What Is Real Powerviolence?

Regional Justice Center’s Ian Shelton and Wound Man’s Trevor Vaughan discuss the sanctity of powerviolence and loving your own music.

Ian Shelton leads the Los Angeles-based hardcore band Regional Justice Center; Trevor Vaughan fronts New Bedford, MA’s Wound Man. To celebrate their new split 7-inch — out today via Atomic Action Records — the two sat down to talk about ripping off top 40 melodies, growing their formerly-one-man bands, and what, exactly, constitutes real powerviolence.
—Annie Fell, Associate Editor, Talkhouse

Ian Shelton: Trevor, I don’t know if you know this, but [part] of the basis for me starting Regional Justice Center was [seeing] the Wound Man model of the one-man band and being like, Oh shit, this is exactly what I want to be doing. It’s the style of hardcore I’ve always loved, and it’s run the way I’d like it to be.

I remember when we played with Brother the first time, which is your other band, and you always had that “DEATH TO FALSE POWERVIOLENCE” stuff, and I remember kind of feeling like I had a chip on my shoulder. We hadn’t met yet, and I was like, I bet this fool’s an asshole. I bet he thinks we’re wack, and we’re fake powerviolence. I was kind of in my head at that show. Then I met you later that night, and it was instantly great. I’m prone to having this chip on my shoulder, and I thought we were going to be enemies. [Laughs.]

Trevor Vaughan: That’s crazy. [Laughs] Well, our mutual friend Jeff Novak introduced me to Regional Justice Center when the demo came out. He told me to check the band out, and he mentioned to me that you wrote all the music and had this live band to flesh it out, so I already knew of you guys and I liked the demo. I had already warmed up to it. But I will say, I am definitely one of those people that, when I hear a new band, for some reason I always dislike it at first. I don’t know if you feel the same way, but especially when it’s a fast band, I get a litte, Eh, I don’t know about these guys. I gotta meet ‘em, or I gotta see ‘em live. I just can’t tell. Especially if a lot of people have posted about them, I just can’t jump into that hype right away. But, to be honest with you, that was not the story with Regional Justice Center.

Ian: I definitely agree. I have trouble liking new music because it doesn’t click, and the people who talk about it, it’s like: I don’t trust these motherfuckers, so I definitely won’t like whatever they’re posting about. With Wound Man, I heard the Rolled single and was like, This is it. Even though it’s a three-minute song, that’s the one.

So with that, we’ve talked about the hyperbole of fake versus real powerviolence. What do you deem as fake versus real?

Trevor: Dude, I fucking knew you were going to ask me this goddamn question. [Laughs.]

Ian: You put it on the shirt! You cornered me! [Laughs.]

Trevor: I put it on everything, and I’ll tell you why. It’s just funny to me that people have such a thing about even saying “powerviolence.” Some people think it’s goddamn silly and think it’s not even a thing, that it was a joke. Then some people live and die by powerviolence. I thought it was funny to start tagging that; it’s on a couple releases we’ve done, and it’s on that shirt we did. I just wanted this strong phrase, almost like propaganda, to evoke this reaction. Because some people would be like, “Yo, it’s lame they say that. That’s fake as fuck.” And I knew some people would be like, “Hell yeah. Death to false fuckin’ powerviolence.”

It was kind of in jest that I started using it, but I guess, in a way, there’s a lot of fake music out there in any genre. But who am I to be the judge and jury, you know?

Ian: Personally, my own hang-up with the term “powerviolence” came from being a kid and being talked down to on message boards and being told what is or isn’t powerviolence. For my generation — and I don’t know how much younger I am than you — when I was growing up, it was almost like a dirty word. Or like, only two or three bands could use it, otherwise you’d get relentlessly clowned. For me, with RJC, even though I think undoubtably there’s no other subset of hardcore we could call it, I’ve also been really hesitant, because I don’t want to invite the criticism of, “Nah, that’s fake.” So I’ve been like, “We’re a blast beat hardcore band,” but that’s not even a cool term. “Powerviolence” is the shit — that’s the term, but people are so crazy about it.

