Where are all the punk and ska kids at? I know you still exist! Well listen up, because I have a seriously great new band for you to check out. Detroit, MI’s, We Are The Union, describe themselves as “fast dudes, fast tunes” and, for what it’s worth, I completely back it. Venturing outside of the typical ska sound by drawing on hardcore influences from the likes of Lifetime and Slapstick, WATU are a breath of fresh punk rock air. Check out my interview with the band’s veg members, Reed Wolcott (vocals, guitar) and Brandon Benson (bass) and enter to win a copy of their new album, Great Leaps Forward.
1. What prompted you to become vegetarian? Were there any bands, books, etc. that influenced your decision?
Brandon: My first brush with veganism came as a three or four week tour challenge a couple years ago. Reed and our old saxophone player are vegan and I always enjoyed the food they ate and related to their ideals so I decided to give it a try. I managed to eat vegan until the last day in Philly where I ate a cheese steak at Jim’s on South Street, which actually turned out to be the last place I ate meat. Since then I took up vegetarianism and then eventually became vegan. Books to check out are Farm Sanctuary by Gene Baur, which is about a guy that rescues living discarded animals from factories and Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, which is basically an objective report on “agribusiness” and the effects of animal products on people and the world.
Reed: I was an on and off vegetarian when I was 18 and 19. Bands like Strike Anywhere, Rise Against and NOFX played a big role in that, but I had trouble sticking to it. My girlfriend was also vegetarian, and we were both interested in veganism. We decided to go vegan together, so we were there to help each other out. Committing fully to veganism really helped me get serious about animal rights. As it turns out, it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
2. What are some of your favorite vegetarian and/or vegan foods?
Brandon: When it comes to the basics I’m happy with a burrito or portabella sandwich, but when I’ve got time to cook I like reinventing old comfort foods like BBQ chicken pizza, baked macaroni and cheese, steak enchiladas, lasagna, all kinds of stuff. There’s this new tapioca-based cheese stuff made by a company called Daiya that melts, stretches and tastes like real cheese, which is a new phenomenon for us veggies.
Reed: I could spend hours answering this question. I love Indian food. There’s a place in Ann Arbor called Earthen Jar. It’s a mostly vegan Indian buffet. That’s one of my favorite places to eat. Sticky Rice in Richmond is another great place. Lots of vegan Chinese and Japanese dishes. The sushi is great and, I feel like a ten year old for saying this, but their tater tots are amazing.
3. Of all of the major animal rights issues are there any that are particularly close to your heart?
Brandon: It’d be nice if people held the same compassion they reserve for dogs and cats for all animals. A lot of people will get really upset over certain forms of animal cruelty, especially involving pets. But they manage to not lose any sleep over the fact that by eating factory farmed meat they’re supporting an industry that basically takes animals and turns them into living mutated chemical flesh balls, stuffs them into cages, mutilates them, and then calls their practices humane.
Reed: The cruelty of factory farming plays a huge part in my interest in animal rights, but my main reason for living a vegan lifestyle is that factory farming is the single biggest source of pollution. I don’t see how someone could call themselves an environmentalist and eat meat. Beyond that, I know that peta2 is petitioning to remove animals from the circus. That one really hit home with me. I remember going to the circus as a kid, and of course I had no idea what those animals’ lives were really like, but I can’t help but feel guilty now that I know how cruelly they’re treated. So I’m glad that’s something peta2 is addressing.
4. If a fan were to approach you with questions about how to get involved with animal rights, what advice would you give him or her?
Brandon: Educate yourself on where exactly your food comes from and how it gets to your plate. If the truth moves you, consider veganism. And don’t be an obnoxious loud-mouth about how you don’t eat meat. It will only further the stereotype and scare people away from the cause.
Reed: First, know that you can stop eating meat. You can stop eating cheese, milk and eggs. Absolutely anyone can. It’s also important to be nice about animal rights (as hard as that can be) and to be respectful of people who don’t understand your decision. Unfortunately, we vegans are often stereotyped as angry radicals who try to force our views on other people, so go out of your way to be friendly—even when people are rude and condescending. Educate yourself and keep conversation civil. Remember: when people act like jerks, they’ve probably already decided that you’re a stuck up know-it-all, so prove them wrong!
5. What do you guys have coming up that we can be looking forward to?
Brandon: At the moment we’re writing new songs, and we might have an EP of sorts including a couple covers out later in the summer. We’re talking about doing a music video, and we’re playing The Suicide Machines reunion show in Detroit at the end of July. We’ll be hitting the Pacific Northwest as well as most of Canada and some of the Midwest US with Strung Out, Rufio and Mute this August and September. We’re also going to try hitting the UK and Europe in the fall, so we’ve got quite a bit to be excited about and we hope to make lots of new friends.
Thanks guys! Great advice from a great band. To check out all the band’s tour dates head to their MySpace, and be sure to add them on Facebook, too! For your chance to win a copy of Great Leaps Forward, leave a comment below with what prompted you to become vegetarian/vegan. Entries must be received by August 11, 2010. Three winners will be chosen at random and notified on August 13, 2010.
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