Stick To Your Guns

Interview: Stick To Your Guns

Written by Kenny Leys

Stick To Your Guns is currently one of the most popular bands out there. With more than ten years and five full albums in their repertoire, they finally came out with their first EP 'Better Ash Than Dust'. A new gem filled with no bullshit lyrics and blasting guitars. A proper hardcore EP if you'd ask us. We talked with Josh James (guitarist) and George Schmitz (drummer) about their new release, their growth and the issues that they have with the world.

 

How did the tour go so far?

Josh:
[Laughs] Well we are very deep into it. We played one show and that one was last night in Paris. It was good. We played in a circus tent, which seems appropriate for our band to play in. So yeah, it started last night with Bury Tomorrow, Stick To Your Guns and Architects. Tonight there is no Bury Tomorrow or Architects, so it is off to a great start. It is day two and we were kicked off the tour. So yeah, nothing much to say about that.

 

Today, was actually a day off for you guys. Why play an extra show on this day off?

Josh:
Me personally, I am just not a fan of the day off.
George:
When it is four weeks into the tour, I'm like "finally I can rest".
Josh:
Exactly I agree with that, but the second day of the tour is just stupid. I just flew in from California to Europe, I just want to play shows. We are not here to dick around, we are here to play music. So to fly in, play one show and then go on a day off, that is just dumb. We have other days off, of course, but all those days off are for traveling purpose. Because if you have to go from somewhere in Scandinavia to Hamburg or something, that takes time.
George:
Yeah and those really make sense, but if you only have to drive a couple of hours to the next one it is like "meh".

 

How does the traveling go?

Josh:
Us and Bury Tomorrow are on the same bus on this tour. When we have a traveling day, after we played the show, we leave like at 03:00 in the morning and probably drive like ten hours until the driver needs to take his break. Then we probably hang around in that city for lunch and after the break we drive another ten hours or whatever it is, go to sleep and wake up at the place we need to play the show.

 

Doesn't this become a drag?

Josh:
It is always a drag... No, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't.
George:
Yeah, it is a touch and go thing. You always have those days that you're like "wow, this is fucking miserable".

 

You must get sick of each other.

Josh:
Surprisingly, out of all the bands I've played in, Stick To Your Guns is the most healthy functioning band. There is really not that many arguments. Obviously, you are going to get irritated at some point, but it doesn't seem to go as quickly with people in the band. It does make touring a lot easier. To me, when I get at day 20, for some reason there is something about day 20 that I just check out. Obviously that is a challenge when it is a 40-day tour. You don't get that much "alone" time on tour, so for me that is the point when I try to separate myself from everyone else. Just that I don't lose my mind for the rest of the tour. I remember the last tour we had in the States that I woke up and thought "I need to get the fuck out of here". Then I looked on the tour passes and said: "Today is day 20! This is fucking happening!" So that day I just went off by myself and spend the whole day on my own. I just showed up like 10 minutes before we played and the next day I was back to normal, so great. You just need some alone time, at least for me personally, that is important. I used to bring like a real camera on tour and take pictures or like film stuff. It is always cool, especially like coming to Europe for a city like Paris. Even if I've been in a city like twenty times, there are always parts that I've never seen, gone to or experienced before. So like yesterday we played in Paris right next to a park, so I spend like two hours there just taking pictures and sending them to my girlfriend and stuff. It is just cool to do and it is also cool later for whenever I'm bored, I go and take a look at some pictures.

 

You guys just released a new EP 'Better Ash Than Dust'. Why an EP and not a full album?

George:
Well, we hadn't done an EP, so that was one of those boxes to check off. Also it was something that started when we were in between record labels. We thought we would just front the money, up front, and do an EP ourselves. That way we were free to do whatever we want and we were not tied down by a label, but it turned into something that Pure Noise Records was like "we'll put it out".

 

So it started out as a self funded thing?

Josh:
That was the initial idea and that was also the reason why we did an EP, because in theory it is half the cost of a full length album. But Pure Noise wanted to put it out so we were like "right, ok then" [laughs]. When you think about Disobedient (red. previous album), even it is only been out for a year and a half, we recorded it two and a half years ago. So when it came out we were already been sitting on those songs for a year. It was already boring to us. So there was this thing internally, where we felt the need to write new music, even though Disobedient wasn't that old for people that listen to our band, but for us it was already old. Also that was a motivating aspect.

