Post-hardcore and political emo four-piece Perfect Future have recently released their brand new full-length album, Manifesto, on Count Your Lucky Stars. This is a recent interview with Perfect Future vocalist/guitarist Brendan Stephens, in which he discusses the band and the new album in great detail.
Even though you guys have been doing Perfect Future for a while, I have only come across your music recently; which is to say, I am admittedly not as knowledgeable as I would like to be about the band. So, to begin, how about a little background information on the project?
This band has been going for nearly seven years, so there is a pretty long convoluted history. Essentially the project started when my old screamo and hardcore bands broke up. I wanted to do a Midwest emo style band, which at the time you could count the number of bands playing that style on maybe two hands. When I recorded the s/t CD in 2009, I sent a link to Keith, whom I met on one of the early E!E! tours, from CYLS mostly because I thought he might dig it with a slight hope that he might release it. He was into it and sent it to Andy from strictly no capital letters and suddenly it was going to be available in the UK. We toured a bunch, went through some lineup changes, and released a bunch of splits with bands that were ex-members of old bands I loved (The Pine, Life at These Speeds, and The Birds Are Spies…They Report to the Trees). We added a 2nd guitarist for Old Wounds, which was our 2nd LP and a concept record. And now Manifesto is our new record, which is probably the album that I am most proud of ever being a part of. That’s kind of the history.
The short version is that we are a political emo band made up of a bunch of hardcore, dbeat, screamo punks that live spread out over Maryland, Northern Virginia, and Richmond.
Was there a desired musical direction from the beginning for Perfect Future, or did the sound sort of develop naturally without much planning and shaping?
Originally I wanted it to sound like a Midwest emo band from the ’90s since there were so few bands playing that style. As the lineup changed, as other bands perfected that style, and as our interests shifted, we kind of evolved into something on the heavier end of the spectrum. Sometimes people talk about how we keep getting heavier and will eventually either be a hardcore or screamo band. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, but we definitely have changed our style.
Your lyrics are an interesting mix of hard, vivid poetry, life philosophy, political statements and literary references. Can you add some specificity to the generalized categories I have just listed by going over some of what inspires your material?
Lyrically there are quite a lot of influences. I’m an English teacher and write most days of the week in some capacity, so I’m surrounded by language. Some of the bands that influenced me to want to start a band that were specifically political were Crass, Joshua Fit for Battle, Propagandhi, Refused, Dead Prez, and all the other hardcore bands that kind of preach to the choir with leftist politics. The allusions kind of come from all over the place. Actually, with Manifesto there was originally more footnotes than there were lyrics, but we couldn’t fit them into the insert, which is probably for the best since it rewards the avid reader and lets people interpret the song in their own way. But if you want names of the literary figures that influenced me the most I’d say Noam Chomsky, Leo Tolstoy, William Blum, John Stoltenberg, and at least one spiritual leader from most religions.
The band name actually seems pretty consistent with your lyrical content, as if you call yourself Perfect Future in a deliberately contradictory way, knowing full well that such a wildly utopian thing is impossible. Am I misinterpreting that, or was that kind of the idea behind the name?
From the get go, I wanted the name to kind of be about the search towards something. Like it is the idea of the ideal that propels humanity forward. Like even in the early songs where I wrote occasionally about my depression and anxieties, it all stemmed from a belief that things will ultimately get better. The name to me essentially means that we should always work towards making things better and it will never be good enough.
After releasing a couple of full-lengths and a bunch of 7″ records over the years, Perfect Future is preparing for its latest collection of songs, Manifesto, on Count Your Lucky Stars. What can you tell us about the writing and recording of this particular album?
The idea to write a political and artistic manifesto I think came about when we were on tour with Empire! Empire! On my end, it took forever to write the songs because I wanted them to have a specific sound and aesthetic. Once we got together to actually practice them, it came together extremely fast. This is the first album that I didn’t record, and that was mostly due to the fact that even though I can get sounds that I like, it takes me literally months to mix since I so rarely record albums. We recorded with Steve Roche at Permanent Hearing Damage, and it was such a good experience that I kind of regretted not recording with him earlier. This record to me is strange because it all just came together so easily.
