Five years after the breakup of Inquisition, Thomas Barnett is back in Richmond and he's about to detonate another punk-rock bomb on us.
The Sound Remains the Same
I'm sure this is Thomas Barnett even though I've never met him. He walks slowly through the doorway at the Blue Bottle café on a quiet Wednesday night, his head cocked to examine the atmospheric paint and lighting. More hair than body, Barnett has a slight and slender frame that gives the impression it can barely hold up that massive snarl of dreds, which dangle like ropes at the end of a mop.
It's easy to recognize the lead singer of the punk-rock band Strike Anywhere. The dreds, the old T-shirt and the scruffy chin all mark him against the other Brooks-Brothers-clad patrons.
Barnett, 28, has been in the punk-rock scene since he was in his teens. Before Strike Anywhere he was a long-time member of another Richmond group, the activist band Inquisition, which self-destructed after four years of making fairly influential music. Since the breakup, the pieces of that group have gone on to form three other bands: River City High, Ann Beretta and now, Strike Anywhere.
Strike Anywhere is a chip off the old block. Its sound is lean and muscular enough to rip a phone book in half. Barnett's voice sounds as furious as ever and so do his lyrics.
In two years the band has released an EP and has managed to sign with the well-respected independent label Jade Tree. On the eve of Strike Anywhere's first full-length release, "Change Is a Sound," Barnett is at no loss for words when I ask him to sit at a table with me and talk about the past and the future.
Besides the matches, what else does your band's name mean?
It has to do with trying to preserve spontaneous energy, creativity, youthfulness. ... It also has to do with empowering yourself, organizing labor, striking. And I think also it has to do with inspiration ... with being open and ready for something new to take you and inspire you. Never getting old and frozen in your perceptions.
Both Inquisition and Strike Anywhere offer a politically activist message in their lyrics. What has that message been over the years? How has it changed, and what is it now?
I don't know how much it's changed. ... I think the nature of politics in music, it can be dangerous; you can be misinterpreted. You can certainly be accused of trying to talk bigger than your actions. [Lyrics should be] a blending of the personal and the political, because it has to be both. You have to take the world in, and filter it through your emotions, and then try to understand it after that point. ... I like to talk [on the new record] about trying to be accountable and trying to change yourself, and looking at your flaws and the relationships around you. And that's where it has to start, for any other change to happen.
Is it harder to write about social and political issues than, say, about breakups?
I hope the lyrics I write about aren't so distinctly political. For me, just to write is a cathartic experience and helps me get through the day, treats boredom, treats frustration and treats sadness. So it's a question of being uplifted by what we produce, and not just reflecting the dullness and the anger that we all sit with or wake up with.
A lot of bands write anti-establishment lyrics. How do you keep yours from coming across as stale?
A lot of political bands unfortunately run into that wall, and they can't quite connect their lyrics to their personal lives anymore. Or it's done in a way that, to me, isn't simple enough, and doesn't really reach people as well as it should. A lot of my lyrics are based on my experiences, the things that I've seen or lived through that resonate deep within all of us as a band. As long as the five of us can love it and still be inspired, that's really all we're going for. And if others follow and love it too, that's amazing. More than we deserve, probably.
What do you predict for SA after "Change Is a Sound" is released?
I hope people like it. But we'll keep playing shows, whether it's just to three people who just wandered in or 300 people who are singing with us. I can't wait to sing these new songs.
How many copies do you predict to sell? How many would you like to sell?
It would be amazing for any punk band that plays roots, hard-core punk to sell we would be stoked to sell 9,000 records or more? I don't know if that's even
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