“I’m hoping our music resonates with a shared experience and offers comfort as we all cope with global changing tides. You have to look forward and work for positive change.”
On November 30th Arctic Flowers released Straight to the Hunter, their first full-length LP since 2014’s Weaver. It’s a damn good album, and easily one of the best LPs of 2018. Many outlets not traditionally interested in music of the sort that Arctic Flowers make have taken notice of the LP, but that’s a just reward for a band nearly ten years into their career. Perhaps the most high profile recognition for Straight to the Hunter came from NPR, who gave the Portland quartet a (justly) glowing review, prompting me to wonder how many bands that have self-released their albums, as Arctic Flowers have done with this new LP, get such an honor. I think my favorite review from among those just discovering Arctic Flowers is one that stated, “They remind me of a young AFI.”
And that’s a comparison with which I heartily disagree, of course. Although Arctic Flowers have accumulated genre tags like “deathrock,” “gothic rock,” “postpunk,” and other such along the path of their nearly ten year career, it’s probably best to go into listening to Straight to the Hunter without these ideas in mind—that is, without any of the preconceptions that are nowadays loaded into those genre tags. No, Straight to the Hunter is hewed from older stone, from a solid chunk of good old fashioned early 80s peace-punk, from a time when “postpunk” still referred to music that had come directly out of the punk scene (and hence was called postpunk)—when it meant largely guitar-driven bands like early Joy Division (or, more aptly, Warsaw), Killing Joke, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and bands that would comprise the early goth-punk milieu, part of which was also counterintuitively called “positive punk” by some music writers in the early 1980s.
And those are the bands in whose spirit Arctic Flowers forges ahead: Think Rubella Ballet (whose Sid Truelove remixed an Arctic Flowers song a few years ago), think Lost Cherrees, or Blood and Roses, or even the oft-overlooked Brigandage. Arctic Flowers’ Alex’s impassioned vocals can recall those of Pauline Murray of Penetration—not another bad sonic point of reference, in fact—or perhaps Kat (RIP) of 80s California punk band Legal Weapon, who are another fellow West Coast four-piece that flirted with deathrock sounds.
In the past, guitarist and founder Stan Wright described their music to me this way: “Our sound is a mix of punk, deathrock, post punk, and goth. Aggressive but at times danceable and melodic.” And that’s still an apt way to describe the band, especially on the new album. From the opening, muscular guitar licks on “Hallow Water,” the LP’s opener, it’s clear the band is operating at the height of their power. Bassist Lee is absolutely on fire on the second song, “Glass On Ice,” which serves as the effective title track for the LP. Stan Wright—who has performed in the hardcore band Deathreat as well as the somewhat sonically-similar Signal Lost last decade—can play intricate postpunk lines that weave in and out of Alex’s vocals, but at a moment’s notice these are traded out for blunt powerchord riffs that bolster the driving force of each track. (And I’m sure the mixing job by Joel Grind of Toxic Holocaust didn’t hurt in that department, either.)
Every morsel of Straight to the Hunter’s almost 40 minute, 12-song running time is packed with moody, raw power. One of the highlights of the LP for me was “Dreamer,” a cover of the 1981 song of the same name by midwest hardcore punk Toxic Reasons. It’s a song that is easy to imagine might be about the plight of DACA/DREAMers, but is in fact an impassioned plea for hope in a world that seems intent on crushing it. And that’s the desperate spirit that propels the music of Arctic Flowers—hope for peace, and peace of mind, in a world slowly decaying.
Arctic Flowers were interviewed by Oliver in January, 2019 for Post-punk.com.
To cover some basics, first and foremost: Who all is in Arctic Flowers nowadays, especially on this new LP, and what instruments do they play?
Arctic Flowers: Alex does vocals; Lee plays bass; Stan is on guitar; and Clifton handles the drums.
