Images can be deceptive. Well, sort of. A quick glance at Knoxville’s newest pure-punk hopes, The Disobedients, oftentimes leads to the easy assumption that the band is yet another in the long line of costume-perfect, early 1980s boots-and-bristles anachronists such as the Lower Class Brats, Unseen, Casualties, and umpteen others. Maybe it’s the Mohican hairdo that lead vocalist Jurmhole sports most of the time?
“We’ve played with bands that would be the centerfold stars if punk rock had its own version of GQ,” says Killjoy, the Disobedients’ surprisingly articulate guitarist. “But all that image stuff is really kind of trivial. Unless you’re deaf, I don’t think that our appearance is really that much of a concern for anyone at our shows.”
And then there’s the Disobedients’ subject matter. The band focuses on Beavis & Butt-head-esque humor that belies an undercurrent of personal politics. Sure, the band makes points about class and race struggles in their songs. But with titles like “Die Hippie Die Die,” “No Cop No More,” “PETA Bread,” and “Snot Meets Face,” well, sophomoric humor trumps social consciousness every time.
“We didn’t sit down and say, ‘we’re gonna sound like this,’ or ‘we’re gonna act like that,” says Killjoy. “The truth is, Jurmhole and I are really into anarchopunk like Flux of Pink Indians and the [UK] Subhumans. And there was a time in my life where I would read like seven newspapers a day. I’d get all mad and talk politics all day long. But that kind of stuff can easily cross over into being preachy. We’re all kind of cynical and contrary, and we just have more fun singing about yeast infections.”
All in their early 20s, the members of the Disobedients were probably around, um, minus two years of age when their primary influences, bands like GBH, the Dead Kennedys and the Circle Jerks, were cranking out their first proto-hardcore anthems. Yes, the sounds of the band’s two e.p.’s, Getta Whiffa Dis and the subsequent, to be released later this week Lets Go Ride Bikes (Disobedients/Oversat Records) are rooted in firstwave thrash/hardcore, but don’t let this all-too-easy pigeonholing fool you. Like it says on the band’s website (www.Disobedients.com), “we play what we want.” And they play it well. With a firm underpinning provided by bassist Longbear and drummer Jere, the band hammers down each and every track with the kind of stop-on-a-dime accuracy that would make any speed metal band (and Mama) proud.
But the big surprise delivered by the Disobedients is their unabashed optimism. We’re not talking about the prefab panderings of “positive” punk bands like Youth of Today and the straight-edge crew, but more of an unfocused benevolence that applies to anyone who will give the band a listen, subgenre affiliation be damned.
“I remember being in junior high and going to all-ages shows where it felt like I had a real connection with the bands,” raves Killjoy. “And when we started playing; I don’t think that any of us had any idea that we’d get such a positive reception from so many different people. We just thought that we’d put out a CD, gross a couple of people out, and move on.”
Paying their proverbial dues, the band follows the DIY approach to the letter by handling every aspect of their releases on their own. What’s more, their CDs are free for the asking, postage paid. And, for the July 21 all-ages show at Old City Java, the band will reward its fans with free T-shirts and buttons as well.
“We kind of wanted to give back and do something nice, so we’re gonna have a bunch of free merch available at the show,” says Killjoy. “We’re very good at figuring out cheap ways to do everything, but everything we do is paid for by our own money. It’s insane how much we work on this, but it pays off ’cause we’re all having a great time hanging out and doing the band.”
So the Disobedients are just a bunch of sweethearts, right? Yes and no. With the aggressiveness and sarcasm requisite for great punk rock, the band piles on the vitriol at every possible moment, rankling many members of the surprisingly stiff-shirted PC punk contingent in the process.
“I expected a bit of the backlash because we can definitely go over the line sometimes,” says Killjoy. “I mean, PETA is kind of a sacred cow for a lot of people. Hey, I made a pun! But I think everybody is in on the joke, and at the core of it we’re just having some laughs. Honestly, if somebody takes it the wrong way, I don't care."