Anaheim’s The Scarred seems a little out of place in the current world of punk rock. They play gritty street punk more reminiscent of bands like Stiff Little Fingers and The Briefs than of the Autotune-dependent teens that seem to have stolen the punk banner.
Even their look — Clash-inspired messaged work shirts and massive Mohawks — draws stronger comparisons to the old scene than the skinny jeans-wearing modern hair bands.
Scanning the band’s merch table for a neon t-shirt? You’re shit out of luck.
The Scarred, fronted and founded by guitarist/vocalist Justin Willits, is among the last of the breed: punk rockers that put music over money.
The band would have been forgiven for throwing the towel in years ago. In true punk fashion, they put out their debut on their own label and followed it up with the fantastically received No Solution on Punk Core Records. The band was mid-tour when they got word that their label had imploded, leaving them stranded in the middle of America.
Deep in debt and more than a little pissed, the band regrouped and decided to soldier on.
The result is At Half Mast, their strongest effort to date. Released on a new label, Basement Records, with a new line up, the band is currently playing a slew of shows throughout California.
Willits was kind enough to take some questions recently about the band, crappy scenes and being a punk rock dad.
Innocent Words: How has being a father changed you and your wife at all?
Justin Willits: A lot! I see the world from a completely different perspective now. It’s funny how silly a lot of what I thought I was angry about in my life seems now. But it’s also funny that I’m angry about a lot of new things. I want my kid to have a future. I don’t want him to have the same problems I have.
Being truly 100 percent responsible for another human life, and not just physically, but emotionally, completely changes you if you have the basic decency to stick around and try to make it work. A lot of people don’t anymore. They’re too selfish, self-absorbed, and hollow. It takes a lot of selflessness to raise a kid.
IW: Has it made you rethink anything you do with the band?
Willits: Nope. If anything, it’s what keeps me going. Not because it’s ever made me a dime, but because it’s what I do. We’re the last gang in town, man. I’m not going to bury my head in the sand yet, so my son can grow up thinking I’m a quitter. So, I have to exhaust every possible option and push forward as far as I can go. Then at that point worry about rethinking things, you know? I have a lot farther to push first before I give up. And not to prove something to him as much as prove something to myself. That’s why I’m here. We have an all-new lineup and a new sense of purpose now, and I feel more ready than ever. I’m ready to write and record a new album already.
IW: Things have certainly changed between records. How the writing/recording process with the new was record different than the last?
Willits: More than half of these songs were written to be on a follow-up to No Solution that should have been recorded almost three years ago. But I’d say to anyone interested in the writing process to listen to the lyrics closely.
IW: Your last label shut down just as you were about to get to work on what would become Half-Mast. How did you guys react to the news?
Willits: We were in the middle of recording an album, which had already been delayed a year with the baby and everything. So, it literally killed all momentum for us. I don’t remember feeling anything. Just numb. I still love the guys who run the label, but it was definitely bad timing for us, yeah for sure. We were in so much debt at that point we could not afford to release a record on our own. And we were in debt because we were trying to promote No Solution and lay the groundwork for the next album.
If someone goes balls-out for us, we go balls-out for them. And we toured hard that year. I put 100,000 miles on my van in one year (2006)… That’s like someone else’s car’s entire lifespan. So yeah, it sucked. But what was worse than the news itself was realizing we were dead in the water.
IW: How scary was that, knowing that you and your wife had a baby on the way and then your label shuts down?
Willits: Not for that reason, no. Punk Core (Records) never paid us any money. People have this mistaken impression that any band that was on Punk Core made money. Yeah right! I don’t know of anyone who got paid on Punk Core, but I know a lot of bands who owe Punk Core money, including us. We were upset and frustrated because we invested so much time with the impression that we’d do three albums, so when we found out there wouldn’t be any more releases after only one album, it was like someone took the floor out from under us.
IW: Is it tough to find time to get away to tour?
Willits: Yeah, sort of. If people want us on tour, then they need to help us by talking to their local promoters. Find out who is running shows and tell them who you want to see. Write a ‘zine, promote the bands you like to other people, even if they aren’t punk. Help your scene. Then you’ll start to see bands touring a lot more again. In our case, I can’t just leave my wife and kid at home to go play. If I can see people want us to come play their towns, then we’ll be on the road in a heartbeat. But when everyone’s letting their scene go to hell, and they don’t care about their own town, what the hell do I want to come to their town for, you know? When people care, even just a few people, it can make a huge difference! If just a few kids stopped being apathetic, it can turn an entire town around.