Vocalist Jesse Barnett of California hardcore band Stick To Your Guns is not shy. For someone so pissed off at the state of the world, he’s uncommonly warm, despite the fact that STYG’s recording session has been interrupted so we at AP could pick his brain about the band’s upcoming release and what the hell it even means to be hardcore anyway.
“If you call yourself a hardcore kid, if you call yourself a punk, you’re pretty much telling yourself and the world that you’re not like everybody else,” he explains. “You are the anti of society.” The problem is, a lot of people interpret that to be a negative.
“People look at it from the outside and it can seem very violent and very narcissistic and selfish,” he says. “It can seem super negative to a lot of people, but I think there’s a part of it that people don’t see. Lift the rock up to see what’s underneath and there’s still a sense of community and responsibility.”
“If you call yourself a hardcore kid, if you call yourself a punk, you’re pretty much telling yourself and the world that you’re not like everybody else.”
Barnett and the rest of the Stick To Your Guns are no strangers to taking responsibility. Infamous within the scene for their “Fuck the message!” cry, the band consistently reiterate the need for action, not just words. “I’m taking a break from it because my life got kind of insane,” he says, “but I ran an organization called Some Kind Of Hope. We did a shirt with Terror—‘One with the underdogs’—and then we gave [the money] to a pit bull rescue in Los Angeles.” Similarly, he’s worked with fellow hardcore act Trapped Under Ice to donate to a children’s home in their hometown of Baltimore and Rotting Out to aid a women’s shelter in Long Beach, California.
“That was always important to me,” Barnett concludes, “because growing up in hardcore and punk, that was always an aspect.” For those like Barnett who actively take part in the hardcore scene, it’s more than just music; it’s a set of ideas and a moral code. “It’s taking a stance against things that are poisonous to the world,” he continues. “Taking a stance against things that are poisonous to communities or societies, and taking a stance against things that are poisonous to yourself. There’s supposed to be a sense of community amongst people and ideas are supposed to be able to flow freely and we’re supposed to be able to have open conversations about things.”
One of those pressing conversations for Barnett is the refugee crisis spanning the globe, even penning a song directly confronting the issue for STYG upcoming six-track EP. “It’s kind of showing people’s true colors and it’s bringing out a lot of racism out of certain countries, and a lot of racism out of a lot of people,” Barnett laments of the refugee crisis. “I know it’s not such a black and white topic,” he concedes. “It’s obviously very complex when you’re talking about bringing in hundreds of thousands of people from other countries whose cultures are different and you have to find a place for them to go. I understand it’s a difficult situation, but there has to be a way to make it work. There are people saying nasty, nasty things and doing nasty things. [Refugees] are human beings. It’s people’s lives.”
The anticipated and as of yet unnamed EP continues to follow the band’s path of radical and revolutionary thinking, while taking a heavier turn from their latest and very successful record, Disobedient. Even those who are familiar with STYG, however, might not know that Barnett’s outspoken nature and radical ideals stem from anarchical works and theories. “This is such a buzz word with a lot of people,” he prefaces, “and it’s a word that people get really, really upset and uncomfortable about, but I identify with a lot of anarchist views. You have a lot of brilliant books and brilliant essays written by people like Emma Goldman or Jack London, and they were from a completely different era… but I believe that those texts still hold weight, and they can still be brought up in conversation to inspire thought in our modern age.
“When I look at anarchy, and it’s a tricky conversation to have, but the way I define it and the way that I see it is that it’s pretty much in favor of free action for all people, and for people to be able to live freely as they wish There are a lot of rules and a lot of laws that a lot of us have to abide by even though [we] didn't choose that. Why should I have to do that?” he reasons.
To some, this sounds too idealistic, but the hardcore vocalist makes a point.
“I don’t wanna see anarchy in the sense that I want riots and people going crazy. But I think we should be able to look out for each other.”
Anticipating the stereotypical view of anarchy, he affirms, “I don’t wanna see anarchy in the sense that I want riots and people going crazy. But I think we should be able to look out for each other. And people say that’s impossible. There’s so much greed and there’s so much violence and people try to take from each other, but I think that those are all symptoms of the current system that’s in place. But again, I romanticize things. Do I think it could work? Maybe it would. Do I think it will? I don’t know, but there are things that can be taken from [anarchy] and used and applied to our own personal lives.”
As with hardcore and punk, a lot of people are afraid at the very mention of anarchy and talk of overthrowing the current system. At the same time, however, everybody knows that the world as it is now is fucked up. No matter what your views are, you most likely can agree that there is much need for change. Hardcore and punk, as Barnett illustrates with the music he puts out through Stick To Your Guns, are tools used to vocalize and inspire change. Hardcore may seem scary and intimidating, but that’s because it’s venturing to make a point. Various hardcore bands may say various things, but at the root of it there is a tone of anger and suffering, for one reason or another, and those are things that need to be addressed.
“The suffering that you see in the world is the suffering inside of you so make an inward change and you’ll cause an outward change,” says Barnett. “People can define hardcore or punk as whatever they want to define it as, but that’s always an important part for me and an important part for Stick To Your Guns, and I try to reflect that in our music. There are bands that I love musically and they have an opportunity to say something, and they’re saying nothing.”
So yeah, hardcore may be abrasive and off-putting, but it is that way for a purpose, and it’s got more to offer than just a mere collection of sounds and meaningless words. It’s an endeavor to challenge perception, it’s got something to say, and done right, it’s a means to make an impact. And Stick To Your Guns are one of the bands out there trying to do just that.