The titles of Militarie Gun’s most recent EPs All Roads Lead To The Gun and II have a stark finality to them. Like the band, and in particular, their lead singer Ian Sheldon, are laboring under some threat of violence in harsh and restrictive circumstances. But what you’ll find when you actually listen to these EPs is a rock band at the height of flexibility and freedom. One of the most exciting aspects of the project, since their debut last year with the My Life, is Over EP, has been the band’s unpredictability and when it comes down to punching our catchy, melodic hardcore and alternative rock. There are no two songs that sound the same, and each has its own diverse set of inspirations and identity. From the jittery, jangle pop crunch of “Aitnt No Flowers,” lead by an Ian Mackaye styled bark, to the shoegazing and wiggly indiecore of “Fell On My Head,” to the emo grunge burn out of “Big Disappointment,” and through to the deep-fried and dissonant, Jesus Lizard facing powerpop of “Disposable Plastic Trash,” a fire of creative prowess burns eternal at the core of Militarie Gun.
Just before the release of All Roads Lead To The Gun, we caught up with bandleader Ian Sheldon to learn about his creative process, his hopes and fears, and why every path he goes down leaves him staring down the barrel of a gun. You can now read the full transcript of our conversation below.
Interview was conducted over the phone on June 18, 2021. It has been edited for clarity.
So I reviewed your EP My Life is Over last year and I really thought that was cool. It’s a great introduction to what you’re doing with Militarie Gun. Just for the benefit of our readers, would you mind going over the history of the group real quick?
Yeah, so it was really just that when the pandemic hit, I had nothing but downtime. And I just completely used the outlet of trying to do a new band as a way of getting through it. It was the only thing I had going in my life at the time. And the last show I went to before the pandemic is where I ended up kind of talking to and then meeting the other members who ended up joining Militarie Gun. It kind of happened due to them being the last people that I really saw before everything fell apart. And so yeah, since then, we’ve just been practicing and writing and recording as constantly as possible.
I think it’s really amazing how prolific you’ve been during the pandemic. Do you think you’re going to be able to keep that pace up after everything opens back up?
I’ve got to keep the pace up because I have to get through the backlog of material I’ve built up. But I imagine that… Yeah, it’ll probably slow down a good deal once I’ve been gone for a month or two on tour.
Do you mind if I ask how you say so busy?
I just… it’s the only thing I care about. It’s the only thing that I wake up and I actually want to do it every day. So every possible moment that I can get to the practice space, I do. And it’s really just kind of the way my personality works. Where when I’m obsessed with something I just have no option but to fully indulge it.
So do you think any of your projects are going to have to be downshifted after the pandemic?
No, I mean each has their appropriate amount of time. Like, going into this upcoming fall, there will be two Militarie Gun albums out. And that means that it’s time for Militarie Gun to tour, and then RJC has tours booked as well. And, then SWAT is a band that I don’t think will ever play live. So it’s kind of easy to maintain its status as inactive.
I still thought the album that you released with SWAT last year was pretty great. I just have to amass enough material.
I’m so glad to hear that. Thank you. I’m already working on the follow up.
Nice. Do you think you’re going to be able to fit a tour with Pretty Matty in there as well?
I mean, I would love for there to be a Militarie Gun and Pretty Matty tour, whenever possible. I think that they got visas and everything. So playing shows together will definitely be possible.
So how long do you expect to be out on the road in the second half of 2021 and into 2022?
Right now, I’m basically gone from the beginning of September till the end of November. So trying to make up for lost time. I actually was looking at it the other day, and I believe it ends up being like 75 shows in a matter of 90 days or something like that. So it’s gonna be constant.
Have you noticed any real difference in your life with all the press that your various projects have been getting? Like, do you feel like you’re no longer just a punk kid trying to preoccupy himself, but rather moving into more of a professional role as a musician?
