The 1865 - picture by CP Krenkler

FABLES OF THE RECONSTRUCTION – NYC’s The 1865 Evoke The Past To Shine A Light On The Dark Underbelly Of Trump’s America

If there’s any succour for those feeling demoralised and disenfranchised by the current state of world politics, it’s the revival of a fierce musical and artistic resistance.

New York city’s The 1865 are part of a new wave of punk bands bringing the politics of protest back to the frontline of American music.

Combining elements of hardcore, heavy rock and blues, with articulate, intelligent, lyrics, they’re taking the fight to Donald Trump in his own backyard.

Debut album Don’t Tread On We! uses history to shed light on the violence, division and casual racism, the band say, are part of the everyday experience of black people in America.

Named after the year slavery was officially outlawed in the US , The 1865 describe themselves as “Bad Brains meets Foo Fighters in a black woman’s hair salon for a cup of tea”.

Vocalist/lyricist Carolyn ‘Honeychild’ Coleman and founder and lead guitarist Sacha Jenkins caught up with EP’s Matt Catchpole to discuss the state of the nation and their ambitions for the band.

The 1865 - picture by Ed Marshall
From Left: Jason ‘Biz’ Lucas, Carolyn Honeychild Coleman, Flora Lucini and Sacha Jenkins – Picture by Ed Marshall

Formed by guitarist and filmmaker Jenkins in 2017, The 1865 have some serious antecedents.

Sacha played with The White Mandingos and The Wilding Incident, while vocalist/guitarist Honeychild featured in Apollo Heights, The Veldt and Badawi.

Famed session multi-instrumentalist and skateboard pro Chuck Treece, whose credits include Bad Brains, Urge Overkill and McRad, played bass and drums on the album.

The line-up also features Afro-Brazilian Flora Lucini (MAAFA) on bass and Jason ‘Biz’ Lucas (Dragonz of Zynth) on drums.

Every song on the album features an aspect of life in post-emancipation America, Coleman’s lyrics drawing connections between past and present.

“We set out to express some of the experiences and emotions in America during that time, Predominantly through the lens of African Americans yet not exclusively,” Honeychild explains.

““I think Carolyn did a really great job of telling a really broad range of perspectives. All of these songs can be looked at as stories,” Sacha adds.

“But if you’re not really plugged into what the lyrics are about or what the scene is all about, at the end of the day the music still rocks.”

A case in point is band’s blistering new single John Brown’s Gat – which references 19th century abolitionist John Brown.

Brown sought to spark an armed insurrection against slavery and was hanged for treason after leading a raid on an armoury in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in 1859.

John Brown’s Gat opens with the band singing an acapella version of John Brown’s Body – the Civil War anthem that bears his name.

“John Brown was a white man who believed that African Americans should not be enslaved; he was willing to bust his gun (aka his “Gat”) to contribute to the emancipation/liberation effort,’ Sacha explains.

“The kids today would simply describe him as an ally. He was willing to put his life on the line and eventually he lost his life on behalf of his Nubian brothers and sisters. We crafted a tune to honour the man. RIP my brother. You were on the right side of history. Donald Trump is a chump.”

Honeychild says America has much to learn from its history and how little has really changed in the years since emancipation.

“The rise in comfort level of those who choose to commit blatant acts of racism is utterly appalling. But we, as a nation and as artists, have the good fortune of exposing more people via our works, art, and social media,” she says.

The band argue that slavery is still prevalent in modern day America – it just goes by other names.

“Pipeline to Prison. Stop and Frisk. Grown police officers tackling and murdering children. The list is endless. In many cases figures of authority still do not see us as human, let alone equal,” Honeychild explains.

The case of Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback, who drew the ire of President Trump and the masters of the NFL for protesting about violence against black people, goes some way to explaining what The 1865 are talking about.

The San Francisco 49ers star began ‘taking the knee’ during the playing of the national anthem at games in a peaceful demonstration against racial injustice.

Unsigned at the end of the 2017 season, he took action against the NFL, accusing its owners of colluding to keep him out of the game.

The case was settled, but Kaepernick is still without a team, despite openly seeking a comeback.

“Having your livelihood and career destroyed is blatant scapegoating and can be devastating – ‘How dare he not do his job and keep his head down, how dare he not stay in his lane!’, says Honeychild.

“He was punished in order to put the fear into other players to not get any funny ideas about freedom of speech. Compared to slaves catching the whip, or death – similar “owners” mission is to squash hope via a gentler, kinder character assault.”  

Don't Tread On We! cover art
The 1865 debut album ‘Don’t Tread On We!!’ cover art

Today’s America is arguably more divided than ever, with the present incumbent seemingly bent on rolling back any racial, social and environmental advances made under the previous administration.

Honeychild says Barack Obama’s election “gave folks hope to be represented, but the current situation is magnifying general malaise and distrust in government”.

Watching the 2016 results unfold at a viewing party in Brooklyn, she describes the wave of emotions that followed as it became clear Trump’s rival  Hillary Clinton had lost.

“When I left my friends at the pub, Clinton was creeping along and hopeful. When I exited the train to walk home, I learned that she conceded and Trump won. First, I felt utterly numb in disbelief. When the shock wore off, I felt ready to take action.”

While pleased impeachment proceedings against Trump are “finally happening” she is not confident they will succeed in removing him from office.

She also doubts they will cause significant damage to his 2020 election campaign.

