Interview with vocalist George Hirsch | By Janelle Jones
When People Grow, People Go is the latest intense and powerful addition to Blacklisted’s impressive catalogue. Before its release, vocalist and sole original member George Hirsch speaks about the hardcore band’s progression over the years, the new record, and why touring isn’t such a priority anymore.
Your last full-length was in 2009. Was the band on hiatus?
No, we played shows and put out a 7” two years ago, I think. We got older, one of us has two kids, one has one kid, one’s married. Stuff like that. It’s not like we purposely timed it. That’s how it happened.
Does that make it hard for you to tour?
We don’t really play that much, to be honest. We could tour. I think everybody would be able to figure it out. But I think we did a lot of that while we were younger. We toured a lot more at the time than our contemporaries. We’re all in our 30s now. I started Blacklisted when I was 20. I’m 32 now, so my whole 20s was spent playing in that band, and a lot of it, touring. Now, at this age, I don’t really care if we play live. I’m just happy we’re able to make records. That’s my focus. We got offered to play Alaska in the spring, and we’re gonna do that. So what we wind up doing is… Not that [playing Alaska is] goofy, but goofy things like that. It’s like, how else would we go there?! I’m a little bit weird with playing shows, but we’ll do it.
It seems record labels want bands to tour…
You know what’s weird about that? I don’t look back on my band fondly. That’s not to say I look at it negatively, but I’m not a person that’s like, “I did all this stuff and all these accomplishments.” I don’t care about that stuff. When Blacklisted started, we were one of the first hardcore bands that was really, really touring constantly—eight, nine, 10 months out of the year—and coming home with barely enough money to pay rent. But the reward was being able to travel and go places. We did that, we worked really hard, and nothing ever came of it aside from experience, which is more important to me than anything anyway. So at a certain point, we just weren’t able [to keep touring], because it didn’t function as a thing that sustained itself enough for us to live, so we had to stop. Now that’s what labels want, but when I first started Blacklisted, that wasn’t the standard. We looked like freaks. People I knew in bands were like, “Wow, you guys are always gone. How do you make it work?” I look back on it and don’t even know if it did work, but we kept doing it. Now that is very much the standard, to the point where punk and hardcore music is watered down, because bands aren’t starting because they wanna make great records, they’re starting because, well, “If I start this band and put out this six song demo that has a fast beat, I’ll be able to go to Europe.”
So you’re putting more focus on what you’re writing than possibly making money by touring.
Money’s great and Blacklisted can make money touring now, but at the same time, it’s not enough to live on as a person in your 30s. If I could de-age myself to 21 or 22, I’d be perfectly fine with that, because it would sustain itself in a better way. But now, with someone having two kids, first of all just being away… I think for me personally, my focus on records, I know so many bands play live and I don’t think it’s the most necessary thing. Not that when Blacklisted makes a record, it’s this great moment of, “Wow, they really did it.” But I’d rather focus on the aspect of making a record and writing songs. I think things suffer when bands are put under a forceful push to be on the road.
And you have full rein to get records done when you want?
I don’t know how any other labels operate. Blacklisted signed to a label right when we first started and that lasted about a year, not even. Then Deathwish started putting out our records. We just work on our own timeline. When you first said 2009 was our last LP, the time just went by. No one from the label was like, “You gotta make a record,” we just did what we did. Our bass player [Dave Walling] runs a record label [Six Feet Under] and we put a 7” out with him. Again with that, it’s just us making it and he puts it out. There’s no pressure, which as I got older, was the thing I needed; I didn’t ever want pressure, because at the end of the day, it’s not like I’m some artist. I’m just a person who likes punk. [Laughs] It would be ridiculous to look at it from some artistic aspect of music writing.
So, there’s no pretension.
Yeah, I’m not John Coltrane. I’m not reinventing jazz. I’m just a punk musician. There’s no pressure, so it’s good. [Laughs].
From the beginning of the band to now, has the songwriting changed?
