War//Plague from Minneapolis might well have slipped quietly under your radar. Of course, once they’re on your radar, they are anything but quiet, battering out an Antisect/Amebix-inspired noise with a ferocious intensity to equal the best of ’em. There are three reasons I particularly wanted to interview them: guitarist Andy Lefton is an all-round nice guy who also creates wonderfully evocative artwork for punk album covers (just check out the cover of the split 7” War//Plague did with my band, Warwound, if you want to see something really special); their latest album, 2018’s Into the Depths on Phobia Records, is (if I may be so bold) a bona fide modern crust classic; and lastly, but probably most importantly, they have something pertinent to say. I caught up with Mr. Lefton, vocalist/guitarist Andy Lutz, bassist Vern, and drummer Chad, for a chat about life, the universe, and everything in between—and if only the answer was as simple as “42”…
Interview and Introduction by Ian Glasper
Ian: Okay, guys, a starter for ten: what’s your reason for existence?
Lefton: Still trying to figure that one out, but I could say to live and learn. Sounds generic, but life is constantly moving and I always look forward to new challenges. As for the music side of life, I’m grateful to be a part of the DIY culture. That’s a broad statement, but working on a local level and being in touch with the music community is important. The culture of punk and hardcore has been nothing short of an education that no classroom could teach me. I’m always grateful for the true spirit of it all and how that can bring a sense of camaraderie to a world that’s starved of it.
Lutz: Why do I exist? Hmm… I think, therefore I am. That’s the old saying, right? As for the band, I think we exist because we share a fundamental belief that the world is messed up and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. It’s an outlet for us to express our frustration and detestation at the world. Maybe that sounds cliché, but I think it rings true. It’s better than ranting on Twitter or Facebook; at least we are creating something, ya know? Whether people interpret it as music, art, or noise is immaterial: it’s us.
Vern: Resistance. Being vigilant and having integrity to what I believe in; then holding on to that and not caring about what others think.
Chad: I exist simply to be a good dad to my two beautiful daughters. As the drummer of War//Plague I also exist to play loud, fast, and brutal music with three of my best friends as long as this life will allow!
Ian: Do you believe in anything? Sorry, I couldn’t resist running with the Subhumans theme…!
Chad: Life is a balance; if you can find what centers you, you will smile even on the darkest of days.
Lutz: I believe the world is round. I believe Trump is a corrupt, lying conman. I believe in climate change. And I believe in myself. That may sound corny, but I don’t think enough people believe in themselves anymore. They’re constantly looking to outside forces to “save” them or make things better. I still believe in anarchism, and I still believe we have the power to change ourselves for ourselves.
Lefton: Yeah, I believe in quite a bit. I believe in the Golden Rule and that the world needs a clean slate politically. I believe in strong communal strength in our little pocket of the world and that, no matter how trite or shallow the mainstream is, punk will always remain underground. I believe competition and a desire to be popular will never have a place in the DIY scene. That rubbish belongs on the other cut-throat side of the music industry.
Ian: If you’re anything like me, you started out as idealistic activists, wondering why no one else was making time for direct action, and have ended up as jaded cynics, wondering where you find the time to do anything! How, and why, does that happen to the best of us? And how does your conscience feel about that?
Lefton: I appreciate this question. When I was young, I was very idealistic and active, “direct” and otherwise. It’s true, I would look around and think to myself, “How the fuck do you people not recognize what’s happening here? How can you just fall in line and act as if nothing is wrong?” Changing the world seemed so reasonable then. As time progressed, my feeling grew stronger…and a bit wiser. I learned that changing your life and sharing your ideals and ethos had a lasting ripple effect on others. In my mind, this is how the world can be changed for the better—by having a positive influence and sharing your outlook on making the world around you better. Being in my forties now, I am still quite politically nihilistic; however, there’s a smart way to survive and create good change as the old world around you eats itself.