 

For the name of the album, you guys chose 'Better Ash Than Dust'. Can you explain what the title means to you guys?

George:
It is a bit like "Better to burn out rather to fade away". Instead of resting on your morals or remaining inactive, to actually put your ideas into actions. To me it is about rather being pro-active than reactive.
Josh:
With everything that has been going on in America, with the eyes on the politics and police brutality and everything like that, it was so  appropriate to name the EP that. The songs are also a reflection of the things that are currently going on in our country.

 

A couple of years ago I've found out, George, that you had a YouTube channel.

George:
Who me? I'm so sorry.
Josh:
You still do that shit [laughs]. Where you were doing these chats and everything?
George:
No and yeah...

 

So back in the day when you still did that, you made the connection with 'Disobedient' and comic books. Is there a connection  with 'Better Ash Than Dust' and comic books?

Josh:
I completely forgot about that [laughs].
George:
Yeah, I did and I guess if you take someone like Batman, or any superhero that felt the need to go out and fight injustice, that is someone who is 'Better Ash Than Dust'. I can for sure see that connection on a general level, but as far as specifics, I really need to sit down and think about that one. I mean there are plenty heroes that fit the description like Batman, V, The Punisher. He kind of took it to the next notch.

 

If you had to pick one specific song on the new EP as a favorite one, which one would it be?

Josh:
I think my one is 'The Suspend'. Emotionally I feel like the music is really pulling on me and the lyrics are in the idea of being a mentor, I guess. Like pulling them up to your level and hoping they go beyond you. Chris (red. Rawson), our other guitar player, has a daughter and whenever we were writing that song, he talked about how important it is for him as a father to teach her all of the right things that he has learned throughout his life. Also hoping that he can get her to follow in his footsteps, to be able to contribute to friends and family and even society, but also go beyond him. I really think that is a cool concept. I believe Jesse (red. Barnett, singer) originally wrote it for his sister. He has been someone to her more than just a brother, by helping her to go to college and stuff like that, really being an important figure in her life. I think that is such a good way to look at your life and to think about no matter who you are, you will always be an example for someone else. So you really should be striving to be really the best that you can and teach other people to be the best that they can, hopefully to improve this world as well.
George:
For me it is the same. Got nothing to add.
Josh:
And I love the feeling of it like it is a nursery rhyme. Jesse really tried to do all the vocals in one breath, so you can really feel like when he is about to give out. Nowadays when people do records, and we are also guilty on that, everything is like so perfect. Things like a voice crack in a certain bit or that drum hit is a little bit off, so let's sound replace it with a fake drum and stuff like that. So I really like that there is a human feeling to that song, specifically in the way that the vocals go. I might not be the most fun to play, because I play the same thing over and over, but that is my favorite song on the EP. Even one of my favorite Stick To Your Guns songs at this moment.

 

You guys have a lot of tattoos. Are there any tattoos linked to the lyrics or Stick To Your Guns in general?

Josh:
Not really Stick To Your Guns songs. When I joined in I was already pretty tapped out. I have stuff from other bands and things written on me that are linked to stories in my life, but non from Stick To Your Guns. We do have tour tattoos, so they are linked to Stick To Your Guns.

 

Do you have a specific reason why you put something in a song and not in a tattoo, or the other way around?

George:
Yeah, tattoos just cost money and take time [laughs].
Josh:
For me a tattoo is just for myself on that specific moment. A song is something that is potentially going to last forever and have an effect on other people. What I get tattooed, it is only going to affect me unless someone is offended by it, which at that point I really don't give a shit. It is not that I don't have Stick To Your Guns tattoos because I don't want them. It is just because now I'm getting older and tattoos hurt way more than I was younger.
George:
Yeah, I guess we only have those tour tattoos, like going with Stick To Your Guns to different places.
Josh:
Yeah we really don't have the symbols or anything.
George:
We should though. We should do that. It is funny, because every time I'm about to get a tattoo, I'm all like "Oh, this won't be that bad" and as soon as it starts I'm like " FUCK, I HATE THIS".
Josh:
Yeah we should get them eventually. When I was seventeen I could sit in the chair and go like "Yeah, let's fucking do this. I can do this all day", but now after like half an hour I'm like " This is fucking stupid, why are you doing this". It just hurts so fucking bad. [laughs]

 

Back to the album, I want to talk about the song 'Universal Language'. You already pointed it out, the cop brutality in America, which is a very unfortunate thing we get confronted by. I wanted to know how you guys look upon direct action, like for instance a band called 'Wolf Down' proclaims, against more "peaceful" protest.