I’m the only original person left. But things have changed. The history of Blacklisted is really scattered with people who like a specific thing. They like one record and the rest it’s like, “Screw this.” I can listen to Blacklisted and realize that sonically, things have progressed, but I wouldn’t say changed. When all is said and done, I’m the center of that band. So to say that it drastically changed, I think it progressed because, in a way, Blacklisted is like a scrapbook of my life starting at 20 years old. I think there was a lot of controversy of “they changed their sound.” There’s people who are like, “They should change their name.”
Which is offensive, but at the same time ridiculous, because it’s all these people telling the band what we should do because they don’t agree with it. At that point, just don’t listen to it. I never presented Blacklisted and was like, “Listen to this.” If it interests you, that’s cool, but I’ve never been a huckster or a carnie like, “Step on in!”
And the new record, you’re proud of it?
It’s cool. I never really get it when people talk about something they make. I like it personally. I do not expect anyone else to like it. I have to do that, because things will just get too weird if I think too much [about if people like it or not] because for this band, we have such a weird history of albums. We were just friends in a practice space, and people were like, “Yeah, we’ll put out your record.” We were just making stuff. If you’re 5 years old and your mom’s like, “Make your own peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” and you go down and take bananas and Cheerios and put it all in the sandwich, and it’s ridiculous like a “Scooby Doo” sandwich… That’s what our albums were like, because we weren’t thinking about what other people were making or what was happening at the time. [And] I didn’t expect 12 years later to be making a record. To me, hardcore was something that the best bands lasted two or three years, and then they stopped. For me, I was like, “I’m gonna make this record,” and then, “I guess we’re gonna make another record.” Just with that alone, that dictates that things are gonna progress, because are you the same at 30 that you are at 20? I would hope not.
What’s the story behind “Burnt Palms” and “Foreign Observer”?
I forget who came up with the riffs for “Burnt Palms,” but we wrote it and had it for a while, and we didn’t know what we were gonna do with the end. Then we changed it to have that build-up/ fake-out thing that happens at the end, musically. And I think we were just like, “We wanna write a fast, aggressive song,” what people would’ve expected from us had the LP in 2009 [No One Deserves To Be Here More Than Me] not come out. I feel like we wrote Heavier Than Heaven… then No One Deserves To Be Here More Than Me, and this album’s place would’ve fit more in between those two. Then, when I wrote the lyrics and vocal pattern, I just wanted the fast part to sound maniacal in a way, kinda go with the song, but also not go fully with the beat. It does, but it sounds like at any point, it could totally be everybody doing something different. And lyrically, it’s about people becoming callous. The song’s about someone who’s really aggressive and guarded, and trying to stay calm in a situation that you can’t remain calm in and taking bad advice from people. Sometimes someone’s giving you advice, and you’re just like, “Shut up! This is the worst advice I’ve ever gotten. I’d rather you just say nothing.”
And “Foreign Observer,” I think [guitarist] Jon [Nean] brought that riff, and we just wanted to make a slow, dirge-y type of song. That song is about people holding me up as, “He says what I need to hear. He helps me so much,” kinda praising me. But then, I’m looking down in a way and [thinking], “Where is anybody when I need them?” Then, at the end, I say my spirit gets crushed by gravity ‘cause people are just watching. Like, how long can you watch this hole I’m in get filled up, my spirit gets crushed by gravity. In astrology, they say when you’re in the late 20s into 30, it’s Saturn’s return into─I don’t know, I don’t wanna explain it all, but bad stuff will happen, which, to me, happened. I wanted my friend Jamie [Getz] to sing on that song. He sang in a band called Gods And Queens, and then I got Nick [Woj] from Cold World—who plays drums—to come in. I live in Chicago now and he lives in Boston, but we both happened to be in Philadelphia at the time, so he sang the words “foreign observer” over and over.
And what about naming the whole record after the last song, “When People Grow, People Go”?
That was the first song we wrote. I guess people recently said that’s a Jets To Brazil lyric. That was actually written in a bathroom in Europe, and that’s where I got it from. I was like, “I’m gonna name a song that.” If the album was called Foreign Observer, it would be cool, but… That was my backup actually.