Anyone halfway paying attention (or who once in a while takes a glance at this section) can see that the hardcore scene is going through a major renaissance at the moment.
This is thanks, in part, to the work of bands like Militarie Gun, who play San Jose’s Playback Studios on their current tour this Tuesday. Like singer Ian Shelton’s other project, Regional Justice Center, Militarie Gun push the envelope of hardcore by never looking back.
“I try to outrun it and never create an echo chamber,” explains Shelton, the band’s founder, lyricist and singer. “I’ve never not had the next record done when I release an album because I don’t want to replicate something I’ve already captured.”
Whether it’s the slow, passion-fueled screams of “Don’t pick up the phone when you’re on drugs” plowing over (gasp!) a soft ballad, or Shelton’s sincere singing on the lyric “Sick of being a freak show” over (pearl-clutching-gasp!) indie rock riffs, the band are anything but genre purists. They even cover “Gimme Some Truth” by (face-grasping-scream!) John Lennon. MG have cleared their own space in the hardcore scene, breaking the rules simply by staying true to themselves.
“I think a lot of people are incapable of doing something new,” Shelton says. “Anyone can create things—and they should—but it takes a curious mind to go deeper.”
It was three years ago in 2020, during the height of the lockdown and pandemic scares, that Shelton—lead singer for the short, fast and antagonistic hardcore outfit Regional Justice Center—had an idea for a new project. Or, rather, he had no idea.
“The thing about Militarie Gun is there’s no forethought, it’s just what comes out naturally,” he admits. “Literally, the first song I wrote–‘Kept Talkin’’—happened in a 30-minute span and then I had a full song.”
That track, along with three others, became the MY LIFE IS OVER EP, all songs written and performed by Shelton. Though birthed in an angry ooze of punk, Shelton’s philosophy drove Militarie Gun’s sound to evolve quickly. Much like Ian MacKaye—frontman of hardcore criterion Minor Threat turned emo godfather in Fugazi—Shelton added ballads, melodies and more to the mix. By breaking away from his previous work, Shelton drew from the cornucopia of music that influenced him throughout his teens and 20s, bands as varied as Born Against, Modest Mouse and the Beatles.
“It’s a bizarre thing to say, but Blink-182 is like Nirvana for people my age,” Shelton laughs. “They were this ultimate, culture-changing band.”
He soon recruited William Acuña and Nick Cogan on guitars, Max Epstein on bass and Vince Nguyen on drums while continuing to write music. In 2021 MG released their next two EPs, All Roads Lead To the Gun I & II. Originally meant to be one album, the band wasn’t sure where the future state of music—or touring—was headed in those early days.
“We got so much less punk almost immediately because I wanted to figure out how to work more melodically than be noisy,” he recalls.
Last October, Militarie Gun signed to Loma Vista Recordings and the label quickly put out All Roads Lead to the Gun (Deluxe), combining both EPs with four bonus songs.
These new tracks can’t be contained in one category, from the nearly mainstream rock of “Let Me Be Normal,” to the droning, atonal, beat-driven “Can’t Get None” with fellow genre-breaking friends MSPAINT. (Shelton also recently co-produced MSPAINT’s upcoming album, Post American, out in March.)
What makes a Militarie Gun collaboration most interesting is how they allow the other artist to stay true to their sound while creating something new on top. The last two songs on (Deluxe) are with Vancouver emo pop group Woolworm, and sound like they’d fit perfectly on a 2000s mixtape. Last year’s collaboration with Dazy, “Pressure Cooker,” is dancy and dark and combines a 1990s Breeders’ style bass hook with a beat from the ’80s Madchester scene.
“We just did the ‘Pressure Cooker Remix’ with Mannequin Pussy and there’s no guitars on the song,” Shelton laughs. “If someone wants to say that’s not hardcore, I don’t care. To me, it is.”
Tues, 7pm, $20
Playback Studios, San Jose