Posers have been igniting the Philadelphia punk scene for the last year or so. Although the band is charged by an O.G. punk aesthetic- snappy three chord riffs, frantic live performances, several songs about how much they hate you- thereâ€™s something undeniably fresh about the band.
If you stare at them, and listen to them, and watch them, there is a lot of â€œStandard issue punkâ€ there. But, something is off- something that you canâ€™t quite figure out- something that makes them different…
Because they are out-of-step with the general punk scene the band has gotten some love, but theyâ€™ve also gotten a lot of hate. To get the scoop on this happening crew, Punknewsâ€™ John Gentile met up with Jade Anna and Rory Cain of the band where they talked punk, drugs, and fitting in.
Photo by George Abruzzo
John Gentile â€œWe want to shove ourselves in peoples faces,â€ says Rory Cain, guitarist of Philadelphiaâ€™s Posers. â€œWe ridicule punk not because we hate it, but because we love it.â€
Singer Jade Anna replies, â€œIn a way, you canâ€™t have new ideas. Punk is freedom of expression of anything. Itâ€™s not that you should do this or that. You should do whatever you want and make up your own rules for your own bandâ€¦ or life.â€
Iâ€™m sitting with the pair in a dive bar in Atlantic City, not one block away from the failing Trump Taj Mahal. Moments prior, the Night Birds finished their set and the bar has devolved from packed concert hall to place where people are getting just a little too drunk. (As an aside, prior to the gig, the Night Birdsâ€™ Brian Goresegner was spotted walking out of the casino with sixty dollars in prizes fresh in his hand. He declared, â€œthatâ€™s it, Iâ€™m voting for Trump now!â€)
The bar is a typical â€œpunk bar." There are lots of people in patched jackets or hardcore sweatshirts with varsity lettering. But, while both Jade and Rory look pretty â€œpunkâ€ to me- Jade looks like she just stepped out of the background of the famous Bill Grundy Sex Pistols interview and Rory wears standard issue punk denim and key-clacker- people keep coming up to us bothering us as we try to get down to business. One drunk frat-boy-ish character slides in the booth and starts speaking about who-knows-what before we shoo him away. Another gentleman of a certain age kind of lurks around until I shoot a hard glance at him.
Itâ€™s about that time when I take a good hard look at the band. True, in a lineup of random people, they would certainly be the â€œpunkâ€ ones. But, from a punk perspective, there is something slightly off, if you will.
Jade has a Su Catwoman vibe, but with her feathered bleached hair, sailorâ€™s cap, and white leather jacket, thereâ€™s a little more than pure standard issue punk gear. Her style is almost as if she saw the traditional Ramones-stlye, and then, decided to comment on that by seeing how far she could push it in an art school direction. Meanwhile Rory, even though heâ€™s got the denim and punk boots, isnâ€™t covered in patches or studs. Instead, you could argue that while most punkers, especially the short ones, use spikes and leather to make themselves look bigger, Roryâ€™s style is defiantly streamlined. Itâ€™s of little importance, but Iâ€™m reminded of a scene in Ishtar where Warren Beatty laments that Dustin Hoffmanâ€™s small stature enables the compact guy to move with a sort of swagger.
Now, you could say that â€œwhat does how someone looks have to do with punk at all?â€ Well, I would quote Chuck Dukowski: â€œItâ€™s important to tell the world that you are not a pig. How you look is a crucial part.â€
What I am saying is that Posers, who often find themselves at odds with general Philly punk scene, announce their intention to buck the system (both the mainstream one and the underground one) at first sight.