Trevor: You’re absolutely right. But that’s kind of what I like about it too. It’s so insane, people get so hung-up about it. I’m not afraid to use it though. If someone sees the term “powerviolence,” they kind of know you’re going to be a band that’s really fast and really slow.

Ian: Definitely. And either way, that’s the shit we’re ripping off.

Trevor: I know for a fact I’m ripping off certain bands.

Ian: I try to lean away from ripping off powerviolence bands directly. I just wrote a song the other day that has a groove from a Robin Trower song. To me, I’m like, I’m gonna take The Beatles, but I’m gonna make it powerviolence. I’m gonna take Robin Trower, but I’m gonna make it powerviolence.

Trevor: I do that with Top 40 stuff. I’ll hear a melody in a song that I like and then I’ll turn that into a riff.

Ian: I just hear rhythms everywhere. If I’m listening to the orchestral station or some bullshit — I don’t care about that music in an active way, but it makes me hear rhythms. Then I take that rhythm and make it hardcore. I’m just open to it at all times.

Trevor: Do you track everything yourself when you record?

Ian: I did the demo all by myself, but since then, we’ve tracked everything live with Will Killingsworth. On the LP, I tracked one guitar and maybe bass on a couple songs, but not everything. I’ve definitely handed it over to better guitar players. I have a better ear for hearing riffs than I do playing riffs, because I’m not that great of a guitar player.

Trevor: So, basically, you’d call yourself a drummer?

Ian: Yeah. I had a brief stint with bass growing up, but I’m a drummer. I got my first bass in fifth grade, and I got my first drum set in ninth grade. Literally, I got a drum set to drum and sing in a powerviolence band — the first thing I ever did with drums was sing and play blast beats at the same time.

Trevor: That’s funny, I guess a lot of people start out with bass because it’s kind of easy to pick up and just play root notes. I started out with bass as well, and I would still consider myself a bassist, first and foremost.

Ian: Really? Are there bands you’ve played bass in recently?

Trevor: No. I picked up a guitar a few years ago and played more seriously in a couple bands, and after that I was guitar in every band since then. I’m kind of bummed, because I really enjoy playing bass, and I’m not a guitarist at all. I can play good rhythm guitar, but I’m actually horrible at any type of lead guitar work. Bass is my thing, for sure.

Ian: Do you think that comes out in your riffs at all? I find that when I write a song on bass, I use way more notes and it’s a more intricate thing with more rhythmic changeovers on the left hand.

Trevor: Oh, absolutely. I remember when I first got the live band together, I was showing [Kwami, live bassist] the riffs, and there was some really crazy fast stuff with more notes and he was like, “Yo, you definitely wrote that riff on bass, didn’t you?” Because it was not a guitar riff. I play them on guitar as well, but I kind of play crazier things on bass because it’s easier to slide around.

Ian: When did you first put together the live Wound Man lineup?

Trevor: I recorded the first Wound Man track at the end of 2012, and I didn’t do anything with it for, like, two years. But when I wanted to pick it back up again, I asked one of my good friends, Justin DeTore, to play drums, because I’m not a great drummer. So I started jamming with him, and he was into it. And that’s when we recorded the Perimeter LP. Then the next step was to start playing some shows. That’s when I decided to include more people, just so we could play live.

Ian: For me, right off the bat I was writing, and simultaneously trying to get the demo recorded and find members. For a while, I tried someone else on drums, and I was like, There’s no way. I’ll be too much of a dickhead to whoever ends up playing drums for this band because I care too much about the drum parts. So I had to drum and sing. For us, my main rock with the band is our dude Alex. He’s there just as much as I am. Initially, I didn’t even want him in the band because I had this rule — because the Northwest is really incestuous as far as bands go — [that] nobody can already play in a band with each other. So this dude who was in RJC was in another band with Alex, and he was like, “Dude, we’ve got to get Alex in this band.” I was like, “Nah, we can’t man. You guys already play together and I don’t want to be like every other band in the Northwest.” Then eventually, it ended up having to happen, and he’s been the best thing ever.

