After a whirlwind few years, Los Angeles’ MILITARIE GUN are landing proper with their debut album.
“Hardcore, for me, should be about vulnerability. Vulnerability and anger. It shouldn’t be about posturing,” considers Militarie Gun’s Ian Shelton as we discuss the Californian group’s excellent debut album proper, ‘Life Under the Gun’.
“The big thing for me was being 15 years old and being able to jump on people’s heads while screaming ‘I’ve got problems, I’m a fucked-up kid’ while watching Ceremony. As plain as it is, I want to chase that with Militarie Gun.”
Hardcore means a lot of things to a lot of people, but there’s no question that sparks fly when anger and vulnerability collide. Touché Amoré have been one of hardcore’s most forward-thinking, open and cathartic acts, with vocalist Jeremy Bolm cataloguing his grief on the astonishingly personal ‘Stage Four’. There’s little posturing on their records, just someone making sense of their feelings and the world around them.
Equally, what Touché Amoré does so well – and this is matched by Militarie Gun – is finding that fine line between being sincere and worthy (or over-earnest). No one wants to listen to a vocalist crying woe-is-me bullshit over 10 tracks of bludgeoning hardcore but instead wants to be guided towards empathy and reflection. ‘Life Under the Gun’ does this beautifully – although it’s been a journey for Ian to get to that point.
“Vulnerability isn’t the most obvious trait within hardcore,” considers Ian. “But when you think about bands like Touché, they’re drawing from broader places. Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse is probably one of the most influential musicians to me, and there’s such vulnerability and poetry in everything that happens there.
“So, for me, it was always about taking that earnestness… I’m so embarrassed of my high school bands because they were so earnest and vulnerable. I’d be talking about things, and now I’m like, ‘God, I really thought that was a good thing to talk about in the song?’ But it was sincere, and that’s what was important about it.”
For Militarie Gun, this idea of vulnerability and anger has manifested itself in the album’s central concept. Ian’s upbringing, which included living with parents struggling for sobriety, has been well-documented, but instead of delving into the whats, whys and hows, it’s a much more deconstructed take on ideas of abuse, empathy and honesty.
“The broad theme is that we grow up, and we’ll all be abused to some extent. And, because of that, you will then grow up to eventually abuse someone else, and then you witness the chickens coming home to roost on your actions. So that cycle was something that I really wanted to discuss with the record.
“Another part of that is the way your feelings can change over time and the way something that can feel so true to you one day, you can be completely over the next.
“I just wanted to talk more honestly about how I think people operate in the world… I think, coming from a moment where there’s such a lack of empathy, I feel like there are so few people who look inward when they watch others taking accountability for their own actions. I have no interest in pointing the finger at somebody else, so I wanted to talk about myself in those relationships.”
Ian suggests that the themes behind the record won’t necessarily be evident to the listener but can be considered as a whole, starting from a place of a lack of self-awareness before zooming out to view the broader picture as the album progresses. The fundamental question at the heart of the record being, ‘Can I move on as well?’
One such example of the macro and the micro can be found in the breezy indie-punk gem of ‘Never Fucked Up Once’. It’s a song about regret and is a world away from Militarie Gun’s trademark off-kilter hardcore – which, too, is a theme of the record as the band drifts into indie-punk territory.
This sonic evolution is perhaps no surprise considering the group frequently cites legendary oddballs Guided By Voices as an influence – or the nods to indie heroes Modest Mouse – but in the case of ‘Never Fucked Up Once’, where the intention was to write a slacker pop song, the result is the album’s heartbeat. While there was unquestionably a fear about switching things up so much, the results have landed perfectly.
Unsurprisingly, given it is so far removed from their previous output, ‘Never Fucked Up Again’ has been a near-constant discussion points in interviews – seemingly to Ian’s delight. Like ‘Very High’ – the album’s other pop high watermark – it’s also a microcosm of everything that makes ‘Life Under the Gun’ so special.
“I really wanted to write something that had some emotional weight. We’re coming from a moment in culture where doing wrong or doing wrong to others – things you’re probably not proud of yourself – become your defining trait in life. So, it’s talking to someone who has been more or less ousted from the world they desire to live in.
“I grew up around really flawed people, so that mindset never made much sense to me. That idea of resentment is like drinking poison – like, why show unkindness towards the flawed people in the world? I’m much more on the path of forgiveness than resentment, so I wanted to write about it from an emotional standpoint.”
While lyrically and thematically, this will be familiar ground for long-time fans of Militarie Gun, musically and sonically, ‘Life Under the Gun’ is something of a departure, with elements of pop and indie washing over the group’s abrasive sound. Much like the tension between anger and vulnerability, this push and pull between melodicism and discordance has been central to hardcore’s evolution over the past three decades.
Yet it hasn’t always played out well for hardcore bands. Perhaps even more so than punk, it’s a scene renowned for pushing back on bands deemed to have ‘gone soft’. Of course, times have changed, and modern audiences are much less likely to cry ‘sellout’ when a band writes poppier songs. Nevertheless, Ian’s focused on driving the band forward and finding a space for them to exist in today’s burgeoning hardcore scene.
“I think, today, the scene is generally more supportive,” he considers. “I’m sure these conversations are still going on in places like Reddit, but I don’t go on there. I think people are hungrier for catchier music. Even older people that might be stricter about genre… like, look at Rival Schools; they’ve paved the way for these melodic changes within hardcore.
“Ultimately, the only thing I care about is whether or not I’m proud of the record we made. If we made a record that I felt wasn’t genuine or was chasing a trend and saw someone ragging on it, that would bother me because we wouldn’t have been sincere. With this, people can say what they want; it won’t change how I feel about it.”
Fortunately, Militarie Gun have dropped a record that puts them firmly at the centre of the discourse around modern hardcore. Angry, vulnerable, sincere and earnest, it covers all the bases Ian set out to hit, making it a touchstone for the genre and a lightning rod for the exploding scene. ■
Taken from the July 2023 edition of Upset. Militarie Gun’s album ‘Life Under The Gun’ is out 23rd June.