Street punk band, Noi!se, play powerful punk rock as well as being outstanding humans. Their single “Mass Apathy” (featuring Transplants’ Skinhead Rob) tackles the issue of gun violence and school shootings in the US, with all proceeds going to various charities dedicated to making children’s lives safers. The band have been in the studio working on a new record. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with guitarist-vocalist Matt Henson.
MATT HENSON: I’m just hanging out with some friends, the guys from Slapshot are in town, we just did two shows with them. I took them out to lunch and to see Tacoma.
How were the shows? Thanks for sending me the video of you playing with them.
MH: It was amazing! I’ve been a Slapshot fan forever, the fact that I even got to play with them is pretty amazing, especially when it’s their first time in the Pacific Northwest. It was an honour. The fact that I got to play a song with them is mind blowing. I’m just glad I didn’t screw it up [laughs] that was my main concern.
Watching the video it looks as if you’re totally having one of those, holy shit I can’t believe I’m doing this moments.
MH: I was like a kid in a candy store. I was grinning the whole time. It’s something that I never thought I’d get to do!
That’s one of the things that I love about you guys, you create yourself but you’re still the biggest fans of music and other bands.
MH Yeah, I’ve taken a little bit of flack for that from people actually. Music shaped who I am as a person, it’s gotten me through every negative experience I’ve had in my life. Music was the catalyst for getting me through things. The fact that I get to play music with a lot of those people, and that I get to call some of them friends, is astonishing to me. As a total amateur musician, it’s really cool to be able to call someone whose opinion on music and life you really value, it’s invaluable, a lot of people don’t have that opportunity. It’s very humbling. I’m very thankful for that.
When did you first become interested in music?
MH: I was very, very little. My mom and dad were both really into music, neither were musicians perse, they were both very, very passionate about music. Mom was into Motown and dad was into rock n roll, so I got a very healthy dose of both constantly, music was constant in our house. I started singing when I was just a little, little kid. I used to perform for my parents’ friends and embarrass myself [laughs], now I embarrass myself as an adult, it’s comes full circle. It’s always been a big part of my life. When I got into punk rock, it was the music that really, really resonated probably the most, just in front of hip hop. I took it and ran with it.
I saw that you dig hip hop too, I listened to a Spotify playlist you curated and was so stoked to find Jedi Mindtricks and A Tribe Call Quest in amongst the punk stuff.
MH: I got into hip hop before I discovered punk rock, I grew up in Georgia in Atlanta. Friends introduced me to stuff, like Tribe, they were one of the first groups I got into. Then of course Outkast came out of Atlanta. Groups like Souls Of Mischief and Pharcyde, I loved it. Not to sound jaded but I think back then hip hop was more of an art form then it is now, the artists had a little bit more to say; that’s why I like Jedi Mindtricks, it’s very congruent with the original essence of lyrical-based hip hop instead of mumbling and relying on a catchy beat to draw a crowd.
I grew up loving punk and hip hop too.
MH: At lunch we were just having a conversation about that, it’s cool to be very passionate about a particular type of music but if that’s all you’re into… that’s fine but, there’s so much great music out there. It’s really a bummer when people limit themselves based on whatever subculture they’re in. There are positive things that you can find in all types of music.
A lot of times I think kids in the punk scene are inherently inundated with this notion that you have to listen to one type of music and if a band gets too big by your estimation you can’t listen to them anymore because they’re sell outs. The music is still the music, for the most part. The bands that I see people online call “sell outs” are anything but. They’ve used every bit of notoriety that they have to perpetuate the scene and the music, their message hasn’t change, their music hasn’t changed, it may have evolved. It’s very seldom that there’s an actual scenario where a band is like, ‘you know what? From now one we’re going to be playing EDM’. Bad Religion did that one record everybody talks about, it’s a great example, here we are decades later and they’re still playing shows and still playing shows that matter, looking objectively at society and what’s going on around us and articulating the problems with it. One of the things that make punk rock such an amazing art form is that there are still bands that look around them and are upset about what they see and they articulate that through music, more than ever right now that’s important.
