Punk means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. With no shortage of hardcore bands these days, shows and scenes can seem indistinguishable and monotonous. That isn't a statement meant to shit on the current state of punk or look back to a nonexistent past through rose colored glasses; it simply means with music and shows that fall under the umbrella of abrasive music so readily available it doesn't always stay vehement or inclusive.
In the time I've lived in Portland, the sub-culturally diverse attendance of shows has been a pleasant surprise. This is routinely substantiated by local hardcore outfit Failure Pact, who stays in regular rotation amid the regional schedule. I've seen them add their brand of intensity to line-ups consisting of powerviolence and crust, grind and doom, to metal and straight-edge hardcore. Their guitar player Geoff Hahn has been a fundamental part of organizing said rosters and while there may be some controversy behind Portland branding itself as a city that works, the scene sure seems to.
Geoff and Ben were kind enough to hang out and talk about Portland, Oregon, playing hockey, and opening for Bane before they leave for a West Coast tour at the end of the week. Their latest release Late Nights, along with their previous work can be found at https://failurepact.bandcamp.com/.
Scene Point Blank: You guys have had some recent line-up changes, so who's currently doing what?
Geoff: Yeah, we have had a few this past year. Ben is still on vocals with Mike and I on guitars, but both our drummer and bass player moved on as other parts of their lives started to take over. So now we have Curtis on drums who used to play in Stress Relief and Young Turks. And our buddy Anthony from Burn Your Life Down and Where My Bones Rest Easy joined on bass. Nick and John really helped define our sound on the first two recordings, but I think we are more prepared now for what we want to do next than ever.
Scene Point Blank: Portland has a pretty vibrant punk scene. I really love how diverse the turnout is amongst people in various subcultures. But aside from the assorted attendance, there's also a lot of places to play. What are your guys favorite venues in the Portland-metro area?
Geoff: There haven't always been so many places to play, at least that were all ages. It always seems to go through boom and bust periods. Portland had to recover from getting a bunch of places closed down in 2014. The members in Akira, LIAR, and Immortal Majority have all been working hard to secure new spots in houses and halls that just didn't have shows before. A lot of shows that would've gotten pushed to 21+ spaces or just not have happened at all are now able to happen and are in awesome spaces that a lot of people come out to and go off. Some of the houses get crazy numbers of people to come out. Those shows are probably the most fun. Black Water is just a great set up too, with a perfect stage setup, good space, DIY ethic, musician own/ran, and awesome food for the bands coming through.
"A lot of shows that [might] not have happened at all are now in awesome spaces that a lot of people come out to"
Ben: Black Water is probably my favorite spot in Portland right now if not just for the fact that they have awesome vegan food. It is really great that they have worked hard to create a space for all ages in this town which doesn't seem to be an easy thing or profitable. I also like The Know a lot which unfortunately is 21+, but is the perfect dive bar punk spot. It’s a good size for smaller bands to play. Hopefully it can outlast the gentrification that has been happening in the neighborhood.
Scene Point Blank: How was playing with Bane on their farewell stop in Portland? They've been around for almost as long as I can remember.
Geoff: The first time I saw Bane was a defining show for me. It was my first show after moving to Buffalo. I was so excited to have moved there from a small town and get involved in hardcore. Now it is 12 years later, I still had that same feeling during their set. They've influenced so many people that kept coming out over the years for the music and the ideas and served as a great influence for new blood coming into hardcore. Meant so much to us that we could have our tiny contribution to their last chapter.
Ben: Getting to open for Bane was a pretty great experience, especially to be a part of their final tour. I bought Give Blood in 2002 and it’s been one of my favorite albums ever since. We put a lot of work into getting ready for this show. We had a great response from the crowd, a lot of which hadn't seen us before. Aaron also came up to me afterwards with some very kind words about our band and said he enjoyed our set. That made all the practicing and stressing about the show well worth it.
Scene Point Blank: Whether it's musical, academic, or people in your personal lives, who are some influences on both your creativity and your lives in general?
