The Proletariat were a Boston-based band who, because of circumstance and situation, got lumped into the hardcore genre when they really never fit that mold. Their lyrics are literary and political and smart and their music, while hard and fast and punk, still has an almost danceable (well, slam- danceable at least!) groove that makes them much more layered and complicated than a lot of what was going in the hardcore scene at the time. Influenced by bands such as Gang of Four and PIL, The band had a decidedly non-hardcore sound, but never quite escaped the label. These were a group of guys that made you take notice. Quirky, brilliant and socially relevant, their music stood for something. And even at 13 years old I recognized the fact that they were special. My first taste of the band came when a friend gave me a copy of the punk compilation album, This is Boston, Not L.A.. The entire album was good, but I played the Proletariat songs so much that I wore the grooves down in the record in no time.I listened so often that I once even caught my Irish and very Catholic Grandmother humming Religion is the Opium of the Masses. I’m sure she was at confession first thing the next day!
When I first listened to the critically acclaimed Soma Holiday, my mind was made up. This punk quartet from the middle class town of Fall River, MA, were politically astute beyond their years. They played with a growling intensity layered with political angst and a refusal to accept a flawed and rigged system. But the music, like the lyrics, were not one-dimensional. There was a multi layered and sophisticated quality to the bands sound, even when it was apparent that they were not trained classically. In music, you either have it, or you don’t and this band understood how to make music together.
A socially and politically aware kid from basically birth, lyrics have always meant something to me. The Proletariat spoke to what was happening in the world. They saw things the way I saw them. And because of that, they were hugely important in my life. Songs were peppered with themes of social justice and class warfare, speaking out against Reaganomics and trickle down bullshit.They just got it.
I’ve listened to The Proletariat for over 30 years. When I found out that they were going out on the road to do a handful of shows, I was elated. When I realized that their first stop was right down the road from me in New Haven, CT, I was floored. There was no way I was going to miss this!
I was lucky enough to be able to interview the band and watch them play live for the first time in over 3 decades. Knowing that they were not used to playing in front of a live audience, I expected good, but not great. But the band surpassed any expectations I could have had. They played a phenomenally tight and solid set that sounded like they’d been out on the road together forever, with no time off in between.The setlist included all the favorites and even an excellent rendition of Janie Jones by The Clash. It was so good there was just no way to sit still through it.If you have the chance, go see them. You will not be sorry, I promise. Punk at its finest.
J. After 30 years, what was it that got you back out on the road again?
Rick : Probably the reissue of the album Soma Holiday. Peter has been trying to get us to reunite for close to a decade now. I was finally willing, but Frank (guitarist Frank Michaels) wasn’t. That’s when we recruited Don. (Don Sanders).
J. How do you feel about the re-release? Was it unexpected?
Rick: I was surprised that people wanted Soma re-released. But people really did.It’s going pretty well, I’d say.It’s humbling. It really is.
J. The reception to the re-release of Soma Holiday has been so positive. Were you expecting it to be such a big deal to so many of us?
Rick: It’s been ridiculous! People are so excited about it. It’s so cool! I think more people know us now than 30 years ago. It’s unreal.
Don: I don’t think these guys realized how influential they were. I was a fan from the beginning. I saw them in their earliest days at 13 and 14 years old.I don’t think they fully realize the impact they’ve had on the music industry and their fans.
J. Have you written anything lately? Are you in the process?
Rick: Yes! We have written one song and we will be playing it mid set tonight! It’s called “Scab”. We like it. It’s pretty good.
J. Are you planning on doing any recording? Writing more new music?
Rick :I hope we can. It’s been the goal.
J. Who have your biggest influences been. You often speak about Gang of Four. Are there others?
Peter: Killing Joke, PIL.
Rick: Mission of Burma, we idolized those guys. Our goal was to play with them and we got to do it a handful of times. This summer when Tommy couldn’t play, Peter Prescott played with us. It was awesome.
Don: And I idolized these guys. It all comes full circle.
Rick: Don tries to bring in a King Crimson influence (laughing)
Pete: And he likes Britney Spears!!
Don. I’m trying to bring the metal into the band.(laughing). But I like Britney. I listen to everything.
J. How does it feel to be back on the road? Nerve-racking? Exciting? Both?
Rick: Definitely both. We’ve been rehearsing since April or May. These are our songs, but not songs we’ve played in quite some time.
J. You’ve always been a political band. What do you think of the current political climate ?
Rick: It’s like a perfect storm out there. Madness everywhere. There are many things factoring in to how we got here.How we can possibly have someone like Trump running for President of this country. You know, someone said to me recently, “I know you’re voting for Hillary, but Trump winning would be really good for your band.” I could get a lot of good lyrics out of it, but it’s really not funny.
J. Where do you see our country going and can you fathom a Trump Presidency?
Rick: It’s hard to imagine the chaos that would come. His followers are deranged. He says he won’t even concede if he loses. It’s difficult to imagine the craziness to come.He’s made it cool and acceptable to hate again.There has always been safety in numbers.These people were having these thoughts and were afraid to say them, but now that a man like this is running for President they feel they can say it. The wealthy have done a good job at convincing the middle class in this country that the poor are the problem. They’ve set it up nicely for themselves. Black against white, straight against gay, Christian against Muslim.They are distracting us from the fact that it’s always been the rich against the rest of us.
J. Do you feel that politically, a lot of what you wrote about in the 80’s is still relevant today?
Rick: Unfortunately, yes. We seem to be going backwards at light speed. It’s almost worse than the 80’s. We ragged on Reagan. It was bad, trickle down, rich against poor. That’s when this all started. But its gotten so far beyond that. We have gotten almost to the point of no return.It’s toxic to all of us, this hate.
J. How did you wind up on This is Boston, Not L.A. compilation. It was truly one of my favorites.
Rick: When SSD decided not to do it, we were asked. We may have been asked anyway, but that solidified it. We played with a lot of the bands on the album, but other than The Freeze, we didn’t sound like anyone else on the album.They were a punk band that played fast. Like us. I think it was beneficial to us, being able to stand out on that album. It brought us a lot of attention.
J. How do you define yourselves as a band? What genre do you consider yourselves to be?
Rick: We are a punk band.
J. What is the goal with this tour? Are you hoping to play more? Make some new records?
Rick: Yes, we are hoping to get back on the road after these dates. There has been some interest in us going to Philly, DC, maybe out to Portland and Tacoma. We’ve been getting some interest and that’s something we’d love to do.
Tommy: We want to keep playing and keep recording. I think we have a lot left in us.
If you haven’t seen or listened to the Proletariat, do yourselves a favor and listen. The band still sounds fresh, even though the songs are decades old. And the topics they write and sing about are just as relevant today. I will always continue to count them among my favorites.
The Proletariat will be playing on Saturday, November 5, 2016 at St.Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, NY
Tickets are available on Ticketfly.