Ian Shelton has made a name for himself in the heavy music community as the drummer and vocalist for Regional Justice Center, a furious powerviolence group with a firm, informed focus on prison reform. 2020, however, has put the songwriter on a prolific new chapter via the creation of a new group called Militarie Gun.
Militarie Gun began this past spring just as RJC had to cancel a bunch of shows, owing to the ongoing pandemic. He and RJC bassist Steph Jerkova quickly wrote the strong, stomping “Kept Talkin’”, but the rest of the project’s debut EP, My Life Is Over, has a more pronounced, melodic approach, albeit through the lens of groove-driven hardcore. Part of this naturally comes down to the riffs, but Shelton has also pivoted from delivering full-force, foghorn howls towards a more tuneful rasp.
Gut Feeling caught up with Ian to talk about pushing his voice in a whole new direction, his also-new S.W.A.T. project with Self Defense Family vocalist Patrick Kindlon, and how modern hardcore screamers could arguably stand to dial down the vocal aggression just a smidge.
This interview has been edited and condensed
When it comes to your vocal presence, Militarie Gun is quite different than the screams you bring to Regional Justice Center. What can you say about your relationship with your voice, and how you first discovered you could sing?
Ian Shelton: I definitely have a complicated relationship with it. When I first started playing in bands my goal was to sing, but over time I ended up developing this shyness—RJC was a way to break that shyness. Then I wanted to do this band where I was going to actually sing, but it never ended up getting off the ground. I was too nervous; I thought my voice sounded bad. But [with Militarie Gun], I was like, ‘fuck it, I’m going to try.’ I have this thing, and I’m going to yell and sing. I love Sam McPheeters [Born Against, Wrangler Brutes]; I love a lot of those yelling-singing vocalists.
Did writing last year’s melodic Ian Shelton and Pretty Matty EP bear any influence on how you’re approaching Militarie Gun?
I: That’s the band I was talking about where I wanted to sing, those were all songs from that [project]. That was basically me being like, ‘well, I’m never going to do this, so why don’t I have Matt sing on it?’
Were there any songs you would sing to yourself over the years to build up your singing voice?
I: There wasn’t anything I was trying to do, really. It’s all random. When I went in to record a Militarie Gun song it was essentially freestyle. I wouldn’t write lyrics or melodies beforehand.
We’re still at a point right now where Militarie Gun can’t really play in front of an audience, but how does it feel, at least during practice, to solely be the frontperson?
I: Being able to practice in a band and just sing has been amazing. You know, with RJC it’s an endurance test. Practices are pretty short. There’s only so long that I can be blast-beating and yelling at the same time. To be able to practice and say ‘let’s do that again’— either because I’m working on something improvisational or trying to clean something up—is nice. Right now I’m trying how to figure out what level of aggression to sing at to not knock out my voice, while still bringing a cool sound to it.
I guess another big difference is just being able to be in a band that practices a lot. All of Militarie Gun lives in L.A, whereas RJC can’t practice right now.
In regards to the physicality of it, was it daunting or freeing to not have anything to do with your hands?
I: I got nervous at a certain point, like, ‘Oh god, I need to move my body!’ It’s your job as a frontperson to be interesting. I had some nerves around it, [thinking] ‘Maybe I’ll play guitar and sing’, to give me something else to do. Eventually, I knew I just had to sing. But I’m sure my nerves will be all the way up when we actually play shows.
Is it fair to say that there’s a jump between RJC’s more political lyrics and what you’re singing about in Militarie Gun?
I: I didn’t think about it when this started; they just ended up being lighter song topics. For a song to make sense for RJC, it fits in a certain realm, emotionally. Like I said, I’d never written down lyrics for this band. I go in, and as I’m recording the demo I just sing a line, and then I’m like, ‘ok, that sounds good,’ and then I sing the next line. It slowly takes shape, you know? If anything, it’s more about a lack of intention. When I start writing an RJC record, I know what it’s going to be about. There’s an arc that I want to achieve, lyrically. It’s pre-meditation [RJC] vs. being completely in the moment [Militarie Gun].
Have you already started writing a Militarie Gun LP?
I: It’s done—mastered and everything. We’re working on getting a label right now.
Speaking of vocals and vocalists, how did you know that Patrick Kindlon would be the right fit for the ‘80s-inspired hardcore of your new S.W.A.T. project?
I: I knew Patrick wouldn’t [just] yell. The thing that’s lost in modern hardcore is that everyone’s at 10 on the aggression level at all times. Hardcore has sapped away all of the dynamics of the vocal performance, whereas you listen to Bad Brains and it’ll go from a spastic vocal to a big “whoaaaaa”. That’s the thing from ‘80s hardcore, all these “whoas” and sillier sounds. I thought Pat could capture that.
You’re also a video director, anything coming up on that front?
I: Video stuff has completely slowed down. I’m going to bide my time and wait for touring to come back, because without touring, music video budgets have been cut. I’m just going to make music and work on getting a record deal together instead of focusing on killing myself to make music videos for no money.
Applewhite have deep ties to Pacific Northwest hardcore, with their current roster featuring past and present members of Punitive Damage, Blue Monday, Damages, and more. Sticking to a theme, here, bassist Steph Jerkova is also a member of Regional Justice Center, and sings on the Militarie Gun EP. Despite this history of heaviness, Applewhite delve into the dreamier side of shoegaze and power-pop.
The band had previously issued a two-song 7-inch in 2019 through Painter Man Records, and on November 17 they’ll self-release their debut album, Bohemia. The title track is full of expressive, flanger-driven textures, with guitarist Dave Mitchell coaxing a few choice bends out of his Jazzmaster during the solo. The colour separation on the video gives off a bit of a 3D vibe (while not wearing the glasses, mind you).
I’d had a beginner’s guide to Touch and Go Records published through Bandcamp Daily last week, which let me wax on some of my favourite records from Blonde Redhead, Jesus Lizard, the Monorchid, and more. These kinds of primer pieces are incredibly fun to work on, but inevitably there are bands I miss out on covering (there’s something like 400 Touch and Go releases, bound to happen). Seam are one of those acts, and, frankly, I adore them.
Though they play with the quiet-loud-quiet dynamics that marked a lot of ‘90s alt-rock and emo, there’s something wonderfully understated about their approach. Sooyoung Park’s vocals generally only rise just below a shout on songs like “Berlitz,” off of 1995’s excellent Are You Driving Me Crazy?, but there’s something almost more powerful about his nervous restraint. I saw Seam back in 2000 at Vancouver’s long-gone Starfish Room while they were on tour with Silkworm (another T&G group, funnily enough), and that set stuck with me.
I swear I did not plan this, but the video rip for “Berlitz” was uploaded through a YouTube channel called “Bohemia Afterdark.” Everything kind of connects this week!