By Matt Dineen
This interview with Jess (vocals) and Brian (bass) of the DC political punk band 1905 was conducted after a show they played in Madison, WI on the Fourth of July, 2004. The following exerpt addresses the primary theme of this project: following one's passions while surviving in a capitalist society. This interview provided inspiration for subsequent interviews which will appear on this site. The full transcript can be found at Upside Down World.
What about the challenges of operating as DIY band, despite this strong network, within the larger capitalist system? You can’t just survive off your music. Can you talk about making ends meet while still having the time and energy for your true passions?
Brian: This is something that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. Going on tour and booking shows you meet the kids who are so unbelievably positive and optimistic about stuff but don’t necessarily know what goes into doing a show. They’re just psyched to have your band playing. You’re at the show and having an amazing time but you play and then realize that there was no one collecting money at the door or something.
Jess: And you need gas money.
B: Yeah, you need to get to the next place and gas prices aren’t getting any lower. It’s a situation where, we’re an anti-capitalist band and punk rock in itself is very anti-capitalist, but there’s sort of a vacuum on what that means. If we’re anti-capitalist then what are we? What is this? Some people think, “Oh it’s DIY. We just get together and it’s free!”
J: But that’s not sustainable.
B: It’s a big challenge that people are facing. Because right now there is so much stuff going on and so many bands getting out there, so many people that want to go on tour and who want to see shows. But in terms of sustainability, like a space that has trouble staying open because they’re having problems at shows, we need to think about it. It needs to be thought about as a community. We’re not capitalists but we live in this system where there’s money exchanged and we need to go do these things. I’ve been reading a lot about Participatory Economics and trying to work on viable solutions to this.
J: Yeah, we might be an anti-capitalist band but we live in a capitalist society. You can fight for change. You can try to support your local supermarkets or whatever. You can do the small things and they’re really important small things to do, but you can’t expect to operate outside of capitalism. And especially in DIY—to think that you can maintain some sort of network without money, when everything involves money, would be ridiculous and unsustainable. Not only do you need gas money but you need to eat. Eating and gas are very important when you’re on tour. I think a lot of people don’t think about that or don’t want to pay at shows and say, “If you’re anti-capitalist then why do you want money?” Well, it’s not like I’m taking the money and buying a Mercedes with it. I’m trying to get from Point A to Point B.
B: And going on a DIY tour where you’re just making gas money if you’re lucky, you’re still gonna go home and have bills to pay and rent to pay. It gets a lot harder to tour when you know you’re coming back and you know you have to do all this stuff and bust your ass at your job. You have to make money that you didn’t have when you left. Keeping that in mind when we talk about changing the face of punk rock and trying to make it more inclusive to other people. We need to build this community where it’s possible for people of less privileged backgrounds who are talented and have amazing ideas to also come in and play a part in this and have them be able to go on tour too. Touring is a huge financial strain. I know that when I go home I’m gonna have rent and bills and I’ll open all those and be like, I haven’t been working the past 7 weeks because I’ve been on tour but I’ve had an amazing time. There’s a lot of sacrifices you have to make to do that and I come from a background where I’m privileged enough to be able to make those choices to do that. And a lot of other people aren’t and in building a community we have to keep that in mind.
J: As far as when we’re at home is concerned—we all have to work. Somehow you have to make money. I think the band just sucks away our social life more than anything else because that’s the only thing you can really give up…and it’s worth it.
B: It’s like being in a relationship with everyone in your band.
J: And I love you! (laughs and hugs)
So, are the jobs that you have totally separate from your true interests and just to pay the bills?
B: It depends. I’ve had other jobs that are very related to my interests, except those jobs were also 9-5, 40 hours a week and didn’t give me enough time to do touring. I ended up getting laid off from the last one that I had which opened up a lot of doors of thinking about how to do things. I also went to graduate school and worked on that stuff. I walk dogs for a living now. It’s amazingly flexible, it’s a great time but I have my parents being like, “You went to grad school and you walk dogs.” (laughs) So I make enough money to get by but at the same time there are other financial stresses. I’m basically going back and looking for other jobs to do. It’s just a matter of trying to find a balance between doing the band I love that takes a lot of time to do and being able to pay my bills and having some sort of comfort zone in life.
J: My ultimate goal is to be a teacher. Right now I’m not anywhere close to being a teacher and don’t really know what I’m gonna be doing for a job when I get back. I think I’m gonna be cleaning houses, but right now the band is more of a priority. We think about jobs in terms of: Can we tour? How is this gonna work? Does this enable us to have band practice when we want to practice? And of course we’re not gonna just get the shittiest job ever and hate life. But it’s just a job. Jobs don’t mean anything. You work and you do what you can and it would be nice to have a job where you could do something that is also important to you but a job is such a small, tiny little portion of what’s important in life. You’ve got this whole other world that’s not between 9-5 that is equally as important. And when people ask the question, “What do you do?”—everybody answers with their job. Whereas for me I answer with the band. Because what’s more important to me? Clearly it’s the band.
That brings up the question of whether you guys have thought about surviving off the band. Could you make 1905 your job or would that compromise your values?
J: We speculate and think about it but everybody’s drastically different on that. No one has a clear-cut idea of how to do it. Ideally we’d all love to play music and have that be it and have that sustain us, but then it gets tricky. How do you do that? Can DIY do that? For me it’s, do I want to put that sort of money pressure on the one thing that I know is just gonna be okay in my life no matter what. But we’d all love that to be our lives.
B: It would be amazing if we could do this band at the rate we’re comfortable with and make a living off it. That would be great, but you have to keep in mind that when the thing you love becomes your bread and butter and it’s what you do to pay your bills then you have to start doing it a lot more. It can become really stressful and cause a lot strains
J: And you don’t want to strain your passion.
B: If there was a way that we could all be happy and all meet our needs and find a way of doing this band on our terms then I don’t think we’d have a problem. But as long as we can keep it a hobby and be fulfilled in a lot of other ways we’ll be fine.
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