South Carolina's hardcore punks STRETCH ARM STRONG made their first visit to our shores this autumn. Justin Style met the band's Chris McLane and David Sease and discovered that they were all about doing it "for the kids."
Fast becoming the veterans of hardcore punk, Stretch Arm Strong are one of the more recognisable names of the scene. After 10 years and three albums on Tooth & Nail subsidiary Solid State, the band have finally decided to do things full time, which has opened doors for high profile tours with the likes of Good Charlotte and New Found Glory. Stretch Arm Strong (consisting of vocalist Chris McLane, guitarists David Sease and Scott Dempsey, bassist Jeremy Jeffers and drummer John Barry) have signed a European distribution deal with Golf Records, accompanied by a full-scale European tour including support dates with Rancid. South Carolina's Stretch Arm Strong's charm, charisma and hospitality have earned them a reputation as true Southern gentlemen, a reputation surpassed only by their well known ability to move a crowd, incite a moshing singa- long and leave behind a town full of smiles, hugs and fond farewells. When at home two of these guys work as teachers: talk about "for the kids!"
Hardcore punk can often be a messy genre, with many musically limited bands trying their hand at the genre. But Stretch Arm Strong get it right, mixing innate melody and throatdestroying screaming with passion and intensity. The band formed in 1994, originally comprising singer/bassist Matt McCarty, guitarists Scott Dempsey and David Sease, and drummer John Barry. The then bassist Chris McLane joined the band so that McCarty was able to focus solely on vocal duties. After Dempsey founded his own label, Insurgent Sounds, the group issued a six-song EP which sold out its original pressing in a matter of months. When McCarty quit to get married, McLane assumed the frontman role and Donnie Raines was brought in on bass, although he was dismissed after a lone split single with Prevail. Jeremy Jeffers was tapped as the permanent bassist prior to the band's 1999 effort 'Rituals Of Life' and 'Revolution Transmission' appeared two years later.
The band's fourth full album release 'Engage' is described by guitarist David Sease as "more stripped down and straight ahead" and it does seem a little more generic at times in comparison to their previous, more experimental releases. "The hardcore stuff is pretty much straight up power chords, but then we also did some more melodic and I guess more poppy stuff," said David. 'Engage' makes a great live album, with its fast paced, high energy and anthem worthy tracks. The vocals also are assisted by many guests, most notably Thursday's Geoff Rickly. Commented David, "It was just like go out there and rock it, then do vocals and then put it out. Because we were kind of at a crunch time, not writing - it was all written - but getting it all recorded." The positive lyrics are all about moving on, uniting and forgetting differences between races. Cheesy? Hardly. "Race, religion, sex and creed/We're all the same when we bleed/I want to open your veins to see if your blood is real," goes the opener, "We Bleed." And yet, it's a positive message. Only hardcore could pull that off. Another standout is the final track "Express Yourself", a punked up version of the N.W.A hit. It's hilarious!
The lyrics are all positive takes on the "things that are going on in the world, social issues, relationships, things that we are all dealing with," said singer Chris McLane. "Miles Apart" is one of the more melodic tracks on the album, dealing with the separation of a person and their loved one. This song could easily be interpreted as the pain of straying spiritually from God. Watching their tour video diary, you get a closer look at the band on tour. In one particular scene they break up a fight in the crowd. Chris confronts the offenders saying, "We are not here to be a soundtrack to violence." It's typical of the way the band conduct themselves, promoting harmony and looking out "for the kids." What makes them one of the most popular bands in hardcore has as much to do with their character as their musical talents. And their lyrical message is poles apart from the negativity of many hardcore bands. As David commented, "It's nice to hear what bands believe in and talk about that, rather than railing everything else that they don't believe in." Chris continued, "I don't think people like to be preached to, but I think with this type of music there is a message and sometimes it's nice to hear bands talk about it." Team captain Chris also frowns at the use of expletives in music: "I grew up having to listen to stuff, when my parents were in the other room or were not home, and all this brought out of the fact that the guys writing the songs couldn't find a better way to express themselves." And band leader Chris realises music's influence, "We see kids come up and say, 'Thanks for coming here,' and, 'Your song touched me in this way,' or, 'When I hear this song it makes me think of...' And I think everyone takes something away (with them), in so many different ways."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.