How did you first discover punk rock?
MH: My friend let me listen to a Minor Threat record when I was 13. It was the “Stepping Stone” cover they did, I knew it from being inundated with 60s and 70s rock, I knew it as a Monkees song. It grabbed me. Everything about it, the aggression, something spoke to me just being a pissed off middle schooler at the time. Punk is such a fluid genre, all these bands that play so many different styles fall under the banner of punk rock, there’s something for every musical taste.
By the time I started going to shows, I actually lived outside of Atlanta, at that point punk rock spoke to me even more. I would go see shows in Atlanta and drive 75 miles to see them. It was a place that I could finally look around at and say, finally, these are people that I can identify with that are like-minded. We live in a society where we are polarized every instance by so many different things, you can’t have your own opinion anymore, it has to be one side or the other. The only thing that you hear, especially if you turn on the TV is how one side is wrong and the other is destroying everything around us. When you go to a show and you are able to be around like-minded and you’re able to put aside the things that make us different and embrace the thing that makes us alike, it’s pretty cool, and it’s very rare now. It’s something that I really try to emphasize when we are playing, people need to understand that, that is why the scene is so important… we may have some difference of opinion, but that’s ok; we’re taught now that it’s not but it is. People can’t speak to each other like rational human beings anymore. When you go to a show you embrace the fact that everyone is here to see a band, they like them and in some semblance they identify with something in the music.
What was growing up like for you? I read somewhere that you said you joined the army because you wanted to get your shit together.
MH: Yes, it definitely did. The army saved my life. Honestly, at the time I joined the army I had been arrested. I was in an extremely bad place and probably would have been dead or in jail if it wasn’t for the army. I had a lot of angst, I was pissed. I was completely misdirected and going down an extremely bad path; I think a lot of people have that. I only intended on joining the army for a couple of years and getting out. It’s something that I feel like I’m good at. I get to train and mentor guys; the path that I took gives me the ability to give mentorship to people that have been through the same thing. I’m not embarrassed by my past, I embrace it and use it to resonate with kids that are going through the same thing. It’s important to me. I was able to get my shit together, things are going really very well. It was a tough decision to first make.
Coming from the punk rock scene you are inundated with how you shouldn’t do that because you’re then a tool in the machine and all that crap. I wrestle with it. I come from a military family, everyone in my family served. When I joined I discovered that it’s more about yourself and the people that you work with than what most people post on the internet about it. I get flack for being a solider every once in a while, for the most part people seem to support me. I never make a big deal about being a solider, if people support it that’s great, if they don’t that’s their prerogative. I made my choice based on my own needs, everyone makes choices to get into whatever they want to get into because of their own reasons. I always just ask that people respect the fact that I made decisions mad on my own circumstances and I continue to serve because I love what I do and frankly, it puts food on my table and feeds my family. I feel like making music and being in the army go hand-in-hand in a lot of ways. It’s an interesting relationship and there’s a lot of interesting conversations that transpire because of it.
A lot of the things that you see while on deployment must influence your art, right? Doing what you do you must get a different perspective on things.
MH: It absolutely does. My world views have changed so much since I started going to different places and seeing what the world is made of and how other people are living. It really makes you appreciate the things that you have, it’s not to say that you should look around yourself and go, oh, this is great, we’re fine because there are people living worse. It makes you appreciate that you or your country aren’t the only ones out there, the world’s a big place, and you’re just a very, very small part of that. It opens your eyes to a lot of different things, the similarities that we have with lots of people. It changes how you look at things, it heavily influences what I write.
In your line of work you must have seen some super intense, terrible things but, on the flipside of that you must have seen some really beautiful things; is there something that stands out?
