Artist Spotlight: Militarie Gun – Our Culture
Ian Shelton formed Militarie Gun in the spring of 2020, which should immediately tell you something about the impetus behind the project: When everything came to a halt and Shelton had to cancel a tour with his other band, the powerviolence outfit Regional Justice Center, he wrestled with the uncertainty by getting right back to work – even if it meant doing it alone. He wrote and performed the entirety of Militarie Gun’s first EP, My Life Is Over, which came out in September that year, before expanding the band to include guitarists Nick Cogan and William Acuña, drummer Vince Nguyen, and bassist Max Epstein. With influences ranging from Black Flag to Guided by Voices, Shelton used Militarie Gun as a space where the abrasiveness that came to define Regional Justice Center – which is named after the jail where Shelton’s brother was incarcerated in his late teens – could co-exist with the introspective lyricism, melodic sensibility, and openness to experimentation that were beginning to seep into his work.
The result was a pair of EPs brimming with cathartic hooks, All Roads Lead to the Gun and All Roads Lead to the Gun II, both released last year. Newly signed to Loma Vista, Militarie Gun have just put out a deluxe version of the record, which features four new songs, including the early single ‘Let Me Be Normal’. The rest of the previously unreleased tracks see the band embracing the collaborative spirit we first got a taste of with ‘Pressure Cooker’, their infectious joint single with Virginia powerpop artist Dazy: there’s the fiery ‘Can’t Get None’ with MSPAINT’s Deedee and two tracks featuring the Vancouver band Woolworm, ‘I Can’t Stand Busy People’ and ‘Pull It Out’. They all showcase a different side of a band that already seemed intent not to follow any predetermined path, though it’s always a joy to hear where the next one takes them.
We caught up with Militarie Gun’s Ian Shelton for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about getting into hardcore, his creative process, the deluxe edition of All Roads Lead to the Gun, and more.
You’ve been on tour for most of the past year now. What’s your headspace like at the moment?
We know it’s our time to grind and try to make people realize that we exist, so we go out there as often as we can and try to fight for people’s attention. I hope at some point down the line that there can be a more relaxed pace for touring in the future, but as of right now, I’m just in the mindset of doing what needs to be done to get where we want to go. And ultimately, my lifestyle I think fits best on tour. It feels like the appropriate amount of work every day, and my brain doesn’t really wander. I feel very at peace on tour, where at home I get way restless. [laughs] When you want your job to be making music, if you’re not playing music that day, it’s like, “Well, what is my job? What is my purpose?”
Was that kind of lifestyle part of what drew you to hardcore in the first place? How do you look back on your early days in the scene?
It’s always stuck out to me how communal and energetic it is, and how much there’s an energy transfer between the audience and the band. My first hardcore shows were Ceremony, and I remember feeling at peace with the world after expressing the craziest amount of violence and energy and jumping off of something and hurting other people by accident. Something about it made me feel peaceful in my normal life. That energy transfer and that emotional transfer between artists and audience happens probably across all genres, but I think it happens in a very specific way within hardcore and punk. And that same feeling that was right there at the beginning of everything is still there – and probably more so than ever, now that hardcore has kind of been branching out more and more.
You grew up on punk, but you’ve also talked about gravitating to indie rock. In your own listening habits, did you ever draw a line between those genres and what they served for you? Was there a separation in what they helped channel or how you experienced them?
To me, there is no separation. It just felt like “This is what you also like with this,” because the scene of kids that I was involved in also loved Modest Mouse as much as they loved Black Flag. You know, when I went and saw Modest Mouse when I was in high school, I climbed on everyone’s heads and made people upset. So to me, it always felt hand in hand, and the emotion that comes from both is very similar – obviously, one is like an under-the-skin, driving-you-crazy feeling, where indie rock provides something a lot more introspective and less immediate in its incarnation of reaction. But to me, there was never a point where I was like, “Oh, no, I’m into hardcore now, so I don’t like XY and Z anymore.” Because I started with street punk and before I ever got into indie rock, so around the time that I was getting into indie rock was around the same time I was finding all the rest of hardcore as far as contemporary hardcore and things like that. There’s never separation to me.
Are there any styles that you’re drawn to besides hardcore and indie rock that maybe aren’t as obvious?
