Show Me the Body are a hardcore punk band from NYC with a raw sound that links to the history of their forebearers, while also managing to be something entirely new and auspicious. They have distinguished themselves within the hallowed halls of an underground scene that owes its heritage to some of the most ambitious American musicians of the past fifty years, a fact that inspires both pride and humility amongst the band’s members.
Show Me the Body made a lot of converts to their cause (this writer included) with their 2019 album Dog Whistle, a meditation on the creeping erasure of NYC’s endemic population due to market forces and gentrification. This past year prevented the band from striking out on tour and from doing many of the things bands are normally wont to do. However, this isolation and reprieve from their regular routine did offer some surprising advantages to the band, namely, allowing them to complete construction of a studio space at their Corpus Headquarters, as well as allowing them to record an EP in this studio titled, Survive.
If you want constant weight loss pulls, we encourage you to start taking the best testosterone supplements to be stronger.
Survive is a complex and contemplative listen, both fierce and frenetic, accommodating smooth vinyl textures and grooves that mimic the patient, calculating movements of a boxer preparing for a title fight. It was the first record made by the group in their new space and it’s a remarkable demonstration of the skill and vision that they can realize with the tools at their disposal.
New Noise caught up with vocalist and banjo player Julian Cashwan Pratt and bassist Harlan Steed at their new studio this past March to talk about their EP and how they have been holding up during the pandemic. While we didn’t talk about the strange tones that Julian is able to coax out of his banjo (because I did my homework and knew he wouldn’t tell me!), we did discuss everything else, from the band’s community initiatives to the need for self-defence classes, to the Corpus-run bookclub they facilitate.
You can stream Show Me The Body’s new EP Survive below, and then keep scrolling to read the entire, exclusive interview.
The conversation was had on March 6, 2021. The transcript has been edited for the sake of clarity.
When I turned on the recording for the Zoom call we had just started discussing what Julian and Harlan were listening to while they were waiting for me to join the meeting. They had been playing a YouTube playlist called Punk Goes Drill which Julian was particularly excited about.
Julian Cashwan Pratt: There’s just like young kids making super freaky hip hop right now in the city. I have a lot of respect for it. We were listening to that right before you came on.
Okay, Punk Goes Drill. I’ll have to check that out.
Julian: It is drill beats and samples weird 90s and alternative rock samples. A lot of Evanescence. It’s sick!
Is this done by a New York group?
Julian: It’s like a bunch of kids in New York. I’m just really happy to see them doing their thing.
Yeah, you can always count on younger folks to hear and see potential in old things. They hear sounds that we think shouldn’t go together, and they’re like, “But what if they did?”
Julian: Yeah. It’s fucking cool.
Let’s jump right in. Show Me the Body have a new EP dropping called Survive. When did you start working on it?
Harlan Steed: Well, we’ve been writing these songs for a couple of years, but with the absence of shows, and not really being on the road, we kind of took it upon ourselves to build a studio in Queens and try to record our music as “in house” as possible. It’s kind of what this particular EP is. We built a fully functioning recording studio and this EP is the first project to come out of it.
Julian: We built a whole Corpus Headquarters and the studio is part of that. We started building it right before the pandemic. COVID slowed things down a bit but it also allowed us to really have the time to put the effort into shit.
So the EP was a test of your capabilities in this new space?
Julian: Yeah, sure.
How was recording in this new space? Did you feel like you encountered any limitations that you didn’t expect? Or did you find that it was more accommodating?
Julian: In one way, it’s infinitely more accommodating, because you’re in your own damn space. We spent years and years and years, going to other places to do everything, you know. When we went to record we were like, “Fuck, we gotta, do it real good, real fast!” And prior to having a studio at Corpus Headquarters, we didn’t have a place to practice, and here we have practice space for the first time. Before this, like two years ago, we had a place that somebody else was paying for that was in a storage unit. Like a room built into a self-storage place.
Harlan: It’s amazing to go to other places to make music, but there’s something really amazing about having this kind of creative space available to us as much as it is now. I think one of the hardest parts about it was committing. Like, “Ok, today we’re going to record the project, this is what it will be.” But having made a few records before this one, it comes a little easier than it did before.
Right, you’ve had the experience of working in other studios and working with engineers and producers who were not part of your team, and then you felt like, “Hey, we can do this on our own!”
Julian: We didn’t do all of it on our own. But it was like, “Do we need to go to somebody? Do we need to go to a million-dollar studio to make a good record?” And obviously, the answer to that is “No.” We are really happy with the result that came out of recording in our own space.
