September 24, 2003
JOHN WILKERSON OF FROM ASHES RISE
There’s just something special about a band, be it punk, hardcore, thrash, ska, et al., who play excellent music AND have something of importance to say. How many dime a dozen bands are there that just keep on singing about boring, clichéd topics over and over again that make you want to tear your stereo out of the wall and throw it as hard as you can against the wall? So what your girlfriend left you. Suck it up and get on with it. Well, happily, there are still bands around who deal with greater issues like exposing society’s/government’s ills and offering solutions like those greats Discharge and Conflict, including a band I was lucky enough to speak with: From Ashes Rise. Not only do they play an infectious brand of mind-blowing hardcore, they supplement it with worthwhile socio-political lyrics that make you want to get up and fight for change. This is definitely a band that, if anything, will get you thinking about what’s going on in the world.
The long and winding history of From Ashes Rise is a bit complicated with all the moves and line-up changes endured over the years. While speaking with John Wilkerson, who shares vocal and guitar duties with Brad Boatright, he tried his best to succinctly summarize their sordid past, explaining that the band began about seven years ago in Nashville and that he, Brad, and drummer Dave Atchison have been in the band since its inception. Through the years, there have been some line-up changes, namely a couple of different bassists, as well as a singer at one point. Billy Davis, the current bass player and member of Tragedy, had been the band’s second bassist and then moved out to Portland, OR. “It’s really strange because we all lived there in Nashville and he lived out here so it was kind of functional and dysfunctional for a little while because he would either have to come [to Nashville] for practice or we would go [to Portland] and itâ€¦got to be where whenever we would go out on tour, we’d come out [to Portland].” John reasons the rest of the band probably moved from Nashville to Oregon, following Billy, in order to keep the band going “because we didn’t have a bass player and there were not really that many optionsâ€¦Billy moved out here and I think we all needed a change.” He concludes that Portland was a more ideal locale than Nashville anyway at the time. Now all the guys actually reside in the same house, so that’s a far cry from having to cross an entire continent just to be able to rehearse, and John simply says they’re a more “functional band again.” So since all the guys finally moved out to Portland – John was the last to go, having just settled down about seven months ago – and signed to Jade Tree at the end of last year, they are taking the band more seriously as a full-time commitment.
John and vocalist/guitarist Brad, both originally from Mississippi, met at a show and formed a friendship quickly since down south there weren’t many people into punk or DIY hardcore. Brad moved to Tennessee, and John soon followed because he was so bored in Mississippi. I had to know why they formed the band, being that so much of their importance lies in the politically-charged lyrics. At first was it just to play music or as a means to spread their ideas about injustices in our society? “We started out of sheer boredom,” he says matter-of-factly, continuing, “Everybody loved music and wanted to play, and our lyrics in the beginning were definitely political, but personal. The more we grew, the more we were all into anarchismâ€¦and trying to become more intelligent and [telling] people about what we think. It’s basically gone from personal to political to more mad-as-hell at everything.” And he sounds extremely touched – as he should be – when relating how kids actually come up to the band “saying they used our lyrics in some high school class as an example of prose or poetry.”
And now the lyrics on their latest release, the groundbreaking "Nightmares", “focus mostly on war because it’s such an atrocity and the only voice, the catharsis we have, is to sing about it.” He adds, “And that’s something people can sing about never enough because it’s constantly going onâ€¦there’s people getting bombed to death or god only knows, we don’t have any idea what’s going on” because the truth is kept from us lowly commoners. Stunned, he elaborates: “It’s amazing that we’ve gotten to the point where [the government] can keep people so dumb.” And all this “just pisses us off more.” In greater detail, John says “I think some of the lyrics now have gotten a little stripped down and extremely angry just because in the last year the way the world is andâ€¦there being so much protest over the war that it was hard as hell not to think of that.” He finds the whole situation “really disheartening” and feels that the band’s lyrics probably won’t change anything, “but it’s still one of those things that lets people know we’re still pissed off and we’re not going to sing about roses andâ€¦love just because everybody [does] that.”
