Alan Hague, guitarist and vocalist for local punk group Ask the Dead, isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Whether he’s threatening to handcuff himself to the Keystone Pipeline or leaving a successful band to build a new act from the ground up, he doesn’t mind putting in the effort to realize his goals, musical or political. Though, after a conversation on the patio of Seven Stars Bakery, music and politics seem almost inextricable to Hague, a self-identified revolutionary socialist who slept on the streets during Occupy Providence and faces the mess that is the American political agenda—and the world in general—with a deeply ingrained DIY attitude.
“I feel like we’re finding out crazier and crazier things over time—you know, the NSA spying scandal, Global Warming that no one seems to take very seriously, the oil companies still running the world basically. Everyone is pissed off about it—I don’t hear anyone who’s like, I love that the NSA spies on everyone. So let’s all be pissed off about it. Let’s try to do something about it.”
This inclination towards leftist, action-based politics has been with Hague for most of his life, propagating at the start of his music career. Growing up, he was angry at the world, and as an adult, he is, as he puts it, “more pissed off about the world than [he’s] ever been.” The desire for political change became an important aspect of his previous band, Prayers for Atheists—a two-piece punk act with a markedly leftist edge. So much so, in fact, that Hague began to feel burnt out. After attending countless Marxist meetings with his band-mate Jared Paul, he claims, “It felt like [politics] was almost exclusively what we talked about in the band, and I didn’t really want to be pigeonholed that way. I’d say it just kind of felt time for a change.”
Change came in the form of Ask the Dead, a post-hardcore quartet with a sound that swings between hardcore, punk and math rock. First to join the project was Dan Guedes, a friend of Hague’s with a powerful yet calculated style and experience in both rock bands and jazz ensembles. Next was Brandon Perkins, a 22 year old with a remarkable affinity for guitar after only a few years of playing. And last, after coming out to the band’s first house show, Hague’s friend Steve Ellis started in on bass. By spring 2012, Ask the Dead—named after a Hemingway quote—had a solid lineup and a firm creative vision.
While punk and hardcore remain at the band’s core, different influences glint subtly through a storm of energetic melodies and powerful vocals. “We love jazz as much as we love punk as much as we love metal, some folk stuff, electronic stuff. . . . We like so many things, why not just play it all together at once?” Guedes’s experience with jazz music reveals itself in his finessed method of playing—precise without losing its groove, colorful but still structured. Hague’s vocals maintain that genre ambiguity: He croons, he screams. As the band progresses with its newest album, post-hardcore seems even less adequate a descriptor. Progressive sounds borrowed from the electronic music world punctuate polyrhythmic riffs and untraditional rhythms. The result is dynamic and complex, with punchy, unselfconscious lyrics that address some of the foundations of American society, such as the effects of late-stage capitalism and the toils of nine-to-five drudgery.
All concepts that Hague is trying to escape, largely by using his own two hands. He spent the winter pouring concrete and putting up sheetrock in his friend Dan Sawyer’s new house in Warwick, building a home studio to record his first full-length album, outside of the corporate music industry. The world around him continues to spin into chaos—two of his band-mates are getting “somewhat evicted” from their home and practice space in North Kingstown, the atmosphere continues to accumulate greenhouse gasses, and the oil companies still rule the world. Hague doesn’t seem too worried, though. From his music to his personal life to the greater realm of American politics, he’ll make the moves to fix it, himself.
Ask the Dead takes the stage on August 9 for AS220’s Foo Fest. Click here for ticketing information, cool interviews with the bands, and more.