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Escape Velocity

Never Coming Back: An Interview With Gaza
Toby Cook , August 25th, 2011 08:29

Toby Cook chats to the Utah metal band about the evils of organised religion

gaza metal band

“Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism and bigotry; invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry; contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.” Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great.

There are few forces in the world as powerful as organised religion. Almost nothing comes so close in its ability to both unite and divide, to inspire and to dissuade. Nothing else the human race has ever concocted has had such an impact on both the advancement of humanity – in terms of art, music and culture – whilst simultaneously being responsible for such massive cultural and scientific stagnation. And of all forms of musical expression, few have quite such a fractious relationship with religion as metal.

From the early accusations levelled at Black Sabbath – that they were Satanists – right up to the church burning that surrounded the Norwegian black metal scene, metal and religion have been almost inseparable. Throughout the years, however, any artist that has either received scorn from or heaped it upon various religious institutions has mostly done so merely to further a gimmick – Marilyn Manson can go on about being the Antichrist all he likes, but when did you last see him voice his disgust at, say, Israel’s treatment of their Palestinian population?

All too frequently bands cherry pick various pieces of religious imagery and doctrine to suit their particular image and nothing else, so it’s a rare thing to encounter a band like Salt Lake City, Utah’s Gaza. They might emit skin-peeling levels of sludged-up hardcore, saturated with twitching, discordant riffs; they might be one of the few bands who can claim to create nearly as much noise and chaos as Converge; and, in Jon Parkin, they might possess a nine foot tall front man. But what is most threatening about Gaza is their obvious commitment to the enlightenment of their audience to the real life evils that organised religion can be responsible for. You see, it’s one thing to dress in light bondage and mince around calling Jesus a cunt, a la Cradle Of Filth, but when the message is delivered articulately, with humour and sincerity - well, that’s when to be afraid, very afraid.

After a storming performance with Trap Them and Rotten Sound at the Camden Underworld, the Quietus eventually tracked down frontman Jon before he headed into the Utah mountains.

First things first, how are things in the Gaza camp at the moment? You’ll have not long returned from a European tour, right? How was it?

Jon Parkin: The tour was great. Being out with Rotten Sound and Trap Them was a lot more fun than you’d think the character of such grumpy bands would produce - really good guys all the way around.

For the uninitiated, can you give us a brief history of how Gaza came into being?

JP: Well, believe it or not, Gaza actually started as an indie band. I was in a heavy band – which later became Bird Eater – already, and wanted to do something different so I, with one of the original guitar players, recruited Casey [drums] – who brought Mike [guitar] along. The indie stuff lasted about half a practice! I originally played bass and we went through three other vocalists before we decided just to have me do it. And with the eventual addition of Anthony on bass, here we are!

What was the thought process behind naming the band Gaza? Obviously the name ‘Gaza’ conjures up pretty strong images of conflict and religious and social divide – was that that kind of the point?

JP: That’s exactly the point. Gaza has been an enduring and perhaps the most obvious example of religious turmoil; it paints an ugly picture and says a lot in four letters. But I should probably mention that we don’t affiliate ourselves with either side of the conflict.

Musically there’s seems to be a lot going on with Gaza, everything from hardcore and crust to almost sludge metal - can you tell us a little about the musical influences behind the band?

JP: We do find influence from many places and what you’re getting is the result of us playing what we enjoy, and that stems from a lot of genres – it’s almost easier to tell people what doesn’t influence us, to be honest!

We really strive to make things our own, we never want to mimic or perpetuate something that’s already going on. But if you listen real hard you’ll find bands like Discordance Axis, Coalesce, Rage Against The Machine, Will Haven, Converge, Explosions In The Sky, etc. etc.

And how about the non-musical influences?

JP: Christopher Hitchens, Stephen Hawking, Sam Harris, progressive politics, equality. And science!

