Punitive Damage, the PacNW hardcore band fronted by Steph Jerkova (who also plays bass in Regional Justice Center), have just followed up their early EPs and demo with their first full-length, the Taylor Young-recorded This Is The Blackout, out now via Atomic Action. It's got 13 songs in 18 minutes, and it pulls from caustic hardcore and punk but they also incorporate influences like Springsteen, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, mariachis, Elvis, and KISS. It's a record that's nasty, groovy, and fun all at once, and it's full of purpose, and for a deeper dive into the themes of this record, Steph gave us a track-by-track breakdown. Stream the album below and read on for what she had to say about each song...
I wanted to go straight into the record with what I was thinking and feeling. No buildup, just head straight on. So why not start by pointing out the cowardly, pathetic way white supremacists conduct themselves? A group so "proud" about their own sense of superiority, who they are, and what they are, yet they have to talk in coded language, behind a goofy ass veil? So proud, yet will never will never directly admit to their affiliation or beliefs? So I gotta ask, why hide what you are? Why don’t you just show your face?
"The Sixth Sunrise"
Somehow these two songs melded into one even though they’re two very different subject matters haha.
In my writing at the time, I was reading pretty heavily into books about the history of subjugation, brutalization, and exploitation of Central and South America, what lead up to it, and what its legacy of it is.
In this song, I really thought about the Legend of the 5th Sun - a Nahua creation story about how the present world was preceded by four previous cycles of creation and destruction. When a new sun rises, it's the start of a new world, a new time governed in a different way. It inspired me to think about what would the sixth sun look like. A sunrise governed by those who have subjugated, brutalized, and exploited?
This was originally off our demo. This was actually originally written by Czecho (our guitarist). We worked on the most recent version together. I came from the experience of being told the older I become, the more complacent and apathetic I'd become to the struggles and issues of my community and the world around me. I could almost see the joy in their faces telling me I’d become indifferent and bitter like the rest of them. At the time I was listening to a lot of Mercedes Sosa and she covered a song called “Sólo le pido a Dios" (written by Leon Gieco) which is about hoping that she never becomes indifferent to the pain, injustices, and the future of the people and world around her.
You ever have that friend or person who was an absolute dickhead to you because of some weird social hierarchy they built in their head that categorizes people based on their "worth"?
I used to know a fair amount of people like that - just weirdly shitty for no real rhyme or reason. But it wasn’t until something or some circumstances changed later, maybe you knew a person they wanted to know, maybe you had something they wanted, or you were no longer "inferiror" to them in some way, they suddenly changed their demeanour to you and wanted to “make amends,” “forgive-and-forget" bullshit, and act like you’re on good terms or great friends. And they'd be the same people clutching their pearls, absolutely scandalized when you call them out on it, and tell them to go fuck themselves.
You made the rules, and you don’t like the end result? Eat shit.
This is actually something of an homage to Keep It Clears “Imposter.” One of my favourites and a huge personal influential Vancouver hardcore band. I think all of us can think back to the social climbers in our scenes who have a hugely over-inflated ego about their place and contribution to the scene. When the reality is it's just the newest flavour of the week to them, and they’ll be gone and onto something new before you know it.
This was another great song Czecho wrote. We were struggling to find out the lyrics to this in the studio, and he came out swinging. This one is probably one of my faves to play live. Just a short and sweet song about the miserably unaffordable lose-lose situation that life is today for anybody that wasn’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth.
This was actually written by our drummer Alejandro! It’s an awesomely simple, but punchy song about just the never-ending need to have the biggest club out of the group. Never an end in sight, just the human obsession of making sure you always have the bigger weapon, no matter the cost.
"Resistance Within a Breath"
This song is about a specific incident that I would consider a formative memory. My mother, brother, and I were coming home from having a really nice lunch and we were riding the Skytrain home. My mom has a physical disability that makes it tough for her to stand for long periods of time, and we were talking among ourselves in Spanish I had said at some point that I’d like to grab my mom a seat on the train. The doors open and out of nowhere, this decrepit, 20-pounds-miracle-whip-mayo-stuffed-in-a-10-pound-shit-casing looking bitch walks straight up to my mother and says “This isn’t Mexico, learn to speak english,” with the smuggest grin on her face and then getting on the train. And I’ll never forget the hurt look on my mom's face, and my mom telling us not to give that woman the satisfaction of the confrontation she was obviously looking for.
I remember that moment, I remember that smarmy alabaster's gargoyles face, and I remember the sadness and calmness in my mom's voice gently telling us in Spanish to not pay her any mind.
Spanish was my first language, it’s my brother's first language, it’s my mom's, and it's not a common language to hear in Canada. And oftentimes, it was heavily discouraged. To the point where I stopped speaking it entirely. But it was at that moment that I decided not only was I going to make a huge effort to better understand and speak Spanish, but I was never going to let anyone tell me, or my own, what language we can speak. And if someone has an issue with that, I sincerely hope they say it to my face.