Harlan: Yeah, we had some really awesome collaborators on this project, but also, I think we both feel like we sounded more like what we wanted to sound like than ever before. We were very pleased with the results.
Who are some of the instrumental players on this album?
Julian: So one is Patrik Berger, who’s a Swedish dude, who’s produced a lot of different shit. And even though he’s a pop producer, he’s one of the only producers and industry people that we’ve ever met who have their own hardcore band that is just for fun. His band is called Bitch Hawk. Even though he makes pop music, when we hung out with him, we’re like, “Oh, you’re cool as hell! We can fuck around and make something fun!” And also, his knowledge of more synthetic sounds was super informative to us. He definitely did some educating on us.
Then there was Arthur Rizk, who we worked with for the first time. He mixed and mastered the record, and he’s dope as hell. It was great to work with him for even the day that we did. We sat with him and mixed the record. And then Ben Greenberg from Uniform engineered the record, along with our homie, Aidan Elias. Most of the shit that’s in the studio belongs to Aidan. Aidan’s really cool. He’s from the Lower East Side. He’s from here. He’s a great person to have on the team.
Then there was Gabriel Millman, who’s sort of our in-house producer. He’s worked on everything with us. And that’s also part of having our own spot. Everything is on our terms. We’ve [been] asked to go to bigger studios because some big hotshot wants to work with us, and then we’re like, “Okay, and our in-house producer Gabriel is coming.” And then they’ll be like, “Nah, that’s not going to work.” And honestly, to us, it’s like, “Well fuck dog, this is not going to work.” You think we’re going to tell off our own family and people who have been in our crew, just to work with some fucking pseudo-hotshot on a record? No way.
Yeah, why would you put out members of your family for somebody who you doesn’t know you and who may not understand your music?
Julian: Yeah and the only people telling us to work with those producers are people who only care about a certain sound. Yo, fuck a sound. Anyone can make a fucking sound.
When you say synthetic sounds, what do you mean by that?
Harlan: Well, there are elements of all three songs [on Survive] that were either sampled or made on electronic instruments, either a synthesizer or a sample of an audio recording that’s been mangled in some sort of synthetic type way. Ben Greenberg and Patrik Berger were really amazing, collaborative with us in terms of how we achieve those sounds and got those qualities especially like in a studio environment. Because, you know, Julian and I make music all the time recreationally and are creating a lot of this stuff. But then when we work with a guy like Patrik, and he has his own gear, and his own kind of approach to it, they become the ultimate effects pedal, so to speak. So he and Ben were really helpful with that. And, you know, all three songs have either overt or very subtle usages of those techniques.
Julian: We also had some equipment that was gifted to the studio from an OG. Some equipment for making music from way back. I don’t even want to say what it is because it’s so sick. It helps so much! I want to keep it a secret. But yeah, big shout out to Huaman Maura for giving us some stuff that was from another generation to make our shit pop!
When it comes to some of the specific songs on the album, I’m really taken by the title track “Survive,” and the music video for it. How did the conception of that video come together?
Julian: Well, a lot of the people in that video already practice self-defence. Self-defence is a big part of Corpus. You have to be able to protect yourself and be able to protect those around you. And a lot of those people who were in it are trained boxers. The coach is our manager Asha Maura’s uncle. He used to run a super famous boxing gym downtown. He’s a wonderful coach. He helped behind the scenes, coaching and shit.
The idea for the video, abstractly, is about being ready and staying ready for what has to happen. The first step is having yourself capable so that you can do whatever is necessary. And that goes as far as whether you’re in the street or in your home.
On a more visual and inspiration level, the idea for the actual video came from old footage of Jack Dempsey. He’s a famous boxer from a long time ago. Like, from the 20s or 30s. I’m not a historian, so don’t quote me on that. Anyway, there’s this wonderful video of him in his hometown in Appalachia, and he’s doing yard work and digging holes, but it’s after he’s a famous boxer, so he’s just sauced out. He’s well dressed, doing yard work. And there’s footage of him going down a road with two of his trainers, and they’re basically doing what we choreographed in the video. There’s boxing towards the camera and they’re sauced out! They’re looking nice! It was such a funny thing to see in a flex. To be one of the best boxers in the world, but dressed in your Sunday clothes training with the homies. So that visual piece inspired how the video looks.
Yeah, folks in the video though are not sauced out though. People are kind of wearing their gym clothes. I do wonder what they are training for though. What are they preparing for, or training to do?
Julian: They are training to deal with the street violence that people encounter in New York City, and to protect their own communities against perpetrators, even the police. Whatever is making things there unsafe. Beyond that, it’s to feel mentally sound. So that you can walk the streets unafraid. So that you can protect your community and know that you can protect your friends.
