Singer Joe calling from a payphone. They hadn’t paid part of their bill over a disputed charge. Starving musicians railing against the injustice of the system. Utilizing the backup plan of the calling card… the interview occurs.
The Killing Flame has its roots in punk, but the music embraces a lot more hook and pop than your typical hardcore band. Is this the west coast influence?
Joe: It comes from our guitar player Joe Foster’s love of that music. And he and myself are heavily influenced by the Adolescents and Social Distortion and Agent Orange and these Orange County bands. Their whole vibe is that pop hook. Where the east coast is that heavy metal influence.
The opening track off of ‘Another Breath’is the bands name. When a band actually dubs a song with its own tag, it deems said song ‘anthem’ status. Does ‘The Killing Flame’ represent The Killing Flame?
Joe: We really wanted to write a song with the band name in it. Songs like ‘Minor Threat’… we thought that was cool when bands have a song that’s the name of the band. So when we wrote that song, we wanted to open the record with the theme of a straight-on hardcore record with all of our influences. And we were trying to sum that up in the first song. So in a sense it is an anthem for what the band’s about, but it was also a statement of what the record was going to be about.
Especially with a not-so-subtle jab at bands that have abandoned their credibility for radio chart positioning. Are there any specific targets you had in mind when conceiving this?
Joe: Yeah, it wouldn’t be what you would atypically think of. I have friends in big bands that have gone on to success. We weren’t trying to take a stand that we are so DIY that we are anti-someone making a living off of what they love doing. It seems that when some bands start off they are already on the label, to make the video. And there is a couple of bands, especially one that we were kind of directing that at, but I’m not going to drop their name because it’s not fair for them because they are not here to rebut that. If you are a hardcore detective, you can probably figure it out.
How do you see the differences between what is called ‘punk’ on the west coast, as opposed to the east coast scene (which The Killing Flame seems to more a part of in sound).
Joe: The audiences that our music is geared towards are predominately going to live on the east coast. It wasn’t always that way. There was a huge hardcore scene out here back in the 80’s and early 90’s which was kind of replaced by the pop punk scene. The bands that come from Boston and the east coast come from a harder climate, a harder condition. A lot of the bands out here (including ourselves) grew up in suburban homes and went to typical all-American high school type things. It’s a lot different living in New York City or living in Boston than it is living in Southern California. It comes across in the writing. I love a band like Blink 182, but they are healthy kids from happy families. And then you look at like, the Cro-mags. It’s like comparing an apple to a brick.
In survival, you say, ‘I wonder if Ian knew his words would come to mean survival’. Ian who? And how did he come to have such an influence as to him put into a lyric?
Joe: Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat). It meant it’s kind of a straight edge anthem type song. There’s a lot of pros and cons with straight edge. But one thing I’ve always liked about it is you can trace it to the very beginning. Like if your tracing punk, people say, Sex Pistols, New York Dolls and people make arguments for MC5. With straight edge, you can trace it back to one guy and one song and one band. And that’s where it begins. With Minor Threat and the song ‘Straight Edge’. To me, that’s been kind of cool to see something that you can find the beginning of and it’s still going strong today. When I was writing that song I was thinking, ‘When those kids from DC were starting their scene, if they thought it would live on more than the couple of years that they were into it’. From something like that, with such a heavy influence, for good and bad, because there are some huge negative things that go along with straight edge, it’s kind of like an ode to the whole scene I grew up in.
How much of that straight edge tag does the Killing Flame wear?
Joe: The Killing Flame today… there are a couple of straight edge guys in the band. My whole take on that is, I support those kids because I’m an older guy and I grew up in a straight edge scene. It was a lot different then than it is now. I understand the kid who is straight edge, and why he is straight edge, but I’m not going to take a full on hard stance of a straight edge band because for one, I’m not a straight edge, in the sense of the word ‘person’ anymore, and two I can’t identify with what straight edge has become when it’s become so elitist and…
Joe: Yeah. We played a National Edge Day show in Boston (back in October). It was cool because it was a big show and we met a lot of great kids. But it was also bad because I looked out at the audience and saw 1200 suburban rich white kids wearing the same type of jackets, same baseball hats, same bleached blonde haircut and they’ve gotten so caught up in the image and the look of the scene… and they are missing the point. There was a great quote at one time which was, ‘Straight edge is the ultimate form of rebellion, because its rebellion against your own peers’. Which was kind of cool at the time because when I was in high school, there were two straight edge kids. Me and my friend. And a school full of jocks. We were friends with them, and we had friends who did drugs and drank and we were all cool with it. It was just kind of our own thing. But nowadays, straight edge is a cool healthy thing on the surface, and the basic principle… there is nothing negative about abstaining from doing drugs and drinking and taking that stance… what’s bad about it is when they try to restrict people from living their own lives.
The coolest straight edge kids I’ve ever met are the ones who you wouldn’t even really know are that way because they don’t wear it on their sleeves. It’s a personal choice.
Joe: Like I said, that’s how I was growing up and that’s how the people I consider my friends that are straight edge are. But there were some bands that came up in the 90’s that made it kind of a hateful type of expression. What cracks me up is these are kids who… I’m not a fighter, but I could kick all their asses if it came down to it. And they are trying to be hard and make straight edge real evil and real violent and real anti. So the stance we take on that is, I’m pro- the straight edge kid, but I’m anti- the straight edge movement at this point.
