Bandcamp of the Day: Sacripolitical

Sacripolitical is a Marin-based band who emerged just as hardcore was oozing forth from the septic womb of the south and central California punk scenes. Sacripolitical was one of those bands that was in it for the long haul, playing clubs and holes that didn’t meet fire standards, and spreading their nihilist philosophy and politics for close to a decade before called it quits in 1992. As ill-timed decisions go, the band decided to reunite in 2019 just in time to be sidelined by the global pandemic. However, their time spent in quarantine was productive, and the band was able to write and record a 7″. And as 7″s often are, the Pandemic Sessions is both manifesto and reintroduction to the band’s sound. It’s also really really fun!

I was able to catch up with the band’s lead singer John Marmysz via email to get the scoop on what it was like reviving the band, his thoughts on how the punk scene of today has transformed since Sacripolitical got their start, their beef with Jello Biafra, and learned a little bit more about the philosophical positions that fuel the band’s music. You might not agree with everything he has to say, and that’s ok. He’s thought through his positions on everything from corporate monopolies to dead-end politics. At the very least, hopefully, his ideas inspire you to think through these problems for yourself as well.

Buy and stream the Pandemic Sessions 7″ below and keep scrolling for our exclusive interview with their lead singer John Marmysz.

Interview conducted on May 10, 2021. It has been edited slightly for the sake of clarity.

What’s the weirdest part of being in an underground punk band for close to forty years?
Getting gray, fat and wrinkly and being a punk is weird. The strangest thing about it is that inside you feel like the same foul-mouthed, pissed off kid that you were when you were hanging out in 1982, but on the outside you look different. And people in the scene treat you differently than they used to. It’s not all negative. In some ways there’s more respect. But a lot of times people assume that because we’re older we must be boring farts having mid-life crises.

We were reviewed in Maximum Rock and Roll recently and they disparagingly referred to us as “dads playing hardcore” as a way of dismissing our new music. Shit like that can kind of fuck with your sense of identity. But then you get together with your friends and you play the music that you’ve written together, and it makes all that judgmental bullshit melt away. Being in a hardcore band with your friends for so long just puts you back in touch with a powerful inner energy, the defiant, “fuck you” attitude that is such an important part of real, hardcore punk.

How has the punk scene changed since you started playing in the ’80s to now? 
A lot of punk today is much more well-mannered than it was when we were kids. There seems to be a lot more concern today with having the correct beliefs, uttering the right sentiments, and not being too offensive or challenging audiences too vigorously. Today you’ve even got “punk” bands that make public apologies for saying things that piss people off! I guess they don’t want to jeopardize their comfortable money-making businesses. Back in the day, we wanted to smash things up, piss off people in authority, destroy taken for granted power structures. Punk was a scene where losers, outsiders, the strange and bizarre could amass and support each other in destroying oppression. No talent, training or ideology needed. Just get up on stage, write a fanzine, draw a picture. Make some noise and say what you feel. And if you piss people off, all the better!

Who were your inspirations then, and who are they now?
We grew up in Marin County, CA where in the 1980’s there was an underappreciated underground punk scene that was overshadowed by the nearby SF and East Bay scenes. Marin is one of the richest counties in the country and the punk kids who grew up here were regularly dismissed as posers by the cooler kids from across the Bay. Nevertheless, it was a place that produced some kick-ass bands like The Pukes, Crib Death, UXB, Ludoviko Teknique, and Complete Disorder. They were our first inspirations, our friends, and our co-conspirators. With them, we built a cool little not-so-mellow Marin punk scene that resisted the soul-killing suburban superficiality surrounding us.

Bands like the Feederz and the Angry Samoans were in their heyday when we were kids, and they inspired us with their humor and intelligence. The East Bay’s Special Forces, Public Enema, The Boneless Ones and San Francisco’s Code of Honor were inspirational because of their sincerity and commitment to a way of life. All of them knew how to piss off the crowd and how to put on a great show.

The literary and philosophical works of Nietzsche, Bakunin, Stirner, Sartre, Mishima, and Gogol have made their way into the lyrical content of many (if not most) of our songs. These thinkers taught us the importance of individuality, resistance to the herd and the avoidance of group-think.

Currently, we find ourselves excited by Deseos Primitivos, Amyl and Sniffers, The Svetlanas, Haymaker, and The Avengers.

In your opinion, has hardcore improved any in the past few decades?
I guess it depends on what you mean by “hardcore” and “improved.” It’s become more slick and mainstream. On the other hand, the best hardcore artists always have, and always will, succeed in making you feel emotions that are impolite and rude. So in that sense, there’s no room for improvement!

Can you explain your nihilistic tendencies in terms of your political outlook? It’s pretty clear from your music that you care an awful lot about what happens in the world, which would seem incompatible with the way that most people think about nihilism.
Nihilism has a bad name in the popular mind. When most people hear the word they think of absolute negativity, destruction, violence, etc. They think of G.G. Allin (who we love!). And, yes, there is a destructive, negative aspect to nihilism. But this negation is a tool that can be harnessed for the positive purpose of liberation. What thinkers like Nietzsche and Sartre have taught us is that there is no particular way that the world has to be. In-itself, the world is meaningless.