Do you have to keep stuff like that on the DL? Cops in my experience are not real hot on community defence. That’s something they tend to crack down on.
Julian: We don’t do weapons training or anything like that. We’re not trying to give kids weapons or have kids walk around with weapons. Nothing like that. We just want people to feel confident that they can protect themselves, and that they can protect their friends. I don’t condemn weapons training, but we’re not on that level. [Laughs] We know how to box and I used to train kung fu. My master, who was from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, did some of the first Corpus self-defence trainings. His name is David Kaplan by the way. He’s dope!
So this is all part of the Corpus mindset that you’ve developed?
Julian: Yeah, man. We’re not on any prepper shit, but growing up here, especially as a younger person, you can find yourself in some tough situations. And it’s only better to know more, and be able to trust yourself more, and trust the people around you more. You know what I mean? And it’s not just the Corpus mindset, but the New York mindset. Like, no one is calling 911 if they don’t have to.
I’m sure doing these types of exercises helps with community building as well. Changing the subject a little, something that you mentioned in a previous interview is that punk and hardcore are the contemporary folk music of our era…
Julian: Yeah, let me clarify. I think what meant to say is that it’s like a folk tradition in that there are troupes. Like in folk music, and hardcore music, and in any American music, [there are] tropes. [There are] standards that help people identify it and that help people realize, “Oh, shit, that’s what that is! I know that, I like that!” Band’s play certain chords and you can recognize where they came from. So in that way, it’s become an American vernacular and an American tradition. I think we’re very proud to be part of that American tradition, and we want to take that tradition to new heights and create new parts of the vernacular. To create new hardcore tropes and punk tropes. We want to make things that the next generation will hear, think is ill and then make their own!
Yeah, I thought that that was kind of interesting because you were tying yourself into a long lineage of music in this country and you are looking at yourselves as inheriting a certain history that you’re now carrying forward. That’s what I took from those comments.
Julian: Absolutely! Harlan was saying the other day, that people relate our music to hip hop. But we don’t make hip hop music because we’re two Jewish kids and those aren’t our stories to [tell]. But I will say, because we’re from New York, it’s part of our vernacular. I’m saying it is part of the vernacular that we inherited as being in the spaces that we were when we’re young people.
I think that it is really interesting, that you would describe what you’re doing as folk or as being part of a folk tradition. Because what you are describing seems to fit into the traditional definition of folk music. That is, people, singing about their lives, and about the places where they find themselves. And punk and hardcore seem like the contemporary mode of making those kinds of statements.
Julian: Absolutely. A friend of mine, yesterday, we were talking, and he told me about this book by a professor, by a guy named Jeff T. Johnson, and it’s an anthology called Trouble Songs. And it’s songs that are about trouble. Whatever that means. How that can be interpreted, and that lane of feeling. What comes out of it, and what is a ‘trouble song.’ Or songs that concern troubling shit. I don’t know. So his book is mostly about blue songs and the essence of rock and roll.
Right and being in trouble and getting into trouble are definitely themes in punk rock. Also, trouble in terms of precarity which is something you address a lot in your music as it concerns gentrification. Speaking of which, how did you get from “Camp Orchestra” aka a Camp Band on Dog Whistle, to “Rubberband” on Survivor? Is there any sort of connection or any evolution between the two?
Harlan: Well, I think that Julian will sometimes just say these names out loud while we’re writing songs, and I get this intense attachment to them, and then I basically force the names to become the titles of the songs when we make them. So I take all responsibility for that one, “Rubberband.” I think that’s how that one went down.
Julian: Yeah, there’s no direct correlation.
Harlan: I think with this record we opened a few doors that we weren’t maybe ready to when we recorded Dog Whistle in terms of what we were taking on as writers and producers, and what we wanted to hear out of the songs. I think we both feel that this EP is already getting in a direction of quality and intentionality that we wanted all along.
Julian: But “Rubberband” definitely has to do with “Camp Orchestra” in subject matter, as it has to do with lineage. Like, what is the reason to be, here, now. We talk a lot about hereness, and what is the pain in hereness. And imagination too. What is needed from the imagination to allow us to conjure and make a new reality?
Well, that makes sense for “Rubberband” in terms of flexibility. [All Laugh] You have to be flexible to live right?
Julian: Yeah, I guess. [Laughs]
So in terms of what has been happening in New York these past few decades in terms of negative trends, gentrification and erasure. Do you think that there is any hope of reversing any of that, or do you just see yourselves as holding the line against impossible odds?
