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Stray From The Path Talk The Changing Politics Of The Hardcore Scene

Written by David James Young on August 12, 2015

Stray from the Path won’t back down. They never have in their near-fifteen years as a band – and, if their latest LP is anything to go by, they never will.

Subliminal Criminals, the band’s seventh LP overall, continues on in many respects from the foundations laid out on its predecessor, 2013’s Anonymous. More than that, however, it enhances them and pushes them even further, not only testing the band’s limits but laughing defiantly in the face of them.

The band deals head-on with police brutality, governmental fascism and the entitled nature of upper-class America – and there’s no tip-toeing or gentle easing into any topic the band turn their attention toward. Aggressive, outspoken and belligerent, Subliminal may well be the finest example of what this band in its current formation is capable of.

CHECK OUT OUR FULL ALBUM REVIEW OF SUBLIMINAL CRIMINALS HERE

Tom Williams is the band’s guitarist, who also doubles as its sole constant member. Vocalist Andrew Dijorio – aka Drew York – was enlisted in 2005 to replace original vocalist Ed Edge. The current rhythm section – drummer Dan Bourke and bassist Anthony Altamura – entered the fold in 2008 and 2010, respectively.

Regardless of who has been holding down the fort, Williams’ groove-oriented and unrelenting style of playing has been the base of each song and each album. We spoke with him concerning the band’s political motives, dressing down their critics and how the band rages against machines in their own way.

Watch: Stray From The Path – Badge & A Bullet Part II

Music Feeds: To describe Stray from the Path as an outspoken band over the last few years is an understatement. You have collectively been open-slather on political and social justice issues, both in your music and in your social media presence. How have you found the reaction to that among your fanbase?

Tom Williams: It’s an interesting question. I’ve probably dealt with that in the past couple of hours, in fact. I posted a video of Bernie Sanders, who is one of the presidential candidates. Here’s how this sort of thing normally goes for us: 90 percent of people who are fans of ours are cool with us posting stuff like this and are happy that we’re doing it. They have an understanding of what goes along with being a fan of this band.

At the same time, though, there’s always going to be that sub-sect of people that are just always coming in hot, shooting stuff down and being really condescending about it. They’re not even interested in any form of discussion or debate. It’s just immediate attacks on me and on everyone reading. It gets me really frustrated – and I’m not generally like that with regular people. I’m trying to generate some sort of discussion here, y’know. Why don’t you like this guy? Who do you like? Why do you like them? I just get nothing.

I’d never really thought about it in that way before, but I’ve definitely noticed a paradox when it comes to bands involved with these kind of issues. You see a lot of complaints about bands that have nothing to say. Then, we turn up and start talking about what matters to us and the immediate reaction from those same people is “Yeah? Well, you’re wrong.” [laughs]

I’m not saying we’re gonna be right all the time, but what do you want? I’m not going to change the way that I think or how I interact with people because I’m in a band. I put us all on the same level. I’m going to talk to people that are fans of our band the same way that I’d talk to anyone – and that includes talking about these issues.

If you like this band, you need to be ready to disagree with us. I’ve come to terms with that. We never made any adjustments to get fans in the first place, and we’re not going to make any adjustments to keep them.

Watch: Stray From The Path – Badge & A Bullet

MF: Where do you think that openness about your political stance stemmed from? Has the political climate in the U.S. somehow forced your hand to speak up and make your presence felt?

TW: I suppose that it has, in its own way. I feel like bands should be speaking about something. It doesn’t have to be political. It has to be something meaningful and something that serves the purpose of what you’ve been giving musically.

With this band, we try and keep as relevant and as up-to-date as we can about these sort of issues. We decided to write another song about law enforcement (Badge and a Bullet, Pt. II) because we felt that the issue has gotten worse. We’ve been saying this ever since we released it and started playing it: People asked why we wrote a second song. If they keep killing people, we’re going to keep writing about it. We want to highlight this matter in our own way.

MF: There’s a line in Badge and a Bullet, Pt. II that have made some people a little uneasy, which is “It’s not about race/But it is about colour.” Would you care to elaborate on exactly what you meant with that lyric?

TW: It was almost a sarcastic line. A lot of the lyrics on this record – and I didn’t even start to notice until we started putting more songs out – are very sardonic and very sarcastic. There’s a lyric on the record that says “Every rich white kid’s got something to say/Shut the fuck up.” There’s another lyric that goes “You can’t hide in your brickhouse, pussy.” They’re just us being dicks – I feel we’re getting madder about how we deal with these issues.

When it comes to that line in particular, we found that all of these people were making arguments in which they lie to themselves and try to convince themselves that these deaths related to police brutality aren’t linked to race. “Don’t call it a race issue!” People need to understand that there is a huge breakdown between minorities and police.