Although you're from Utah you’ve stated numerous times that your disgust at organised religion doesn’t wholly stem from being brought up in a Mormon community, nor is it aimed directly at Mormons. So, where does this disgust (if I can call it that?) at religion come from?

JP: Well, here’s a simple example: if one third of Sub-Saharan Africa is suffering and dying from AIDS/HIV, leaving innocent orphans, infected-at-birth children and wrecked economies behind, would you propose condom education might be a good idea or cling to an ancient and dangerous edict that birth control is a sin? If your goal as a religion is to end human suffering, the choice seems simple enough.

Your vitriol does seem predominately aimed at branches of Christianity though – why is that?

JP: Probably because it’s what we know best and are closest to. It’s easier to paint a metaphor when you know the colours of the palette, so to speak.

So, in your view, is there absolutely no place for religion in society – other than that of something to be mocked and derided?

JP: Not now. I believe it had its place and there have been amazing advancements in art and architecture all for the glory of God, but it’s time we moved on – we know better now. I don’t think less of anybody because they’re religious, but I would hold them to the same standard for life choices, politics, etc. as anyone else.

Surely the vast majority of people in the world live their lives by some sort of moral/ethical code, even atheists – otherwise, wouldn’t we have anarchy? Or do you think that very fact is proof at how deep-rooted and insidious religious ideas have become in modern society?

JP: People often associate atheism with anarchy but that’s a poor assessment as religion does not own a monopoly on morality. Atheists don’t murder, rape, and steal any more than anyone else. In fact it’s shown they do so less. We don’t do these things because we understand there are real and immediate personal, societal, and anthropological consequences. If it takes Hell to scare you straight, you probably aren’t very forward-thinking.

There a couple of questions I wanted to ask regarding some of your mid-song comments made at the Trap Them/Rotten Sound show: one thing you said was that you believe the Pope is a criminal. Could you elaborate on that a bit?

JP: Well, the condom example I talked about earlier is straight from the Vatican. The other more obvious point would be the child molestation scandal.

Before ‘Slutmaker’ you also mentioned that the song was to, but not about, all the strong women in our lives to whom we owe a great deal. Hopefully I’m not reading too much into this, but looking over the lyrics of ‘Slutmaker’, I don’t see it. Could you clear up what you meant a little?

JP: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s not about my mother if that’s what you’re asking! All I meant by that was that we had strong examples of women in our lives and, the song having a feminist bent, it seemed a decent thing to bring up. Respect for women and a call for equality is a theme you’ll see more of from us. Muslim, Christian, sexuality and reproduction, wage discrepancy, so on. 'Slutmaker' hits on sexuality specifically.

Are there any stories you can share with us of any particularly adverse reactions from audience members after some of the statements you’ve made? Any gigs in the Bible belt that have got some people riled up enough to throw stuff at you, for example?

JP: You know, most people let us know how they feel with their money. Merch sales drop off significantly in direct correlation with how much I run my big mouth. If I stick to topics like DJ Tanner being whack fodder or something equally ridiculous – it’s ok, we think it’s funny too – we’re ok. No one likes a Debbie Downer so politics, religion, gay rights usually means two or 3 fewer tacos for the band. It’s usually only friends who throw shit or heckle us to be honest!

On the other side, have you ever encountered fans that have taken your message to much to heart? Wannabe church burners, that kind of thing?

JP: I certainly hope not. Violence in retaliation to religion would only make martyrs of any victim or structure – fighting is the lowest common denominator. I would hope those listening to us don’t see our music and message justifying their lack of creativity.

So, what’s next for Gaza? Are there any plans for a new LP or EP anytime soon?

JP: The new LP is in the works, we’ve got about half of it written. The plan is to record it at Godcity Studios in the autumn, so it should be out in the spring. Before that we should have our previous full lengths released on vinyl near the end of the summer and there will be some autumn touring and spring touring with the new record.

Gaza’s current LP He Is Never Coming Back is available now via Black Market Activities.