The Fever 333: Progressives Who Reach Across the Aisle
We're living in a very politically divisive era. Not only do people on both sides of the political aisle detest each other, they also don't really want to listen to each other. Meet the Fever 333, a band of unapologetic progressives. But the members of the band -- frontman Jason Aalon Butler, guitarist Stephen Harrison and drummer Aric Improta -- at least want to play for, and listen to, people who don't agree with them. Equally important to the band is providing a "safe space" to women, the LGBTQ community, people of color and anyone else who "has felt pushed or shoved out of the way when they wanted to be included in something." Their debut EP, Made An America is out now, and they're currently on the road. The below is an edited version of an extensive conversation we recently had with the band.
You're one of the more politically minded new bands to come out recently.
Jason: It’s a very fertile time, and whether or not the climate is ready for us, we’re here. I was talking with Travis Barker [of Blink 182] and [producer] John Feldman over at John Feldman’s crib, and we were discussing what we felt what we were missing in music and counterculture: inspired art and I guess creating this collective, this project was an answer to that. At the time we had dubbed it “black punk rock” or "POC punk rock" like, say, a Bad Brains or Fishbone, Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, who were just as punk rock as anyone. It was a necessity for us as artists and citizens to create this project.
Chuck D’s mission was to create another generation of black activists, and he probably accomplished that.
Jason: Absolutely. With a foundation like Fear of a Black Planet, come on, man. It served as an archetype as well as a cultural benchmark as well as an aesthetic representation, a cultural representation. Yeah, I think Public Enemy is nothing short of a true activist group with a dope soundtrack.
I can see how that inspired you guys. You almost have an S1W thing going on with your uniform-like jackets. Talk about that.
Jason: For us, the idea of solidarity needs to braid itself through everything we do, like aesthetically, the message, the sound. It all needs to speak to the movement. I’ll use that word a lot, and I’m not saying it’s something that we’ve spawned or bred. It’s a movement that’s been happening for decades from the ‘60s to the ‘90s to now. We think we’re in a time that’s transitory politically and sociologically. So this movement that we discuss, it’s not garish, and it’s not self-aggrandizing. It’s just a movement that we are trying to write the soundtrack to, trying to be a part of and move the conversation forward.
One of the groups that affected change in a way that was really big to me, being a person of color, was the Black Panther Party. I’m gonna keep saying it too, pro-black is not anti-white, obviously. I’m like the whitest brother you’ll ever meet. My mother’s white. For me personally, I was playing double agent my entire life and trying to understand this identity and then embracing it after being told for so long what was right and what was wrong based on the designation of melanin by phenotype or genetics.
Do you have a hard time explaining how being pro-black isn’t the same as being anti-white and that supporting Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that you hate cops?
Jason: I’m just gonna say it, man. The media, journalism, you guys have an opportunity to create a platform, offer information, and feed people the truth, but it seems as though they choose otherwise. You’re never gonna win everybody, and that’s one thing I’ve had to learn also as a young activist who is very hasty and brash. Now that I’m a little more developed... I do understand that not everybody’s gonna believe in what you’re doing, but if you know that what you’re doing doesn’t encroach on the liberties, freedoms, or I guess rights of others... here’s the thing. Think about this. All you’re trying to do is offer more freedom. Who the fuck doesn’t wanna be more free? Who the fuck doesn’t wanna feel less subjugated or less marginalized or disaffected? If you really think about the foundation that we’re trying to do, that’s what it is.
So yes, pro-black is not anti-white. Obviously, coming from me, again, my mother’s white, my father’s black. I’m on both sides of the fence. I’m the double agent. I’m trying to offer that representation. This band is a spectrum. We’ve got Stephen, who is a black male, myself, biracial male, Aric, a Caucasian male. And we’re trying to offer that representation as best as we can in this group as three gentlemen, but we also offer ourselves and our space to women, to trans youth, to any left-leaning or radical thought, to anyone that feels disenfranchised. This is a safe space for you. That’s what this is. We’re not out there saying that everyone else [can] eat shit. We’re saying that we’re here to include everyone that wants to be a part of somewhere safe that perhaps has felt, I guess, pushed out or shoved out of the way when they wanted to be included in something.
I saw a press release that references the label’s "Roadrunner/333 Records Crew," which leads me to think that you guys might be signing other like-minded bands to an imprint.
Jason: The ultimate goal, without giving away too much yet, because we haven’t figured it out fully, is: yeah, it’s all about like minds. It’s all about creating a space.