I listen to vastly different stuff on any given day, but as far as the reflection of the band, I think that hardcore and indie rock are the two cornerstones. I try to find different ways in which to take influence from from hip hop that are not sound things, but the way that artists in basically any other genre besides rock collaborate with each other is a huge influence. I wish that rock bands weren’t so set in their way of like, “We do a record every two to three years, and it’s just a reflection of us in that moment.” Whereas, I think we all could be making music together and expanding our sounds and finding something new. And maybe you try something with someone else and it doesn’t work for your own songs, but still gets to exist within the canon of your band. You can do so much more with other people’s voices and other people’s vibe, and you can explore the way that you fit within a different subsect of a subgenre. I’m really inspired by that, and I just wish that rock music in general was more influenced by that. Even with folk musicians, collaboration is super common. But once you get into amplified rock music, no one’s down to work together, and I don’t understand why.
Before we get to your own collaborations, when it comes to the band’s process outside of that context, do you have conversations about how to straddle that line?
Not really, the process is more just being open to everything and every possibility of what a song could be, and embracing the way that my voice might change the feeling of a song. So what might feel like an indie rock or a classic rock song to me, you put my yelling over it, and it’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s a hardcore song now.” Sometimes the song doesn’t work, in which case it’ll never see the light of day. But otherwise, it’s just the process of what the natural chemistry between all of the ingredients is.
Does there always have to be that moment of, “Yeah, that’s a hardcore song now,” regardless of what your definition of that is? Is that an essential part of the process?
Not at all. I don’t really have too much of a concern with the concept of whether or not something is hardcore at all. And honestly, the goal is to create something wholly unique within the scene of hardcore. I think that stays true to the original identity of the genre, versus doing something that’s traditional. And I think that the mark of doing something traditional, which would be the concept of, “Oh, this has to be more or less hardcore,” would be boring. I think that hardcore will always come across in our energy and our attitude, and I don’t think that it really has anything to do with the sonic profile of the band because I don’t think that that’s a defining trait of hardcore. The concept that hardcore is a purely traditional genre is the most boring concept to me, and I think it’s actually what actively deters people from getting into the music instead of broadening the genre and making it more interesting. It doesn’t have to be fast, hard breakdown, it doesn’t have to be any one thing. It could be everything. You listen to the genre inventors – you know, Bad Brains had reggae songs, and they’re a hardcore band. The genre can be literally anything, is really the attitude that I have towards everything.
Something that struck me about the collaborations with both Dazy and MSPAINT is that rather than leaning more on the style of one band, they seem to aim for a more pure kind of collaboration. Did you approach those songs with a similar mindset?
With working with Dazy, it was very much me wanting to play within his sound and his world. He played everything on that song, and by all means, you could take me off that song and it’s just a Dazy song. I tried to spice it up in my own ways, but that was that was really playing within his sound and vibe and just trying to bring something to it myself. The song with MSPAINT is more so inspired by the spirit of a band like MSPAINT, and in the end it was like, “You know who would be perfect to be on the song, is Deedee from MSPAINT.” So that song started as wholly its own thing before MSPAINT’s involvement. And because I was trying to do something different other than the voice of Militiarie Gun, it felt really natural to bring in a collaborator to make it make more sense and have it not be like, “Oh, this is just a Militarie Gun song.” Because people will go, “That’s a weird Militarie Gun song.” But it’s not a weird Militarie Gun MSPAINT song, because that involvement makes all of the different factors make sense. It provides a lens to look at it through.
In both cases, it’s a chance for you to mess with and be part of a different sound in a way that makes sense and is also just exciting.
That’s the hope in the whole thing, is that I get to explore something new without making people feel like, “Oh, you’ve changed your entire sound, you’ve tried to isolate everybody” or something. I think it shares with the audience that we’re experimenting with things, we’re trying things. No one thing is going to be our sound, no one thing is going to be a significant change. I mean, ‘Can’t Get None’ has been a song for two years with exactly that verse and exactly that chorus, and Deedee from MSPAINT just got on the song two months ago. So, I think a lot of it is feeling out what’s intuitive and waiting for the right moment is. A very similar thing with ‘Pressure Cooker’, that song was completed, just sitting there for probably the better part of a year, and then we went, “You know what? This feels like the right moment to release this song.” And we put it out into the world at that moment, and it seemed to be reciprocated.
It feels like, reception-wise, people are a lot more open-minded about bands embracing that idea – whether it’s bringing in more melodic elements or any kind of experimentation.
Yeah, it just seems like everyone is down to not play the traditional game, really. I think everyone was underserviced by what was happening pre-COVID, where things were purely traditional, and people are really embracing this concept that you can do whatever you want. And I think everyone in general is looking for something a little bit catchy and a little bit more vibey. It just seems like a great time where audiences are willing to take a gamble on bands trying things. And with that, I think that we’ve had a great run of bands that have paved the way for bands to try new sounds. You know, Ceremony was a hardcore band and then changed their sound and had a lot of people hate that, and had probably even more people love it than hate it. And their gambles pave the way for all of us coming up to experiment and do what they did sooner in our in our lifetimes as bands. We don’t have to be a traditional hardcore band and change to something else. We’re just never going to be a traditional hardcore band, and audiences are like, “I have the concept of this, I can’t understand it.”
