Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Interview: Clark Giles Vocalist of the Dream is Dead and hardcore kid Political Scientist
Clark and I have never been close friends, but growing up in the Indiana hardcore scene you get to know people and see faces at shows a million times over. Hardcore kids may know Clark as the vocalist of the band “The Dream is Dead” or as the person behind the record label “Happy Couples Never Last.” Alot of my interaction with Clark has been on the internet various message boards, the Indianapolis Hardcore Boards, and now on Facebook. What I like most about Clark is that even though I disagree with him intensely sometimes, other times I think damn what a smart dude. He has very conservative and radical progressive views at same time. I may not always agree but I respect Clark deeply. Amazing how you can disagree and respect at the same time some people don't realize that is possible.
Clark has interesting non-party line view on political issues, as a Political Science teacher and punk rocker I thought he would be a great interview. Many of my friends (who are fans of his band) outside of Indianapolis would be shocked to know that Clark often votes republican, that being said he has read many of dead Russian anarchists and is very committed to bring back the hardcore scene he grew up in. Anyways I'll let Clark speak for himself. We'll start with showing how little I know about Indianapolis hardcore, growing up an hour away and dropping in to see shows there most of my life...
Talk about growing up on the west side of Indianapolis. Most Indy hardcore kids from back in the day came from the northside, a few southsiders but west was rare too how did you discover hardcore music pre-internet?
Well, I have to respectfully disagree. Most of the straight-edge kids maybe came from the northside but almost every hardcore kid I knew growing up was from either the west side or the east side. This might sound like a little bit of inside baseball talk here but if you'll indulge me for a second. The hardcore scene in general would have been pretty much non-existent from 1992-2000 if it weren't for the west side of Indianapolis. The India Community Center (located on the west side) started to have shows because some kids from Pike High School worked it out with the owners. After the Sitcom (the main DIY show space in Indianapolis during the Nineties) moved downstairs into its longest running incarnation, the core group of kids who actually ran the place were all west side kids (Brett, Jackie, Katie, Bridget, Britts, Me, etc.) This isn't to say that northside bands like Birthright didn't play there or that some great kids didn't come to the monthly meetings and help out from all over the city because they did but I am talking about the people who were in the trenches and working the door nightly and dealing with all the b.s., they were pretty much all west side kids. The greatest Indianapolis hardcore band ever IMHO, Ice Nine, was almost exclusively west siders. And if you look at what is going on today and the metal/hardcore bands that are still around with 30-35 year old+ members who are putting out records on national labels or enjoying a lot of success within the scene, it is those same west side dudes: Apostle of Solitude is ex-Merrick, The Gates of Slumber are ex-Merrick/Burn It Down/The Dream is Dead (though they probably don't want me to point that out...haha), Coffinworm is ex-Emotion Zero, The Dream is Dead is ex-Ice Nine, Burn It Down, ad nauseam. Finally, the main collective space in town right now (The Dojo) was initially organized by ALL west side transplants with the exception of Todd (who moved here from Arizona so we just like to think of him as EXTREME west side). So anyway, this is probably boring to anyone not from Indianapolis so I'll stop being nit-picky, I'm just overly sensitive being a west side kid. ;)
As far as how it was growing up, I think I had the typical west side kid life. Broken home, questionable step-dad, a latchkey kid existence, and really not much to do at night except drive west until you could find a corn field to pull into and get drunk. I actually think I discovered punk from a combination of the movie Repo Man. I remember watching Repo Man with my dad and during the party scene thinking "this is the kind of music that I like" when Black Flag was blasting in the background. I didn't eat lunch for a week in junior high and instead saved up all the money to buy Dead Kennedys "In God We Trust, Inc." and I was hooked. Then I think I pretty much exclusively based my musical purchases based on the shirts that I'd see older punk rock guys wearing who I'd skate with who also wore Dead Kennedys shirts. I always liked the more cerebral hardcore punk though: Bad Religion, DK, etc. so I think that kind of just naturally led me into the hardcore scene once it started to diverge from more traditional punk. I'm glad the internet wasn't around in those days though. I think I have a much deeper and more diverse set of friends now because I didn't have such social network that would have basically let me select my friends through some process of categorical reduction. I see kids doing that now and I'm not sure it is the healthiest way to form long lasting relationships.
Your last band the Dream is dead had a following in the radical hardcore scene, i have alot of anarchist friends who were into your band but your views were a little different can you explain what difference there is?
I would always describe our band in interviews and such as an "anti-authoritarian" band because anarchism comes with so much historical baggage nor do I really agree with most of the popular anarchist narratives that currently dominate the diy punk/hardcore music scene which I think run the gamut from reactionary to utopian to outright parasitism. I was an angry kid in my college years just like everyone else but I have never been able to escape what I would call the gravitational pull of pragmatism. I think a lot of punk/hardcore bands were ok with calling themselves "anarchists" and are perfectly content just putting that in a box and pretending to live in the "idea" of being an anarchist essentially declaring their allegiance to an abstraction knowing that almost everyone will participate in the collective conspiratorial act of never asking each other what the ramification of that action truly means. After all, if one were truly an anarchist in a manifested form here in the real world, you'd be living with survivorman up in the hills, eating berries, and waging war against the government. If we were different as a band in any way (and I don't think one could say all of us in the band would agree on anything necessarily when you talk specifics), it is that I hope we never presented ourselves as anything more than four dudes who tried to do their best to bite the hand that feeds without trying to present this narrative that we were somehow fighting the 21st century version of the Spanish Civil War. The bottom line is that I inherently mistrust all hierarchical systems. I don't know if we are at a point in history yet where they could all be eliminated but I think it is healthy that we as a society or a collective whole agitate for changes to disperses power when it is concentrated and minimizes hierarchy if not eliminating it outright where and when we can.
