Birth (Defects), “Hanshin”

Derek Evers

Birth Defects

Photo by Megan Lloyd.

Birth (Defects) are a punk band that walk the line between hardcore and dissonance, creating a wonderful pocket that aligns black-shirt alliances of many different genres. But on their newest single, the anger seems to have risen to the top.

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A driving stomper that doesn’t take but a few seconds to get your blood running, “Hanshin” was recorded by Shaun Sutkus of Perfect Pussy in “a very small, very uncomfortable room” in Brooklyn, and its sound is indicative of this cramped, almost nervous tension. While it shouldn’t be described as “lo-fi,” the distortion is literally dripping from the walls, and as the chorus kicks in, it’s not hard to envision a Bleach-era Nirvana running through A Place To Bury Strangers effects board.

“Hanshin” is the A-side to a new 7-inch the band—Sean Gray (founder of Is This Venue Accessible), Rob Savillo, Christopher Morawski, Erik Wisler, and newest addition, Jeff Byers (also of Roomrunner)—will be putting out on the venerable Baltimore label Reptilian Records. Said to be about “watching a Japanese baseball team lose night after night, halfway around the world at 3 a.m.”, “Hanshin” will be backed by “Demands” on the B-side, the first Birth (Defects) song ever written by Sean and Rob that is seeing its release outside of “demo” form for the first time in nearly eight years.

To be released on July 15, “Hanshin” b/w “Demands” also features artwork by Terence Hannum of Locrian, and will see Birth (Defects) play a few support shows along the east coast with Bested. We caught up with the band to discuss the new recording, punk politics, and life as a dual-city band. You can stream “Hanshin” below, and scroll on to read our discussion and tour dates.

The new recordings sound so heavy and driving, would you chock it up to the addition of a second-guitarist?

Sean: I think these songs really lend themselves to being pushed to certain limits. The b-side, “Demands” was actually the first song Rob and I wrote together for this project with our first drummer Tim. The song is about eight years old. “Hanshin” was actually the first song we wrote with Chris who joined the band last year. Chris tends to write a lot of driving basslines, which was pretty much the genesis of the song. It came out of a jam we did right before we actually went to record this single. I think we wrote it maybe two days before. We practiced it a bunch and played it live for the first time the day before we recorded it. In some ways I think we did that on purpose. I view this band in terms of how can we push ourselves and each other. That sort of pushing leads to a lot of anxiety and stress, which ultimately works for us as band. I think our best songs are born out of just being uncomfortable.

Rob: We wrote and recorded “Hanshin” and “Demands” before we brought Jeff into the band, but one big difference between the Nick Skrobisz (of Multicult) session on the first 7-inch and this one with Shaun Sutkus was that I wanted to double track the guitar. And the fact that the room we recorded in was so tiny—we could only track one instrument at a time—lends to the more claustrophobic feel of the songs.

A few of the banalities: Where did you guys record? Why the choice to go with Shaun? Did he bring something to the recording as producer?

Sean: We recorded it in Shaun’s practice space in Brooklyn last summer. I think it was really more Shaun’s process of recording that makes this record seem completely different from any of our others. Our last 7-inch was recorded with Nick, who’s done some great records with The New Flesh and Friend Collector. His sound is way more focused, which I also thinks works well for us. Nick really let us explore how we sound; if it wasn’t for him, I don’t think we would sound like we do now.

Shaun, though, from the moment we started discussing recording with him, really wanted to put us in a tiny room and really work the songs. He also comes from a noise/power electronics background, which made ideas we had soundwise work really well with him. We discussed quite a bit about making it sound like Whitehouse in a lot of ways, especially New Britain or stuff from that era. His work on that Perfect Pussy cassette and LP are interesting just due to how blown out he made it. I enjoy those—I think in a lot of ways those recordings are as heavy as any Mauthausen Orchestra LP.

There’s a certain kind of uneasiness he really brought out in the songs. While the recording didn’t take long at all, we really pushed ourselves physically and psychologically. You would enter the studio and feel uncomfortable. That’s what I really wanted to translate on these two songs.

“Uncomfortable” is sort of the point of our band. Our goal is to always make the listener feel uncomfortable.

“Uncomfortable” is sort of the point of our band. Our goal is to always make the listener feel uncomfortable. That’s pretty much why we exist. I’ve always found bands like No Trend, Teenage Jesus and The Jerks, and Harry Pussy way more interesting than just standard hardcore/punk bands. We have zero interest in really making a typical hardcore LP or something. Take a band like Woolf from the U.K. That is a band right now I really look up to in terms of how they are pushing themselves. Their record, Posing/Improvising, really is to me the most inventive punk record in a long time. Those are the kinds of bands that push us. It’s totally inspiring.

Who’s the Japanese baseball team? Is that description true, are you/the band really fans?

Jeff: I’m a fan of darts.

Sean: Hanshin Tigers. The team’s home is Nishinomiya, Hyōgo Prefecture. They play in the legendary Koshien Stadium. They’re also one of the oldest Japanese baseball teams. I love them. Last summer, I would stay up late and watch games. These games would normally start around 3 or 4 a.m. or so. Japanese baseball is a completely different atmosphere than MLB. It plays out crowd-wise, more like a football game. Crowds are not quiet; they’re rowdy, energetic, and sometimes hostile in ways. The Tigers are a great team, but have a tough time really getting through the “Climax Series,” which is the Japanese version of MLB playoffs. Their fans are pretty obsessive even though the team has a tough time. In some ways, I like to compare them to the Philadelphia Phillies. The song really is about many things, but mostly it’s about simply staying up late for a team that has a tough time winning. Are their deeper meanings? Sure, but that’s the root of the song really. The Tigers are in 4th place in their division right now. I’m not too worried; the season is still extremely early.

