Search for the name Justin Brannan in your browser and you'll get a mish mosh of results that range from Most Precious Blood and Indecision to 2017 City Council Democratic candidate for Brooklyn's 43rd District. No need for refinement here, all of the above are true: After serving as guitarist for both NYHC outfits, Brannan refocused his time toward making a difference in his community.
Brannan is currently in the race for City Council, which will be determined when voters head to the polls on November 7th. As such, we talked to him about his evolution from hardcore guitarist handing out political flyers to aspiring public servant.
HOW DID YOUR POLITICAL CAREER START? LET'S BEGIN WITH YOUR TIME WITH MOST PRECIOUS BLOOD AND THEN MOVE FORWARD.
JUSTIN BRANNAN Touring the world and playing what we were playing, it wasn't sex, drugs and rock & roll. It was music with a message. The kids that we were talking to around the world ... It was interesting to see the commonality of different struggles, whether we were in South Africa, New Jersey, Australia or whatever it was. That was very enlightening to me. And on top of that I was always searching for something more than just a paycheck. I needed to feel like what I was doing was rewarding on a different level.
So after [Most Precious Blood] stopped touring, I went back to work for a little while and did some some union organizing and sort of fell into a role where I was organizing workers who weren't getting paid for overtime, weekend and holiday hours. So that certainly got me thinking more politically and back to my teenage years doing AIDS and animal-welfare activism. I said, "Alright, well, if I'm not going to be touring anymore I'm going to plant my roots back down in the neighborhood where I grew up." I just felt like I needed to get involved. So I poked around at some of the local civic groups and political clubs. They really weren't my speed or welcoming because I was this outsider. I was trying to get involved and people really weren't that welcoming about that. So even though I grew up here, they were sort of like, "What's this new guy want?" All I wanted to do was get involved and there were all these barriers to entry just to help out our own community.
It was very weird, and that really fueled me because I didn't think that there needed to be some sort of secret club that helps out the neighborhood. It should be available to everyone. So I took a job working for my local council person — the guy that I'm looking to succeed now — and really worked my way up in his office. I think what I like the most is that I was never into politics. I always sort of thought that the rent was due on the 1st of the month and I'm living paycheck to paycheck and what the president says on television doesn't really affect my life. That was always what I thought of politics.
When the local councilman took a chance and gave me my first job in government, I really saw that all politics is local. You can be a true and tireless advocate for people that are in need by cutting through the bureaucratic red tape to get things done. So when people would come into the office and they'd have a problem — big or small — being able to help someone and send them on their way with the issue resolved, that was the speed that I was looking for. Not the glacial pace of whatever goes on in D.C. I was looking for that instant gratification of activism in politics and local government is where I found it. Some people think the path is crazy and doesn't make sense, but to me it makes perfect sense.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE PUNK AND HARDCORE IS MISSING THAT STRAIN OF ACTIVISM LATELY?
I think the internet has changed everything. The pace is so much quicker and getting your voice out there, there's so many avenues to do that now. When Trump was elected, so many people were saying, "Well, at least this is gonna bring us a lot of good punk rock and hardcore music." And it really hasn't because the playing fields have changed — there are ways to communicate now that are much quicker than writing and releasing a song. I made a conscious decision to go from being an activist and metaphorically throwing rocks at the building, to deciding that if I really wanted to make change, I was gonna have to find a way inside the building and affect change from the inside out. I think there's always a very important place for activism, but it's just the pace at which information is exchanged — that's really changed the game. So I certainly hope that that's inspiring some of the music happening now. I see stuff here and there, but it's different from when the Dead Kennedys or Napalm Death or whoever couldn't just send out a tweet with how they feel about something.
YOU'RE OBVIOUSLY BECOMING MORE INVESTED IN THE POLITICAL PROCESS. DO YOU THINK HARDCORE MUSIC WILL ALWAYS BE A PART OF YOUR LIFE?
Definitely. I think you know that we still play shows. We mostly do benefit shows now or at least donate what we get paid to some sort of cause. We do it for fun. But that's my whole thing — I'm not hiding who I was or where I come from because it made me who I am. It led me to this point. If I hadn't seen these things and gone through what I've gone through, I wouldn't be running for office. I wouldn't be inspired to fight for the little guy, and stand up for what's right. That's where I came from. That's where I spent so much of my life. It's never gonna be something that I'm ashamed of. It's something I'm very proud of. The scene that I was involved in was such a positive scene with bands who are really trying to change the world. They were really out there singing about things that were affecting their surroundings, the planet — I think it was very political. We may not have realized it, but it was.
DO YOU THINK THAT HARDCORE AND THE SURROUNDING ACTIVISM INFORMED YOU POLITICALLY?
I think so many of the issues that are now on the forefront were issues that we discussed 20 years ago. Whether it was environmental advocacy, anti-racist actions, anti-fascist actions, the stuff I'd see in Europe, racial justice, social justice — these are all things that were discussed at basement shows back in the day. Now it's frontline conversation, so this is really where I cut my teeth, this sort of activism.
TO BE FAIR, THERE ARE ALSO IDEAS THAT ARE A BIT LESS MAINSTREAM, LIKE ANIMAL LIBERATION AND OTHER CAUSES.
Sure, I was involved in that too. So where I got my start in environmental causes and animal-welfare activism. It definitely inspired me to see that people who were tired of something just rolled up their sleeves and made their voice heard. I like that. You weren't seeing that in the rock scene and I think what was so inspiring was the common thread that no matter where you went, kids were all plugged into the same stuff whether it was straight edge or animal rights or whatever it was. That made a real impact on me. We can affect change, even if the day after we play a show we're slathered in BENGAY because our necks and backs hurt. [Laughs] You know, we can do stuff on this level.
NOW THAT YOU'VE GROWN OLDER, WHAT ARE YOUR CURRENT LISTENING HABITS LIKE? CAN WE EXPECT CITY COUNCIL MEMBER BRANNAN TO BE BLASTING SLAYER?
[Laughs] Sure! I still go back to a lot of the stuff that I grew up listening to. I was listening to Exodus' Impact Is Imminent last night. I still listen to all that stuff and I'm very much into a lot of the newer indie like Best Coast and Dum Dum Girls. But I'll still throw on Cannibal Corpse or Napalm Death.
CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE NEW INDECISION MUSIC?
I think so. I think we've been playing old songs for so long now that I think that there's part of us that feels like we don't wanna fuck it up — like the Billy Joel Greatest Hits album with the new songs at the end that suck. We definitely have new music and ideas, but I think we have to get past the point that nothing is gonna be perfect. Your music is always gonna be judged in a certain way because there is nostalgia there and in a lot of cases it is stuff that people have a serious affinity for. There's some of the stuff I wrote when I was 15: two chords and I don't think it's that great. [Laughs] But that's not for me to decide. The people that love the music hold it in a very high regard, which is very humbling to us, but it also sort of paralyzes us in a way because we're afraid to write a song that's not gonna live up to the back catalog. So I think if we were able to get past that, you'd see a lot new music. It's hard.
IN A LOT OF WAYS, BEING A MUSICIAN IS A BIT LIKE A POLITICAL CAMPAIGN — OUT THERE WINNING OVER HEARTS AND MINDS ONE AT A TIME. LOTS OF HANDSHAKES AND SMALL TALK…
It is. It's handing out flyers too! This past Saturday morning, I woke up way earlier than I would have and stood outside a supermarket handing out my fucking card. My little card, it's got my ugly face on it that says, "Vote for me on November 7." It's no different than me standing outside with a flyer for a CBGB's show. So yeah you're totally right, it's exactly the same thing. I have another guy who works on my campaign who's a musician and he says it all the time. It's performing, it's talking to people and spreading your message. When I was loading into CBGBs when I was 18, never did I think this was gonna somehow help me later on in life, but it's the same thing. It's like the stuff you learn in school and the stuff you learn on the road, some of it can't be replicated.
WHY DO YOU THINK YOU ARE THE MAN FOR THE JOB ON NOVEMBER 7TH?
I think that the game has completely changed because of Trump in the White House. For a local elected official, it's no longer enough to make sure the garbage gets picked up on time and the potholes are filled and the stop signs are up. I think that as a local democrat, it's my job to be a brick wall against the divisive and haphazard policies that are coming out of Washington. We need to take care of our immediate surroundings in our neighborhood and build from the bottom up. I'm the guy for that. I've struggled and lived paycheck to paycheck. I ride the subways and know how horrible they are. I know that times are tough out there for a lot of people and that we need to do more so that everyone has a fair shot. I think we're in a very uncertain and crazy time right now and that you've gotta have people who are willing to stand up for what's right. I've lived my whole life doing that, so I'm ready.