WORDS: ADAM HOPKIN
Punk, a genre conceived in, and now synonymous with anarchism, rebellion and uprooting the ignorant homeostasis of society. The last decade has seen incredible reform in what a voice for the downtrodden can achieve. The me too movement, equal rights, LGBT movements and inspiring courage in those suffering from mental health are just a fraction of the good that has come from daring to question the widely accepted. These gross infringements are widely viewed as unjust infringements on human rights, yet the circumstance that created them and the geographic distance between us and the victims is enough disconnect to seemingly remove all traces of empathy. Genres firmly established on the mantras of community and a shared wellbeing, Florida’s Hardcore Punk outfit, Gouge Away are the spotlight on an imperfect world, showing us we are all ok to be human.
But with so much global socio-political unrest any platform fighting a condemning agenda supported by a generation defined by its liberalism, expressive outlets that share these ethics are becoming expected, arguably gentrified, but as the group explains authenticity and purpose always prevails.
“There will always be people trying to exploit a culture,” bleakly clarifies drummer Tommy Cantwell, But those people don’t tend to stick around for very long, and you can usually tell when it’s genuine or not.”
“THERE WILL ALWAYS BE PEOPLE TRYING TO EXPLOIT A CULTURE”
“Punk and hardcore should address topics that are important to the writers,” says vocalist Christina Michelle before echoing some of the hardest hitting issues of our current time. “When I got into punk and hardcore, the bands that were most important to me addressed political issues like LGBTQIA+ rights, police brutality, and so on.”
But for Gouge Away this compassion is something more meaningful than a PMA aesthetic to throw over their lyrics and biting instrumentals, with the band having played shows in support of migrant families and those left devastated by natural disaster in the Bahamas. “For the Bahamas specifically, I just feel like it’s so close to home as someone living in Florida and going through the hype and preparation of hurricanes,” explains Christina. “As it approaches, you’re often thinking about your family and the worst things that could happen, but we’re usually extremely lucky. As the news stories roll in of people in the islands having everything destroyed, it just makes me so sad and immediately makes me ask “What can I do?”
“But just because nothing horrible happened to us, that doesn’t mean nothing happened at all and people didn’t suffer. We reached out to make sure it was okay that we collect donations on tour, and in the process Amygdala from San Antonio, TX suggested that we also collect donations for Sueños Sin Fronteras, which is a local organisation they work with who helps migrant families. The response was really great and within the month we raised over $1300.”
“I WANTED TO USE OUR LIVE SHOWS AS A CATALYST FOR MAKING CHANGE”
“I think if you’re someone who has struggled with something more personal like drug addiction or a loved one passing away and writing music is how you cope with that, that’s totally valid. I think a lot of personal issues are intertwined with politics anyway, it’s just how you feel most comfortable addressing it.”
“I didn’t want to be in a band unless it specifically called out problems that I felt needed to be addressed,” says the front woman in another testament to the collective’s human appeal. Where most would become lofty eyed after nights dreaming about selfishly squandering centre stage, Gouge Away take to the stage with a definitive purpose and admirable cause. “Dealing with rampant sexual assault in my experience at shows and on tour was a major driving factor, and I wanted to use our live shows as a catalyst for making change. If I can’t totally stop sexual assault from happening, I at least want the victims to know that they aren’t alone and they shouldn’t feel any shame.”
Even when ensnared by their darkest thoughts, the sense of community and the wellbeing of others are always at the centre of what is being created. This is art, but the results are more profound, more lasting and more widespread. “I’ve done a lot of reflecting over the years, though. I used to kind of rip myself apart to try to get people to understand the gravity of the pain, but it was ruining my mental health to do that every night,” candidly admits Christina. “More importantly, I didn’t want to ruin anyone else’s night, or week, or month by bringing up those memories.”
Whether it’s the unforgivingly personal lyricism, rallying behind a just cause or even the simple notion of a grassroots basement show, hardcore has always been intertwined with its community, both meaningless when isolated from the other. “I’m constantly inspired by other filmmakers, comedians, authors, painters, who do things on their own terms,” explains Dylan Downey, the Florida outfit’s guitarist. “I think it’s important to look outside of just music for perspective on how to be happy with what you create and how you create it.” “If you have honestly to your work, I think that attracts people no matter what it is”, adds Christina in a brief nod to the numerous photo Zines gouge away curate throughout their time on the road, extending an invitation to fans to see the “real” side of living life on the road.
“I like the idea that we can use our platform to encourage someone in the crowd to start their own band, book their first show, or make a Zine”
“Touring is a very hard thing to describe to someone because it’s so many different things,” explains Tommy, “Its chaotic and boring and stressful and everything in between and personally it’s easier for me to describe with photos than words, and I’ve always loved getting zines from bands that I’ve liked over the years.”
“Making our ideas and experiences accessible to anyone who’s interested is a fun way to engage,” says Dylan, when explaining how capturing the raw, undiluted aspects of their time leading to the performance not only paying homage to the roots of the scene, but perhaps helps bear its next generation. “I like the idea that we can use our platform to encourage someone in the crowd to start their own band, book their first show, or make a Zine,” continues Downey. “If a kid at one of our shows leaves believing that they can pick up an instrument and start a band then that’s just so cool. That’s why I was drawn to this!”
“I feel like all you ever see from bands is the great stuff. The best show photos and footage, you keep the best takes when you record, and you try to be the best performer during the show. But I do really enjoy pulling all the layers back and showing everything else that goes on,” reveals Christina reminding us of how those we aspire to be like often battle the same hardships.
“The DIY ethic is definitely an important and special thing for us”
“We get sick, I lose my voice, someone gets injured, we all throw out our back at some point, sometimes the staff at venues are horrible to us, or the travel conditions are super challenging to get through. We play shows when we get 3 hours of sleep within 3 days. Sometimes we don’t get a chance to eat. I think it helps to humanize bands. Not everyone is going to be perfect every day, and it makes me respect bands that I like so much more when I understand what they go through. I think it’s validating for bands with less experience too because they can see that it’s not only hard for them, but for all of us.”
“The DIY ethic is definitely an important and special thing for us,” explains Tommy, “the fact that all of us came from a scene where we booked our own shows and recorded our own music in a bedroom and designed our own T-shirts, and know the hard work that it took to accomplish those things, we will never be too far from that.”
Despite their success Gouge Away embody something pure, something rarely found and something that is a stark contrast to the glamour of the rock star excess. These guys appeal to the personal nature, insisting they are nothing special, and because of that they remind us that we are all equally capable of something amazing, providing we don’t forget each other on the way.