I still write and demo everything. Recently, my buddy James wrote a riff for the band, and that was literally him being like, “I was trying to write songs for my other band, and this didn’t fit, but I think it sounds like an RJC song because it’s in 3/4 time and it’s kind of intricate.” It’s the second song on the split. So far, he has been the only person to write for the band, and he’s not even in RJC.

Trevor: Was everyone else pissed off that someone else wrote a riff and they don’t get to write anything?

Ian: I know Alex doesn’t really care to write anything. I’ve been trying to goad him into it, because I’m really afraid of running out of ideas, but I don’t think anyone else feels any of that ownership over it. If the inspiration strikes, I’m down to hear anybody else’s ideas, but nobody else has even tried aside from James, who isn’t even a member. [Laughs.] For the next LP, I hope there’s other people’s songs on it.

Trevor: For me, I guess it’s similar. I’ll write everything and demo it out, but it’s really just me and Justin that record everything. The other guys that play guitar and bass are just for the live shit. So I’ll write it, demo it, send it to Justin, then he’ll help me trim the fat off the songs. He’ll help me produce it, and then once it’s recorded and ready to go, we’ll show those songs to the guys and see what songs we’re gonna play live.

Ian: Speaking of live, when I saw you guys in LA over the summer, I was really bummed to not hear “Rolled” in the set. I talked to Dean afterwards and was like, “I wanted to hear ‘Rolled’” and he was like, “Dude, it has too many parts. We can’t play it live.” It was like it was an impossible feat. You got get at ‘em, Trevor. You gotta play “Rolled.”

Trevor: There are definitely songs like that — I want to put “Rolled” in the set for sure — but I’ll play them a song at practice and they’ll look at me like, “Oh, I don’t know.” They’re scared to learn some of the songs that sound too complicated. They definitely shape the live set, because if they don’t feel like learning it, then we just don’t play it.

Ian: So you’re not the dictator at practice then? Because the way I do it, [if] everyone is like, “Man, fuck, this song is crazy and hard,” I just keep counting it in until we get it right. If we mess up, we stop for a second, then I go, “One, two, three, four,” and we do it again. Not in a rude way, but we’re just going to sit there and do it as many times as it takes to learn it.

Trevor: I guess I’m a little more easygoing as far as the set. I don’t feel like there are songs that we have to play. If they’re scared to do it, I’m like, fuck it. We play for over 20 minutes anyway, we don’t need to add anything to the set.

Ian: Dude, but “Rolled” is the single, man. You gotta put it in.

Trevor: Maybe they’ll see this interview and Dean [Forsyth, guitarist] will be like, “Oh fuck, now I definitely have to learn it, Ian said so.”

Ian: So I wanted to talk to you about how prolific you are in songwriting. I feel like there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t see you recording more music by yourself, whether it’s Brother or Body Parts, which you did not even two weeks after we finished the split songs. Like, what’s up? Why won’t you stop?

Trevor: I have the studio in my basement, and every free second of time that I have, I’m down there either mixing a band that I recorded or working on a project that I want to record for myself. I’ve been like that ever since I was 16, just playing music with different bands and always doing side-projects. Then I picked up a 4-track and started doing my own home recordings. It’s a sickness, dude — I’m always down there doing something. I can’t stop.

Ian: I truly love that Body Parts record. What I look for is truly harsh music, and it’s power electronics, it’s powerviolence, and it’s like abrasive and nasty. You’ve got the goregrind vocals on it, and you’ve got the powerviolence vocals on it — it’s all there for me.

Trevor: Yeah dude, death to false power electronics, that’s what I always say. [Laughs] But yeah, thanks man.

I’ve got a question for you. When you’re recording, you listen to the rough mixes hundreds of times, you do little tweaks, then you listen to it a bunch more, then you do another little tweak, and then listen to it a bunch more. Then you get the masters and you listen to it a bunch, then it gets pressed, and you listen to the test press a bunch. But when all is said and done, do you still obsessively listen to your own music, or do you kind of put it away because you can’t listen to it any more?

Ian: I listen to it constantly. I’ve been making demos recently, and I can’t stop listening to the demos — they don’t sound that great and the songwriting isn’t exactly what I want it to be yet, but for some reason, I’m still so obsessed with it. Every spare moment, I’ll just pull out my phone and listen on my phone speaker like, Yeah, that part’s cool. I don’t know if that’s narcissistic. How are you with it?

