Paint it Black: making hardcore personal again

By Charlie Swanson
June 26, 2008

Despite popular thought, Philadelphia hardcore mainstays Paint It Black did not get their moniker from The Rolling Stones. The misnomer takes credit from the real inspiration, a song title from Ink and Dagger, an early nineties Philly outfit for punk vampire lovers that featured Eric Wareheim, who went on to co-create Tom Goes to the Mayor and other Adult Swim mayhem. Ink and Dagger were short lived. After six plus years together, Paint It Black have outlasted their successors and like those who came before them, continue to evolve the language of punk.

Paint it Black’s latest album, New Lexicon (Jade Tree), is a mature and dark balance of hardcore riffs and crisp sounds that forego the overly standard lo-fi effect. Paint It Black keep the songs short and to the point, yet interlude the brutality with ambient noise and experimental vibes.

Lead vocalist Dan Yemin, along with bassist Andy Nelson, guitarist Josh Agran and drummer Jared Shavelson decided another album was necessary. “Nothing in the band is a given,” says Nelson at home in Philadelphia. “It’s all for a reason, a new creative mountain to climb.”

Nelson started Paint It Black with Yemin in 2002. They signed with Jade Tree and released their first full length, CVA. It was a collection of forty-second bursts of violence and action with Yemin behind the mic for the first time. The second full length, Paradise, expanded the songs to be more than energy. It was recorded with indie rock producer J. Robbins, a type of pairing which was unheard of then. The band became known for risk taking and expressiveness.

For over two years the band toured the world in short stints and increasingly were confronted by what it means to be a hardcore band. “We wished there was a different word for what we did, besides punk or hardcore,” says Nelson. “You have to look at what you do and question it.” Those questions aroused due to a growing disgust for the diminishing standards the term punk held.

“Actions and sounds can be lexicons too,” says Nelson. “It’s not just the words. The terms have been stripped. It just depends on how you listen.” The experience of language is very individualistic. The album is a statement meant for each individual to hear and feel.

“The hardest thing as a band today is just to get your record in someone’s stereo,” says Nelson. In the disposable climate that music exists in today, a song is downloaded in five seconds and listened to on laptop speakers before another distraction takes place. “The instant access to music has a direct effect on the lack of impact that music makes today,” says Nelson. “To work on an album for a year and have some intern leak it. We would rather the kids who love us hear it from us first.”

With that in mind, the band planned hard to keep the album DIY and handed copies out free, a month before its official release, at shows in their hometown. There was also a gig only 7” free at one performance, any copies left over were destroyed. The band wanted to give the fans a true album release experience. “It was great passing out the album at the door and later kids would tell us how excited they were. It’s a lot of fun,” says Nelson. Paint It Black just made hardcore personal again.

New Lexicon comes nearly three years after Paradise. The band shows more maturity and willingness to explore than ever before. Hip hop producer Oktopus mixed and dubbed the album, which sheds light on their new way of thinking. “What he gave us after four days sounded like the inside of a mental patient’s head. He’s so insane,“ says Nelson.

The album pushes definitions of hardcore on their head. It is crisp without being slick and the low end pummels behind sharp guitar tones. Yemin is as rough on his chords as ever. The subject matter befits the angst and turmoil of everyday life in Middle America. Paint It Black utilizes ambient undertones and noise as interludes, yet the songs still display every classic hardcore ingredient.

The intersection of classic hardcore ideals with progressive thoughts on music making make New Lexicon an album that could shift the genre into new ground. A year from now, things could be very different, yet for now Paint It Black still have work to do bringing hardcore back to the people. There is still that sense of purpose and importance in every show and on the faces of the kids who need it most.

By Charlie Swanson June 26, 2008

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