Madison, Wisconsin’s the United Sons of Toil bill themselves as being from “the epicenter of class struggle.” Their music reflects that worldview, getting deep into the politics and polemics of the ignored American underclass. Gruff and anthemic, their most recent album is a blistering diatribe against the forces in power. They shot us a copy of When The Revolution Comes, Everything Will Be Beautiful, and after a couple of listens, we had a lot of questions. Thankfully, guitarist and vocalist Russell Emerson Hall was cool enough to answer them via e-mail.
Do you feel that the style of music reflects the lyrical content?
There is a lot of rage and desperation in both our music and our lyrics. We try to tie all of our political themes to the human experience — how societal and economic pressures affect the individual. That said, we primarily operate as an instrumental band when we’re writing songs. After a song is more or less complete, we try to figure out how to fit some vocals in. We tackle some fairly heavy themes because there’s nothing worse than a good song with dumb lyrics.
This song has always had a sort of a mournful and desperate cry to my ears. The song is about how indigenous peoples around the world are facing more and more pressure by governments and corporations to allow their homelands be exploited. In particular, this song deals with a 2009 clash in Peru. When face-offs turned violent, 23 police officers and at least 10 indigenous people were killed. Riot police used tear gas and shot 82 protesters.
The musical influences are little easier to parse (I certainly hear a lot of Fugazi in “The Concept of the Urban Guerrilla”), but from what sources do you draw lyrical inspiration?
Musically, Fugazi has been more of idealistic influence but certainly part of our musical world view. (Our bass player has some beautiful nods to Hoover’s Fred Erskine.) I’ve always seen the songs as based on Amphetamine Reptile noiserock filtered through chaotic hardcore and more recent post-metal textures. Lyrical inspiration is primarily drawn from current events, historical research, and authors like Chomsky, Zinn, and Marx. The expert wordplay of Jawbox’s J Robbins has long been a roadmap about how to map concrete ideas into more abstract language.
What sort of response does United Sons of Toil receive in Madison? I know it’s a pretty liberal town, but it’s still the Midwest.
We have a small but loyal audience here in Madison. Sometimes we feel a bit like we’re preaching to the converted, but we try to push people away from the passive left-leaning liberal Democrat mindset towards more of a radical reconstructionist viewpoint. But we don’t lecture on stage. We try to draw people in with the rock and let them discover what’s behind it later. We do try to keep our politics in the foreground through our social media presence though. It may turn some people off, but we don’t really care. In our experience, people who are attracted to extreme music aren’t really willing to accept reactionary politics or feel comfortable with the status quo.
Is When The Revolution Comes, Everything Will Be Beautiful your first release? If not, what else have you put out?
Actually, it’s our third full-length. Like our first two records, this one was tracked live in the studio and then completed at home with guitar and vocal overdubs. We mixed the records ourselves and sent them to Carl Saff in Chicago for mastering. All our records are available as name-your-own-price downloads at Bandcamp or can be purchased on vinyl.
Any plans for an upcoming tour?
We’re still recovering from a pretty grueling European tour last summer. I think we’re going to start writing new songs soon and if that happens, we’ll be touring regionally in the Midwest for most of the year — possibly East and West coast tours in 2013?