â€œA lot of people in the Philly punks scene fucking hate us,â€ Rory says. â€œSome of them like us, but a lot of bands just go for sounding more heavy instead of something more creative. Eventually, it just gets so heavy that itâ€™s metal. Metal is fine, but then you donâ€™t have punk or its dedication to creativity.â€
Jade says, â€œI was at a show and had on this motorcycle jacket. Someone gave me another jacket and was like â€˜this is a punk jacket. Wear this.â€™ I think some people want to like us, but they donâ€™t know where to place us in their mind. They donâ€™t know how to categorize us or place us or even book us.â€
No doubt, being unique is a double edge sword. The band has been making name for themselves through their fiery, but somewhat unusual performances. In an age where bands usually climb on stage as quality as they can to avoid seeming â€œtoo showbizzy,â€ Posers make it a point to be flashy.
Jade, for her part, zaps around the stage, showing off her art school pedigree, striking poses that are as fit for the Broadway stage as they are a punk basement show. Sheâ€™s one part Penelope Houston, one part Jello, one part Bowie (or aiming for that anyway).
Meanwhile, Rory very much plays the part of a punk Keith Richards- always hanging back a little, sometimes with a cigarette, hanging from his lip, never trying to hog the limelight. But, as he bashes down on his guitar, bending out classic-sounding punk licks, his purposeful shuffle out of the spotlight sort of draws the spotlight towards him.
Bassist Johnny Mick plays the mid-field between the two. At times he slinks back into the shadows almost fading off the stage. But then, every once in a while, he snaps himself infront of the microphone with an understated authority before once again dissolving.
(They usually have a drummer, too, but itâ€™s sort of a Spinal Tap situation.)
Of course, all of that wouldnâ€™t mean much if the band didnâ€™t have the goods. Although theyâ€™ve only released a single 7-inch EP, itâ€™s been raising eyebrows. The band basically focuses on three things: Drugs, snooty people, punk rock. Is it a focused look at the factors driving punk rock or is it clichÃ©?
â€œOur song â€˜Nothingâ€™ was written by Johnny Mick,â€ Jade says. â€œSome guy pissed him off because he had this terrible ideology. Itâ€™s about the type of person who lets NPR or whatever choose their ideology for them. They donâ€™t really think and they let the media choose who they are and make convictions without any serious thought. Then, they dictate that to other people. It really could be about anyone- its like you are nothing because you have no substance, youâ€™re letting the world tell you how you feel.â€
â€œPunk is supposed to be intelligent and if youâ€™re not intelligent, you better be subversive,â€ continues Rory. â€œIf you look at the early New York punk scene, people were hanging out and reading poetry and mingling with prostitutes and transvestites. They were intellectual and they were challenging art and ideals- not accepting them or just adopting them. I think somewhere along the line, punk, and to a greater degree a certain segment of society, became a â€œbro-eyâ€ thing. Itâ€™s either a tough boys football club, â€˜Oi! Oi! Drink beer!â€™ or its just full-scale NPR. Neither of that is punk. Thatâ€™s the reason I am punk. I hate those people.â€
â€œDo you think the reason the band has a certain resistance is because you are too art-schooly?â€ I ask. â€œPhiladelphia is famously a blue-collar town.â€
â€œThatâ€™s the thing!â€ Rory snaps back. â€œIâ€™m blue collar as shit. I grew up super poor, so I come from that. I had a very tumultuous childhood. I got kicked out when I was 16. My mom came home from work and said, â€˜I canâ€™t afford you anymore.â€™ So, I had to move out and drop out of high school- prior to that I had a full ride to Saint Joeâ€™s for psychology. I lost that. But, I used it as an opportunity to straighten up. At the time, I was a pretty crazy kid, but then, I had to find somewhere to love.â€
No doubt, thereâ€™s a certain connection that seems to untie the members of Posers. Like Rory, Jade comes from an artistic, but challenging background. Her dad went to jail when she about two. The crime? Hacking into computer systems of businesses and selling technology to the Chinese. According to Jade, her dad â€œsays heâ€™s not smart. He says heâ€™s a dumb guy that read a lot.â€
Honestly, thatâ€™s hard to believe (and just the kind of thing a mastermind would say, mind you). Itâ€™s been said that intelligence is genetic and Jade herself exists as proof that her old man was playing coy. Jade when to prestigious schools of performing arts where she trained to be a classical singer.
