Majority Rule’s trailblazing screamo classic ‘Interviews with David Frost’ turns 20
Alexander Rudenshiold is a musician, artist, and writer from Virginia who plays in the bands Infant Island, Mattachine, and Sylph. Here, he looks back on Majority Rule's screamo classic 'Interviews with David Frost' in honor of the album's 20th anniversary.
Today when we talk about the state of the world – about politics, culture, the economy, whatever – there’s an underlying narrative which has weaved its way into omnipresence. It’s the sort of thing one inflects in their tone of voice rather than says outright (though many have done this as well.) That things are worse now, in this moment, than they have ever been. That the world is on the brink of imminent annihilation. That our leaders are more incompetent or malicious than ever before.
While, in some ways, this is absolutely a valid critique of the world today – I am here, on the anniversary of Majority Rule’s first album Interviews with David Frost, writing to tell you that this narrative is one of revision. Things have always been terrible.
The 2000 United States presidential election was a flashpoint in American politics which many both within and outside the political sphere seem to have forgotten. Then Republican candidate George W. Bush beat Al Gore in an incredibly close election with the help of the “Brooks Brothers riot,” an astro-turfed Republican operation led by Roger Stone (you may have heard of him) and lobbyist Matt Schlapp, and the U.S. Supreme Court, which unprecedentedly decided to stop a court-ordered recount in Florida with the power to change the result (but was not sure enough on their decision to allow it to stand as an example for the future). Bush won the electoral college with 271 electoral votes to Gore’s 266, while losing the popular vote by over 450,000. While this scandal incensed many at the time, whatever outrage was publicly felt was quickly overwritten when the towers fell on 9/11 – ushering in a previously unheard-of era of national unity, for better (or, more accurately, for worse).
Interviews… is the rare piece of art created in the year between these two politically reconstituting events – steeped in the rage of an unheard, maligned left and youth. An album made for the Bush-era that would have been, rather than that which occurred (see: Emergency Numbers for the Majority Rule take on what happened). Everything from the art, to the lyrics, to the music itself exudes a frustration which reflected the dismay of the American left, following the movement’s liberalization under the Clinton and Carter administrations, defeat at the hands of the Bushes, and the impending social sense that Fukuyama’s end of history was inevitable.
In 2003, in an interview with longstanding punk zine Disposable Underground, frontman Matt Michel described his struggle with Majority Rule’s lyrics: “It’s impossible to say we are not political, but I wouldn’t call us a political band…I guess what I’m trying to say is at times like these it’s pretty difficult to separate the political from the personal.” This reflection on the times feels like something as relevant today as it was then. Though Interviews was released several years earlier, its political underpinnings are clear from the onset. Its cover depicts a stylized photo from the first Intifada of a Palestinian throwing a stone, likely towards Israeli heavily guarded settler-colonists – an act of resistance in the face of overwhelming force which often proves fatal. This inversion of David & Goliath is the tone this album takes towards power: calling forth righteous anger at institutional abuse.
Ever the forgotten point of the 00’s Virginia holy trinity (the other, more popular, two consisting of Pg. 99 and City of Caterpillar, the former of which they shared a split LP with), Majority Rule’s production and songwriting blazed the trail for blackened “screamo” as it would later be known. The three piece took a more aggressive, streamlined approach to music than their peers, incorporating elements of the hardcore and metalcore developing at the time into the sound of the regional scene. The result is chaotic, dark, and unrelenting. The heavy sections of songs are pummeling: Michel’s guitar coated in screaming distortion and Pat Broderick’s drums grinding at breakneck speed – even the quieter parts which punctuate each song feel uneasy, characterized by Kevin Lamiell’s slinking basslines, never once resolving or lulling the listener into a false sense of security. And, while many albums of this time period feel dated by today’s standards, Interviews… sonically maintains its luster, relishing in the dynamics afforded by a time before the loudness wars had fully taken hold.
The album’s lyrical themes remain relevant today as well, if not increased in their potency. Songs like “The Sin in Grey” and “Burial Suit” offer a damning critique of the '90s lopsided excess, warning of its unsustainability years before the '08 crash would make it unignorable. And to those, tracks like “Progress of Elimination,” “Endings,” and “Kill the Cheat” call the listener to some kind of direct action. In these songs Majority Rule go where most today, in the age of the internet, wouldn’t: recognizing the utility sometimes held in destruction, be it material or otherwise. The band would go on to lay the inspirations of their writing more bare on their 2003 follow up Emergency Numbers, speaking candidly about the dangers and effects of the United States’ imperial wars and proxies in the Middle East following 9/11, particularly about the fate of the Palestinian people on “Boeing.” The weight of these themes is more pronounced today, as the trudge of late capitalist neoliberalism has marched on. Material conditions for working people have worsened. The wealth gap has widened. The Palestinean apartheid has intensified. Yet another cheater Conservative would-be president.
The impact of Majority Rule among members of today’s crop of chaotic hardcore can’t be understated. Matt King of Portrayal of Guilt, beyond having recorded with Michel, cites them as a direct influence – one which Is particularly audible in their early work. The Infant Island song “Death Portrait” was itself a direct result from seeing the band play in Richmond on their reunion tour with Pg.99 in 2017. Touché Amoré’s Jeremy Bolm, who himself is a connoisseur of classic screamo records, has described the record as “instantly smash[ing] you the moment it starts.”
Many have pointed out that the popular culture of the early 2000’s features a marked lack of protest music. Indeed, retrospectively we don’t think of the '00s as an era of protest in the Global North – but on Interviews with David Frost, Majority Rule remind us that there have always been objectors to unjust hierarchies. It also reminds us of what things can be: wouldn't it be nice if life were more alive.
Today, Majority Rule’s legacy is faithfully continued through NØ MAN, the group’s new project which features all three core members of its predecessor with the addition of Maha Shami, Michel’s wife, on vocals. They put out their excellent second album ERASE last year.