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Rock 'n' roll is about emotions. Punk rock is about attitude. Hardcore is a way of life.

 

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Fun-lovin' Communists

by Tim McMahan

 

"The idea of capitalism leaves a bad taste in my mouth," says Boy Sets Fire bassist Darrell Hyde.

It doesn't take but 10 minutes into the interview to discover that he, vocalist Nathan Gray and guitarist Josh Latshaw are proud, modern-day communists. Gray and Latshaw both are American Communist Party members (not Hyde, who says he has some problems with the organization).

"We lean toward socialist or communist ideas," Hyde says. "Capitalism depends on the class system. In theory, everyone could work equally as hard, but someone is still gonna starve. I know that's wrong."

 

Hyde says he brought home a copy of the Communist Manifesto when in 11th grade at Newark High School in Delaware. "My father and I discussed it. He was never very open to the idea, but he never hindered me. The discussions forced me to learn more about it, so I could out-argue him."

The jury's still out as to who won the argument, Hyde says. Regardless, he, Gray, Latshaw, along with drummer Matt Krupanski and guitarist Chad Istvan continue to tour the United States and the world, spreading a message about "social injustice" to a self-professed hardcore beat.

For half of their latest recording, the 5-song EP "In Chrysalis" on Initial Records, the band carries on the same socially concerned themes that brought the band together five years ago. But this time 'round, the band has taken a lighter approach with tracks "Loser of the Year Award," -- a defense of touring as an anonymous indie band -- and "Cavity," about "remaining positive in the face of, it seems, overwhelmingly negative odds."

Unlike traditional hardcore, Boy Sets Fire songs are closely fused to melodies, and Gray's vocals are more than just angry grunts and screams. Does hardcore accurately describe their sound?

"We're musically pretty diverse," Hyde says. "It all stems from the fact that none of us are really content to be pinned down to a single musical style. If you look at the hardcore scene, it's the band's ideals, rather than their sound, which defines them. It's more about the way you live your life. It has to do with an outlook on the world. The anger is where the music ties in with those ideals.

"I consider us a hardcore band. But I've been hardcore since I was 13 years old, so I'm going to say that just out of respect for it."

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Hyde not only plays bass but is webmaster of the www.boysetsfire.com website. photo by Robyn
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The five members of Boy Sets Fire grew up within a 15-minute radius of Newark, a laid back, liberal college town that's "not terribly politically active," Hyde said. Hyde became interested in punk at age 12, listening to politically charged bands that made him question the status quo. "We credit the Dead Kennedys for our interest in radical politics," he said. "Some of the older, straight-edge bands also got me interested in being active in the world around me in a positive way."

And that included communism. Three tracks off the new CD -- "Voiceover," "The Tyranny of What Everyone Knows" and a cover of the Dead Kennedy's "Holiday in Cambodia" -- continue the band's tradition of speaking out in anger against the media and politicians who "feed our fear of each other." Hyde says he's motivated by Latshaw's and Gray's children, "who will be growing up in a world that could be worse than the world we're living in now. Eventually I'll have children and I want them to be safe to walk down the street."

As the gap between the classes becomes wider, Hyde said, more people will begin to lean toward communist and socialist ideals. The revolution, however, will not come in a bloodbath. "We have to combat the system without using violence," he said. "History teaches us that violent revolt only brings about more violence. We won't storm the Capital in D.C. It's all going to happen on a local scale, learning that the person next to you isn't out to get you, and realizing that it's to the advantage of the 'powers that be' to keep us divided by fear of each other. Our strength comes from having a real community again."

Pretty heavy stuff for a rock band? Maybe, but Hyde says most of the band's fans already know what they're about, and if they don't they'll know when they leave after the show. "An old punk rocker once said, 'It doesn't do any good to go up there and scream if you don't have anything to be mad about.' It's all about directing the anger inside you toward a positive end.

 

"I think a hardcore show is something you can't explain. To understand the energy and passion you have to see it. The amount of enthusiasm is something you can harness. We try to have local speakers and organizations at our shows, so when people get fired up, they have somewhere to direct their enthusiasm."

Yeah, but what if you just want to rock? Hyde says that's cool, too. "Whether you're going there because of the politics or for the emotional charge of the music, either way it means a lot to us," he said. "Maybe we can inspire you to look inside yourself and make some changes."

So far, that band has only been able to make a mark on a small, indie-loving audience. But that could change, as the band has caught the eye of a number of major record labels. Hyde says the band's only interested in taking it to the next level if they can do it like political rockers Rage Against the Machine. "They're using their success to get a message out the way no one has," Hyde said. "Suddenly, MTV is doing news reports on (controversial political activist) Mumia Abu-Jamai. If we were able to achieve that, we'd go for it in a second."

He admits Boy Sets Fire is "light years away" from that level of notoriety. "Right now, we're happy where we are. You have to do this because you love it. It's one thing to go out and play a big-time tour and quite another to go on the road for three weeks for 20 kids a night, who stare at you like you're an alien. It takes time and dedication and love for what you're doing and for what you're playing. And that's what we have."


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Printed in The Reader July 8, 1999.

Copyright 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


"Suddenly, MTV is doing news reports on (controversial political activist) Mumia Abu-Jamai. If we were able to achieve that, we'd go for it in a second."