I’ve had a very healthy dose of suspicion and distrust when it comes to a lot of institutions, record labels being one of them. And luckily, Roadrunner Records came along. They actually wanted to enhance [what we do] and create a space for us to broadcast that message to a wider audience that we may not have been able to do as quickly as we have.
You guys have no bass player.
Jason: Oh, yeah. Everything’s in threes. That’s it. Three is the magic number. It could be a holy trinity; it could be the strongest shape known to man made of three points. And we’re at an age today when you can do that.
You mentioned being unapologetic about being progressive. It seems like heavy rock bands, and audiences, have become more conservative.
Jason: I feel as though rock music has found its safe space. We used to say, yeah, yeah, we love rock music because the outcasts or the "other" or fringe citizens can find a place where it’s OK to just be who you are. Within societal norms, we’re sort of forced in a lot of ways to act in line. I guess it’s inevitable, right? And for whatever reason, in rock music at least, people have found a place to just sterilize it, homogenize it and make everything very... not dangerous.
For me, as a dude who grew up in punk rock and hip-hop, I don’t really see why we would allow that to happen, because it would only just take away the most effective and most true essence of those genres, taking the sense of danger... and I don’t mean danger like hazardous to your body -- necessarily -- but I do mean the danger that it presents to status quo and to societal norms and various other institutions.
Stephen: I think that rock music, metal, punk, whatever you wanna call it, I think it’s always sort of started as a safe place, but always for sort of a niche kind of person. [But] Even in punk rock, it’s never been a safe place for black people. In metal, it’s never been a safe place for homosexuals, which is why it takes so long for the singer for Judas Priest to come out. It took forever.
Here we are in 2018, and if a band comes out as political or has a stance on pro-gay marriage, pro-whatever, the comments [on social media] are insane. It’s because it’s a risk saying it because it’s never really been like that. If you have a political view as a metal band in the early ‘90s or whatever, that’s way easier than being like G.L.O.S.S., a punk band, I think they’re all trans. It’s never really been that [inclusive], not fully.
And I think it’s moving to a better place. Bands like G.L.O.S.S. exist and they’re out there, and they’re killin' it. Punk rock and hardcore, I love it, I came up in it. Metal, I love it. But it’s never really been fully like, "This is for everyone." It’s accepting in little pockets.
Arin: I also think that for us, being a product of all these different backgrounds and really being into rock and punk--you can’t help but see that preconceived rules that there are, whether or not people wanna admit it. And I think it shows when somebody instantly comments [on social media] about something that they’re not comfortable with, and then there’s a bunch of people that agree. It’s not like it’s one guy, it’s a bunch of people.
And I think, even going back to your question about not having a bass player, part of what made this exciting is we’re trying to have a wider spectrum than just what we grew up on and see what’s connecting with people now, what’s connected with people when we were young, and working within kind of a boundless environment where we can use electronic music’s influence, but still bring the energy of the punk that we grew up on and still play the same way that we did. And so it’s almost entertaining to see how many people are thrown off by it, because that’s obviously the way to move forward is to do things that feel uncomfortable. All of my favorite artists growing up did that. Whether or not I realized it at the time, when I look back and look at what was around, they were always doing things that somebody had a problem with.
It's important that people of color, or LGBTQ people, or women can see themselves in rock music, and that's it not all just straight white guys.
Jason: Absolutely. I think the focus on women is massive. I was raised by women. My mother and my sister taught me how to be a man, ironically. And the respect, or lack thereof, that we have for women in society is appalling to me. I think there are many instances and examples of women, matriarchs that have advanced the societies and advanced the kingdoms and have advanced the cultures. And women don’t get enough recognition. Women don’t get enough safety in rock music, at all.
They don’t get enough respect. They don’t get enough representation. But again, the biggest [issue] for me right now currently is the safety that we do not offer women in music and in society. And I think that it takes people talking about it, and sometimes you have to take risks, and sometimes you have to put yourself in front of a more risky situation in order to provide that safety that women deserve. And any opportunity we get to do that, we will do so. I want that to be very, very elucidated: the respect that we have for women and opening up a safe space for them in punk rock, hip-hop, and in music in general, because I feel like it’s not safe enough, and we need to work on that.
One of the great things about the Black Panther film was how it treated women. The women are T'Challa's equals.
Jason: Right, and also how their kingdom lived harmoniously. I think a big thing that needs to be pointed out too, is that his mother was a guiding light, his sister was a genius. I’m kind of a nerd. She’s the smartest Marvel character. She’s the smartest. She trumps Tony Stark... that's a terrible word. She is smarter than Tony Stark. That movie recently stamped its place as the highest grossing superhero movie in American history, which is incredible [editor's note: it has since been passed by Avengers: Infinity War]. I think that, in a lot of ways, says a lot about where we are, at least in popular culture.
