Now in their ninth year as a band, Portland’s Abolitionist put out their fourth full-length, The Instant, via 1859 Records in May. With a revamped lineup of vocalist and guitarist Dustin Herron, drummer Sean Rule—also of Plow United—bassist Joseph Mohler, and lead guitarist Jeremy Dunlap, the band recorded the new album in a larger studio than ever before, Supernatural Sounds in Oregon City. Jason Livermore mastered The Instant at the legendary Blasting Room Studios in Fort Collins, Colorado.
With their release show at Black Water Bar in Portland, the band kicked off a two-week July tour that included their first-ever stop at 924 Gilman in the Bay and their return to Seventh Circle Music Collective in Denver. “That place is incredible,” Herron says of Seventh Circle, “like Gilman 2.0. We’re just really concentrating on the western U.S. this year but planning on heading across the country next summer to the Northeast—half the band’s originally from there. Should be wicked awesome!”
Now that you’ve got four full-lengths and nine years under your belt, how does The Instant differ from the others? What stood out to you in writing and recording this album that was unique?
Well, this album has a different feel than anything else we’ve ever done for a few reasons—the first reason being the addition of Sean Rule on drums and Joseph Mohler on bass. Jeremy also played lead guitar on this full-length; he’s played drums on the past two releases—The Vicious Rumor LP and The Pinnacle EP—not to mention some bass and lead work on older stuff. All three of these guys contributed a lot of muscle and nuance to the original bare-bones versions of the 12 tracks I wrote on my own.
The second reason was that we spent some time in a bigger studio, Supernatural Sound Studios in Oregon City, Oregon, one that was built specifically as a higher-end space. I think the resulting sound quality owes a lot to that setting. Of course, Rob Bartleson put a lot of time and effort into the mixing—not to mention the editing in parts where we were perhaps slightly sloppier than we ought to have been. I think it also really helped to have the polishing done by Jason Livermore at The Blasting Room!
Do all of your records take place in the same dystopian world? Or is this more like several different versions of the future that you see as possibilities?
That’s a good question! I don’t think so. Maybe? I did consider, at one point, doing some weird tie-in of the first three albums as a fourth LP, but I abandoned that idea pretty quickly. I guess even though it’s gotten to the point where—if people are even paying close attention—we could be pigeonholed as a “concept album band,” I didn’t wanna go to that extreme. I think you’re more on point with the observation that they’re about future possibilities within the realm of speculative fiction. There are a lot of potential storylines about humanity going completely off the rails, unfortunately.
This record focuses a lot on animal rights. What is your relationship to this cause? How would you like to see society regard animals in a perfect world?
Well, to be honest, this album is more a cynical take on humanity and our capacity for groupthink. Also, probably a little bit about alienation within society. We’re so easily able to come up with reasons to treat other groups of people as if they’re subhuman—which can be related from anything to race, religion, political allegiance, etc. It doesn’t take much to commit atrocities to one another. The focus on veganism [and] animal liberation wasn’t to portray either in a negative light—I’ve been a vegan for about 20 years, and the band has another longtime vegan in it—but more to convey irony.
The first six songs are essentially the main group castigating the outliers, or “others.” The next five are from the perspective of the “others,” and the last song is a retrospective on implied mass murder and the ordinary way an individual can justify brutality in the name of a higher cause, so long as they belong to a member of the “in group.” I dunno. That’s the basic gist of the story, but I did try to write metaphorically so that some of the tracks can be interpreted as standalone commentaries on modern-day American sociopolitical realities.
Speaking strictly from personal belief, and not on behalf of the other band members, I would love to see society regard all animals as the beings capable of suffering that they are. Just because a cow or pig “tastes” better than a dog or cat—and we know this is a cultural distinction—shouldn’t make it morally justifiable to kill and eat. Especially when there are so many fucking tasty vegan options out there these days—so many more than 20 years ago when I went vegan! But I dunno. I’ve got it pretty damn good as a white, middle-class, American male, but I definitely feel alienated with regards to my personal convictions related to veganism [and] animal liberation. Doesn’t make me question ’em though.
In “Backlash,” the lyrics are negatively aimed at “keyboard warriors.” By that, do you mean people who fight online only and don’t partake in any active change? Is this sentiment specific to one political side, or does it happen on both ends?
Yeah, this is sort of one of those tracks I just mentioned. It should be noted that I’m definitely guilty of being a “keyboard warrior”; I participated in activism, mostly related to animal rights issues, in my late teens, but I’m pretty much a square at this point of my life. I guess the term isn’t specific to any one political leaning, but I don’t really give a fuck about the right-wingers. The more they’re glued to their keyboards, the better. Physically, if possible. Am I being ironic by saying that? [Laughs]
There’s an intensity and inherent violence to “Lonesome Death.” I’m taking it as the closing chapter on this made-up world: literal death to empathetic and liberal-minded people, the “freaks.” Am I interpreting that correctly? That The Instant is about a utopia where social justice reigns, and in the last track, the listener is being dropped off back in reality?
Yeah, although the unspoken implication is that the “outliers” in the story are non-vegans who don’t want to give up their lifestyles because they’ve somehow been unaffected by the “wash of empathy” that’s affected nearly everyone else—which naturally makes them “freaks” in the eyes of the majority.
If this was one of the first records a young person getting into punk heard, what would you hope they take away from it?
Oh, damn. That’s a good question! I guess, like any band that’s out there, we just hope they think it kicks some ass. I do put some thought into the lyrics that I write, and the cover art we use, etc., but let’s be real, if a band isn’t playing interesting music, no one is gonna give two shits. So, yeah, we hope the recorded music just makes people wanna see us play live or maybe listen to the tunes years from now.
Do you identify as a political punk band? Or a punk band with political songs?
We’ve been labeled the former, and I think that’s cool. I definitely identify with political punk. Propagandhi is a favorite of everyone in the band, and I have great personal affinity for the English anarcho punk bands of the ’80s—Rudimentary Peni, Crass, Conflict, Icons Of Filth, The Mob, Zounds, Flux Of Pink Indians, etc. And I perhaps write sociopolitical lyrics intentionally. But I dunno, I don’t necessarily feel like our first and third LPs, It Used To Rain and The Vicious Rumor, were all that political. Definitely dystopian, though. I guess I feel like we’re solidly a punk band that draws from a wide variety of punk subgenres to explore certain anxieties related to the human condition. “Anxiety-core.” Is that a thing?
Have you played any of the new songs live yet, and if so, how has the reception been?
Yeah, we had three of the tracks in our set during our short tours last July and November. The reception always seemed to be good! We definitely had fun jamming them. They’re kind of a weird mashup of pop punk [and] hardcore. We’re [put] a set together for this summer’s tour that features 90 percent stuff from this LP, plus two to three tracks from another EP we plan on releasing at some point toward the end of this year.