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March 7, 2008

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The members of Philadelphia-based hardcore band Paint It Black have had an uncanny knack for being involved in some of the more notable bands of the genre in recent history. Vocalist Dan Yemin is the most recognizable name due, in part, to his status as guitarist for the widely influential New Jersey band Lifetime, as well as guitarist for Kid Dynamite, another titan of the scene. If you shattered the melodic hardcore of Kid Dynamite, splintered the abrasive cynicism of Good Riddance and stomped on the insubordinate anthems of None More Black, you'd have a heap from which Paint It Black could spring. They've had members in those bands, plus the Hope Conspiracy and Affirmative Action Jackson. It's quite a collection of players, but the four- (and sometimes five-) piece isn't tethered to previous accolades by any stretch. On their third full-length, New Lexicon (Jade Tree), the band unleashes a fire-breathing refute. Searing with angst, they pump fresh air into the scene's tired chain-smoke-filled lungs with an assault that'll catch even the biggest hardcore stalwart off-guard. It's hard, loud and direct. Yemin and company have cherry-picked all the best elements of their previous bands and bonded them into one culminating slab that is violent, melodic and relevant. As Yemin aptly says, the new album is both "lonely and desolate, and speaks to the idea of the desert that is the American cultural landscape." To deny it as one of the best punk or hardcore records of the decade would be like saying your shit don't stink, which it does.

CMJ: New Lexicon seems like the defining moment for Paint It Black. Why does this record toe the line with so much more urgency, desperation and immediacy than previous records?
Dan Yemin: We really wanted to up the ante as much as possible. We wanted to remain loyal to our core influences and, in other ways, push or challenge the limitations of the form without leaving the form behind all together. I wouldn't consider it a radical departure, but hardcore and punk can be pretty conservative in terms of how much variation and how much variance it allows and how much variance the fans of it will allow. We wanted to balance the traditional and the experimental.

CMJ: You've been actively involved in punk and hardcore bands for more than 15 years now. Can you assess the current status of the movement?
DY: Like a lot of things, when you apply a historical perspective, you see that things are really cyclical. You see patterns emerging more than any definitive, subjective change. You see a waxing and waning of real traditionalism and then experimental stuff. Different cities will have scenes that are really motivated and really prolific with a lot of creative output and alternative venues. You can go back to the same city five-years later, and it's dead. Those things go in cycles, and they cycle with the availability of motivated individuals to create culture output. You see other things that wax and wane. Like one of the most unfortunate things that seems to shadow punk and hardcore is cycles of violence. Whether its Nazi skinheads or gangs, there is always some really negative and violent force lurking around the corner. Different scenes either have or lack the ability to metabolize that and continue to create positive change.

CMJ: What about the extent of the underground becoming exceedingly more mainstream?
DY: The one thing that I've noticed is that there is a much larger "overground." There has always been mainstream music and underground music and then this gray area in between where some certain bands from the underground gain greater visibility and, in some ways, they expose the underground to the scrutiny of the people that were previously unaware of it. I think that creates a different awareness in the mainstream of underground culture, but it also creates a backlash in the underground culture against that visibility. That's been happening as long as there has been punk and challenging art—motion and backlash. There's a huge strata of bands that wear the trappings of underground music, but are definitely mainstream and try to [mimic] mainstream business practices. There is an entire media set that is attached to that kind of music and exposes it on a regular basis in glossy magazines and on television. I feel bad for kids who are looking for a real alternative today. Although information is readily available on the Internet, there is this fake underground that people find, like the glossy magazines. There are bands with expensive haircuts and who do their make-up before photo shoots. I don't buy into that stuff. I think that people have to work a little bit harder to find true underground music today. They're easily duped by the bands that wear the trappings of alternative and independent, but aren't really alternative or independent at all. People can tap into stores like Hot Topic very easily and think of themselves as part of something that's underground. Some people are just looking for a costume to wear for the duration of their adolescences before they exit their whole idea of subculture all together. For some, it's just a passing infatuation, but for others it's more of a permanent fixture in their life.

CMJ: Lyrically, you're very political and you work with progressive organizations. How important is it for you to be involved in world issues?
DY: I feel it's our responsibility to honor the tradition of punk as protest music. We strive for political awareness. My activism is mostly in my music. I like to point out the decay, but also end on a hopeful note, because my intent is not to leave people with despair, it's to leave people with hope. It's a belief in the transcendent qualities of music.


Matt Kiser