As heroic elders of the 1980s posicore genre alongside brethren like Uniform Choice and later Insted, 7 Seconds replaced hardcore punk's sheer bellicosity, anti-government sloganeering and stiff ideology with tuneful melodies, deep pockets of personal conscience, and a stalwart sense of hope. Beginning as skinheads forming a community in Reno, known for its steady gambling, easy divorces and arid desert, they soon became stalwarts of a West Coast second-wave insurrection, joining the roster at BYO Records. The band also maintained their own label, Positive Force, which helped launch Youth of Today and Verbal Assault.
7 Seconds' tunes evolved over time from terse, forceful, straight-edge pleas ("Drug Control") to increasingly pop-tinged singalongs steering punks towards unity ("Walk Together, Rock Together"), social and environmental justice ("Regress No Way" and "Satyagraha"), pro-women stances ("Not Just Boys Fun"), racial tolerance ("Colour Blind") and much more. In the late 1980s, as punk often became mired in gang wars and ultraviolence, the group sought softer musical traits but never fled the scene or became sloths.
Re-energized since their late-1990s return-to-form Good to Go, 7 Seconds has just released a new album, Leave a Light On. The band remains a candle lighting a path of resilience, a reminder of punk's potential to guide people's spirits and not just sweaty bodies. Rocks Off's David Ensminger caught up with singer Kevin Seconds before their first jaunt to Texas since the mid-2000s, which pulls into Walters Downtown Saturday night.
Rocks Off: Did the band have any reservations gigging in Russia, given the repression of Pussy Riot, or did you feel that was an even greater incentive to engage the scene there? Kevin Seconds: We carefully considered all the reasons to not go before we finally decided to do it. Russia doesn't have a good track record on gay rights, and that concerned us greatly. We talked with friends of ours from other bands like Madball and H2O, and they all had great things to say about Russia.
What really sold it for me was getting this incredibly warm, passionate, thoughtful letter from the promoter trying to get us to come over. He expressed how much it would mean to all of the people in the punk-rock and hardcore community there who do not agree with their government's views and laws. It seemed more important for us to play there and share our music and views than to be just one more band boycotting an entire nation for the fucked-up deeds and views of politicians.
I mean, coming from the U.S., it's pretty hard to rail against the bad shit other governments pull when ours isn't much better.
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Given the wave of gay-marriage legalization in the U.S. and changing cultural attitudes, do you feel the band was ahead of the curve, re: songs like "Regress No Way"? I became aware of the persecution of gay people in my country early in my life and once I did, I felt strongly about speaking out against it. It wasn't easy. Not in the late '70s and '80s. I had friends and even people in my family who couldn't grasp how I could be so accepting of and sensitive to my gay brothers and sisters.
My uncle, my mom's brother, was gay. As far back as when I was about six or seven, I remember he and his partner feeling the pressure of not being out and living openly. My mom would tell me these stories about how their father -- my grandfather, who was like a hero to me -- would chastise and physically abuse his only son for being a homosexual, and that affected me deeply.
It always seemed so unreal and horrible to me. I always thought that is was important to speak out against homophobia within the hardcore/punk rock community. Right from the start.
On the new album, tunes like "Slogan on a Shirt" stand out. As Kevin told Punknews.org about the new generation, "The anger's there and the posturing too, but there's no real defined message." How does one kindle more than a slogan, 34 years later? I don't know exactly. Despite my rep, I tend to be a pretty cynical and grumpy guy. Some days I wake up and I just want to scream and go out and punch the first guy I see on the streets. It's extremely hard to maintain a positive mental attitude when you're starving and struggling and not doing well in your work life or family life or love life.
Ultimately, though, I've gotten pretty good at talking myself down and finding the will and energy to carry on. Then you get a good night's sleep, eat a good meal, see a great band or get laid and BAM, everything seems great again (hahaha).
The band's anti-war stance and skepticism of right-wing media and blind patriotism, evoked on "Your Hate Mentality," has been continuous. Has punk done enough to become the media? It has, but I'm not so sure it is much better than your average mainstream media source. It seems that everyone becomes co-opted and corrupt the minute they become popular.
Story continues on the next page.
What was it about bands like Sham 69 that resonated so powerfully with kids in Reno, Nev., rather than say, classic FM rock of the day? If you think about it, a band that sounds like Sham 69 makes perfect sense to kids weaned on and bored shitless with shit like REO Speedwagon and Peter Frampton. You can listen and learn how to play their songs within minutes. It felt inclusive and understanding and righteous. They had a message, as simple and naive as it was. It called out to young people like my friends and me.
The band has fought hard over the years for to discuss women's roles; as the band has aged, married, and had children, does gender equality become even more sharply defined? I don't know how to answer that, really. Surely, it's better for women now than it was 30 and 40 years ago, but yeah, sexism is still ever-present. You see it ten times a day.
I never had an issue with the empowerment of women or equal rights for them. I was raised by a single mother, grew up around an intelligent and fiercely independent sister, and all through my life my best friends have been women. I thoroughly love being around them and working and conspiring with them. Those that don't or can't are idiots and are missing out.
7 Seconds recorded a few times at Inner Ear studios in Washington D.C. in the era of Revolution Summer. Did you feel inspired by its merging of punk, politics, and protest actions, especially since Positive Force DC were, in fact, inspired by your Positive Force? It was a very unique and wonderful time and scene going on in D.C. Of course it was inspirational. I just loved the tremendous sense of community and activist spirit. It definitely made me want to educate myself more and become better at doing things that could make the world a better place.
On "Upgrade Everything," you address misplaced anger, while "Standing by Yourself" seems to tackle resilience and fortitude. For you, is that punk's long-lasting strength -- its ability to speak for self-determination and the benefit of rising above anger? Sure. I mean, punks will almost always get the job done. The smart, thoughtful ones do, anyway. We know how to make and do things and even if no one else will help, we can make things work and happen.
It's also not just some self-serving clusterfuck. There's always a bigger picture, a brighter day.
7 Seconds performs Saturday night at Walters, 1120 Naylor, with special guests the Copyrights, the Turnaways and Some Nerve. Doors open at 8 p.m.
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