Josh:
I think that, whatever gets the change that your community needs and wants, then I'm all for it. That means that in some town somewhere, if they need to burn down some buildings to make their local government look at the shit that is going on, then great. If that in some other town means they need to vote to make this change, then great. That is just my perspective on it. I've been in protest before and I also voted. I've seen positive action from both, but I've also seen absolute destruction from both. Me personally, I don't think that there is just one way. It just depends on what the problem is and where the problem is and who the problem is with.
George:
With Universal Language we talk about something that is a big topic in the States. You have these hotbeds of action, like Ferguson or Baltimore and even Dallas or Minneapolis, where the media or "white America" don't understand why these communities act out. They don't understand why they respond to police brutality in that way and with Universal Language we try to point out that it is because they were met with violence in the first place. With the excessive force the police used, they feel like that's the only way that they can react: with similar actions. It is like the only way you are going to understand me, is if I scream in your face "Please don't shoot" or walking on the highway and shutting it down. Then you have people saying "Maybe you should protest without disrupting the public". NO, that is the intention! It is so frustrating to see people immediately write things off like that. But then again, when you see someone like Colin Kaepernick take a knee during the national anthem, those people are all like "He can't do that". What do you want then! He is doing something really peaceful, all by himself, and it is not ok, but at the same time you don't want people grouping in the streets and chant. It is just so frustrating. It is a case-by-case scenario, but in a way the looting and protesting were very effective. Look what that did as far as putting a spotlight on America and the problem that we have with police. Amnesty International got called down to America like the first time in a hundred years. So, to me for sure it has its place.
Josh:
Also for someone to dismiss something, just because there are people stealing from their local stores, I think that is bullshit. Because then you are just dismissing an entire problem and who knows what those people were doing. But of course there will always be people taking advantage of that. I was in an anti-Trump protest and this situation brakes out between protesters and riot police. I literally saw people next to me, that were just there to fuck shit up. They don't care about the politics, they're just young kids with bricks that want to hit a cop in the head. But on the other hand I saw old immigrant men, they were crying, because they are being so mistreated. They were there to cause some kind of action and because they are so frustrated, I see one of them throwing a trash can. So I can totally see it is a case-by-case thing, but for someone to dismiss an entire idea because of violence, because of looting or because of something that is "wrong", sucks. Then you are just focusing on that and you are not focusing on what the real problem is. It is like that with anything. If people say "ALL MUSLIMS ARE FUCKING TERRORIST!", well ok, so this handful of self proclaimed Muslims are terrorists. "ALL CHRISTIANS ARE PIECES OF SHIT", this handful of self proclaimed Christians that are protesting, like the Westboro Baptist Church, yeah they are. But is my grandma a "piece of shit" because she thinks she found salvation through Jesus Christ? That is just her deal. The same with the Muslim that lives here down the street. In every group, even if it's hardcore or straight edge or veganism, you have people that are pieces of shit. These people want to fucking use a label to whatever negative shit they want to do. I remember years ago, I must have been fifteen or sixteen years old, I came home from a show and there was a VHS tape on my bed together with a note from my mom that said: "We need to talk". My little brother, probably eleven at that time, came into my room and said almost crying: "Is it true? Are you in a gang?". I was like "What are you talking about" and I put the VHS tape in and watched it. It was a recorded news show called 20/20 and they do pieces on a ton of different things, this one was on straight edge. In this particular show they interviewed these psycho people from Salt Lake City, that carved an X in a kid's back at a party and killed him for smoking cigarettes. They were all like "If you are smoking around me, I WILL FUCKING KILL YOU". So on the show they were all like "Straight edge people are insane. They are violent. They are murderers.", So my mom panicked an thought: "My son's a murderer!". So I had to explain that was not true. It is the same with people saying that all Muslims are terrorists, just because some pieces of shit are doing fucked up stuff.

