In the wake of the disastrous results of last year’s presidential election in the United States, there were more than a handful of people who took solace in the fact that at least having a sexist, xenophobic, probably racist, certainly narcissistic megalomaniac at the helm of our nation would make for some good, old-fashioned angry protest punk rock. Now that we’re at about six months P.E. (post election), we’re starting to see the musical fruits of that fateful national decision and learning that that solace was not hollow by any stretch of the imagination. With the recent release of the their sophomore album, Warriors, Bad Cop / Bad Cop are among the first out of the gate in the punk rock Trump era and have set the bar incredibly high for those that will follow in their footsteps.
The California-based four-piece all-female “freight train of ‘fuck yeah!’” that is otherwise known as Bad Cop / Bad Cop were on a nationwide tour with The Interrupters in the lead up to, and immediate aftermath from, the aforementioned election. Knowing that they were due to head into the studio immediately upon completion of tour, it became obvious pretty quickly exactly what direction the new album would take. Says Jennie Cotterill, one of the band’s two guitarists/lead vocalists and principal songwriters, “We kind of made a conscious decision to make this more meaningful than fun — not that there’s anything wrong with fun — but we wanted to really talk about issues that were important to everybody.”
If the question of what to say was pretty apparent from the beginning, the question of how to say it was a little trickier. While the pull for a punk rock band might be to attack an administration in a relentlessly in-your-face manner, the Bad Cop / Bad Cop crew opted to try to pull people in toward at least having conversations, rather than just pushing them away. Says Cotterill: “the reaction to this extreme situation is extreme. But then, when you go extreme, you lose people in the middle.” While the punk scene was still in its infancy forty years ago when Joey Ramone poked some tongue-in-cheek fun at the certain faction within this little world that seems hell-bent on simply being against everything, though that element still remains. “We talked about…how are we going to do this and what are we going to say, because we don’t want to alienate people,” says Cotterill. “Having productive conversation is more important than just saying “I’m against you!” Once there’s a physical line, that’s where people stop listening, and I really don’t care to do that.”
And let’s face it; we’ve all got friends (or parents, or friends’ parents, or at least that one uncle) whose beliefs remain about as diametrically opposed to our own as possible, in spite of what should be overwhelming commonality. “(As we were writing) I kept thinking about this one friend that I have that is real right thinking,” explains Cotterill’s co-frontwoman and partner-in-crime, Stacey Dee. “We grew up together, and I won’t give up on this guy because at the end of the day, I know we get along. We’re coming from the same fucking place in life. I know that his search is one of health and positivity and happiness, so at the end of the day, you can’t be fucking hateful when you’re positive and happy.” And while a more in-your-face approach might be appropriate for some — Bad Cop / Bad Cop favorites and co-Warped Tourmates War On Women for example — there’s room at the table for different approaches. Says Cotterill: “War On Women is great if you’re woke, but there’ a lot of people that aren’t woke… I think that our platform is hoping to rope the unsuspecting listener into a conversation.”
With that in mind, the band recruited their frequent producer Davey Warsop (Dave Hause, Foo Fighters), took a little creative input from their label boss, the one-and-only Fat Mike Burkett, and put out the first truly defining album of the Trump presidency. While’s it’s got an obvious progressive bent to it, to call it a political album is a bit of a mistake. “No one political belief will sum up who you are as a human being on this planet,” says Dee. Like her fellow sisters-in-arms, Dee takes seriously her role as a conduit for change and for building bridges. “The truth is, entertainment is going to be the way to reach across the aisle, because people on the other side that are going to be racist or whatever are going to see something in somebody, whether it be an actor or a musician or whatever, and they’re going to say “fuck, I can’t deny that. I like that person.”