How did you meet up with Reptilian? (Side question, does the store still exist?)

Sean: I started going to the Reptilian store in Baltimore when I was 17 or so. That was the place I discovered stuff like Unsane, Big Black, and even bands like D.I.R.T. I’ve known Chris for almost 15 or so years now. He’s booked shows for my old label. After Birth (Defects) started recording our first 7-inch we sent it to him, and he immediately jumped on board. I love some of the stuff he’s done: Vaz, The Cutthroats 9, Negative Approach; but honestly, it’s Longmont Potion Castle Volume. 5 that really sold me on his label. We feel at home with any label that has worked with LPC. 95 percent of the time, I would rather listen to prank phone calls than music. We legit have started to play phone calls right before we start playing.

Rob: I knew Chris from frequenting his shop in my early 20s. Sean sent him what we were working on, and he was down. Nothing more complicated than that. There’s no Reptilian store in Baltimore anymore; it’s online-only now.

Jeff: It exists deep within our hearts and souls.

If America elects Donald Trump in November, we’re in for the best decade of punk rock since Ronald Reagan.

If Sean is in DC and the rest of the guys are in Baltimore, how do you function as a band? Is it just as simple as traveling there for practice?

Rob: Sean takes the train to Baltimore; I usually pick him up from Penn Station. So yeah, it is just as simple as that. We practice in Baltimore but only once or twice a month, which works out for us mostly because I’m with my kids the rest of the time.

Sean, you started Is This Venue Accessible, so it begs to be asked, do you only perform at accessible venues?

Sean: No, we play at inaccessible venues as well. I truly believe representation is important, and in my mind boycotting or ignoring these inaccessible venues in some ways lets them off the hook. Playing those venues forces them to see and experience what some people with disabilities will have to do to just be at their venues. This includes the crowd as well. In my mind, the best way to tackle accessibility and disability rights is to talk about it and show certain realities. It is very easy when there isn’t representation for venues; abled-bodied people to just sweep these issues under the rug or do not even know they exist. People ask me all the time if the band name or if any of the songs are about my Cerebral Palsy: They are not. I live with my disability everyday. Existing and putting myself out there in a world that is not built for me and oppresses me is more than enough. Forcing my body to deal with some of these inaccessible venues is my protest.

Let’s finish it up with one subjective and one objective question:

Do you sense that punk and angrier music is “coming back” contextually speaking? As someone a bit older (*cough), I’m starting to recognize the obvious cyclical nature of music, not just in genres (emo revival, non-ironic Limp Bizkit fans, etc), but also the political nature of punk (times are shitty, angry music is natural, etc), and the consumption of music: Corporate sponsors and poptimism was the response to DIY, is punk/hardcore and the natural response to poptimism?

Jeff: Nothing ever goes away or comes back.. there’s always going to be angry punks making angry music and scantily clad 15-year-old girls singing Top 40. It’s just the story the media decides to tell, and what people choose to believe. It’s all cyclical because of the nature of popular music. Influences get folded on top of each other through the years. But was punk better in the ’80s because of Reagan and the political bullshit of that decade? I don’t think so really. Music just as good and relevant came before and after. We all just choose to think so in some nostalgic idealization. There’s always been and always will be good music coming from all genres at all times.

Rob: I don’t know that “angry” music or punk ever really went away; maybe hasn’t always been so much in the public eye, but someone was writing and performing somewhere about things they cared about, whether that was from a place of anger or sadness or depression or any other emotion. I’ve never personally experienced a lull in music worth listening to; if you think every new band sucks, then you’re not looking hard enough.

So I suppose that I don’t necessarily agree with the premise of your question; haven’t corporate sponsorships and DIY ethos existed concurrently and independently of one another? One is not necessarily a response to another. But if music is cyclical, then if America elects Donald Trump in November, we’re in for the best decade of punk rock since Ronald Reagan.

Sean: I echo what Rob said. Punk for me was more a response to yourself and what you can be. Nothing I say will be anything new in the book of punk or whatever. I do believe this poptimism argument/debate or whatever is tired. I could really care less if someone writes about Justin Timberlake or Beyonce. I believe pop music can be as challenging as any John Cage or Morton Feldman piece. It’s what the music/art does to you that’s important. Poptimism and this sort of war with “real music” or legit music seems to be just more content driven consumption for this Web 2.0 world. It’s not about money so much now in certain aspects of music as it is about social capital, and for some, social capital is worth more than any amount of money. It seems to be the driver for certain bands. That to me is more interesting/scary.

What are the band’s immediate plans?

Rob: Keep writing new songs for an upcoming LP, and we have a short tour up the east coast in July to support the new record with Bested.

Sean: Yeah, we hope to record the LP this summer. The tour should be good as we are playing with a lot of our friends (York Factory Complaint, The Gotobeds). We’ve been asked why it takes so long for us to release new material. None of that has to really do with time. We just want to write the best, and most interesting songs we can. There’s a lot of stuff we throw out and for some bands I know throwing out as much as we do can be pretty defeating, but for us it drives us. We are all honest with each other even when it’s stressful, and I think that’s what you can really hear in this record.

Birth (Defects) tour dates:

July
14 Brooklyn, NY @ The Acheron w/ York Factory Complaint, National Tattler
15 Boston, MA w/ Black Beach, Easter Bloodhounds, Drug Dogs
16 Philadelphia, PA
17 Washington, DC @ DC 9 record release show w/ The Gotobeds

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