Also, there was this one beautiful moment that I saw on the internet where two young black boys walking up to a poster and pointing out which characters they "were" in the film. And again, it’s representation. When I was growing up, I remember looking through the crayon box: brown was too dark for me and the paper was too light. And I remember when they offered, like, a tan crayon sometimes in the big-ass box at school, I was so hyped to have a crayon that could color what my skin looks like. That was massive to me as a kid. I know that sounds almost silly, but truly, when we think about it, if we break it down and we start to unpack the processes in our brain and how we identify as human beings or as people, as lovers, as friends, a piece of this society, representation is massive. So keep making more colors on the crayon box, and keep making movies.
I just saw Judas Priest recently, and there were a lot of young people of color there. If you saw them in 1986, that wouldn't have been the case.
Jason: A hundred percent. That’s absolutely right. And again, it’s a cultural shift, and I think it needs to be recognized, and we need to stop ignoring the culture that literally propped up the music and the culture. On our Made An America EP, and the [title] song specifically, [we talk about] casting aside the people that prop you up, the people that you built this country or that music or this culture on the backs of. Understand that. Understand where rock music came from. For real, this was built off of adversity and struggle and pain. Again, which is really why I try to [point out] the sterility of rock and roll and find its root again. And that’s communication because we’re in a struggle constantly. Whether it’s with ourselves or externally, environmentally, we’re all trying to find our place. We’re all trying to find our place. And we’re trying to offer a place for everyone. And just because I’m out here talking about representation for those less represented doesn’t mean that I still don’t want everyone involved. Obviously, like I said, the spectrum is here. We want everyone involved. That has to be super, super, super clear that this is for everyone.
Talk about the single “We’re Coming In.”
Jason: You know, man, honestly, a lot of the stuff I write, lyrically, is based on sort of a mini-movie in my head. There’s a visual component that I try to figure out and then put on paper. And that song was just me thinking about what would happen if we got a U-Haul and drove to the White House. Obviously, we probably wouldn’t get past the gate, we’d get sniped, but at least we’d get outside of it. Roll up, open up, and make ourselves so loud with an anthem that they could not ignore us. And "We’re Coming In" was that delusion of grandeur, that we would get in that front door, kick down the door and say, "We wanna have a discussion or a discourse with our current administration and discuss the things that you may not see from up here that are affecting us down here." That’s basically what that song was.
Have you ever met any of the guys from Rage Against The Machine?
Jason: Zack, once. It was Thanksgiving. Me, my wife, my best friend were eating at a restaurant... I won’t say where, but I saw him. "Oh, that’s Zack de la Rocha. What the fuck. This is crazy. I should say something." And they kept pushing me and pushing me... so I went outside, and I said, "Hey, everything you’ve done from Inside Out to the Run the Jewels guest spots, your solo shit, and of course Rage Against the Machine, I’m so thankful." And he was really cool.
In your bio, you say, “Our generation has so much power.”
Jason: Something that I thought was kind of the bane of my generation has found a way to really empower us. The technological age, social media, the accessibility to other countries, other people, the globalized effort to make a change is really quite literally at our fingertips. There’s a tactile moment where we touch the keys, and we can say what we feel and how we feel and share things. So I think our generation is very powerful: our intellect and abilities are becoming more expansive because we see how other cultures operate, we see other things that have happened, we can obtain and digest more information quicker.
But I also would like to say, on the other side, is that we can’t rest in an echo chamber. If we have a complaint about our current administration and asking, "How did this happen?" Well, that’s because those people that voted and got us where we are, they didn’t just take to Facebook. They didn’t just take to their Instagram. They didn’t just take to Twitter. They took to fucking polls. And they won.
And this is not an us versus them scenario. It’s people using their voice, which they should. I encourage everyone to. Everyone. Even if I don’t fucking really care to hear what you have to say, I still encourage you to say it, because that’s the freedom that affords us this, this discussion right now. I’m 100% for the encouraging and nurturing of those freedoms and those rights and those liberties. But understand that we, as a liberal, left-leaning, radical, progressive generation, we need to do more than just talk about it on a computer. And I think we are. Like I said, we’re so fuckin’ powerful. It’s just gotta go a little bit beyond just obtaining the information. It’s putting that information into play and enacting and initiating these things that we wanna see changing.
You guys are touring and playing some of the big rock festivals, playing to people who might not even have heard of you, and some who definitely don’t share your views.
