Angel Du$t Wants to Teach Boys How to Be Men
For the uninitiated, it may seem hard to believe that a hardcore punk band would spawn a milieu of successful bands each more different than the last. But you needn't look further than Baltimore hardcore group Trapped Under Ice, who slowed themselves down in 2013. This hiatus allowed members of the band to pursue new bands that would iterate and subvert the burly hardcore they'd become known for. As years went on, the projects started gaining momentum and a life outside of "side project." Last year saw Turnstile bring an alt-rock flair to hardcore, their debut record Nonstop Feeling catching the attention of a wider audience than beatdown-aggro crowds. This May, TUI frontman Justice Tripp would take his own project Angel Du$t to new distances from the band's 2013 debut, A.D., with a joyful powerbomb of an album, Rock the Fuck On Forever.
The album title cleanly states its intent, grabbing the reader out of their chair and throwing them into a posi-mosh pit that doesn't let up. It hits all taste buds in a well-rounded punk record; shades of Tripp's past with the more abrasive TUI can make themselves felt with scorchers like album leadoff track, the circle-pit friendly "Toxic Boombox" and the self-effacing "Somebody Else." But the record excels most when it dances between genres and emotion, painting a wide range of feelings that a mere breakdown could never express on its own. "Bad Thing" is a swaggering jaunt playing with the double meaning of its title and main thread; "Rectify" takes what would normally be a conflict of seismic proportions in a testosteronecore track and pushes it into something light; "Deep Love" doubles the metaphors of being in love and making love, at the same time. The album distills the cool ease and eternal summer sounds of bands like Teenage Fanclub, the high speeds and spryness of Gorilla Biscuits, to create its own color of punk. It takes catchiness and accessibility to the genre without sacrificing the integrity of the work, instead creating a new entry into hardcore that doesn't discriminate.
We spoke to Tripp about bodybuilding, sweet dance moves and teaching hardcore boys the subtleties of love.
This is so random, but I saw the weirdest shit earlier. I Googled you, and found this Bodybuilding.com thread, and it was like, “Does Justice Tripp have a nice body?” And it was a bunch of pictures of you, and then these guys commenting. It was bizarre.
I gotta see that myself, I’m really interested. [Laughs] I’m curious what photos they used of me. I’ve never been into bodybuilding per se, but I’ve trained for competitive reasons. I’ve had some real ups and downs in my time playing in bands, so I’m really curious what they posted. [Laughs]
Do people get the wrong idea of you because you take care of your body?
Ah, yeah, man, I get a lot of people on the internet, because no one says it to your face, but they’re all like, “Oh, Justice is a jock,” and then the assumption of you being a jock then you’re obviously not interested in punk rock, or you’re not really hardcore —“Oh yeah, he plays football for his college,” stupid shit like that. Or just the assumption that I’m a goon, that I like training weights. But it’s so interesting because training weights is so much more science-based than anything. Like in high school, kids associate someone lifting weights with being a bully, which makes sense. But I always thought as you get a little older, the fools that become bodybuilders and competitive athletes become people who are really into the science of weightlifting and everything behind it.
Obviously, in recent years, there’s been a bunch of bands that have spiraled out of Trapped Under Ice: Angel Dust, Turnstile, etc. Is it crazy to see so much success come out of the band?
Also there’s Diamond Youth — they’re not as active as much — and Down to Nothing. Ultimately, I know everyone in Trapped Under Ice [are] creative, motivated people. I’m not surprised at all. I remember meeting Brendan [Yates], he was maybe 15 when I met him, and that’s what I thought made him cool when I met him. Because we were older dudes, I was like 20, 21, and I was like, “Man, this kid’s so cool, he’s always making music.” He was in a band called One Step Too Many and did so many weird projects, like country stuff. Before he joined Trapped Under Ice, he was always a part, always had influence on our writing and stuff. That attracted me to Brendan, just the creative vibes. Anything he touches is gold. Same thing with Sam [Trapkin] — he’s a creative genius. Diamond Youth is a super cool band.
Nice. What was the point for you when you were a kid where you just had to be in as many bands as possible?
