“Most good for the most people. Be decent, less evil.”
For a band as verbose and intellectual as Western Addiction, you wouldn’t expect their album’s theme to boil down to a winking reference to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but that’s the first of many delightful surprises to be found within Frail Bray.
San Francisco’s hardcore punk heroes have been politely raging against the machine for over 17 years now, but it’s on Western Addiction’s third record where everything comes together in a truly perfect way.
Frail Bray, out May 15 via Fat Wreck, finds the group’s insightful and gorgeous lyrics marrying majestically with a vision of hardcore punk that finds the midpoint between heavy and hooky. Western Addiction is all about building bridges rather than burning them. You don’t motivate people by screaming at them to be like you; you transform them by showing little gestures of kindness and allowing incremental change to take hold.
In fact, so much of Frail Bray feels indebted to the idea of existing in the middle of things, of being the Motorhead of modern music. Frail Bray straddles all worlds, but exists in one—hints of thrash, southern rock, ’80s rock, and hardcore all are filtered through Western Addiction’s unique lens. All these excursions become part of the unified musical picture Frail Bray paints, as vocalist Jason Hall notes.
“When I started the band, I didn’t know what kind of music would come out. That sounds so dumb, but it’s like, oh, my body just happens to play traditional hardcore in a modern way, and I’m not a fantastic musician either, so I have limitations, but I think it actually works as a benefit because I believe songs should be short. I believe they should be interesting. I believe they should be memorable. I have all these metrics for what I think a song should do. But I do like all those things. I love metal. I love thrash. I love rock ’n’ roll.”
“I like those things,” he continues. “And so I think I kind of run them through the processor of Western Addiction, and it just sounds like me screaming. But yes, there are weird hints of, I don’t know, like Allman Brothers riffs, or some Nirvana, or Queens of the Stone Age, or it just all made it in. I never consciously think about it.”
When we speak of metal, there’s still clearly a desire to keep with the urgency of hardcore punk—there are no long solos or power metal flair here.
“I don’t believe in bloat,” Hall laughs. “I believe it’s inappropriate to do to listeners, and kind of like, that’s selfish. You know when you go see a band, and they just do weird jams, or it’s almost like, they play the songs you don’t really want to hear, why are you doing that? Play what people want, man. Give them what they want. Why test their patience?”
As it relates to his life, Hall revels in being part of various, different worlds without being defined by any of them:
“I do have a double life, and I’ve always had it. I think I embrace the duality. I’ve always been in the middle of everything. I think about this, like, you know how you have friends that have excellent music tastes, and they’ve had it their whole lives? When I was younger, maybe I didn’t have excellent music tastes, but I was like, ‘Man, if I think about it hard enough, I could have called myself a music person my whole life.’ I skateboarded when I was kid, but I was never a skater. I worked at a punk label for 11 years, but I don’t look like that. I embrace the goodness and the ideals of it, the hope of it, but I don’t have a mohawk or anything, you know what I mean? And I’ve been a parent for a really long time, and that’s also kind of why I’ve had to live in a double world.”
That double world manifests itself in odd ways. People at my buttoned-up corporate job will view you (in this case me) differently when they find out I am into punk and metal, and want to explore deeper meaning behind the ways of the world. Hall laughs and acknowledges the connection.
“Totally. I see it exactly as you see it. When you’re seeing a jet fly over a football game, do you know what that jet is designed to do? Do you know what you’re celebrating? Last night, actually, I was watching Hot Ones. I was working on some band stuff, and there was this show about it’s like eating hot wings or something. It’s celebrating gluttony.”
Hall’s particular lens does have a rose-colored tint setting, though. The record’s theme is all about incremental, important small acts of kindness. He laughs when I mention the infamous Keanu Reeves film.
“Definitely, Bill and Ted’s. Yeah, I mean, I think about it a lot. I think about the world a lot, and I can’t not think about it. And of course, right now we’re in a glaring example of how the world is under stress and duress. But I tried to see the silver lining this time because I didn’t the last time.”
Regarding how this incremental effect can manifest, Hall expands:
“People are always asking how they can change the world. You can do something every day. You can just respect people. It doesn’t mean you have to walk around jolly all the time, but just show everyone the basic respect.”
Thankfully, there are so many fantastic lyrical and musical nuggets to digest, that Frail Bray will happily serve as a hefty intellectual meal for any discerning listeners. For those who like to think and headbang, this is basically nirvana.