Well, I’ve always treated it like a job, even when it hasn’t been. You know, in the early days of Regional Justice Center we were touring far more than we probably should have financially been able to, but we would just do things to whatever scale that we could and try to build it the best way that we could. And now, I do think that I’m feeling a shift in public perception. Definitely. You know, more people are buying records, or we’re playing some bigger shows, or whatever. But I mean, my internal way of thinking about it hasn’t changed. I mean, since it’s never really been just a hobby, it’s been a driving force of my entire life. So I’ve never thought of it as anything, other than something I just have to do.
That goes back to what you were saying before about what drives you. This is sort of your reason to be.
Yeah, exactly. I mean, it’s a thing that I’m obsessed with every day, and it doesn’t change. Where other interests they kind of go in and out, but with this one, it’s with me every day.
Do you worry about the additional fame and recognition that you are getting kind of interfering with your ability to produce the kinds of music that you want to in the future?
How do you mean?
It seems sometimes that people are perplexed by the sheer variety of guitar music that you’re able to produce. Like you do powerviolence with RJC. Then there is your work with Pretty Matty. And then Militerie Gun runs the spectrum from The Cure, to Jesus Lizard, to Fugazi, and I was wondering if you ever worry that people are going to expect that you pick a lane and stick with it eventually?
No. I guess, because I have a variety of ways of expressing myself, I think that I’ve primed the audience to accept that they’ll never receive the same thing. The big thing for me is that I always stay writing. So when I finished a record, usually I start a new one. And because of that, I’m never waiting for the public to ingest it. The thing that would mess me up is anticipating what the audience will think. Because as of right now, I don’t write anything in that regard. Militarie Gun was started because it was just whatever I was interested in the day that I went to go write that song. And then I ran through this general filter that I believe to be the Militarie Gun sound. And, and that’s still what I’m doing. Now we’re about to release another EP, but we have basically an LP and a half’s worth of material after that, and not having to hear what the audience thinks before I write the next few songs, I think is what propels me forward. Because I’m just thinking about what is I’m interested in, I’m not thinking about what people want to hear from me.
Okay, so you’re not you’re never waiting for audience feedback to help guide you or direct your project.
No, definitely not. And I would say that I’m more so afraid of allowing that feedback loop to occur and it interrupting the source of inspiration.
So how do you go about writing a riff for Militarie Gun?
Yeah, I mean, some days I want to write a big rock song. So I try to write a big rock song. Somedays I go in and I’m listening to ‘60s rock beforehand and so I’m making something with a different chord choice. But in the end, it’s gonna sound obviously never like 60s rock, because it’s so much more modern than that- the way that we play. It is so much more abrasive. So it’ll never actually sound like the source. So it actually feels a little bit more seamless and inviting, and like I can take direct influence, because I know in the end, it will not sound anything like the source material. It’ll sound like something, hopefully, new or at least something not totally familiar. So it really just depends. I would say there’s not a strict lens that I look through to determine the way a song can be written for the band. I think I have very specific structures that I go back to that are just my intuitive way of songwriting. But the general thing is that I’m willing to take from anywhere and then run it through my filter.
And you understand your own process, and that means that you realize that it’s going to come out different on the other end than the way that it went.
Yeah, exactly. I mean, once you get me yelling over it, it’s definitely not going to sound anything like the Byrds or something.[Laughs]
Who have you been listening to lately?
Since the start of the pandemic, honestly, my go to artist, 100% is the stroke. It just is like comfort music to me, where it’s something that I can turn on at any time. And it can be feel energetic, or it can feel downtrodden, it can feel whatever. They’re a very versatile band. But the past couple weeks, I’ve been really obsessed with The Stooges. What else… I’ve been listening to a lot of my peers. Like my friends in this band Shine from Seattle, they have been on constant rotation. This band Dazy, D-A-Z-Y. You know, I really do love the music that my friends put out. And it’s something that motivates me hearing the awesome things that my friends are also trying at the same time again, and how their musical boundaries expand. It’s really inspiring to me. And we all make very different types of music. So I think that we all use that influence from each other and take it and just write more and more.
How were you introduced to the Strokes. Is that a band that you grew up with?