This sounds so stupid to admit, but this was essentially my realization that every politician and person in power are exactly the same. While I knew everyone was to an extent untrustworthy and ultimately looking out for their wallet, I did to an extent believe in some kind of integrity when it came to voting in people to make real change. And that was shattered when I watched a broadcast of the leader of the BC NDP (the most progressive party out of all Canadian parties) John Horgan making fun of his constituents who couldn’t afford rent and food (myself included) because of an unprecedented global pandemic.
"Sangre y Oro / The Blight of Christ"
I was actually most nervous about recording this one because its quite youth-crewy, and I wasn’t sure how it would fit in this record.
At the time leading up to recording this record, I was heavily listening to Los Crudos and reading “Las venas abiertas de América Latina” (Open Veins of Latin America). I think the combination of the two naturally had me thinking and writing about the colonization and brutalization of the conquest of Mexico and the Americas.
There was one part of the book that hugely stuck out to me that I really wanted to include. It’s a preserved Nahuati passage that recounted when the spaniards came across the gold in Tenochtitlan.
“They lifted up the gold as if they were monkeys,… As if it were certainly something for which they yearn with a great thirst. Their bodies fatten on it and they hunger violently for it. They crave gold like hungry swine.”
This one was also pretty funny because I called it “the beef song” and everyone tried to guess a different person i had written this about, and nobody got it right haha. It actually turns out I have issues with a couple people haha.
But this song is really about these people as an amalgamation - they all shared very similar characteristics.
"Bottom Feeder" is about those friends, or trusted close friends whose whole self-worth and value was built on keeping you under their thumb, and making you feel less than and worthless. Making you feel like your the most unlikeable, unloveable, and an absolute lost cause, but you’re lucky they (the bad person) like you? When the reality really is that perso nwas actually just such a self-loathing miserable fuck, who could only feel better about themselves by putting others down?
I’ve had a handful of people who I would have considered close friends, and even dated others who did exactly that. And it tools a long time to see them for what they were and gather the strength to cut off the dead weight. A dear friend of mine once described a very notable person like that as “an emotional terrorist” and another called them “lampreys.” And I think those are both great descriptors of that kind of person.
"¿Qué? ¿Me Tienes Miedo Ahora?"
This one's based on a story about a woman from Juarez called “Diana - Hunter of bus drivers.” This American Life did a story about the femicide happening on the Ciudad Juárez border, particularly women working in the maquiladoras. Many of these women relied on public transit to make it to and from work, and many of the bus drivers would typically kidnap women on their way home from work, and brutally murder them. Until came "Diana," a mysterious, unidentified vigilante who would track down and kill the bus drivers responsible for murdering these women. She then sent an anonymous letter to the press and police, admitting to the string of shootings because she was tired of watching the women of Juarez being treated as though they were nothing. Nobody knew who she was, they never found her, and to this day nobody knows where she is. But she left a massive impact in her community.
One of the most powerful things I read about her story, was an eye witness recounting how Diana spoke to one of the guilty drivers before shooting him in the head saying “Ustedes se creen muy chingones!" (you think you’re so fucking badass?)
Czecho helped me write this one as well! He's amazing with hooks and punchy one-liners. A lot of this ones has to do with how our entire hometown is now just a real estate value pissing contest meant for the ultra-wealthy who’ve robbed us and our communities of homes and places for the community to exist. How dickheads like the owner of Lululemon have bought out entire buildings that used to be all-ages venues and spaces, shut them down, and left them empty to "appreciate" in value. Or how members of our provincial government are openly glib about buying and flipping dozens of houses for millions and shutting down social housing projects. We’ve never had a venue stay open for longer than a few years because, at some point, some grossly wealthy asshole is just going to swoop in, buy the place for millions over asking, renovict everyone, and turn it into either condos that’ll sit empty, a shitty overpriced coffee shop, or best of all - nothing.
"This is the Blackout"
This one was a tough one because I knew this song would be a great closer but didn’t know how to write about it.
Going back to the Sun Legends, the story goes that the ending of the Fifth Sun (current era) will happen when the sun goes black - marking the end of this known world which will then be destroyed. I grew up in a seventh-day Adventist community (which I recently learned is something of a doomsday-y culty part of Christianity YIKES) that was BIG on talking about the book of revelations. So it was hard not to write about a literal end.
I’ve always hated those stories I was told as a kid about the end of times, the four horsemen of the apocalypse bringing an end and that everyone and everything was beyond redemption or change. Everything was destined for that blackout.
I can’t think like that. Despite being an incredibly negative person, I am an optimist. And I have to believe in a hopeful future worth fighting for. Maybe that's corny or goofy as hell to say, but so much of concluding everything on this record really had me thinking “if there ever was going to be an end of times, it's going to be for the ones who tried to lead us there. This is going to be THEIR sunset, their blackout. Not ours.”