Without trying to sound like a Terror record, Blacklisted frontman George Hirsch has overcome a great amount of personal struggle over the years. While followers of the band will be familiar with their defeated and hopeless lyrics - it was all a very dark reality for George, as things recently took a turn for the worse.
Punknews interviewer Faye Turnbull took a trip to Helsinki, Finland, where Blacklisted conveniently stopped by during their European tour and talked to George about the events leading up to his suicidal state, how This Is Hardcore promoter Joe Hardcore stepped up to help, and explained that it's ok to dislike 'banana bands'.
I last saw Blacklisted at This Is Hardcore in August, and one thing thatâs stuck with me is that you talked about how you were suicidal last year and "learned what friendship and love was through Joe Hardcore" [This Is Hardcore promoter] - would you mind elaborating on that?
Iâve been doing Blacklisted for a while – probably like 11-years – from the start of my 20s and Iâm 31 one now. Through that time I was always going forward as much as I could, whether it was making records or going on tour, and I never took it for granted, but itâs hard to constantly move forward but not go anywhere. Like, Iâve got to go from Iceland to Finland, which on paper is great, but I have a whole life at home. For all of that time during my 20s, I constantly moved, thinking I was going forward, but really, it was like moving laterally or even running in place, as opposed to building my life at home. During that period, I also lost a lot of people and it just seemed much more intense for me. I never thought about what was wrong with me. I was just like, "Fuck, thereâs something wrong." But I never got checked out for it, so I just kept going and going. Fast-forward those years, Iâve probably quit Blacklisted 50-times, so thatâs why we always stop, because I always try to figure things out, but you canât do that on your own.
So, I came to a point last year, where I guess it got bad and I went somewhere where I maybe shouldnât have gone. Itâs weird, whatever you hear people call Blacklisted, like "deep" or "dark" or something, those things were real to me. I wasnât making them up and in my room like, "Iâm a brooding poet." I was trying to be better, but it eventually came to a point where it got bad and I lost a lot of people, but there were certain people like Joe Hardcore, who I've known since before I was a teenager, and he was always there for me, so I learned thereâs always someone there. Communication is pretty important, you donât have to shout, "This is my life right now." But I guess itâs good to talk about things, before you make a decision like you donât want to be here anymore and itâs not the right decision. Joe would come to my house everyday and get me to go do stuff, but I learned a lot and Blacklisted was kind of on hold. Weâre all older now, one of them has two kids, one of them has one, one of them is married, and you canât really rely on it as much as you did when you were in your 20s, where I didnât care about expanding my life apart from with Blacklisted. I thought that was me doing stuff with my life, but itâs a nihilistic thing and nihilism is hardly sustainable in life. I learned that the hard way.
So, that stuff I talked about on stage at This Is Hardcore was to kind of demystify and make it known that it's not really acceptable to glorify some of the things I've written about in the past. I kind of wanted it to be known that it's real and in no way âcoolâ or ok. No one should have to feel like that.
At what point did you go for help?
I went for help with someone that I was dating at the time. The thing with something like that, itâs like when you wake up in the morning, you think, "I have to eat" or "I have to brush my teeth." So, there was a thing in my head that was like, "You donât want to be here anymore." Itâs a hard thing to function with, but I functioned with it for so long, because I tricked myself into believing that people were relying on me. Like the people in my band, so I constantly pushed to do Blacklisted, because I thought they couldnât go on without me, which is narcissistic – but they canât go on without me, you know? [laughs] My whole life, I thought I had back-up plans, like: "If I keep this away from me, then that wonât happen." I never took drugs. I never drank. So, I had these methods, but eventually they run out. Itâs not weak to ask for help and I think a big part of it was that there was always someone there and I probably could have asked for help, but I didnât. I didnât think anyone would want to hear it. At 30, thatâs 30 years worth of stuff Iâd been putting off. If you donât do one dish on Tuesday, by Wednesday thereâs three dishes, and by Saturday you have a whole sink full, and I guess I tried to take all the dishes out of the sink at once and break them versus slowly taking them out and cleaning them one-by-one, but Iâm here now.