 

It makes me think about the reportage on Boston Beatdown.

George:
Yes exactly.
Josh:
Right, it's like saying everyone involved in the Boston Hardcore scene is a bully and an ass beater. It is like, they all just listen to Merauder and fuck people up, but that is not true.

 

So in that same train of thought; All cops are bastards?

Josh:
[sighs and laughs]
George:
It is one that I do struggle with. I think we all do in the band, because that is an easy generalization to make. I think the problem with the police force is that they are hired to protect and serve these communities and that in a way they fail to do so. If you have this one person on the police force who is corrupt or using his power for bad, and the rest of the force is in the know and don't report him or they are not trying to out him like a piece of shit, then you have a serious problem. Then you have to ask yourself these questions like, are they an accomplice or are they aiding and abetting. This is like this spotlight issue in America, so it is a though question to ask.
Josh:
It is hard not to agree with it, but at the same time, I think that it is more accurate that the whole system is a bastard. So the fact that these people are able to do what they do, and at the same time that other people at the police force are scared to speak out about it, because for what can happen to them, sucks because it is a reality.
George:
Right, like my sister her boyfriend is a cop at St. Louis, that is where Ferguson is. I have a hard time talking to him now, because are you ok with knowing or do you speak out against it? Are you just like the status quo is what it is or are you the moral compass of your unit? It is a very frustration situation. I don't want to be the person that says "all cops are bastards", but a lot of them are dickheads.
Josh:
I just do my best to stay as far away from them as possible.
George:
Yeah, I definitely don't want to be friends with a police officer.

 

Let's get back to Stick to Your Guns. Stick To Your Guns is a band that is really about the message and the morals around hardcore, but you are also growing and becoming a big band. Do you see yourself as a big band?

George:
We never really see ourselves as a big band.
Josh:
But we do see and acknowledge that we are growing. It is hard not to whenever you look at us coming to Europe four years ago and like now. I mean, four years ago there were maybe two hundred kids at a show and now there're like two thousand kids at a show. It is cool to see that, but is not really the goal of the band. I like to think that this is the result of us just being who we are as being a band, I don't really know. Hopefully it is just that people are so turned on to our music an what we are saying, but at the same time it could just be a flavor of the month thing. For us it is like we really try to be aware of that, especially because of what I know from being in other bands. One of my biggest regrets that I had in other bands I was in, is not appreciating what I had when I had it. Getting to level three, but wanting to go to level four and when you're at level four, you want to go to level six. With Stick To Your Guns it is like "We're at level 2? Hell yeah!" I really think this is the way that Stick To Your Guns operates. With every step that we take, we appreciate it and try to consume it as much as possible. Because the fact of the matter is that one day the band is going to end. Whether it is five years or ten years from now. People are going to stop coming to shows, that is inevitable in most bands. It would be wonderful if we are not one of those bands, but no one is really thinking that. We always show up to a show and play there and go like "That was awesome! Hope it is the same next time, but if it isn't, then that was awesome!". Just be thankful for what we have, when we have it.
George:
Our journey has been so crazy that every day, no matter what the situation is, I can sit there and enjoy. Even if we play on Summerbreeze for thousands of people or like this show in Spain where we played only for twenty people, I can be like "This is fucking funny dude". Those two I can appreciate at the same level, as weird as this may sound. The whole band is on this same level. To me, we were always a band with no expectations. It is crazy that like Josh and Chris, who have way more experience on touring compared to the others in the band, and still don't have expectations. We can roll with the punches. When I was in high school, my dream was to play in a band and I don't care what it takes. So as for me, everything that has happened with Stick To Your Guns is like "Cannot believe that happened". I thought I was just going to play shows in my local town. The first time I got 10 dollars on the first Stick To Your Guns show for food, I was like "I've fucking made it! I just got 10 bucks and get to play here! This is awesome". [laughs]
Josh:
I remember the show in Spain. It was like what, two years ago? There were like twenty people there and Jesse shook hands with each and every one of them before we played the set. It was so cool [laughs]. But at the same tour we had shows with five or six thousand people and that was only five days apart. We are also very aware of that. It is funny 'cause me, Jesse and one of the guys from Bury Tomorrow were talking about it this morning. I think that our mentality always was: if we wanted to place the bar somewhere, we want to take as long as possible to get there. This is where a lot of bands go straight up and after a while they fall straight back down. We are just like the tourists, taking the scenic route, like we are going to get there eventually.
George:
Yeah, you want to get there, but slow. Go slightly upward.
Josh:
I would rather make, I'm making up an arbitrary number, half a million dollars over a span of twenty years, then getting it all when I was nineteen. That is what we see happening all the time, obviously the money is exaggerated, but we see a lot of kids that were in bands and received a big sum of money and three years later the band's gone, the money is all wasted and they are working at Starbucks. So I rather get that money on small pieces for a long time [laughs].