How did you come to a pro-capitalist libratarian stance in the hardcore scene?
Well, first, I have to define what I mean by "capitalism". When I say that I'm a capitalist, I mean that I believe in the right to private property and the free exchange of goods and services between willing participants. It does not mean that I support what are essentially abstractions such as "corporate personhood" that have been dreamed up by the rich to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of the few. So my pro-capitalist stance is essentially a philosophical one but it is probably too nuanced to discuss here at length. I support capitalism/free markets because I think a capitalistic society is ultimately the only society that could allow for alternative economies to exist within the larger framework while still maintaining person freedoms. For example, I think in an anti-authoritarian capitalist society, you could still have communes or alternative communities/collectives that bore none of the earmarks or characteristics of what we would think of as capitalist society (e.g. property could be collectively owned, etc.) But in a collectivist macrosociety, there is not room for dissent. By necessity, everyone must conform. So in this sense, capitalism maximizes freedom. Additionally, I think quantitatively, capitalism has had net benefits for human society in terms of almost any measurable standard (lifespan, standard of living, technology, etc.) It is a difficult issue to talk about however because I don't really consider there to be any free markets in the world right now, at best, we practice a perverted form of quasi-capitalism mixed with corporatism. I'm not even sure if capitalism can exist simultaneously within the context of the State because the State is inherently force and coercion reified. So to that end, I'm a (small "l") libertarian because I find myself agreeing with many of the early American thinkers in this tradition. As far as the capital "L" libertarian party goes, I maintain a cautious and respectable distance.
Can you tell me about your record label Happy couples never last? what did you want to bring to forefront with it?
The label actually started as a joke. I had saved up some money to take a trip with a girlfriend, we broke up, so I decided to do the logical thing and blow the money putting out some of my friends' bands. I was never trying to start a label or a "business venture". I basically picked a label name out a hat and slapped it on the records. Lo and behold, my first couple of releases actually sold pretty well so I just kept it rolling. Long story short, I put out 49 releases, made a bunch of friends, toured the whole country over four times and put the whole thing to bed a few years ago when I started my Phd program and my distributor went belly up. I'm still going to put out one final release someday just to end everything at a well-rounded 50 releases but it will just be something small and local.
What types of bands did you put out?
I basically just put out bands that I liked ranging from indie rock to punk to hardcore. I did try to make every other release to be from a band in Indiana to try to keep it real and support the home team. I did try to keep an overall DIY ethic to everything I did however, I wasn't looking to deal with rock star attitudes or to even make money for that matter. When a band got too big for the label, I would try to help them get on a bigger one. Basically, I was a farm team but I was totally okay with that...
What was the idea behind the Dream is Dead?
I started The Dream is Dead with Jason McCash (Burn It Down/The Gates of Slumber) because we basically felt like hardcore was dead in the year 2000. All the bands that were popular then were basically glorified cock-rock bands with some "jump the fuck up, I said, jump the fuck up" slam riffs. I found the sexism and homophobia to be disgusting. I could see the worst qualities of the metal scene (materialism, nihilism, apolitical douchebaggery) creeping into a music scene that held a lot of good memories for me and that I identified with closely. I think we just wanted to make a final statement with the band that the direction the scene was going was not a healthy one and to call some people on the carpet for participating in its decline.
In the 90's Indy had an awesome somewhat collective show space called the sitcom. What are your favorite sitcom memories?
My favorite sitcom show was MK Ultra and Los Crudos. That show simply blew my mind. I could try to put it into words but I don't think I could really do it justice. It was one of those rare moments that most people can count on one hand where they feel truly alive.
You helped start a new show space called the Dojo what is different about the way you folks are doing it this time?
The Dojo is a little more legit. The core group involved is still a lot of the same people involved with the Sitcom in its later incarnations but we all have jobs now and have learned to navigate the legal system somewhat. We actually have permits and adhere to fire codes and we are working to build a ramp to make the space easily handicap-accessible. We are trying to run a tight ship and keep an eye on making the place as sustainable as possible. Ideally, we want the Dojo to be around for a long time. Long after I have moved out of Indianapolis. I want to come back and visit in ten years and go to a show at a place that I help start after no one remembers me and just stay totally anonymous. I want all the kids there to wonder who the random old dude is that just showed up to see some of the local kids bang through their first 20 min set. Then I want to never say a word and just melt back into the night. :)
What would my readers find surprising about Clark Giles?
Ironically, I'm a former(?) anarchist that teaches American Politics at a local university. I am considered the "Republican" by most of my colleagues and I let them think that because I find it amusing. I have worked on several political campaigns (more Republicans than Democrats actually), I own a huge pickup truck but I try to ride my bicycle everywhere as much as possible, I practice Buddhist meditation and I have a lifetime concealed carry permit for my handgun, I am a study in contrasts. I think the political stances that I make confuse the hell out of most of my friends but they all seem perfectly consistent to me.
Some of us left indiana, you talked about a few times but your still duking it out, what keeps you in Indiana?
School and school alone. I have two years left until I have my doctorate and my second master's degree done then I am out of here. Ideally, I'm headed your way or to South America so watch out!
I think this is a really cool idea for your facebook page. I really like to read about all of your other friends who I don't know. Thanks for doing this...