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Hot Coffin’s Self-Accepting Rock ’n’ Roll

Feb. 18, 2013
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The 2000s found punk music in transition, as the purebred traditionalist and pop-punk bands of the ’90s gave way to a tide of younger emo and post-hardcore groups with more dramatic songs and fussier hair. For a while these bands were everywhere—a tangle of big-dreaming kids competing with each other for MySpace followers in hopes of scoring a fat record contact, or at least a few brag-worthy dates on a Warped Tour side stage. Some of these groups found success, most of them didn’t, but by the end of the decade the vast majority of them had disbanded while punk moved on to the latest wave of newer sounds and more youthful presentations, as it always does.

What’s to become of the former “scene” kids of the 2000s is one of today’s great cultural unknowns, but the Milwaukee band Hot Coffin gives a sense of where at least some of them might land. The group represents a denouement of sorts for two Wisconsin bands born of the MySpace boom, Red Knife Lottery (represented by guitarist Chris Hansen and bassist Joe Kanack) and Farewell to Twilight (singer Sean Williamson). They’ve tempered the thrashier extremes of their previous bands in favor of a more back-to-basics rock ’n’ roll approach with plenty of nods to Fugazi. As Hot Coffin’s debut album Law testifies, though, they haven’t completely scrubbed the screamo from their DNA. It manifests in the jumpy guitars of “Fire Child,” in the whine of Williamson’s voice as he screams “It’s killing me!” on “Tranquillo Lola” and in the dramatic, final throes of album closer “I Tried, I’ll Try, We Tried.”

“Really, we’re just trying to make concise, cool rock songs,” Williamson explains. “We’re not worried about frills or anything other than just playing straightforward rock songs, but I think it’s pretty evident when you listen to our old bands how this group could be seen as an evolution.”

Some of that maturity is reflected in the band’s lyrics, which drive home a message of self-acceptance. On opener “Rolling Bones” the group joins together for a chorus of “You don’t have to hide / You don’t have to lie / We ain’t the judging kind,” and that mantra carries through the rest of the record.

“Really, we’re just identifying that people are imperfect, and that a lot of things we do are crazy and fucked up, but that doesn’t mean that we’re bad people,” Williamson explains. “You don’t need to live your whole life feeling bad about being imperfect when everybody around you is imperfect, too. Imperfection is just kind of assumed.”

Like many musicians—especially those who came up during the punk-rock label gold rush of the mid ’00s—with time, Williamson has learned that finding success in a band is never as easy as it seems. But where many musicians turn cynical when they lower their expectations, he maintains an upbeat outlook. “I don’t think it’s necessary to give up hope that you can do big and cool things as a band,” he says. “I know that if you really put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything; it’s just a matter of doing it. So the hope that as a band we can do cooler stuff—like travel and meet cool people—doesn’t go away. It just exists on a much more philosophical level now. It’s the thought that, if we work hard doing this, something good will come out of it, rather than, if we work hard on this, we’ll get a big tour bus and lots of cash and a rider out of it.”

Hot Coffin play a 9:30 p.m. album release show at the Cactus Club on Saturday, Feb. 23 with openers Cut Teeth and The American Plains.


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