 

Otherwise we would have had this conversation in Starbucks maybe.
Josh:
More like on the street. [laughs]

 

Did you ever get judged by growing?

Josh:
Oh for sure. It is crazy that you are asking these questions, because it was literally an hour long conversation that I had with Jesse. For some reason in like punk or hardcore and probably in every music genre with an underground level like Hip Hop for instance, there is this mentality that is like "Oh you are playing for a thousand people? Sellouts!" or whatever.  Now you are big and you are not a hardcore band anymore. For some reason, when you are in a hardcore or a punk band, you are supposed to be suffering all the time, really uncomfortable, making no money at all and barely play for anyone.
George:
And then you have to break up! [laughs]

 

and come back at ten years!
Josh:
Yeah exactly [laughs]. No man, I'm just like fuck that! You can't tell me that I'm not a punk band or a hardcore band, because I don't give a shit if you think that we aren't a punk or hardcore band. We are to me. You know there is this guy at home and we went on tour with him a couple of years ago. He is one of those hardcore elitist kind of guy, you know? So we were on tour and he got to know us there and he was all like: "It is crazy man! It is like you are a hardcore band. The stuff you talk about, is like a hardcore band does. You move around like a hardcore band and you have these fast parts and heavy parts. It is crazy!". I'm like "Yeah, we are wild right? That's because we are a fucking hardcore band." [laughs]. People have a problem with the fact that you get to a certain level. It are interesting times in the heavy music industry. Like for instance, when we go on tour with a band such as 'I See Stars' and there is this kid that comes to see 'I See Stars' and he saw us play and afterwards he came to us and said "I've never seen anything like this, this is cool!".
George:
Yeah this actually happened.
Josh:
So those people start coming more to our shows and start buying our shirts and stuff. But in like three years later, when we come and play with a band like Terror, they're there and they're suddenly too hardcore for us. So they are just standing there and they're like "I'm not here to see you pussies, I'm here to see Expire" or another band that these kind of kids might agree with. It is like, what the fuck are you talking about [laughs]. You came the last fifteen shows and you used to come and say "Hi" all the time and now you are suddenly "too cool" for us?
George:
Two years later though, they will be on tour with another band and they're all like "Whooo, I love you guys, you guys are sick!", it is weird.
Josh:
When we first started experiencing that kind of stuff, it was kind of hard to understand. But now we really don't care. We are aware of what we are doing, where we're going and where we've been. That is all that matters. It doesn't matter what some kid, a promoter or even a manager thinks. The only thing that matters is how we feel about ourselves as a band.

 

I can imagine that sometimes these situations can turn into a vicious hate.

George:
Yeah, there were some real crazy moments, that's for sure.

 

I remember that there is a certain clip on YouTube that Jesse has gotten a beer thrown in his face. Do these things happen a lot?

George:
That specific thing happened more than once, yeah. But the beer in the face thing is usually just one prick and honestly, it just depends on how Jesse is going to react. If it actually upsets him, he is going to call the guy out. There was this show in Berlin where this happened and Jesse stopped and was like "If you have something to say to me, we are just going to have a conversation elsewhere. You don't have to throw a beer in my face to get my attention."
Josh:
If you really have an issue or want to talk about something, let's talk. You don't have to be a dick about it, but if you want to be a dick about it: fine, we can be dicks back. Just because we are a band doesn't mean we have limits to how we might react. If Jesse wanted to, he could have just thrown the mic in the guy's face and get him kicked out of the show. Luckily for us that shit doesn't happen so often. The thing I really have an issue with is when we are playing a narly show and kids decide to use the neck of my guitar as a tool to pull themselves up on stage. They are so excited that for some reason in their brain it make sense to do such a thing. So we are playing and they grab my guitar and they use that to pull themselves out of the crowd. So I have two options, I can pull back and risk breaking the guitar, or I can bend forward so that they fall and I have to retune the guitar. So that is really annoying, but other than that there aren't much stupid things happening during our play. [Laughs]
George:
Yeah the thing is, I'm really helpless behind the drums sometimes. I've been in situations where we just finished our set and a kid runs up and steals all my drumsticks. Well yeah, you can't really do anything because you are trapped behind there.

