There’s a difference between being the loudest in the room, and commanding enough respect that people will listen to you even if you’re whispering. While hardcore is a genre that makes a hell of a lot of noise, sometimes the sound doesn’t travel further than the walls and the sticky floors of the club basement in which it’s being played.
This intimacy plays a significant role in how the genre became loved by so many though, and why the connection between a cacophony of hardcore bands and their audience is so feverishly strong. Whether you love hardcore, or you hate it – it’s a bracket of music that rarely feels overproduced or toyed with by a table of suited executives that see us as little more than walking dollar signs. But by this same token – for the scene to continue its growth, as with every other style of music – there has to be that handful of bands that break barriers, conventions, and spread their message far and wide.
Americans Stray From The Path seemingly have the best of both worlds though, in the sense that 90% of the time they’re the loudest voices in the room, and even more frequently than that; people are listening to what they have to say, whether they agree or not. They’re a band that have experienced both ends of the popularity spectrum too, spending years as an independent project before achieving their first big break on a record label.
As guitarist and final remaining founding member Tom Williams reflects:
“I always knew that [Stray] could be a lot bigger than what my bandmates at the time thought it could be. It wasn’t until Drew [York, vocalist] joined that we started to take it really seriously, and I don’t think anyone had the aspirations to be a touring musician like me and Drew did”.
The transition from being a band that can be relied on to cause a ruckus at one of their local clubs, to a full-time touring band with management, fans, and themselves to satisfy is a tumultuous one – and one that a number of bands understandably struggle with. Stray were pretty much the polar opposite of this though, ready to spearhead into full time touring as soon as possible.
“We were definitely ready, we were tired of getting in the van and playing for no money, or the promoter leaving before we got paid. We owe a lot of our career to the bands that took a chance on us when we were super young because they liked what we were doing, even though it wasn’t as marketable as some of the other things going on at the time”.
For anyone who is unaware – take 10 minutes out of your day to listen to Stray From The Path and you’ll see very quickly that they’re a band that go out of their way to strike back at the wrongs of this world, and there’s a fire in their stomachs that can’t be extinguished. Right from debut full-length record Villains all the way through to most recent, and arguably greatest release Only Death Is Real, Stray take their ideologies and have no qualms in caving your face in with them, and it’s the things we come across in everyday life that make Williams feel the way he does.
“Two movies that changed my life were Office Space and Fight Club” claims Tom, “because Office Space showed me how dark that whole 9-5 life can get, and Fight Club showed me that materialistic things should not rule your life. I’m not going to say I don’t watch TV or want an iPhone, and it’s fine if you want those things, but if that’s what your life is about, making money just so you can buy bullshit because it makes you happy, that’s a dark state of mind. I didn’t want to work a normal job, I wanted to play music because I loved it, it made me want to not be ruled by my IKEA catalogue. We wanted to go out there and do what we knew we were supposed to do”.
What this is – is a stark reminder that Stray are just as human as all of us, which is easy to forget. If over time you’ve started to think of the quartet as more of a group of walking mouthpieces then you’re probably not the only one. They’ve lived the 9-5 life, they’ve been forced to work tirelessly to earn their success, they know what it’s like to be let down by the system.
It’s no secret that Stray From The Path are accustomed to verbally attacking politics and societal issues as and when they see fit, with most recent case being ‘Goodnight Alt-Right’, a song about confronting Nazis, with a YouTube comment section so frightening it has to be seen to be believed. But despite the negative backlash, the video has not been removed, still proudly standing as a beacon for what Stray believe in. This, as much as anything else, encompasses everything that Stray From The Path Are: a band that refuses to divert from their beliefs. But this mentality can have its drawbacks.
The temptation to pigeonhole the quartet as just a political band may be strong but should be refrained from at all times. Far more than just a band that like to grunt towards the White House, Stray have explored consumerism, death, loneliness, and the police force amongst a range of other elements of society in their tenure as a band.
“People hear one song and they write it off because they think they’ve heard them all. We just write about what affects us, it will always be that our art is a perception of our reality and maybe we’re more political now than we ever have been because the political climate is pretty intense, so there’s a lot to write about and be mad about”.
The concept of people being turned off from music at the first mention of politics is potentially a problem in itself though – as an artform we expect music to be expressive, relatable, emotive, and most importantly – real. But is there a way to change this cycle and have everyone on board with the inclusion of politics in music?
“The way I look at it is, if someone doesn’t want it, then it’s gonna take something in their life to hit them to be open to it. Maybe if I never saw Fight Club or Office Space then I’d be selling insurance or something, it takes moments in people’s like to be like holy fuck, that’s not right”.
As expected, new record Only Death Is Real is a grooving, raging, hardcore blast that is as lyrically potent as it is poignant – but Stray never feel pressured into dressing down the ills of this world, or more specifically – the failings of the establishment when writing. “I wish I didn’t have to write anything politically at all, I feel like the more politically we have to write, the worse our world is. I feel like if shit changed tomorrow and there wasn’t natural disasters, questionable pardoning, and racism then there might be a pretty happy Stray record coming up”.
Stray From The Path are a band that reek of unity, even their lyric-writing process is a joint effort, and for a band of four adults to be able to craft music that equally represents how each member feels on certain issues is a victory in itself. Only Death Is Real follows in this curve too, but is more transparent on its approach of focusing on the here and now than looking too far backwards; “It’s a very point in time record, we wanted to write it so that people could look back in 20 years and be like, that’s what 2017 was like”.
“We’ve never been a band that was like, ‘this is what we are’ we don’t call ourselves a political band, we’re Stray From The Path, we’re a hardcore band, and we write about what’s going on in our life, that’s it. With Only Death Is Real we wanted to go darker and that was pre-conceived before we even started making it, we knew we wanted to make darker music”.
It would be easy to think of the notion that Stray want to be remembered mostly for their unique way of amalgamating their passions into a style that totally works for a genre they love and lets them express themselves lyrically, but as much as that – they want to be remembered as a great band musically.
“On top of wanting to spread awareness I just want us to be a great band, I want to write great songs that people like, before anything else. People lose the fact that we are a band, this is entertainment. We try really fucking hard to write great songs, and I’m really proud of this record in particular”.
Stray From The Path are the hardcore movement that we need. Whether you agree with their ideologies or not is almost irrelevant. In Stray From The Path, hardcore has a band with a voice and a message that spreads far and wide – teaching people to stand up for what they believe in. Less like walking on eggshells and more like sprinting across shards of broken glass – Stray From The Path is a hyperintense band, who are looking to liberate the world from the shackles of hatred and prejudice. Their legacy already sits upon a mightily high perch, but there’s a feeling in the air that they’re just getting started.