Joe Strummer taught us many things, one of them being to finely tune our bullshit detectors. Conviction, long bought and sold as little more than commodified rebellion and prepackaged sloganeering, has become increasingly difficult to find. In an era of political fatigue, LA hardcore rabble rousers Total Massacre are the wake-up call we desperately need, flying the flag for outraged, political hardcore.
When No Echo last caught up with the band this spring, they were donating the full proceeds of their eponymous LP to illegally detained families, some of whom will never be reunited. This album absolutely rips on all levels. Alas, on to the tunes...
Total Massacre seem to exist in their own world, one gloriously devoid of genre qualifiers. In a scene where Hardcore’s defined boundaries can, at times, rigidly force bands into corners; they blur the lines and split the difference between an impressive amount of sub genres. There are flourishes of UK82 in the blistering pace and politicized punk fury of groups that recalls Total Chaos or Broken Bones. The straight ahead nature of their buzzsaw attack is reminiscent as much of Black Flag as it is Slapshot, with whom the vocalist shares an impossibly ferocious bellow sure to put them “back on the map.”
For every nod to the hyper-literate and name-dropping lyricisms of Jello Biafra, there’s a muscular back end that revives deeper references like Kill Your Idols, SSD, and even No For An Answer. Surprisingly, there’s an almost Oi! vibe to their militantly anti-fascist, anti-capitalist blitz that gives it all a menacing, feral edge.
Apparently, the Total Massacre shitlist is a long and ever-growing inventory of would be tyrants. Aside from deservedly pissed ranting aimed at the standard shitheads, they absolutely skewer sinister groups hiding behind their seemingly benign acronyms. “Thoughts and Prayers” sets its sights on the NRA’s grotesque need to double down in the wake of tragedy, while “GOPiece of Shit” gobs in the face of the current GOP stranglehold. The album in its entirety puts the criminal POTUS on the stand, or perhaps beneath the guillotine. The contempt train rolls on throughout the lightning fast album, flattening alt-right poster boy Richard Spencer on the scathing stomp of “Fascists Stole My Haircut.” Grim, foreboding, and bleak? Sure. Yet, beneath it all, is the easily recognizable smell of a fire still burning, the embers of optimism not yet prepared to expire. Total Massacre aren’t here to give in. They’re here to scorch earth and start over with sneers on their faces.
On the eve of releasing a six-song split with equally spirited fellow LA shit-stirrers The Lungs, Total Massacre vocalist “Cap’n No Fun” was kind enough to give me an exclusive preview. Building upon the Molotov-ready dissent of the full-length, Total Massacre brings the righteous hardcore fury, an intense counterpoint to their snottier counterparts. He also stuck around to let me indulge in my favorite pastime: punishing bands with questions!
Tell us a bit about the band’s backstory.
Well, we’ve all been kicking around the LA scene with various bands for what seems like forever now. Total Massacre though, really grew directly out of a fun little project Jeff, Mike and me (Cap’n No Fun) had, called Punk is Dead, which in keeping with the name, performed punk covers of Grateful Dead tunes. So, now you know our deepest darkest secret too, which is that Jeff Massacre and Mike Massacre are dirty hippies (I was just playing drums, so my conscience is clean). We had started playing again after a hiatus in early 2017 just to get some angst and aggression out, because, you know, the world being a fucking non-stop horror show and all. At practice one day, Mike mentioned kinda offhandedly that he had the music for something like 50 original songs ready, that he’d been messing with on his own over all these years we’d been doing covers.
So, it really came together pretty quickly, I had been writing songs, without much idea of what I would do with them honestly, but it felt like all I could do at that moment, and the other guys didn’t seem to mind me ditching the drums to scream up in front. I got my old buddy Tommy to join up because I knew he was just as mad as the rest of us about everything (him being a rad fucking drummer was just a bonus), and the rest is pretty much history. Maybe it was just because getting together and ripping through songs was just so cathartic, but we probably had half of the full length written in the first couple weeks of playing together, and you know, the way things are these days, we’re never exactly short of shit to write new and ever more depressing songs about. I think we have a list of unfinished ideas and stupid song titles a mile long at this point, so it hasn’t exactly been what I would call a struggle to put this all together. If anything it’s been a blessing to have something positive to focus on while everything around us is such a fucking mess.
Being a band of any stripe must be difficult in LA. What’s your particular scene like?
Well yeah, there’s definitely stuff that makes LA tough, Like, I don’t think there’s been a single night that we’ve played where we don’t have friends of ours playing a show simultaneously across town. At the same time it doesn’t feel like there’s too many good places to play these days, which kinda makes that doubly strange. In a weird way though, I actually don’t think there’s too many times I’ve had more fun in this scene. Now, that could just be because this is the first band any of us has been in that people have seemed to really dig and get what we’re doing right off the bat? Or it could just be that now that there’s literally zero money to be made in punk rock, the scene has gotten really friendly! Everybody helps each other out. Everybody that’s in a band is helping promote other bands when they do something cool. There are bitchin’ DIY spaces popping up. So I definitely don’t want to make it sound like its all doom and gloom because I don’t think it actually is.
