Hardcore punk music is notoriously known for the being the home for the outsider, the misfit, the flat-out anti-establishment anarchist. However, there are still corners of the culture that have yet to be infiltrated with a 2019 woke-ness. Luckily for those who are stuck in a previous millennia, bands are gladly taking the reigns and directing the next generation into appreciation and enlightenment.
Chicago-based foursome Absolutely Not is a band which is doing exactly that, and making no apologies, even if it makes you squirm. In fact, they are waiting for your apology, because they are pissed off and will shout it in your direction, if necessary. These musician infuse a plethora of politics, social justice, and furious attitude into their two-minute, post-punk anthems, and listeners are taking notice. Lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist Donnie Moore is gay, out, and proudly loud, and he recently talked with OUT FRONT about their new music, the fiasco that is modern American politics, and how queer voices are vital in every genre of music.
So strap in, hold tight, and get ready, because this queer is sounding off the alarm on the misogynistic, homophobic, and racist bullsh*t.
How did Absolutely Not get started?
The band has existed for a little over a decade; I was living alone in a one-bedroom apartment in Florida, and I was coming up with these demos in my living room in my spare time. I started playing them for friends, and they were like ‘These are actually really good.’ So, it motivated me to keep writing, and I assembled a small band down there with two friends.
We played a couple shows, and it was received fairly well, but I knew that Florida wasn’t going to be the launching point and the best city to start. One of my friends and I moved to Chicago on a whim, and while the formation of the band has changed over the years, the music has grown from there.
Now we have my sister, Madison Moore, on keys, Santiago Guerrero on drums, and Chris Sutter from the band Meatwave on guitar.
Adding Chris to the band is new for Absolutely Not, as you had been a trio for so long. Can you talk about how his addition has changed your music?
I wrote the new record and was recording that in the studio, and realized I wrote a lot of guitar parts for this record, and it’s going to be difficult to pull off as a three-piece. I’m not a fan of bands when you hear the record, and then when you see them live, half the song is missing; that always drives me nuts. I reached out to him and asked if he would mind learning these songs and flaring them up live with me. He was down; it was amazing, and it’s good for many reasons. It helps with the dynamic of the band, because it was adding another one of our friends to have fun with, more people to talk to, and on top of that, the songs can be portrayed live how I intended them.
Absolutely Not just released a new album, Problematic. How has that been going?
It’s been great! It came out Friday, March 1, we had a show in Minneapolis on Thursday, Madison, WI on Friday, and then Chicago on Saturday. All three were packed, and the Chicago one sold out, which was amazing and totally humbling. I don’t think we’ve ever sold out a show with us headlining, so that made me feel great, and people seem to be responding to the new songs really, really well. That’s all I could ask for, because I went a little darker with this one, and I wasn’t really sure how it was going to be received.
What was your inspiration and intention for the new music?
There’s always been a dark side that’s somewhat underneath the fun, spazzy, angular music with the older stuff. So, it’s always been there, but it’s almost been there more in like a tongue-and-cheek nod to the sci-fi and horror movies that I grew up loving. For this record, I wanted to not only amp up that kind of darkness, but to add, I hate to say politically charged darkness, because it’s so cliche, but that.
Over the last couple of years, as you know, Donald Trump got the presidency, and there’s been a lot of stuff in Congress not getting passed, and it’s fueled a lot of my anger. As I was writing these songs, they were a little darker and a little more angular, and I was wondering why that was. Then I remembered, everything is horrible! So, I made the lyrics more driven, rather than writing silly, sci-fi stories or exaggerated versions of things going on in my life, with my sexual preference or whatnot. This album still has all that stuff, but a couple of songs have that added flair of my angst, particularly towards men in power that are setting us all back fifty years.
Have you received any negative criticism?
Oh, but of course! With the newest video for “Glitch,” the song is entirely about those terrible men in power, mainly Donald Trump. Not to harp on him, but it’s easy to do that… The refrain of the song is ‘Stop these bad men.’ I wanted a chant of us saying ‘stop these men from getting all of this power and control.’
We made the video like a sci-fi horror, where Donald Trump is portrayed as Michael Meyers from Halloween, going around and killing people on election night. That’s kind of what it felt like to me; he came in and felt like a Mike Meyers stalking minorities, so I felt like visually, that’s what it should be.
I went for it knowing full well knowing that some people would definitely not be happy about that, and some were not, but all I’ve done is re-post the negative comments on our social media, because I find them funny. Go ahead; all you’re doing is giving me free press to show you’re all idiots anyway (laughs.) I want to ask, ‘Girl, what were you listening to before? You’ve got a woman, a POC, and a gay man fuckin singing about anti-goverment! What did you think we were before today? You’re surprised?’
Absolutely Not has been crowned the label as a queer band; how do you feel about carrying that kind of title?
I’m fine with that, partially because I am that myself, and my sister is very open and fluid. She primarily dates males, but she’s not against the other way, and has dabbled in that in her time. Both of the other guys in the band, Santiago and Chris, are straight and they are so supportive of that label. When they were see anti and negative remarks, they’re like ‘dude f*ck those people; they need to wake up anyway.’