Are you, mentally, in a better place now?
I donât know. There are things that are set up to have you believe that youâre supposed to be this, this and this by this age, and Iâve never had a plan to do anything Iâve ever done. I never thought I would be in a band. I never thought I would make records. I never thought Iâd play guitar. I kind of just did them. I even travel when Iâm not playing in a band, and someone was even like, "I donât know how you can do this." Like, Iâd spontaneously buy a plane ticket on a Sunday and fly to California that night to stay with someone, and thatâs not a healthy way to live - especially when youâre in a relationship. Iâve been in so many relationships, because people donât want to deal with that. I guess I wake up hopeful. I donât know about happy. I try my best.
That leads me onto my next question, 10 years ago, you said in an interview: "Iâm just trying to find my place in societyâ¦ I hope to just be happy and have a positive influence on someone, so I have a reason to wake up everyday." Have you found your place?
I donât know if Iâm a "positive influence." People have told me, but I guess I can say that happened. I just wake up hoping to be happy and not run into any kinks in the road, but they come with it. One of my biggest pet peeves are control freaks and Iâm the total opposite of that. I honestly just donât care how things happen and I try to make the best of any situation Iâm in. I complain, but I donât go against the grain, otherwise youâll never be satisfied. You canât control every situation, and thatâs another thing Iâve learned.
As youâve mentioned, Blacklistedâs music is already pretty âdarkâ - will the new record focus on that difficult period last year?
I guess what Iâve been through over the last year shines through. The last LP we did, that was just how I felt. I look back on that time and think, "Why didnât anyone say anything?" [laughs] But thatâs just life and I try to make the best record I can, and I try to say what makes me feel better - well, not even try to make me feel better, I donât do music for therapy. Itâs just what I do. If you give me an instrument, Iâll try to figure out how to play it to the best of my ability and make music that I like. I donât know if other people will like it, sometimes they do, sometimes they donât. I think the recordâs going to focus on the same stuff as before. I donât have a plan, I just write songs. We have about 12 songs for the new LP and Iâve probably wrote lyrics to eight, and we start recording in April. To me, I read them and itâs like, "Oh, this is just how I write lyrics." I donât try to break ground or whatever. I donât try to be a poet. I just write.
With your last release, So, You Are A Magician?, it was a lot âpunkierâ and more melodic. Will we be hearing more of that?
I donât think Blacklisted has ever been a thing where we sit down and say, "Weâre going to write a punk record." I think we just make songs. If I sat down and wanted to write a song that sounds like Discharge, it wouldnât sound that way, because I canât play like those people. We could rip it off, but couldnât make our own thing from it. Thereâs the same guitar tone, but we just write. I think the songs are more punk and hardcore, but thereâs not that much experimentation. Thereâs more fast songs.
Do you consider Heavier Than Heaven, Lonelier Than Godas the âdefinitiveâ Blacklisted record? Just because Iâve noticed your setlists still appear to be very Heavier Than Heavenâ¦-heavy.
When we wrote No One Deserves to Be Here More Than Me, we werenât a band. We were just friends in a studio who didnât think weâd play live, because at a certain point, I couldnât play live. We went into this new studio where a friend of ours worked at and he was like, "Use this room and use anything you want in here." So, we just wrote a bunch of songs and picked up a bunch of instruments. That record, to me, is the most definitive Blacklisted record, because it was just friends making a record – not thinking about what was going to be popular or if anyone would like it. Heavier Than Heavenâ¦ although it means something to me, that record was made as people who were just a machine – people who were constantly on tour, locked themselves in a room, wrote a record, recorded it, and went back on tour for nine months. To be honest, I think records suffer from that. That bug where bands are like, "Weâre together and weâre going to be a full-time touring band." It makes music suffer. So many of my friends who donât tour as much make the best records, because you have a normal life and you just go in, write and record when you can; thereâs no pressure.
