Existence is a nightmare, and now more than ever. The world in 2018 is one that is rife with discrimination and intolerance. Hateful and bigoted views are validated by corrupt conservative governments who incite symbolic violence against oppressed groups, who are driven into poverty and destitution through lack of support by that same government. In many ways, very little has changed since the 1980s, during the formative years of punk rock, where DIY culture offered sanctuary to the marginalised and their allies in the face of overwhelming political adversity and looming threat of imminent nuclear destruction.
Sean Addicott and Isaac Windsor sought refuge in punk. To them, it is a symbolic arsenal against the constructed elements of the world. Addicott and Windsor play guitar and drums respectively in PUNCH ON!, a hardcore punk two-piece that blends an eclectic synthesis of early 2000s screamo and mindful ambient. Their upcoming debut LP, I Have No History But The Length Of My Bones, is laced with socially and personally-charged lyrics which conjure a call-to-arms of anarchy and self-government. I sat down with the duo over a black coffee and talked octave pedals, fighting fascism, and why PUNCH ON! wants to fill your heart with strife.
Your LP was recorded by Nathaniel Stevens of Nietzsche Trigger Finger, tell us about your relationship with the UK DIY scene. Do you have any particular close kinships with certain bands?
S: We’ve only been gigging for about six months so haven’t had a chance to form any big kinships. We’ve played with a lot of different bands, like Gatecreeper early on, which was quite cool. We play a lot of hardcore shows, like straight hardcore. We’ll think “there’s a beatdown coming up in our set, all these hardcore kids might find something in it”. Then we’ll still see arms folded and think “well, still too soft for these guys. Still too flowery.”
I: But folded arms at screamo shows are some of the best reactions you get.
S: Oh, the inconsistent language of punk rock.
You say you’re proud to be a two-piece, what are the pros to writing, recording, and gigging with just two people?
I: It’s the best. It’s easier to sort out ‘cause you don’t have to chase everyone around for arranging gigs, practices and on-the-fly stuff. It’s “do you wanna do a practice later?” rather than “what are my seventeen other bandmates doing?” and “oh, I can’t come because I wanna eat some cereal.”
S: It’s pragmatism. It affects the creative process to because I need reigning in sometimes. I need someone to put a box around me and say “stop”. Otherwise I’m thinking “what about this, and this, and this?”
I: You almost wanna be more creative because there’s less people.
S: Our bass player is an octave pedal. That’s one way of reigning in the process, thinking about what’s going on in the bottom end, can it be lower, can I do it without the bass player, etc. There are a few parts on the record where the bass cuts out, like breakdowns and stuff. So there’s that, and observing how that works with harmonic extensions, and with riffs, and asking “how do I make this sound huge?”. One of my biggest influences on this record creatively is Japandroids. I saw a video of the guy playing guitar live and thinking “he’s playing a guitar solo, and it sounds like there’s a rhythm guitar as well. There needs to be a screamo version of this.” There’s Algae Bloom, they’re a screamo two-piece, but they’re a different vibe. When it came to doing this band, my whole thing was jangly European-style skramz, but I thought if we’re a two-piece, we can’t do the intricate guitars in the same way because it would fall flat. So if we can’t be jangly, we’ll just be dumb heavy. I’m not gonna do jangly, I’m gonna do beatdowns, because I haven’t written those before, and they’re dumb and fun!
And the cons?
S: Running out of fingers. The biggest limitation of Punch On! as a two-piece though is that none of us drive. But I’ve yet to experience too many cons.
I: Plus there’s the financial side of not having five band members to split the cost of petrol or t-shirts.
Screamo can be a very insular genre. Does your songwriting take inspiration from atypical sources and other mediums?
S: It’s worth noting that we weren’t originally a screamo band, we were just a band. It just turns out when I’m playing without billions of layers of reverb, the only thing that sounds remotely satisfying sounds a bit like screamo. I find influence quite immeasurable, it’s hard to sit down and list everything you’re consciously influenced by. I did an art exhibition with some friends two years ago on the theme of time, and it was interesting because I was engaging with people who do art in a different realm to mine. There was visual art, painting… a really cool sound sculpture by Ben Chilton of Regolith. Plus going to more noise and techno shows and getting back into John Cage and Steve Reich and thinking more classically about how I do things.
How great is Steve Reich though?
S: The guy’s a living fucking legend. He just stuck two fingers up to convention. Everyone was doing atonal, weird cold war European stuff and he said “nah, this is America in the 1960s, I’m gonna do bright tonal compositions based on simplicity.”
Is that where the ambient/drone element aspect of the music emerged from?
I: That was mainly Sean. I don’t understand music. I’ve gotten into ambient more since being in this band.
S: We both just thought “fuck it, sounds good, so it’s going in”. Which is how we write most things.
Any ambient recommendations for punks?
S: I’ve been ignoring most ambient recently. I’ll say I really, really love it and mean I really love… ten per cent of it. I’ll be on the Reddit ambient music page and be like, cool, you sound like someone who’s literally fallen out of the acid house rave, realised he’s too old to go to that stuff, has all this recording equipment in his bedroom and has gone “yeah, I’m gonna make an ambient record and it’s gonna be sick!” Then you listen to it back and it’s dumb drum loops and drones that don’t make any sense, and I kind of feel like I’m coming down listening to it. But for me, it’s always Tim Hecker. Quite underrated as well is the Riceboy Sleeps album, which is Jónsi from Sigur Rós and Alex Somers’ collaborative ambient record. Nothing impresses me as much as that album does. It’s so complicated, there’s so many layers but it just comes across as a simple work.
