“Hard work.” It’s a phrase that people use complimentarily when explaining a person’s success story—and pejoratively when explaining why someone is homeless. It’s also a term that conveniently avoids recognizing that American society is rigged in favor of the privileged few, not necessarily citizens with a strong work ethic.
Regardless, there’s much to be gained from busting your ass to make a living—particularly if you’re making a living doing what you love. Just ask Sal Ellington, vocalist/guitarist for Boston punks Rebuilder, who are now in their 10th year thanks in no small part to his diligence and dedication. As a kid—well before mapping out his long-term ambitions for a career in music—he dove in headfirst and did whatever he could to gain a foothold. In the beginning, that included helping Beantown ska band Kicked in the Head carry their gear in and out of clubs, and manning their merch table.
“I used to go to every Kicked in the Head show I possibly could,” Ellington recalls, noting that his concert-going started around age 17. “In fact, in 2000, I would go to any show, so long as there was a band playing. I didn’t really know a lot of kids around my age group that liked the music I did. So I started making new friends in the punk scene.”
In what seems like no time at all, Ellington—who also attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music—hit the jackpot and suddenly found himself living his dream. He toured with Kicked in the Head as their merch guy and also started booking shows, through which he learned even more ins and outs of the music industry.
Ellington continues to make a living by touring with bands as their “merch guy,” saying with a blend of grace and gratitude: “It makes me appreciate everything that has to go into that job.”
As for Rebuilder, thanks to years of hard work, they released and are now promoting their second album, Local Support (Iodine). A series of September dates with Frank Turner and Streetlight Manifesto will inevitably increase Rebuilder’s exposure.
The timing is right, as Local Support is a strong—and very personal—body of work that overshadows Rebuilder’s past efforts. The new tune “One Hundred Days,” for example, is one that bassist Daniel Carswell wrote about sobriety, which he committed himself to years ago.
Another album cut, “Stayin’ Alive,” speaks to Ellington’s own struggle with mental health. “Brokedowns” touches on similar territory, particularly the lyric, “When you feel like giving up, let it out, let it in.”
“I’ve tried so hard to explain how it feels to go through a panic attack, how it feels to just not want to be around anymore—but still not be on the verge of suicide,” Ellington divulges. “There were so many times where I was like, ‘I want to call someone, but if I do, the cops will come.’ Getting help for mental issues in this country is a joke.”
What isn’t a joke, but rather proof that the hard-working Rebuilder are on the right track, is the album’s generic-sounding title, Local Support. It actually refers to contributions that members of Hot Rod Circuit, Tiny Stills, Less Than Jake and others made to the record—and also, perhaps subliminally, that a support system is critical for anyone trying to climb out of or even acknowledge their addictions or mental health issues.
“I’m so much better than I’ve been in years,” Ellington admits, saying he’s found a healthy way to live despite the challenges. “Even when I feel bad or terrible, it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be before I started addressing it.”
Looks like, at least for one person, hard work is paying off.