MH: Yeah there was a few times when I was in Afghanistan where I looked around and thought how beautiful it was, it’s such a shame that what’s going on there is going on. There’s a lot of places like that, Korea is astonishingly beautiful. I try to find the positives in everything that I do. If I go to a place, I’ll fixate on the scenery or the things that make it beautiful versus what I can complain about.
I noticed via your posts online and what I know of you, you seem like a really positive person. I saw a video interview with you and you mentioned you were a grumpy person, but I don’t get that from you.
MH: [Laughs] Well I definitely have my moments. I have a very short temper. I don’t hold grudges and I try to solve any confrontation that I have as quickly and benignly as I possibly can. I don’t’ like being upset and bummed out, I think life hands you enough to make you sad and upset and to have an outlook where you just create more problems—life’s too short. You realise that when you see that there’s some people that don’t get to live their life to the fullest and they get taken away from us too soon. Life’s too short to fixate on the things that are wrong, they’re always going to be there. I’m not Mr. PMA that’s smiling all day, that’s not me at all. Any negative experience that I have though, I try to stay positive. You’re going to experience plenty of things to get upset about. The year I did in Korea away from my family was very difficult, I spent a lot of time away from my family. I do get pissed off and frustrated living in a world that sometimes feels like it’s designed to piss you off.
[Laughter] There’s definitely moments where I can have a quick temper too. I like to see it as being really passionate about something.
MH: Yeah, I think so. I think typically passionate people get… if I feel like one of my soldiers are being mistreated, or my children or my wife or friends, I get real, real pissed real fast. Being older though now, I handle confrontation differently. I look at things with a much more pragmatic approach and do it without a physical or screaming thing happening. There’s that saying that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, that doesn’t mean you have to kiss everybody’s ass though [laughs]. If you can speak to someone in a way that is relatable and treat them with some respect a lot of times you’ll find out the understanding is a miscommunication; the person may not be that total douche bag that you had made up they were in your mind because you have a disagreement with them. People have a real big problem with that, they try to demonise someone without even trying to figure out why they might feel that way. The people we have disagreements with, we probably have more in common than we have differences. It’s disappointing because I feel like people might be a lot better than how they come across online a lot of time.
When did you first start writing songs?
MH: I wrote my first song when I was fifteen. It was really bad. I performed it at my school’s talent show when I was sixteen.
What was it about?
MH: [Laughs] It was about a girl, of course, that broke my heart. It was bad! I taught myself how to play guitar so I could play and sing along and write songs. I always wanted to be singer… but you can only sing in the shower so many times a day people think it’s weird [laughs]. I didn’t know anybody that played music so I picked up the guitar and started playing. Growing up I got upset a lot, like all kids do, music was a really good avenue for getting a lot of that stuff out.
Who are the songwriters that inspire you?
MH: Gosh there are a lot! Motown-wise I would say that Marin Gaye is probably the biggest influence… social consciousness, even at a young age, I thought it was cool that there were people out there maybe giving an opinion that was not so popular. With punk rock there is so many, I think Tim Armstrong is an amazing songwriter for sure. Cocksparrer has always been a big influence on me and Blitz. There’s a lot of hip hop and reggae people too that I love. I always like songs that are really well put together, even if it’s super simplistic. I’m a big vocal guy, if the vocals are good I’ll almost always get behind a band… alternatively if the band is good but have horrible vocals, I can’t get behind it. I also listen to a lot of hardcore. There’s so many bands and so much music that have influenced me that it’s like drinking from the firehouse.
At the end of December last year you posted that you have new music coming soon; what can you tell me about it?
MH: We do. We have seven songs that are already recorded, we realised a single called “Mass Apathy”. I wrote it after the Parkland shooting, our buddy Rob from Transplants sang on it. It’s the only release that we had last year. Right now we’re trying to decide if we want to piecemeal them out as singles and 7”s or if we want to go and do another full length.
What kinds of themes inspired the new songs?