Geoff: I was really drawn towards music at a young age. I can only assume that it was driven by the influence of my parents. But finding out about punk, hardcore, and underground music filled in everything else politically, artistically, and socially. It always helped push me to constantly analyze my ethics and provided the sound that just characterized how I felt inside. I never idolized just a single person in music like some people just look up to Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, or whomever. I feel like I always tried to take the collective set of ideas in and parse them for myself. Maybe the DIY ethic was just the biggest influence.
"Punk and hardcore always helped push me to constantly analyze my ethics and provided the sound that just characterized how I felt inside."
Musically, a lot of mid-2000's hardcore is the biggest influence for Failure Pact material. Outside of hardcore, I am influenced by a range of bands from Red Sparowes to Behemoth and Boris. Other than song structure, the influence is a lot less defined. Creatively, I look outside of music a lot. I really enjoy visual arts and old movies. Art museums are usually the first places I will check out in a new city. Music and art obviously cross influence each other a lot. And seeing some artists for the first time is a lot like listening to a band for the first time. I don't identify with much music that predates punk, but there are so many artists that expressed emotions or messages through art that I identify with so much further back.
Ben: Since I don’t play any instruments I can’t name too many people who influence me musically. George Hirsch I think writes some of the most well-crafted beautifully dark lyrics. The people I look up to the most musically are people I grew up with, bands from my hometown in Arizona like Life In Pictures and Hour of the Wolf. Every time I listen to their records I can’t help but feel every ounce of emotion that’s been put into those songs. They’re some of the most talented musicians in my eyes.
Scene Point Blank: Elaborate on your lyrical content and driving factors behind the band.
Ben: This band for me was a way to try and focus my anger, frustration, and disappointments in myself into something positive that I could hopefully learn from. I’ve never felt very successful at life in general or what direction I wanted for myself. Outside of being in a hardcore band ever since I first heard the music when I was 15. I tend to write mostly about my personal issues of dealing with the day to day bullshit that drives most of us crazy. “Tired” off our Careless EP deals with that just an all-around feeling of being overwhelmed with existing.
Scene Point Blank: What do you guys do around Portland when you're not working on Failure Pact?
Geoff: Most of my life I have been really into playing hockey. Ben just started up lately, which is great to play with friends versus a group that you aren't always on the same page with. Like hardcore, it’s a good way to release every day frustrations in a somewhat healthy way, pending limited injuries. We go to lots of Winterhawks games too. The Portland team was so dominate when we moved here. We got to see a lot of future NHL players like Seth Jones, Derrick Pouliot, Nic Petan, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Brendan Leipsic, and Matthew Dumba pulling off moves that only work at that level. During summer, I usually have a carousel of friends and family that come through Portland. So I am always taking them out into the gorge for hikes.
Ben: Playing hockey again as an adult has been one of the most important things for my self-esteem. It’s helped bring me out of my depression. Sports were never much of an interest for me growing up so it’s interesting to see the effects of them on my life now. Besides that when summer hits Portland like most of the people here I try to spend as much time as possible at the rivers jumping off of things.
"This band for me was a way to try and focus my anger, frustration, and disappointments in myself into something positive that I could hopefully learn from."
Scene Point Blank: Any particular spots you're looking forward to playing on this upcoming West Coast run?
Ben: I’m looking forward to a few spots like Burnt Ramen in Oakland mainly because they have an awesome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mural behind the stage. You couldn't really ask for a better background to live photos. I’m also super excited to play Tijuana. When I lived in San Diego we would go down there for shows quite often and it was always fun.
Geoff: I am probably most looking forward to the Tijuana show, too. An awesome band named Bonebreaker is helping us out and throwing it at a new tiny venue, which should be a wild time. I've never been to Mexico and I expect that show to just go off. Temecula has a solid line up as well with Frustrated, Relevant Anger, and Proletariat Youth. Seeing Cease, Break Through, and Pale Hands in the various cities will be cool, too.
Scene Point Blank: Can we expect a full-length any time soon?
Geoff: A full-length might be a little further down the road. Probably looking at another 7" EP or a split coming out before an LP. We want to get this new line-up in the studio sooner than later. We have a handful of songs ready to go already, so right once we take a small break from shows, we will be recording those.