Drunken banter fills the hall. The audience cheers as dinner arrives. The guys from Bigwig prep like this every night before the show. Pipes, concrete, and pure unrestrained madness backstage at D.C.’s own Black Cat. The end of the hall and then its into The Suicide Machines’ dressing room. No signs, no grand entrance, just a table and a couch. Lead singer Jason Navarro sits, bent and sickly but composed as he welcomes me into a haven for sanity.
Navarro sips cranberry juice, not beer – he’s straightedge, and he has a cold. We laugh as we hear more yelling from down the hall. Navarro was never big on partying on the road, but he smiles admitting that there have been times when his band was making all the noise.
“Make no mistake, those guys all drink,” he says. “They’ve all had their drunken nights, just like many other people. They used to be pretty crazy. But now everyone’s pretty mellow.”
The band might have slowed down offstage, but under the lights they shine brighter then ever. Since their first release, 1996’s Destruction by Definition, The Suicide Machines have stood at the forefront of the punk, ska and hardcore scenes.
“I think we’re a lot better than we used to be, a lot more energy,” Navarro says.
With band-mates Royce Nunley, Ryan Vandeberghe and Dan Lukacinsky, Navarro managed to whip the Black Cat into frenzy during their last D.C. performance in early November.
“I’d say D.C. has had a big influence on our music,” Navarro says. “We’re big fans of everything that D.C. has had to offer in terms of punk rock.”
The Suicide Machines have always tried to push the boundaries of their sound. Navarro describes the progression of the band, saying that each record shifts their fan base.
“Every record has gotten something different,” Navarro says. “We had everyone listening to (Destruction by Definition), a lot of ska kids. Battle Hymns was a little rough; all the ska kids hated it. We came out with a poppy self-titled record, and everyone was like, ‘Fuck you.’ All the little pop girls and radio kids came. We wrote the new one, and we don’t know the reaction yet.”
The band’s new album, Steal this Record (Hollywood Records), marks a fourth shift in the band’s focus.
“We were just feeling more on the aggressive side,” he says.
Such aggression may stem from Navarro’s discontent with current label. He sits cold and composed.
“A lot of people don’t know we have the record out,” he says. “The label’s not doing a very good job of letting people know it’s out.”
It seems the band will be making a move, but where is undecided.
“I couldn’t tell you who we’d go to if someone approaches us,” Navarro says. “We could end up on Fat Wreck Chords; we could end up on Capitol.”
What does seem sure is the band’s desire to avoid mainstream exposure. Navarro says his band is not looking to make a radio hit and would like to avoid being linked to the mainstream scene.
“I’m really uninspired by most of the music that’s out nowadays.”, he says.
Navarro already feels the sting from being associated with other visible punk acts like Blink-182.
“I’m not a goofy kind of guy . they’re just all overly silly. I don’t really own any of those records,” he says. “That’s not what punk’s about. Maybe the outside world sees a band like Blink-182 and thinks that’s punk rock.”
Who does represent punk rock? Navarro says the answer is unclear.
“I don’t think anyone in the punk rock scene represents punk rock,” he says. “I think the lines in the genre have become too blurred. It’s just pop music now.”
The Suicide Machines develop their own ethos singing about politics, often deriding the government.
With the recent swell of patriotism, criticizing the government can get a band in trouble. Navarro remains strong in his resolve.
“I’ll never change the message behind what I’m saying, and I believe in every song we write,” he says. “If someone believes that there doesn’t need to be changes made in this country they must not be paying attention.”
The band’s message might remain the same, but rest assured the sound will continue to evolve. Navarro says anything is possible for this punk rock quartet:
“You may get a hip-hop record some day. I’m dead serious. You never know where it could go.”