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"A Joyful Burden": How Ian Shelton Of Militarie Gun & Regional Justice Center Makes Art Out Of Negativity

Militarie Gun (C: Ian Shelton)

Photo: Derek Rathbun

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"A Joyful Burden": How Ian Shelton Of Militarie Gun & Regional Justice Center Makes Art Out Of Negativity

Ian Shelton of Militarie Gun and Regional Justice Center misses his brother, who was imprisoned at 18. Rather than post an infographic about the prison system, Shelton chooses to scream and drum about his inner life.

GRAMMYs/Jun 10, 2021 - 02:39 am

Take a look at some of the press surrounding Ian Shelton and you might think of two words: prison reform. One of his bands, Regional Justice Center, is named after a direct-supervision jail in Kent, Washington; their latest album is called Crime and Punishment. His other band's called Militarie Gun, which would seem to say it all. Plus, the punk drummer/screamer is at the age, 29, when sociopolitical ardor tends to blaze bright and hot.

The complicating factor? Shelton almost never sings about incarceration.

"People say I sing about the prison system. It's not even true!" he tells GRAMMY.com while hoofing it to an L.A. recording studio. "What I've done with my space in the press is that I've talked about it." Shelton goes on to cite the interconnected private prison firms Securus Technologies and JPay—the former a vehicle for video communications, the latter for information technology and financial services.

"They are for-profit things that nobody even knows," Shelton says. "They're like shadow companies. They don't have a Twitter. They don't have any public accountability. They're just these huge fking billion-dollar corporations that exist and profit off something people don't talk about."

He's preoccupied with this topic because it hits him close to home. Back in 2016, his then-18-year-old brother was arrested and sent to the Regional Justice Center. Shelton misses him every day.

Shelton hasn't reacted to this traumatic event like a typical 29-year-old might. Instead of taking to Tumblr or reposting cartoon infographics (perhaps with the word "carceral" in there), Shelton alchemizes his anxieties and self-doubts into music. A lot of music. In just a decade, he's amassed an unwieldy discography, and his latest band, Militarie Gun, just released their vibrant, diverse EP, All Roads Lead to the Gun, on June 4 via Alternatives Label.

Across its four tracks—"Ain't No Flowers," "Don't Pick Up the Phone," "Fell on My Head" and "Stuck in a Spin"—you won't hear a single line about changing the world or even a declared "what" without a qualifying "how." Slogans are cheap; human expression is priceless. Within Shelton's music—which borrows elements of hardcore, adds melodic information, and uses non-core instruments like acoustic guitar and Mellotron—you'll hear him questioning, incinerating and reforging himself.

"It's an actual compulsion. It's a problem!" Shelton says about his unscratchable creative itch. "You're happy to create because you're not having to be weighed down by everything behind you. It's the one thing where it has nothing but forward motion, even if it is about something in the past."

Shelton has plenty of experiences still nipping at his heels. His mother had him in her early 20s with no small amount of personal baggage in the first place. Alcoholism and relapses were common; Shelton remembers attending AA meetings as a child just because his mom didn't have a babysitter. "I think the catchall of 'alcoholic home upbringing' is pretty much how to describe it," he says. "Probably no more or less than anyone else has gone through."

Until the age of 6, Shelton was an only child. That's when his first younger brother came along; two years later, another. Due to the turbulence and frequent parental absence at home, his relationship with his brothers took on a parental hue. Understanding there was trouble at home, his teachers deemed Shelton at-risk and pulled him out of class to attend "drug classes with other bad kids," he says.

"That was more exposure to the idea that, 'Maybe I'll go smoke weed after school than trying to help me integrate with people I had less in common with,'" Shelton says. "I have this theory about the way people treat at-risk youth. They're actually further pushing them toward the fringes of society and not trying to save them and bring them back in."

One of Shelton's brothers, who was 18 at the time, caught an assault charge and was sent to Regional Justice Center. By then, Shelton had been consistently creative for years, playing in punk bands Seattle's New Gods, Drug Culture and "a large amount of hardcore and youth crew bands." 

For the latter band, Shelton wrote "To Cope" as an extended hand to his imprisoned sibling. "That was about me literally feeling like my brother was running out of ways to relate to the world and that I wished I could help him find a way to cope with everything," he explains. Around then, he cemented family and interiority as his creative lenses, not petitioning against societal ills.

After years of slugging it out in others' bands with all the attendant trappings, including three rehearsal sessions per week, Shelton was ready for a change. Citing an inability to "entrust someone else to have enough to say or be willing to work as hard as I was," he struck out with his own band, Regional Justice Center, in 2017, casting himself as the drummer, lead vocalist and driving force. Naturally, that band exhumed—and, Shelton claims, improved—"To Cope."