Julian: I’d like to clear up that we don’t hold any line. [There are] people who do real community organizing work and anti-eviction work, and community resource work, and those people are holding the line. We’re not community organizers. We’re musicians who help out with mutual aid. But [there are] people whose whole lives are just that, holding the line for New York City. And I think on a COVID level, even though a lot of what has happened is trash, and a lot of people have left the city in a big way, it’s a lot less fucking crowded. Sometimes it just feels a little bit more like when we were younger. Blocks are a little bit more dangerous. There’s [fewer] people around and stuff like that. So it’s not all bad. But it’s bad! Anyway, life goes on, reality is flexible.
Harlan: Part of building our studio this last year was because it was one of the few things that we could do. But our goal, as of late, has been to try to open the space up to young kids in New York and other artists who struggle to have a place to be creative and to record and make something that’s both affordable and available to them. We didn’t have that when we were younger. We’ve had more than ten rehearsal spaces in our life as a band. We play in people’s basements when they’d let us. We’d play in a storage container. Space is one of the things that’s hard for artists and musicians in New York to get a hold of and hang on to and actually make something out of. So if there’s a way that we can, not deconstruct, but construct towards a positive New York lineage it would be through that, providing a space and a place in which to be creative.
So who are some of the people who you would want to shout out as doing the work that you were describing before? Of actually holding the line and keeping New York livable?
Julian: [There are] so many great organizations! NYC Shut It Down, Equality for Flatbush, Club A, Club A Kitchen, Vocal-NY, as well as local NYC groups help to radicalize houseless communities and organized shelters and stuff like that. The list goes on, of people who deserve shine and don’t do mutual aid work for the press or anything like that. These are people who are known on the block and nowhere else. That’s where all the real work is. We always want to make that clear though, that we are not those people, but we respect those people, and we do what we can.
Did you want to run through some of the resources that Corpus provides?
Julian: Totally, the newest one, and I think Harlan touched on it just now, is the Corpus Residency. We’re doing a quarterly residency where anyone can apply. It’s basically a week-long studio session that they can get for free. We just launched it and we have a lot of applicants. We’re super excited to get our first person in there. Then there’s also the Corpus Jam. We did that only one time before the Coronavirus hit, and it was downtown. We got some commercial space in a basement and we set up all of our gear, and kids who we did not know, like 15-year-old kids and shit, came in and blasted out of our equipment.
Harlan: New bands were formed that day.
Julian: Yeah, it was crazy. It was super ill! And it was all free! Everyone’s freestyling and kids were down there two-stepping to what kids were just laying down. It was such a beautiful, fun environment. And that’s something that we’re excited about bringing back. We’re slowly figuring out exactly how to do it so that we can still maintain a safe environment for everybody. You know, as much as we would like to say, “Yo, everybody pull up, we got our shit set up, you can come jam on it!” That wouldn’t be 100% safe, you know? We can’t be putting those kids and their families at that kind of risk.
Yeah, especially not right now.
Julian: Yeah, exactly. So we’re slowly figuring out how to do that. Corpus Self Defense was held during the pandemic, digitally. And now, as New York starts opening back up, we’re trying to figure out how we can do that safely in person. And then, as far as other initiatives, we just finished the Blissful Coat Drive. Where our Headquarters is there’s like four shelters. So it’s a tiny neighborhood. So the population of the houseless people is like half the population that lives there. So we did a big, all-city coat drive. This is all through people who are a part of Corpus Family that is the sector Corpus that organizes all this. And then Naya Samuel and Asha Maura fronted the March for Black Woman called Uprising which happened in August.
Harlan: They also started a book club. Like a virtual, Zoom book club.
Julian: Yeah, so we read one book a month and then we talk about it. And anyone in New York can apply to get free books. If you’re in New York and you want to be part of it, but you can’t afford to buy a book, we can get you the book via Playground Coffee Shop and Playground Annex, which is a small bookstore that connects to Playground Coffee. We partnered with them for the book club and it’s run by Jaylen Strong. That has been an amazing thing. So while we’ve been doing other things, there’s a focus on reading and education, and expanding our minds and our imaginations together. Not just musically. Not just between the three of us when we get to it, but as a community. We want to stay in a conversation that is useful to others.
I know that we’re supposed to be talking about hardcore and stuff, but book clubs are dope. What are you reading right now?
Julian: For this month [March] we’re doing My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Which is by Amos Tutuola. Some of the past books were great also. We did Babel-17. We read Freedom Dreams, which is amazing. You got to include the authors when you post this. Samuel something wrote Babel-17 [Samuel R. Delany]. And Freedom Dreams [looks at phone] is written by Robin Kelly.