The second song on Straight to the Hunter, “Glass on Ice,” also serves as the LP’s title track, as it contains the refrain “What can you trust when instinct has you flee straight to the hunter?” in the lyrics…. What do the lyrics in this track mean, and how does the track inform the meaning of the LP overall? Why did you decide to choose that line as the album’s title?
Alex: The lyrics for “Glass on Ice” were inspired by an excerpt from C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet. I usually write down short excerpts from novels I’m reading in my lyric book so I can use them as thinking practices for expanding on ideas. I would put the exact lines here, but my lyric book is no longer around and I don’t like to dog ear my books. Maybe I should rethink that practice! The lyrics are meant to represent that pit in your stomach, stuck in a fever dream feeling of being stalked or hunted that in turn actually manifests in sending you running straight to the hunter. Your body and mind turning on your cognizance and overriding your intention to stay alive because it knows the hunt will kill you emotionally well before you are taken physically.
The line ‘Glass on Ice…’ is about the practice of trappers killing wolves in snowy climates by covering shards of glass in animal blood. When the wolf finds what it thinks is a meal it will lick the glass, its tongue numb from the cold ice, and bleed out while ingesting its own life force unbeknownst to the wolf until it dies. It was a group decision to name the album “Straight to the Hunter,” and I think we chose the right one. It does a great job of providing a feeling that represents the entire album.
The last time I did a proper interview with you all was the Summer of 2012, over six and a half years ago! I’m looking back at that interview right now and I’m realizing back then Obama wasn’t even in his second term yet, and I was asking you all how you felt about the upcoming choice between Obama and Mitt Romney in the 2012 general election! Hah! (Your “Procession” EP was also just about to come out at that point.) How do you think society, or world history, has progressed since those days, and how is the current state of the world now as compared to then?
Lee: This question would require a very long answer! Maybe a whole book! So much has happened since then.
Clearly, the Trump administration is a serious disappointment, trying to undo all the good things Obama accomplished. I’m personally concerned about their current plan to roll back environmental laws and the Affordable Care Act. It’s unfortunate that the few advances are now met with enormous setbacks. It angers me that so many people still cannot afford health care. It seems the American political agenda is set on trite stalemates along issues that should have been resolved decades ago. I’m concerned that we will never evolve … and the ongoing war … it’s devastating and the endlessness has left me numb. I’ll stop there as I know I’m just preaching to the choir.
Do you think Arctic Flowers’ music has changed since those earlier days? It seems like you all are still somewhat optimistic. There is a kind of conflicted tone in many of the songs on the LP. Do you think ya’ll’s songs reflect a worsening reality?
Alex: I think our music has changed. With every new song, every practice, everyone living another day in their lives; all adding to the collective well in the Arctic Flowers vase; of course the composition of the water will always be different than the moment before. The song “Dreamer” on the LP is a cover song (Toxic Reasons, 1981), and the picture painted lyrically is still, or has recycled, to being relevant again. I changed the pronouns in the 2nd verse to be about a girl, instead of a boy, who calls for the re-invention of society as she watches it fail her generation. It’s a somber sadness when things feel too far gone to have any one person feel they can be of any help, but don’t the youth retain humanity’s hope? Even if it is naive.
Lee: I’m hoping our music resonates with a shared experience and offers comfort as we all cope with the changing tides. The political pendulum will hopefully swing the other direction again. And…then there’s the fact the Kavanaugh didn’t vote against abortion as all thought he would, when he decided the way he did on a recent Planned Parenthood case, so I think it’s really hard to predict how things will go. You have to look forward and work for positive change.
When did you all start working on the new LP? How long did it take to record, and who did the recording, production, etc?
Stan: We started writing Straight to the Hunter not long after Weaver in 2014. Some songs came together quickly, while others took years. Often Lee will have bass lines we jam on together or I might bring an almost complete song to practice.
We took 5 days to track everything. This time we worked with Felix Fung for tracking along with me. Our friend Joel (Toxic Holocaust) mixed the LP. Sarah Register (NYC) mastered. Amy Dragon here in Portland cut the vinyl master. Elli Adams (who did the cover to 2011’s Reveries) created the art.
