Laena Geronimo, guitarist and vocalist for Los Angeles punk band FEELS, is stoked for her mom. Her mom is a teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District, and along with her coworkers in the Los Angeles teachers union, she celebrated last month when the union went on strike, and again six days later when they won salary raises and lowered classroom sizes. “My mom was out there with a bullhorn coming up with chants,” Geronimo says proudly, days after the strike ended. “She went back to school yesterday and she’s so happy. It was really amazing to see all the support for the teachers. Everywhere you were in L.A., there were people on strike.
“It’s very daunting times, and to see people come out and really make their voices heard, and for that to have direct impacts on the future of so many lives, is really inspiring.”
FEELS’ new record Post Earth is, in general, a love-letter to community and unified action, but it oscillates between two potential futures: one where those ideas win out, and one where they don’t. That’s why in a world that increasingly makes Boots Riley’s genius 2017 film Sorry To Bother You look like non-fiction, the L.A. teachers union victory feels important. “It’s really amazing to think that we could really make a difference, because it’s been tough, you know?” says Geronimo. “To win a battle is so encouraging.”
Geronimo, vocalist/guitarist Shannon Lay, vocalist/bassist Amy Allen and drummer Michael Perry Rude have been operating as FEELS since 2012, and Post Earth, a jagged, wiry mash of punk, hardcore, no wave, and lo-fi psych-rock, marks their second full-length. While that record dealt generally with social discontent, Post Earth is a more overtly political missive. Opener “Car” pulls zero punches over blunt garage-punk power chording: “War dogs on the street / The land of the free, one nation under fraud.” It’s crass and brutish, like the America of which it speaks. Geronimo explains that it was written “from the point of view of the capitalist system.”
It should be noted that FEELS’ emphasis on unity is conditional. Lay notes that there are plenty of iterations of unity that hinder rather than help. “The [1940s] and ’50s and ’60s, there was this focus on family and pride and patriotism,” she says. “Along with that comes a lot of horrible things. You have to be willing to let go of the things that don’t make sense.”
“Awful Need Of Self,” the record’s second track, dismantles the toxic identity-building that remains a cornerstone of capitalist settler societies like the United States and Canada. “Awful need of self, I’ve seen it,” Lay repeats on the chorus. She advocates for a more fluid idea of identity. “Looking at something, just as it is, without having reference for it is almost impossible,” she says. “But you can do it with yourself, if you want to,” she continues, referring to resisting essentialized social and political roles. “Don’t paint yourself in a corner. Never think that you’re finished discovering who you are.”
For Lay, it’s a quiet anti-capitalist action. “It makes it so difficult for those people to sell you something, because that’s all based on what kind of person you are.” Geronimo adds, “In order for there to be mutual respect, and for us to save our environment, we have to work together and forget all of these things that we’ve created to divide ourselves.”
When Post Earth commits to overcoming those barriers, its effective. “W.F.L.,” or work for love, is a tribute to hard work in the name of progress. “Black under the nail, wouldn’t change a thing/Let it stay to remind us why we do what we do,” Lay sings. “I wrote this song coming from a place of how much I love playing music, and lot of doing that is really, really hard work,” she says. “There’s that 30 to 40 minutes of joy that you get from being onstage, but then behind the scenes there’s so much. I always look at my hands and I see how disgustingly dirty my fingernails are, and I’m like, ‘You know what, I wouldn’t have it any other way.’
“You have to enjoy every second of being here, or else what’s the point? You have to work as hard as you can to get the most out of every minute before it’s all gone.”
But that’s easier said than done in a world of hellish oppression and imbalance that continues to one-up its own horrors. Post Earth dedicates time to the worst-case scenario, too — the title itself is a cue, while the track of the same name imagines earth’s billionaires relocating to Mars once life here becomes unsustainable. But in the end, the plan fails: “You’ll have to eat all your friends that die when the 3D printer breaks!” Geronimo explains that the track spooled out from conspiracy theories regarding earth’s richest folks and their post-apocalyptic plans, but perhaps the most ludicrous part of it is that it all lands closer to fact than fiction.
Though a lot of Post Earth is a question answered only by time, some of it is more immediate and demanding in its calls for action. On “Tollbooth,” which opens with sluggish bass before splintering into messy hardcore, Geronimo yells, “Kids are dying in the streets and you’re bored in bed? What the hell!” It expresses a general frustration with our modern malaise, which is admittedly hard to overcome: everything seems so overwhelmingly bad that it’s hard to tuck away the nihilistic nag of, “Why bother trying?” We’re all ping-ponging between coping mechanisms; it’s difficult to summon the energy to punch back, but that’s what “Tollbooth” and FEELS demand of us. “There’s nothing like knowing that something might be lost to really give you the stability to deeply appreciate it,” Geronimo says. To feel better, she says she goes for walks where she’s surrounded by trees and birds and flowers. She knows that a threat to them is a threat to her. “There are forces who would be fine with them being gone, and we could all live in a factory on Mars or whatever.”
Preserving those things — those moments of thankfulness and peace — is essential. “We can’t fight injustice if we’re too depressed to lift up our fist,” Geronimo continues. “We gotta find ways to stay positive, and the only way we can really do that is if we can find happiness in the beauty that we still have.”
Luke Ottenhof is a freelance writer and musician with eight toes. He likes pho, boutique tube amps and The Weakerthans.