UPDATE: Due to Hurricane Florence this show has been postponed until further notice.
“‘Black Flag’ is all about resisting the current ruling political party and everything that they stand for,” guitarist and singer Mike G bluntly says about punk band Rocket 77’s upcoming EP of the same name. “The lies, the disappointment, the failures and the thinly veiled racism. It also highlights the divide of the 1 percent versus the other 99 percent.”
Despite where he firmly stands in his music and views today, Mike G has sat on both sides of the political aisle. In fact, he was once a self-proclaimed “conservative punk.” Nevertheless, he’s tired of the current state of affairs in our country. Of all the songs off of “Black Flag,” what resonates most with him are the lyrics:
“Rise up, Rise up America / (We) let you know that we stand for you / We raise a flag and paint it black / Goddamn system won’t get off our back.”
In other words, the way everything is being run politically is unacceptable.
“‘Black Flag’ is an anthem for all those who see the divide in our country now,” Mike G says. “The wage gap, the economic gap of the haves and have-nots … the feeling that government is no longer ‘for the people.’”
He writes most of Rocket 77’s songs. Instrumental arrangement and dynamics also are culled from bandmates Erik Topping (bass, vocals) and Alexa Decatur (drums). “Both [Erik and Alexa] have a style that add so much to the song the final version is far better than the original idea,” Mike G says.
The politically charged trio will celebrate their release party at Juggling Gypsy on Friday (pending Hurricane Flo doesn’t postpone things). The $5 cover includes a digital copy of Rocket 77’s new EP and they’ll be giving out other merch throughout their set.
Mike G, Erik Topping and their original drummer Cris Scarborough first connected through a Craigslist ad and started Rocket 77 in 2015. When Scarborough left the group a little over a year ago for a move to Charleston, they came upon Decatur by chance.
“One morning while coaching my daughter’s soccer team, I got to talking to Alexa’s dad about the band,” Topping recalls. “I told him we were on the hunt for a drummer and he said his daughter was an amazing drummer and he would see if she was interested. She came to practice one night and listened to each song once. She then hopped behind the kit and proceeded to blow us away. After five minutes of her playing we knew she was the one.”
Everything from the album’s moniker to the cover art carries some political commentary. It’s a dark take on George Washington crossing the Potomac River by Ernesto Hermosillo, whom Mike G met through Instagram (@ernie_wan_kenobi). Hermosillo’s illustration of a skeleton captain looking ahead as his dead crew row on. It evokes a sense of bleakness, war and death amid a blurred backdrop and a darker side of the stars and stripes.
“[Ernesto Hermosillo is] an incredibly talented and prolific artist and a local,” he tells. “A while back I just kinda tossed the concept of Washington crossing the Potomac River and incorporating a black flag. The end result is his twist on the iconic image in his dark style and way better than I could have hoped for.”
Rocket 77’s sound of modern punk takes all the punk elements from the last four decades to make them new—not “retro” or “trendy.” While listeners will hear notes of inspirations from bands they love, they aren’t trying to be the “next Bad Religion.”
“I was raised on punk rock and skateboards,” Topping says. “Listening to bands like Bad Religion, NOFX, Anti Flag, and Pennywise opened my eyes to how a song can be used to get a message across to a large audience.” Rocket 77’s more political songs came in wake of 2016’s election and their response with the “Insane Clown President” EP.
“We, like many others, were baffled and frustrated with the results of the election and decided we needed to vent that frustration through our music,” Topping continues.
“Baffled? I was dumbfounded,” Mike G inserts. “How does a guy who brags about sexually assaulting women get elected? Our political songs are definitely driven by current events and a dislike of our president. Other topics are inspired by life and relationships.”
There are some songs brought over from the band’s 2017 EP “Basement Tapes.” “Thick N Thin” was recorded with Scarborough while Decatur learned the songs. “It’s happy bouncy vibe is a counterpoint to the dark and heavy songs on the EP,” Mike G adds.
“Sappy Love Song” was written years ago from the perspective of an eighth-grade boy about a girl in class who likely doesn’t know he exists. It practically screams “painful puberty” with lines like “when I go to call you, I almost pee.”
“It’s autobiographical for sure,” he quips. “Let’s just say eighth grade was an awkward time for me.”
“A song that really resonates with me would be ‘Back Off,’” Topping notes of the ska-influenced tune detailing drama which tends to arise now and then with every band: long road trips + egos + lack of sleep equals “Back Off.”
“It’s not easy coordinating three people’s schedules to make time for practice, shows and recording,” he continues. “This can create a lot of tension in the band. I usually end up playing mediator but I don’t mind because Mike and Alexa are family and my best friends. There is no one else I’d rather share the stage with—even if I want to kill them sometimes.”
“I think what drives us most is a love for the music first and foremost,” Mike G adds. “No matter if it’s practice or a show, the three of us kinda fall into this zone when we play. Life can be chaotic, so music is my relief valve.”
Rocket 77’s release party at Juggling Gypsy will feature sets from their “extended family” from Bastard Brigade, Nonchalant Shotgun and Found in the Trash.