Read: Rhyme & Punishment: How NPR's "Louder Than A Riot" Podcast Traces The Interconnected Rise Of Hip-Hop And Mass Incarceration

That same year, Shelton joined Self Defense Family, a genre-catholic ensemble in the vague proximity of "post-hardcore" with international members in and out. Their leader, Patrick Kindlon, is an unconventional and magnetic singer who—unlike most in the self-conscious punk scene—holds forth freely about sex, race and the cancelations of the week, often on podcasts like "Worst Possible Timeline."

Shelton's association with the older Kindlon helped him shed his self-consciousness, which was no small feat in a backstabbing, cliquish subculture. "I've definitely done things that intentionally turn off certain subsections of the audience," he says. "I know there are certain kinds of people who love music who actually just love being upset, so I try to do things that drive them away from what I do."

In 2021, Regional Justice Center released Crime and Punishment, which packs more ideas into 13 minutes than some punk bands do in 300. A combustible mix of grind, fastcore and other subgenres, the album tackles Shelton's lived nightmares head-on. One jarring example is "Dust Off," which Shelton named after the compressed gas duster a family member would abuse. In spite of—or maybe because of—the whiplash runtime, the listener is left pleasantly exhausted.

Militarie Gun's All Roads Lead to the Gun represents another side of the coin. The distortion and screams remain, but the music is uplifting, melodic and borderline beautiful. Rather than prepare lyrics in advance, Shelton launched into each vocal take extemporaneously. What always resulted, he says, was something subconsciously nagging him that day.

It's on All Roads where the philosophical inspirations of two of Shelton's favorite bands, the Beatles and Guided by Voices, clearly show. Lennon and McCartney wrote pop songs haunted by the early deaths of their mothers; GBV's Robert Pollard wrote songs as an escape from suburban, formatted tedium. There's a direct link between their cathartic prolificity and Shelton's.

So he keeps moving, drumming, singing, and writing, an engine of activity beholden to no one. The last track on All Roads, "Stuck in a Spin," is both the darkest and most joyous of the whole EP. "That song is literally about my self-destructive nature," he says. "I would say that 'alchemy' is a really good way to describe it, because you're not thinking about what you're doing. You're not thinking about the best therapy at the moment."

Shelton's brother should be out of prison by February 2022. These days, they're frequently talking on the phone, plotting the music they'll make together. He doesn't want to reveal his brother's name at the moment, but he looks forward to his brother's chance to make a name for himself and tell his own story. Until then, Shelton will continue doing what he always does: Hurtling forward so he doesn't lose momentum, tip and fall.

"My theory on it is that it's about keeping your hands busy so your mind can tap into that subconscious thing that's nagging at you," Shelton says at the end of the call. "It's a burden, but it's a joyful burden."

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Iggy Pop Announces New Album, 'Free', Shares Title Track

Iggy Pop

Photo: Harmony Korine

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Iggy Pop Announces New Album, 'Free', Shares Title Track

"By the end of the tours following Post Pop Depression, I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long. But I also felt drained… I wanted to be free," the Godfather of Punk explained

GRAMMYs/Jul 18, 2019 - 11:47 pm

Today, GRAMMY-nominated punk forbearer Iggy Pop revealed the details for his forthcoming 18th solo studio album, along with its short—at under two minutes—yet spacious title track, "Free." The 10-track LP is due out Sept. 6 and follow's 2016's GRAMMY-nominated Post Pop Depression.

"This is an album in which other artists speak for me, but I lend my voice," Pop explains in a press release.

The statement notes jazz trumpeter Leron Thomas and L.A.-based electric guitarist Noveller as the "principal players" collaborating with Pop on this exploratory new project. On "Free," Thomas' horn and Noveller's guitar add layers of depth, somberness and exploration, as Pop's echoing voice cuts through twice to proclaim, "I want to be free."

Pop adds that his last tour left him feeling exhausted but ready for change, and the shifts eventually led him to these new sounds:

"By the end of the tours following Post Pop Depression, I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long. But I also felt drained. And I felt like I wanted to put on shades, turn my back, and walk away. I wanted to be free. I know that's an illusion, and that freedom is only something you feel, but I have lived my life thus far in the belief that that feeling is all that is worth pursuing; all that you need—not happiness or love necessarily, but the feeling of being free. So this album just kind of happened to me, and I let it happen."

Post Pop Depression earned the former Stooges frontman his second GRAMMY nod, at the 59th GRAMMY Awards for Best Alternative Music Album. It was produced by GRAMMY winner Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and as a tribute of sorts to David Bowie, Pop's longtime friend the producer of his first two solo albums, and was released shortly after Bowie's surprising passing.

As the press release states, "While it follows the highest charting album of Iggy's career, Free has virtually nothing in common sonically with its predecessor—or with any other Iggy Pop album."

You can pre-order and pre-save the new album now for the Sept. 6 release here. You can also check out Pop's new book, 'Til Wrong Feels Right, on Sept. 26.

