Wednesday, April 26, 2023

An AK-747s/ Rob Nuclear interview: Useless Brutality and Clinical Depression ( a Bought City)

AK-747s by Gord McCaw, March 10, 2023 at the Eastside Boxing Club, not to be reused without permission

Surely the AK-747s have one of the greatest names for a punk band since, uh, 2001? The gun that makes up half their band name, the AK-47, also sometimes known as a Kalashnikov, after the inventor - was described as "the weapon of the century" by the Military Times, and to my understanding was particularly associated with revolutionary movements; it was the gun that the rebels ousting the government in any given Latin American country were most likely to be using (probably supplied by the Russians, who also used the weapon when, say, invading Hungary). As for the second part of the name, associating a 747 with revolution and warfare - I mean, it's not exactly a tasteful image, but neither are band names like the Crucifucks or the Dead Kennedys or the Dayglo Abortions.

Rob Nuclear, guitarist/ singer/ songwriter of the band, explains that he "came up with the idea for the band name on September 13, 2001, but my buddy said, 'Too soon bro.' We formed in 2009."

I first heard the AK-747s on a NotYerBuddy compilation (the second one, from 2013) - a song called "Everybody Changes," which sounds like an angrier incarnation of the Wipers (for a punk band, there's a bit of a post-punk vibe to their presentation; "an angrier incarnation of Mission of Burma" has also come to mind. These are good things; the Wipers and Mission of Burma are two of the most creative and sonically-rewarding punk bands in North American musical history). That song also kicks off their debut full-length, May the Bridges I Burn Light the Way Forward, the "liner notes" (or whatever you call the stuff people write on bandcamp) for which describe how the band "burns bridges and slaughters sacred cows. We play fast music. Topics include war, murder, betrayal, encouraged suicide, and a pretty butterfly. This isn't a fashion show." 

Their newest album, I Love What You've Done with the Place, meanwhile, is described as "a searing observation of the flatly and casually accepted horror that characterizes our nightmarish age, the work is sermonic meditation, condemnation, and terrible exhortation to redemption and rejuvenation in a world of revealed danger and increasing peril."

You may get a sense that Rob is a bit on the confrontational side, which raises, for me, the question of whether the band's name ever gets them in trouble, maybe burning bridges before they even arrive at them, if you see what I mean. I've known people who took offense at the venue name the Hindenburg, because it was named after a disaster in which people died. So that's where we'll begin my interview with Rob - articulate, prickly, and provocative, which are great qualities for a punk frontman. If you can, you should see the AK-747s live... 

...which people in Vancouver have a fantastic opportunity to do on May 12th, when AK-747s share a bill at the Railway with two other great bands, both quite dissimilar: Daddy Issues, fronted by Betty Bathory, whom I've written about here, here and here, and the SLIP~ons, whose leader, Brock Pytel, I interviewed here (and who has a new solo single, "Anemic Heart"). The Railway has been off the menu for awhile, I think, for reasons unclear to me - personally, I was staying away because the last incarnation (the first post-little-trains one) kept the windows closed for a couple of summer gigs, which turned the venue into a fucking terrarium. There's no question that in terms of functionality, though - sound, sightlines, space - the Railway 2.0 was superior to the original version (which had tons of character, but especially in terms of sightlines and space was a shitshow). What will the Railway 3.0 be like? I'm keen to see... 

As ever, my questions are in italics; answers are not. 

Rob Nuclear by Gord McCaw, March 10, 2023 at the Eastside Boxing Club, not to be reused without permission

Allan: Has anyone taken offense or refused to book you because of your band name? Have any Muslims reacted to it? Any other interesting reactions?

Rob: Only pretentious hipsters who think that every band has to be named after some ambiguous noun or verb that is supposed to convey a sense of false sophistication couched in imposter syndrome. The only person who refused to book us was some self appointed cool guy who jacked a bill out from under us because he felt that it would be more "coherent" if the bill was him and his trust fund friends. None of their bands play anymore. I wish them well in their quest to become King of the Ashtray. 

I went to school with a bunch of Muslim guys when the band formed. They showed up and thrashed harder to every show. Now they live in Los Angeles and Toronto and work as a lawyer and economics professor, respectively. What the West have done to Muslim countries as part of their century long project of "If we can't have it fucking no one can" is beyond the pale. Anyone who has a beef with a turn of phrase regarding the fundamental asymmetry of warfare in the nuclear age needs to put on Imagine Dragons or whatever milquetoast middle of the road pabulum makes them feel better while they're angling for bar clout. Hope that answers your question.

Yep! What's the history of the band? What bands were you in before?

