Paint It Black recently returned to our scene with their new album, ‘Famine,’ out now on Revelation Records. On their first new release in ten years, the beloved Philly band takes their hardcore ferocity to the next level while still maintaining a nuanced lyrical perspective. Not an easy feat when navigating complex themes like the narrative between myth and the truth, rebuking religious fundamentalism, constitutional originalism, and the very concept of policing. We caught up with vocalist Dan Yemin to talk about all things ‘Famine’. If you haven’t already picked up your copy of the album, you can do so here. Or miss out on one of the finest hardcore albums of 2023.
(Photo credit: Danika Zandboer)
PRT: First off: welcome back. How does it feel to be the most active with Paint it Black that the band has been in a decade?
Dan: It feels fantastic. Releasing a new record is as exciting for me now as it was 25 years ago.
PRT: The release shows in Philly and your appearance at Fest seemed quite crazy. When you look at the crowds, do you see mostly older fans or are there quite a lot of younger kids as well that may have never seen the band before?
Dan: I can’t be certain, but to me it seems like a pretty even mix between old heads and younger kids. It’s hard to know for sure because I’d bet that a lot of the older people are standing toward the back these days. I would imagine that a lot of people in their 40s want to minimize the amount of time they spend in physical therapy, which can translate into, “maybe I don’t want people jumping on my head for 45 minutes tonight.“ But who knows really? When we played with Gorilla Biscuits this past spring I was stagediving like an 18-year-old.
It’s equally exciting for me to see high school kids stagediving as it is to see my peers in the crowd. At Fest in Gainesville I saw this kid in a full-body chicken costume flip over my head, and 2 seconds later I look out and see Paddy from D4 in the pit. That felt good.
This kid I know in Philly, who’s definitely not a “kid” anymore, just showed me two juxtaposed pictures, weirdly almost identical in composition, of her mid-stagedive screaming along. One was taken 15 years ago, the other was taken last week.
So, yeah, that’s my unnecessarily complicated answer to your simple & straightforward question. It’s probably clear by now that I’m not good at “simple and straightforward.”
PRT: Did you expect ‘Famine’ to be so well-received? Because there is quite some buzz around it. And rightfully so.
Dan: I try not to have expectations, but if I’m going to be honest, it’s unavoidable. I know that we made a great record, but the landscape of Punk and Hardcore has changed a lot since the last time we released some thing new, so I was sort of in the dark about how it would be received. On one hand, and I know this is not going to sound humble, I don’t think there’s anyone making our kind of music that does it as well as we do. At the same time I was really nervous about whether people would like it. There’s always the possibility that as you get older, your perspective on what’s exciting or interesting shifts so much that you end up being out of touch. We live inside of this paradox: ultimately, we’re not making music to please anyone but ourselves, making the music that we feel needs to be made, but of course we also make music to connect with people, and you can’t do that if no one’s listening.
PRT: You said that you “put out a record when we’ve got something to say”. If that’s the criterium, one could be forgiven for expecting a new Paint It Black album sooner with everything that has been going on in the world. So why now?
Dan: Let’s put that in context: when I said that, it was to explain why we’re not putting out records every three years just to stay “relevant.” Releasing a record that we’re not 100% happy with, just because we’re afraid that people might forget about us, would feel dishonest and unsatisfying.
As a lyricist, I’ve always got something to say, but we’ve got really high standards, so writing a record's worth of music that doesn’t feel disposable takes a long time when you have an emotionally taxing job, a family, and band members (who are each in at least 2 other bands) that live 3000 miles apart. I can’t just get on a plane to California to rehearse when I have to drive school carpool in the morning (how mundane is that?) and then see patients back to back for 9 hours. In the entirety of 2019, we had exactly 3 days with Jared to work on new songs. Then came the pandemic, so none of us were traveling for almost 2 years.
But like I said, lyrically there is always something to say. The Trump presidency, and everything cancerous about U.S. society that it revealed and amplified, brought our political outrage and critique into sharper focus. It was deeply depressing the way that so many songs we wrote in the early days of the war in Iraq were newly relevant 14 years later. So much of the public discourse during Trump’s first year in power seemed like an obvious backlash against the Obama presidency, and what 2016-17 demonstrated about the depth of racist inclinations, and regressive political thought in general, in this country was/is terrifying. In addition to that, I’m always writing about deeply personal matters and how they intersect with my political observations, which is really about emotional and physical survival.
So….I guess the more complete answer is that we’ve always got something to say, but developing a framework for how we present it, one that we can be proud of, is something we’re willing to take our time with.
PRT: Were there any doubts about whether or not to put out a new record?
PRT: I used to think that being angry and playing in a hardcore band comes with an expiration date, but you’ve definitely proven me wrong. ‘Famine’ sounds even angrier than previous recordings. Were there moments during the writing and recording of the album where you yourself were like ‘wow’?