That’s really cool that you’re reading My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Brian Eno and David Byrne borrowed the title for their first collaboration.
Julian: That’s true. I was just talking to somebody about that. I feel kinda goofy, but I didn’t know that. [Laughs]
You didn’t know that when the book was selected?
I’ve always wanted to read it…
Julian: Dude, you can be part of our book club! This month! Anyone can join! We got people in California, people in Chicago are doing it as well. It’s a small zoom call. If you don’t want to do the Zoom call, it’s fine. But read the book with us and share your thoughts. We’ve got a Signal chat going back and forth about the book…
Ok. So how do you get involved with book club?
Julian: I will send you a link. You have to sign up. I’ll send you the flyer and stuff.
I have one more question. I think I know what your answer is going to be, but I’m going to ask it anyway. Due to a lot of forces beyond any of our individual ability to control, New York is pretty hostile to people trying to live there. Whether it is due to market forces, policing, street violence, and now COVID. But as we speak, some of the people who have been driving these developments are moving out of the city and looking for land in rural areas, and this is causing other, unforeseen problems. So I have to ask, is New York still a place where people can make a home? Is New York worth saving?
Julian: Worth saving? What does that word mean? Like as a word. A verb. Saving? I mean, what is it? The City is always fucking changing. The City is always in flux. The City is always being redefined by whoever decides to go there. And yeah, so whether you think it’s worth saving, or worth doing anything, it’s always going to change. It is going to be something else tomorrow.
So what is worth fighting for in all that?
Julian: What is worth fighting for in New York City?
Julian: I mean people’s homes, people’s safety, people’s ability to live, people’s ability to survive. Just like any place. Just like any person would fight for their own people to be able to fucking live and have joy sometimes.
Ok, cool. Thanks for that. I think the myth of New York outside of the City can at times supplant the reality of it, as a living place in itself. I think that’s what I’m hearing that you’re primarily concerned with. And that’s something that I see coming out in your music and in the work you do outside your music as well. I mean, correct me if I’m wrong…
Julian: No, I think that’s cool. The City can often seem like it’s there for tourism, whereas we are concerned with those who are endemic to the city. Make sense?
Julian: Where in Chicago are you?
I’m on the Near West Side in an area that still has a strong Eastern European identity. People leaving Europe for work or to escape unrest found their way here and built a pretty strong community that’s been able to survive most of the past century. But it’s changing pretty rapidly now. A lot of young people moved here because it was relatively affordable at one point but that is not the case anymore. You know, as they make money and they establish themselves, real estate prices go up and it becomes a more attractive place for development and investment.
Julian: Well, when you pay rent it has to go towards something…
Money doesn’t care about anybody.
Julian: Yeah, I think it is interesting that this is happening in so many different places. It’s like a 60, or now I guess, almost 80-year shift from the beginning of white flight to right now. What happens when all these suburbanites decide the suburbs are boring, and they want to go to a big city? What happens after that? Does this cycle happen again? Or is there something different?
I don’t think anybody knows exactly. Part of the answer is that the suburbs will become ghettoized. I could see money being anchored in the cities, where all the knowledge work and exchanges of investments and financing actually occur, and then everybody who is responsible for those decisions actually lives out beyond the suburbs, in the exurbs, where they moved because it was more affordable and they could buy more land, cheaper. That leaves the suburbs ending up blighted. Like a big empty, concrete moat around the cities. That’s one possible outcome.
Julian: A buddy of mine from California thinks the next movement of punk is going to be country punk. Like country kids, not country music. Like kids in weird, forgotten areas of the suburbs making punk music. That is where the next generation is going to come from.
Yeah, I can see that. I also think an actual country-punk wave is on the rise and I kind of love it. There’s a guy called Amigo the Devil who’s really good. I like his stuff. I try to cover punk bands who play country for New Noise when I can.
Julian: I don’t know. [Laughs] That was my friend’s idea of what’s going on. He’s definitely on the up and up though.
Cool. Is there anyone you want to shout out before we wrap this up?
Julian: Shout out to the rest of Corpus. Shout out TrippJones, Dreamcrusher, Dog Breath, Twisted Thing, Josh Groban, Club A…
I’m glad you’re shouting out Dog Breath. Those guys rule. Or is it just one guy? It was for a minute I thought.
Julian: No, no, they’re a whole crew. They’re really good too!
That’s good to know. Thanks for setting me straight. I’m gonna let you guys go now but I really appreciate you being so generous with your time today. This has been fun. Thanks for chatting with me!
Julian: Absolutely. Wonderful to talk to you, man. Thank you for being cool.
Harlan: Peace man.
Photo courtesy of Show Me The Body.