There’s a long tradition of protest songs in the United States, but when it comes to political punk rock, one of the brightest flare-ups happened in the 1980s after the country elected Ronald Reagan as president. The Dayglo Abortions (a band whose very name was a middle finger to conservatives), wrote the surprisingly catchy and funny song “Ronald McRaygun” with lyrics that skewered the president’s military policies and managed to make fun of corporate greed at the same time: “I am Ronald McRaygun / I want you in my McArmy / Special orders don’t McUpset me / As long as I get the McEnemy!”
Dead Kennedys (another band with a fantastically irreverent name) also took swings at Reagan. In the 1981 song “We’ve Got a Bigger Problem Now,” the band refers to him as “Emperor Reagan” and portends a world where fascism and the Ku Klux Klan dominate society. (Their response to that kind of world appears in another song: “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.”)
There’s been some speculation among underground music fans that in the context of the Trump administration, political punk — or some kind of angry music — would come back into fashion and if that’s the case, Missoula’s Shot Stereo is catching the first wave. In the basement of Club Shmed recording studio on the south side of town, the four-piece unfurls battering bass and drums, fast and dark guitar solos, all punctuated by Brad Craig’s gravelly vocals. Stylewise, Shot Stereo doesn’t fit into the same punk category as Dayglo Abortions or Dead Kennedys. They’re more in the sonic realm of Motörhead with hints of Rage Against the Machine and Black Sabbath. And yet, Shot Stereo’s “eat the rich” attitude combined with songs about plutocrats and environmental destruction make them akin to those 1980s hardcore bands. But Craig, who writes the lyrics (and most of the songs), has also updated the list of criticisms to match the times with songs about sexual predators, news sources and people eschewing facts, drone warfare and reproductive legislation. For instance, on “Love the Fetus, Hate the Baby,” Craig takes on the persona of a right-wing conservative, singing “Down with contraception / it’s not the Godly way / No sex education / It’s better just to pray / Help the single mother? / you liberals are crazy / Love the fetus! / Hate the baby.”
None of the members of Shot Stereo come from a punk or metal background, though they’ve all played in various rock bands: Craig played in Red Carpet Devils and drummer Mathew Bainton is in the Sasha Bell Band and Tequila Mockingbird. He’s also in the psychedelic rock band Voodoo Horseshoes, along with bassist Jacob Ballengee and guitarist Ryan “Shmedly” Maynes, the studio owner who is also known for Secret Powers and Miller Creek. Shot Stereo is cathartic for all of them. Shmed, like the punk bands from the 1980s, laments current trends in music and sees Shot Stereo as a way to counter that.
“Music’s so terrible right now,” Maynes says. “We remember in the 1990s when everyone turned their back on the 1980s keyboards. And now to hear kids listen to stuff that sounds like bad ’80s music blows my mind.”
For Craig, the drive to write songs for Shot Stereo is about testifying in a political age when criticism is most needed.
“I’m a left liberal with some libertarian tendencies,” he says. “I’m anti-Trump, I’m pro-choice, I’m pretty much opposed to everything the current crop of neo-confederate nazi scum stands for. And that’s what these songs are about. It’s time to fight back. And why isn’t everybody doing it? Where’s the anger?”
Shot Stereo plays the Dark Horse with Undun, Malt Liquor Shitzs and the Shoving Leopards Sat., Feb. 17, at 9 PM. $5.