 

As a final topic, I want to talk about something where the eyes of the world are focused on at the moment: the American presidential race.

George:
Oh, that fucking nightmare.
Josh:
There is more issues this year. You know the thing is; the government has always been corrupt. I believe that this year even more people are watching, because Trump is such a fucking clown, that it is so hard to comprehend that he actually became the republican nominee. Even when it all started, I felt like everyone was like "HAHAHA, what a joke. He will never make it.". But he did make it, which means that there are people that actually want him. The anti-Trump protest that I was talking about, was at a Trump-rally with twenty thousand people in New Mexico. It is a terrifying thought, but yeah every four years your Facebook feed is on fire. This year is no different, but absolutely even more out of control, because of the choices that we have.
George:
Yeah, it is crazy what social media has done as far as awareness. That is such a good thing, but on the other hand it is not without its faults.
Josh:
When you look back, Roosevelt understood radio, JFK understood TV, Obama understood the internet and Trump understands social media and reality-TV. I think that is why it is so interesting and so many people are following it.

 

So yeah, you only have two options in America. In Belgium we have this way of saying: "It is like choosing between Cholera and the Plague".

George:
[laughs] In America we say: "In between a rock and a hard place".
Josh:
Yeah it is "Sophie's choice", "The lesser of two evils".
George:
In this election it is not so much what Trump will do as a president. For sure thanks to the democratic voters, we are going to get a democratic senate and house of representatives. As for the law making, you are going to have a democratic leading body. Sure, Trump is going to veto all of that. That is gridlocked, that is what we had for most of the Obama presidency. What the problem is and what you also see with something like Brexit, is that it emboldens and validates that voter base of Trump, which are racists and bigots. Josh witnessed it first hand in New Mexico. It is all like "Wow, I don't have to be worried about being a no-verb  racist now.".  With Brexit you have hate crimes going up until 40% in the UK and that was just a vote for a hypothetical leave. It fuels people with hate, so they go on to the streets and scream "Get the fuck out, all you immigrants!".
Josh:
Yeah and that leads to a point where people are yelling the most racist shit towards other people and then someone pulls out a knife and you have a full scale riot. It's because people start to feel validated to shout "Fucking build a wall". It is so fucking ignorant.
George:
To me that is the scary part. It is the Indian man who got nearly beaten to death a gas station in Kansas, because two people went all like "TRUMP MOTHERFUCKER! GET OUT OF OUR COUNTRY!" and just beat the shit out of him. That is scary. On the other side you have Clinton. I don't want to say she is the anti-Christ, but that women is scary as shit. She is a career politician and every career politician is a terrible person, but if I only had two choices, yeah sure. So there is a need for a better system. There has got to be a better way.

 

Do you ever think that this is possible?

George:
What you saw this year, with Bernie Sanders, is a phenomenon. That was a once-in-a-lifetime event. What he did, as far as being a Trojan horse candidate in the democratic party, he did what all these other independent candidates should have done. He just went; I'll play ball,  I'll register as a democratic candidate, get the spotlight on me and run my own platform even if it is more progressive as the usual democratic party platform. But now Clinton has four years to prove herself if she does get elected. If she doesn't, there is going to be so much accountability held on her that she is not guaranteed to be a two-term president.
Josh:
And what is even more scary about that is that if she does get elected, people will all go like: "Now we have to make up for the eight years the black guy was in office AND the four years the women was in office."
George:
Trump is the direct reaction on Obama's presidency. It is that equilibrium. These racists feel like they had to put up with eight years of this black guy's presidency. Now we're going to get a president that is really going to make America a good place and not some Muslim terrorist. America is so fucked right now.

 

Interview by Jesse Mouart