This past summer, when New York was embroiled in controversy over the Marriage Equality Act, the members of Connecticut-based punk band Hostage Calm made more than a protest anthem—they made a petition. In association with music magazine Alternative Press, the band released their eponymous album for free to anyone who signed their letter supporting the act, which was then delivered to the three New York senators unsure of how they would cast their vote.
Chris Martin, Tom Chiari, Tim Casey, Nick Balzano, and John Ross make up Hostage Calm—an indie punk band with a commitment to social change. In addition to their successful petition, they wrote the song “Ballots/Stones,” which explores the implications of LGBT opposition, penned an op-ed piece on the importance of same-sex marriage in Alternative Press, and they’re selling T-shirts for which a portion of the proceeds will benefit Equality Maryland. Out spoke with singer Chris Martin, who took a break from rehearsing to discuss the band’s musical inspirations, their own brand of activism, and how the independent music community can come together to make a political statement.
How did Hostage Calm get started?
We had all grown up together in various punk bands. Tim, Tom, and I were in a band before that broke up, so in 2007 we decided to pick up where our old band left off and try to be a bit more experimental. We definitely took a more political direction than our previous band. We’re inspired by bands who did their own thing and had their own sound. The late work by Bold, Fugazi, Quicksand, and Operation Ivy is big for us, as well as bands like Dead Kennedys and the Clash, which had a more political message.
What are some American bands today that you think have a political edge?
There are bands like Antiflag, who we toured with and we love, but in the scene right now there’s not as much political discussion. We’re hoping to bring a little more to the table. Touche Amore—they had a song about same-sex marriage, and there’s also this band Fireworks. They’re conscious bands in that respect—they care about social issues.
What was the process of writing lyrics for "Ballots/Stones"?
A lot of times things just come to you. I was watching coverage of the reaction to the Prop. 8, and I saw a protest sign: “Did you cast a ballot or a stone?” I just thought, That’s so brilliant! I immediately found chords that went with it. I wanted to have a song that described what I saw for the future, when those people protesting LGBT rights would be relegated to the dark pages of history, like those who opposed desegregation and women’s suffrage—these people who can’t see a democratic country as one of expanding freedom.
Was there ever any disagreement in the group about whether it was a risky song?
No, that’s not our style. We were gonna make it either way. We thought this album would be poorly received anyway, so if it was the last thing people heard from us, we were going to say what we wanted. Luckily, it was pretty well received.
What was it like writing an op-ed on same-sex marriage for the Alternative Press?
It was a huge opportunity for us to articulate something that could push people in music to get more aware and involved. It had to be factual and bold, and I feel like it helped us to position ourselves on the issue. Before this, we contextualized political involvement through song, but this opened up a whole new way to address the issue. I really appreciate Alternative Press for giving us that chance—they have a lot of young readers, a huge cross-section reads that magazine.
What was the response you received when you collaborated with the Alternative Press to release your album in exchange for signing a petition to New York senators?
We were thrilled with how it turned out. We heard the act was going to the vote that day, and we were like, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do something?”
We decided to write a letter and see if people would sign it. We got over 3,000 signatures in 24 hours. I think a few people who were already fans heard about it and thought that this was a great way for punk music to get involved in something and to make a real dent. When the senators spoke after the vote, they cited the thousands of letters they received, not tens of thousands, but thousands, and I’ve got to think that 3,000 letters from people in the independent music community had to be a part of that. It was at least a strong statement about how we felt.
That day when I saw the signatures and watched the proceedings on the floor of the New York legislature, I felt so empowered. We’re lucky to be a part of this independent punk community. They’re the ones who signed it, we just brought the infrastructure to connect—they are the force behind this. I think we’ll continue to look at how we can be a part of that process and try to connect all these people with brilliant ideas.
Hostage Calm will be touring in Europe with I Am The Avalanche and The Wonder Years, then the band will begin recording its third album. You can buy Hostage Calm's latest album here.