On Manifesto, the first two songs’ lyrics, “Preamble” and “A Call to Arms,” seem to be influenced by Allen Ginsberg’s poetic masterwork Howl, or more specifically Part II of the poem in which he writes of Moloch. What about that part of poem, if that was in fact what influenced you here, made you want to use it as a reference?
There is a lot about that part of the poem that I thought worked well as a theme on the record. The repetition of the name already has a dark lyrical quality that I thought would work within song lyrics. But I think Ginsberg’s metaphor of Moloch being the military industrial complex that mothers willingly give their children up to really struck a chord with me. I expanded the metaphor a little so that it was more than just the military but kind of a stand-in for everything that requires the submission of the populace whether it is the corporatocracy, military complex, or even something like gentrification.
As far as the song “Among Ash Heaps and Millionaires,” I am assuming that it is an obscure reference to the original working title of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Is this song meant to point out the inescapable connection between wealth and corruption, the contrast between the privileged life and hard life, and the appalling truths of class systems and socio-economic struggle?
Yeah, the title is taken from the original title to The Great Gatsby which I’ve always thought was a much better title. Essentially, you nailed this song. The wage gap has surpassed what it was when Fitzgerald was writing Gatsby. It’s just so egregious that even in what many consider a free society with upward mobility, there is an inherent caste system where those that actually work their way up to the top is essentially circumstantial outliers. And ever since Citizens United, wealth buys political power in absurd ways.
“Only Life Is Holy (Pts I & II)” are song names that bring to mind the Blakean idea that “…everything that lives is holy, life delights in life.” Since Blake is one of my favorite poets and philosophers, this intrigues me immensely. How is this simply put belief consistent with your own?
Essentially, the first part is kind of a take that all human life is precious regardless of any circumstance. You don’t really see many arguments explicitly for racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-persons with disabilities, etc, but those prejudices can be seen every day without looking all that hard. The second song then makes the case that non-human life is precious as well. In particular, there is a lot of cognitive dissonance and purposeful shielding of the facts by a lot of people because a lot of the ramifications of thinking about it can disrupt a person’s comfort and possibly their life. I don’t know if I can put it anymore eloquently than Blake, but I believe that there can’t really be any decisions made by another that any life has more value than another. David Foster Wallace talked about how it is the default of every person to believe that they are the absolute center of the universe and everyone else a member of the supporting cast. Just recognizing that every breathing thing has that perspective has some pretty huge implications on what life means.
We have talked quite a bit about words but not nearly enough about the music accompanying the vocal delivery and lyrical content. How would you classify your sound if it came down to it?
If I had to, I’d say it is some sort of emo-screamo-punk hybrid. There are a lot of other influences. Before I would sit down to write these songs I’d listen to Ornette Coleman, Glenn Branca, Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” or other weird 12-tonal pieces, which influenced some of the writing decisions although it isn’t a particularly a-tonal or noisy record. I don’t know if we’ve ever been compared to a band that I think we actually sound like.
What have been some of your most memorable tour/show moments to date? And are you taking the new songs on the road in the near future in support of the Manifesto release?
Touring with Empire! Empire! was incredible. Playing shows with European bands like Raein, June Paik, and Battle of Wolf359 definitely made me think about how we were playing with a band that I didn’t think I’d ever get to ever even see, so it meant a lot. We’ve played some of the first shows of some bands that are getting sort of famous, which is pretty cool.
A lot of the memorable tour stories to me are the nightmare stories. We once stayed in a house that had a brown recluse infestation. We played a show at a house where there was a stuffed deer head with its ears full of shaved pubes. Our van died in the middle of Texas on a tour and we had to cancel the rest of the shows and rent a van just to get back home. I had a conversation with a girl who legit believed mermaids were real at a show. I could go on and on about the weirder stuff.
Manifesto songs will probably be at least half of our set list for a while. We’re hoping to do some weekends in Spring and to tour over the summer.