â€œWhen I was in school, they told me that I was singing wrong,â€ Jade tells me. â€œThey said that I was not singing pretty, enough. But, how I was doing it was natural. I love John Cage and he totally flipped the syste and it was brilliant. I would go to college and when I could pick what to sing, I would choose Ramones and Kiss. I sing pop music, but I really like the challenge of doing harsh vocals while making it beautiful.â€
Jadeâ€™s mom, who was described to me as a â€œhippyâ€ wishes that Jade would take up classical singing, and Mammo might be onto something. If youâ€™ve heard Jade sing â€œStraightâ€ (such as one the Punknews Podcast Christmas special) she really does have the inherent talent and developed skill to go toe-to-toe with any classical or pop singer you could find. It begs the question- is then, playing in a punk band, a daring artistic statement in its own right or just plain foolish?
Likewise, Rory is classical trained in what seems like 100 instruments. He rattles off a list of things that he plays and teaches, and the only ones that I can catch are guitar, classical guitar, mandolin, andâ€¦ The pazookieâ€¦?
Yet, I wonder if this wholesale adoption and rejection of classic punk ideals is a dangerous game. Like the original New York scene, the band has somewhat of fixation on drugs. And like the New York scene, their songs are ambiguous about the topic- the tunes certainly arenâ€™t bland straightedge demonization of substances, but itâ€™s not the proto-punk â€œdrugs are great, maaaaanâ€ stance either. And, like the original New York scene, the band is young. Theyâ€™ll tell you that theyâ€™re not, and in a way, their life experiences may have made them older than they actually are. But still, Macaulay Culkin had already fended off home invaders twice before anyone in the band was even a twinkle in his or her parentsâ€™ eye. And these rugrats are singing about drugs.
Rory explains, â€œOur song, â€˜Coppin in Camdenâ€™ is about two things. My best friend when I was growing up became a really bad heroin addict. The first verse of the song is about going to south Camden and buying cocaineâ€¦ Iâ€™m not saying that we do cocaine, but I am saying that we probably have done some cocaine. On the first verse, itâ€™s the bright side of doing drugs. Going to a bar, doing cocaine, the party side.â€
Rory pauses and then continues, â€œThe second verse is about North Camden which is were everyone goes to buy heroin. People die all the time. Itâ€™s about the duality of drug use and the duality of that city. One side is going to do drugs in a very miserable, xenophobic way. You find drugs, you nod out, and your life is miserable. The other side is Iâ€™m going out to have fun and talk to strangers and drink beer.â€
Jade adds, â€œI didnâ€™t do any hard drugs until I moved to Philadelphia. I grew up in the meth capital of the world, so I donâ€™t fuck with that shit. I was straightedge for the longest time. So, seeing people nod out can be kind of jarring for me.â€
At this point, I pause the interview to admonish the band. â€œDrugs are bad,â€ I say. â€œDrugs are bad.â€ Iâ€™m not sure they care what I say- they nod, or awkwardly change the conversation to avoid my affront. â€œThroughout the interview, youâ€™ve both stated how itâ€™s hard for you to find acceptance in the punk scene and in your lives in general,â€ I ask. â€œI wonder, is acceptance even something you want? Do you want to be black sheep. I think you do.â€
Jadeâ€™s answer surprises me and gives me pause. She says, â€œTo be honest, I want to be accepted. Everybody wants to be accepted. It feels nice to belong. If I grew up during the CBGB era, hell yeah I want to be a part of that. Everyone had an equal purpose and I donâ€™t feel like that is happening right now. Iâ€™d love to be part of scene where everyone is culminating a new movement. Maybe its because I donâ€™t step in the same beat ad everyone else feels. Iâ€™ve always wanted to feel that acceptanceâ€¦ or that kind of movementâ€¦ and I donâ€™t feel that. Thatâ€™s something that I feel is lacking.â€