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People come up and say, 'I've never seen anything like that before. When are you playing again?'" marvels bassist Harmony Star about how audiences often react to her band, Dangerous Nonsense. "We don't even know how to explain it. Our influences couldn't explain what we sound like."
"And it wouldn't even be music," adds vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Shannon Weber. "It would be these ideas or things that happen in the world. That really influences me."
Star and Weber have been playing together with drummer Sara Miller since 2008, and the music they've all made together has the physicality and aggression of punk, but it's more in the mode of Crass or Poison Girls, where there is plenty of free-form experimentation. "We're expressive in the punk-rock way, but it's beyond that," Star points out. "I've been calling it post-punk art metal." That's a fair description, as the bombast is tempered by the atmospherics created by Star's bass lines, which she feeds through effects to give them a unique sound. The group's lyrics, meanwhile, do not shy away from the pointed political statements and observations inherent in punk.
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Weber and Miller both grew up in the Denver area; Miller is from Littleton. "She would call it 'Vanillaton,'" Star says. Star, meanwhile, had an upbringing that seems slightly less vanilla: The bassist was born in Minnesota, but she grew up in Utah with her mom, a flight attendant for Western Airlines, in a home made in a cave that was carved out by early settlers with dynamite.
Star moved to Denver in the early aughts, and that's where she met Miller, who played with her in an emo band called Stars Like Lust. After a brief tour, Miller was kicked out of the band, and she petitioned Star to start a group with her and Weber, with whom Miller had been working. "Sara and I worked at a rape crisis center together, and we would go knocking on people's doors at night to get volunteers," Weber remembers. "We were riding in the van, and I was singing along to the radio, and she told me I had to be in her band. I think it was rap rock or something terrible. It was pretty bro-ful music."
Although Weber had been mocking the music a bit, Miller immediately recognized her talent. She, Miller and Star put together an early version of the band called Creepskope with a guitarist they had enlisted, but the guitarist wasn't interested in devoting as much time to the project as the others, and she dropped out. Around that time, the three decided to change the name of the act to Dangerous Nonsense, a handle that refers to the kind of terrible things that happen in the world that you hear about in the news or through friends.
At first they tried out new guitarists, but "the only people who showed up were older guys drinking vodka out of their water bottles and living in their parents' basements," Weber points out. "It was an interesting demographic." It's just as well, considering that the Craigslist ad they'd put together didn't even mention being in a band. Their music, they point out, is based on the ideas that serve as the foundation for their lyrics.
"We always have our heads in an idea-driven mode instead of chord progressions," Weber says. "We write our songs backwards a lot. We start from the lyrics and will write those a little bit together. Harmony or Sara will contact me and say, 'Let me tell you about this fucked-up thing. Go write about it.' That's my task, to put the lyrics together, and we make sure all the music reflects what's being said and carries that same intention, energy and message."
"When we write the songs, even if you can't understand what we're singing about, we want you to feel it," says Star, "so you'll go through a whole gamut of emotions during our show. One moment we'll be like, 'Sit down and groove with us.' The next we'll be screaming in your face, 'Get up and mosh, you motherfuckers!' For me, I felt like there were things that needed to be said more, and things I needed to hear that I wasn't hearing. So I felt an obligation to take difficult things and build community around them and provide a voice and, I guess, company in dark times — for isolated young women, in particular.
"That's how our first song came together," she goes on. "I was reading Cunt, by Inga Muscio, on the bus, and I was reading the rape part, and this guy sat down next to me, and I started to feel triggered. I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, this is everywhere. What can I do with this, and where can I go with this?'
"I was alone then in that feeling, and I knew other people felt that way but were too isolated to talk about it," she notes. "So I just went home and scribbled out the song 'Trigger' that finally appears on this album. That was a need for me, and I realized that having a background in music, I realized I could enjoy doing that."
Putting together Discharge, the band's latest album, was a bit of a challenge for the group, between illness on the part of the recording engineers and Star's own personal crisis as she grappled with the fact that she was living a life that wasn't suited to her — a married woman working a corporate insurance job. The band eventually worked things through, and two years later, Dangerous Nonsense emerged with a record that is lo-fi and raw, but also very present, packaged in striking artwork created by Star.
"There's a lyric in 'Creepscope' that goes, 'If roots can crack through the sidewalk, so can we,'" notes Star. "The roots thing came because I think of the tree of life when I think of us. So I integrated us into the image as roots, so the 'dangerous nonsense' aspect is the AK-47s — as in, we're trying to grow things, but are we growing violence? What is dangerous nonsense growing in society?"
"If dangerous nonsense is the roots, then what comes out of that is going to be deadly," Weber interjects. "We have a song called 'Victim Control.' When you take self-defense classes, they always talk to you about how, as a woman, you should try to not get raped instead of telling people not to rape people. And you don't go out at night without a whistle, and you'd better yell 'Fire' because people may ignore you if you yell 'Rape.'"
"I think really what drives me in a visceral way, artistically, is this need to call things out and to name things," she concludes. "One of these songs specifically names a rapist. We are publishing his name because public shaming seems to be the only form of justice that there seems to be. To call things really what they are. That's frustrating for me as an artist, because I don't necessarily want to be that explicit about things. But I think there's a value in that."