‘Survival’ also has a stripped breakdown with mostly piano and marshmallow bass effect. How do these unlikely elements end up in a The Killing Flame song?
Joe: That was kind of a studio thing. The producer that we worked with, Jun Murakawa helped us come up with that. When it came to that break, it used to be just a straight bass run and then we kind of came with that little lyric and built it back up. Jun thought it would be cool to make this real spacey bass sound, which we toyed with way too long. It’s more of a studio trick. I liked it because it was such a contrast in that song. It’s more like a rocking middle part which breaks down to this dreamy piano part. The piano part came from Joe Foster writing that part on guitar and then playing it on piano. When Joe writes, he writes in real peaks and valleys. He likes to build things up to break them down. Quiet to loud and loud to quiet. He has a real dramatic writing style.
Support your up-n-comers. Who should we be checking out from your scene?
Joe: I think I mentioned Carry On. There’s a band called The Third Degree, which is a skatepunk band from around here, like a Black Flag blast type band that’s really good. On the pop punk kind of scene, there is a band called Some May Say that I like. From the east coast there is some great bands… there’s a band called American Nightmare.
Any issues that need to be addressed in the world of The Killing Flame?
Joe: I think our band is more of a social-political type band. Which I think is a natural progression of thought when you come from that hardcore scene. You’re concerned about your friends being backstabbed and whatever…
The domination of adolescence and politics…
Joe: Those are viable concerns when you are a kid. You’re concerned about your girlfriend leaving you and jocks at your school or whatever. But I think the natural progression if you are a freethinking individual is you end up becoming very politically and socially aware. My strongest thing politically is I’m so fed up with the centralist political system in this country. We need more than a two party system. People give other people shit for voting Green Party. Is that really the issue? Or is it that you have two parties that are moving toward each other so they are almost identical now at this point. I just finished reading a Rollins book called, ‘Smile, You’re Traveling’. I don’t agree with anything Rollins stands for either, but he was talking about how America is so like… the typical American has become so sedated and lost in the world of shopping and… it’s such a circular trap for the average American that they can’t see past their front door. People become real insulated in their house. They buy stuff to keep them inside. They watch TV and rent movies and play video games and whatever. And they are so unaware of what’s really going on. You don’t know anything about the world by watching CNN. That’s my biggest concern when you talk about an uphill fight. You can try to change the political process but when Wrestling is one of the top ten shows on cable? And all the reality based shows, god how boring. But I’m guilty of it to. It’s going to become like we will be just watching our own lives on TV.
Our lives are so diluted and boring, they can create a better one on TV to watch.
Joe: The scary part is you can trace the chain of the corporations who own the TVs who put on the shows to keep you watching to buy the product… when you really think about it, there’s something to that. It’s not just a bunch of crazy liberal rhetoric. There is a reason why major corporations now own the TV stations so they can control basically what’s being put on the shows to keep people tuned into what they are selling.
I think as TV and Internet meld, the independent voice will be heard more.
Joe: It already has started. The Independent Media Group… there’s a thing called Regeneration TV that’s on the Internet. They are such grassroots things, but it’s a start. When they had those protests in Seattle and DC, the Internet coverage of that got some legitimate credibility because they were on the spot updating. To the point where the major news sources were tuning into the internet stations to get the latest on what was going on there. So when an independent Internet source can become a legitimate news source… then we are starting to get somewhere. One of the pro things about having Bush in office is he’s anti-regulating the Internet for awhile now because… he doesn’t understand it, I don’t think, and he wants to take a good look at it over his term before he makes a decision.
What’s the last example of stupidity you’ve had to deal with?
Joe: The frickin’ phone company I’ve been dealing with all day about getting my phone turned off. Here’s what pisses me off dude. No one is accountable for anything anymore. Sprint is my long distance carrier, but Horizon is my local carrier. So Horizon doesn’t want to deal with Sprint and vice versa. So I’ve got to talk to 4 people to get my phone connected. They transfer me around… it’s ridiculous.
What’s the last example of human compassion you’ve witnessed? Someone being cool for the sake of being cool?
Joe: This isn’t really human compassion per se, but there’s this dude who hangs at my coffee house where I work. He’s been coming in here now… he’s been living down in Long Beach. He’s one of the guitar players for Pearl Jam. His name’s Mike McCready. And I talked to this dude for months, I just found out a couple of weeks ago who he was. And so now I’ve got such a new outlook on that band. I’ve always been kind of a closet fan, but that dude has been by far… he’s been so cool to everyone around here. You talk about a down to earth dude. Where I work, it’s in Long Beach and there’s a lot of old punkers and ex-drug addicts. They’re addicted to caffeine now so they come in here. Some of the people who work with Pearl Jam as regular road crews are regulars here, so he’s just been down here staying with them. And I just thought that was one of their bros, and I didn’t realize this guy was in one of the biggest bands in the world. He couldn’t be more down to earth. Totally interested in other people and their writing and their music or whatever.
Messages to the masses from the Killing Flame?
Joe: Yeah. Buy the new Rocket From the Crypt album. It’s so good, they finally figured out how to mix their horns. It’s a great record.