Forget God Save the Queen, here’s a punk band that might just save the scene.
With Johnny Rotten’s support for Trump, Idles’ pitiful payment plan for Nadine Shah, and The Dead Kennedy retweeting Mitt Romney, the fundamentally left-wing foundations of punk seem to have been forgotten.
Hailing from Durham, North Carolina, one queer, poc trio are bringing punk back to its anti-fascist roots.
Quadr (she/her/he/him), Abu Shea (they/them) and Ba7ba7 (he/him) open up to me about the backlash of their new album, musical influences, and their aversion to John Lydon of the Sex Pistols.
The Muslims’ latest album ‘Fuck These Fuckin Fascists’ dropped on September 24th and is their first record release via Epitaph Records. Provocative punk, earworm-like insolence, and laugh out loud lyrics, are fused tightly together in this new album. But even that bond’s intimacy falls short of the trio’s friendship. From their very introductions, their answers devolve into humorous quips and jokes at one another.
“We’re going in hetero order here” says the drummer Ba7ba7. He is immediately interrupted by the gasps and laughs from his peers.
“Did you say Hetero order?” exclaims a wide-eyed Qadr.
And so, we begin a 38-minute interview in which I cannot stop laughing nor smiling.
“By the time we had got into the studio, it had been almost a solid year since we had all hugged each other so it was pretty sweet and emotional actually,” says Qadr, when I ask her about the highlights and difficulties surrounding the making of the new album.
Abu Shea, the bassist, adds that “going into the studio kind of pulled us out of the pandemic.”
When they go onto explain the process of preparing to record, Abu Shea paints a picture mildly reminiscent of the start of a horror movie.
“We literally shacked up in this cabin in the woods with all the doors and windows open, with masks on, in opposite corners of this room, like in the cold y’know? We had to warm up to each socially as well as warm up to each other musically. So, by the time we actually got into the studio, we were all friends again.”
“What, were we not friends? Do we need to have a deeper conversation?” says Qadr in mock seriousness.
After their laughs reside, Qadr goes on to reiterate how happy they are with their new album, crediting their sound engineer, who they nickname ‘Si-Mom’ because of how much they wanted him to adopt them.
But signing with a major label gave The Muslims more than just a parental figure in the studio, the mass of attention they received was meshed with maliciousness.
“The second Epitaph had anything to say in relationship to us and our music, then every troll, just Russian bot, just Trump-like pubic hair just came out of the internet to write a comment online,” says Ba7ba7.
“We were loving all the energy, even the negative energy ‘cos it was just like, pushing those views up, pushing those comments up, and then pushing us up in the algorithm…we were laughing about it.”
But unlike many labels capitalising on PoC artists, Epitaph reached out to the young musicians to support them after seeing the brutal backlash. The result is something many other labels could take note of – Epitaph doubled down. Some of the staff even when to the level of replying to hateful YouTube comments refuting troll’s opinions that Epitaph would drop them.
“It’s to be determined overall, how the broader punk community wants to relate to us” says Ba7ba7. He imagines that the future will hold many fallen through gig opportunities due to the result of places not wanting to take the heat of having such a controversial band booked.
Abu Shea suggests that they feel they’ve gotten more support at in-person gigs as opposed to online, and Qadr reiterates how much the brown and black punk community in particular, have really had their backs.
On the topic of trolls, Qadr really comes on fire.
“These dudes… your name is Mark49679999999…we don’t give a fuck what you have to say!
“What’s fun is that, especially these people don’t know, is that we are fucking trolls. I’m a fucking troll… are you mad ‘cos no one is bumping your shit bro? Go make a page and go make a fanbase!
“You’re so mad because you think this is an opportunity that we don’t deserve!”
With that single declarative, Quadr sums up The Muslims’ interpretation of the hate they’ve received. As an anti-capitalist band there’s arguably a dissonance between punk and signing with a major label, this dissonance can manifest in some punk musicians as ‘punk guilt’, however Abu Shea strongly disagrees that this is the case for The Muslims.
“Punk guilt was created by white people,” they say.
Qadr specifies: “it was created by white people FOR white people.”
Regardless of their bluntness, when we discuss punk, their answers embody the wholesomeness of the band, a humanity that often gets overshadowed by their rage.
