Music Interview

Interview: Militarie Gun’s Ian Shelton On Self-Expression, Motivation, and ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE GUN I and II

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Militarie Gun has all the calling cards of a hardcore group worth a damn: an aggressive band name depicting the cause, effect, or tools of destruction, a lead singer that can yell, and songs that never vault over the three-minute mark. The difference is Ian Shelton. Unlike the impassioned resistance of his contemporaries, Ian’s anguish is often directed inward. The front person still has a bone to pick with various adversaries, but his downtrodden soul searching often has more in common with the lyrical stylings of emo than his defiant punk tone ostensibly suggests. Distorted guitars and ceaseless drums play within the genre’s conventions, but Militarie Gun knows when to shuffle the deck. They routinely cut into hardcore’s trademark wall of sound, carving out space to build dynamics within its frequencies. Punching melodies burst from these gaps throughout their stellar 2021 companion EPs, ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE GUN and ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE GUN II. By deconstructing hardcore’s essential elements, Militarie Gun harnesses the energy of the genre across tempos. We all need to rage from time to time, but nobody has just a sole emotion. Recognizing our complexity, Ian has fused sadness, apathy, and rage into a distinct sound that matches the multiplicity of the human psyche. For our conversation, he joined me digitally from Chattanooga, TN, on yet another stop on a lengthy tour

I read that you’ve been going on tour every other month since you were 17. Have you always craved that perpetual motion in your life? Do you feel the walls start to close in when you stay in one place too long?

Ian Shelton: I feel the walls close in when something isn’t being planned. It’s more like this obsession with progress and moving forward and having something else. I mean, like, my band members currently, and everyone basically, I’m obsessed with what the next tour is right now. And they’re like, “we’re still on tour.” And I’m like, “I know, but we need the next one!” So, I think I’ve just always been addicted to planning, and so I always have to be planning something. And that’s kind of how it always works out, if you’re always planning something, then something’s always happening. You know, it just takes a lot to get a whole band’s worth of people going, so you kind of just have to keep the heat on.

I’ve been reading some of your older interviews and you’ve labeled songwriting as an ego-centric process. Do you ever feel a conflict between trying to write something relatable versus maybe the ego inherent in writing something personal? Do you ever cut lyrics that are too abstract?

IS: No, I mean, I don’t really think about the relatability. I’m literally just saying whatever comes to mind. And more and more, I’m trying to find the most ridiculous way to say my point. Or the most blunt way that could be kind of crazy, you know? I always say that “Don’t Pick Up The Phone” is the best example of what I’m trying to do because it’s such a bold and stupid statement. But somehow, those bold stupid statements are what people seem to relate to and want to say back to me. You know like, when we play “Don’t Pick Up The Phone,” that first line, “Don’t pick up the phone when you’re on drugs,” people hammer that one! And then when we get to the chorus, “I want money / I want love,” they sing, “I want money / I want love.” So I’m trying to find the simplest, most blunt tool to put in the hands of the audience if anything, but usually that is exactly how I feel. It’s about not disguising what you mean to say, I think. And that hopefully ends up with the most relatable product. But that’s also like trying to find the most bare way to say what you want, or what you need, or how you feel.

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I was definitely delusional enough at one point in my life to think that real flowery writing is the way you sound smart in the world or get your point across.

IS: Well I think that goes into this idea that it’s cooler to cover up your emotion. You know, like, I have that instinct as well. It’s like, “that’s too earnest, that’s too corny, that’s too whatever.” But I’m trying to shake that off so that I can just say it as plainly as possible and not be scared or embarrassed of it, but sometimes I am still. The goal is to get away from the cool guy nature of covering up how you feel.

So, is it true that your songwriting process is really as improvisational as it’s made out to be?

IS: I mean, yeah, for the most part they’re written line by line. I can’t say, you know, everything I’m writing right now… it’s all various processes. But for everything on ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE GUN I and II, like “Big Disappointment” specifically, I sang the first line “addicted to rage” and then I didn’t have another lyric written down. And then I hit record, and then I made the next words that came to mind. I remember at the time, there was a band practicing next door and they were kind of ruining the quality of the demo because the iPhone the way it records, it compresses super hard so you can hear them a lot in my vocal. I was like, “goddammit, they’re ruining it,“ but I was like, “I’m on a streak, I can’t stop!”

I got through the first chorus and I was like, “fuck, uh okay shit, I need to keep going, but this sounds terrible!” Cause I know that I’m not going to be able to write the same song if I leave. And so yeah, it’s still very much about grabbing that spontaneity. I just am trying to tap into whatever is nagging at me at the time. And a lot of these songs I’m like, “oh I didn’t know I was thinking that about that in my mind at all.” I didn’t know that was bothering me, and now it’s a permanent record. The way that you can tell that it’s all improvised is that I use a lot of the same phrases. Like, I say “can’t seem” a lot of times. What the fuck is ‘can’t seem?” “Can’t seem” is not a good lyric. That phrase reappears a lot. “Can’t” is the start of a lot of lines, and that’s in the way that I think that it shows that it’s essentially freestyle because you’re going on whatever your short-hand is. “Can’t,” for some reason, was my shorthand for the writing this time.

I’m going to ask you the obligatory genre question, but I’m wondering if there was a range of emotion that you felt like you were missing in the traditional hardcore space. Obviously, the aggression is there in your vocal delivery, but was the heightened melodic aspect of the instrumentation on ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE GUN a deliberate decision?