“He has a strong hold on the voting power of old white people clutching onto their last shreds of power and their younger cohorts, as well as emboldened racists in general,” she explains.

“He still somehow has influence on those too desperate to let go of the American Dream he is selling – that they too can be ‘rich’ like him and ‘successful’ – those same people who believed reopening coal mines was a great way to invigorate the job market in their communities.”

She also notes that America’s “uber rich” have a vested interest in keeping Trump in office, because he keeps their taxes low.

“Those are the real monsters under the voting bed. The only way he could lose in my opinion is if we change our entire voting process, which may not happen for a long, long time.“

Get Out, another single cut from the debut album, tackles blackface, a prescient choice given the revelations which emerged last year involving liberal Canadian leader Justin Trudeau.

That such a supposedly woke politician was forced to admit donning blackface on multiple occasions is something the 1865 find disappointing, but hardly surprising.

“As an African American woman, who grew up in white Southern suburbs I have experienced naively unexposed white folk who didn’t know any black or brown people until they went away to college (if ever),” says Honeychild.

“Imagine my dismay at finding a polaroid of a guy I was dating dressed in blackface on Halloween – in Berkeley! In my experience it’s usually the “Liberal” who barks the loudest with the biggest jar of burnt cork in their closet.”

Explaining their description of the band as “Bad Brains meets Foo Fighters in a black woman’s hair salon for a cup of tea,” Honeychild says “Hair is a big part of black and punk culture. The salon is our social club.

“The tea reference is to gossiping or “spilling the tea”. Which happens lyrically in Runaway Bride and other tunes.”

The band use punk’s spirit of DIY to take their message direct to the fans.

“Punks by nature have always been social outcasts and lived by our own philosophies – many based in equality and human rights. What better platform to express what’s happening in the streets as well as intentions and missions than on a stage, on a mic, on the airwaves?” Honeychild explains.

“It used to be mix tapes getting passed around and duped. Now the soundtrack to the revolution is streaming live and direct, 24-7. You can literally create and navigate your own narrative and in moments have access to listeners. No middle man. Straight to the people.”

Despite the confrontational nature of their music and lyrics, the band espouse a non-violent, inclusive philosophy.

“Rebellion can rustle up emotions – people rebel and act out for many reasons and alas not everyone is organised when it comes to harnessing that energy,” says Honeychild.

“In my experience as a peaceful protester and activist, the instigators of violence were often planted and not from within the community or movement. My favourite non-violent ways of protesting are creating art that reaches people and showing up for one another.”

While conceding it will be difficult in a country where the right to bear arms is enshrined in the constitution, The 1865 support a ban on guns.

“Banning hand guns and open carry will take decades but it could work. Other countries have done it and we can too,” says Honeychild. “There needs to be enough people in office not profiting off death and destruction for it to work. This is where it gets tricky in America as so much of our politics are wrapped up in profits before people.”

A fan of bands like Sonic Youth, The Breeders and The Fall, Honeychild rejects any idea that The 1865 is making music purely for the black community.

“I think {white fans signing along to our records} is great.” she asserts. ”At the end of the day we really wanted to hook people in with the power of the music – then hit ’em with the content.”

“White kids can sing along with us. That’s the point,” Sacha chimes in. “We’re on the right side of history and I think the tunes hold up. We know what we’re doing. We have a sound. What colour is that sound? That’s up to you. As long as our music has you seeing colours, I’m good.

Both Honeychild and Sacha are artists in the fullest sense, Honeychild’s illustrations adorn the band’s videos, while Sacha is a talented filmmaker, shooting a well-received documentary on hip-hop pioneers The Wu-Tang Clan for Showtime.

Sacha Jenkins (3rd from right) with the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah, RZA, U-God, Cappadonna and Masta Killa with Sundance’s Adam Montgomery, during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

Wu-Tang—their energy spoke to me early on,” Sacha explains. “They didn’t care about what everyone else in hip hop was doing when they dropped 36 Chambers.

“Their artistry certainly let black artists know that going against the grain and being true to your vision trumps all else. Music is often seen as a way out, as a platform for broad success, so it’s easy for artists of colour to go for that pop gold. Wu-Tang pissed on all of that and went multi-platinum anyway. With Wu, the art came first and the white kids rapping along came second.”

With broad-ranging music influences ranging from hardcore – Urban Waste, The Cro Mags and Leeway – to the likes of Muddy Waters and Miles Davis, Sacha is genuinely excited by The 1865’s potential.

“My goal is to continue to make music that says something and to inspire others to make music that says something. The 1865 is comprised of strong players, and I feel lucky to be on the team.”

Both Sacha and Honeychild view The 1865 as more than just a kick ass rock band.

“We see this project as living in many forms,” Honeychild explains. “I came out of illustration retirement to work on the lyric book so the idea of doing an actual ‘zine is on the table. Multi-media installations in addition to more videos. I don’t want to give it away, but very exciting things in the works. In the meantime, always more songs.”

  • Don’t Tread On We is out now as a digital downlink through Mass Appeal Records via Apple Music, Spotify and Bandcamp. It is also available. It is also available on black and red vinyl in a vintage style jacket with a lyric/colouring book.
  • The 1865 are live in New York’s Max Fish on Jan 9 and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music BAM cafe on Jan 18.
  • For more about the band check out their Facebook page here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the author

Full time journalist, music lover (obvs) and truly terrible guitarist. You can find Matt on twitter @matcatch

Leave a Reply

Please help us with running costs – donate here

%d bloggers like this: