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Patrick Kindlon Can Be A Controversial Figure In Underground Guitar Music. What Does That Say About Underground Guitar Music?
Drug Church (L-R: Pat Wynne, Chris Villeneuve, Patrick Kindlon, Cory Galusha, Nick Rogan)

Photo: Danielle Parsons

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Patrick Kindlon Can Be A Controversial Figure In Underground Guitar Music. What Does That Say About Underground Guitar Music?

Hardcore-adjacent band Drug Church just released 'Hygiene,' which marks another thrilling leap forward for their singer, multi-hyphenate Patrick Kindlon. Some in the scene view him as an antagonist — but Kindlon's closest friends argue the opposite.

GRAMMYs/Mar 11, 2022 - 08:32 pm

Patrick Kindlon and Eric Wilson were 35 minutes into their podcast episode when Wilson said he had to go — someone from GRAMMY.com was about to call him for an interview about Kindlon. Kindlon’s band, Drug Church, is steadily rising in the hardcore-adjacent musical space, was on a press cycle — and naturally, he was the focal point, both as the singer and a consummate talker.

"Make sure, in that interview, you throw me under the bus," Kindlon told Wilson. "Say, 'Patrick's still evolving.'"

"What if he hits me with a gotcha question?'" Wilson asked with a laugh. 

"Just lean in," Kindlon replied. "I don't care where my life goes."

The pair were recording a Patreon edition of "Worst Possible Timeline," their long-running, unscripted show that veers between media criticism, pop-culture hot takes and blue humor. Mild-mannered Wilson plays the straight man to Kindlon, who provides some of the podcast's most sublime moments when he flies completely off the handle.

In that episode, the duo excoriated Patton Oswalt, who had just made what they viewed as a self-righteous, duplicitous Instagram post about his friend of more than 30 years, Dave Chappelle. Drop into the pod any other week, and you're bound to hear shaky-at-best journalism, dispatches from the front lines of TikTok, or Kindlon practically spitting the phrase "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" derisively through his upstate New York accent.

Despite his seemingly lackadaisical, stream-of-consciousness spitfire, Kindlon does indeed care where his life goes. Kindlon is intensely ambitious as a comic book writer and rock band singer. In the latter role, the world's worst self-promoter (as Kindlon's friends call him) is promoting Hygiene, the pummeling new Drug Church record out March 11. 

Over shamelessly heavy riffing — with production more along the lines of 2000s radio rock than their hardcore forefathers Minor Threat — Kindlon roars his worldview, often in just a couple of pithy lines. Like in the immortally awkward but oddly unforgettable hook "News flash/ I need news less!" from "Million Miles of Fun." Or the legitimately affecting chorus of "Lieutenant Detective," a thumb in the eye of those itching to throw art out the window: "We don't toss away what we love!"

That wild stance — that we should treat each other decently, and not as mere refuse — is exactly why Kindlon sticks out in underground guitar music. While this scene was built on the shoulders of brilliant, individualistic weirdos from Ian MacKaye to Patti Smith to Iggy Pop, Kindlon thinks it’s become an arid, ideologically monochromatic space, punctuated by often-petty Twitter executions. His acerbic online presence and penchant for contrarianism make him, to some in the music community, a hated troll.

"With no sort of pride, I'm just attached to the identity involved here. I'm just difficult," Kindlon tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom, with LAPD caution tape as his virtual background. "I honestly just think it's a personality type. I don't think it's informed by any trauma."

Hours of listening to Kindlon talk will reveal something startling: Despite the quasi-Rush Limbaugh delivery, he leans about as far to the left as one possibly could — and his views are, at their essence, middle-of-the-road. This begs the question whether Kindlon's controversial status says more about him or the community he's part of.

Where does his contrary nature and relative lack of filter come from? Kindlon's background is a strange brew: the suburban nothingness of an upbringing near Albany, an early immersion in heavy music, a lifelong commitment to a vegan, straight-edge lifestyle, a Bard religious studies degree, his experiences working with the intellectually disabled, his father's incarceration. Can it be pinpointed anywhere on that map?

"By objective, capitalist-style metrics, he's hitting a level of success and catching the opportunities," Bob Shedd, who co-hosts the hardcore podcast "Axe To Grind" with Kindlon, tells GRAMMY.com. "But he's been presented with roadblocks over time that he's had to outlast. And a lot of the success he's feeling now, I feel, is 10 years overdue." 

Some of those roadblocks were self-imposed; in his way, he tried to throw off Drug Church's ascent. "I didn't seek to sabotage it," Kindlon says. "But I wanted the band to fail." Of course, he's saying that cheekily, hyperbolically. But he's thought it through, as he usually does. And that mental process provides a window into how this untrained singer navigates the music industry.

According to Kindlon — who doesn’t write Drug Church's music — Hygiene’s predecessor, Cheer, was a 10 out of 10 record, and this one is a mere eight. But the band's songwriting consistency (which, to these ears, only leveled up from Cheer) isn't on trial here.

"I think you're supposed to have a drop-off from the record that blew you up," Kindlon explains, citing Deafheaven's New Bermuda — which followed the blackgaze band's colossally successful Sunbather — and Quicksand's Manic Compression, which he concedes is a great record but not as a good as the celebrated Slip. "I like that. I also like the idea of being slapped back down, should you think that you're more than you are and you don't have to work hard. I think that it's good to be s***ted on a little bit by life."

While Kindlon is down with weathering adversity, he doesn’t abide by receiving grief from bad-faith internet orcs. After an aside about a band kicked off an opening slot as a pure political calculation, he brings up the value of simply not associating with those who would "weaponize each other's past against them, or even made-up stories against them."

That said, "I think every misfortune is my fault," Kindlon adds. "And what I mean by that is, even just putting your trust in the wrong person is ultimately your fault."

How did guitar music become a pit of snakes — one that has repeatedly tried to end Kindlon's career for violations like enjoying Morrissey?

"I think there's a combination of two things," Kindlon notes. "I wouldn't call punk music a viable career, but some people still see it that way. If your specific goal is to make money in doing this, you now have the playbook in front of you. There are things that you want to avoid, like, 'Don't play Israel' or whatever nonsense." For the progenitors, like MacKaye, Smith and Pop, this playbook didn't exist, he adds — and in 2022, guitar musicians must follow it to the letter.

Then there's the elephant in the room: social media. "You can delete somebody's ability to make a living in an afternoon, basically," he deadpans. "Every person, whether they know it or not, is walking around with an ax and a tree stump in their pocket that they can tie somebody's hands to." Because of this, there's "limited upside potential to being a public figure — but infinite downside potential." 

Shedd has seen this firsthand. "For the first decade of [Kindlon's] musical pursuits and interests, people who have worked with him were shouted down and told, 'Why are you working with that guy?'" he says. "I got several messages from people I liked and respected — and still like and respect — who were saying, 'Don't work with that guy. He's a loudmouth, he's a bozo, he's this, that and the other — because of some suppositions and assumptions about him."

One of the most brutal pushbacks Kindlon ever got, he says, was for arguing for sex workers' rights more than a decade ago — which got his other band, Self Defense Family, essentially banned throughout Germany. Wait: wouldn't the opposite view get you royally canceled today?

"Exactly right," Shedd says. "A lot of the things he says, they're well-thought-out — they're considered. And I just think that a lot of times, music scenes, 'communities' — big quotation marks there — end up being these ugly echo chambers where you feel like you're being confirmed by the dozen people who think like you, act like you, like the same things as you." 

The line on Kindlon early on was that he talked too much — that he was full of himself. But his closest friends mostly describe him in terms of his warmth and generosity. "He's not putting that out front and center in his online musings and podcasts," Shedd says. But in person? "People are shocked," he says. "People are taken back by how kind and gentle he comes across because they're used to this hyperbolic, exaggerated, big personality."

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

As a shy kid who tended to be a fly on the wall at hardcore shows, Wilson — his co-host on "Worst Possible Timeline" — was one of those people shocked at his real-life demeanor. More than a decade ago, he was a fan of Kindlon's pre-Self Defense Family band, End of a Year. 

"When I would go to shows, he would go out of his way to say what's up to me," he tells GRAMMY.com. "Every time I'd be at a show, I'd see him and be like, 'I don't want to bother him. He's doing stuff.' But he would always come up to me and be like, 'What's up, man? How's it going?' and stuff." In 2016, Kindlon moved back to Brooklyn and Drug Church played in New York, they began hanging out — then podcasting together. These days, they room together in Los Angeles.

"If we're edgy to you, then you're an insulated person. You're an insulated Twitter person that needs a little bit more exposure to the world," Wilson says. "Because I listen to things on the daily that are 10 times as edgy as us, and that s***'s out there. That s*** does better than us — like way better."

Andrew Duggan, a guitarist in Self Defense Family who has enjoyed a two-decade friendship with Kindlon hinged on "good-natured, mutual antagonism," sums up why he, of all people, is controversial in punk music.

"People hate a confident person. It irritates them to no end," he tells GRAMMY.com. "It's kind of like when crabs pull each other back into a bucket when one's trying to get out. it's more about not upsetting the dynamic of the pack than about wishing they were confident." 

Despite getting in occasional scuffles with Kindlon over issues like vaccine mandates, Tom Sheehan — the other co-host on "Axe To Grind," who used to sing in the hardcore band Indecision — notes Kindlon's integrity and devotion to unwavering principles. "He's very much about individual rights," Sheehan tells GRAMMY.com. "He doesn't really care about the greater good; he thinks it's all kind of going to turn out bad anyway."

That "individual over the group" philosophy is all over his numberless records, no matter which project you seek out. "I think he's got a way of sort of boiling down a pretty expansive topic, to two really clever, slick lines," Sheehan says. "I find that incredibly impressive."

Plus, it informs Kindlon's derision for call-out culture and the paradigm of NotesApp apologies — which tends to be a verboten position in punk. 

 "You don't owe strangers an apology for anything — unless, I guess, if you drop a bomb on their home. The person you owe the apology to is the person you wronged, and literally nobody else," Kindlon says. 'I look at these [instances] in pop culture where people say 'I'm sorry; it's accountability!' and they're saying it to the air."

On an interpersonal level, Kindlon's human-first purview means throwing your friends under the bus is repugnant — especially when you claim to be part of the same musical "community." 

"It's the token line from The Lord of the Rings: 'Faithless is he that says farewell as the road darkens,'" he adds. "I think it's bizarre that people think there's metaphor-style heaven for people that turn on their friends. I think that the person that would want you to do that is lower than dirt."

It's a scathing take — but one that’s incredibly common outside of the bubbles of punk houses and blue-check Twitter threads. Kindlon may make aggressive music, and be a difficult personality — and may even castigate AOC for her Met Gala dress or compare Hillary Clinton to a "velociraptor" in any number of podcasts. But by all accounts, he's not a jerk who lashes out indiscriminately. 

"He's 114 pounds soaking wet. He's a little bird. He's got bird bones. He's got a big heart," Shedd says. "He's not really sharing some extremist view, as opposed to this idea of, 'Wait a second, the side all the way to the right is wrong and the side all the way to the left is wrong, and there's more of this gray area.'

"And I think so much exists in the aggressive-music subculture that is strictly in the extremes," Shedd adds. "When people come with more measured opinions, they can seem like the sore thumb." Of course, Kindlon is not right all the time. It’s just that even when he’s flat-out incorrect, he’s still compelling.

“I think Patrick is often wrong. Probably more often than not, in a lot of topics,” Ian Shelton, the leader of Regional Justice Center and Militarie Gun who has played in Self Defense Family, tells GRAMMY.com. “But with that lens, maybe the facts are wrong, but the opinions or the thought structure surrounding the topics, I'll enjoy or agree with to some extent.”

At the end of the day, some people are memorable, and some aren't — and Kindlon's particular attitude makes for throttling music, innumerable laugh-out-loud tweets and a ripping conversation. If that kind of energy is barred from the increasingly narrow-minded guitar music world, then that scene is the problem — not Kindlon. 

"I still love the guy," Sheehan says, recalling a few verbal altercations during podcast sessions. "No matter what, even if we disagree 100%, he's still my buddy."

As a wise — if sometimes lovably unhinged — man once sang, we don't toss away what we love.

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