Punk Interviews

PMA hardcore band Knelt Before ask us all to ‘Be Nice’

Positive Hardcore takes the explosive power of punk and infuses it with lyrics that encourage a more fulfilling way of living. Bands like Knelt Before are embodying this very philosophy whilst recording awesome new music. We caught up with vocalist Mark Johnston to discuss…

Hardcore punk is a philosophy in itself- one that prioritises ethics, values and political activism as personal attributes. Untrained ears would be forgiven for thinking hardcore punk music is exclusively about anger and destruction, and though there may be a validation for anger, the message of hardcore has always been one more concerned with self-discipline, creativity, solidarity and socially conscious and intentional living.

It may sound loud and aggressive, but beyond the galvanizing intensity of the music, there is a vision for a better world and a blueprint for positivity that forms the basis of a very personal revolution.

PMA hardcore is a particular subgenre of the wider hardcore movement which explicitly espoused those values that counteracted some of the other elements of the hardcore scene in the 1980s which was, by a couple of years in at least, synonymous with violence and zealous preaching.

Knelt Before

West coast based Knelt Before are continuing that tradition and keeping the torch of PMA Hardcore burning for a new generation. In fact, it was wanting to model a positive message for the next generation that spurred on the beginning of the band. We chat to vocalist Mark Jonhston to discuss the ethos behind the band and what PMA hardcore means…

Knelt Before just self-released their debut album, ‘Be Nice’. And be nice’ has no facetious or hidden meaning here- the band really do want you to be nice.

After leaving music for many years, Mark Johnston and bandmate Don Rossington got together through a mutual appreciation of straight edge hardcore, positive thinking, and strong moral values (Don is a teacher, Mark is a firefighter). After searching for months to find like-minded individuals, Mark and Don connected with Shannon Eoff and Derek Woodard. Mark picks up the story:

“The great thing about our formation was that there wasn’t an urgent need to get people so we were able to assemble a group of genuinely kind and good people that wanted to make positive music”.

The album is 11 tracks of classic hardcore sensibilities with lyrics that encourage purposeful living, integrity, solidarity and fortitude. Through songs like ‘Purpose’, ‘Firewatch’ and ‘Choices’, you can hear Johnston’s guttural vocals impart his wisdom and guidance on living a positive life.

The reason I started this project was to create positive music without cussing that my son could listen to and learn from. Everyone in the group is behind the message and believes that it is important to put forth that message and ideal. Personally, I am coming from a perspective that I want to leave a body of work for my son and for his children.”

And with the world in the current state it is in, some positive messages are welcome:  

“I can’t say that this is a direct reaction to the negativity of the world but you do get tired of seeing so much of it. Aggressive /angry music definitely has a place – it can be a wonderful cathartic release when you have those feelings and you listen to someone who is having an equally bad day or is angry about something similar and you can relate to them. All music has a place, positive and negative.”

With current punk scenes being so varied in sound and messaging, and with punk as a term being coopted and applied to a variety of objectively not punk things, is there any meaning behind the term punk now and can it be a force for good as so many people want it to be?  

“Punk, straight edge, veganism, and all of these ideals are just that – ideals. The people that prescribe to them are just as influenced by external sources as anyone, but the real “punks” are the ones that don’t let things affect them the same as it affects others.

Punks can come in all different shapes and sizes, political and religious beliefs… the big unifier is that they are rebelling against mob mentality and conformity. It’s always interesting to look at the originals and where they are now. The ones that stay true to their nature evolve and mature – just like the movements. Whatever your definition is, you live that truth and let others live theirs.”

Bands like H2O are proponents of the PMA genre. Pic by Bj Papas

For Johnston, punk has been a big part of his life:

“I was a 90s pop punk / hardcore fan – Big Wig, 10 Foot Pole, Bad Religion, Rancid… everything on Fearless Records and Revelation Records. Later on I got into the Misfits, Crass, Fear, and all that, but the melodic stuff was always my first love.

It was always fascinating and a bit heart-warming to see leather-and-studs punks hanging out with skateboard-and-hoodie punks getting along on stage and in the crowds. It really solidified the idea that punk was for everyone and should be- and still is- inclusive.”

And railing against mob mentality and thinking for yourself is a basic punk tenet, one that is reflected in the album track ‘Knelt Before’: “I’ve knelt before and I won’t kneel again”. Johnston feels this is a key message in their music (so much so, they named the band after the sentiment):

“The name is from that ideal that we are a product of the successes and failures of our past, not defined by them.  

I have spent my life bowing to the will of others in many facets of my life – work, relationships, religion… I have changed who I am to be popular or accepted and after years of doing so I realized that it didn’t benefit me, only those that I changed for.

“Service does not mean servitude” – just because I am doing something for you, doesn’t mean that I am going to blindly follow orders.  Keep your guard up.”

And you’ll be pleased to know that Knelt Before will be bringing this PMA into 2023….

“In the coming months we have a split with German band Axids which I’m excited about. Being that we are all professionals, this project was started as more of a sporadic thing but as this progressed it became more to all of us. We have been discussing our future and our goals, and we are starting to look for shows and help grow this thing.”

If you love classic hardcore punk in the vein of H2O, Ignite, Gorilla Biscuits then check out ‘Be Nice’. 11 tracks of passionate, sincere lyrics combined with the awesome force of punk. Last word to Johnston:

“All of the members of Knelt Before are people that have lived through a lot and come out on the other side. We all do what we want to do and move to our own rhythm. That’s about as punk as you can get when you get to the heart of it.”

Be Nice’ is out now and available to purchase HERE.

Check out Knelt Before on their socials…

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