Dan: When I was writing, I was sometimes shocked by how vicious some of the lyrics were. In the past, it almost always ends up being balanced by some glimmer of hope or redemption, but I was feeling pretty bleak, and my distress was more intense. It’s not that I was naive enough as to be surprised that americans are ignorant and self-absorbed, but I feel like our darkest tendencies have been amplified in the past decade. Nationalism is such a grotesque expression of ignorance. “I’m so proud of the side of this imaginary line on which I just happened to be born. I did nothing to build it, nor to sustain it, but I feverishly celebrate its achievements as if they were my own, and I’m in denial about its failures and crimes.” And the MAGA death cult people are just next level disgusting. On top of all of that, I have to explain this state of affairs to my children.
PRT: Having been around as long as you have, do you ever feel like Yoda if you will, teaching new generations of misfits the ways of staying sharp, smart and critical?
Dan: I mean, of course I hope that we inspire people to think critically and make cool stuff, but really the young DIY kids don’t need an old man’s wisdom. They’re self-taught, and that’s the point. But remember, “self-taught,“ doesn’t mean that you manufactured an idea out of thin air. It means you use the knowledge that’s available to you to build what you need, instead of waiting for someone to build it for you.
PRT: You’re not afraid to make strong statements. Do those sometimes lead to conflicts at a show or online with people with clashing opinions? If so, how do you deal with those?
Dan: Unfortunately, it doesn’t really happen. I’m not sure why, but I always assumed it’s because people that support us know the deal. In general, I would guess that people that are into our band aren’t with us just because they like catchy, aggressive music. They’re down for the leftist politics too, or at least not aligned against it. Sometimes if I run my mouth on a wider platform we might get some combative responses in the comments, but that’s not a forum where you can really have any constructive engagement. I’m not afraid of clashing opinions though. We’re not doing sociopolitical critique to make friends. The ideal outcome is to create dialog.
PRT: When you open a paper or go online, it seems like open dialogue and debate seem to be a thing of the past. Do you feel like we can still turn the tide?
Dan: I will never say “no,” in response to a question like this. I don’t believe in god, but I do believe in the human capacity for love and growth. Parenthood only reinforced this belief. This may sound naive, but remember, I’m a clinical psychologist, so my entire day-to-day is predicated on the belief that people can change.
PRT: As you stated yourself, a lot of the record is about the blurred lines between myth and history. How would you advise to dissect and discern both in order to be properly informed?
Dan: I really believe the best way to navigate this is pretty old school. Reading. Reading history AND myth. Understanding that our mythology impacts the way we view and experience history. Understanding that our mythology was created to help us make sense of a confusing and terrifying world. Understanding that history is made up of multiple narratives, those of the winners, the losers, all the stakeholders.
Anyone who presents history as if there was a camera running the whole time, like they’re just giving you the objective play-by-play, (especially without providing sources) is likely giving you a very limited, and not very useful, perspective. That sort of presentation of history might even qualify as propaganda. Understanding that meaning is always partially dependent on context. We can’t understand current events if we don’t understand history. And for fuck’s sake don’t get your news from social media.
PRT: One personal standout for me is ‘Exploitation Period’ where there’s just you and a bass guitar. Where did that idea come from? And how “naked” do you feel when performing the song live?
Dan: There’s been a movement, or maybe more of an artistic trend, in the last decade or so of underground hip hop where people are doing production with minimal drums, or no drums at all. I’ve heard some people be really critical of it, probably because there’s a tendency to think of hip hop as being defined by either big 808’s or looped drum breaks. But I love it.
It really made me think about how we create intensity in music. Both hardcore and hip hop can be overly reliant on big drums to create dynamics, but there's something crazy that can happen when the beat is implied but not heard. The cadence of the vocals and the patterns that emerge from the other looped elements become the primary rhythmic ingredients. It shifts the mood and the tone and creates a sense of quiet menace. I had this thought that it could work really well for us. I love the challenge of creating an experience of density by removing elements instead of adding them.
The whole middle piece of that song is built around a tape loop that we made in the studio. When you loop a 4 measure bassline, it actually sounds subtly different than if you just played it a dozen times onto tape. All the little noises and imperfections on the tape repeat as well, so it sounds haunted, like a scene in a movie where someone’s trying to find their way out of the woods and they notice, “hey didn’t we pass that exact same tree a few minutes ago?” and there’s this intense discomfort that emerges as they realize they’ve been walking in circles.
I originally intended it as a studio-only song, but it came out so good I really wanted to play it live. We’ve only done it once, actually opened with an abbreviated version of it at the record release show, and it was beautiful.
PRT: Obviously, you have released a few albums on important record labels in the past. Does it mean something for you and the band to be part of a history that is as rich as Revelation’s?
Dan: Yes! The history of Revelation Records is intimately tied to my own history as a hardcore/punk kid, and a record collector, alongside a few others like Dischord, Gravity, and Homestead. So many of my memories of traveling to record stores in NY and NJ, tracking down new releases, obsessing over new records, lyric sheets, etc., all of it is connected to Rev. It’s exciting to be working with them for sure.