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Haymarket Riot interview

| July 31, 2009 | 0 Comments

Haymarket Riot:
Dischordancy

haymarket

Haymarket Riot aren’t new. The Chicago-based punks haven’t been recently discovered by some hip label or blogger who’s trying to spark a revival in a sound that doesn’t get much play or press. In fact, their third album has been available for four months already and garnered a ridiculously modest amount of reviews for the Internet age. Instead of continuing to pound the local market and rebuild visibility, they’re off to Europe where, for some overseas socialists, the historical Haymarket Riot was an important blow in an agonizingly drawn-out revolution and the band is, well, just a band.

Appearing: Friday, August 7th at Cal’s in Chicago.

Haymarket Riot aren’t new. The Chicago-based punks haven’t been recently discovered by some hip label or blogger who’s trying to spark a revival in a sound that doesn’t get much play or press. In fact, their third album has been available for four months already and garnered a ridiculously modest amount of reviews for the Internet age. Instead of continuing to pound the local market and rebuild visibility, they’re off to Europe where, for some overseas socialists, the historical Haymarket Riot was an important blow in an agonizingly drawn-out revolution and the band is, well, just a band.

So why bother? We aren’t all-knowing and generally look at punk rock’s archaic morality as something that vaguely resembles Salafi Islam. Even the phrase “Chicago punk” has little meaning beyond a geographic designation, but there’s something about Haymarket Riot that makes them quintessential Chicago punk.

To vocalist/guitarist Kevin J. Frank, “For someone like me it’s a huge compliment. I grew up listening to punk rock. A lot of the first bands I saw were punk or hardcore bands in the early to mid ’80s. For someone like me, it’s an honor.” Does it worry him that people think of the music as retro, or regressive? “I’ve never really worried about that. I think the one thing that’s really nice about playing in Haymarket Riot is we don’t concern ourselves with what’s going on now or in the past — we just play.”

Haymarket “just play” the way Iggy Pop just sang or Genghis Khan just governed. Over two records for formerly Chicago-based Thick Records and now this spring’s Endless Bummer (Divot), the quartet have tended to attack their instruments, their songs, and their recording equipment in this Zen-like quest to “just play.” Their press materials suggest Drive Like Jehu having pizza and beer, which conjures Black Flag’s video for “TV Party.” “TV Party” looked like fun; Endless Bummer is like the carnie who refuses to stop the ride and let you off just because you’re gonna puke.

“We grew up listening to that sort of stuff,” says drummer Brian “Swayze” Wnukowski. “I don’t really listen to those records anymore. I listen to a lot of Jackson Browne and Supertramp.”

“And our guitar player is a huge Thin Lizzy fan,” adds Frank. “It’s more incidental than anything. I like bands like that, but I like bands like Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes, it goes back to earlier. We don’t intend to sound a certain way — it just comes out. I guess it just happens to fall into a similar genre. I’ve noticed it too, whether it’s a live show or whatever; people always throw out the At The Drive-In or Jawbox or Fugazi reference. That’s what happens. That’s how people describe us who might not know us, and that can be said for any band who people don’t know too much about.”

Wnukowski and Frank are also cognizant that people will see the names of engineers Steve Albini and Greg Norman in the liner notes and think that two and two is four, but a lot of these references hold water. While ATDI, Jawbox, and Fugazi have their iconic moments, they were also remarkably courageous bands who repeatedly outran the boundaries being built to contain them. On the new album, “Chasing Endurance” perilously clings to a single chord like a fight sequence filmed on top of a bullet train. Album closer “Slow And Steady, Stand-By” offers the sensation of being stuck in cement while a malfunctioning steamroller intermittently lurches and sputters in your path.

Frank, who has been Haymarket’s driving force since its 1999 inception, also sees growth. “‘Sure Thing,’ I wouldn’t say it’s a departure, but we’re moving forward. That’s a song where we really bring in Brian. [Wnukowski joined after 2004’s Mog was completed.] The first part of the song he and I are singing together. Personally, for me, that was a thrill. There are elements of Haymarket Riot there, but still new elements being introduced. And I think some of those moments happen on other parts of the record: ‘Slow & Steady,’ at the end where Swayze is backing up a line underneath myself. There are parts where Chris [Daly, guitar] and I are playing, for lack of a better word, ‘guitarmonies,’ where I think it’s more of a growth. Maybe from an outsider’s perspective it’s not a growth, but I’m happy with it. Being in this lineup for more than five years and having the open-mindedness to move in different directions here and there — but still having a thread — makes sense.”

Wnukowski, who insists he’s not in the band and has just stuck around since filling in for a tour five years ago, thought he used to know the drill. “I knew my role coming in. I never thought I’d be doing backup vocals, but as it turns out we did more on this record than any other previous Haymarket release.” And, “As far as a pecking order, I don’t think there is one. If anything, Kevin’s been bumped down a couple notches,” he laughs.

The teasing and good-natured ribbing strain Haymarket’s punk cred almost as much as their prog-like ambition, but this is still an outfit with their feet rooted firmly in the ground. Though Endless Bummer wears the Divot Record insignia, it’s very much a self-released venture that’s stressing the members’ personal finances. Haymarket share an overseas camaraderie with Japan’s Balloons and Belgium’s Hitch, for cross-promotional as well as booking and touring purposes. But one of the punk pillars that’s missing is a scene. Unlike some of their Dischord or SST Records influences, Haymarket operate like a free agent. It doesn’t help that Chicago bands are cliquish to a fault.

Says Frank, “I think there’s something to be said about that. We’ve never really blended in with a certain clique or group. We pretty much play with whomever. We know people from those different groups, but the fact we don’t have any representation or label means we’re our own little island right now.”

Wnukowski isn’t deterred. “It’s why it’s important having music online. A lot of bands are doing what we’re doing online, which is cutting out the middle man and putting their stuff out as download. You don’t need manufacturing, and you wouldn’t need manufacturing to do that.”

Haymarket will still be releasing special screen-printed versions of Endless Bummer on vinyl, to make it as collectible as some of those rarities who inspired them when they were younger. Despite romanticism and nostalgia, the reason behind it is very much the same as it was when punk was still being defined.

“It’s actually more dictated by how much money we have,” Frank says. “We had to be creative with the packaging and did a short run of CDs. We’re doing a vinyl pressing, actually the lacquers were just sent off to the pressing plant and we’re hoping to have it in our hands by September. That art’s gonna be different than the CD, but there will be shared elements. It seems like you have to do that nowadays. When I was growing up, if you got a lyric sheet you were like, ‘Oh, yeah!’ But if the record was good it didn’t matter. But with the Internet and music being much easier to get you have to push yourself to make things more unique.”

Not exciting, just punk.

— Steve Forstneger

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