The last time we featured Philly punk heroes R.A.M.B.O. in Decibel, frontman Tony Pointless was lounging shirtless atop a piano where former Dillinger Escape Plan bassist Liam Wilson was seated. It was part of our now semi-legendary “Hottest Doodz in Metal” feature from our April 2006 issue. Over 16 years later, a lot has changed, but that didn’t stop us from reunited this power couple to celebrate Defy Extinction, the first new R.A.M.B.O. album in 17 years. Read the more traditional interview interaction between the two below.
LIAM WILSON: Instead of waiting until the end is there anything you want to say up front? Anything you feel like you want to speak about that hasn’t been asked about in any of your recent interviews?
TONY POINTLESS: I’m surprised no one has asked us about the video for “The End is Nye.” The comments on that and on the album cover have been hilarious, perfectly illustrating our point. The belief in conspiracy theories and distrust of science and expertise seems to be well entrenched in punk/metal/extreme music. Biden is on the album cover being attacked by a salamander. We are not reformist liberals. We are clearly a band critical of much of society, especially the police state and capitalism. Yet, because we agree with scientific consensus we are now totally pro-establishment in these peoples’ eyes. How do they not get that fostering distrust in science is a tool of authoritarianism? Punk isn’t being a perpetual contrarian. We don’t need to rebel against the stuff that society got correct. I’d love to get this song and video on Bill Nye’s radar. I’d love to send him a record. If anyone knows where to send it, let me know!
WILSON: Is there any part of the R.A.M.B.O. mission statement you felt needed clarification with this album, lyrically, musically, metaphysically? Any unfinished business?
POINTLESS: I think this record is itself a clarification, perhaps more of a refinement of our mission statement. We spent 15 years getting real life experience. We left behind our insular bubble and began interacting with other people outside the anarchist punk world. We’ve begun successful careers, started families, pursued higher education. There’s been two advanced degrees skilled trade apprenticeships earned by members since we stopped playing. We challenged the beliefs we took on at 16 and examined them. I think what it all means regarding our ideals is that as we’ve cut the fat, we’ve gotten more pragmatic and less dogmatic. We’ve become far more open minded, but if anything stronger in our core beliefs and now we’re in like a better position to back them up and to be more efficient and focused
Sonically speaking we definitely had some unfinished business. I feel like we finally made the record we always wanted to make. We might’ve said that about, Bring It! and we probably said it about Wall Of Death The System, too, but I don’t think we ever had the time and resources to really focus on the music. We always had other distractions, namely touring. Being scrubby punks touring a whole lot and also cobbling together multiple part time jobs in between tours, scrambling to make money to go back on tour, that’s not so much the case anymore, so I think we actually were able to just focus on music,
WILSON: I know R.A.M.B.O. personally as a city band made up of friends I met in Philadelphia, a proverbial concrete jungle, but in many ways that couldn’t be further from the truth in terms of where your hearts may lie. You’ve got a BS in Horticulture and an MS in Biology, and you work as a director of a nature center within the largest urban park system in the United States. Given that you’re a bit of an expert, what would you vote for to be the national bird and plant species of the nation of R.A.M.B.O.?
POINTLESS: Black Kite because it was a bird that was ubiquitous throughout Asia east and southeast Asia. You can also see them in Australia. It’s a bird of prey that actually scavenges as much if not more than it hunts. It’s very common in urban areas, found throughout Europe in parts of Africa, Asia and even Australia. In Hong Kong for instance, there are Black Kites constantly overhead. Hong Kong served as a hub for our 1st Asia/Australia tour and our second, longer, Asian tour. It’s a very punk looking bird too. Sort of like if the Tragedy bird logo was real. Although the Tragedy bird could also be a parakeet or a pheasant!
For a tree it would have to be the Pitch Pine. It is the dominant tree of the Jersey Pine Barrens which is right outside Philadelphia and a place that is very important to R.A.M.B.O., we go there a whole lot. Bull ended up buying a house on some property there. There are tons of photos of Andy, Bull and I hanging out at Pine Barrens together. Pine Barrens are under-appreciated, unsung but a very beautiful place that lotta people just don’t appreciate. It is a great respite from Philadelphia. Pine Barrens is full of cool landscapes, great swimmings holes, not super diverse but very unique, lots of bogs with carnivorous plants etc and the Pitch Pine is the emblematic tree. It also is serotinous, which means it depends on forest fires to release its seeds.
