Militarie Gun: “I want our music to be confusing to people who are closed-minded”

Growing up in the hardcore punk scene, Ian Shelton is breaking free from the shackles of expectation with Militarie Gun, embracing bigger, bolder sounds to make debut LP Life Under The Gun one of the most-talked about records of the summer…

Militarie Gun: “I want our music to be confusing to people who are closed-minded”
Huw Baines
Daniel Topete

If there’s one thing you can rely on, it’s that Ian Shelton is always moving. When he answers our call, Militarie Gun’s frontman is a couple of hours out from heading to the airport to catch a flight from Los Angeles to the UK, where his band are set to play Outbreak Fest, Manchester’s pre-eminent hardcore throwdown, at the top of a European tour. Music can open these sorts of avenues in a physical sense but, often more importantly, it also offers an escape for kids who need one. Something Ian knows better than most.

When he first heard Fugazi’s Waiting Room in fifth grade, it promised something. Growing up in rural Washington state, raw music like this provided a release from a tough home life, with younger siblings often relying on him as his mother lived with alcoholism. In later becoming something like a one-man punk scene in the city of Enumclaw, he found his next outlet. He put on shows, played in bands and, eventually, began to pick up some momentum with Regional Justice Center, a savage powerviolence project that interrogated the misery of the for-profit prison system following his brother’s incarceration.

There, he channelled fury and hurt into something often frighteningly intense, sounding like a purge. By comparison, Militarie Gun’s debut LP Life Under The Gun is entirely different. Fusing exceptional hooks with the bite of hardcore, it sounds like those theoretical escapes made real. For Ian, it’s maybe the first time he’s made something that his teenage self might have seen as an aspirational signpost.

“I hope that the content, and the way that I talk in public, lets people know that they have a home here in the way that I felt I was looking for a home back when I got into music,” he says. “Another big part of this is chasing the naïveté of first getting into music, and trying to find new records that make you feel that obsession, and make you feel like you need to interpret it into something else. That's why the band exists.

“The goal was to write something that felt like a classic rock record,” he continues. “You're trying to find this balance and combination that is de-aggressifying things that are hardcore, and then making the non-hardcore things more aggressive. You're making it all meet in the middle, but not in a way of compromise, but as a vision. There's never a formula. Some days, shit, I'm listening to a lot of Third Eye Blind and then some days I'm listening to Crossed Out.”

It hasn’t taken long for Militarie Gun to reach this point. Coming out of the pandemic with a self-assembled seven-inch of thrilling noise that squared Guided By Voices with The Jesus Lizard, Ian has spent the past couple of years refining things, putting out a brace of EPs as stepping stones towards Life Under The Gun’s more refined sound. “It's funny, because this is what we thought we were doing all along,” he says. “But I wasn't there yet.”

When people start questioning whether or not you’re a punk band, it can mean a few things. You might have lost something, an edge or an attitude, maybe, but equally you might have gained something, like a keener sense of melody. Equally, it could mean nothing at all, like asking a wall if it’s having a nice day.

Ian doesn’t care if you think Militarie Gun are a punk band or not, but he’d be very happy if you thought their songs were too sharp to be anything other than pop. “I'm nerding out about Bee Gees records right now,” he says.

“I want it to be a little confusing to people who are closed-minded,” he adds. “First and foremost, it's about writing the thing that seems most interesting to me, but if the byproduct is it upsetting the small-minded, that's fine by me.”

Militarie Gun fit on a bill like Outbreak’s because they’re from that world – alongside Regional Justice Center and a stint in Self Defense Family, Ian also made a killer demo as Sex With A Terrorist, a lo-fi freakout fronted by Drug Church’s Pat Kindlon – but the way they stand out next to Converge or Fury or SPY also speaks to some of the unlearning they’ve had to do to make Life Under The Gun function.

Ian’s bark, which made early cuts such as Dislocate Me pop, has been sanded down, revealing greater malleability without losing its edge altogether. Running in parallel with that is the realisation that his voice is capable of taking him to melodic areas that he previously might not have been able to find on a map.

“I think if you look at the guitar-work, instrumentally it's not totally different [from earlier material],” he says. “Vocally is where I step up into a new role. It was a very conscious effort – we demoed this record three times before recording it. By the fourth time I've recorded those vocal parts, it's just a huge process of trying to get better and actually achieve what was in my head, trying to shake loose the incompetent hand and get a little bit better, you know?”

This tension is what gives the record its teeth. It was engineered by Taylor Young – whose day job is to loosen fillings with everyone from Drain to Nails and his own band Twitching Tongues – and mixed by Mark Needham, whose fingerprints are all over The Killers’ Mr. Brightside. “The talk was that we were trying to make a hardcore pop record,” Ian observes. “It was about creating this amalgamation, blending hardcore and pop because those are my obsessions.

“Originally Very High was recorded for [2021 EP] All Roads Lead To The Gun and Taylor laughed us out of the room and said the song sucked ass. He was right at the time, the song wasn't there. Now, his feedback was like, 'Well, I think you should fret it differently. So there's more low end.' These little notes really end up curating a lot of vibe around the record.”

To this point, Ian’s discography has been defined by how quickly he kicks on. Militarie Gun are different, he’s on the train for the long haul, including being signed to Loma Vista and repped by Roc Nation, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have itchy feet. “The reason I do the band is for the songs,” he says.

“I don't do it just to go on tour. So whenever we're too busy to do the creative element it becomes a really big frustration. The writing is the entire band to me but, obviously, the writing is useless if you don't go out and find an audience for it. The itching is that I wish I was writing more Militarie Gun songs right now.”

Life Under The Gun is out now via Loma Vista

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