Trying to work normal jobs, and while the money was good doing construction jobs, I just can’t be in the position where I have a boss that controls everything I do and I don’t have any say, don’t get to explore my mind creatively. So, doing the band is cool as far as keeping my sanity. I don’t think any of us are normal people — if you play in a band and tour that much and commit that much time to music — where, like, I’ll work odd jobs when I’m home, but I can’t work full-time or anything. I’m literally in my room writing music all day. That’s what I do. And when I don’t — like being on tour for the past two months — I feel like I’m going crazy because I haven’t been able to express myself musically to myself in my room with a guitar. I look forward to coming home after tour and splurging on music. [Laughs]
How many unreleased Justice Tripp tracks do you think exist?
Oh my god. So many records. So many records where I discuss with a friend, “Hey, let’s do this band, and sound like this,” and then we write music and it doesn’t go anywhere, whether it be my fault or theirs, 'cause life’s crazy. In my little iTunes library, I go back and look over ideas I had; I’d say there’s over a hundred unreleased Justice Tripp songs. And then Brendan does the same thing, but he’s even crazier. He’s got, like, multiple pop records of a weird pop boy band that he made up years ago. If you search hard, you can find a song or two he put up for fun, but a lot of people took it too seriously. It’s just a fun thing Brendan does when he’s at home alone. That man’s got ADD; he’s gotta be making music at all times. You can’t be in a band with him for five seconds without him making beats and banging on stuff or humming guitar riffs. He’s got an extensive library, for sure.
What’s the weirdest thing no one’s heard from you?
I try to write country music, but I’m not really good at it, to be honest. When I hear it, I feel like I’m a poser in the field of country music — like I like country music, more classic stuff, modern country. I think that’d be the weirdest and most awful thing for someone to listen to that’s not me.
What was like the switch for Angel Du$t? How did it conceptualize?
We were juggling a couple ideas with that group of people. We came onto the idea of what isn’t in represented in hardcore and punk rock as much, and I feel like a big defining factor is a lot of bands are heavily influenced by Cro-Mags. One of the coolest bands in the world. Obviously, Trapped Under Ice is very influenced by Cro-Mags, but exploring the idea of what if Cro-Mags never happened and people exclusively followed Bad Brains as the blueprint for hardcore. What would modern hardcore sound like if people went down that road where the music is a little more fun, less dark, a little more catchy and less hard, and with that came other influences. Lemonheads was pretty early, like the more melodic elements of that.
What I think really caught me with the new record was how it was able to sort of take your base elements in a hardcore song and sort of twist it around in a fun way into poppier music without becoming pop-punk, remaining its own thing.
That’s definitely something very conscious on our end. I think for me, I go to the hardcore show, and it isn’t always the case, but sometimes every band sounds the same even though the energy is there, and I don’t feel connected to the songs. Like a goal with Angel Du$t is to write songs that are cool and catchy and pull you in, but they have the live energy of a hardcore band. There’s definitely fans who listen to the band who aren’t fans of hardcore and don’t understand the energy element of it, and then they see it live and they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t expect that.” People treat it like a hardcore band live. We played This Is Hardcore yesterday and the reaction was insane.
But above all, I like [that] the atmosphere we create doesn’t turn violent. With Trapped Under Ice, a lot of people get broken noses and bones, weird stuff. For me, it was actually depressing because we toured a lot, seeing young people, having a little girl come up to you after a show with her nose broken and her being kind of bummed, but really excited to see you, made me feel so guilty and bad. Don’t get me wrong: I connect with that, and I grew up with that in Baltimore listening to heavy hardcore and getting my ass beat in a mosh pit. I loved that. I genuinely loved getting my ass beat and my teeth knocked out. But I don’t think people appreciated it the same way I did, or come to the show looking to get their ass beat. I don’t think anyone needs to be subjected to that. Obviously, it’s all relative to where you are and what you like, but if you’re at, like, a 100 Demons show in Connecticut, there’ll be some bumps and bruises, but it’s what you’re looking for. I like having the alternative of the Angel Du$t show anywhere; you can jump off the stage and hopefully be treated respectively.
I think it’s more welcoming for small people, and girls. Like I’ve heard people say, “Oh, that’s a girlfriend hardcore band” or something, which is a super corny thing to hear or say. I don’t mind being the girlfriend hardcore band because I don’t want to be the boyfriend hardcore band. I want to be the band that’s okay to like no matter who you are.