Lutz: It’s a difficult realization as we grow up that changing the world is not so easy —that arguing with fools often times only makes us foolish—but that doesn’t mean we should give up. Yeah, in my younger days I was far more active, but also a bit naïve. You can’t force people to change, but you can try and get them to think, to look at things from a different perspective. I think a lot of older punks—or just people in general—tend to get bitter with time, and understandably, but if we stop believing or trying, then we are for sure just mindless fools. With age comes wisdom and it’s important to share those thoughts and experiences so that hopefully younger generations can learn from them. But let’s face it, kids getting into punk these days have just as much to be angry about as any older punks, so that rebellious message will live on. To some it seems like not much has changed, but change is a slow process. Activism will keep growing —through direct action, education, music, art, or whatever it may be.
Ian: How do you feel being slapped with that generic “crust” tag all the time? Comfortable? Frustrated? Restricted? Couldn’t care less? Or all of the above?
Lefton: It never used to be generic. Personally, I’m cool either way, but in this day and age, it’s more a blanket term than a specific genre. For me, punk is punk. Sure, there are genres that have specific sounds, and crust is the one that reveals whether punks learned more than the three basic chords. However, I feel we do fall into the definitive “crust” category, whilst retaining some of our anarcho roots. Some argue that we are “metal-tinged,” but again…crust is punks moving on past the three chord starter pack.
Chad: It is definitely restrictive, in my opinion. Just from the drum perspective, I feel that if you step outside of a certain feel with a particular beat and timing it is almost instantly categorized as this or that.
Lutz: Do we get slapped with that? I have no idea. I don’t really pay attention to what other people say. We are creating our sound and that makes us happy.
Vern: I love crust so I don’t mind at all. Everyone has an opinion and some people like or need certain labels for whatever reason. Whether I agree with them or not doesn’t affect me; we just keep doing what we do.
Ian: Your inclusion in that online In Crust We Trust article suggests that you have become inextricably intertwined with the genre whether you like it or not, but yes, labels are just for convenience, and when you’re writing it’s hard not to use them as a shortcut for your reader to picture what a band sounds like.
On the subject of that article though, it seems to have been written in good faith, and will no doubt be of great interest to many people, but there are still “elitists,” for want of a better word, picking it to pieces…and it happens across many aspects of the scene. It’s a lot easier to slag someone off for doing something not quite how you would like it than to put your own neck on the line and do it yourself. Do you know anyone like this, and what would your message be to those people?
Lutz: I think we’ve all known plenty of people like this throughout the years. There’s always going to be shit talkers and they can say whatever they’d like. I just try and not let it bother me. If they think they can to better, have at it and best of luck. We’re doing what we want, not what they want.
Lefton: Damn, where do I start? Yes, elitism is a plague in any music scene. I don’t think we’re in a position to send a message to anyone though, as people are definitely wired differently. However, we simply try not to associate ourselves with nonsense of this nature. But for those who purposely go out of their way to be hostile towards opinions and belittle others, I would just say: stop. If you’re out to compete or simply need attention because something doesn’t jive the way you want it to, you’re doing the DIY thing wrong…very wrong.
Yes, I know folks that are elitist try-hards and it’s annoying. It’s easy to call them out and take part in a big debate, but sadly those conversations take place online these days and you just end up burning energy you could have used elsewhere. So, having a few years under the belt, you realize these types just fade away and you end up going on your merry way doing what you love, and that has rewards more enticing than dealing with some elitist blowhard.
Ian: Was an injection of metal into hardcore punk during the ’80s a good thing or a bad thing?
Vern: Personally, I think the roots of metal came from punk, in the ’80s. Look at early Slayer, Iron Maiden, Metallica…even some early death metal bands, they all have obvious punk influences in them.
Lefton: It’s fine. Personally, I’m not a metal fan. I mean, I do love all the classics, but metal was never my thing. The guys poke fun at me because I’ll write riffs that have a metal feel. I don’t hear it, but I can also blame my guitar upbringing on The Accüsed, Amebix, and even some early Sepultura. So the injection of metal into the scene was progressive, to keep things evolving and interesting. It’s when the egos took over and felt the work done for the DIY community wasn’t enough. There are veteran bands that have the punk/hardcore background that still keep their foot in the punk arena, and I respect that. It’s a bit childish at times to fight over what genre is what and how this subgenre is better than that one; nothing is more destructive in the DIY community—besides drugs—than some elitist nonsense that promotes division and competition. Fuck that.