I used to think of Arctic Flowers in terms of a regional phenomenon of Pacific Northwest bands like Observers/Red Dons, Spectres, Deathcharge, The Now Dead, The Estranged, but nowadays I think of a more global “dark punk”/postpunk/etc community that disparate scenes from back in the ‘oughts have linked up into. Is this a scene you all find yourselves treading in, or do you still work within the DIY hardcore punk scene mainly, and how do you think these interesting little cultural areas overlap and feed upon with one another? You all seem like the sort of band that could just as easily get asked to play Wave Gothik Treffen as a show of primarily d-beat type bands.
Alex: I’ve always enjoyed the variety of genres this band is asked to perform along with. I do work within the DIY scene (mostly with/through Black Water Records and Black Water Venue). As the years speed up for me (ie when I feel like I can’t keep up or do as good of a job as is I want), I have really enjoyed watching new people get involved more in show booking/promotion/volunteer work. I think and hope that everyone is more comfortable with mixed genre shows, meeting new people and discovering underground avenues for art and community than they possibly had been in the past.
Stan: I feel like we transcend a lot of genres. It’s all punk to me really. I’m older and remember when things didn’t seem so divided. Everyone played together. I like that we can play a variety of shows with all different bands. I’m also ok with the crossover between DIY punk and whatever other scenes. I love how a lot of the original peace/anarcho punk bands were mainly connected by ideals more so than a sound.
Straight to the Hunter has gotten a lot more attention than past efforts, it seems like. I was pleasantly surprised to see NPR and some other fairly meantream-ish outlets cover the album. How does this feel, having been at it so long in the underground?
Stan: It’s really nice after almost 10 years to get noticed in worlds outside of our own. I think it’s important for growth and we definitely want folks from all walks of life to hear us. We feel grateful and lucky for the awesome reviews and support we’re getting with the new LP.
There is a quote from the 2012 interview with you all that I’ve re-used, from Stan, to describe Arctic Flowers’ music: “Our sound is a mix of punk, deathrock, post-punk, and goth. Aggressive but at times danceable and melodic.” Is this still an accurate description?
Stan: Haha. I don’t think we’ve changed that much. I guess I’d just say we are playing punk or simply rock n roll. We all love so many sounds from different places.
What bands are the primary influences on Arctic Flowers’ sound these days? Who are your personal favorite bands?
Alex: Some of my favorite bands: Penetration, The Cure, Xmal Deutschland, Musta Paraati, Depeche Mode, The Sound, The Sounds.
Stan: The Wipers, Gun Club, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Smartpils, Lack of Knowledge, Middle Class, The Proletariat, Toxic Reasons, New Model Army, Husker Du, The Gits.
Lee: Some of my faves: New Model Army, Depeche Mode, and Post-Regiment.
Related, a question I feel compelled to ask since I ask it of almost all other bands: If each member of Arctic Flowers had to choose 5, and ONLY 5, LPs to take on a deserted island, to listen to for the rest of your lives (and listening to them was indeed somehow possible by way of a magic record player, or what have you, etc), what 5 LPs would those be, and why?
Alex: This is impossible…
The Chameleons — Script of the Bridge
New Model Army — The Ghost of Cain
The Go-Go’s — Beauty and the Beat
Who?What?Why?When?Where? – Mortarhate Records Compilation
Cortex – Spinal Injuries
Stan: Can I pick 50? Ok ok…
Wipers — Over The Edge
Gun Club — Miami
Leonard Cohen — Songs of Love and Hate
The Mob — Let The Tribe Increase
Discharge — Hear Nothing,See Nothing Say Nothing
Lee: I’ll pick five songs:
New Model Army — Afternoon Song
Rubella Ballet — Arctic Flowers 😉
Xmal Deutschland — Matador
The Clash — London Calling
New Order — Blue Monday
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