The tragic mistake a lot of people engage in is to allow others – like politicians, business people, racists, and zealots of all sorts – to define what is real and true. What the nihilistic perspective reminds us is that we can always push back against the small-minded and the ignorant in order to assert our own visions of truth. We don’t need oppressive bullies on either the left or the right to tell us what to think or how to live.

Our world is in utter disarray. People don’t communicate with one another. What we need is LESS belief, not more. We need people to question what they believe, not surround themselves with other drones who just echo back what they want to hear. People need to negate what they think is true. They need to become more educated, more open, and more skeptical.

What is the message behind “Gogol’s Nose” and why did you decide to recount the events of Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 short story The Nose in that song?
The short story The Nose by Nikolai Gogol is about a guy who wakes up one morning to find his nose missing from his face. As it turns out, his nose has been running about town, ruining his reputation. It’s an allegory for the ridiculousness of human vanity. We first encountered it when we were in college in the 1980’s and thought it was hilarious! We used to joke that we should write a song about it; and we even came up with a galloping guitar riff that imitated the cadence of the words “Gogol’s Nose.”

But it wasn’t until we reformed the band in 2019 that we actually sat down and developed the song. While the story was relevant in the 19th century, it’s still more relevant in the 21st. Today, people are more vain and arrogant than ever. Now everyone has their Facebook and Instagram accounts where they try to depict themselves as slick and perfect. But it’s all a lie. Just as Gogol was trying to point out in his time, today people are afraid of being disfigured by public ridicule and embarrassment.

Marin is populated by a cast of strange characters who you seem more than happy to take down a peg, specifically middle-class hippies. What is your beef with them and what rubs you the wrong way about these folks?
In the 1980’s, Marin was populated by a weird mix of hippies, rednecks, and very, very wealthy people. We had our problems with them all. When punk was still a threat to the mainstream, just walking down the street was a danger. We’d get beer bottles thrown at us from passing cars, we’d be challenged to first fights, sometimes get beaten up, and we were constantly yelled at and insulted. Wealthy folks would clutch their purses and gasp when they saw us. The police would detain us for no real reason.

Keep in mind that Marin was home to bands like The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. You might think that hippies would be open and friendly to punk kids, but there was a lot of friction between us. Because of the confrontational nature of punk, a lot of older hippies were shocked and offended by our music and look. They wanted to smoke pot and be mellow. We wanted to yell and scream and be angry! So we sometimes had a hard time getting along.

Despite the wealth here, Marin has highly elevated rates of depression and suicide. There’s a reason why a TV show like 13 Reasons Why was filmed in Marin. I guess money doesn’t bring you happiness after all! That’s what Sacripolitical has always tried to say. This world is fucked up! But this is something that the rednecks, hippies and rich folks never wanted to hear. They still don’t want to hear it.

You raise an interesting question in the last song on your EP that I’d like you to shed some light on. How is the USA like one big corporation? 
More than ever, it seems that everyone has a “brand” that they want to sell and profit from. Instead of creating art, music, and writing for their immediate circle of friends and neighbors, people today want to appeal to the masses. They want more “likes” and “clicks.” So the whole mindset today seems to be focused on becoming well known and famous rather than just expressing your own truth. Everything has become a commodity. Unique = bad. Mass produced and slick = good.

In our song Incorporated, we draw attention to how the USA is a mirror image of the corporate world. IRS = IBM. Just as democracy holds that the best candidate and the best policies are those that the largest number of people endorse, so too in society at large the public has bought into the view that the value of cultural artifacts has to do with the quantity of people who consume them. The best music is the most popular. The best books are of course best-sellers. The best artists are the most famous. Health and environmentalism have been commodified by companies like Whole Foods and Tesla. Apple and Facebook take your money and your private information, selling more things back to you so that you can “like” even more crap. Yes, the USA is one big corporation.

In 1985 you had a bit of a feud going with Jello Biafra. Did you guys ever make up?
Ha ha! The “feud” was pretty one-sided. Don’t think Jello Biafra really cared too much about us. In 1982, John (our vocalist) was about to start going to school at the College of Marin. He met Jello at a show and asked him to do an interview for his fanzine. JB told John that he would give him an interview when he went to a “real” college. What an asshole! That was the start of our bad feelings toward him.

Years later The DKs were planning a show in Marin and instead of inviting local bands to open, good ‘ole JB refused to have any Marin bands play. Instead, it was all “high profile” punk bands. That was strike two. We ended up bad-mouthing him on the Maximum Rock N Roll radio show when we were interviewed in 1985. Don’t know if he was listening. Probably not.

And, no, we never made up. He has yet to apologize for his boorishness. But he’s probably too busy counting the money from his TV appearances.

You can buy a copy of Sacripolitical’s Pandemic Sessions on 7″ vinyl here.

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