Chad: I feel that the injection of metal into hardcore was awesome—like PB&J! It allowed a whole lot more range of sound and feel to happen within an already aggressive genre; expression became more personalized.
Lutz: I’d say it was a great thing…I like PB&J; they go together so well!
Ian: Do you think metallic punk bands that have “War” in their name are in danger of parodying themselves?
Lutz: That could be true, but you could say the same about “Dis” bands or just punk in general. At the same time, I don’t know how important a name is anymore. I think it’s more about what you do. When we started ten years ago there weren’t as many “War” bands as there are now. Sure, there were quite a few, but not like now. If people are judging a band by their name, that’s kind of sad. They could be missing out on something really cool or unique.
Lefton: Both Lutz and I came from our previous bands, Provoked and Pontius Pilate; we simply wanted to continue playing music together. We’d sit at the pub writing out band names, seeing what clicked and what didn’t, and that went on for weeks, if not months. I was a bit reluctant on the “War” thing because everybody and their brother had “War” in the name. We matched “War” and “Plague” and decided to break it up a bit by adding the forward slash, then called it a day and started writing music. I do recall having a conversation about not being a typical “War” band though, and I think it’s worked so far.
Vern: “War” is definitely a word that has been used many times in all the punk and metal genres, but I still love our name.
Ian: What was the rationale behind the tenth anniversary box? How did you set about avoiding it being a gratuitous back-slapping trip down memory lane?
Lutz: There seemed to be some demand for it, so we decided to finally do it. But we wanted it to be something special and something that reflected our commitment to the DIY underground for so many years. It’s not packed with photos, flyers, or stories of “cool” bands we’ve played with. It’s just focused on the music. Everything was hand designed, hand-stamped, et cetera. It’s treated like a release, not a bragging right. Plain and simple.
Lefton: It was something that’s crossed our mind a few times. We’ve had folks over the ages ask when things will be on CD, and honestly, we never really planned on putting anything on CD since it’s a dying format. But apparently there’s still a demographic out there that like it. Lutz was the mastermind behind the layout. I just put together all the tracks, and that was a chore. We never really knew how much material we had until I gathered up ten years of assets and realized we needed three CDs to complete the set! I think it was something like forty-five songs. It was a reflective moment; hearing the evolution of the music and all the work we’ve put in was heart-warming.
Vern: Our split with Warwound was on 7” and CD, and it seemed like lots of people wanted the CD, more than we expected.
Ian: Apart from that split, the box was your first full CD release, right? Have you deliberately avoided the format? And why relent now?
Lutz: I believe it was? Unless you count our demo, which was a free download that came with a CD disc sleeve you could print yourself. Kinda weird not to release a CD for ten years and mainly just vinyl…I dunno why? I guess a standard CD can feel disposable, but that could also be seen as a good thing. They’re cheaper to produce and people all over can listen to it. At the same time, a vinyl record is probably not going to end up in a landfill somewhere. I personally love vinyl, it just feels so permanent and I love the sound. But not everyone has or can afford a record player. I guess the short answer is it was more affordable for us to release the box set this way.
Lefton: I don’t think we deliberately avoided the format; it just seemed there wasn’t a demand. We’ve been asked to put our latest LP—Into the Depths—out as a CD, and think we may do that, so everyone has options.
Ian: You do seem to have been drawn to the “split” format along the way…is that a logistical decision or a deep-seated belief in the spirit of cooperation?
Lefton: I feel it’s a combination of both. Our intention wasn’t to set out and do a handful of splits; it just seemed right at the time. I mean, I’ve worked closely with both Warwound and Axegrinder, and this opened up some opportunities to say, “Hey, we’re all on the same page and the time is right, what do you think?” And the pieces just fell into place. However, splits can get a bit monotonous—ahem, Agathocles—and there is a limit, in my opinion. So, for us, we really thought that we’d take that opportunity to write some good tunes—not just some nonsense thrown together for the sake of releasing a split—but really emphasize on the subject at hand and how we wanted to represent the theme with our counterpart.
