Few bands seem to arouse as much passion, both positive and negative, amongst hardcore punk fans, as Poison The Well. Having built up a significant following through two indie albums, they switched to a major label and earlier this year delivered the monumentally heavy, yet emotionally sensitive, You Come Before You album.
Whilst Poison The Well were touring the UK recently, musicOMH caught up with founding member, guitarist Ryan Primack, to discuss, among other things, hate mail and hardcore…
Or at least we tried. It appears that Ryan Primack, while being lucid with his monstrous guitar riffs and eloquent with his lyrics, is actually a man of few words. Even more so when I ask him what his reaction is to the letters I received after giving You Come Before You a positive review in these pages, which suggested that Poison The Well have sold out by signing to a major label and that lollipops are not the only thing I like to suck during the day: “That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”
Silence. In this case, not golden. I persevere, wondering if they get this a lot. It seems that they do. “I just ignore all that stuff. That’s not worth paying attention to. Music’s for everybody. It’s pretty pretentious to think that because you like something no-one else can like it.”
Next question, methinks. Let’s talk about music, that will get him going. The new album is seriously heavy on occasions, with riffs so aggressive you sometimes feel they’re going to punch their way out of your headphones. Was this a conscious decision to prove that major label status was not constraining them. “That was just what we wrote.”
“Music’s for everybody. It’s pretty pretentious to think that because you like something no-one else can like it” – Ryan Primack on overly-possessive hardcore punk fans
Okaaaaay. And so it continues. Numerous questions are met with curt, perfunctory, though perfectly pleasant, answers. So we learn that Poison The Well’s stint on the legendary Warped tour alongside modern-day punk heroes such as Rancid and A.F.I. “was a lot of fun, like a punk-rock summer camp,” and that on their last UK tour they “had a really, really good time and it was a lot of fun.”
Granted, this is not exactly world exclusive stuff, but short of shouting abuse at the guy down the phone (which, as we now know, he’s used to), there’s little your humble scribe can do.
In his defence, none of this silent treatment appears to be underhand or calculated in any way. He’s just a straightforward bloke, as his reply demonstrates when asked about the band’s future ambitions, now that they’re on their way to being the screamo band of choice: “It’s just to record songs and play shows. It’s a really, really base goal and I think it’s the best goal that you could possibly ever have. I’m not even thinking further than tomorrow. My goal right now is to play more shows and write more songs. It’s the simple things that really, really matter.”
One moment when Ryan does utter more than a couple of sentences is when we discuss the band’s real fans. Given that hardcore and thrash are genres that you usually associate with testosterone-overdosing males, it is refreshing that Poison The Well’s insightful lyrics and obvious lack of attitude attracts a more balanced audience, something that the guitarist is understandably proud of: “Yeah, punk rock is such a boys’ club but, thankfully, I find we communicate to both sides pretty equally. I think that’s amazing. I hate that whole ‘everything is some testosterone, beat-down fest’ and I wouldn’t want us to be about that or even to inspire that kind of thing. I think we always have a really good amount of girls upfront singing along, which I love because everything should be for everybody.”
“Punk rock is such a boys’ club but, thankfully, I find we communicate to both sides pretty equally” – Ryan Primack on Poison The Well’s appeal to both sexes
It turns out that the band’s recent UK single and album opener, Ghostchant, was written with women in mind, at least from Ryan’s perspective. “For me that song is about something different than it is for other people. I interpret it and think everyone should interpret it for their own meaning, but for me it’s about women not losing their self-respect because it’s a real shame that some women give up their self-respect so easily… and let themselves be exploited. It’s a warning.”
In these lascivious days of lads’ mags, tawdry teenage soaps and explicit billboards, it’s one that’s well-noted. For a band who deal in sonic onslaughts, Poison The Well certainly seem to be more pensive than most. In fact, Ryan reveals that, although the music gets written first, “It’s the lyrics that are most important,” and that many songs have been binned “because they had bad lyrics.” Furthermore: “I think lyricism in songs is the ultimate form of communication… Lyrics always have to be good otherwise the song is kind of pointless – unless it’s an instrumental, which is kind of cool too.”
And with that we’re done, but not before Ryan has unexpectedly and genuinely said, “Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to me.” He may not have been the most garrulous interviewee ever, but such a reaction makes a change from the, “Do I really have to be here?” attitude of certain rock stars. And that just about sums up Poison The Well. In the world of the heavy and hardcore, they are a refreshing change.