Arctic Flowers’ Reveries LP (Inimical Records) was easily one of the finest punk records of 2011. With a new EP, “Procession,” coming up in advance of an East Coast tour in August, things are going good for Arctic Flowers. The Portland quartet play a type of gothy peace punk that, unlike some bands in this genre, is not afraid to go at faster tempos. “Our sound is a mix of punk, deathrock, post punk, and goth,” guitarist Stan Wright explains. “Aggressive but at times danceable and melodic.” Arctic Flowers’ powerful combination of these elements makes them one of the most exciting bands around today.
Interviewed below are vocalist Alex, guitarist Stan, and bassist Lee.
Oliver: When did Arctic Flowers start, who is in the band now, and what do they play?
Stan: I play guitar. I moved to Portland in 2008. We all played music together for a year before finding a vocalist. Alex, our singer, had never sang in a band. It just felt natural and completed the sound. Other current members are: Lee – bass, and Clifton – drums.
Lee: Stan and I started playing music with Mike on drums. He is on all of our recordings except for our upcoming release. We parted ways last summer and sought out a new drummer. Cliff has been playing with us since this fall. It’s been great developing as a band, writing songs together, and playing out.
Oliver: For folks who don’t know, can you explain the origins of the name “Arctic Flowers” and who came up with it?
Alex: The name comes from a song by Rubella Ballet and the poem “Barbarian” by Rimbaud.
Oliver: For folks that have never heard you all, how would you describe your sound, and what bands might you point them to as points of reference?
Stan: As far as bands: Smartpils, Burning Kitchen, The Proletariat, Siouxsie, Killing Joke, Lack of Knowledge, Joy Division, Dan, Crisis, Post Regiment, The Mob. Our sound is a mix of punk, deathrock, post punk, and goth. Aggressive but at times danceable and melodic. I love a lot of the bands from the UK anarcho/peace punk movement because they explored different sounds. Some were simple noise/thrash, some complete pop, and everything in between. Being able to experiment and combine different elements within our sound is appealing to me.
Oliver: I’ve asked this of some other Portland bands, but why do you think a lot of the new take on “dark punk”/”dark postpunk” is happening to the degree it is in the Pacific Northwest in the past few years? It seems like a lot of the bands like The Estranged, Observers/Red Dons, Spectres, and more recently a lot of bands in the SF Bay area, are doing this? Why do you think this is happening?
Stan: I think it’s a natural progression for some, but others may just be part of a new trend. It’s great no matter what, because people are trying out new ideas and sounds. I suppose the environment here in the NW has an impact on our moods and sounds we produce. It’s dark, dreary, and rainy most of the year here.
Lee: Musical communities have always fed off of each other. It seems like every town, at different points in time, develop a sound that can become prominent among many bands. It’s sort of the same with vernacular or dress. I think it’s really cool to be surrounded by bands that have a similar esthetic because it’s fun to share the same experience. Throughout history waves of genres take the lead and then something else comes along… When I was a kid I loved mostly hardcore, crust, metal, and aggressive punk. Now I barely ever listen to it. So, I guess, as people’s tastes change, so will the genre influences of the DIY music scene. I think also, for others as well as myself, that post-punk is some of the earliest music we were exposed to and it seems natural to revisit our roots through our own musical expressions.
Oliver: As far as lyrical content, what are some of the common themes in Arctic Flowers’ songs? What do you think are some of the more pressing issues that folks should care about now? There’s ongoing wars, of course, but there seems to be an odd, almost retro, renewed attack on women’s rights, especially contraception. Are these subjects dealt with in Arctic Flowers’ songs?
Alex: The lyrics tend to paint a somber picture of my view on the world. I try to keep a message of empowerment though. I think it is important not to give up the fight against the wrongful things that happen to and around us. But along with a sense of urgency to push back, I think there will always be a sense of darkness in the lyrics I write. I think that it comes from the nausea and heavy heart one gets when terrible things are still happening all over the world. I haven’t written a specific song about the renewed attack on women’s rights but I hope my viewpoint on that is apparent in every song regardless.
Oliver: What do you all feel about the choice, or lack thereof, between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012? Who will the members of Arctic Flowers vote for, and do you think if Mitt Romney is elected it wouldbe exactly the same as if there were four more years of Obama, as far as equal pay laws, health care, etc.?
Lee: Even though Obama has lost his popularity on the left, a Democrat will almost always have a better domestic program than a republican. Right now, Republicans are foaming at the mouth ready to slash any or all social/educational/healthcare programs they can. Obama is everyone’s disappointment but he is taking some strides when he just recently outlawed deportation for undocumented people under the age of 30 and is finally proposing a work permit program. Then there’s also just the fact that whoever is elected shows their face on the news every goddamn day spouting rhetoric for whatever. So, if the choice is who is more palatable to hear on the TV or radio, Obama is clearly the better choice. The worst part about George W. Bush was listening to him talk! It was 8 years of mind-numbing, redneck banter. Keep this in mind if you vote…wait — if you’re reading this…you probably don’t vote…and…if you do, well, I know who you are voting for!
Oliver: I’ve heard some people dismiss a lot of the newer interest in deathrock and postpunk as a “trend” in punk now, akin to the d-beat “trend” of 2003 or so, or any number of trends one could say is sweeping the current punk world at any given moment (hipsters, etc.)? Do you think this is the case, and what does that matter or mean, ultimately?
Stan: I enjoy the music these bands are producing. I hope it’s genuine and from the heart.
Oliver: What are Arctic Flowers’ upcoming plans, as far as playing out, or releasing new material? Where can folks buy records?
Stan: We just finished a new 12″, 5 song EP “Procession.” Our records are available through Feral Ward and Ebullition. And we’ll be touring the east coast/mid west August 8th-20th.
Oliver: Who do you feel are some of the better punk bands going on nowadays, and especially who are some of the better bands exploring the darker, postpunk side of the spectrum lately?
Stan: Pleasure Leftists, Spectres, Bellicose Minds, Criminal Code, Complications, The Estranged, Dekoder.
Lee: As far as punk, I really love Criaturas from Austin. Their live performances are off the hook! I piggy back on what Stan said and also really dig Belgrado and the new Portland band Vicious Pleasures.
Oliver: Last question: What do you think the future of punk is? Felix von Havoc once complained we were in the “throwback” era of punk, where all new music is judged in terms of what it is a throwback to, or what past sounds it most closely mimicked. Do you agree? What is the future of this underground….?
Stan: The underground will continue morphing and mutating. The word “punk” itself may become outdated. With the constant influx of new minds and bodies, comes exciting new sounds and ideas.
Lee: I disagree with Felix. I don’t look at the state of punk music with a sinister view. I don’t know why people want to spend so much time critiquing punk…just live it your own way. Nothing is static.
Thank you, Oliver, for the interview, and for your support of underground music!