Is the perception towards the band cool everywhere? You’re doing tours with Terror and Power Trip. How do people react who don’t know you guys?
I feel like it was our first tour really diving into some heavier hardcore stuff. It’s a definite hardcore tour, that’s it. There’s still some people in that world who don’t think we’re a hardcore band; I don’t care about labels. But it was really good for us to solidify ourselves in that world. A lot of hardcore fans come up to me and are like, “I didn’t get it before, but now I get it.” It’s really cool to hear that.
I like what you do lyrically on the record. There’s a vibrancy to the emotions going on that color conflicts that would otherwise be black and white in a different genre. In “Rectify,” you’ve got a problem with some dude, but it’s played up for humor.
Yeah, make it a fun thing. Like, I’m really mad at a person and I want to do terrible things, but that’s been said a million times in hardcore and punk rock music. Like, how can I say that [so] that [it] isn’t contrived, and how can you make it a fun thing? I like “Boy, you musta bumped your head”; it’s a fun thing that you’d hear parents in neighborhoods say when you’re a kid. I guess it’s a serious topic, but you can always have fun with it.
Totally. And then you’ve got “Deep Love,” where you’re even flirty. Stuff like that is so rarely heard in a lot of heavier stuff. I imagine it’s got to be super exciting to be able to convey things like that with the band.
Yeah. I think people learn sexuality through art, and what’s acceptable through the media. They have strong ideas on what’s acceptable, what marriage is, what love is, and it becomes very boxed in by the media. I think the cool thing about hardcore and punk rock is it influences mainstream media every day. It truly does. A lot of great artists are just ripping off punk bands; you see it all the time in, like, fucking Old Navy ripping off a Converge T-shirt. You see big artists literally dressed by hardcore punks in hardcore punk gear. We have the ability to influence first the punk rock scene, and then eventually the world, very slowly. Obviously, I’m just one person and I only have so much leverage, but I think it’s cool to present sexuality in a song like "Deep Love" that talks about maybe not conventional sexual ideas. It’s not Britney Spears in schoolgirl outfits trying to entice you to fuck younger girls or some shit. It’s a song about experiencing deep love and that meaning multiple things, being penetrated.
There’s a lot of young hardcore boys influenced by manlier things, and they come here and are like, “Yo, it sounds like you’re singing about getting fucked, dude.” Like, maybe I am — what’s wrong with that? Maybe a couple kids will get something from that; that’s how you can impact the world. I think you can have a message without being super direct. Maybe you don’t put "Marriage Equality" as the name of the song, but you write about being comfortable with sexuality so one day you can influence those kinds of things. Every song you write is an opportunity to say something, whether it’s big or not, and I think it’s important to have something in a record. “Boy, you must’ve bumped your head” is fun and it’s real, but it’s cool to have something a little bigger in the spectrum of a record.
I’ve got to ask, what was up with the squatting dudes swinging their fists in the video for "Toxic Boombox"?
That was me! Creating a freaky dance. My girlfriend actually made the video. She’s really into illustration, very talented, and was like, “Send me videos of you guys doing silly dances and stuff,” and it’s funny, all my silly dance contributions were stolen off of my friend Kenny. And it’s funny — he messaged me afterwards joking, like, “Man, you didn’t think I’d notice you stole all my dance moves just because you were animated?” I gotta give Kenny credit for his creative dance style.
What made you want to start Popwig Records?
I think a lot of labels in general want to fill a niche and they box themselves in, and they isolate themselves from the bigger picture. But me, Dan [Fang] and Brendan all have pretty strong ideas on music in general. So, I hear, like, punk bands [and] hip-hop artists push the limits of those genres. I feel like they all come from the same place and make me feel the same way. I think we wanted to showcase those kinds of bands; like, the first release was from Angel Du$t, obviously, and then we followed it up with Odd Man Out, the straight-edge hardcore band. And then we’re doing Turnstile, who push the boundaries of what hardcore does. I’d like to bring those genres together. When you’re younger, people expect you to sign onto some subgenre; like, you gotta be straight-edge youth crew kids, and do this, dye your hair. Like, why? Why can’t I be Justice, and you be whoever you are as a listener, and enjoy all these things that come from alternative underground music?