Chuck Johnson

Since forming in the early '90s, Earth Crisis have been one of the most influential bands in the hardcore movement. The New York act's outspoken views on animal rights and their promotion of a straight-edge, vegan lifestyle haven't always made them popular in the hxc scene, but their fanbase continues to grow throughout the world.

On May 19, Bullet Tooth will release The Discipline, a 4-song 7" EP that will include two re-recorded tracks from Earth Crisis' seminal debut, Destroy the Machines, which turns 20 this year. It'll also include two re-recorded early-career demos. Fuse spoke with Earth Crisis singer Karl Buechner (far right in the photo above) to get the lowdown on the new EP, plus his thoughts on straight-edge culture and the band's critics.

This May is the 20th anniversary of your debut album, Destroy the Machines. Did someone else bring that milestone to your attention, or was it on your radar already?

That particular album seems to have a special place in our fans' hearts. When we have been out playing shows over the last few years, we've had a lot of people tell us that Destroy the Machines has meant a lot to them. We've been looking forward to the anniversary so we could play the album in its entirety. Some of the songs off of it we only ever played once or twice live.

Bullet Tooth

The Discipline features new versions of two songs from Destroy the Machines. Was it a matter of you guys not being happy with the recording quality of that material, or did you want to bring something new to those particular tracks? 

Probably a little bit of both. I feel like the songs definitely hold up overall, but the recording from back then is kind of primitive compared to the ones where we had bigger budgets. The new versions are really strong, and it was fun bringing those old songs back to life.

The other two songs on the new EP—“Behind the Mask” and “Time of Strife”—were from early in your career.

Those two songs are from our 1993 demo. Every Earth Crisis album always has a specific theme, and Destroy the Machines is about Animal Liberation and ecodefense. "Behind the Mask" and "Time of Strife" musically fit in with the other songs on the album, but not lyrically. They are of an interpersonal subject matter, so we ended up shelving them until now. After we went back and listened to them, I pointed out that all of those fast parts could stir up some serious circle pits, so we'll see what happens!

Since we’re in reflection mode right now, I wanted to ask you about Earth Crisis’ legacy. I think when most people bring up the band, one of the first things they’ll think of is the hardline stance you’ve always had on veganism and animal rights. Do you think that outspokenness has led to people not giving the band a chance because they didn’t agree with the messages? Do you even care?

The hardcore scene I grew up in is used to being exposed to challenging ideas, and different philosophies, from the bands they listened to. You have Rastafarianism from the Bad Brains, Hare Krishna from the Cro-Mags and traditional patriotism from Agnostic Front and Warzone. Porcell and Youth of Today also educated a lot of people about vegetarianism. When our band started, lyrically, we put a focus on documenting the history that corporate news and media chose to ignore. When the Animal Liberation Front, Earth First or the Sea Shepherds save lives, we let people know through our music. Animals enduring violent, useless tests in laboratories, whales being killed with explosive harpoons, elephants, rhinos, and tigers slaughtered to near extinction are all sickening wastes of life.

Anger against injustice should be a part of the human experience, and speaking out on actions that save the lives of defenseless sentient beings is not something I would consider a hardline stance. We've never been on a major record label, nor have we done a buy-on to get our band onto a tour with major label acts. It has all been accomplished by our hard work, and the loyal support of our fans. We wouldn't be able to accomplish what we do if we weren’t loved more than we are hated. So, the short answer is no, I don’t care about the people who refuse to give us a chance. We are very well supported and respected. Those people are the ones that matter.

You're in your 40s now—has age changed your outlook on any of your political views? I’m about your age, and I’ve had people tell me that it’s normal to soften your viewpoint as you get older, that it’s easier to be idealistic when you’re in your 20s.

When we started, straight edge bands would maybe last three or four years, then they would break up. One by one the band members would gradually relapse into drug and alcohol use, or start to experiment and get caught up in that trap. The feeling of disappointment we had in those bands lead us to promote straight edge as being a lifetime commitment to never touch a drop of poison. We wanted people to know they can believe in us. We also never viewed straight edge as simply being a personal choice. Drug and alcohol abuse affects society as a whole, and the fight against that needs to be seen as a serious one. That won’t happen if you’re only straight edge until your band breaks up, or until your favorite band breaks up. I do think that our goal has been achieved for the most part. Now there are dozens of bands that have musicians in their 30s around the world who have stayed true to the idea. I don't think we've mellowed out at all, we're still on the same warpath.

You’ve been touring all around the world for decades now. Is it much easier to eat vegan out on the road today compared to your earlier tours?

It is definitely easier to be vegan now than it was 20 or 25 years ago. There are more high quality choices at restaurants and in the grocery store than ever before. When we started there was one brand of soy milk, and you certainly couldn’t get it at every grocery store in America. Now any store you stop in has a least a small section of vegan items. It has been amazing to see the progression, and what a positive turn the world is taking in that direction.

Looking at the hardcore scene today, what do you think is the biggest difference from when Earth Crisis first started playing shows back in the early ‘90s?

That era was interesting. Candiria was blending jazz into there music, while Into Another was infusing rock into what they were doing. Bloodlet and Resurrection were building songs off of really slow tempos and that made them all stand out. Also, a lot of political and religious ideas were a part of different bands' messages. I think the spirit is basically the same today as it was back then, but the main difference is now most bands have more of an ego-driven anger in their lyrics, opposed to the philosophical solutions that were presented in the '90s.

Do you know the story behind the person that got the Earth Crisis logo tattooed on their face? You must have been honored, and at the same time shocked, when you first saw that!

We've seen people with the Earth Crisis wrenches tattooed on their hands, their necks and even throats. We have even seen our wrench logo tattooed on someone's head, but only one face so far! It really is an amazing honor to know that there are people out there that respect and appreciate us that much. Of course we love him, and we would love to meet him someday.

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you? 

Probably that we are serious all the time. We have basically been running wild and having fun most of our lives. We definitely do take our vegan straight edge message very seriously when we compose and perform, but we aren’t what most people think. Our DVD did a good job of capturing what we are like most of the time.