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“It enabled me to be a child still,” laughed Jesse Barnette, vocalist and founding member of Orange County’s Stick to Your Guns when asked about the band forming and finding success while he was still in his teens. “I recently turned 29 and I started the band when I was 16, so I’ve been in the band for most of the formative years of my life so far. I’ve got the same mentality now as I did then and I think in a lot of ways that really helps me because I still have that young mentality. As people get older they tend to get a little more responsible and negative about the world and their lives and the lives of people around them but I tend to think the opposite way. I think it has a lot to do with the fact I’m still hopeful, optimistic and what some people call naïve. Sometimes you need to be an adult and I lack the tools to do that but I’m learning!”
Going fresh from high school to touring with the band was a quick and steep learning curve for Barnette, but while many of his peers and family bemoaned the choice of music over education, Barnette looks back on it as an ideal preparation for the outside world.
“That was the best education I got,” he enthused. “I think if someone is not interested in school, I don’t think it necessarily makes that person lazy or a slacker. When you generalise it you tend to make public school a big, bloated thing but it’s not for everyone. It can actually do more damage and for me, it tended to isolate me more, so I said ‘f*ck this’ and started a band. A lot of people, particularly my mother, said that schooling was important in my life but being in a band gave me the best education I could possibly get and I’m still getting it now. I’m able to see the world from a personal perspective as well as the perspective of the fear mongers and the national media which is an education in itself. I think music was the best possible education for me.”
After moderate success with ‘For What It’s Worth’ and ‘Comes From the Heart’, Stick to Your Guns finally gained critical and commercial success with 2010’s ‘The Hope Division’ which Barnette puts down to a newfound freshness in the band.
“When Casey Lagos left before we started on The Hope Division we brought in some new members and we kind of rebranded the band in a sense,” Barnette recalled. “A lot of people don’t even remember our first two records, which for me, is a good thing! Back then we were still trying to find out who we were and along the way we discovered that and started to take things more seriously which is reflected in that third album.”
While line – up changes punctuated much of the bands early years, Barnette continued to roll with the punches, never losing sight of the end game which was for Stick to Your Guns to become an institution on the hardcore punk scene.
“It definitely affected us early on,” he agreed, “but I think most of those changes happened early because a lot of people didn’t know how to react – and I use this word loosely – to the success of the band. Some of us were still at school and some of us had jobs and then all of a sudden it was tour, tour, tour and people were like ‘Whoa, I can’t do that!’. For me, it was what I wanted to do with my life so I just quit everything, said ‘I’m going’ but some of the others just couldn’t do that which I understood and respected. We have a saying in Stick to Your Guns that we ‘never skip a beat’ which means we’re gonna continue to go on because all arrogance aside, we feel that our band stands for something bigger than us, so we want to continue pushing that and if someone can’t do that anymore, then we’re gonna figure out a way to continue without them.”
After teasing fans with the release of E.P ‘Better Ash than Dust’ in 2016, Barnette says Stick to Your Guns are already working on the next full length and released the E.P more as a fill in between albums.
“I want to make it clear to myself and fans of the band that we didn’t just put out another five songs and plan to wait two years to do another record,” he stressed. “We put out those five songs because we felt it was time to put out some new music, simple as that. We’re recording in the spring of 2017 and hopefully releasing the record in the fall of 2017.”
Part of the reason for this is, of course, putting something out there for the fans, but Barnette also admits that in the current musical climate it is of importance to make sure you stay in the public eye as much as possible.
“A lot of people think that once you have made it in music then you can stop there but that’s definitely not true,” he said. “There are so many bands starting all the time and a lot of those bands are really good, so you have to find a way to stay relevant and that keeps us on our toes. We try to take bands on tour with us that are younger bands, like we are with Knocked Loose on the upcoming Australian tour, bands that appeal to the young kids because we are growing with our fans. They [the fans] are getting older – eventually, they will do what people do and they will move on with their lives. A lot of people stay very involved with this music up until an old age but more people tend to use it as a phase. They move on so we try to stay as youthful and relevant as we can.”
Written by Kris Peters