This Friday, 29 June, will see the release of the prolific Self Defense Family’s sixth album Have You Considered Punk Music. The record constitutes a serious consideration of the paths we take in life and why, as well as an exploration of ideas about art and truth, and why we bother with either. In places, it’s a brighter listen than fans might be used to, though the whole record is narrated via the inimitable perspective of frontman Patrick Kindlon, rooting it firmly in the band’s tradition. I called Kindlon last week to discuss this dense, stimulating piece of work, which you can stream in advance of its release below, as well as reading his take on each track:
Noisey: Hey Patrick. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the individual tracks, I’m interested in talking about the themes that you were pursuing this time around. Can you just firstly sum what the record is attempting to do or say?
Patrick Kindlon: It’s hard to talk about without sounding old. But it’s a lot of the band as a whole reflecting on our interests from when we were kids to now, and how much overlap there is and what that says about us. It’s possible that we haven’t grown an incredible amount. You know, I still really enjoy barking in front of a room of 200 people, and that’s not everybody in their 30s. It’s a lot of reflecting on how much time and energy you give to a thing that is really of no consequence to 99% of people.
“The Supremacy of Pure Artistic Feeling”
Immediately, this feels like an evolution – it feels looser than your previous output. What was the writing process like on this song, and also in general for the record?
This time we had at least the frameworks for songs, and then just added to them when we got to the studio. I never write ahead of time, I only write in the studio, which is kind of irresponsible, but I benefit a lot from the stress and pressure of knowing that I’m wasting money. I’m not going to lie, it’s not the most effective way to be a band, or efficient, but it’s the only one we’re good at.
I’m really interested in the way that women are framed on this song. There are references to your girlfriend and mother, and it seems to centre around the idea that the things that you’re making are dominant in your life regardless of the intensity of anything else that’s going on. I’m wondering whether you think that’s a specifically male position to be able to speak from from?
I don’t know if it is a strictly male position, but I will say it probably, in some respect, is tied to a traditionally male role. I think that in our songs for maybe ten years now, I’ve often sung about how I’d like to do more for the women in my life, and how bad I am at that. So this is kind of an extension of that, but it’s a little bit more self-reflective, and a little bit more focussing on maybe why I’m bad at that. It’s a very interesting conversation that I’m glad to be a part of, because right now traditional masculinity is, for good reason, up for a lot of scrutiny. And I thought that I was one of those people that was likewise scrutinising it, but what I’m being told by a lot of people that are processing our music, is that if I have a role in that conversation, it’s maybe further towards the masculine than I thought.
“Certainty of Paradise”
One of the things that I think is so wonderful about this album is that your voice is more expressive than before – and that’s very apparent on this song. I wondered what led you to experiment with singing, and different tones and so on?
I have tried to rip off artists my entire career, but because I’m so bad at it, it comes off as its own thing. Song to song, I’m shooting for like, a The The thing, or a Bonny Prince Billy thing, or whatever. I’m always trying to do somebody else’s voice and I’m just very bad at it. So this time, the engineer wanted me to try everything, as long as I was willing to try it 50 times to do it correctly. It made for ultimately a really fulfilling process but also like you said, I think the record is more expressive than anything we’ve done.
“No Analog Nor Precedent”
I’m so fascinated by the ideas about intentionality on this track. Are the specifics of a piece of art as important as what someone takes away from it?
What I think is interesting about that, as a lyricist, is that I try to include specifics in songs to make people feel grounded, to make people feel like they’re there, and also for myself, because it ties me to very specific emotions. But equally, time is going to leave my intention in the dust, whereas the song might exist in the future, but my explanation for the song most likely will not. There’s some measure of forfeiture there: I have to give up the idea that I have control over people’s interpretations.
“Watcher at the Well”
The thing that really struck me here was that lyric, “I like to see for myself / I like to touch it without gloves.” I feel like there’s a lot here about really getting to the essence of things and understanding them. Is interrogating ideas about truth an aim of this record?