IS: It’s definitely both. The thing is that we’re all obsessed with indie rock, and I think at the end of the day, we would love to be an indie rock band. But we’re a hardcore band to whatever degree, and I think the bands that we love like Modest Mouse or Fugazi kind of tread that line. And we’re trying to figure out how to straddle it ourselves. Ultimately, I just want to express vulnerability and provide someone with the emotion of wanting to jump up and down and also say something vulnerable that exposes themselves. I don’t know, vulnerability is the phrase that I always think about when I’m recording vocals. When I’m recording vocals, and I don’t think I did a good job on ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE GUN, but it’s something that I’m gonna try for the next record, achieving that vulnerability is the goal.

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I know you’re a big Guided By Voices fan. Do you have a take on being too prolific?

IS: You’ve gotta learn to edit, for sure. A guy like Robert Pollard is open floodgates all the time, but even then you see the fact that he does the suitcase collections, that he is still reserved and cutting songs at all times. But I definitely try to not over-release, and you know, we have a lot of Militarie Gun material, and we’re sitting on it for a long time. We’re gonna record an LP in February, which means maybe we won’t even have an LP out next year, depending. And we also have a lot of collaborative songs with other artists, but we haven’t released those. It’s about not oversaturating, or having a reason to release the thing you’re releasing and having the proper way to promote it. It’s all this cross section of things that hopefully you don’t burn out your audience, and that’s what I’m gonna try to balance going forward. It’s just like, “shit, how do we not fatigue our listeners with doing too much?” I think about it constantly, and I’m like, “was it the right decision to do two EPs?” Does that help or does that hurt?

What spawned the idea to do two back-to-back EPs?

IS: The thing for us was about growing the band and, you know, with it being brand new and not knowing if touring was gonna come back, it was like, well, we kinda can do a lot more across a bigger span of time. Like, an LP is a huge energy expenditure in one place, and we thought maybe spreading that out over the year would yield a better result. And I think it did. I think we grew the band a lot through that. I think the second EP, especially because it’s been tied up at the pressing plant, still, seems smaller due to the fact that it’s the second. That’s when there’s some listener fatigue in that there’s more people paying attention, but they’re less rabid cause it’s not the first big push the way that “Don’t Pick Up The Phone” and “Ain’t No Flowers” were. And so it’s just interesting to observe and kind of take in the way that people observe listening to music and the way that they respond to things.

I read another old interview where you talked about the effect A CLOCKWORK ORANGE had on you as an angsty youth. I was wondering if there’s any crossover for you between film and songwriting. Do you ever use movies to immerse yourself in a tone or mindset before writing?

IS: It’s a really boring answer, but no, not really. It’s so in the moment, I’m not looking for places to pull from usually. I will say, WORLD OF INCONVENIENCE, the RJC (Regional Justice Center) album, that is taken from a movie. But other than that no, nothing really. I guess I do desire a certain cinematic nature with the tie between the two records and the way that they’re supposed to fit together. But other than that, I wanted the album title to sound like an old western or like an action movie, or you know, just like something that’s unavoidable. And that obviously is taken from movies. A good title is so important to me, and I will say that largely ties into movies. But other than that, I don’t really pull references or anything like that.

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How did you get into music video directing? I know you’ve done a handful of videos for Angel Du$t, even a Militarie Gun video for “Dislocate Me.” Where does the motivation lie there?

IS: Originally, growing up, when I read a lot more, I wanted to write books. As I got older, I didn’t really read that much. But I watched a lot of movies. So I thought, “well, I should learn about screenwriting.” And then I started trying to work on that and then I was like, “well, if you want to be a screenwriter, you have to give your thing to a director.” And then a director is gonna do whatever they want. So why wouldn’t I just become a director? And that’s when I started working on music videos to try to learn the craft and get better to see how I felt about it and see if I wanted to do that. And that’s still what I’m doing now. I don’t know what year I did my first video, but I’ve gotta be coming up on some time now. On top of that, it’s a good way to make money as well when you work with labels with money, so.

What’re three albums outside of hardcore that you’re listening to a lot right now?

IS: INSOMNIAC by Green Day has been a steady listen lately. CHILDISH PRODIGY by Kurt Vile, I randomly heard “Freak Train” on, and I’ve been obsessed with that record ever since I listened to that song. And then I’ve been listening to The Beatles’ WHITE ALBUM Esher demos. They’re these acoustic demos of the entire record, and you can hear a lot of the way the songs evolved. The WHITE ALBUM’s my least favorite Beatles album, so I’ve been studying it to try to enjoy it more, and it’s been working. I really am starting to enjoy it. If I actually dislike something, I will listen to it more to try to unlock, like, the worst thing to me is something I don’t have an opinion on. If I hate it, I’ll probably end up loving it at some point via just studying it and beating it into myself. Also, the 2021 remix of ALL THINGS MUST PASS is fucking incredible. So definitely listen to that. It sounds so good now.

What does the future look like for Militarie Gun? You said you’re recording an LP in February?

IS: Yeah! Just trying to record and then, you know, we’re going to the UK with Fiddlehead. By the time this is out, we’ll have announced that we’re gonna go to the Northwest. And then hopefully, we’re gonna do another big tour by April. Just trying to keep it going. 

Go check out Militarie Gun over on Bandcamp!

Chris Burleson
Chris Burleson is a writer, DJ, and IBS suffragette from Austin, Texas, joyfully ranting into the ether.

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