Charleston musicians get political with their lyrics 

The Sound and The Fury

Ryan Cubillan rails against homophobia with his band, EVA.

Photo by Jonathan Boncek (Flags courtesy of Carolina Flag and Banner, West Ashley)

Ryan Cubillan rails against homophobia with his band, EVA.

"Shit just got real."

With those words, EVA lead vocalist Ryan Cubillan launches into a hardcore song about homophobia in the church, raging against the forces of intolerance amid a melee of guitar and drums. And it does get real.

EVA is not a band to shy away from the hot-button issues of our time, and that sets them apart. For the most part, Charleston's bands won't touch political subject matter with a 10-foot pole — but maybe that's for the best. Not everyone can pull off a good protest song, and there's a big difference between, say, Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and Nickelback's "If Everyone Cared."

Since the Canadian band Propagandhi, one of the most politically outspoken musical acts of our time, is coming to town for a show Oct. 29, and since the presidential election season is in full-on attack-ad mode, the City Paper took the opportunity to interview Cubillan and a few other local artists about political messages in their songs. Here's what they're yelling about:

"Why Are You White?" by EVA
Pro-homo hardcore
(Free album download here)

Hardcore music has always lent itself to blunt statements, and EVA lead singer Ryan Cubillan carries on that storied tradition with a song that rails against homophobia — especially in the church. "What makes a man a man / Isn't who he loves / But fuckin' whether he can," goes the refrain.

"Being a believer in Jesus Christ and God and seeing different Christian groups, most recently Chick-fil-A, taking their stand against homosexuality, I felt like it was something that needed to be said," Cubillan says.

Not that EVA is a "Christian band" in any traditional sense. While Cubillan's lyrics frequently touch on his convictions, he also drops enough F-bombs that there's little chance they'll get invited to play for any church youth groups. Cubillan even shies away from referring to himself as a Christian, "because I don't even want to be associated with that kind of mindset."

click to enlarge Ryan Cubillan of EVA - JONATHAN BONCEK
The song bears all the trademarks of modern hardcore — the gang vocals, the blast-beat drumming, the downtuned guitar riffage — but despite the stylistic similarities, EVA is a square-peg sort of band. For starters, Cubillan is an unabashed juggalo, proudly sporting a camo Insane Clown Posse T-shirt in the music video for the band's song "Pro-Wrestling is Real, People Are Fake." Then there are the song titles, often copped directly from the script of the 2004 hit movie Mean Girls. "Why Are You White?" comes from a girl's incredulous question when Lindsay Lohan's character arrives at school from South Africa, and "Burn Book" is a song about people using Christianity as a weapon. The band has a song in the works called "I Wanna Lose Three Pounds," which is about Cubillan's veganism.

Cubillan isn't out to convince anybody he's right, whether it's about veganism, marriage equality, or even Christianity, he says. But as a straight man who's seen gay friends struggling with prejudice for years, he'd like to see more respect. When the band plays "Why Are You White?" live, he always gives an explanation of what it's about. And whether they're in a punk club or a biker bar, he leads off with a slogan: "Some people are gay. Get over it." The band recently had the phrase printed on T-shirts (available in black, pink, or purple) in big block letters under the word "PROHOMO," and the shirts have sold like hotcakes online, especially since the Chick-fil-A controversy hit the fan. Profits from the T-shirt sales go to EveryoneIsGay.com, an outreach program that brings advice and encouragement to students with questions about sexuality and gender identity.

The band hasn't always played songs with such polemic subject matter, but Cubillan says he has come to see the value in singing about his convictions. "People have more of a profound connection to it, which helps us have a more profound connection with people," he says. "I get to talk to people about stuff that I never would be able to in some other medium."

"FTG" by The 33's
Old-school punks and patriots
(Buy the album Sons of Iniquity here)

Don't tread on me. It's a classic American sentiment, originally emblazoned on a revolutionary flag by Charleston statesman Christopher Gadsden in all caps beneath a coiled rattlesnake.

The Tea Party has recently adopted that bold yellow flag as its own, but to Nathaniel Irvin, lead singer in local punk band The 33's, the flag still means what it did before the modern political fracture: Liberty. So when a public-safety partnership known as the Missouri Information Analysis Center published a "strategic report" in 2009 warning police that modern militia groups had been known to fly the Gadsden flag, Irvin started rattling his own tail. And when he heard rumors that the Department of Homeland Security was stocking up on hollow-point bullets to put down unrest, he picked up his guitar and started yelling.

click to enlarge The 33's pay homage to the Sons of Liberty, colonial America's first radicals. - JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek
  • The 33's pay homage to the Sons of Liberty, colonial America's first radicals.

"What about your bullshit fake policies / Special interest lobbies our true disease / And what about the people who put you there? / And what about our future, don't you fucking care?" Irvin bellows on "FTG," a song that rails against the two-party system for a wide range of ills while questioning the messianic hope that Irvin sees his peers placing in President Barack Obama. The song appears on Sons of Iniquity, a concept album that refers to the Sons of Liberty, some of colonial America's first radicals.

Remembered in history alternately as terrorists and patriots, the Sons of Liberty helped spark the American Revolution by pouring hot tar and feathers on Loyalists.

The 33's are old-school, working-class punks, seething with aggro and operating from a position of skepticism that verges on conspiracy-theory paranoia. Their songs are unembellished onslaughts, often clocking in at under three minutes and wasting no time getting to the hook.