WILSON: Favorite song from old albums and new?
POINTLESS: My favorite from our past catalog would be “The War On Self-Esteem” inspired by a Margaret Cho stand-up performance. To hear a few hundred kids scream back at you: “I refuse to hate myself” has got to be one of my favorite memories; very powerful and very moving. As far as new songs, that would have to be “Biomass,” which has to do with spirituality. It might be interpreted as an atheist if not agnostic anthem, but it is actually about the spirituality of nature and that connection with nature’s end and decentralization of spirituality. I resent that spirituality seems to always be a pretext for hierarchy.
WILSON: Has parenthood changed your feelings about punk and rebellion now that we are essentially the parents in the room literally and figuratively?
POINTLESS: They’ve definitely changed the most in terms of logistics and being pragmatic. Now I know I have someone that I have to take care of. I have someone that is gonna be affected by my actions. Not to mention just being in a committed relationship with someone that I intend to be with for the rest of my life with and not just to raise a kid. I am accountable to my wife and her future, and if I do certain things it’s gonna affect them.
For my politics it hasn’t changed that much. It has in terms of the risks I wanted to take to achieve change. If the shit hits the fan, I might be more inclined to try to rebuild society or try to work with people directly. If there is some kind of Civil War I might be less likely to be in a partisan group fighting in the streets. Rather than killing the opposition and getting myself killed, I may participate in organizational structures to weather the storm and to take care of people in need. That might be the biggest change, but that’s all theoretical.
WILSON: Oscar Wilde famously said “Tell them the truth but make them laugh, or they will kill you.” I find some parallels to the tough topics and tougher antics approach that R.A.M.B.O. deployed, it always felt so authentic and natural. Is it hard for you to strike that balance or is it really as easy as you make it look?
POINTLESS: I am always trying to find the joke, to find the pun. I find that harder to turn off. I have to censor myself from saying something too ridiculous or inappropriate. So I guess it does come very naturally. I think the hardest part is killing my darlings.
WILSON: Most bands tend to avoid what I’ll call “performance art/theatrical” aspects of live performance – how important to the legacy of R.A.M.B.O/ are the visual aspects of the band, and who were your inspirations? Take me into the room when you were discussing the presentation of the band. Was your first show a spectacle?
POINTLESS: I have to assume that the theatrics of R.A.M.B.O. had influences. I came to know about punk and other music in a world where the wit and humor of the Dead Milkmen and theatrics of Gwar already existed. It had to be I guess in the back of my mind , but I think it’s pretty organic in just the fact that we were named Rambo and people automatically started asking me if we were going to dress up. I was always a silly funny guy and before Rambo started I was known as just like a knucklehead who was always talking about being in a band with a stupid theme or concept for years. I used to dress very outlandish. My punk style really was ridiculous before it got super crusty. I dressed up in costumes, I had weasel skin with a head attached sewn on my jacket and I’d wear platform duck slippers.
So when I started in the band people expected me to be kind of ridiculous and since we were named Rambo people came dressed in camo to the first show. People would give me camo stuff and fake guns etc. Liam you were part of a lot of the theatrics. This came from you and Andy going to U Arts and enlisting art school kids like Justin Gray to build props. The first was the Moshing Machines to poke fun at our buddies in Tragedy, then it snowballed from there. Besides Philly, we would take a day off to make props in cities with big scenes like NYC, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and The Bay Area. But kids started making their own. We first saw this in St Louis on our first tour and eventually it was in Finland and Malaysia.
Maybe “The End is Nye” video was a fun way to revisit some of the theatrics. I could see us doing more videos if we remain active.
WILSON: Any bands carrying the proverbial torch for you these days?
POINTLESS: I’m surprised that the disposable trash picked prop thing didn’t catch on. I really don’t know if anyone else does that. Municipal Waste are still going and they have the boogie boards and the Wizard and shark but I think playing the huge tours and festivals makes it hard to maintain the same vibe.
Order Defy Extinction from Relapse Records here.