Our first show was on the SFU patio. Rob [here referring to himself in the third person?] got heatstroke and banned from the venue by a power mad bar manager. Rob was in a band called Unpaid Debt in high school in Edmonton in 1996-1997 (A demo tape for Nardwaur to dig up in 2048) and decided to start the band when some hipster back home said that Vancouver "wouldn't allow you to be in a band." Spite is an excellent motivator, my sweet, sickly nectar. Craig played drums in thrash metal heavyweights The Joint Chiefs before joining AK-747s.

I gather there have been some lineup changes - your bassist told me that that was maybe his first gig with the band? Is he still with you?

Yep. New bassist. Ryan Fitzgerald of The Thing and Witch of the Waste. He brings a lot to us, not least of which are his kindness and grit. Yes, he is continuing with his decision to ruin his life with us.

Ryan Fitzgerald by Gord McCaw, March 10, 2023 at the Eastside Boxing Club, not to be reused without permission

What was the first punk record you heard, the first punk show you saw? Was punk rock always something that was around you, as a child, or was there a conversion experience, a moment of discovery?

The Clash's London Calling. Only decent record besides Gimme Shelter in the house growing up. First show 10 Foot Pole with Gob and the Latter Day Saints at Eastwood Hall in 1996. Changed my fucking life. Had just got out of a mental institution for kids where I spent my 16th birthday. Met this guy on the bus who invited me to a show. As soon as I saw the hall and all the other weirdos I knew I had found something.

You seem to be political provocateurs, but in an artful way - you use art and sarcasm to prod people, not didactic manifestos (that I've seen, but I don't know everything you've done). Who are your heroes in punk (or elsewhere) - whose tactics and songwriting and art and lyrics/ music are your biggest influences? Who do you view as kindred spirits?

Mr. Chi Pig from SNFU is the greatest artist to ever come out of this country. His use of absurdity, personal tragedy and experience, and his use of literary and pop culture reference is my greatest artistic influence. Rest well Kenny. I loved you.

Craig Wigby by Gord McCaw, March 10, 2023 at the Eastside Boxing Club, not to be reused without permission

Why are "ACAB forever"? I am kind of more with Clay Holmes here, AGAB ("All Generalizations are Bullshit."). I have encountered some awful cops, but also some very good ones, and not even Dave Dictor of Millions of Dead Cops would go along with ACAB (I mean, I talked to him about it). How is ACAB a "useful" way of regarding cops? Does it have some function that makes it a valuable slogan, even if it's not true...?

The police have murdered multiple friends of mine. They have harmed my family. They murdered my friend's brother. The police, with the benefit of hindsight, preserve a way of life which ensures repression and engage in slaughter and abuse of the people they serve with impunity. If you join with that then you're upholding a system which inflicts suffering on millions so a select few can be protected by those who only want to see things get worse for their enemies. A citizens militia by rotating lottery service with a professional support staff that keeps communities safe, solves crimes, and serves the public interest would be a radical departure and an infinite improvement from the patchwork of unhinged nightwatchmen to power we have now. Yes ALL COPS.

Curious if you got on well with, or have stories about, Todd Serious? He seemed to push the earnestness of his politics to the point where it was doing him harm - there are all sorts of lyrics on the last album that make you wonder if he was doing okay, the whole "Take me" thing. I admired his sincerity, but lack it, myself - I'm too selfish; I'd make a bad Christ, my instincts are all wrong. How about you? Are you committed and angry enough about the injustices and insanities of the world that it really WEIGHS on you, or do you have the capacity to shrug the world off? (I certainly have an "I've got mine, Jack" side - just because we're doomed as a species doesn't mean I'm not going to enjoy my time on Earth, at least some of the time...).

I never knew Todd, but liked and respected his music and the impact he had on people. From what I understand he was a good and kind person who tried to see the best in people and embodied the ethos of "punk is support, not competition". Sad to say that his legacy is not able to withstand the gainsaying, backbiting, social aggrandizement, and vile Mean Girls ethos that characterizes music subcultures. 

For my own part I live in a city where moneyed real estate developers and clothiers bought the city with the police union and fuel hate sinks on Twitter with money as a perverse hobby in an effort to foment violence against the homeless because they have been deemed unworthy of life by our system. This is in a country where young people who have money are more concerned with cancelling each other over perceived slights and bullying each other to death under the false bromide of "safety" to secure social currency bona fides while those without are given an option between state-sanctioned medically assisted suicide for depression as a landed gentry locks them out of any upward mobility. That's on a continent where the President makes casual reference to shooting people in the face in a world where nations are vaporized for having the temerity to desire to control their own resources. Clinical depression is a thing, and if anyone is reading this reach out to someone if it's getting too much because it fucking can.