I: Didn’t the guy who made Salad Fingers do an ambient album?
S: Fair play to him.
Where do you find the energy to get out of bed and be creative every day?
S: I have a lot of routines that I have in my day anyway just to make sure that everything that needs to be done is done. Outside of creativity I try to keep work and band things balanced, as well as if I’m putting on a show. I try to stay focused, don’t get distracted, and don’t expect too much from myself.
I: In my old job there wasn’t much time for routine because of bar work. But with my new job I’ve got a lot more time to be focused and creative, and we definitely get more done. Now I’m taking time to be creative rather than just constantly thinking about it.
Tell us about your day jobs, do they influence your art?
S: I work in autism education. I have an in-and-out relationship with the role of being a teacher. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I don’t. I love working with young people teaching music, and obviously it affects me because I experience so many different ways of playing music, which has a knock-on effect to how I write. It influences how I perceive the world, like the world wasn’t built for autistic people, so work brings out that frustration. Some songs [on the LP] are just like, “fuck the world, this isn’t how we should live”.
I: And I sell energy for a living. Used to work as a cocktail bartender. It wasn’t the best, working ‘til four in the morning every day.
Punk has a long history of antifascism but recently, many in the DIY scene face hate online for aligning themselves with such far-left ideologies. Do you worry about the criticism that can come with siding with antifascism?
S: It makes life easier in many ways. You know who’s who, where the line is, and what you’re about. I think trying to pacify that is the almost neoliberal answer. “Everyone has to get on and no one can say too much and everyone has to be nicey-nicey”, when sometimes pissing people off who don’t agree with you is your way of saying “we’re this, and we’re not that.” We haven’t had much of an online presence so we haven’t had that kind of backlash yet, but in a way I’m looking forward to it.
How would you deal with your first negative reaction?
I: I’d probably frame it in the practice room.
S: And stick is as the Facebook banner for a while. Really puerile “fuck you” kinda way.
I: We’re proud to actually stand by something and not pacify it and say we have to get on [with fascists]. ‘Cause at the end of the day, we don’t.
“Spring” is a season that crops up a couple of times in the lyrics. Which season do you find to be the most bountiful?
S: I really like autumn and spring when it’s cold and bright. If it’s really cold, I feel more inclined to move, ‘cause I ain’t hanging around when it’s freezing fucking cold. Then when I’m moving I’m like, “cool, energy, this is great!”. When it’s cloudy I almost feel the atmospheric pressure and I have a rubbish day.
I: Yeah, living in England, the weather has extremes. In winter when it’s cold, grey, wet and miserable it’s not very motivating. Same when it’s sunny. Nothing gets done because you feel lethargic.
S: I almost feel inclined to go into our practice space in winter. We shared our space with Idles, the Bristol band, and the thing with Idles is that one of their guitar players is a dentist who lives in London. So the only time they can practice is on Sunday, and they have marathon practices. The reason Idles are so tight, that they can record their whole album in three attempts and every part live is that they’d practice for seven hours in a row. So we went in our practice room once on a hot summer’s day after the five of them had been in a tiny space, rocking out for seven hours, and it was like walking into somewhere between a sauna and a teenager’s bedroom. They left a physical atmospheric presence. So I’d go for winter over summer in that situation.
The lyrics on the LP range from verbose, academic and philosophical to brief personal anecdotes. Without prying, can you offer more insight into the more personal aspects of the lyrics?
S: Some songs are related to more personal experiences and others are more broad, and some of the more obtuse-sounding stuff is a lot more literal than it comes across. One of the songs is about how when I was twenty-two and had heart surgery. Because it was an elective surgery they basically come in with a form and say “we need you to sign this, because in the next six months there’s a 0.5% chance you’ll have a stroke, of which there is a 50% you might die”, and it just kept going with all of these facts, and I was like, “cool, this is my aortic mortality check.” Other songs are just about being pissed off at the world, to be honest. Being twenty-nine and still angry. Having friends your age who aren’t angry anymore. Not liking that I’m expected to do certain things without being asked whether I want to, and not getting an answer when I ask what’s the moral justification, and hating the constructed elements of life.
Each song on the LP ends with a brief philosophical statement that engages the listener directly. What is the purpose of these messages?
S: Those are there to create a very short, immediate context at the end of the song. Lyrically, the record was a coping mechanism for being very nihilistic and being like “ah fuck, don’t know how to deal with this”. One of the inspirations was Orchid’s Gatefold record. If you look inside that there’s a one-line sentence for every song, which put together makes a really interesting paragraph about how to live your life. Reading that I was thinking about how I can condense all my lyrical content into a phrase.
I: It’s like a mantra on how to live and cope. It also sums up the songs in an easy way to understand. It kinda lays it out for everyone, rather than interpreting it in certain ways, it’s “this is what it’s about”.
Finally, this being your inaugural interview, what is Punch On! here to accomplish? What is your message?
S: I guess, we’re trying to find some kind of positive, informed way of viewing certain circumstances… while also having big-sounding guitars and beatdowns.
I: Yeah, a way of coping with living in the twenty-first century.
S: But also big guitars and beatdowns. And cool drum fills. And kick-ass snare tone. And just… coping.
PUNCH ON! endorses listening to their friends’ music: Kate Stapley, Nietzsche Trigger Finger, Salt Bath, Cady, Komarov, Little Baby Sharks, Toodles and the Hectic Pity, and Gnarwhals.
This feature was powered by:
Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)
jonatan leandoer127 – psychopath ballads (2016)
Deafheaven – Roads To Judah (2011)