Sure they’re mad, and rightly so, but John’s quick to note no matter how bleak FAR’s lyrics may be, “we’re all extremely happy people” who “love life,” but he adds, “It’s just people get fucked over so much it makes us mad,” and creating music and sharing beliefs is how they find some sort of consolation. Likewise, the band’s goal has nothing to do with how many records they sell or anything like that, but rather is much more profound. They just want their listeners to know “that there are still people that want to give people a voiceâ€¦and share it."
And now, upon signing with Jade Tree, they will be able to have even more people hear their music. Yet, joining forces with the label wasn’t instantaneous on FAR’s part. First off, the guys really couldn’t fathom that this label would be interested in working with a bludgeoning hardcore band since pretty much no other bands on their roster are comparable to FAR. But, the foursome decided the guys at Jade Tree were serious and felt it would be good to try something different. John says, “It’s kind of a science experiment” and of course, some punk purists were up in arms after they signed with the label. “We’ve got an awful lot of shit from some people about going from a complete DIY background to [Jade Tree], even though these guys are totally DIY, they just have at this point all their shit together.” But the band was willing to forego punk “cred” or what have you, in order to have more people hear their record and its inherently angry, thought-provoking message. John expounds, “We thought maybe our record would be more important lyrically or musically than some of the other crapâ€¦If a ten-year-old kid in Des Moines can hear my record and like it and it’ll inspire him,” then it’s all worth it.
The great late â€˜70s/early â€˜80s U.K. band Discharge was a big influence on the band – they even recorded one of the legendary hardcore punks’ songs a while back, “A Hell on Earth”. “Discharge are great and we love [them]. They’re probably the most amazing for as being as simple as they are, that band and The Ramonesâ€¦they have absolutely the most minimalist approach to music and it still stands up. It’s definitely a band that’s been there for us and I’m sure every other anti-war punk band or peace punk type band,” adding, “It’s a band we all took to heart, especially the lyrics. They were anti-war, and when we recorded it, it was the second wave of bombings in Iraq under Clinton and now it’s the same thing again.” Well, the way he speaks, it seems that he – and Brad, of course – were some of the lucky few who were into punk and hardcore when they were younger. “I grew up in central Mississippi so punk was still kind of taboo in the late â€˜80s and early â€˜90s,” he says. “You didn’t know three people who had Misfits records and if anybody did and their parents found them, they probably would have thrown them out.”
It is true that from record to record FAR’s sound has changed a bit. It’s lost some of the metal edge, but it’s still unbelievably aggressive and dark, complementing the dire, angry lyrics and screamed vocals so well. As John says, “There’s no double bass anymore; it’s definitely got more rock and a little bit more on songwriting and structure and stuff like that.” How true. Just listen to any track off "Nightmares", especially the unsurpassable “The Last Goodbye”, which is the most intricate, complex, and affecting song on the record and “The Inner Beast”, another elaborate offering. However, John still insists they’re hard as fuck. “The average person if they heard it and had no idea what the style of hardcore we play is, they’d [say], â€˜Oh, this is heavy metal.’” Yet, on the other side of the spectrum, he claims some people in Portland actually accuse the band of being too emo. That’s a riot. Their music is simply straight-up brutal hardcore punk with screamed, urgent vocals, crushing guitars, pummeling bass, and vicious drums. John rests his case by simply declaring, “It’s just four people playing what we think hardcore sounds like. We definitely don’t sound like Discharge, but I guess it’s hardcore – gloomy hardcore.”
And this band has been quite busy recently. Not only have they signed to Jade Tree, just released their third full-length, the aforementioned "Nightmares", put out a split with Swedish hardcore maniacs Victims on Felix von Havoc’s label – Havoc Records (www.havocrex.com for details), they’re also ready to head out on the road for a U.S. tour. They’ll be heading out November 14th for a month-long stint, hitting mostly every major city along the way except the Deep South. On a couple of dates, they’ll be playing with DFB, a band from Japan probably in Providence, Philadelphia, and New York. Speaking of New York, John says they’ll be playing the tiny but lovely ABC No Rio in late November. Check out www.jadetree.com for specific dates and more information.
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