Three musicians who were all recent transplants to Denver formed a hardcore band in 2016 and called it FAIM. Their goals: to create cathartic music and call out sexual predators in the punk scene and at the White House alike while raging in solidarity with radical social justice movements.
During its first few months, FAIM grew into a five-piece and started playing shows at Seventh Circle Music Collective and other DIY venues. It quickly became the talk of Denver’s music community. Screaming in the faces of fans, frontwoman and lyricist Kathryn Lanzillo recharged a scene that had long been dulled by white bros lacking political focus and real intensity.
FAIM brought the fury that had been missing.
But almost as soon as FAIM arrived, Lanzillo moved to Washington and drummer Nick Danes packed up for New Mexico. While the bandmates toured when and where they could, they only played Denver a couple of times a year, and their presence faded from the local community.
But now, with the bandmates all in their thirties and combining the sweaty, body-slamming, spit-flying world of hardcore shows in basements with respectable careers as buttoned-up professionals, they're dropping a new album, Hollow Hope.
Despite the stresses of the pandemic and the hundreds of miles between them, the bandmates managed to record the full-length LP with Jack Shirley — the producer for Gouge Away, Deafheaven, Oathbreaker and Jeff Rosenstock. Hollow Hope sold out its first pressing before its official August 28 drop date on Safe Inside Records; a tape version will come out soon on Version City Blues.
Listening to Lanzillo’s guttural cries against the patriarchy, capitalism and the state on Hollow Hope, it’s hard to imagine her sending off résumés to be an assistant principal — the next step from instructional coach on her way to her dream job as head of a school. Or hear the brutal guitars of band co-founder Chris Carraway and realize that when he’s not writing music for FAIM, he works as a public defender for the State of Colorado.
Danes recently earned his Ph.D. in mathematics and will soon return to Denver from Albuquerque — a city he hates, where he’s been working as an engineer — in order to take a gig as a computational scientist at the Colorado School of Mines. Bassist Matt Pickler manages projects at the University of Denver. Guitarist Chris Carrera is the only bandmate currently out of work; he was laid off from his IT job four months ago, near the start of the COVID-19 shutdown, and has been squirreling away unemployment money while looking for a new job.
Hollow Hope is a ferocious exercise in rage, even if some passages are melodic and offer a rhythmic complexity that makes the tracks more engaging than many hardcore recordings. The songs, with titles like “Cheesman Park,” “Back to the Wall” and “Bastard,” pay homage to traditional hardcore while also mixing things up, offering sonic surprises and instrumental virtuosity along the way.
The lyrics — when they are decipherable — are as critical of the political establishment as Lanzillo is of herself. While many take swipes at the cops and brutes in the scene, she wraps up Hollow Hope singing about the death of a close friend who was so loved that the FAIM singer wishes she could take her place.
“I think lyrically, we pride ourselves on being a political band,” says Lanzillo. “Some of the songs are based on current events, but at the same time, ever since I’ve moved to Washington, I’ve been struggling a lot with depression and anxiety and trying to find my place in a new setting and kind of growing up. I bought a house. I’m in my career, and I’m trying to move up in what I do.”
All those life changes come with profound sadness.
“A lot of the songs are about depression and anxiety and being uncomfortable about friendship and losing friends,” she says. “At the same time, a lot of those came from being very empathetic and the state of the world and what’s happening to people and the environment, and feeling at a loss and feeling hopeless about things getting better, because they just seem to be getting worse.”
They want to change things for the better, yet recognize the limitations of their music in social movements.
“Everything going on right now, with the crisis of COVID and the BLM protests happening — punk doesn’t matter compared to those things,” says Carraway. “I’m glad attention is being given to those movements, and those involved in punk and hardcore should figure out ways to plug themselves in and help those movements.”
The title of the album comes from Michelle Alexander’s 2010 takedown of racism in the United States criminal justice system, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. “It’s a fantastic book that talks about how slavery has carried over and been adapted in waves...that we’re still continuing to enslave black and brown men in the U.S.,” says Lanzillo.
Progress, she notes, is often an illusion or a performance. While that's depressing to admit, she's not going to flinch in the face of truth.
“I get asked a lot about the negativity of a lot of the lyrics,” she says. “The negativity is a very authentic feeling, and I think people can really connect to that. I am not a fan of the whole positive mental attitude and the really positive youth-crew we’re-all-in-this-together lyrics. I think part of that is being a woman, and being a woman in the hardcore scene; I don’t feel like I’m part of that. I try to write things that are more negative while doing things in real life that are more positive. I think of [the music] as a relief of how I’m feeling. That’s kind of where the lyrics came from — the state of the world and the state of my mind. They’re very connected.”
But the connections are harder to make when the members have quit playing live because of the pandemic.
“We lost that release and that way for us to also work on our mental health,” says Lanzillo. “Being in this band is a huge part of me. I know everyone is struggling during COVID. People involved in things like music, while financially it’s hard, you do it for a reason. It’s a grieving process right now, not knowing when we’re going to be able to play shows again or interact with people at the scale you do when you play shows.”
Before the pandemic, the band had plenty of chances to perform, including a European tour and gigs across North America; the musicians focused almost exclusively on DIY spaces. “Personally, I hate playing proper venues with a stage," Carraway says. "The higher the stage, the more miserable I am. ... I like being on the floor. I like some nineteen-year-old kid falling into me or vice versa. My preference would be to play the most DIY space possible when we go out.”
And when they're stuck in? The bandmates plan to play a streaming concert through CVLT Nation on September 5; it will benefit Seventh Circle, Denver's DIY mainstay, which has been closed since the virus hit.
There’s a lot that the bandmates hope to do once they can play in public again. But as middle age approaches, they fear that their time on the scene is limited. Punk, after all, still somewhat absurdly bills itself as youth culture...even as its surviving founders are now in their seventies.
“We’re getting older and want to do normal adult things,” says Lanzillo, who's nearing forty. “We had this timeline of things that has now gotten pushed out a bit. I know I’m willing to push it out a bit more. There are things I want to do as a band, and this is the opportunity we have for that.
“We know nothing’s happening this year, and we’ll see what happens in 2021,” she adds. “We’ll get creative in some way or another. I don’t want to put out this record and then never get to do anything with it.”
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