Yes. Right now we’re very busy people and we get a lot of stimuli all day, and we can only process so much. And we end up walking through our day with a lot of half truths because we don’t have time to question what somebody else told us. As I get older, I’m starting to find that to be a scarier idea. There’s more to people’s story than what you get talking around a water cooler, and I think that for me, what I guess was always important my whole life is that I prefer to see first hand, whenever possible. This song has a lot to do with that.
"Nobody Who Matters Cares"
Instrumentally this track has such a lift, it feels like a reprise on the record. I like the simplicity of the repeated refrain, but at the same time the specifics of those words make it so complicated. It feels sort of like a moment of realisation.
It is a pleasant song. I grew up listening to hardcore and punk, and the thing that I didn’t love about it, and still don’t, is its insistence on being earnest. It always has to be sincere, it’s what its audience requires. But I always liked the Albini bands, I like Big Black, and Killdozer is another good example. They were serious but they weren’t earnest, so they could be sardonic, and they could look at something from a cynical point of view, and mock it. And that’s a thing I’ve done more on this record than most, which is when we did hit on a nice, traditionally pleasant song, I had to undermine it by making it a little bit more cynical than all that.
“Have You Considered Punk Music”
I guess this song gets to the heart of the record: this idea of punk as something that you do, and then just keep doing as you go through your adult life. Would you agree that this track is the real crux of the album?
Yeah, I do. This song is largely talking about the mythology of types of music that have scenes around them. In my case that’s hardcore punk music which has a lot of personalities, a lot of mythologies. It grips you and it brings you in as a kid, and then you see how much of it is goofy bullshit, but you still love it. I can sit here and make fun of it, but I keep coming back to it. It’s like if I was dating a dude who refused to get a job, I could sit here and be like “This motherfucker is never gonna amount to anything.” And then I go home to him. I hope people take it in the right spirit.
“Have You Considered Anything Else”
I think anyone who grew up in punk and hardcore can relate – you do always go back, even though most of it sucks. I think that’s why I find this next song so interesting. It kind of felt to me like that moment when I was younger, of realising “Oh yeah, there is other shit.” In your view, how does this track function?
Lyrically, this one is about my girlfriend and I’s relationship, through the framework of what we listen to. I’ve learned about so many things by virtue of partners that I’ve had, because you spend so much time with them and you’re so close with them that if there’s something that they value, you want to explore it – you want to know why it’s meaningful to them. So the song is about our very different personalities and how what we listen to is indicative of that, but also about how, as I get older, I expand my palate by seeing other people’s enthusiasm.
To me, this song goes back to truth. What it seems to be saying to me is that in behaviours and the ways we act, there’s some fundamental, shared truths.
This song is about masculinity, and accepting that maybe you are stuck in a framework like that. It’s self-critical but also self-aware, and I don’t know where self-accepting falls in there. Maybe if you’re self-critical in some respects that is self-acceptance. I did go digging for some fundamental truths on this one, but not about the world, just about myself.
“Slavish Devotion to Form”
I think that even if someone says they’re looking for objective answers, they’re always doing that through their very subjective lens. I think everything is about the person who made it. That’s why I like the idea on this song of wanting to engage with the world on the terms that you personally set out, rather than terms that the world asks you to meet it on.
Lauren, I’m a child. This has worked out for me, I do things that I want with my life, but it really could have gone the other way because I just have a complete refusal to behave like an adult. A lot of my friends are parents with careers and I’m probably ten years behind on my career. And that doesn’t bother me at all. But it could’ve gone the other way – because a lot of people who can’t grow up end up in really bad situations, and it’s only by luck that I’m not there myself. When I made this record there was a lot of reflection on that.
“The Right Kind of Adult”
I feel very strongly that this record has a trajectory of ideas that comes to a final point at the end on this track, and I wondered whether that was something intentional, or whether it was just a virtue of the ideas that have been explored?
I agree with you. It wasn’t written that way, it was put together that way. We realised that there was a definite sort of arc to the thing. It wasn’t the intention at the outset, but in the end when we were listening back to everything, it was like puzzle pieces. And ending with something that is kind of morose, kind of forgiving, kind of self-aware felt like a good way to sum up a lot of what’s on the album.