Tell me about Goya. I think you've chosen his art not just because of his art, but because of his life...? I would love to get your perspective on his story as it relates to your cover art. If someone came up and asked, "Cool cover, who did it?" and you had time to explain about Goya...

Being isolated in a house while you're going deaf surrounded by people killing each other and engaging in political intrigue would suck. Much like working through a global pandemic while Vancouver music scene cool guys try to fuck with your real life career over bizarre beefs borne out of certain upstarts not bending the knee to them. Or so I would imagine.

Goya was preoccupied by what he saw as the fundamentally fragile nature of society, beset as his time was by outrages and intrigues. Saturn Devouring His Son has gotten plenty of airtime, and I always felt that the other Black Paintings had so much more to offer in terms of our worlds affinity for superstition, the bondage of self and fear, and the useless brutality of our petty squabbles. Two men pounding the fuck out of each other under a grim and pitliess sky is a good enough metaphor as any for where we are at.

AK-747s by Gord McCaw, March 10, 2023 at the Eastside Boxing Club, not to be reused without permission

I Love What You've Done With the Place seems musically more like a post-punk album than a punk album - I could see it appealing more to people who dig Mission of Burma than people who are into the Dead Kennedys or Crucifucks or CRASS. Was the process of writing it or recording it different from your earlier offerings? Did it find its audience? Were there any "favourite reviews" of it? (I don't much think of the line about drinking Nick Cave's bathwater or whatever that quote is...).

It's very much a creature of the pandemic. We rehearsed for six months and then walked into Bill John Batt's studio and recorded it over the second wave of the pandemic. Pretty sure it found its audience, we paid for the pressing with pre-orders. As for press, Ferdy Belland did an incredible job for the Georgia Straight, and Papan did a decent review of us [possibly Rob means their previous album? The same website reviews the one under discussion here but it's not Papan writing. I dunno!]. We released it last year right as the pandemic was ending. Just wanted to get it out there and play shows.

There are references to the virus in the lyrics, but my COVID timeline is all wonky - I am surprised to see that the album came out in 2021. Was any of it written or conceived pre-pandemic, or did it ALL get written in lockdown conditions, or...?

About 50 percent written before the germ dropped. At that point I had plenty of time to hash it all out. Wrote that line when they hit 100k deaths in the states.

Can we talk about the business of vinyl? If you'd get nuts-and-bolts with me, I'd be interested. You had 200 of this pressed, right? What did it cost? Do you have any help distributing it? Did you recoup your costs? How many do you have left.,,? (Was it your first vinyl offering, by the way...?).

Yep. 200. Cost just over 2 grand to get them pressed. Delay delay delay. I've been too busy with life to focus on distribution. I got a buddy that's supposed to drop them into some stores in Edmonton. Know any distributors? Pre-orders paid for the pressing so I guess the people have spoken. We still have a box or two left but we don't have boxes sitting under our bed to the point that we have to publicly whine about publications blowing us off because we think people should care about us selling records. People have bigger problems than that. Anyone we have submitted the thing to has reviewed it, and people like it, and people buy it. We sell a lot of it on the road which baffles me given how awkward it is to walk around a show with a record, as does the steady stream of utter strangers from the states and abroad who buy the thing.

I love "OK Boomer" and I get most of it - it IS actually pretty overt in its political references - but there's also stuff I don't understand. Why is the wife-beating cop-daddy in the first verse "harder to kill than a hundred of your enemies" (because he represents an institution, not just a person? Is this ACAB logic?). Why doesn't he have to worry about retirement plans? The millionaire who "didn't start the fire" and his heir feels like a reference to something in the news, but if it's a story I heard, I've forgotten it... Was there a particular inspiration for the song - a particular boomer you were thinking of in writing it? (Do you have a lot of resentment at boomers?).

The song is about my fathers.

 Why is "OK Boomer" the only song on the bandcamp with lyrics available? That's odd.

I was high. Vinyl has full lyrics!

Anything to say about the gig? Have you shared a bill with Betty or the SLIP~ons before? (I loved Betty's set at the Eastside - any moments that made an impression?).

Love you Betty. She does not give a fuck and that's what it's all about. For a while there in 2010-2012 ak747s played the Railway so many times we were almost the house band. Been over 7 years since we've played the stage. We gonna make it shake.

Anything else I've missed?

Are you aware that the increase in the juvenile crime rate is directly correlated with the decline of spirograph sales in the United States? Think about it.

Check out the AK-747s bandcamp here; Vancouver gig information here; and note - if you don't live in Vancouver, the band is going on tour this summer (including a gig at Bullys in New West, the setting of one of the above Betty Bathory articles; fun little space, and locations around BC. They've traded Goya for Picasso for the art on this one... 

No comments: