Bent Left's first show was March 7, 2003, at a paintball shack called Insomnia in Rolla, Missouri. The band celebrates its birthday one decade later on an equally punk stage: Art Closet Studios, a new all-ages venue in the back of a quiet pizza place, Open Fire Pizza, at 3951 Broadway.
Bent Left recently released Fabergé, a gruff, hooky album of politically charged songs that establishes the band as one of Kansas City's best punk acts. But the members also operate Club Mustache, an underground DIY venue; publish a zine; and run a community garden. How do young punks balance so much responsibility? The Pitch recently checked in with singer-songwriter-bassist William Malott.
The Pitch: Does it feel weird having been a band for 10 years? Does it make you re-evaluate things? Or does it feel good and proud, or both, or what?
Malott: For the past seven years or so, we've joked that doing this makes you twice as old in half the time. It's rare for me to take a step back and really evaluate my feelings because 10 years of touring and writing records numbs you to just about everything. I can honestly say, and I'm sure I speak for everyone, that it feels pretty great to still be traveling and making music with my best friends after 10 years.
What would you say are three or four of the most important things you've learned by being a band for a decade?
When we first started touring, I was 17 years old. We played up to the Northwest with a coolerful of clear liquors we'd poured into water bottles. Some Vietnam vet gave us a handful of weed outside the Black Forest Tavern in Eugene, Oregon. We nearly died at several points. We lived off of shoplifted tuna. We were having the time of our lives. Looking back on the early history makes me enormously thankful that I'm not in jail or dead or paralyzed, but it also gives me a great appreciation for everything that happens now. Bent Left has given me the ability to truly appreciate the present.
I guess the most important quality I've developed is humility. Playing music for us is a constant evaluation of our faults, in an effort to achieve some degree of perfection. Studio time has a great way of exposing everything you can't quite execute. Road time is an excellent reminder that, every now and then, no one really cares. Taking yourself too seriously has a way of crushing an effort like this, and maintaining modesty throughout has attributed to our longevity.
That constant evaluation of faults gives way to a drive to achieve at the next level. There are so many great bands around these days that if you aren't constantly pushing yourself to write, tour, record and generally refine your craft, you will be left behind. We've wallowed in obscurity our entire career, and it's always been the internal progression that keeps it fun and interesting. The drive to create and develop, both personally and musically, is one of the best qualities Bent Left has given me.
Fabergé is a pretty political punk record, or at least compared with, like, the Ramones or something. There are lots of academic-sounding lyrics: "Professora Emeritosa," "Byzantine Horlogerie," "Transpecies Dysphoria Appreciation." What are some ideas you're trying to get across?
All of our lyrics are written by our drummer, Josh [Nelson]. He is a very smart guy and is able to translate intelligence into art in ways that have consistently impressed me for 10 years. That said, a huge part of what Bent Left wants you to take away from our music is empowerment. I love the idea of a group of friends each listening to Fabergé and then getting together to discuss its sociopolitical implications. Punk-rock book club for drunks.
After the record was written and recorded, I spent a few months working in the Berkshire Mountains and wrote at least three different interpretations for each song. Beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder here, and I feel like there are points made throughout the record that will trigger all kinds of varying neurons in different folks.
For me, the record examines the artist's place in a culture where success is based on the accumulation of power and influence. Scraping by on the fringe of society and performing at the center of it simultaneously allows for a unique examination from the inside out and vice versa. The artist's existence is a fragile one but, like Peter Carl Fabergé's eggs, it's beautiful, priceless and defines how our generation will be viewed by history. The main thing I hope Fabergé accomplishes is to help people go from blaming their problems on systemic forces to focusing their improvement efforts inwardly on themselves, their families and their communities.