Interview With The Rebel Spell – 2006

The Rebel Spell are an amazing political punk band out of Vancouver. They’ve got a couple of CDs out and they’ve also just released a digital-only EP with G7 Welcoming Committee.

Here’s an interview a couple of members of the band did from the Spring 2006 Loud Fast Rules magazine…:

Vancouver’s The Rebel Spell have been around since 2002, plying their brand of insightful and incendiary political punk rock wherever they are welcomed and releasing a couple of CDs along the way. “Expression in Laymen’s Terms” was released in 2003 and “Days Of Rage” came out in 2005.

Their bio describes them as “4 pissed-off middle-class punks who hold nothing more than contempt for the global corporate death machine.” And yeah, while they are most definately pissed-off and political, what I love about this band is that they don’t sacrifice the music for the message. It’s catchy-as-heck, sing-a-long, aggressive and anthemic streetpunk done just right. And they’re proudly DIY, right down to the hand-cut and hand-glued CD covers. I sat down in cyberspace recently with singer Todd and guitarist Erin to chat about the band…

OK, so The Rebel Spell is clearly flying the DIY flag. You say in the booklet that accompanies your newest CD Days Of Rage that “trying to abide to strong morals and ideals to maintain a positive Do It Yourself ethic is sometimes exhausting, but the ones that live it and survive it, get to live proud.” Having said that, whats your take on a band like Anti-Flag (a band that would seem to be, at lyrically, fellow travelers) signing to RCA? Is it DIY or DIE for The Rebel Spell?

Todd: In the few years I’ve been doing this, I have at times become very discouraged by the impotence of the underground, but lately I have realized that the goal of reaching millions of people at once is something that an underground band can do. However, most often as soon as a band is close to breaking on its own, the industry buys them up and uses their hard work and credibility to make a pile of money. Against Me! has done what I think bands like Anti-Flag have been too weak to do, and that is stay with an underground label without major label distro and carry that label with them right to the top. If more bands did this punk labels could grab a part of the mainstream airwaves.

Erin: It really depends on what they do with their fame and fortune. I could see the appeal of using the major label route if you got to pull a Kayne West and embarrass a TV network, its sponsors and the government on live TV. However, its also kind of like admitting defeat, like there is no such thing as organically grown success, and an artist really cant survive without corporate media conglomerates. I dont know what the deal is with RCA, but I know other major labels have parent companies involved in weapons manufacturing and water privatization schemes. I think that besides having your message watered down, being on a major label would run the risk of generating profit for the very system you are railing against.

You’ve toured across Canada a couple of times and made a few forays into the U.S. How important is touring for a band like the Rebel Spell? Is it a necessary evil; something you do to raise your profile and sell CDs? Or is it more of a mission a chance to build and inform the punk community; to spread the gospel of The Rebel Spell and to, as you put it in the liner notes, “create effective resistance and our new society”?

Todd: Touring is all that our band can really be, we don’t reach anybody without touring since we’ve chosen to avoid the use of corporate media. We will not be visible in any significant way without driving door-to-door and offering what weve got to people.

I do have something to say and music is a great way to be heard because it makes people feel something at the same time they hear the words. They will associate the good feeling with what is being said and this will strengthen their convictions in what they are hearing. That being said, the power of psychologically engineered pop aimed at the youth by our omnipresent corporate media is horrific.

I believe that although change is very slow, it is coming and people need to be educated. Each conversation I have with someone I work with is important. Each person you influence to treat people better or consider where their shoes were made is a tiny step in the right direction and it spreads exponentially. Each person that learns to view the world critically or overcome the trap of the status quo will influence others.

There have been a number of shows, usually when I least expect it, where I can see that weve really opened up a door for one or a few people; where we show them something positive that they didnt even realize existed. The same way that when I was younger a band like AK47 busted my mind open to radical politics and showed me that pure music and independent thought were possible.

In the Rebel Spell communiqué that accompanies the new CD the band states that “If we stand together, critical mass can bring punk ethics to the fore.” What do you consider punk ethics?

Todd: Critical thinking, respect for others, an active stance towards life and a better existence for every living thing.

Erin: It’s about challenging things that are ingrained in us that are wrong. Questioning what we put in our bodies like factory-farmed stuff and chemical crap. Questioning what we put into our minds like the mindless pap on TV and radio. Fighting systems that cause people to suffer while the wealthy and elites gains status and power. Challenging stereotypes. Rejecting sexism, racism and homophobia. Rejection of war and oppression. Compassion for the down-and-out. Respect for the environment.

