Where has all the political punk rock gone? In an age of emo revivals and “commercial metalcore” (whatever that means), it’s easy to wonder whether or not anyone cares about making a good old-fashioned punk rock statement anymore.
Fortunately, even if message-centric music never makes a full resurgence in major punk circles, we’ll always have letlive. The Los Angeles four-piece has penned tunes with purpose for over a decade now, and as singer Jason Butler explains it, the project serves as more of an artistic proving ground than a band at this point.
“We’ve just been sort of ever evolving,” he says in a recent phone interview, “trying to create real ideas and soulful punk rock music. We’re pretty visceral, and at times aggressive, and at times pretty beautiful.”
All of those words accurately describe the band’s latest album If I’m the Devil
. The record’s 11 tracks contain a variety of musical styles spanning a good portion of the punk spectrum, using multi-instrumentalism and creative song structures to deliver a feeling of freshness and variation on every track.
As to how they reached such a lofty artistic height, Butler stresses the collaborative nature of letlive.’s writing process — as well as the loose set of guidelines band members had for themselves.
“We’re able to experiment a little more accurately and efficiently with other styles of music,” he says. “I think that with this record specifically we were able to really shed ourselves of any presupposition or reticence when writing. We felt like we didn’t have to follow many lines or parameters. We tried to forget about all that and just write a good record.”
A good record, unsurprisingly to those familiar with 2013’s The Blackest Beautiful
and 2011’s Fake History
, is exactly what they managed to come up with. An infectious creative energy that radiates off of every track. Album highlights “Good Mourning, America” and “A Weak Ago” showcase the band at their best — melodically diverse, sonically colorful and barreling forward with the energy of a freight train.
The pace is impressive, too, given the tough task of shouldering the weight of Butler’s lyrical content. His trademark style comes off as honest and strongly political; however, his sense of eloquence and grace with words is often underrated. Equal parts caustic and clever, lines like “Just so you know/Instead of be held, I’d rather behold” (“Who You Are Not”) and “We’re not so different now, are we?/Said the cop to the killer inside of me” (“Good Mourning, America”) are great examples of his talent.
“I figured out a more efficient method to explain what it is I’ve observed politically and socially, and everything from policy to social constructs,” says Butler of his lyrical style. “I feel no need to mitigate anything that I say. I feel no need to hold back or pull any punches because in the end all we’re really left with is a sort of bated version of the truth, and that’s not really going to help anybody.”
Perhaps the medium through which the band’s message shines the most, though, is its live show. Those who have never experienced a letlive. performance before may be shocked at the sheer force the band exhibits on stage.
“We take time to understand that it’s a privilege and you should utilize that privilege to expel and express and exhibit the things that people may not otherwise understand unless you were on that stage,” Butler explains. “Passion and trying to go a bit further beyond most live boundaries — I think that’s why we do it.”
Freedom of expression and the unobstructed flow of ideas are two concepts that letlive. tries to encourage through its music, lending itsefl to the “open forum” that Butler says the band tries to create live.
“When we’re on stage,” he says, “we don’t really have much to worry about or much concern about what’s gonna happen next. [We’re] just living then and there. I think maybe that transitions into those that understand letlive.”
"Understanding" letlive. is something those who have a hankering for the accessible yet message-driven punk of yesteryear may find surprisingly rewarding.
Letlive., Seahaven, Night Verses, 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 12, Agora Ballroom, 5000 Euclid Ave., 216-881-2221. Tickets: $15 ADV, $17 DOS, agoracleveland.com.