Birthright had always been a band that stood for more than just playing heavy and aggressive music. The band addressed a number of political topics with their lyrics and had activist associations with several local animal liberation, environmental and feminist organizations.
In the end, though, it was routine, not controversy that ultimately spelled the end of the band. “We just called it quits because of the constant problems from trying to maintain a stable lineup,” observed former Birthright vocalist and now Risen frontman Schroeder.
Birthright also had the distinction during their reign of being the city’s resident vegan straightedge hardcore band. Members of the band during their tenure adhered to a drug-free lifestyle and a strict vegan/vegetarian diet, which quickly put the band in a position of stark contrast to the often-hedonistic leanings of the punk rock scene.
“Vegan straightedge” is a subset of the hardcore-punk musical genre where the ethics of the animal liberation movement converge with an emphasis on the Do-It-Yourself philosophy coupled with the drug-free lifestyle practiced by its adherents.
Straightedge hardcore itself evolved out of (and, many times, in reaction to) the punk scene of the early ’80s. While notable exceptions to the rule existed, straightedge in general was a lifestyle of positive youth-oriented personal empowerment. The movement embraced the rebellious anti-authoritarianism of the punk movement while at the same time rejecting its nihilism, decadent excesses and emphasis on bar-oriented, 21-plus shows. Straightedge adherents refrained from smoking, drinking, drug-use and promiscuous sex. Since straightedge was a philosophy so steeped in the notion of purity of body and mind, vegetarianism slowly started to make in-roads into the scene without ever becoming a prerequisite for calling oneself “straightedge.”
The rise of vegan straightedge merely extended the philosophy to its next logical step.
Like the phoenix of ancient myth that immolates itself only to be reborn from the ashes in a new form, Schroeder and company are back with their new project: the aptly-named Risen. Despite the different moniker, Risen continues to embrace their former band’s political advocacy. “The name Risen definitely has connotations of starting anew and of rebuilding,” Schroeder said. “But more importantly it also refers to rising above the culture we are immersed in and trying to build something new in that arena as well.”
When asked about the issues that Risen tries to address in their lyrics, Schroeder details how the basic premise of their debut EP Left With the Ashes (released on Schroeder’s local hardcore label, Catalyst Records) is one of personal empowerment. Lyrically, Risen does not seem to be as overtly focused on pushing the vegan straightedge ethic as Birthright. It eschews divisive labels to focus more on holistic solutions to deep-rooted societal ills and issues of social justice. Even though the local hardcore scene has stayed true to its roots by supporting Risen and other local politically-minded bands, there’s been a fall of popularity for vegan straightedge and political conscience at a national level.
Schroeder thinks this hardcore niche is going strong abroad at the moment compared to the U.S., but has faith that vegan straightedge can bounce back with a vengeance here. “It definitely has become more difficult to find bands that I feel will fit with the ideas that Catalyst exists to promote,” Schroeder said. Yet Catalyst records has expanded to the point of releasing bands internationally, from countries in which he thinks political hardcore is still a focus and is a growing force. “I have now released bands from Italy, Brazil, Argentina and Germany and an upcoming release will be from a band from Portugal.”
Even with this recent level of expansion, though, Schroeder remains hesitant about the marketability of political hardcore, especially the concept of profitability that seems to occupy most musicians, promoters and record label owners today. In fact, he flat out rejects the whole concept.
“Commercial ‘success’ — whatever that would entail — would be nice, but the ethics of the label come first,” Schroeder said. “I have never been very concerned with making money from the hardcore scene. My primary objective is to support bands that promote ideas and ideals that I also believe in.”