Its gross how artists in music videos have adopted punk fashions, and even the musical style, albeit watered down a bit, yet have totally ignored the philosophies that have given the genre significant meaning.

In the song Bring Em In you say “We’re on the right track in one tiny scene, but for things to change, our ideals must be mainstream.” I guess its kind of going back to the whole DIY thing, but how can punk ideals get to the mainstream with selling out?

Todd: I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me that since I wrote the line. The word mainstream is so loaded, especially in our subculture. When I say mainstream I mean an idea held by a large part of the population. It is not selling out to become popular. It is selling out to change your message or compromise your ideals to make yourself more marketable. The strongest part of our stand on selling out is staying away from people and organizations who view music as a commodity major labels and such.

Erin: That song is about playing shows with rockabilly or straight-edge hardcore or curst bands or whatever else we like. We think that punk shows are the best when they are inclusive and diverse. If people can come out to the shows and have a blast and dont worry about whether or not they fit in or are part of an exclusive scene then they will be more receptive to our message and probably seek out more underground music. The dream for us is to have the mainstream turn away from the mainstream because they’ve found something better.

You’re a political punk rock band.That said, can punk rock be non-political?

Todd: Punk rock was political in its inception just by the fact that it was something visibly different than the dominant culture. That difference has been absorbed and commodified now so the political statement of having really big hair or wearing rags is weakened. I dont think punk can be non-political, because in my mind the only thing you need to have is a respect for others, and be willing to promote that message in your music.

Erin: The reason there is so much politics in punk music is that its rooted in rebellion, but its still a type of artistic expression and therefore it is going to reflect all sorts of human experience. We enjoy beating people over the head with our political agenda in lyrics and I really love listening to leftist bands that do that, but theres a lot to be said for bands that are more subtle or have self-reflection in their approach. Singing about politics doesnt automatically make a band credible and singing about relationships doesnt automatically make a band vacuous. What matters is that the sentiment behind it is heartfelt.

A friend of mine was talking about the band and mentioned that he thought it was so cool that two women occupy positions in the band more traditionally handled by men (Erin plays guitar and Stepha plays drums) Any thoughts on that?

Todd: Our line-up is completely accidental. I’d known Stepha for years and played in a band with her before. I convinced her to move to Vancouver and start a band and then we found Erin through an ad in the Georgia Straight, she was the only person we contacted and she worked. Then Chris was my longtime friend and roommate at the time. He kept asking if he could play base and I kept saying no dude, you always quit bands as soon as they need you (he has a history!). I finally let him join after threatening bodily harm if he quit.

Having two girls in the band helps eliminate that primal gang hooligan instinct to act like a bunch of thugs when you’re together. However, Stepha has been known to pick a few fights! People are pack animals and it is important to notice how being in a pack makes us feel. When your band is your pack you can easily start to act like a gangster or other type of juvenile idiot, very un-punk in my mind.

Erin: Yeah, our situation is a little unique, but I dont think its such a big deal nowadays. Most of my influences as far as guitar playing are men, but I think the landscape in changing. Its pretty tragic how may women through the 70’s and 80’s thought their role in rock music was to be sneaking backstage and giving blowjobs and how women thought to learn from and emulate their heroes. My band might benefit a little bit from this history because we have that aspect which still makes us stand out, but those attitudes really held women back for a long time and stalled the progress of rock music because half the population wasnt really participating.

I’ve always been a big fan of riot grrrl bands and its a shame that the genre never really grew and took on new life the way other genres did, it just kind of died out. It’s a scene Id love to see resurrected.

One thing I’ve noticed about our shows that I’m stoked on is that there are just as many girls as boys up front and singing along at our shows. I dont see much macho behaviour in the pit, its usually really inclusive and everybody just has a good time. I think seeing me and Stepha play has made quite a few women feel like they have a connection with us. A number of women have even said something to that effect, and its awesome.

Thanks for chatting. Any last words?

Todd: We’ve got our first vinyl release coming out on Seattles Out Of Tune Records a re-release of our first record Expression In Laymens Terms, and were starting to book another tour. We need contacts for the U.S., so get a hold of us so we com come to your town! You can hear our music at…

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