With their debut album already a hit, and a UK tour on the way, Los Angeles’ MILITARIE GUN are new favourites in hardcore.
Words: Ali Shutler
Photos: Jennifer McCord
Militarie Gun’s debut album ‘Life Under The Gun’ sees the American hardcore band blend aggression and vulnerability with absolutely massive hooks. “We wanted to make catchy songs that said something,” explains vocalist Ian Shelton.
Tracks like ‘Do It Faster’ channel the frantic energy of DIY basement shows, while the dreamy ‘See You Around’ makes nods to The Beatles and the ominous ‘Return Policy’ takes influence from The Rolling Stones. There’s a snarling urgency to the whole album, which clocks in at just over 27 minutes in length, but songs like ‘Sway Too’ and ‘My Friends Are Having A Hard Time’ are driven by ever-shifting dynamics.
It’s little surprise that since releasing their debut EP ‘My Life Is Over’ in 2020, Militarie Gun have gone from scene champions to breakout stars.
The band never set out to blur genre lines or cause debates about hardcore, punk and its position in the mainstream, though. “It was just about chasing the music we like,” Ian says. “Whatever felt inspiring that day, that’s what we went with.”
Ian was first drawn to hardcore as a kid because of “the anger, the catharsis and the community” the genre offered. Growing up in a small town, without much of a support network at home or at school, he found “this freak circus where people jump on each other, but it’s this positive thing” absolutely incredible. Of course, he spent hours on YouTube watching countless videos of hardcore greats, wanting to get involved.
“Everything that has happened has already surpassed what I thought the peak of the band would have been”Ian Shelton
After putting on shows and playing in various local bands, Ian’s Regional Justice Center, a snarling hardcore group who used music to pick apart America’s for-profit prison system, started gathering steam. When lockdown hit, the band were forced to hit the pause button, but Ian kept writing, releasing ‘My Life Is Over’ and 2021’s two-parter ‘All Roads Lead To The Gun’ as Militarie Gun before the group, rounded out by guitarists William Acuña and Nick Cogan, bassist Waylon Trim and drummer Vince Nguyen, had even played a show.
“Everything that has happened has already surpassed what I thought the peak of the band would have been,” explains Ian, on a brief stopover at home in between tours. Later this year, the band are heading out across North America supporting fellow breakout hardcore stars Scowl before they’ll return to the UK and Europe for a string of their own headline shows. ‘Life Under The Gun’ has been praised across the board, while footage of Post Malone singing ‘Do It Faster’ backstage with Ian went viral earlier this year. “I’ve been doing DIY bands for so long and never got anywhere near the feedback and the reception that this has gotten,” says Ian.
He’s not letting the success go to his head, though. “It’s still very hypothetical,” he explains. “I’m not cynical, but I am sceptical because it’s hard to tell what reality is when everything happens online. I can see our monthly listeners on Spotify go up, we’re getting more followers on Instagram, but I’d be a fool to think that means anything super important. Playing shows, seeing who turns up, that’s the actual test for it,” he says, with the whole band excited to dive back into touring and see what happens next.
Despite a clutch of adored EPs to their name, Militarie Gun’s approach to ‘Life Under The Gun’ was to keep evolving as a band. “It’s the record we’ve wanted to make the entire time, but we weren’t competent enough to do it until now,” says Ian, with the group stepping back from the grind of writing and playing shows to really focus on every detail of the record. “We wanted to make it as great as possible.”
“The equation for the album was making things that are not aggressive, feel a little more aggressive and then taking aggressive things and leaning towards vulnerability,” he continues. Pulling from those different moods and genres never felt like a risk for the hardcore band. “I didn’t really have time to consider it,” Ian starts before adding, “I don’t really care either. It’s just about what feels inspiring.”
With a broader canvas with ‘Life Under The Gun’, Ian wanted to talk about “regret, the inevitable cycle of abuse and how that intersects with this moment in culture where people make bad decisions, and it becomes their entire identity without hope of forgiveness.”
These complex, sometimes confrontational ideas are explored in tightly wound two-minute songs. “I have a really short attention span anyway,” starts Ian, who wanted to be direct but still say something meaningful. “You can project a lot of what is happening in your home life but still make it universal,” he offers. ‘Very High’ is about taking drugs but in doing so, talks about embarrassment and feeling disdain towards your past self. “That’s something everyone goes through.”
At times, it’s incredibly raw, but Ian “wanted to talk about my own shortcomings. Right now, everyone wants to point the finger at other people instead of looking at themselves. I thought being accountable would result in better art than trying to blame others.”
Despite the subject matter, ‘Life Under The Gun’ channels empathy and hope. “Ultimately, the record is asking that if all the things holding you back are in your rearview mirror, can you keep moving forward with your life,” says Ian. “It’s meant to feel hopeful, especially in its final moment.” It’s a surprisingly uncynical stance.
“Cynicism is often that little piece of glass that comes between good art and great art”Ian Shelton
“Cynicism, specifically within punk music, is very tired and has led to a lack of true art, for the most part,” he explains. “It’s easy to hold something between yourself and reality. Cynicism is often that little piece of glass that comes between good art and great art.”
He admits he can still be cynical, but is trying to let that go. “At the end of the day, when you’re saying the things that I’m trying to say in the songs, you can’t be cynical. You have to be hopeful because it is about the progression of life and the embracing of the idea that you could feel differently about something tomorrow without that invalidating how you feel today. It’s meant to be very positive.”
Militarie Gun’s success comes as hardcore is having a main character moment. Turnstile’s third album ‘Glow On’ saw the American mob flirt with melodic alt-rock, Knocked Loose had Billie Eilish vibing side of stage at their massive Coachella slot, while footage of chaotic hardcore shows has regularly been blowing up on TikTok. “The songs are just better than ever,” says Ian of why the genre is having a moment in the spotlight. “Pre-pandemic, it felt like the scene was getting stale, but when shows went away, people had to start writing songs that were good enough to listen to at home.”
“On top of that, the world seems more fucked up every day. People are upset. People are angry. People need an outlet, so the mainstream is leaning towards music that speaks to aggression,” he continues.
“I can’t control any of that, though. I’m just excited that people are listening.” ■
Taken from the September 2023 edition of Dork. Militarie Gun’s debut album’ Life Under The Gun’ is out now.
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