Militarie Gun Are Major

Ian Shelton envisioned Militarie Gun as a witness to the absurdity of context collapse. Now, he accepts they’re an example of it. Take “Militarie Gun” itself, originally a goof on an actor’s once-farcical and now disgraced name, and now something that they’re stuck with “for the rest of our lives.” Or, the very moment Shelton realized he could relate to Kanye West in any way whatsoever. The word-of-mouth success that followed Militarie Gun’s 2021 All Roads Lead To The Gun EPs put them on the radar of Roc Nation Management, and when the two parties were in discussion, Shelton was coincidentally watching jeen-yus – which, at least for its first third, is probably the last time Kanye West can be remembered in a sympathetic light. Though Shelton never went to the Roc Nation offices trying to throw the diamond up or spit a verse from “Don’t Pick Up The Phone,” “I’m low key chasing the same guys he was chasing back then,” he laughs. “Which I never thought would be the case.”

And now on the verge of releasing their debut LP Life Under The Gun, as the man once said, Militarie Gun are major. Go to the Roc Nation website and there they are, smack between Miguel and Moneybagg Yo. After linking up with Loma Vista Records in late 2022, they’re also labelmates with Killer Mike, St. Vincent, and Korn. Life Under The Gun already crashed some mid-year album lists two weeks before it actually dropped, a testament to Shelton’s elevation of immediacy above all else. “I don’t care what you do, just do it faster,” he barks on the album’s lead single, setting the course for an album that’s both buffed and buff; the goofball videos for “Do It Faster” and “Very High” are fairly blatant throwbacks to a time when bouncy hardcore acts like CIV could sneak into the Buzz Bin alongside Weezer. “I’ve always been a very impatient person, I want the answers now, I want the result now,” he explains. Not coincidentally, the IRL conversations I’ve had about Life Under The Gun have led to descriptions like “Guided By Voices with good production” or “swole Joyce Manor.”

The former is pretty much what Shelton envisioned; “I wanted to make a band that sounded like Guided By Voices eight years ago but was not a competent singer,” he admits. By the time Militarie Gun started making headway, he cautiously asked a friend, “Do you ever think this band could be as popular as Fucked Up?” For most of the past 15 years, this was indeed the best-case scenario for any hardcore band hoping to avail themselves of Big Indie’s spoils – i.e., Best New Music, Rolling Stone profiles, opening for the Foo Fighters, late-night TV appearances that couldn’t say the band’s actual name. But for all of the impact of David Comes To Life, Fucked Up were a band whose ambitions recalled The Who as much as Hüsker Dü, oftentimes celebrated as an exception that justified ignoring whatever else was happening in hardcore. They were a unicorn, not one that had listeners and industry types seeking out “the next Fucked Up.”

Meanwhile, Life Under The Gun is something of a heat check for hardcore itself. More specifically, the “Turnstile Effect,” in which the immediate acclaim and long-tail success of GLOW ON has been likened to a small-scale Nevermind – a wave that potentially lifts respected lifers up to the majors as a kind of credibility-based loss leader for the copycats. In other words, will there be Melvins and Meat Puppets to justify the inevitable Candleboxes and Bushes to come?

Though Life Under The Gun is technically a debut LP from a band that’s been releasing music for less than three years, it’s misleading to call it anyone’s introduction to Militarie Gun. “We had all these songs written and demoed for the third time before we ever played a show,” Shelton reveals, and indeed, the album has been completed for about a year and a half. “If we were impatient, we could’ve released All Roads Lead To The Gun earlier and went straight into releasing these songs before we ever started touring, but we knew how good the songs were so it was easy for us to have restraint.”

Prior to his move to Los Angeles, Shelton had been a veteran of Seattle’s hardcore scene and, eventually, a member of the chaotically creative punk institution Self Defense Family. As recently as 2021, Militarie Gun was likely to be viewed as a spinoff of Regional Justice Center, probably the most successful band of its time that could accurately be described as “powerviolence.” RJC took its name from the for-profit prison complex in which Ian’s brother Max had been incarcerated since 2016, yet he describes their music as “emotionally political and not outwardly political”; intended as much to honor the experience of his brother as it was to avoid the didacticism that infested hardcore and really just about every other form of art during the onset of the Trump administration. “It was an era that was fucking bleak to be a part of artistically,” Shelton explains. “It was so introductory in its approach to politics, so robotic, not interesting, regurgitated half-thought ideas.” Regional Justice Center provided catharsis and connection, though as to be expected from a band that plays extremely fast and angry music, it was liable to collapse at any time.

Whether or not Militarie Gun was conceived as something more sustainable than Shelton’s other bands – another goes by the name S.W.A.T., aka “Sex With A Terrorist” – they’ve been buoyed by a concurrent trend of ascendant bands who’ve emerged from hardcore while conducting themselves like a Britpop or power-pop act; play “Never Fucked Up Once” or “My Friends Are Having A Hard Time” on an acoustic and you might have a Lemonheads or Teenage Fanclub song. But ask anyone about Militarie Gun’s way with a hook, and they’ll point to Shelton’s “OOF! OOF!” ad-lib, a sound both gruff and endearing, like getting pummeled by a playful bull mastiff. “I probably had eight songs with it before we played a show and thinking this is kind of a big swing to come in so hard before anyone knew it,” Shelton recalls. It likely became his signature on 2022’s “Pressure Cooker,” a collaboration with lo-fi power-pop wizard Dazy that already feels like genre canon.

Or at least a culmination of trends that date back much farther than Militarie Gun itself. “It took a long way to break down this kind of wall, [and acknowledge] that people who come from hardcore are capable songwriters,” Shelton explains, crediting acts like Angel Du$t and Ceremony for swinging the hammers first. Still, Shelton recognizes that he’s more likely to be considered an elder statesman at this point in his career, or at least he’s willing to act as one. “It took me a really long time to get to where I’m at and if I can save someone the hassle of the same exact things I did, I’d love to do that.” Take his willingness to “interject myself into the creative process” with MSPAINT, the Hattiesburg synth-punk firebrands who will be joining Militarie Gun on the road this fall. In addition to his guest vocals on “Delete It,” Shelton is credited as a co-producer, even if he sees that role as a kind of motivational speaker. “I told them I didn’t think the recordings were good enough and we should do them again together,” he recalls. “And I couldn’t ask for a better result.” That end result was Post-American, an album that’s neck and neck with Life Under The Gun as the most impactful album to emerge from the extended hardcore universe in 2023 – debut or otherwise.

The tougher job is learning how to parlay those managerial skills into Militarie Gun itself. “I’ve demanded enough of everyone’s life where I’m pretty much responsible to make sure they have their bills paid,” he says. “That’s a scary thought.” Indeed, it’s possible that his last day job will have come functioning as an essential worker during the pandemic (i.e., weed delivery guy). While Militarie Gun is striking while the iron’s hot, Shelton is grateful that it’s been a slow, slow burn. “If I was younger and experiencing these things, I would not have been as well adjusted,” he jokes. “I would’ve been an idiot.”