Prayers For Atheists’ Adam Hague during an in-house performance. Photo by Meg Fogarty.
In the wave of protest and societal discord, those leading the revolution look for hymn-makers to paint a picture of their struggle and give sound to their fight. Bob Dylan, long the foreman for change and remonstration, is not around much these days, but fortunately Prayers For Atheists, a punk-driven rock band from Providence, Rhode Island, has amply joined the cause. In fact, according to them, there may be numerous voices to carry on this artistic fervor in the future.
“What we need is a whole new generation of original artists to step up and use their talents to channel the spirit of our age,” remarks Alan Hague, guitarist of the group.
And that spirit, undoubtedly, is on fire.
In the past few months, parades of Occupy Wall Street protests have erupted across the country, Gaddafi was slaughtered, the Republican primaries have been criticized and slashed, and the U.S. is officially pulling out of Iraq (albeit, at a tapered rate). The disruption of American patience and near refusal to continue believing in the government’s ability to execute the will of its people, has led to sheer public outcry.
Musicians, as leaders and documentarians of the changing era, are being thrust into the spotlight, some for direction, others for constructive interpretation. Hague is well aware of the power at his disposal and the subsequent role a ‘message band’ can play in these concerted efforts. In fact, at times Prayers For Atheists seems as much a movement as it is a band.
“Civil disobedience is perhaps the most effective mechanism of protest, especially right now,” comments Hague. “Consider the influence of corporate money on politics; consider how the big banks were bailed out despite destroying our economy: the biggest theft of taxpayer funds in the history of the country, and it happened in broad daylight! Then, consider how the Democrats were voted in to challenge rampant, deregulated corporate power, and instead simply took the ball from the Republicans and ran with it. In short, voting doesn’t provide people with an effective means of checking power when the two major parties we get to choose from are both funded by the same capitalists.”
Prayers For Atheists came together in 2006 at the mergence of punk and hip-hop culture, and the fault lines of musical activism. Hague met frontman, Jared Paul, at a Sage Francis show – the band is currently signed to the emcee’s label, Strange Famous Music – after both had separately begun solo pursuits in the industry. Hague had long been driven to punk music and songwriting, whereas Paul had established himself more as a spoken word poet. The two coalesced their divergent backgrounds into one, and Prayers For Atheists was conceived.
Now a group of four, including Matt Gilroy (bass, vocals) and Marco Aveledo (drums), the quartet has been described by CMJ as “Public Enemy bum rushing a basement hardcore matinee.” Arguably, their sound is more definitively punk, yet the production style and lyrical content offers a distinct flair towards rap. Comparatively, the two genres have enough similarities that, for Hague, a marriage between the two made great sense.
“What I like about both is that they’re open to anyone,” he explains. “You can pick up a guitar without any lessons and start a punk band. You can rap without any kind of classes or lessons. Both genres naturally lend themselves to a very organic creative process; both genres allow artists the room to explore and figure things out as they go… Most importantly, I think that both genres depend on attitude and honesty.”
Nevertheless, Hague, at his core, is bound by the pull of rock n’ roll.
He adds, “Punk rock has always been my musical bread-and-butter, specifically early American hardcore from 1979 to 1983: Black Flag, The Germs, Bad Brains, etc., but my favorite band is Nirvana. The way they combined hard music with melody is pretty much the ideal I shoot for.”
Prayers For Atheists released their sophomore album this year, a record titled New Hymns for an Old War. Hague describes the work as “more punk/hardcore” and defines its themes as inference into struggles that have replicated throughout generations. The storyline of their music is both blatant and profound; these rockers have a natural intuition to balance the said and unsaid within each track. Hague, for certain, is not one of those musicians who’s had a publicist prepare his statements, nor does he frivolously tag himself to a charity to appear progressive. On the contrary, Hague displays an astute opinion on the state of things, one that honestly attempts to uncover the roots of our liberty as a civilized nation, and the weeds, which assuredly overgrew its terrain.
“Unfortunately, our country is still fighting imperialist wars,” he notes, pointing towards a century-old grumble as the perpetual world calamity. “I think capitalism narrowly edges out global warming for me, only because capitalism is responsible for global warming…When it’s more profitable to ship raw materials several thousand miles to another country where they’re manufactured, only to ship them another several thousand miles back to their place of origin, burning fossil fuels the entire time, then this systemic nature of pollution needs to be addressed. And it’s the profit motive that accounts for constant lobbying of elected officials, for the increased deregulation of industry, for attacks on workers & organized labor, for maintaining the military-industrial complex. Capitalism undergirds all of these issues.”
Likewise, Prayers For Atheists stands firm and tall against market atrocities, making it more inherently grounded than other contemporary punk bands, who fail to prove legitimacy to the cause behind their music. The Rhode Island foursome, however, fully embraces the anti-authoritative nature of punk, established to disharmonize the status quo and challenge freethinkers to consider their options. Currently, the band is touring the country in furtherance of New Hymns, and by chance, Hague has already had one small dream come true along the way when a fan said they were his favorite act. A musician could ask for no more, he says, and with such promise in its early stages, it seems but a drop in the tides of what’s to come. Stay tuned for more out of Providence, and wish them the best, though no need for higher jurisprudence with musicians so ironically adjoined to religion.
“I’ve been an atheist since I was 12, and had started reading Carl Sagan & Stephen Hawking books,” notes Hague. “The idea of God just sounded implausible to me. I don’t think religion is a futile endeavor, though; it certainly helps plenty of people find peace and meaning in their lives or at least helps folks get through their day. I definitely dislike when religion becomes insular and dogmatic; when religion is no longer applied to life but rather becomes an end in itself. Fundamentalists are pretty loathsome creatures.”