No. If I had known I would have liked them so much I probably would have listened to them in high school. But it was kind of just that thing where it’s like, you know, I’m just gonna start listening to this band. Every couple days, I would go and just add a bunch of stuff to my music library so that I have it there and ready to listen to and it reminds me to try things that I haven’t listened to before. And when I started Militarie Gun, there were just one of those bands that I would listen to on my way into the studio. And they just really just stuck and ended up staying with me.
The reason why I asked is because The Strokes were a big deal when I was younger, and when This Is It came out it was a bombshell and totally changed the music landscape. But then they kind of faded away. So I’m always interested to hear people’s story when they’re a little bit younger than me and they end up getting into that band.
Yeah, I mean, I think it was probably like, middle school, or even elementary when that first record came out. So I definitely was always aware of the music videos because I was always watching Fuse and MTV and all that. But it just wasn’t like a CD that I owned. But then last year, I was just like, you know, I’m going to listen to this thing. And then it’s just been a straight-up obsession since. Like, if I don’t know what I want to listen to, I just turn them on and have a great time.
Yeah, I agree. Great band. They really know their way around a melody.
What does the title, All Roads Lead to The Gun mean? Is there something behind it, or is it just that just a play on the name of your band?
I would say that there’s a theme between the two. The thing about the EP is that it’s really about inevitability and inescapability. Like I don’t want to get too metaphorical because I’ll probably sound cheesy, but to me, the gun is like an ever-present option. It is this thing that refers to my drive to make music. And I can’t avoid it. And, and you know, there’s a song on the second record called “All Roads Lead to the Gun” and it’s almost describing an abusive relationship. And to me, that was like, how I feel about my incessant need to always be creating some bullshit piece of music.
So you feel held hostage by your own creative drive?
Yeah, definitely. So that’s why I was thinking, “All Roads Lead to the Gun.” This is inevitable. There’s no other way. And then at the same time, you know, I wanted to embrace melodrama, in the titling for Militarie Gun, you know. The first record is called My Life is Over, this one’s called, All Roads Lead to the Gun. I have a couple more album titles in the bag, but I really wanted it to say something really dramatic. It’s ultimately that melodrama that creates the art. And so that’s why I wanting to lean into the title the way I did.
Do you feel like conflict inspires most of your art, or just your work with Militarie Gun?
Yeah, so it’s interesting to me how peaceful I desire to be, but how restless and not peaceful, my external life really is. And so I try my best to not be upset or in my head and angry, but more often than not I find myself stuck in that cycle. Conflict is essential to everything, I think.
Are most of the songs about your inner wrestling with emotions and ideas? Or are there are also inspirations that come from your conflict with other people?
“Ain’t No Flowers” is definitely just a straight-up spite song. You know, celebrating the death of your enemies. Not that any have actually died. It’s not a literal death. But, and then the rest are definitely much more internal. It really depends on the song. I would say it’s far more internal than externally looking at anyone else on this EP
And then you have a song about answering the phone while you’re on mushrooms.
Yeah. And that’s still, I mean, it’s very much about that internal conflict. You know, wanting things you can’t have and, usually, yourself being the reason that you can’t have those things.
Right. It’s a cautionary tale. It works on multiple levels.
Yeah, definitely, definitely.
So besides getting out there and touring in 2021? What are your other goals? What are you hopeful for?
I’m hopeful that we can write and record another record. And, you know, we have a lot of songs written and now it’s going to be about editing down. And I’d like to continue to write and see where our sound ends up. I feel like I get to a point where I think I have a complete project. And then I’m like, “Well, maybe it needs two more rock songs,” and “Maybe a little bit less than this other sound.” I’m just being hopeful that I have the material to make a really good record, honestly.
Is there anything that you’re afraid of?
I’m afraid of making a bad record. [Laughs] I think it’s, I think it’s really easy right now, in this growth cycle, to feel like everything is ahead of us. But at the same time, you write a bad record and it doesn’t click with an audience, then it’s all on the down after that, and then you’re on the defensive. And I think that I would, I’m trying my best to stay on the offensive as a songwriter and performer. And the goal is just to keep making things that are interesting to me, but also interesting to other people.
Image courtesy of the artist.