Remember the first punk band you fell in love with? Can you recall how liberating it was to sing along to words you believed in and what it was like to share a sense of community with complete strangers? Yes, before punk rock was co-opted by major labels, six-figure marketing campaigns, and corporate sponsors, all of us could probably name one band be it Black Flag or Operation Ivy who were responsible for getting us into this punk rock in the first place. For the past seven years, Strike Anywhere have kept that spirit alive for the latest generation of non-complacent youths and Dead FM is their masterpiece.
Formed in Richmond, Virginia in 1999, the band’s current and only lineup singer Thomas Barnett, guitarists Matt Sherwood and Matt Smith, bassist Garth Petrie, and drummer Eric Kane have been sharpening their distinctive brand of melodic punk rock punctuated by their 2001 debut LP, Change Is A Sound. However, while 2003’s Exit English was well-received in the press and helped them reach a wider audience via appearances the Warped Tour and tours with acts like Anti-Flag, Dead FM is a return to form for the band; and with the help of longtime producer Brian McTernan, the band were able to capture the explosive energy of their live shows while also writing the strongest songs of their career.
“Exit English was written in three months and Dead FM was written in three years”, Barnett explains. Recorded without the pressure of a strenuous recording schedule, Dead FM’s recording process recalls the band’s early material (which were chronicled on last year’s To Live In Discontent compilation). “We spent nine months away from each other after the Warped Tour, and then we’d meet up on the weekends and write songs because we chose to, not because we had to, so Dead FM shows us getting into different styles and exploring different sounds.”
Lyrically, Strike Anywhere have become known for their intense social and political critiques, and while those themes are developed further and fiercer on Dead FM, the songs are grounded and strengthened by a biographical candor that is inclusive enough for those of us unfamiliar with Noam Chomsky to comprehend. “Punk saved my life”, Barnett explains. “But the metaphors on this disc are drawn out enough for everyone to relate to, because it doesn’t make sense for me to pontificate about my own problems if they’re not able to help or heal someone else with their issues in the world and the way they’ve been treated.”
From the opening scream of “Sedition” (which chronicles Barnett’s grandfather’s unknowing role in the Manhattan Project) to “House Arrest” (which is probably the catchiest song ever written about being unjustly incarcerated), Dead FM chronicles actual experiences instead of relying on empty slogans. However, like all of Strike Anywhere’s music, there’s a red thread of hopefulness imbedded in the album’s storied themes. While Barnett understandably wants to “Get the fuck out of here!” while stuck with his band mates in a jail cell in Japan three years ago, the very next sentence he admits, “I walk this wasteland with you and it’s the least I can do.”
But ultimately Strike Anywhere aren’t martyrs, nor do they claim to be. They’re simply trying to give back to a community that changed their lives and these days that means singing about their friendships and commitment to the punk subculture. “The catharsis is as real as it ever needed to be on Dead FM, and we really put our hearts into this record”, Barnett sums up. “If we can offer something, if anything, to the world that means the world to us, then we’ve already succeeded.”