On its new record, Weak Teeth is anything but. Lashing out like a pissed off cobra, So You’ve Ruined Your Life is 13 cuts of hardcore fang and venom. In those tracks, lead singer/bassist Mike Pagano, lead guitarist Chris Carrera, rhythm guitarist Jon Pagano and drummer Neil King scream, spit and thrash their way through a familiar airing of grievances – so appropriate for this Festivus season. The record is a millennial manifesto and its authors, the self proclaimed indebted “children of the post-Cold War,” are trapped in a world they did not make.
There’s a lot of rage on the surface of this record. In a strictly sonic sense it’s a blistering onslaught of guitars and scream ‘til your throat bleeds vocals. It’s rage befitting the subject matter – gender and marriage inequality, the desperate narcissism of social media culture and the moral bankruptcy of those in power each get their own impassioned screams. “Anything Helps, God Bless” deals with the one-two punch of college debt and the lack of jobs to justify the traditional college experience.
“It’s all in place to set you up for these entry level positions that almost everybody got coming out of college in the past,” Mike explains. “But a lot of places that offered those entry level jobs don’t exist anymore. To keep putting yourself out there and keep getting knocked down is such a hard thing. I know maybe two or three people who have found that one spot and are slowly climbing into their career. Everybody else I know is treading water. Until things start to change, it’s all we can do.”
Bleak, sure, but the end of the song is peppered with lines like “I’ve sacrificed too much not to succeed,” and “Born from the ashes but we’re still alive. We’ll scrape.” At the center of what is, superficially, a black hole of rage, is a singularity of hope, one that’s grounded in honesty and a moral imperative to not be naively anthemic.
“We want to be real about what’s happening now and in the future. It’s not some loosely worded, flimsy, ‘one day we shall overcome’ thing,” Mike says. “Instead it’s ‘Here’s our problems, here’s where we can break through. You gotta keep your nose to the stone and someday things will break one way or the other.’”
Take for example “Dumb F---in’ White Man,” the album’s battle cry for marriage equality was written as a testament to a fan, Franklin, who kept his nose to the stone and, fortunately, had things break his way.
According to Mike, “about a year or two ago he came to terms with something he had been feeling for a long time and messaged us about it. ‘I think I’m gay, I’m a Christian, I’m in the South. What the f--k should I do?’”
Eventually, with the band’s encouragement, this fan came out to his family and has transformed from a shy, funny kid they’d see when they passed through Virginia to this massive voice for gay rights in his community.
“To see him stand up like that made me feel amazing for him. Because he involved us in the conversation so much we felt like we were there with him,” says Mike. “It’s the issue for our generation. It’s 2014 and we’re still trying to find ways to subjugate people. Because we were so close with Franklin and his transition into becoming openly gay, I felt like I wanted to give him something back. I took all of the things he was messaging me, all the feelings he had and what he was going through, and I put that into the song.”
It’s that heart that underscores the punk bluster and cacophonous arrangement. And this record has heart in spades. But what it doesn’t have are answers to the problems it presents. Mike doesn’t have any answers to what’s wrong with the world he and his band find themselves railing against. He doesn’t even know where to start. “I don’t want to be that guy. It’s one of the problems in political hardcore. I’m not going to stand on a soapbox with a megaphone and tell you all my ten-point plan to reinvent the world, because I don’t have it. The only thing I can do ef- fectively is try to bring these issues out in a way that’s clear, concise, factual, but passionate.”
He hopes that passion inspires somebody, even if that person is just the second step in an unpredictable game of Six Degrees to Social Change. Weak Teeth is just happy to be a part of the conversation, hard as it is to understand at times.
Performing Saturday, January 31 AS220
115 Empire Street