Music trends change with the seasons and protest music comes and goes with regimes, but Flattbush has been playing vicious grindcore with lyrics that smash the Powers That Be and uplift the people since Day One. Nothing-to-lose-but-your-chains lyrics are spattered in English, Tagalog, and Kapampangan like blood against the wall in the opposite of a Rambo movie where the imperialist oppressors are mowed down by rapid-fire guitars and chopper-like drums.
Bracing myself for the band’s fourth album coming out on March 29, I caught the media-averse band in action at Lakewood’s world-famous Regal Inn and coaxed them to do a rare Q&A about it in their napalm-scented bunker.
Clockwise from top left: Bradley Walther – Guitar, Ramon Banda – Drums, Arman Maniago – Bass, Enrico Maniago – Vocals
How long has Flattbush been together now?
Enrico: We formed the band 1993 back when we were in high school. 24 years!
Bradley: I became a fan in 1995 and I joined in 2002. My band in high school played a lot of shows with Flattbush, and we would often hang out together and get into all kinds of mischief.
What have you been up to since your last record?
Enrico: We do the usual routine like a typical lower-middle class worker. We work at our day jobs and take care of the family, but on the side we challenge ourselves to create art and music. I became busy with union organizing at my workplace… We also read a lot and do research about anything that keeps life interesting.
Bradley: I stepped away from Flattbush before they released Otomatik Atak. I did a couple tours and released an EP with another project, but I also did a lot of soul searching, met my wife, and focused on raising our son. I rejoined the band sometime around 2012 with just the idea of writing music and having fun.
Eddie and Alex Van Halen, Ray and Dave Davis, Don and Phil Everly… Does having brothers in the band make it easier or harder to keep it going?
Enrico: Or the Bee Gees. Making music and creating art is always fun. What kept us going is the purpose of the music. For whom? I think that’s the reason we lasted for 24 years. Finding a purpose in life. Quitting is not even an option. Whatever you do in life, if you get tired, just rest. Then get up and do it again.
Arman: Both hard and easy. It is hard to team up, because of family and work priorities. And once we hook up, it’s easy to create art. Easy.
Bradley: I don’t know about other bands, but for us it’s always been easier. We’ve been family for many years now. Even though I’m not related to these guys, we’ve been through a lot together and I think of them as brothers.
Has the band’s songwriting process or inspiration for making music changed at all over the years?
Arman: Nah, when we write fucked-up music, we are in the comfort zone. Our inspiration is to write fucked-up music.
Enrico: You would think that the vast amounts of musical references in the internet will help you produce faster. Actually, it’s kind of the opposite. You get overwhelmed with a lot of talented artists out there. You assess yourself to push it even harder or you get paralyzed with an overdose of information. You just have to keep on going with what’s natural and have fun creating.
Your songs take a lot of energy and can’t be easy to play. Do you guys do cross-fit or something to stay in shape between records and shows?
Enrico: We are pretty athletic. We jog, bike… Exercise our jaws (eat). We watch what we eat as much as possible to live longer in this planet and witness how our useless leaders turns our planet into a floating gas of shit… and witness how they get flushed down the toilet… someday.
Bradley: Arman and Rico are probably in the best shape of their lives. My lifestyle is pretty different since I mange a bar. My plan is to be in tip top shape by the album release date, but most of our music is conditioning our hands and fingers to do all the work. I couldn’t imagine playing drums on these tunes….
Ramon, when did you join the band?
Ramon: I knew the guys since middle school in ’95 or so, but I joined the band right out of high school in ’99. Right away we started writing heavier stuff, and they let me do whatever I wanted as far as drums go. In 2003, I went on a Jesus-fueled hiatus for about 15 years but got back together with them about three years ago. We wrote the new album and it feels great. We picked up where we left off. They still have the same spirit and let me do whatever I want. Just make it crazy, throw a fill on top of a fill!
Can you explain the title, Strategic Offensive?
Enrico: Strategic Offensive is based on Maoist theory and practice; it’s the last stage of guerrilla warfare. This is when the red fighters, led by the working class, march from the countryside and take over the city to win the final battles of the revolution. History has proven this type of warfare effective in third world countries that have a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society such as the Philippines. It’s erroneous to jump to this stage when people are just organizing themselves… But I am very optimistic that the Philippines will reach this stage because of the ever worsening crisis in the country.
But, to clarify, we are not actual guerrillas. Our weapon is our music to project the situation in the Philippines and other struggling countries to free themselves from foreign control.
“They Strike, We Fight” is a cool song but there are no lyrics. Who are us and them? At first I thought it was about warfare but now I’m thinking labor…
Enrico: It’s actually about the people fighting for self determination in an indigenous community called Talaingod, located in the southern mountain ranges of the Philippines. I participated in a medical mission there and that’s how the lyrics came about
THEY STRIKE WE FIGHT
Hear crickets noise
But peaceful here
And cut all the trees
Our ancestral land
Was dug up for gold
And shut down our schools
Filled the water and soil
They strike with guns
We fight with spears
Destroy their goons
The mountains now flat
When rain pours we drown
Stop raping the earth
For profit and greed
They strike with guns
We fight with spears
Destroy their goons
We’ll defend our homes against your scheme
We’ll fight for our lives to the extreme
You don’t own the land, the land owns you
Until our last breath we’ll annihilate you
“Parusahan” is another cool new song… Who deserves the punishment?
Enrico: There’s a lot of extra judicial killings in the Philippines. This song is about hired assassins who kill activists. Sometimes they kill random people for money and implant evidence on the victim just to prove that they are doing their assignment. I mean, this is scary. Not many people write songs about these issues. So, we figured, why not.
“Boots” is pretty wild and different. How did that wind up on the release?
Bradley: If you listen to the entire album, I think it’s a nice release at the end of all the chaos. We’ve always loved that song. If you think about how the lyrics can relate to U.S. imperialism, it made sense to record it Flattbush-style.
When is the band going to play an all-ages show so your kids can watch their parents in action?
Enrico: Good question. We need to look for a surviving all-ages venue that doesn’t have a pay-to-play deal.
Bradley: We need more all-ages venues and the band is always open to suggestions if anybody knows of a great place!
Arman: I know, huh. We should. Let’s set up something up.
Find Flattbush at facebook.com/flattbush.band, find their old music at koolarrow.com right now and the new record at bandcamp.com when it comes out, and catch the record release show with Detox, Fetus Eaters, and Bad Acid Trip at Alex’s Bar on March 29!