Trevor: I’m the same exact way. I actually love my bands, and probably more than half of what I listen to is the shit I record. I just knew in my head that this fuckin’ guy Ian is probably the same way.

Ian: It’s just obsessive. I’m sure you have this too with how big your output is — you can forget about a record that you made and then be like, Oh shit, I haven’t listened to that in a minute. Then it’s in constant rotation again. It’s so weird, because I wear my own merch — I am wearing an RJC hoodie right now — and I listen to my own music, but I think it fuels new ideas. You hear it and are like, Well this could have done that, and all of a sudden you have the basis for a new song, because you didn’t get to do that in the previous song.

Trevor: I just wanted to know because I feel the same exact same way, so I was like, I have to ask this dude if he’s the same sicko kind of person who loves his own music like I do. [Laughs.]

Ian: Is it perverse? I don’t know.

Trevor: It’s sick, man.

Ian: Is it an ego thing? Because I don’t stare at myself in the mirror — I hate looking at myself. So I don’t know the difference between the two things.

Trevor: Dude, I don’t think I have an ego, but my wife may say differently. [Laughs] Especially when it has to do with music and mixes, I’ll be blasting it on my headphones on the couch if I’m not downstairs, and she’ll stop me and be like, “Dude, how many times are you going to listen to that fucking song on repeat?” She can hear it in the room because I’m blasting it so loud.

Ian: I think there’s something to be said for making exactly what you want to hear, because no one else can do that. I know exactly the combination of elements that make up a record that I like, and I’m going to use them and make the record that I’d like, so what’s the point of listening to other people’s music sometimes? It comes down to the control element of the bands that we’re talking about. There’s no one else’s opinion changing the course of the music, so in the end, unless we fucked up, it’s going to be exactly what we intend to listen to.

I wanted to talk to you about fucking with people’s expectations. I saw that video of you doing that cover of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown,” and I was like, This dude is sick as fuck. One, I love Kanye West, but, two, you’re willing to go out there and record this song from this record and just totally fuck with the expectation of the self-seriousness of the powerviolence scene and what we’re supposed to be as hardcore dudes. What do you get out of fucking with people like that?

Trevor: That’s a hard question, but it’s a great question. I feel like I want to be super serious with my music, especially with Wound Man — I don’t want it to be silly at all. But generally, I’m a real silly guy, so that definitely bleeds into my music in a way. I’ve always just done whatever comes to me. I definitely let that silliness bleed into my creativity, but in a project like Wound Man, I hope it’s so serious that it’s stupid, in a way.

Ian: It definitely doesn’t bleed in with Wound Man, but there’s definitely times where I’m like, Is he fucking with me with that one little element?

I guess seriousness is just a really interesting topic, because if you watch any of [the videos I direct], they definitely lean goofy; I like to use extreme circumstance to explore a silly idea in kind of a deadpan way. With RJC, I try to leave that behind, to the point where I’m actually kind of pissed a lot of time. I feel that same silliness, but it just doesn’t come across in my projects.

Trevor: It’s so hard, because any time I talk about seriousness in music, I’m always contradicting myself, because I feel both ways. I want to be super serious at times, and I want to be super silly at times and be able to do and say whatever the fuck I want with music. It’s tough, for sure.

Ian: There’s a whole part on our LP that is exactly a Ringo Starr drum fill. It’s like, this is fucking ridiculous and funny and sick. And that’s the combination. If silly is in there, it has to have the other two. It has to be ridiculous. It has to be this level of “What the fuck?”

Trevor: Yeah, if you’re gonna go there, you really gotta buy in.

Ian: You have to be serious about doing the silly thing. You have to believe it.

(Photo Credit: left, Rob Coons; right, Farrah Skeiky)

Trevor Vaughan is a musician from New Bedford, MA. He’s the mastermind behind Wound Man and plays in countless other bands including The Rival Mob, Wolf Whistle, Clear, and many more. Outside of music he works in organic farming at Simmons Farm in Rhode Island.

(Photo Credit: Rob Coons)