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The Circle of Punk: A Chat with Red Hare's Jason Farrell | Feature Interview

by Sam Rosenberg (@MisterGoblin1)

Towards the end of our phone call, having run out of ‘real’ interview material, and partly in an effort to stifle my desire to nerdily interrogate Jason Farrell about very specific corners of his work not relevant to his band’s new album, I ask him if there’s anything else he’d like to broadcast. Fully expecting that this would be where we sort of awkwardly signed off and traded emails in case there was anything left undone, I was surprised when he launched into an impassioned spiel on the intersection of music, life, youth, and what could be called the circle of punk rock. He kept coming back to this idea that the ties you form in your youth are the most significant, and that at this point in his life, years down the line from the skate spots that marked the sites of his first forays into punk rock, “A lot of people are coming back because they recognize how deep those early bonds go.”

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Farrell speaks much as he sings -- at a considered but somewhat irregular rapid morse code-like pace. When accompanied by music, his voice is infused with a palpable sneer, somewhere between Kathleen Hanna and James Hetfield when he gets really sassy. In conversation though, he is earnest and focused. “Sure, some of it is purely geographic,” he says of the nature of those early relationships, “Like, we happened to go to the same elementary school, but you were in elementary school with a bunch of other fuckin' kids and who gives a shit about them.” With the benefit of hindsight, he realizes now how these early interests fed into other interests, which fed into the life now enjoys, “Skateboarding led me to punk rock, punk rock led me to design, and now here I am… So there’s this thought of not wanting to miss doing things you want to do. There’s a joy in burning through whatever’s left, and if you don’t use it it just goes away.”

Whether he’s singing or gabbing, Farrell emotes with an escalating energy that makes it sound as if he is approaching the ignition point, quite literally ready to burn through whatever is left. Though he doesn’t spend as much time on the mic in his new band Red Hare as in previous projects, he does have a big hand in the lyrics along with inimitable frontman Shawn Brown (Dag Nasty). The two hammer out vocals beginning with unintelligible almost scat-style singing (as Farrell puts is, “We will say nonsense until the words happen,”) and the result is a bizarre and fun contrast between Brown’s bellowed declarations and Farrell’s smirky shouting. Their rhythm-centric nonsense approach to vocals might lead them to lyrical territory they wouldn’t have explored otherwise, yielding percussive and poetic lines like “cut through the veil of lesser mouths,” (from “Affirmation”) but it all seems to stem from the still-glowing ember of 80s and 90s hardcore indignation.  

Though the majority of their new record Little Acts of Destruction was written before any “new politics that have come about,” Farrell says the songs still apply. “Edit the Family,” outlines the necessity of overlooking certain leanings in the people we have no choice but to co-exist with. “It’s like, when you and your Grandma are fucking staring each other down, and you’ve still gotta chew down this turkey and try and sit there and make nice… You basically end up chopping a person down into this one bearable little nugget that you can eat.” It’s an intensely relatable song, and a topic not often explored even in political music: the claustrophobia of being stuck with someone familiar, who you now see once a year and “hope to god it’s the only time I have to see your fuckin’ mouth… MOVE,” as Brown tenderly puts it.

The members of Red Hare are adults with families who wring every bit of practice time they possibly can out of busy work and travel schedules. Farrell and Joe Gorelick work together and often find themselves in the same city on work trips, during which they’ll rent a practice space for a couple hours and speed through several ideas, shelving them for months to come until they find another opportunity to convene. Farrell’s impression of one of these meetings is a hurried conversation between runs through songs, “Doyoulikethisdoyoulikethis? Goodgoodgood. No? Okayokayokay let’strythis.” The band is spaced out all over the country and each of the four members have a host of obligations completely independent from music, yet somehow they’re on their second full length, plus an EP in between. Those of us who have played in bands know how difficult it is to maintain even when you’re all unemployed in the same area, and it speaks to how vital this music and these friendships are to them that they’re still going at it this way.

This feat is made all the more impressive given how little this record sounds like it was made by some weekend warriors chipping away at fourteen songs for a couple years. It’s fierce, crackling with life, and somehow evokes the feeling of being chewed by a giant robotic dog, for me, every time I listen to it. The music flexes and contracts without warning, pivoting quickly and menacingly (see the intro to “Cicada” or the sharp segues in and out of the softly spoken verses of “When My Stars Sleep it’s for Ages.”) From his years fronting the bands Bluetip and Retisonic, Farrell’s songwriting and blues/metal tinged guitar playing have gathered wrinkles that make Red Hare come off like a hardcore band that fell into a nuclear cask. The rest of the outfit also sounds as if they’ve sprouted telekinesis and the ability to liquify, shifting admirably under the weight of strangely lurching riffs and measured barking, and, like any great band, you can hear them having fun.

After we’d burned through what was left of our conversation, I asked him if someone came up to him tomorrow with an opportunity for him to make a living touring and recording music, would he do it? Now, living comfortably with a wife and son, enjoying all the trappings of the things punk rock led him to, would he double back and return to the blur of the road and the studio? He chuckled and replied, “NO, no. Well, maybe. I don’t know.”