Interview with vocalist Jesse Barnett | By Joe Fitzpatrick
America is currently in a state of unrest. Many musicians are taking their own stands on the issues at hand. This month, the members of Stick To Your Guns will be releasing their fifth studio album, aptly titled Disobedient and produced by former Goldfinger frontman John Feldmann. Vocalist Jesse Barnett speaks regarding Feldmann’s decision to work with the band, their case against the culture of victimization, as well as the cultural relevancy of their album title and imagery.
I understand that you guys worked with producer John Feldmann (The Used, Story Of The Year) to record your upcoming fifth studio album, Disobedient. Why did you choose to work with him?
He’s been someone who we have been talking about for a long time. We had a list of about seven [producers], and he wasn’t even the first choice that we had. We wanted to go with where we did Diamond And The Hope Division, The Blasting Room in Fort Collins, Colo., with Jason Livermore, Bill Stevenson, and Andrew Berlin, because after doing two records there, you start to get into a [rhythm]. But they also [work with] Rise Against. Bill Stevenson is the drummer of Black Flag and The Descendents, so he’s famous enough as it is himself, but if Rise Against says, “We need this time,” it doesn’t matter who is booked, they get it [laughs]. That’s what happened with us.
The thing with John was that he is such a big time producer. For his later career, he has done so much pop that sometimes you forget the motherfucker is a punk rocker. In comparison to [the bands he works with], we’re miniscule, but he hit us up and was like, “I have a base rate of X amount of dollars,” which was a very large amount of money, and then, “I’ll do it for half. I love your band, and I want to work with you.” He was excited about it, and that made it an easy decision for us.
This album has songs featuring guest vocals from Scott Vogel of Terror, Toby Morse of H2O, Walter Delgado of Rotting Out, Motionless In White, and even Feldmann himself. Why did you choose them?
We love each band. Motionless In White was a complete freak thing. We were driving down the fucking street on the way home from the studio. We were staying in L.A. at [guitarist] Josh [James]’s apartment, and we just saw Motionless In White walking down the street. They’re friends of ours, so we were like, “What the fuck?” They were about to head to Australia, and they had a couple days to practice in L.A. before they left. So, we literally stopped in the middle of the street and yelled, “Hey freaks!” They probably thought people were just yelling at them, but then we pulled over and [they] figured out what the hell was going on. Then they came in and did some gang vocals.
Terror, Rotting Out, and H2O are bands that each member of Stick To Your Guns loves. They all live in L.A. and they’re all our friends, so it just kind of made sense. Scott came to hang out, and I was like, “Hey, wanna sing this?” and he was like, “Okay.” Toby came to hang out, and I was like, “Wanna do this part?” and he was like, “Sure.” Walter was the only one who we had to bring to the studio, because when he is at home, he is kind of a recluse. He is introverted and likes to do his own thing, which I respect because I’m the exact same way. I picked him up and drove him down, and we had a good time. It was cool as fuck.
What is the first single, “Nobody,” about?
With everything that has been going on with bullying, we kind of live in this culture of victimization where everyone wants to be noticed. I think that’s just a part of life, and people want to be loved and accepted. [It] is such a fucked thing to be able to push someone so far that they feel like they have no other choice than to fucking kill themselves; there are no words for it. It should not even be allowed. So, when it took the country by storm, I was like, “This is fucking great!” It’s just one of those things that needs to stop, but I felt like a lot of people were taking advantage of it, and it became a reason for people to feel sorry for those being bullied. I can relate, because I was that kid as well. In junior high, I would have done anything to fit in, but I didn’t. It’s interesting, because I found my identity, who I was, from being a void, being see-through, and basically being nobody. That took me down a path that changed my life forever, and I feel like if you can stand in a room full of people and feel alone, that is actually a beautiful thing. It’s poetic, and I think it is something that should be embraced instead of being used as an excuse to feel sorry for yourself.
One of the merch items in your preorder package is a ski mask. Why?
To me personally, and from a legal standpoint, it is for the imagery. In no way are we trying to condone going out and committing a crime [laughs]. It’s not a bandit’s mask, so don’t go rob a fuckin’ bank. I thought about the title for so long, and I know I’m gonna have to really explain [it] over and over again. We’re not saying to be disobedient for no reason. There are certain things that you need to disobey in order to progress the human world. I think you need to be intelligent, know how to plan, and you need to know what you’re doing. Disobedience can be a beautiful thing, but it can also be a very destructive thing. That doesn’t mean that destruction can’t be beautiful, because sometimes we need that. We need to destroy everything so we can rebuild it, but as far as the mask goes, it is more for the imagery. On the album cover, there is a guy wearing a ski mask. [With] all that’s happening in Ferguson, Mo., with Mike Brown and Eric Garner, and all the protests and riots, after we put the album cover out, all this shit in America started happening. So, it’s kind of funny how relevant it became.
What are some of the things you think people should disobey?
There is a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that says, “One of the moral responsibilities is to disobey unjust laws.” Even if you go back to the time of slavery, for example, someone who is abetting a slave who escaped their plantation… It was against the law to do that. I feel like we need to start asking ourselves, not “Is this legal to do?” but “Is this right to do?” Of course, people’s moral compasses can sometimes be skewed based on what is right and what is wrong, but I feel like there is still a basic human moral compass that we all kind of know is there and needs to be respected and engaged. I feel like people need to be prepared to do the right thing, even if we are going to get into trouble for it.
In mid-December, you will be playing a series of “Keeping Warm” charity shows with Being As An Ocean, Trial, and To The Wind. What inspired that?
On “Some Kind Of Hope” on our album The Hope Division, the very last lyric of the song is “Keeping warm in a cold world,” and I had this idea to do these four shows. Our goal is to get Stick To Your Guns to a point where we can raise money for organizations that need it, or whatever it may be. We do it every year now, and this is the fourth one. I hope we can keep doing them. The first one was “Bring A Sleeping Bag,” because there was an organization I worked with in San Diego, Calif., called The Alpha Project, and they work with homeless veterans. That still is a big thing to me. I don’t think it’s right to send a young kid who doesn’t really have any direction in his life off to war to murder people. They go and do these things, and when they come back, their country doesn’t help them or repay them. They just throw them out on the street. We actually got more sleeping bags than we could fit in our van, but we drove down to San Diego and handed them out to people.
One of my friends has an organization called We Still Believe, and we raised money for that. We worked with The Trevor Project, which is an LGBTQ homeless shelter in Los Angeles, and we raised money for that. This year, we are working with some friends who run an organization called The Wild West Defense League.
How did you decide to do the Brazil tour this March with Sick Of It All?
There is a lot that I can’t say about that. There is a promoter down there who we went back and forth a bunch of times with, and ended up cancelling on him twice for a South American tour. He got so fed up with us—for good reason—and he basically said we weren’t coming back there anymore. In South America, they don’t really have an abundance of promoters like we have in the U.S. But we have one other friend named Will, who actually works for the guy who didn’t want to bring us down there anymore, and he brought us down to Colombia. We had already been to Colombia, but we decided we needed to go back to show South America some love. The shows went so well that the original promoter hit us back up to squash the shit between us, and asked us to do the shows with Sick Of It All. At first, we were like, “No, we’ll be on tour,” but he was nice enough to move it around for us to make it work. We’re very excited about it; it’s gonna be awesome. I’ve never been to Brazil, and I love Sick Of It All. It’s gonna be a good experience.