“The modern dichotomy of love is built upon the crux of ‘power over’ versus ‘power struggle.'”
New York City goth-punk juggernauts PAWNS not only put out one of the better LPs of the past few years—their transcendent Gallows debut LP from 2017 is one of my personal favorite LPs of the 2010s—they’ve also been one of the most consistently powerful live acts I’ve had the pleasure to witness in recent memory. Today they’re breaking the news that a new EP is being released, a 3-song assault of their unique brand of gritty, doomy, anarcho-tinged, fatalistic, dark postpunk: Monuments of Faith. The 3-song EP will be physically released on April 17 in the US by Near Dark (the label home of Ötzi and others) as a single-sided 12″ vinyl EP, and in the UK by the Inflammable Material label as a 7-inch record.
Monuments of Faith presses ahead with PAWNS’ trademark sound that combines singer Gage Allison’s baritone vocals, Jenna Rose (of the excellent Anatomy project—another fantastic live experience, by the way) and her expertly sinuous bass lines, and the combined attack of Noel Mateus and Stephen Reader on guitar and drums, respectively. The band’s playing style has been favorably likened to the staccato, stop-start attack of old Crass Records bands like Zounds, and in my own previous writeups on PAWNS I’ve compared their overall sonic effect to those acts on the gloomier side of the mid-1980s anarcho scene in England that helped kickstart the early DIY goth-punk aesthetic—acts like The Mob, Lack of Knowledge, Famous Imposters, and Blood and Roses. Apparent as well on the new EP is the kind of dark, deathrock-tinged punk that TSOL explored on their 1984 Change Today? LP, and which California’s Drunk Injuns explored on some of their Thrasher Skate Rock! appearances (check out Drunk Injuns’ cover of Joy Division‘s “Walked in Line” to see what I’m referring to). Later this year, PAWNS will be playing with Pink Turns Blue, She Past Away, Clan of Xymox, and others.
Here is PAWNS’ new track. Enjoy:
In short, with Monuments of Faith PAWNS mine a very interesting area where the sounds of dark postpunk, anarcho-punk, and deathrock converge, and out of this comes a vital new release that is simultaneously gothic and political, arty yet down-to-earth, deliciously atmospheric with guitar-driven doom while sacrificing none of the visceral immediacy encountered in the best old British punk singles (think Adverts, think Flux of Pink Indians, think The Mob).
Before we get to the interview below, though, I’d be remiss in my work here if I didn’t mention how strikingly noteworthy singer Gage’s artwork is for the band, and for the other projects that he also does visual work for (show fliers, zines, etc.). Gage’s design style is somewhat reminiscent of Gee Vaucher‘s stuff for, again, Crass, or even John Heartfield’s old antifascist photomontages from the 1930s and 1940s. See, for example, the show flyer Gage designed for PAWNS’ upcoming show with British postpunk veterans 1919, below. As well, the PAWNS’ vocalist handles all the lyrics for the band, and although lyrics don’t get as much attention in today’s music press as they should, Gage’s lyric writing showcases the existential tension between the personal and political: “We can’t be bound to one single expression of love if we hope to find happiness,” Gage writes in the notes to Monuments of Faith. In “Shadows of Hiroshima,” the second song on this EP, he appends: “The system only lets you forget / In this narrow scope of life / Where do we belong? / Shadows of Hiroshima…”
PAWNS were interviewed by Oliver for Post-punk.com in February, 2019.
First things first: Who is in PAWNS these days? Who is on the new EP?
Noel: Gage Allison (vocals), Jenna Rose (bass), and I (Noel Mateus, guitar) have been in the band since the beginning. Stephen Reader has been drumming with us for almost two years now and he’s the best drummer we could ever ask for. We’re all featured on the new record.
Stephen: I got connected through some mutual friends and was lucky enough to join a band that had songs written and tours booked so it really made my job as a drummer easy for the most part. What has been challenging, but very cool, has been trying to adapt my style and inclinations to the band’s sound, which I think requires being heavy on toms and using the whole kit without overcomplicating things or distracting from the vocals and strings. It’s like I grew up listening to so much post punk and stuff but never even got close to playing in a band that sounded anywhere near that, so finally doing it as an adult is a thrill.
Jenna: Stephen is the best thing to happen to Pawns since we threw our old van in the trash. In all seriousness, he is a brilliant percussionist and a clock. He makes playing bass so much easier. I never have to chase him.
Who is putting out the new EP? When was it recorded, who produced it, where was it recorded, and what is the personnel on the EP? What will it be called?
Jenna:Monuments of Faith was recorded at some point last year at Strange Weather in Brooklyn. I think it was spring? There is no way of knowing. Ben Greenberg recorded and produced it per usual.
Gage: Inflammable Material in the UK is releasing the EP as a 7″ and Near Dark Records (US) is putting it out as a one sided 12″ EP. Serious shout out to Ben, Gina and Michael. Couldn’t have done this without any of them.
You all started in what… 2014? 2013? How long have PAWNS been around now?
Noel: Early 2014 was our first show… so 5 years or so? I’d like to think we’ve only gotten finer with age.
Jenna: Noel has absolutely gotten finer with age.
How did you come up with the name “Pawns”? In a previous interview I noticed you mentioned that you did not believe in free will. I sort of wanted to ask some follow up questions about that but did not at the time…. So, I have to ask, is the name related to this, and what exactly are your (Gage) thoughts on free will, and from where did you get these ideas?