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Recordings By Janet Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Odetta & More Inducted Into The National Recording Registry

Janet Jackson

Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images

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Recordings By Janet Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Odetta & More Inducted Into The National Recording Registry

Selections by Albert King, Labelle, Connie Smith, Nas, Jackson Browne, Pat Metheny, Kermit the Frog and others have also been marked for federal preservation

GRAMMYs/Mar 25, 2021 - 02:37 am

The Librarian of Congress Carla Haden has named 25 new inductees into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. They include Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation 1814,” Louis Armstrong’s “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” Nas’ “Illmatic,” Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration,” Kermit the Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection” and more.

“The National Recording Registry will preserve our history through these vibrant recordings of music and voices that have reflected our humanity and shaped our culture from the past 143 years,” Hayden said in a statement. “We received about 900 public nominations this year for recordings to add to the registry, and we welcome the public’s input as the Library of Congress and its partners preserve the diverse sounds of history and culture.”

The National Recording Preservation Board is an advisory board consisting of professional organizations and experts who aim to preserve important recorded sounds. The Recording Academy is involved on a voting level. The 25 new entries bring the number of musical titles on the registry to 575; the entire sound collection includes nearly 3 million titles. Check out the full list of new inductees below:

National Recording Registry Selections for 2020

  1. Edison’s “St. Louis tinfoil” recording (1878)

  2. “Nikolina” — Hjalmar Peterson (1917) (single)

  3. “Smyrneikos Balos” — Marika Papagika (1928) (single)

  4. “When the Saints Go Marching In” — Louis Armstrong & his Orchestra (1938) (single)

  5. Christmas Eve Broadcast--Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill (December 24, 1941)

  6. “The Guiding Light” — Nov. 22, 1945

  7. “Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues” — Odetta (1957) (album)

  8. “Lord, Keep Me Day by Day” — Albertina Walker and the Caravans (1959) (single)  

  9. Roger Maris hits his 61st homerun (October 1, 1961)

  10. “Aida” — Leontyne Price, et.al. (1962) (album)

  11. “Once a Day” — Connie Smith (1964) (single)

  12. “Born Under a Bad Sign” — Albert King (1967) (album)

  13. “Free to Be…You & Me” — Marlo Thomas and Friends (1972) (album)

  14. “The Harder They Come” — Jimmy Cliff (1972) (album)

  15. “Lady Marmalade” — Labelle (1974) (single)

  16. “Late for the Sky” — Jackson Browne (1974) (album)

  17. “Bright Size Life” — Pat Metheny (1976) (album)

  18. “The Rainbow Connection” — Kermit the Frog (1979) (single)

  19. “Celebration” — Kool & the Gang (1980) (single)

  20. “Richard Strauss: Four Last Songs” — Jessye Norman (1983) (album)

  21. “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814” — Janet Jackson (1989) (album)

  22. “Partners” — Flaco Jiménez (1992) (album)

  23. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”/”What A Wonderful World” — Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (1993) (single)

  24. “Illmatic” — Nas (1994) (album)

  25. “This American Life: The Giant Pool of Money” (May 9, 2008)

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Press Play At Home: Watch Dodie Perform A Morning-After Version Of "Four Tequilas Down"

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Press Play At Home: Watch Dodie Perform A Morning-After Version Of "Four Tequilas Down"

In the latest episode of Press Play At Home, singer/songwriter dodie conjures a bleary last call in a hushed performance of "Four Tequilas Down"

GRAMMYs/Jun 24, 2021 - 07:38 pm

"Four Tequilas Down" is as much a song as it is a memory—a half-remembered one. "Did you make your eyes blur?/So that in the dark, I'd look like her?" dodie, the song's writer and performer, asks. To almost anyone who's engaged in a buzzed rebound, that detail alone should elicit a wince of recognition.

Such is dodie's beyond-her-years mastery of her craft: Over a simple, spare chord progression, she can use an economy of words to twist the knife. "So just hold me like you mean it," dodie sings at the song's end. "We'll pretend because we need it."

In the latest episode of Press Play At Home, watch dodie stretch her songwriting muscles while conjuring a chemically altered Saturday night—and the Sunday morning full of regrets, too.

Check out dodie's hushed-yet-intense performance of "Four Tequilas Down" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of Press Play At Home.

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Why Dead Poet Society's Jack Underkofler Has The "Least Picky" Backstage Rider

Jack Underkofler

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Why Dead Poet Society's Jack Underkofler Has The "Least Picky" Backstage Rider

In the latest episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, learn why Dead Poet Society lead singer Jack Underkofler is committed to having the world's most reasonable backstage rider

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2021 - 12:26 am

Some artists make larger-than-life demands on their tour riders—hence the classic urban legend about Van Halen requiring the removal of brown M&Ms. 

For their part, Dead Poet Society have decided to take the opposite tack, as their lead singer, Jack Underkofler, attests in the below clip.

In the latest episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, learn why Dead Poet Society's Underkofler is committed to having the world's most reasonable backstage rider—including one ordinary pillow to nap on.

Check out the cheeky clip above and click here to enjoy more episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.

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