The need for ‘total rebellion’ is why this 1990s post punk band is back on tour
Ian Svenonius is old school. The punk musician just can’t do it any other way.
Svenonius is the singer, author and bandleader of punk outfits like the Make-Up, Nation of Ulysses and Weird War, among others. His Washington D.C. upbringing put him in close proximity to things like influential local label Dischord Records and a wide-ranging roster of local musical luminaries from Bo Diddley and Gil-Scott Heron to Minor Threat and Bad Brains.
So it’s no surprise that the outspoken frontman has spent the last 30 years carving out a wide-ranging catalog of highly political and philosophical work.
Initially active from 1995 to 2000, post punks the Make-Up featured Svenonius on vocals, James Canty on guitar, Michelle Mae on bass and Steve Gamboa on drums. And while session musician Mark Cisneros replaced Gamboa years ago, the rest of the band has stayed intact for nearly two decades of very occasional gigs – including an electrifying Coachella appearance in 2013.
Since, Svenonius has focused his time on garage punks Chain & The Gang, lo-fi minimalists Escape-ism, plus the daunting task of turning his the three collections of essays into audio books.
So what exactly could have brought the Make-Up back to life this time around?
“The modern context was begging for a group like the Make-Up,” said Svenonius recently from his newly adopted L.A. hometown. “The need for a cathartic expression from a sensibility that is almost extinct - total rebellion against the industry, the sports complex, television, the internet, and all the other sworn enemies of mankind and dignity. Degradation engendered by modern life. That was the catalyst.”
Mixing church music, garage rock and punk into the self-proclaimed style of “gospel yeh-yeh,” the Make-Up has defined itself through a frenetic, audience participation-heavy live show and unrelenting socio-political themes delivered through Svenonius in an evangelical style.
Although those same themes seem to make their way into all of the dynamic front man’s projects, the Make-Up has always felt the most like a tent revival meeting from another dimension.
But strip it all back, and at the heart of everything Svenonius creates is a very simple idea: art should always have a message.
“There’s very little music with personality or real content anymore,” Svenonius said. “And the thought that groups should ‘say something’ seems to be archaic and an anachronism. People don’t think of music as something that embodies an ideal, an aesthetic or an aspiration. They’ve forgotten that the role of music is catharsis. And that creates a different relationship to it.”
While the bandleader is happy to be back on the road with his old band, Svenonius isn’t promising a follow-up to the Make-Up’s last album of original material, 1999’s “Save Yourself,” anytime soon.
“A group is an ideal,” he said. “It’s a culture, a model that you’re presenting. It’s people who live together, whose destinies are intertwined, who listen to the same music and eat the same food. It’s really a young person’s thing. Once a group gets rich or gets older and settles down, they probably shouldn’t be making records. It doesn’t represent a common language anymore.
“I would only be interested in doing a new record if I really felt like it was going to represent something or was going to be real. We perform because it’s really good. We’re not going to make a record unless it can be the same. We’ll have to figure it out. For now, I believe in our performance.”
The Make-Up: 9 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3. The Casbah, 2501 Kettner Blvd., Midtown. $20; casbahmusic.com