MH: The new songs are very much inspired by what’s going on in our country. What we’ve always tried to do is look as objectively as we can around us and try to paint a picture of what it is and what’s wrong with it, without… Nate and I have never written lyrics where we preach, we don’t people how to think, it’s something that annoys me about bands that do it. We don’t criticise people that think differently, we paint the picture and let you decide by listening to it. Some people’s interpretation is spot on and some people could not be more wrong… that’s fine though. There’s a lot going on in our country that needs to be addressed, that’s what we are going to continue to do. I really hope that people will discuss their interpretation of things more, like rational human beings, that’s probably a pipedream but it would be really, really nice if there was more of that.
What’s something that people might be surprised to know about you?
MH: I’m a big Golden Girls fan!
I’ve seen you wearing a Golden Girls t-shirt.
MH: Yeah, I absolute love Golden Girls. I was actually in a unit with Blanche from Golden Girls’ real life cousin. That was crazy! When they first told me I was like, are you kidding me right now? They didn’t think it was a big deal, but I did!
If you were a Golden Girl which one would you be?
MH: That’s tough, it depends on the mood. I’m married so I can’t be Blanche [laughs], she likes to party. I’d say Dorothy most of the time. I try not to be as salty as Dorothy though. Dorothy in real life was in the Marine Corps.
I’m sure you’ve had many, can you share a life changing moment you’ve had please?
MH: The birth of my son was probably the most life changing event in my life, I was scared to death to be a dad. I didn’t think that I would be a good one. I carried that fear throughout my marriage up to the day my wife told me she was pregnant then up until the day my son was born. As soon as he was born, it doesn’t matter that you’re scared, it’s happening so you have to do it, it’s not about you anymore. Thinking about a kid a 100% of your time, every decision that you make it needs to be most beneficial for your child.
When we played Cocksparrer and Rancid’s anniversary show in San Francisco in 2012, that was musically the game changer for us. Obviously we’ve got to do so much cool stuff and hat we’re so grateful to do, but that was the first wow moment! We didn’t know anything, we had never had a dressing room before, we had someone to take care of us… we didn’t know what to say, when she was going to get some stuff for us we asked her if she wanted us to go with her to help carry stuff back!
Awww that’s lovely.
MH:[Laughs] It was all so surreal. Just going to that show would have been surreal but getting to play it was amazing! Because it was the first, I think that will always be the biggest for us.
You’ve given me goosebumps, I can feel through the phone how much that meant to you… you are so humble, grateful and so sincere.
MH: It’s what it’s all about. When I was a kid and I went to shows it was always the biggest deal when the band… it’s what’s so amazing about punk rock, there’s no distance between you and the people that are writing this music that is such a heavy influence on you. You can just go up and talk to them for the most part. We’ve always operated on the assumption that people who listen to our music are doing us a favour and not the other way around. We don’t want to be famous, we’re not trying to be. We don’t want to be exclusive or obscure, we don’t mind who comes to our shows, within reason. Like you said, we are just very, very, very grateful we get to do this. We are so lucky to travel, play music and put out records. For stuff that we write in a basement in Tacoma to resonate with someone in Australia or Brazil or Germany, it’s mind blowing! To put out records and have people who I grew up listening to listen to it and say it’s good, it’s insane! Never in a million years did we think we’d have these opportunities.
What’s the rest of the year hold for you?
MH: We don’t have a whole lot going on this year because I will be travelling a lot for work. We’re going to focus on recording more, we start Tuesday, we’ll be learning some of the new stuff. We’re doing a festival in Oklahoma called, Fuck You We Rule OK!, in July. Last year we did quite a few shows last year, this year we won’t be doing as many.
Anything else you’d like to tell me?
MH: I just really want to thank you for talking to me and having an interest in us. I think what you’re doing is important and awesome, please continue to do it. If anyone that reads this listens to us, comes to a show or buys our merch, I really, really appreciate it—we’re not going anywhere and will continue to do what we do.
For more NOI!SE check out: @noi7se