Vern: The run of splits was all sort of a random coincidence. We were writing a lot at the time and were looking to release some new stuff. We were in touch with those bands, and there was a mutual desire to collaborate, and it was all pretty simple as far as what everyone wanted to do.
Lutz: Not really sure how that happened, to be honest. But I think it does stem from the belief of community and collaboration. It’s also a great format for like-minded people to share their message and music with others.
Chad: Splits are awesome! Always a good way to hear of something new from an area you know about but wonder who else is in the scene. I’ve been a fan of this format for a long time.
Ian: And let’s talk a bit about DIY, we all agree it’s been essential in the development of an underground music scene, but aren’t some of the back bedroom labels just as likely to scam you as a bigger set-up? And they all use the same big pressing plants et cetera. Where do you draw the line? Would you sign to a large label if you could keep control of the creative process?
Lefton: DIY punk, hardcore, metal, et cetera has always been a labor of love. However, the love isn’t solely the key that keeps the DIY ethos alive and well. It’s the premise that a counter culture can survive without the outside influence of business or “the system.” We all use the same pressing plants, but the nature of releasing music DIY is about taking what we have created and sending it out to a larger audience on our own terms. As for small labels ripping off their customers, yeah, you bet. That goes without saying unfortunately, as you’ll find bad seeds in everything these days.
DIY doesn’t mean it always has to be some back alley set-up though; there’s a good history of indie labels that grew on a larger scale and were able to keep good global distribution without any larger label interference. However, not all bands want to take that route; they like to keep it small, within their own circle, without involving the larger world.
Lutz: I guess “large” label could mean a lot of different things to different people. But we always want control over the creative process. I don’t think we’re ever going to get involved with a major label (if they even exist anymore) or even with anything like that Scion crap from years ago. Our music is not going to get played over some car commercial, and it’s not going to make money for rich assholes when it’s about equality for all. I think you just have to do your research and make sure you’re not getting involved with anything shady. But our hearts are in the DIY scene. We book our own shows, we pay for our own shit; we don’t need some label telling us how to do it while they take a cut—no way.
Ian: You don’t seem to gig too much—why’s that, and how do you work around it? Is it ever a source of frustration for you? Because gigs seem to be where you interact with like-minded people and are essential for a band’s development, or do you prefer the studio process?
Lutz: I think we gig quite a bit, just not big tours. Between the four of us, we’ve all logged many hours on the road. We play locally a lot more these days, but we have started touring out a bit more, which has been a lot of fun. I think in the past, bands had to tour constantly because that was the only way to get your music out. Things are different now, and we definitely use the internet to spread our name. That’s not to say touring isn’t important, but you can interact with like-minded people online just as easily. With that said, we have a small tour coming up later this year and we’ve got a bunch of other things in the works.
Chad: Yes, it’s true we don’t get out as much as we would like, which has been frustrating. For me personally, it’s been having a demanding schedule with my kids and work. All of us have those demanding work schedules, but we are finding more wiggle room lately to see some of these tour ideas happen, which is refreshing.
Vern: A few factors. Gigging around Minneapolis for metal and punk bands has been pretty tough since the Triple Rock closed. And in the last couple of years there has been an overflow of creativity, so we just took advantage of that with the recordings. But we love playing live. We also really want to play, and are very overdue to, outside of Minneapolis.
Ian: What about the side projects you guys are involved in? How do they affect W//P, both negatively and positively?
Lefton: I’m involved with Tau Cross, but as many know that’s only active at certain times of the year. It never interferes with W//P, besides when we tour and that cuts into rehearsal times for W//P. But apart from that, it’s been a nice balance.
Vern: We all communicate well and are flexible with everyone. It also helps to be in a band with two guitarists who write a lot of riffs all the time.