How did the tracks with Woolworm come about?
Again, those were just sitting around and I had the instrumentals for a long time. Woolworm is a band who I toured with right before the pandemic, they’re a huge influence on the start of the band and me wanting to do something more melodic. I was really nervous about at first because it was just so soft, and it didn’t really feel like a Military Gun song necessarily. After we did ‘I Can’t Stand Busy People’ and it worked so well, I was like, let’s give them this one as well and see if they can transform it. And to me, the second verse that they do in the song is just incredible and completely took the song over the top. Being a big fan of them made me think that they were the right people, and it just worked. And that’s another huge part of the collaborations, is like, “I’m a fan of this band, and you should know it as well.”
What are the origins of ‘Let Me Be Normal’? Is it a hint of where you might want to take things next?
Yeah, ‘Let Me Be Normal’ was the only one that was written more recently. And with that, we had all of the experience and knowledge that writing an entire LP in between gives you, and so it was a good chance to be like, “Oh, we can write a song that has more skilled hands behind it.” I think that the big mark of All Roads Lead to the Gun was that, to me, I was making something that I thought was a lot more pop and a lot more catchy, but I didn’t have the skills to do something that was wholly catchy and poppy. Which I think is a huge part of the whole thing with punk music, which is unskilled musicians trying to make something beyond their means, and falling short but making something new and unique. But ‘Let Me Be Normal’ was a song that has a lot more songwriting experience behind it than other All Roads Lead to the Gun songs. It was nice, because it was a chance to give a peek behind the curtain to what’s coming.
Do you feel equally connected to the EP songs now, given also that a lot of the lyrics were improvised in the moment? Has your lyrical approach changed between then and a song like ‘Let Me Be Normal’?
No, that’s still the process. It’s all meant to be very stream of consciousness, and trying to tap into what I’m trying to say that I don’t know that I want to say. You know, “Let me be normal” is a statement I make constantly. I’ll say, “God, I just wish I can be normal.” And that’s across all facets of my life, but largely has to do with my upbringing and just wishing that you could be be un-fucked up by the past. But it but it’s not possible, and I’ll always be the person I am due to it. So, I think whatever I was going through the day that I wrote largely has to do with, I just wish I had the same problems as other people instead of the ones that I actually do. It’s always the process of just not knowing that something’s bothering me, and then all of a sudden I have a whole song about how something’s bothering me.
And with that, the connection to the All Roads Lead to the Gun songs doesn’t change at all, because those things that were boiling up at the time that I was writing those songs are just as relevant now. And I think that the sum total of the themes is about inevitability. ‘Ain’t No Flowers’ is a very spiteful song, and ‘Big Disappointment’ is a song about wanting to be free of spite. And both those things live in me every day: I am spiteful, and I wish that I was better at letting things go. And because I’ll always – unless I somehow hit my head and change who I am, I don’t think I’ll ever not wrestle with the concept of both those things. I just really treat it as an active lens to view my life. All those lyrics, I try to hold them up against my actions constantly. “I try to live my life with nothing to hide and no one to fight.” I try to have that be the motto of my life.
What can you tell me about the story of signing with Loma Vista, and what does it mean for you to be part of their roster?
Loma Vista was a label that I wanted to be with for a long time. We honestly said no to a lot of other things because I had my eye on it, and it took a long time. And for good reason. I think it was that time for us to grow into being a band that needs resources. At the time that I originally was interested in the label, we were definitely way more of a hardcore band and didn’t need a lot of resources. We had to go out and build our own resources and become a better band to get where we are now. And I think that they saw that change happen and were like, “Alright, let’s fucking go.” I think that they’re an incredible label. It’s incredibly diverse – it seems to reflect a lot of my own taste and the way that I process music. And with that, I think it’s a label that understands hardcore, but also likes when things are more than hardcore. And that is the hope, not to just do something traditional and boring. It’s to do something new and exciting, and I think they understand that.
Are you excited to put out more music with them?
Yeah, I can’t wait. We’ve been working on a lot of music. We’re promoting the current record, so I don’t wanna speak too much on the future. But we’re ready, and we’re excited to get moving on all these other songs that we’ve been working on for two years and getting them right.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Militarie Gun’s All Roads Lead to the Gun (Deluxe) is out now via Loma Vista.