I would like to see more out musicians, especially ones who are not doing what is more popular within the LGBTQ community. I love things like RuPaul’s Drag Race; I love dance music and that kind of stuff, but in the rock and punk world, there is a lot of masculinity and a lot of closeted people not speaking out. I enjoy being a voice that says, ‘I’m gay, this is loud punk music, and I can be just as masculine as all you guys.’
As a musician, or a person in the public eye, is there a need to come out? Why is it important?
I don’t want to say it’s necessary, because I don’t want to tell anyone how to live their own life. At the same time, especially the way the world is today, I feel the more people who are open about that, it will do nothing but help the situation.
Even think about Freddie Mercury from Queen. He got the older, most likely republican and conservative, guys that were anti-this and anti-that blasting ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ They didn’t care that a gay guy wrote that, so I feel like more people being out helps those people realize that they like things made by people who are ‘different’ from them. It brings more of an awareness to how vibrant and incredibly talented the community is, and there is no reason to push someone aside because of their sexual preference or their skin color.
Did you have any queer icons or musicians that you looked up to, people who offered you a confidence in your voice?
Yes and no; Freddie Mercury was one, and I know David Bowie was fluid with his sexuality. I loved him because he was trying to shatter the masculine/feminine line as much as possible. I looked up to people like that; even though he wasn’t fully part of the community per se, he tried to shatter the perception of what a man ‘should be.’ He showed that you can be a man, wearing makeup and a dress, and that doesn’t mean anything other than you just want to wear makeup and a dress.
Growing up, did you have anyone in your life who was an influence and was supportive of your queerness?
I think it was the opposite, which is why I was so out about it, because I just didn’t. I had people in my family that weren’t anti, but I definitely didn’t have anyone like that around me. Even when I started playing in the Chicago music scene, I remember it feeling like a boys’ club. I would be in the green room, and the things they were talking about, I felt very left out, because I could tell there was a separation there. It always kinda bothered me, and when I’m bothered by something, it just makes me voice it more.
I’ll never forget; we played this basement show in Chicago, years and years ago. We were playing really loud; I was screaming and jumping around and stuff, like I usually do. This guy walked up to me after our set and said ‘that was so badass; that was the most un-gay thing I’ve ever seen.’ Excuse me, what the f*ck does that mean? It was his twisted way of saying I was being aggressive, masculine. It was such an annoying, shitty thing that it was like I had to prove myself. Little moments, I’m like ‘if you think that’s crazy, girl, just get ready for the next one.’
Where do you draw inspiration from, and what do you hope that your fans or listeners can draw from you?
The main thing that I hope people get from the music, or me in general, is just be yourself. It doesn’t matter how masculine or feminine you are, if you want to do punk music, do it. If you want to be feminine or masculine about it, just do it. Don’t let other people stop you; don’t let yourself second guess because it’s going against the norm of whatever the genre is more known for or used to.
Express who you are, in whatever way possible, and draw influences from what you love and inspires you. Take things and make them your own, make representation of those kinds of things in different communities, because it’s not just those kinds of people that are able to add new shades to those genres. It can be anyone, just do it, and if anyone tries to stop you, do it louder.
What has been a stand-out moment for you in the last year?
The support from the last record, Errors, it was the fact that there was even more support for that than the one prior. NPR picked up one of the songs from the new record. As a kid, this was something that I listened to, and I thought there was no way that this little, angry, gay boy is going to have a song that’s on an NPR playlist. All of these people, like Out magazine, were recognizing me in a positive light for both punk and my sexuality, and pushing it as a good thing, that was the most shocking/humbling and surprising thing. I’ve always been myself, and now people think that it’s cool. It’s validating.
I’ve been pushing this music for ten years, and it took nine of those years to get NPR to listen to me. It’s really hard to get your music out, to get accepted and get good shows, because everyone is a musician now. We still have struggles of our own; some of my friends are saying we are killing it, and while it may look like that from the outside, we’re still struggling to be seen.
Even the video for “Glitch,” the first time I tried to post about it, Facebook and Instagram wouldn’t let me boost it because of the content. And there are some huge outlets that can make or break a musical career; they ignore us and want nothing to do with us. I don’t necessarily care, but it’s hard to fight your way and get any recognition in 2019.
How do you keep going, even when you may feel discouraged?
Oh, it comes in waves; I’ll have my down days where I feel like no one likes me. But, I try and keep going, because there is a crowd out there, and I have a lot of supportive friends. I have enough people supporting us, and the main thing that keeps me going is I have a lot of musicians supporting me. To me, personally, that is more important, because if I have someone who writes amazing songs telling me that I write amazing songs, that’s enough for me to keep going.
What’s on the horizon for Absolutely Not?
In April, we are touring, going to New York, and in summertime, we’re going to Austin, Texas. These are places that we’ve always had really great reception and have fans that are really in it. Every time we release a record, we hit up those spots, because it’s nice to go to these cities outside of Chicago and see the places that receive us well!
All photos of Absolutely Not are from Facebook