Hot Water Music with Silverstein , Planes Mistaken For Stars and Moments in Grace at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Tuesday (November 16). $15 (all ages). 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
It's the kind of question that keeps people up at night: What is punk rock? Hot Water Music bassist Jason Black doesn't know what it is any more, or even if there's any such thing. "I just think the name is thrown around so loosely and gets tagged onto anything these days," says Black on the phone from Jersey, where he's just completed a sound check.
"So if punk rock is what people are calling it today, then we're definitely not a punk rock band. But that's fine. We don't really care to spend a lot of time thinking about it."
Some people, however, take these things seriously. And there have been complaints over the 10 years since their formation that the members of HWM, who began as a cookie-cutter late-90s nu punk-emo growler band, have forsaken their hardcore roots.
"We've changed, and that's something fans don't allow bands to do. We're just not the kind of band who can write the same record over and over again, though there are a lot of bands I really like who do that really well. I mean, I love NOFX and Bad Religion and Green Day. You're not usually surprised when you pick up one of their records."
According to the Oxford Dictionary Of Current English, punk rock is "a loud, fast form of rock music with aggressive lyrics and behaviour."
HWM's latest record, The New What Next, is still punk as far as the definition goes. But it's calmer, a little more mature, with elements of the Afghan Whigs and in parts a late-80s pop feeling, with guitar lines nodding emphatically to the likes of U2.
"I haven't heard that before, but that's good. I like U2. I'd much rather be U2 than some fill-in-the-blank new punk rock band."
The New What Next also marks the first time HWM have featured political lyrics - putting in their two cents' worth on the American situation.
"There's some bad shit goin' on lately. We've never been politically active as a band, but the environment is so crazy that it's unavoidable now. So when it came time to write songs, a lot more of that stuff came into play, that's for sure."
I wonder what his opinion is on the role of music in politics, especially the angry punk kind.
"I think a lot of political punk bands are completely ineffectual. That said, there are a lot that are worth their salt, too. But so many just get onstage and play their song and then go back to worrying about how many T-shirts they've sold and that's it.
"One of the reasons we've never wanted to be a political band is because we didn't want the responsibility of doing it in the way it should be done."
U2, says Black, is a band that does politics well.
"Because the message isn't overbearing in all of their songs and they're not just like, 'Fuck this' and 'Fuck that.' They're actually educated about it. That whole ideology of 'Fuck obviously bad things' is stupid. I mean, of course police brutality sucks and violence sucks and war sucks. If you don't already think it sucks, then you're obviously not listening to punk rock and you're not going to listen to this band about it.
"And come on, I mean, you're telling a bunch of people with mohawks who already hate their parents and the cops that their parents and the cops don't listen to 'em. Why? You're not teaching anybody anything."
However, Black muses, there is a time and place for such things.
"There's a place for 13-year-olds to listen to punk and learn something from it, but that's not really our crowd and not the way we think."