. “I think the idea of rebuilding and healing is extremely important. ‘Dress The Wounds’ is literally about that healing; your heart, your mind, and trying to figure out a way to move forward.”
In the years since their last release, Strike Anywhere has been playing shows here and there while working on new material.
“We’ve always been writing as a band, but we took a break from touring and folded back into our communities and families,” Barnett said. “What we’ve chosen to do is play special shows, and we’ve been able to give our all at those shows… and do it in a way that feels like if this was the last time, that would be okay. This could be the right last show.”
Barnett reflected on the string of shows Strike Anywhere played earlier this year in Richmond. “That’s how we felt about the shows back in February at The Broadberry — it felt like we were closing the door on the past a little.” But the band continues to move forward, staying relevant with Nightmares Of The West and adding a meaningful voice to the current movement for civil rights.
Before our conversation ended, Barnett took a moment to touch on the new album’s title.
“Nightmares Of The West is the lyrical heart of the record, taken from the song ‘Frontier Glitch,’ about the mythology of Western dominance, white supremacy, and imperialism,” he said. “[It’s about] what it actually means to be human and a part of history, as opposed to the abstraction that gives some people power over the world, and other people erasure and genocide.”
It is surely a fitting title for a time of change like this. As America confronts a long history of systemic racism, “One side is the American Dream, and underneath is Nightmares Of The West.”
Top Photo via Strike Anywhere/Big Picture Media