Creatively Capturing Apathy: no hope/no harm

Photo + Interview with vocalist Luke O’Neil | By Scott Murry

The current political climate in the States is as hazardous as ever. It seems nobody is happy, regardless of political affiliation, location, or economic situation. It’s a real strain on the globe. If one conducted a survey, it’s likely that hemorrhoids, styes, and ulcers are on the rise due to the overwhelming stress. We’ve been struggling for some time now, feeling lost. No matter which direction we turn, there’s something awful happening. It can leave one feeling apathetic.

Discussing the record while strolling along said Charles River in Boston, vocalist Luke O’Neil speaks with a baritone cadence that reflects the emotions of his output: slow, contemplative, and consistently agitated. Just what one might expect from a band who pulled their name from a lauded Smiths track.

When asked about their Morrissey-inspired band name, O’Neil cuttingly jokes, “Well, first of all, […] I’m racist and xenophobic.”

“When [vocalist and guitarist] Aaron [Perrino] and I named the band, Morrissey came back out of the woodwork and started saying all this horrible shit,” he explains, “but I think that, both myself and Aaron, who write the songs together, we kinda grew up on The Smiths, and it turned us into sad bastards in a lot of ways.”

This holds true, as even when no hope/no harm are writing love songs, it comes with a dark humor. In their poppy emo track, “Toxic Baby,” a couple’s passion is compared to taking a dip in the Charles. It wouldn’t be the cleanest, most joyous experience, nor is the relationship at the center of the song. O’Neil equates this love of city and life as being very Boston, which is important to his realism-based approach. “[I] insert a little bit of Boston’s geographical sense of living into some of the songs,” he confirms. “The Wonder Years do a lot of that for Philadelphia. I feel like that makes a specificity of place, it really helps people relate—it’s real. Even if you’re never going to come here, you might get a little sense of what it’s like. It’s not all Red Sox assholes. There’s another side to us too.”

The band prove this with sliding guitars and a twang that might not be what one may expect from a track like “Punch a Nazi in the Face,” and that helps to showcase Boston’s layers. It’s a protest song, a love song, and it maintains the numbness our grey seasons. As O’Neil puts it, “There’s a coldness to the guitars. They sound, to me, like a day like this: windy, overcast, freezing rain in April for no reason. But there’s also a lot going on here. I always want to give people a sense that Boston isn’t just this homogenic place.”

“I mean, it is pretty segregated and white and has all sorts of problems in that respect,” he clarifies, “but it’s a really diverse city musically and culturally. Mostly, [it’s] storytelling and trying to have a sense of humor about being a sad, miserable person.” This misery checks out, as O’Neil hosts many Emo Nights at several clubs around Boston.

Swimming in the Charles EP by no hope / no harm

Rather than focus too literally on events of the present day, no hope/no harm harness a feeling. “I think writing music about this [Trump] era is that same problem that comedians have: everything seems so obvious,” O’Neil says. “He’s such a collection of clichés and stereotypes that it almost neuters you from being able to address them head-on. They’re already ridiculous. You can’t satirize or take the wind out of him, because by the time you’re talking about what he did, he’s done 10 crazy things since then.” O’Neil is visibly fed up.

Yet, politics taint everything, even the vocalist’s beloved football team, the New England Patriots. When asked if Tom Brady likes his music, O’Neil grimaces, “I haven’t texted Brady my music. I somehow don’t think he would like it. My love for Brady has waned ever since he turned out to be friends with Trump. I don’t want anyone who appreciates Trump to listen to my music.”

Ultimately, O’Neil feels this administration is further breaking down our freedoms and diversity. “It’s like with Sinclair TV news stations,” he says, “they all have the same stories coming out of one central space. I feel like that’s the same thing with media and music. It has no geography or sense of place.”

Thankfully, no hope/no harm are one band committed to restoring a localized approach. Focusing on Boston, their music becomes more relatable. Their personal stories of satire and struggle come from a sincere place and are able to transcend location by being inherently human.

It still doesn’t make me want to swim in the Charles, though. That’s likely to cause typhoid.

Purchase Swimming In The Charles here

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