Chad: Up until just about two years ago now I was in a death/grind band that was formed about a month earlier than War//Plague. Our schedules were never affected by one another, just structured well in the week, and that went on like clockwork for ten years. I’d say that element of being in two bands at the same time was a positive for me; it allowed me to dial in some techniques and grow as a drummer, so it was a benefit for both bands.
Ian: As Americans are you self-aware? This seems like a funny question, but since the debacle that is Brexit, I’ve become much more aware of how the rest of the world sees the U.K. I suppose I’m wondering if Trump running the show has made you feel similarly, er, stupid?
Lefton: It’s funny you say that, because we feel everyone’s looking at us due to that scumbag Trump. It’s beyond words to express how we feel at what we’re experiencing. Although the truth is, it’s always been here; that shit-bag was only the catalyst in bringing much of this socio/political garbage to light. The politics of it doesn’t make me feel stupid personally, however on a larger societal scale? Yeah, you could say that. It’s mind-blowing to see and hear the monumental stupidity that has lingered in this garbage heap of a political landscape. I’m an optimist naturally, and I tend to see this as a transitional period in our evolution, at least I try to convince myself of that.
Vern: I can’t even begin to imagine how people from other countries see the typical American, and the current state we are in. I wake up every morning and hear things that are happening that strike me to my inner core. At the absolute, the very least thing I can say is that I feel like I am living in a dark comedy movie dream and that hopefully I will awaken soon to a normal world.
Lutz: I’m usually pretty ashamed of this country, but yeah, Trump has definitely made things worse. One thing I’d like people around the globe to know is that not all of America thinks like Trump or his followers. I’d even like to think that they are outnumbered, but our corrupt and messed-up political system makes it possible for someone like him to take power. He’s really brought all the racist, elitist boneheads out of the woodwork. But his end will come, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Ian: Our nations obviously didn’t change overnight, but since Brexit/Trump there seems to have been a definite paradigm shift, unfortunately to the right! Did that really happen, or is it imagined, or is it a shift in mass media focus? And what do we do about it, other than get pissed off and write noisy protest songs for our friends?
Vern: In my personal perspective, what I see is that there is a huge shift in culture happening; unfortunately, the old imperial/colonial ethics are still in power and are feeling threatened by natural progress. This is their last stand, I hope. As far as “doing something about it,” take care of your psyche. I like to go on hikes. There’s nothing more grounding and humbling than exercising your natural senses and challenging your physical ability.
Lutz: I think a lot of these alt-right thinking people were hiding out and Trump gave them a sense of self-worth. It’s unfortunate, but it will not last. As much as they think they control this country, they don’t. There are changes happening. Even the freedoms Trump is trying to take away, people will not stand for it. There are racist Civil War monuments being torn down across the country. His wall is the new monument and it will be stopped; it has to be stopped. And if it isn’t, we’ll tear that down too.
Lefton: Yes, there’s been a dramatic shift in the paradigm. But the truth is, that vile element that’s rearing its ugly head now has been around for years and it’s found its golden ticket with the current powers that be. Media has been the catalyst, as they’ve always been. There’s a fundamentalist belief within the media machine that people need to be divisive and this global conglomerate has the reins.
It is beyond belief to think about the amount of power the elite have over this entire planet. The optimist in me feels this is the last leg of a dying breed, and I certainly fucking hope so. But as we know, wealth doesn’t simply up and go away. As long as the elite attempt to tighten their grip and are handing out the shortest straws, the more aware the masses seem to become. In this day and age of information, you have to be so goddamn focused on what’s right and what’s correct. It’s mind-boggling that what all our punk albums have warned us about is currently coming to fruition. Will the people actually fight back or will that “boot stamping on a human face” be our true reality?
Protest music is our world. Punk is underground and it’s meant to be alienated from the world that tries to grind us down. So we do have a place to go while the world explodes.
Ian: I’m theoretically opposed to censorship—but is there a need for censorship to promote decency? And who defines “decency?” First example that comes to mind, and just playing devil’s advocate, should someone who posts a Skrewdriver song be blocked from a punk site? And why, or why not?