Jason: Yeah. I think it’s just a matter of letting everyone know that, again, we’re just creating a safe space. We’re not here to tell you that you’re wrong. That’s not what we’re here to do. We are here to let you know that if you feel challenged, there may be a reason. Maybe somewhere inside of you, you do have that same question. Even if you’ve been conditioned and programmed to believe one thing, it does not mean that you have to believe it your whole life. Look, even if you’re not gonna walk away going, "Yeah, totally, I wanna be part of this movement in the way that they are," perhaps you can find your own place in it and you can have the discussion with us. We’re really just trying to open up a forum through our music and through our movement, through the movement that’s just a place for people to have the discussion. Whether that be in discourse, discussion, agreement, disagreement, we’re there to really open up, move the bigger conversation.
I wonder how people on the other side of the political spectrum would react to that.
Jason: Those are people we need to meet. We can go out all day on tour, and I can say all the things I wanna say onstage. I can say all the things I wanna say on Facebook, all the things I wanna say on Instagram and Twitter. But if I’m saying it to the same people every time, what is that really affecting?
We need a counter. We can’t just only have one-sided arguments. We need to know why. We need to know what we’re up against. We need to know why people believe other things. So hell yeah, I’m trying to hang out with those motherfuckers. I’m trying to have a conversation with them. I’m trying to get shit thrown at me for saying it. I don’t give a fuck. I’m just here to talk about it, and if you wanna be civil with us, we’ll have that conversation and move it forward.
For a lot of people in Middle America, their lives didn’t improve when President Obama was in office. That’s difficult for progressives to acknowledge.
Jason: Absolutely. As an answer to that, though, would be to just offer education on the system and the structuring of our government. And him as an executive doesn’t necessarily mean that everything he wants will be enacted. Understanding that this is a system and a structure that has been created in order to keep everyone of a level down. Socioeconomics, economic class war, these are things that have been happening for millennia. They are things that have created the capitalism gaps. The power that is America has come literally from warfare, from the militia, and from money. Money’s the big one.
So when we put Obama, in a post-Bush era where we literally found ourselves in trillions of debt, and we found ourselves in wars that we may not have had business being in -- and this is not by any means a way to discredit the people that went to those wars. I truly believe in those people as going in and believing that they were doing something for their country, for their families, and for those they cared about. It’s not about that. It’s not about the people. It’s about the structure of the power. It’s about the institution that is our government, that is, again, capitalism.
So to those people, I would offer you another discussion about the structuring of our government and perhaps why Obama came in looking like a young, sprightly black brother and came out looking grey and tired. It’s a lot of work to pick up, and you’re fighting against a system... it's a system. It’s not necessarily “the man” in Obama’s case. Even in a lot of ways, the Bush administration, again, they were led by the system, by policy. So to that I would say, maybe it wasn’t just because he was black. Maybe it wasn’t because he was a Socialist Democrat. But maybe it was because he was fighting the system as well, and perhaps maybe his ideas would’ve helped you.
The administration that we’re currently running with, this man does not care about you--anyone below middle class, even slightly above middle class, we’re not gonna benefit. We’re not benefitting from these policies. We’re not. We’re not gonna benefit. I’m not here to argue whether he’s a good person or not, a good president or not. I’m here for the people. And I do not believe that Donald Trump is here for the people. I don’t.
Are there books you guys recommend to people to read to get a different perspective?
Stephen: I just finished I Am Not Your Negro.
Jason: Oh, by James Baldwin?
Stephen: Yeah. It’s kind of insane that I’m just now reading that, but I thought that was awesome, especially just growing up in the South, not being around a whole lot of diversity, having a lot of questions about who I am and why things are the way they are. Being black and especially being raised in the environment I was in, it was a very big eye-opener for me.
What got you into rock music?
Stephen: My dad. There’s no musicians in my family at all, no artists at all, but my dad listened to some pretty sick music. He had a ton of records, and I would draw the album covers before I ever really listened to them. I’d try to draw the [Smashing Pumpkins'] Siamese Dream, [No Doubt's] Tragic Kingdom, just a random assortment of random rock albums. And then I’d listen to them in fifth grade and start to like them. So I guess that’s kind of where it started was fourth, fifth grade. And I was big into the boy bands too, like I was into the Backstreet Boys, I was into NSYNC. As far as live shows, NSYNC was crazy.
Jason: Yeah, No Strings Attached
Stephen I saw the No Strings Attached tour. I was in fifth grade. To this day, as far as putting on a show, moving, singing, I was like: "This is it." But that’s kind of where it started for me.
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