Gage: Yeah, definitely. We chose a name that was indicative of the messages I wanted to convey in my lyrics. Free will is a concept I explore a lot in my writing and is definitely a recurring theme in a lot of our songs. I do not believe in free will in so far as it exists from a sociological standpoint. I believe human beings are victims of circumstance and our beliefs, actions, feelings (and even the words we use to describe these feelings) are essentially echos of those which have preceded us. Nothing is self-sufficient. Everything we do or say, no matter how negligible or insignificant, took the culmination of all of eternity to bring us to where we are today and it will shape everything to come.
This concept is honestly something I struggle with a lot. It’s incredibly hard to align these beliefs with radical political thought in a practical and material way. For example, combating capitalism, fascism, and various other injustices becomes extremely convoluted if you consider the mechanisms of time and conditioning that brought people to think and act on those modes of thought in the first place. Nevertheless, those struggles are further affirmation that we as individuals play effective roles in the world around us. And I’d like to think fighting against such vile modes of thought is not only possible but inevitable as we learn to understand and deconstruct the ways in which we view and act ourselves in relation to the world around us.
What bands would you say influenced you when making the music that appears on the new EP?
Gage: So many! I think most apparent on this record are Siekiera, The System, Under Two Flags, Sisters of Mercy, and Crass. There are other homages of course (Killing Joke, Liberty, etc.) but I think those are the most apparent.
Noel: Along with all those bands already mentioned, plus many more within that realm of music, I’m constantly taking influence from completely different styles of music when it comes to my songwriting. Usually everyone in the band gets super confused when I write a part of a song that goes something like a 3/4 instead of a more conventional 4/4. This just happens without me even thinking about it. Maybe it’s because I grew up listening to samba?
Stephen: My bandmates are always exposing me to new music, whether it’s contemporary or quite old, so I always try to think about what they’re listening to when I work on drum parts. I’ll never forget on the first night of our West Coast tour in 2017, driving into Seattle when Noel was blasting “Don’t Cry Tonight” by Savage. Or Gage playing “Eisbaer” by Grauzone on our way to Rochester. Jenna’s music gets me exploring more industrial sounds, thinking about bands that use all synthesized drums and bands that incorporate electronic drums into acoustic setups. I take those cues back with me in moments when I listen to bands like The Cure, who we’ve covered before and I think we all like a lot, or Depeche Mode — I think they arrive at signature drum parts without, again, trying or thinking too hard about it and detracting from the song in the process, so they’re good models.
Jenna:The Birthday Party (Tracy Pew), Jesus Lizard (David Wm. Sims and his GK 800RB), and The Fall.
Are you all planning any touring or live dates to support this EP (or for any other reason) any time soon? If so, where?
Jenna: We just got back from a tour in Mexico and are playing a small string of shows with 1919 on the East Coast in April. We’re playing HAGL (Canada) in June and leave for Europe in October.
Gage: We also have a few shows booked with Pink Turns Blue, She Past Away, and Clan of Xymox coming up this year which I am insanely excited about.
If you were trying to describe your sound to someone who’d never heard you before what would you say you all sounded like? Do you think the terms “dark punk” or “deathrock” fit?
Noel: I’ve always had trouble with that. Clearly there are stylistic influences ranging from anarcho-punk, deathrock, and the very broad realm of post-punk in general but it’s hard to pinpoint a specific genre or sub-genre because we are constantly shifting. That being said I do believe we have a sound that remains consistent with the general vision of the band.
You’ve mentioned you all are influenced by anarcho bands, which seems apparent in a lot of the sounds and imagery of the group (specifically, Zounds and/or some of the early 80s Crass Records type bands). But are they any political beliefs you hold similar to those, and if so, what are they?
Gage: I’m not necessarily speaking for the whole band here but as far as my political beliefs and history are concerned, absolutely. Anarcho bands like Crass and Flux of Pink Indians were so fundamental in shaping my political thought and have influenced me tremendously. They’re essentially what got me politically conscious and active in the first place. It’s hard to say with my memory as bad as it is but it felt like within weeks of discovering anarcho punk I had started attending protests, organizing Food Not Bombs, and reading radical leftist literature regularly. And although I am not as politically active (at least not in the material sense) as I used to be, I still hold the beliefs of anarchism, autonomy, and equality very dear to me and do my best to embody them in my daily life.
Stephen: I guess I’m still not really over the first time I listened to Dead Kennedys‘ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, and “Kill the Poor” as that opening track in particular. I’m not sure I ever heard a band sum it up better, whether I was 13 or 30.
Jenna: The anarcha-feminist ideals so eloquently put on those records speaks to so much of what I am. However, I find that most people wearing Crass patches today are confusing punk with insular hierarchies forged as an attempt of accruing self-worth via social capital, rather than realizing the ideologies these symbols represent. Of course this is not the case across the board. There are certainly people out there who are taking direct action and trying to stay true to these principles. I guess it’s just hard for me to speak to these bands’ politics in this kind of forum without mentioning that you can’t do blow and eat flesh while touting environmentalism.
Is there anything else you’d like to say that I haven’t asked a question about? If so, this is your chance to say it! Here you go:
Gage: Destroy power not people!
Also—we finally caved and decided to start a social media presence after all these years in preparation for our upcoming international tours. If you’d like to keep in touch, hit us up on Facebook in the link below.
PAWNS now have a Facebook page here.
PAWNS have a Soundcloud page here.
PAWNS have a Bandcamp page here.