Cotterill and Dee alike have seen the tide shift at its most basic level, taking note of positive changes even though they might be slow to come to pass. Cotterill remembers a sense of bewilderment when marriage equality first came on the ballot in California in 2008. “(At first) I was like ‘of course it’s going to pass because people aren’t that awful.’ And then it didn’t pass and I was crushed. But then Iowa passed it (the following year)…And we think we’re the ones that are so progressive.” By the time the California Supreme Court finally overturned Proposition 8 five years later, the tide had long-since turned and a clear majority of California voters were in favor of same-sex marriage protections. “Really conservative people felt that it was a victory (the first time around),” says Cotterill, quickly pointing out that “everybody else was like “I never thought about it until right now.”
While the bulk of Warriors consists of material aimed not only at the current political system but the overarching nature of American society circa 2017 as well, there are still a handful of moments that are not merely a little more personal, but that are personal in a way that is stomach-punchingly honest and raw and without any shred of pretense. Album closer “Brain Is for Lovers,” for example, deals head on with Cotterill’s feelings surrounding the suicide of a longtime friend and former band mate. The chorus of “Brain…” relays a sentiment that’s not overly common in songs that are ultimately about grief and loss and remembrance. “(That song) was about someone who was a really good friend of mine and committed suicide about a year ago and I was so worked up about that song that I couldn’t even talk about it,” explains Cotterill. Dee, herself the author of another of the album’s more powerful and personal tracks, “Retrograde,” (more on that in a minute) sounds particularly proud of her Cotterill’s work on “Brain Is For Lovers”: “It was gnarly! But where we got to in the end, and the way that Jennie pushed through, her voice is fucking killer! She was pissed that she had to do it, but it came out fucking great. Sometimes you have to see the forest through the trees!”
Oh, so about the above-mentioned track, “Retrograde.” Frequent readers of these pages may recall last year’s in-depth sit-down we had with Dee in which she opened up about her battles with drug addiction and her subsequent journey out of that particularly dark era of her life. This made for a notoriously difficult experience when it came time to write music after finding sobriety: “As I got older and as I got sober over the last couple years, my writing hasn’t been like it used to be. I was predominantly negative, and negative stuff comes out when you’re negative.” Album-opener “Retrograde” reclaims Dee’s place as a songwriting powerhouse, telling the story of a woman grappling her own demons in kick-ass, unapologetic fashion. It’s also a song that Fat Wreck co-founder Erin Burkett is particularly fond of: “To me, it’s about finding your inner strength, and re-inventing yourself. Stacey wrote this about her battle with drugs and alcohol; however, addiction takes on all forms. Sometimes being addicted to behaviors or people can be just as damaging, and the only way to overcome any of it is to realize, that all the power is yours. No one else is going to fix you.”
Fat Wreck Chords, the label founded by Burkett and her now-ex-husband Fat Mike more than a quarter century ago remains a pillar of the independent music community in large part because of the family environment that they’ve created and fostered over that period of time. As all too many people know, it can be devastatingly painful to watch a family member struggle their way through an active addiction. Burkett elaborates on this particular situation: “I have to say that I am so proud of Stacey. She was in a very dark place on our FAT 25 year anniversary tour, and the band ended up having to leave the tour, possibly breaking up for good. Over the years, we have put a lot of band members through rehab, but it’s up the individual to do the work. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Looking yourself in the mirror and not liking what you see is a very hard thing to overcome. Stacey has come back better and stronger and pissed off and ready to change the world. These four woman have really gelled as a band, and found their voice together. It’s awesome.”
The tide may be turning in a more positive and encouraging direction both for the band and for society as a whole again, but as the Bad Cop/Bad Cop ladies note, it won’t do so without education and hard work. That we’re at a point where a group of four women who are not, as Cotterill states it, “twenty-anythings,” is a bit of a light in the darkness in and of itself. “For people to like us as women in our thirties and forties is fucking killer,” explains Dee. “We definitely have something to say and stand by, and I think we have to lead this revolution!”
Warriors was obviously released last Friday (June 16th) on Fat Wreck. Bad Cop / Bad Cop are playing the duration of this year’s Warped Tour, which also kicked off last Friday in Seattle; head here for info on your local stop!
Head below to check out our email exchange with the one-and-only Erin Burkett and the text of our far-reaching and in-depth chat with Dee and Cotterill below!