Lively LA ska punks The Interrupters are calling for greater unity at a time of great division. And their song even contains a few specifics about how we might get there. Unfortunately, it’s going to require a bit of sacrifice, so, you know, just scroll on by if that’s going to be too hard.
“If your enemy was drowning would you pull him to shore?” ask lead vocalists Kevin Bivona and Aimee Allen on Broken World. “If a stranger was starving would you open your door?”
“Music… gives me that feeling that I can get through hard times,” Aimee Allen told OC Weekly in 2018. “There are a lot of themes on this record about overcoming obstacles and about a phoenix rising from the ashes… We sing a lot about friendship, family and unity.”
Allen, Bivona and his two brothers were discovered by Rancid’s Tim Armstrong and signed up to his label Hellcat, an offshoot of the legendary Epitaph Records. Broken World comes from their third album, Fight the Good Fight, the sleeve of which features the band in classic black and white rude boy attire – close-cropped hair, tight black suits with drainpipe trousers and pencil ties. The song was based on a riff by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong (no relation), who apparently gave them the melody while on tour in in Santiago, Chile, with a humble “I don’t know if you guys want it – if not it’s cool – but I just thought it would be cool for you.”
But there is a question mark over the politics of The Interrupters thanks to some of the views espoused by Allen in her younger years. In his well-argued 2014 article Know Your Product: The Interrupters, Steve Shafer accuses The Interrupters of “draping themselves in 2 Tone’s mantle while advocating right-wing and libertarian viewpoints that are the polar opposite of those espoused by The Specials”.
Their lyrics, he argues can be “mistaken for the typical – and good – ‘question authority’ stance of most punk rock bands” and argues that their rabble-rousing song Take Back the Power fails to hide a right-wing paranoia that can be summed up as the “we’re-so-oppressed-our-rights-are-gone worldview held by libertarians”.
Shafer’s article so riled the band that Kevin Bivona responded to these accusations in a response published alongside the article.
“We are most definitely NOT a ‘right wing’ band… but if we were, I would hope we would get the same shot as everyone else,” Bivona wrote. “I bet we have a lot of the same records and agree on more things than we disagree.”
So, what are we saying when we call for unity? Are we seeking a better understanding of people whose opinion is different from ours (yeah, that’s right, people – those idiots)? Or are we just patronisingly wishing they were more like us? Are we offering to put the needs of others ahead of ourselves and our families? Or are we just whining about being excluded from the ruling elite?
What exactly will it look like if you “let love be your foundation, let wisdom be your guide”? It’s easy to tap your foot and imagine everyone shares the same utopian vision. But when the guy tapping his foot next to you is a right-wing racist, you have to wonder if your collective love of music is enough to unite you, or even if it should.
And yet people are all we’ve got.
“There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on in the world and people feeling upset or marginalized or disenfranchised,” said Kevin Bivona in an interview with The Alternative in 2018. “That’s where songwriting can be the most powerful thing, so we use a lot of our power as songwriters to write songs of self-empowerment and standing up for your rights.”