Zach Staggers was born in New York City in 1986. He plays the drums in a band of brothers called the So So Glos. When he’s not on tour, you can find him at the all-ages music venue that he co-founded, Shea Stadium. If he’s not there, he’s probably in Queens eating some dope-ass food. You can follow him on Twitter here and the So So Glos here.
The protest song, once a pillar of the American music scene, has been steadily creeping into the underground for some time now. While back in the 1960s and ’70s anti-war sentiments, feminist ideologies and civil rights issues were at center of conversation in the United States and also at the top of the charts — Barry McGuire’s pop masterpiece “Eve of Destruction” (written by the recently deceased P.F. Sloan) made it all the way to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965 — protest music today must find other places to take up residence. C-Squat, a music venue/crash pad established in the ’90s on New York’s Avenue C, has long been one of the incubators — and, notably, it housed Scott Sturgeon, aka Stza Crack (among other names), a self-described “Anarchist Poly Punk-Jew,” long-time musician and frontman of Leftöver Crack, who just released their first album in ten-plus years. This is protest music in its most extreme incarnation.
With Constructs of the State, LöC bears witness to the ugliest aspects of society: genocide, racism, police brutality, greed-fueled capitalism, the military-industrial complex, suicide, a for-profit prison system and much, much more. Sonically, the record explodes like a Molotov cocktail, shredding through all the perceived norms of what we think a punk album should sound like.
Its opening track, “Archaic Subjugation,” is the closest Leftöver Crack ever gets to sounding like a straight-up noise band. Through ripped-up-sounding vocal cords, Stza screams over a drumbeat at breakneck speed: “You really know assuredly you don’t live in hell?” It’s the same question that has been on Leftöver Crack’s mind ever since they released their first album, 2001’s Mediocre Generica. For this band, just coping in the world, in which the human condition is subject to the whims of an all-encompassing injustice, is hell.
“Loneliness and Heartache” follows this same theme. It takes a painful look at drug addiction and the escape it fosters. Addiction affects this band personally; former drummer Brandon Possible died of an overdose in 2004. Almost paradoxically, the chorus of “Loneliness and Heartache” could be the catchiest hook on the record. It’s a shout-along with dark lyrics (“It’s hard to get whole/when you’re losing your soul”), but LöC’s pop sensibility shines through. The ability to mix saccharine sounds with bleak lyricism is something this band pulls off better than most.
Most people deem Leftöver Crack a ska-punk band — a conjugation of two genres (rocksteady and punk rock music) that cropped up most prominently in the ’80s. It’s a kinetic attack. It’s fun and dangerous. Jesse Michaels of Operation Ivy, one of the genre’s originating bands, appears on Constructs, rocking his signature rap style over the track “System Fucked!”: “Religious lied, you’re pledgified the first day you’re in school/The system grinds your fertile mind into an army tool.” Jesse Michaels fans who have been waiting for new music from the singer since 2012’s Classics of Love (with the band Classics of Love), will be very pleased.
As the record plays through, the band defies all further attempts to put them in a corner when it comes to genre. Despite Michaels’ presence — and the fact that Leftöver Crack’s hyperactive blend of ska and punk music is at the center of the record’s sound — hardcore, thrash, hip-hop, black metal and even folk all serve equally important roles in Constructs. A good example is how “Last Legs,” a song that is the most uncharacteristic for Leftöver Crack, becomes a standout on the record due to its subtlety both in sound and lyricism.
While Constructs’ subject matter is often straightforward and blunt — with such lines as “This system locks you up for life/They’ll throw away the keys with spite” (“Vicious Constructs”) — “Last Legs” sounds like something drunks who spend their days riding freight trains would sing: “What about the young, what about the young rat/Decapitated dog, domesticated animal/Bigmouth strikes again, burnt at the steak house/Motivated sludge, ensorcelled hibernation.” The track’s slowed-down cadence comes as a welcome break from drummer Ara Babajian’s punked-out “D-beat” (invented in the early ’80s by Tez Roberts of the sludgy British crust-punk band Discharge), which dominates the record. The song comes across as more mature. It’s conceptually abstract, which lends the listener more freedom of interpretation than on much of the album. This Leftöver Crack is not afraid to sound vulnerable by backing off a little from the full-throttle onslaught that they’re most comfortable with.
Controversy has, for better or worse, always been at the center of LöC’s career. When the band released its previous record, the Steve Albini-recorded Fuck World Trade, eleven years ago, the record’s cover — a photo of the Twin Towers burning superimposed on men wearing suits and pumping gas — was (and is) regarded as highly insensitive. Stza and crew are also perhaps one of the most censored American bands today; they have been banned from playing many venues in New York, and the NYPD has been known to shut down shows, even ones that the band has managed to book only days before. Perhaps this censorship has to do with lyrics such as these, from Constructs’ “Don’t Shoot”: “When the ammo’s running thin/Don’t shoot ’til ya see the whites of their skin!/Against the cops!”
A song like that is not born in a vacuum, however. It’s a response to ongoing police brutality against black youth. Sure, LöC goes on the offensive with their poetry — as well as their aesthetic — and, of course, their music could be written off as a grab for attention. But they have sacrificed a lot when it comes to being vocal about their opinions (see the aforementioned censorship). They are deeply determined protest artists.
Here in America, people have been protesting a lot lately — and there’s a lot to protest. In Chicago, New York and Ferguson — and all around the country — dissidents have gathered en masse to protest the state-sanctioned murder that has killed men such as Laquan McDonald, Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Communities are taking to the streets, shouting slogans and holding up signs. The age-old practice of demonstration is alive and well. But if you were to listen to the radio today, you would find few indications of a culture embroiled in political unrest. People who are looking for the song that can double as a weapon will search deeper, though. And the ones who need it most will be thankful for Leftöver Crack’s Constructs of the State.