Same punk, different city 

How Missoula’s Ass-End Offend became Portland’s Squalora

The more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s what it must feel like for Squalora, Portland, Ore.’s relatively new hardcore punk band comprising three former members of Missoula’s Ass-End Offend. For instance, when we caught up with the trio mid-practice, preparing for their upcoming Missoula CD-release show, bassist Tom Elston explained why they were holed up in a friend’s house and not their regular rehearsal spot. Turns out the band’s in the middle of a neighborhood turf war with a woman who objects to their newest tunes—still aggressively loud and radically political—by blasting gospel hymns into the street and complaining to the police. It’s a similar suburban squabble to the one that marred one of their former band’s last shows in Missoula, when Area 5 was shut down for noise complaints shortly after a blistering AEO set.

“Same shit, different city, right?” says Elston with a laugh.

Noise issues aside, the Portland move seems to have been a good one for Elston, guitarist Matt Svendsen and drummer Dan Lawlor. The three left Missoula just more than a year ago—former AEO guitarist Brent Shultz stayed behind—in search of a bigger music scene and greener pastures. Svendsen and Elston recently spoke about how much greener Portland is, the band’s new eponymous album (put out jointly by Missoula’s Wäntage USA and Kalispell’s Repetitively Futile Records), and as always, their deep-seated political beliefs.

Indy: How’d the new album come together?

Elston: We moved here and all the songs came together pretty quickly. I guess with Matt and Dan, they played for a little while with Dave Parsons (formerly of Humpy and Sasshole) before they came out, so I think some of the songs originated in Missoula.

Svendsen: We were hanging out with Dave a lot and playing music under the name Nazgul. He knew we were moving, so it was just for fun. It was short-lived, but it helped keep us creative. Dave’s fun to play with. He wrote a song called “Killed By Dolphins.” Enough said.

Indy: It seems things came together pretty fast considering the move.

Elston: We were just joking about this earlier—we’ve only played 18 shows. We’re really a new band. Ass-End Offend played something like 200 or 250 shows and then got a couple 7-inches and eventually a record, but here we are already…I think with this band we learned from our past mistakes and knew what we wanted to do and it all fell into place.

Indy: So, why move to Portland?

Elston: We all joke about it being West Missoula now with so many of us living here. I guess it started with Fireballs of Freedom coming out many years ago. Just going on tour, it was always the friendliest city we hit. We’re just a DIY punk band and we don’t fit into clubs very often. Portland has this whole raft of kids who are into this music and hundreds of basements willing to facilitate this music. It was an easy move, really. And it’s still not too far from Montana, so we can all go back regularly.

Svendsen: Personally, I needed to be closer to my daughter. That was the primary thing for me, and then it turned out to work with Dan and Tom. It was meant to be.

Indy: And is Portland everything you expected?

Elston: Coming into it I was skeptical, being a small-town boy. I think part of the appeal with Ass-End Offend was that we weren’t as keen to all the big city bullshit…But now that we’re here, there are a lot of bands with big reputations and big names, but they’re not really doing anything great. So you just do what you did back home and hope for the best.

Svendsen: It’s exactly how I expected it. There’s so much going on. There’s a lot of different scenes that are sort of in their own ghettos and don’t crossbreed too much, but that’s not a tragedy. There’s still a lot of overall unity. And it’s not just with music but activism, as well. It’s hard to get bored.

Indy: The politics of the new album are in line with AEO—anarchy, anti-establishment, radicalism. When you’re writing songs like “United We Slouch” and “Poverty Eugenics,” are you simply watching the evening news and venting?

Svendsen: I try not to watch the evening news, actually. It’s too depressing. Politics have been a part of the band for so long it’s become like a personal vendetta against government and all of the things we have to endure under a [capitalist] system.

Elston: Matt is, for the most part, the political spark for the band. It’s more of his take, more of his feeling. He’s well read and educated on a lot of issues, and it comes through in his writing. I come from a more working class edge.

Indy: Are you involved politically outside the band?

Svendsen: Not as much here as I was in Montana, but that’s only because I haven’t had time. In Montana I was a part of a group called Red & Anarchist Action Network that was trying to bring about a presence of anarchists and socialists across the state. It failed miserably, mostly because of lack of interest…

Elston: I co-run a community warehouse that’s like a Salvation Army without all the religious backing. It’s a non-profit that takes in all sorts of furniture, sheets and blankets, pots and pans, and we redistribute them to families in need, the battered women’s shelter, migrant families coming to the states from refugee camps, the elderly and people suffering from mental health issues who are getting housing for the first time. It’s a really great way to work with the public and see every walk of life, but it’s also frustrating. I’m just a lowly warehouse guy who understands their pain a little bit more than some, but still doesn’t really have a say in it.

Indy: I’m guessing that experience, Tom, is behind one of the socialist songs you wrote, “Mind Lapse.” There’s a lyric that’s pretty affecting: “I can’t even afford to fucking kill myself.”

Elston: Some people misperceive that line. It’s actually a quote from one of the clients I helped. He was suffering from prostate cancer and colon cancer and he basically had just been so angry and hostile they kicked him out of the hospital. He was just saying, “Why can’t someone fucking fix me?” Then he wanted someone to take him out, kill him, but that’s against the law. So he took up smoking—he’s 52-years-old and he took up smoking and he’s just sitting there with tears in his eyes and he says, “I can’t even die. No one cares. I just sit here and crap in a bag and it’s not working. I can’t even afford to die.”

Indy: There’s a lot of heavy shit in this album—both politically and musically—but you say Squalora’s music is therapeutic. How?

Svendsen: There’s so much shit to be angry about right now in the world. The music is the ultimate anti-depressant. Some people spend a lot of money talking to psychiatrists about their problems but I think screaming it in somebody’s face for 30 minutes is just as good a way to get everything off your chest.

Squalora plays an all-ages CD release show at the Palace Lounge Saturday, Oct. 13, at 9 PM. Jacktoptown and Sierra Leone open. $6/$5 advance at Ear Candy Music.
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