I’m going to throw around some statistics here, and they might not be exact but they’re very close. Ferguson’s unemployment rate for black people is something like 70%. The police department is something like 95% white. Even knowing that, people were still trying to say that what happened there – what is happening there – wasn’t about race. It fucking is.

That’s why we put Badge and a Bullet, Pt. II right next to First World Problem Child, which is where the “rich white kid” lyric comes from. Those kind of people were responding to what we were saying over both Badge and a Bullet songs. Those kids sitting in their parents basement, typing away and saying “I hate when black people pull the race card!” What the fuck do you know? What the fuck do you think you know about the world?”

Listen: Stray From The Path – First World Problem Child

MF: This sort of stuff has definitely arisen in the realm of hardcore again thanks to what happened at the Chokehold show last month…

TW: I’m actually not aware of what happened. Can you fill me in?

MF: Chokehold were playing a show in Toronto on their reunion tour and their guitarist was introducing their song Conditioned, which is supposed to be an anti-police song. He was quoted as saying that “it’s not just black lives matter,” pointing to police brutality in Hamilton where white people were attacked.

A trans woman, Sadie, spoke up against him and called him out on being a racist, correctly noting that police violence disproportionately targets black communities. The Chokehold guitarist, Jeff Beckman, took a swing at Sadie, adding after she walked out that “If that dude comes in again, I’ll fucking kill him.”

TW: Holy shit. I had absolutely no idea that had happened.

MF: Yeah, it’s really disappointing that a once-progressively-minded band have sided with this “all lives matter” bullshit.

TW: There was an issue here recently where a kid got jumped at a show – I’m not sure if you heard about it.

MF: Yeah, it was the guy from Suburban Scum and the guy from Heavy Chains.

TW: That’s right, yeah. That’s been a pretty big deal in our community. For us, the guy from Suburban Scum was a pretty good friend of ours. I was so disappointed in him. I don’t know how anyone could do that to some kid.

I saw the size of him and knowing the size of the other two, it just sickened me what happened to him. That news has kind of taken over my immediate world and my community, so I missed the Chokehold thing entirely. I will definitely be looking that up, though, as soon as we’re done here.

MF: Do you believe that there is something systemically and intrinsically at fault with the hardcore scene if things like this are happening? It’s certainly not making people who would feel threatened at these sort of shows feel any more at ease…

TW: The way I see it is like this: I’m no more afraid of going to a hardcore show than I am of going to the movies. How many shootings at movie theatres have you heard about in the past few years? There’s been a few, of course. At the same time, how many more are there in this country alone that operate every day without incident?

It happens and it’s something that I understand the concern around. At the same time, I’ve never seen any similar sort of incident happen in my own personal experience. Especially in recent years. In Long Island, where I’m from, shows used to be very violent – but that was just in the sense of the moshing, not in a targeted way.

That’s not even the case anymore. I haven’t even seen any fights in a really long time – there’s nothing that I can remember. I play something like 225 shows a year and I don’t see anything like it on a regular basis.

Listen: Stray From The Path – Future of Sound

MF: There have been a lot of comparisons to Rage Against the Machine in what you guys have done lately, and there’s even a track on the new album that has a similar opening sequence to that of The World is Yours by Nas. What was inspiring you creatively in terms of the musical side of things?

TW: I understand that people like to make comparisons – this band sounds like that band, you’ll like that band if you like this band, that sort of thing. I’m sure I’ve done it in the past, as well. As far as the Rage thing is concerned… Rage don’t make music anymore. They haven’t for fifteen years. I want to hear that, because it’s my favourite music. I suppose that’s where it comes from.

At the same time, I also think that it’s different because we’re often playing at quite a different speed to the way Rage played. I don’t know… everyone is always clambering to say something sounds like something else. Bring Me the Horizon sound like Linkin Park, Coldplay sound like U2, letlive. sound like Glassjaw… I get it. Whatever.

When it comes to what I’m writing, it’s what I feel is missing. It’s what I’m missing. With Stray, it’s like we try and connect with what we miss in music. What we think isn’t there. Our bass player wrote Future of Sound, which has that Nas vibe to it, and he’s a major old-school hip-hop head. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he was influenced by that when he wrote that song. We all create music to fill the void.

MF: It’s fair to say that the comparisons to Rage Against the Machine are generally favourable – most of the people saying it would be just as big a fan as you.

TW: I suppose so. At the same time, it does come back to that backlash from the minority of people that I was talking about from before. Another commenter on that Bernie Sanders video that I posted was all “Well, that’s not very Rage Against the Machine of you, backing a presidential candidate.”

When the fuck did we say we wanted to be Rage? Who the fuck would say that? They’re legends. They are legendary in their own right. They were their own band, just as we are. We’re not some carbon copy. We’re our own band with our own thoughts.

Stray From The Path’s new album ‘Subliminal Criminals’ is out August 14 via UNFD, you can bag a pre-order here.

Watch: Stray From The Path – Outbreak

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