Who are some LA bands we should check out right now?
Th Lungs are our dearest band bros, so definitely check them out. They’re kind of the perma-stoked “ying” to our perma-bummed “yang” and we couldn’t be prouder of the split we are putting out with them, TODAY.
But there's a bunch of great bands going right now out here. We’ve been playing a lot with Failing Up lately and they are really fantastic. Got a show coming up next month with my old friends in Lysolgang too, and I maintain that they been one of the most underrated bands in LA for fucking years. And recently, I've been really rocking out to Ursula and Tracy Soto on the regular. Full disclosure,:I've got friends in both those bands too, but it doesn't make them less awesome. definitely check them out.
I hear myriad influences woven into your sound like early Boston HC, UK82, street punk, and even a hint of Oi! How’re you able to seamlessly piece it into something new and unique?
I personally think our sound really all starts with Mike’s guitar parts. He’s sort of a musical savant for everything from the Germs to the Doobie Brothers, and I swear he just knows every fucking lick on the planet it seems like sometimes, so I don’t want to say where exactly he draws his inspiration from. If there ever was a plan that we had though, it was to come up with a nice mix of early LA hardcore, and mix it with the '80s East Coast stuff. I tell people a lot that we go for that straight edge sound, just without all that positivity, because it’s real hard for me to be positive most days, if I’m being honest. After one of our last shows, somebody came up and told us we reminded him of gorilla biscuits and it really made me feel like we were doing something right, if that tells you anything!
But there’s those other influences in there like you said for sure, I love the business and cocksparrer and of course I probably wouldn’t be doing antifascist music at all if it wasn’t for Angelic Upstarts and the Oppressed, so not too surprising that there’s a bit of Oi! in there at all. Not sure how it all ties together exactly except that its all aggressive and it all has a sense of urgency to it. I can say we don’t tend to overthink songs in this band, if something works, we usually feel it, lock it in, and move on to the next thing. So, it might just be all of us finally being mature enough musicians to trust our instincts and resist the urge to overwork these songs until all that urgency is gone from em.
I love how outspoken the band is. Aside from the despicable fascist in the White House, the album touches on plenty of current issues plaguing the country. Tell us more (as uncensored as you’d like!!). Also, there’s a dearth of political Hardcore at the moment. Why do you think that is?
Well, I’ve joked once or twice that I never ever wanted to be in a political punk band until the fall of 2016, when all of a sudden something weird happened and I just got this urge to start one up! Who knows why!?!
Having crossed that hurdle though, Me and Mike basically wrote all the lyrics on everything we’ve recorded so far, and while we both have very different styles, which you can probably spot if you listen, I’d say we both approach it in a similar way, just writing what we are feeling at the moment (usually various states of rage, despair, or disgust) and being brutally honest about it. I’m not sure how outspoken that is, I’m just calling a spade a spade (or a fucking fascist a fucking fascist) but I know, personally, I’ve always chaffed at the idea that punk had to be dumb. So, I do try to think carefully about what I say, and use this band as a platform to teach people some things, or at least use it as a jumping off point for larger discussions about where we go from here. Like it's one thing to say “there’s Nazis in the street now, fuck that” and I think that’s an important thing to say, but it’s good to be able to link it to history, and the southern strategy, and try to get at a more nuanced understanding of how we got here. Without losing sight of the all important “Punch More Nazis” part of course.
Why aren’t there political hardcore bands anymore? I dunno, I mean, the political bands I always loved growing up, Subhumans, and MDC are still out there touring so I don’t think we can say it’s totally gone. and we aren't doing anything they didn't pave the way for, to be clear. But I feel like for my generation (yer cap’n is 35) I think when we were growing up it was cool to be apolitical. Now I think anybody that looks around with clear eyes can see that that is an untenable position to take in 2018, but maybe old habits die hard? I dunno, all I can say is it has been really easy for us, and its been great to see that people seem to appreciate, and really get what we’re saying.
What’s the future hold for Total Massacre (the split, tours, shows, mercy, etc.)? How can people follow the band?
We just released a split for Cassette Store Day with our best buds, The Lungs! So, go to your local store and pick one up! Or you can listen to it right now on streaming services or our Bandcamp while you wait for the 7" to come out.
We’re writing our next full-length right now, and if we can get these last few songs worked out, we’re hoping it should be out in early 2019. Getting a tour together is a work in progress but we’re keeping busy here at home, we have some shows already lined up for the first part of Novemebr, and I’m sure there’ll be more to come after that too. For those details or just to see a whole bunch of smartass ranting and recycled leftbook memes, folks can find us on social media.
Tagged: total massacre