Building the Punk Movement
True North is one of those bands with amazing chemistry. Like, in guitarist Matt Sweeting's old bands, there would be creative disagreements that never happen with True North. Everyone's lyrics fit together. Everyone's music complements everyone else's. And rarely, if ever, does anyone tear off their pants and shit on something they probably shouldn't be shitting on.
"I can't speak for everyone else, but for me, it's probably the first band I've been in where every time we do something as a band, we're not really worried about anyone," Sweeting says. "When we're sitting in a room together on tour, I don't have to worry, 'Oh, man, is this guy gonna get naked and poop on the floor?'"
That really happened?
"I don't want to go into that," he says with a sigh—but it's the sigh of a man confident his band mates know that a floor is intended for sitting, not shitting. And it's the sigh of a man who, after years and years of commitment and drastic life changes and sweat and sacrifice to and for do-it-yourself punk rock, has finally found a band that lets him breathe easy.
"I'm 27 now," he says, sitting on a mosquito-bit porch somewhere in swampy Gainesville, Florida, with drummer Mark Rodriguez, bassist Dave Diem and singer Ryan Murphy, waiting for their chance at the house's lone phone. "I do have a college degree, and I could go out and get a high-paying job. But I chose to take a different kind of lifestyle, to do stuff like run a nonprofit, volunteer-run record store, or an all-ages club that never made any money. The older you get, for me, the more hard-line you get—you've been around long enough to know what you want."
You can hear—or, rather, not hear—the rest of the band in the background, listening intently as Sweeting explains why he's still eardrum-deep in punk rock on the ebb side of 25, when most of his peers have shaped up and squared out. It's something they talk about a lot, says Diem, in conversation as well as in the intricately spastic, start-stop-explode hardcore songs on their debut CD on local label No Idea, We Speak in Code. "Where," asks a song called "Wait Wait," "are these lives we are supposed to lead for the inexperienced?"
"Punk rock has always been a youth culture," says Sweeting. "That's what drives it; that's when people need it the most. And seeing as how it's such a young movement in the grand scheme of things, there really aren't that many trailblazers to look at. In other movements, like the jazz movement or the beat movement, where that kind of bohemian lifestyle has been going on so long, you can see people who live their whole life that way. Punk rock doesn't have that—it hasn't got there yet."
But that's what True North is pushing it toward. Gainesville is one of those unlikely towns with an ironclad punk rock community vital enough to birth big-ticket bands like Hot Water Music and where-are-they-now? ska-punkers Less Than Jake as well as furiously intense if less well-known groups like Discount, Asshole Parade, Twelve Hour Turn and the brilliant Palatka—find their End of Irony LP and learn something from it. But it's also a town with a high subcultural turnover rate. When you're trying to build a community that lasts, watching the new crop of college kids and the energy they bring to local music disappear and start from scratch year after year might get a little discouraging.
It's in the song "Rocknroll"—"It's not lines on a graph or colors on a map/This is why we construct our paths/Build our lives on our own backs/Instead of relying on empty hands"—and it's in the melancholy photo essay that makes up the True North album, a sober, sun-splattered tour through Gainesville's weather-worn old houses, algae-tainted swimming holes, and junkyards brimming with rustbucket cars. Sweeting sees something in all those smashed-up windows—maybe the same thing he's seen in years full of smashed-up guitars.
"A lot of songs are just about the potential that's there that people don't take advantage of—we have so much at our fingertips," he explains. "People have the power to change stuff, but people don't. The pictures are like, 'Look at all this potential, all this broken-down shit around us—all this could be beautiful. Look at all this amazing stuff going to waste.'"
True North performs with the Blood Brothers, Red Light Sting, Nightmare Syndicate and Walken at Koo's Art Caf, 1505 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 648-0937. Fri., 7:30 p.m. $5. All ages.
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