At one point, you were at the forefront of melodic hardcore with the likes of Have Heart, Verse, Modern Life Is War, etc. How has the hardcore scene changed since then?
Yeah, stuff always changes. Things come in and out in waves. At one point in the world, it would take so long to know about something, but now I can learn everything there is to learn about Finnish hardcore before I even come here. I could learn about everything in the UK before I got there. I could just read it on the plane on my cellphone. Stuffâs always going to change. I think people who claim to be into hardcore now, their main listening habits arenât hardcore. If you go to a hardcore show in America, half the crowd probably listen to Drake more than anything thatâs punk or hardcore, and thatâs ok. Music is music. I donât see a difference between Bob Dylan or the Cro-Mags; itâs just music. Things change. People change. The world is constantly changing.
What about your interest in hardcore? Has that changed over the years?
Iâm still into hardcore. I donât know if itâs as much as it was, but itâs different being 13 and finding out Agnostic Front for the first time versus being 31. The huge thing thatâs popular now is pop-punk-influenced hardcore, and I canât relate to that, because I didnât come anywhere from that. A friend of mine has a good quote: "If you didnât come from the straight edge youth crew hardcore scene, then you canât make good music." At first, I thought, "Thatâs such a dick thing to say." But it makes sense, because I came through that wave – there was Floorpunch, Mouthpiece and all of these bands. But thereâs a whole wave of people who didnât get into hardcore like that, they got into it from Blink-182 who cited the Descendents as an influence, then listened to 7 Seconds and got into Youth of Today to wherever they are. I just donât relate to it.
Iâve realized in the last couple of years that hardcore and punk are this thing that exists, and I can go to it, because Iâm human. Itâs like a supermarket and if I fucking hate bananas, when I go to the supermarket, Iâm not going to get a banana. So, all of these âbanana bandsâ can come out and I donât have to take from them and they donât have to like me, and it isnât a problem. People are always going to buy bananas and just because I donât like bananas, theyâre not going to suffer. I just think of it like that, so I can like what I like and have what I want from it.
I also learned that I donât have to go to every single show. You donât have to be excited about everything. It doesnât make you a sour or dark person, because youâre not happy about everything in music, a lot of music sucks. Like, when you get into it and youâre psyched, thatâs cool, but at a certain point, you grow as a person and realize it sucks. Sometimes you realize itâs not even the music, itâs just like: "Wow, this whole world sucks. I donât want to be apart of it. I just want to listen to this." Just go and listen to what you like.
One thing Iâve noticed - particularly within the hardcore community - is that people seem to have this massive appreciation for Blacklisted. A couple of months ago, Deathwish Inc. referred to you as the "best band of all time" and I remember Patrick Kindlon from Self Defense Family/Drug Church saying: "I think Blacklisted is on a very short list of bands that matter." How do you feel about that? And what is it about Blacklisted that makes people think that?
I think that, thatâs cool. I think Blacklisted did way more than what I thought we could. The band has got this notoriety, like weâre not really that popular, but we have people that care about us and I guess thatâs all you can ask for in a band. Blacklisted has kind of just maintained people as we went. We donât draw 1,000 people per night, but we draw enough to cover expenses and go to places to play shows. As far as Deathwish, thatâs what they have to say. [laughs] No, they donât, but when that came out, I thought it was a ballsy thing for a record label to say. There are bands that sell way, way more than Blacklisted sells, but Jake and Tre, who run Deathwish, have always supported us. Theyâve always kept in touch with me, personally. They have an open-door policy with us - whenever we have a record to record, theyâll give us some money to record it. Multiple times theyâve said, "Whenever you want to record, just let us know." Theyâve come out of their own personal pockets to help us; itâs a real friendship. They put out my solo record, they put out Blacklisted, they would probably put out a band me and you started as long as they believed in it. We appreciate them just as much, if not probably more.
So, whatâs next for Blacklisted?
Weâre going to record an LP, we start tracking drums in April, and then, I donât know. Weâre just going to make the record and work it out from there. Weâll probably play some shows.