Ba7ba7: “Punk is like being nice to your friends, being hospitable to your bandmates and other bands, making cheesecake and sharing it…”
Qadr: “killing your succulents…but really wanting them to be alive.”
But Abu Shea takes a difference approach to tackling the definition of punk. Their response is beautiful, poignant, and an interpretation of punk that I’ll probably hold onto for many, many years.
“Punk is being really angry in tender ways,” they say.
But the moment of reflection and poignancy is immediately cut short by the hyped up “Woahhhhhh”s of their bandmates.
Punk has a history of being whitewashed, with the radical leftist politics by major punk bands often erasing the experiences of the BIPOC community in particular by resorting to class reductionism. As a band that explores this in their music, I ask them what their listeners can look into if they want to understand their leftist politics on a deeper level.
Qadr: “I’d say go follow Noname on Twitter.”
Ba7ba7: “I’d say The Holy Qur’an.”
Qadr also encourages his fans to read “anything written by Adrienne Maree Brown, especially ‘You Will Not Cancel Us,’ ‘A People’s History of the United States,’ the Jim Crow book by Michelle Alexander, The School-To-Prison Pipeline…There’s a lot of good shit out there, I’d say just don’t read White Fragility by that white woman, but ultimately follow Noname, check out the library.”
On the topic of the politics, when I ask them about the neo-liberal satire in their song ‘Unity,’ which went over many people’s heads, Qadr discusses how integral nuance is to their message.
“’Cos that’s what our shit is about, it’s about being able to be nuanced. It’s about being able to be present in the contradictions of our identities and our politics, moving through the world, being American, and also realising this country is a little dumpster fire, burning piece of shit garbage.”
Their nuance is undoubtedly the result of listening to various artists that challenged the system in implicit as well as explicit ways. Qadr lists Nina Simone, Death, Bad Brains, Jimmy Hendrix, Linkin Park, Blink 182, Alanis Morissette as all major influences on the band.
Ba7ba7 comically chimes in with “Coldplay.”
Speaking of influences, the brazenness to this new album’s sound has no doubt shaped the cover art by Cristy C. Road. The illustration depicts John Lydon of the Sex Pistols getting punched so hard his eyeball pops out and has certainly caused a stir in the punk community.
“Well, we were trying to figure out who we wanted to punch,” says Qadr. “At first it was going to be Fat Mike, we really wanted to punch Fat Mike, just for fun.”
Abu Shea refers to the impact of Big Mike’s band NOFX’s song ‘Don’t call me white.’
“That song started our band,” they say.
As a British punk, well aware of John Lydon status in the punk scene in the UK, I asked the band what their issue with Lydon was, and whether he could ever come back from controversy.
Qadr takes the lead on responding to this.
“He wore a MAGA shirt. He will never come back from that. He will never -okay I take that back, I really have hope that potentially all people, most people are redeemable and can be accountable.
“When you’re that deeply entrenched in entitlement and privilege, and you’ve actually come from a place of maybe understanding struggle, to the place where you are wearing the shirt of a fucking white nationalist, like, y’know?
“He was part of an era of a punk scene that was rooted in erasure, white boy rage and entitlement.”
Of the Sex Pistols specifically, the vocalist states “you were the backstreet boys of punk. Shut the fuck up.
“I just want to be a part of that generation that contributes to destroying the legacy of the Sex Pistols. That’s how I feel. They’re part of a legacy that would’ve excluded and erased and extracted from and disrespected punks like me.”
Her words conjure up the memory of watching the recently released Poly Styrene documentary. The film, directed by Poly Styrene’s daughter Celeste Bell, discusses a moment in the mixed-race punk icon’s life when she asked to be shown where the bathroom was at John Lydon’s house. Sid Vicious responded by locking her in a closet for forty or so minutes.
But not all British punks are that callous. I ask the band whether a UK tour is in the works, but they are hesitant to answer definitively.
“We cannot confirm nor deny,” says the bassist, with the band’s signature mischievousness.
Instead, Qadr finishes the interview with an encouragement to their fans around the world to reach out to their local promoter and get The Muslims booked in.
The trio are itching to get back on stage and I know that for The Muslims, this is just the beginning for a band that spits on the legacy of the Sex Pistols.
Words and Interview: Jay Mitra