Ben Leuner (photographer),
Ellen Thompson (writer)
Twenty-six hundred miles from his Virginia home and it’s all the same deal to Strike Anywhere singer Thomas Barnett. Signs of urban conflict and ghosts of the subverted and forgotten take hold each time Barnett steps out his door and onto the streets of south Los Angeles.
Crashing with friends on Crenshaw Boulevard between Strike Anywhere tours, Barnett is instinctively drawn to the militarized working-class neighborhoods of this megacity, where black helicopters circle overhead and cars burn at the curbside—incidents that, over the past two years, he’s woven into the lyrics of Strike Anywhere’s latest album, Iron Front, a punk blast full of rapid breakdowns and raspy, anthemic choruses.
“It’s sort of like me writing letters back home to Richmond, Virginia, about what I’m discovering here,” Barnett says, noting the police brutality and historic racism that plagues both cities and inspired lyrics on previous full-lengths Change Is a Sound (2001) and Exit English (2003).
“Obviously, if you’re writing punk songs about the degradation of society and you’re trying to find an optimistic thread, like a little bit of hope, you can look to self-organizing traditions of the indigenous communities,” he explains. “And I’m finding [hope] in the Latino communities and the African-American working class in south L.A.”
It’s those glimpses of hope that hold the most weight on Iron Front, acting as answers to songs Barnett wrote more than a decade earlier in Richmond, with his first band, Inquisition.
“They have a lot of depth and a lot of places for people to personalize them,” he says. “The songs on the record are just the beginning. They bring to the table what kids in Croatia, Malaysia, or New Zealand need to hopefully become inspired. It’s almost like the ownership of the song is a fluid thing.”
The band’s logo, an adaptation of the antifascist circle—a symbol drawn up in 1931 for the Iron Front, a group organizing against neo-Nazis and fascist terror—has also become fluid since Strike Anywhere started emblazoning it on T-shirts and pins in 1999.
Barnett, who has four tattoos—all done by Ryan Mason at Scapegoat, a vegan tattoo shop in Portland, OR—recently plastered the symbol (a black outline consisting of three arrows pointing southeast, toward the lower right of the circle) on his right elbow. The rest of the guys in Strike Anywhere have that same black outline on other parts of their bodies.
“The fans do different variations on it, though, with bits of lyrics, and that’s always intense when you see the words you’ve written tattooed on someone’s body,” Barnett says. “That’s something you never get over, you never get numb to. It’s beautiful—that’s when you know it’s not really yours anymore.”