But in another sense, The 33's don't fit the traditional punk ethos. Although Irvin doesn't identify with any political party, other punk bands on the scene perceive his political views as being maddeningly right of center. Irvin knows, for instance, that when he sings songs that support the armed forces and police, he's rubbing some people the wrong way. But he's had friends and family serving in the military all his life, and he holds out that his buddies who made it back from Fallujah are just ordinary people who decided to serve something bigger than themselves.

"I get people that come down on me, like 'How can you support that fascist shit?'" Irvin says. "And I'm like, the fascists you're talking about are the very same people that give you the opportunity to protest, to burn flags, to act the way you want to act. You can't have a mohawk and walk down the streets in fucking North Korea."

Irvin isn't happy with the way modern wars are fought, but he places the blame on politicians, not soldiers. He's furious that Obama hasn't shut down Gitmo yet, and he's embarrassed by the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. He's also mad when he turns on cable news. He sings, "A new war is raging, it's every night / A two-party system, a partisan fight / The bloated, the liars are running D.C. / They harvest the seeds for a ripe anarchy."

FTG — what does that stand for? The last two words are The Government. We'll give you one guess what the F stands for.

"Dear America," by Company
The sound of giving up
(Buy the album Dear America, here)

When Brian Hannon wrote a song to the United States of America, it started out sounding like a love letter: "From the shores of California where my sister was born / To the great city of Chicago where my father is from / To the hills of Carolina where my mother raised her son / America, this one's for you." But the honeymoon didn't last long.

Hannon, who was born in his mother's home country of Indonesia, has mixed feelings about this country, to say the least. He went to the University of South Carolina to study political science, but he dropped out and came away jaded and disengaged from the entire political process. He had seen how the sausage was made, and he ended up vegan, metaphorically speaking.

click to enlarge Company's Brian Hannon isn't so sure about this 'American Dream' thing. - JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek
  • Company's Brian Hannon isn't so sure about this 'American Dream' thing.

"I would say it's just years and years of misinformation given to us by the government and by corporations," Hannon says. "I mean, the fact that George Bush was voted — not even voted into office, it was questionable whether or not he even became the president — and then we voted him in again during the Iraq War." He used to write political songs in his early post-college years, but recently he has penned fewer and fewer lyrics in that vein.

"I have a pretty defeatist attitude," Hannon confesses. Fast-forward to the chorus on that letter to the U.S.A.: "Dear America, stay wasted / Throw your credit cards in the air / Do you really think we were waiting / For the walls to come tumbling down?"

It's all sung with such dulcet tenderness, laid over gentle guitar arpeggios, that it's easy to forget what a bleak statement Hannon is making. He loves America. He really does. But he doesn't see much hope for political salvation, and he respects Willie Nelson more than the president most days. "Our presidents are immoral. The leaders of corporations are immoral. There's no one that I look up to or respect," he says.

There was a blip of optimism on Hannon's political radar last year, and it came in the form of the Occupy movement. When Occupy Charleston member Brandon Fish approached him about using "Dear America" in a promotional video, Hannon gladly agreed. The video contains shaky footage of the Thanksgiving week arrests of 10 protesters in Marion Square, and the song lends an elegiac tone.

These days, Hannon isn't even so sure about the usefulness of Occupy. "I've been to a few protests for Occupy Charleston where they just seem really childish and really disrespectful," he says. "To me, a movement isn't going to work unless there's a respectful, almost spiritual side to it."

His advice to young America? It's right there in the chorus of the song: "Stay wasted."

"Especially kids younger than me, they're disenchanted, but they're really smart," Hannon says. "But instead of applying any of that toward changing the system, most kids just get really fucked up. And that's why I'm kind of like, 'Right on. Go with it.'"

"Campaign" by Righchus
Rapping with Romney
(Free mixtape download here)

Mitt Romney has been called a lot of things: Out of touch, flip-flopper, ruthless capitalist. But local hip-hop artist Righchus might be the first person to ever use his name as a slang term for cocaine.

click to enlarge Righchus - JONATHAN BONCEK FILE PHOTO

"I come from the city where they show no pity, but dudes move that Mitt Romney," he raps on the track "Campaign," which appears on his most recent mixtape, Black Cradles. His explanation for the lyric is simple: "Coke is white, so instead of saying 'sell coke,' I replaced it with the name of a white person."

Righchus (birth name Matt Bostick) isn't out to glorify the drug-pushing life, and he's not even making a direct political statement about the Republican presidential candidate. In fact, the song more or less landed in his lap; all he had to do was contribute a verse. Atlanta producer Sam King came to him with the track, which features a big, boasty hook from the rapper Kodak: "I done broke all types of laws for my campaign / I done put the club on pause with my campaign / I done bought the whole bar for my campaign / Nigga, I go hard for my campaign."

As Bostick sees it, the campaign is a metaphor for his musical career, with the team of producers and guest artists forming his cabinet and advisors. "I really go hard for my team, just try to make sure everybody's well, as a president would do for his country or his cabinet," he says. "He has to do everything necessary to make sure his cabinet is doing everything right."

No, "Campaign" is not a terribly political song, but there's a nugget of political wisdom to be gleaned from it: When you're researching a candidate, make sure to also learn about the people he surrounds himself with. That's Bostick's two cents. After all, who was Dubya without Karl Rove?


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