Earth Crisis has gone worldwide. When the commercial media finally developed a jones for stories on straight-edge punk late last year, they sought out and found a source in the subculture's most prominent band, and stopped there.
Result: Earth Crisis, one of the more ideologically hard-core straight-edge bands, was anointed the primary voice for a broad, factionalized movement. The band, especially front man Karl Buechner, has been quoted extensively in recent stories by CNN, CBS and the New York Times, preaching its stringent views on alcohol, meat, tobacco and animals. The band was also featured in an MTV News special on teenage drinking, and recently completed tours of Europe and Japan.
More moderate straight-edge punks who are antidrugs (including cigarettes and alcohol) but don't travel the strident, vegan-warrior route argue that Earth Crisis is misrepresenting straight edge as a culture of militant intolerance and rigid thinking. Protesters have thrown meat onstage during recent Earth Crisis shows, or shown up at concerts wearing fur.
Buechner started Earth Crisis eight years ago in Syracuse, New York, now a hotbed of straight-edge punk. The band released its first full-length album, All Out War, in 1992 on the mini-indie label Conviction, then jumped labels to Victory in 1993 for Firestorm, followed by Destroy the Machines in 1995. The band's own machine was destroyed that year when its tour van went over a cliff in Washington state. The group's drummer was seriously injured, and while he recovered, the other four members formed a side project called Path of Resistance, and released one album. Once back to full strength, the band recorded a fourth album, Gomorrah's Season Ends.
Released late this summer, Gomorrah's Season warns of an impending apocalypse caused by greed, nuclear carelessness and ecological destruction. Last week, New Times talked to Buechner about violence, religion and the end of the world.
New Times: How do you feel about the mainstream media attention Earth Crisis has drawn recently?
Buechner: Well, between the MTV piece, which has now been aired 12 times, the CNN piece, which was aired eight times worldwide and also played on TBS, and the fact that we were on 48 Hours, I think we've reached a lot of people with our message. It's really cool, because a lot of times what happens in the punk and underground 'zines, or through the smaller newspapers, is they try to describe what we're about and what we believe in, rather than simply let us speak.
NT: So you believe you've received fair treatment from the media?
B: Absolutely. I think they did a very good job showing the world what straight edge is.
NT: There's been a fair amount of grumbling from people who live a different brand of straight edge than you, and are upset that Earth Crisis has become the voice of straight edge. What's your response?
B: That those people come from the politically correct punk attempt at straight edge, and I'm not really down for that. What I want to do is save lives. I want to make people aware of the ideas that, with time, will make earth and human liberation into reality. Their opinion doesn't have anything to do with me any more than someone who's from the country music scene does. It's a different thing.
NT: In the liner notes to Gomorrah's Season Ends, you write: "There is a war/This is a weapon." What does that mean?
B: That our music is a hammer to drive a nail, and that nail is our message. We try to open a window to speak on what happens to animals in fur farms and vivisectionists' laboratories, because when people are aware, that's when they're going to make choices.
NT: Gomorrah's Season Ends sounds Biblical and apocalyptic--do you take inspiration from the Bible?
B: Yeah, especially the Book of Revelations. What the title means is that I draw a parallel between how the inhabitants of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah became so selfish and destructive that they made a Hell on Earth. God saw them as unredeemable and destroyed them with fire. I see the situation in our society as basically the same thing. Most of the war is over changing people's ideas. We're conditioned to hold a lot of ugly beliefs inside: racism, sexism, speciesism, homophobia.
NT: Do you witness homophobia and racism in the straight-edge scene?
B: Absolutely, and it disgusts me, but all we can do is try to get people to realize those beliefs are ridiculous.
NT: Why do you think people who are otherwise down with the straight-edge philosophy still hold racist views?
B: Because they haven't evolved. People know what they've experienced. If you're black and all you've experienced from white people is a white landlord hounding and harassing your mother, beating on the door, policemen chasing and beating you, and guys at the corner store following you around, obviously you're going to think most white people suck. If you're a white kid and black kids pick on you and beat you up, and the teacher doesn't do anything about it because she's afraid she'll be called a racist, the process continues. Those things happen, that's the reality of it. People have a hard time empathizing with whoever's in the opposite situation. That's what we have to do. We have to trace things back to the source.
NT: What's your stand on human-to-human violence within the straight-edge scene?
B: Violence is something that we're very much against when it comes to people using it to oppress others or for the sake of inflating their ego. Those types of behaviors are ridiculous. Sometimes in life, however, when force is being exerted, sometimes force has to be used to resist it. When education and peaceful protest, trying to change a situation through legal means or a person's behavior, are ineffective, militant intervention becomes necessary, because you always have to put the worth of an innocent being at a higher level than any type of value that could be put upon their oppressors.
NT: So do you believe it's valid to hurt a human conducting tests on animals, if that person refuses to heed peaceful demands?
B: Tragically, yes.
NT: Do you think abortion is violence?
NT: What do you think of abortion doctors getting shot?
B: I don't think that does any good. It's different. Animal liberation and a lot of human-rights issues are pretty much black and white, but abortion is not. Killing an abortion doctor doesn't do any good, because most people don't understand what a fetus is. A fetus is a human life in a very early stage of development. Fetus, infant, child, adult; all are human beings at different stages of growth. A fetus, an infant and a child are completely innocent. We're vegan because we have reverence for innocent life.
NT: Do you agree that your shows are more violent than so-called old-school straight-edge concerts?
B: No, what's different is the style of dance. In the past, people did the circle thing, but today, one thing that I'm into, that we like to see when we play live, is kickbox-style, and it looks very aggressive and violent . . . I can say that in Syracuse, there hasn't been a fight at a show. The point is to release your energy and aggression through a violent style of dancing; it's not to hurt people or anything macho. That's a misinterpretation.
NT: We've heard of smokers getting beaten down at shows in New York and Chicago.
B: We don't promote that at all.
NT: Do you think it happens?
B: I'm sure in some instances it happened. But who knows what the real reason was. The guy might have mocked someone's boyfriend or girlfriend, or there might have been some personal squabble, but people interpret it as, "Oh, they beat him because he was smoking." You have to look beyond the surface level of it.
NT: Since straight edge is about getting free of influences, it seems like a contradiction to be straight edge and part of organized religion.
B: It's been said that religion is the opiate of the masses, and I think that's very true. I'm into spirituality rather than any type of organized religion. Things get twisted, everything gets twisted. There are some very beautiful messages in religion, but it's also been exploited by greedy and sadistic people.
NT: Is it accurate to say that straight edge is divided into two camps right now?
NT: But there's one type of straight-edger who listens to the bands that started in the late '80s, early '90s, and then there's the old-school holdout who still listens to Minor Threat and stuff like that.
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B: I think it's insulting.
NT: What do you mean?
B: To wear shirts of bands that have sold out. [Fugazi founder] Ian MacKaye held true. He doesn't call himself straight edge, but he still lives drug- and alcohol-free, so he gets a lot of credit. Most of those other bands sold out. I think it's pretty much laughable that people even have those records. I don't have those records anymore, just like I don't have love letters from old girlfriends who dissed me for another guy. Why would I want something that's worthless?
NT: Is the core of straight edge a cruelty-free lifestyle, or is the core of straight edge a nonchemical lifestyle?
B: The truth is, all it takes to be straight edge is to be drug-, alcohol-, promiscuous-sex-free, because those are the original rules. We're doing something slightly different, that's why we call ourselves what we are: vegan straight edge.
Earth Crisis is scheduled to perform on Monday, December 2, at Nile Theater in Mesa, with Overcome. Showtime is 8 p.m. (all ages).