Lutz: To be clear. There is a huge difference between free speech and hate speech. I don’t believe in censorship, but if it is targeted at a group of people with intent to hurt and cause pain, then it’s not free speech anymore. If someone is wearing that shitty band’s shirt they deserve to blocked and called out for their shitty beliefs. No tolerance for hate.
Lefton: Censorship is for the tight-assed conservative types who can’t handle free thought. However, if you spout out some nonsense related to hate, intolerance, or whatever drivel that attempts to hurt another, it’ll be called out for what it is, and that leads to consequence. We know all too well what happens when nothing is said; the history books have taught us that all too well. Speech can’t be regulated, but a good dose of education and the will to work in solidarity has a lasting effect on the world.
Vern: Censorship is a very complex issue. Especially, legally, here. From one perspective, you can easily buy and listen to a 2 Live Crew or Deicide record, but Nazis can hand out propaganda at schools. Should someone be blocked from a punk site for playing a Skrewdriver song? I sure hope so.
Ian: Okay, easy question now, who in your opinion are the young hopefuls in your local, national, and international scenes that you have highest hopes for to carry the tradition of anarcho punk proudly forward in the spirit it is intended?
Lefton: Can’t really narrow that down, but do know that like-minded folks are the ones that tend to carry the torch. The golden era of punk (’77—’84) will forever have a lasting effect on the punk community and will forever be relevant. It’s tough these days, since the internet has been great, but it’s also been a hindrance. We can learn so much of the past and how communal punk scenes were here and there and how it created such a lasting legacy. And we can also see these days where you hit an “insta-punk” button and you can adopt this identity overnight, all for the sake of vanity, which defeats the purpose. We need to strive for the function over fashion aspects of it and bring people in from all walks of life. Focus on creativity, and less plagiarism.
As for hopefuls? I could go on forever, but we know who’s who and where their hearts are, so I’ll leave that open-ended, as punk is an ever-revolving door.
Lutz: Oh boy, I’m not sure. There are a lot of great bands coming out lately. I’m just glad kids are starting to give a shit again, instead of singing about pizza or some other arbitrary thing.
Ian: Give the readers one good reason why they should spend their hard-earned cash on your new album and not someone else’s!
Lefton: We worked really hard and want folks to enjoy some soothing sounds of Midwest anarcho crust punk. Music has always been an educational experience. I remember listening to my first punk record, reading the lyrics, and feeling myself transform; it was life changing. If that can happen to one kid with our music, we’ve done our job.
Lutz: Because they want to support the underground. Even if it’s not our album, support DIY bands. But I don’t think they’ll be disappointed if they purchase ours.
Vern: This album is pretty aggressive: very straight forward compared to the last one, and definitely inspired by current politics.
Ian: What’s next for W//P? And how much longer can you guys envisage carrying it on? And once it’s all over, how would you like to be remembered in the grand scheme of things?
Lefton: We’re in it for the long haul. We’ve talked about it, and what we do is simply a part of us, and a defining factor in who we are. If and when that time comes that we can no longer continue, it’s important to know that we did what our hearts told us. Our work is based on the idea that we can be passionate about what’s important and express it the way we feel, in an honest and sincere way.
Lutz: What’s next? Probably more touring and more angry music to bang your head to. We’ll keep going as long as these decaying bodies let us. Hopefully fifty years from now it will all still mean something, even if it’s just one kid sitting in their room rocking out.
Vern: We want to play out more. We also have no thoughts of slowing down. We’re always writing music and jamming. I haven’t really thought about the end or anything related to that, but I suppose I’d just hope that some people continue to appreciate our music and connect with it.
Ian: Thanks to the War//Plague guys for taking the time and effort to undertake this interview with such enthusiasm and sincerity—much appreciated.
Ian Glasper is the author of Burning Britain: The History of UK Punk 1980 – 1984, The Day the Country Died: A History of UK Anarcho Punk 1980 – 1984, Trapped in a Scene: UK Hardcore 1985 – 1989, Armed with Anger: How UK Punk Survived The Nineties, and Contract In Blood: A History of UK Thrash Metal.