Interview: Militarie Gun’s Ian Shelton Is Here to Destroy All ‘Cool Guys’ in Music

Via Daniel Topete
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It’s an understatement to say it’s been a hell of a year for Militarie Gun and frontman Ian Shelton.

This past year, Militarie Gun has seen the kind of success that rarely comes to a band playing loud rock music. They set the internet ablaze at the end of last year for soundtracking a Taco Bell commercial with their highly infectious “Do It Faster,” and earlier this year were announced as one of the few rock bands playing 2024’s iteration of Coachella.

Of course, all overnight successes never actually happen overnight: Shelton has been grinding at his craft for nearly half of his life. Since beginning to tour at 17, Shelton has performed in a wide swath of punk bands including powerviolence stalwarts Regional Justice Center. It’s this wide range of different genres that helps inform Militarie Gun’s take on rock music. On their 2023 debut Life Under the Gun, Shelton and company find an infectious sound without sacrificing edge, complete with heavy riffs and raspy vocals. At the music’s core are Shelton’s lyrics, which manage to be simultaneously hyper-specific and genuinely relatable. “My Friends Are Having a Hard Time” dives into the helpless feeling when tragedy strikes the ones you love and not being able to take away that pain. Even on a song like “Very High,” the feelings of malaise and worry are disguised on a deceptively simple hook.

It’s these elements coming together that help elevate the band to the front of the current pack of hardcore-adjacent rock groups. Right now, Militarie Gun is on a headlining tour of the United States, and with more and more shows selling out, it’s a testament to just how hot the band’s moving right now. During a break in New Mexico, we spoke to Shelton about the band’s recent successes, the differences in writing rock music over punk and much more. Grab tickets here, and pick up Life Under the Gun now.

THE PIT: It’s been interesting watching you through during the rise of Militarie Gun. I’ve only really seen you in relation to Regional Justice Center and other hardcore bands, and now people totally outside of those worlds are listening to your music. What’s that been like? 
Ian Shelton: I mean, from the start, at least for Militarie Gun, we always had the sense that we weren’t actually for hardcore people. From jump, we would notice that it was kind of a weirder audience or a little bit more of a normal, adjacent audience, even at early shows. So now, not seeing the front row being all hardcore shirts isn’t surprising because it’s kind of been building that way the whole time. The only goal we had starting the band was to write great songs. So as long as we hit that, mark, we feel like we’re doing what we want to do.

What have the shows on the headliner been like so far?
Last night was the first one and man I was buzzed off of it. We have this space to play different types of songs, older songs, songs that don’t have a ton of energy, we busted out the song “Sway Too” from the album, that’s a deep cut and it’s my favorite song on the record. It’s not meant to move your body but the crowd was very into it still. It was cool seeing the way that they accepted the dynamics of the band. 

How much harder is writing a rock song than a powerviolence song?
A powerviolence song is the hardest song to write. So in it’s worst form, powerviolence is slapdash bullshit. There are so many bands that are like that. This is why most of the genre is not remarkable in any way.

Right, I guess bad powerviolence is very easy to write whereas good powerviolence is pretty rare and difficult to pull off. 
Exactly. That’s the thing, we have a lot of intention going into it and intention is really the thing. Theoretically, if you ingest all of these great records over time, you can interpret anything and turn it into something new that is your own. At the same time, it’s like, alright, well do we do the Crossed Out thing here? Like, how do we make that new and exciting or different? So there’s a lot of thought that goes into those songs in a way where it’s less than intuitive because we’re more critical of the genre.

My thing with writing rock songs is I’m a very naive songwriter. I chased naivete through the incompetence of my own guitar playing embracing simplicity, and trying to add personality versus trying to make a guitar riff that nobody could have ever conceived before. It’s about following intuition, and because of that, it can be very easy to write those songs because it’s just intuitive and interest-based.

For sure. I mostly phrased it that way just because I always feel like writing rock music is maybe taken less seriously or as though it’s less complicated than heavier forms of music by our audience. So much of Militarie Gun’s music is extremely catchy, but it always feels like there’s such a razor’s edge between writing something corny and obvious versus a song feeling real, for lack of a better term.
There is a tight wire act for sure where you can go corny, really quickly. But that’s where personality and tastes come into play. I played the songs a lot for people, and I just read their body language, not what they necessarily say. while they’re listening to the song, I try to suss out what message they’re receiving and the way they’re feeling about it without words.

The whole thing is that you have to risk being corny. My goal was to forget the concept of being corny because I cared about that too much for a very long time. So it’s like, “All right, well, if you think it’s corny, that’s great for you. I don’t.” As long as it passes my test, then it then it works.

It’s not an easy thing to let go of. I think especially in music there’s always this reflexive need or desire to impress somebody who doesn’t exist. Like learning it’s okay to be cringy or goofy as opposed to worrying about, I dunno…
The “cool guy.” Yeah, the “cool guy” is the biggest downfall to sincerity there ever was. Like, I also own a lot of very obscure seven inches. Listening to truly unpopular and non-commercial music informs my music, but at the same time, it doesn’t mean that I’m better than anyone else. Self-curation of your image steps on actual self-expression because there’s a filter that doesn’t allow true expression.

Think about all of the coolest, most hyped things that have happened over the past handful of years in hardcore. The coolest one is almost always the least sincere and has the least staying power because it doesn’t emotionally speak to anybody. So when you watch that cycle over fifteen years of being involved in Hardcore you realize, “Oh, so those people I used to care about impressing a lot, actually are nothing. They’re not even good artists.” They’re just people who step in just to recreate the high school microcosm that they were on the losing end of. I was on the losing end of the high school microcosm as well. But I would rather speak to somebody emotionally, and share something instead of [my music] being pretentious or feeling better than somebody by having better music tastes or whatever the fuck.

I have the very lame analog of looking up to music writers early in my career. Eventually meeting them in real life after interacting online, you realize “Why was I trying to impress this loser?” And that helps erode any hierarchy and you realize you’re free to do whatever you want.
I mean everyone gives themselves their “title,” basically. It’s so weird that how often people fall in line behind someone being like, “Nope, I’m the authority. You’re stupid. And I’m smart.” And you’re like, “Oh, okay.” Because I guess everyone’s insecure at the end of the day. That’s kind of where those people gain their power, by just tricking insecure people into believing everything they say. It’s not great, and I resent it. My whole goal has been to destroy it.

It’s a good goal to have.
I think about my position now, I can teach a younger group of people not to waste their time with that shit. That’s exciting to me, the idea of freeing someone from these things that I cared about at one point that never served me and only got in the way of making good art.

From a young band’s perspective, I’d imagine you’re the walking ideal right now. You’re on Coachella and are in commercials without having sacrificed anything.
Definitely. I hope that the takeaway is that it’s about just doing what you want. Labels didn’t want to sign Militarie Gun, we didn’t seem like we would be a success. When we hit the public with “Do It Faster” and all of those things, it was becoming more clear. We were building way before that, but the commercial promise didn’t seem to be there for anybody. The only thing [driving the band] was just thinking, “This is the music I want to hear. That’s it.”

Do you ever feel like you’ve shared too much about yourself in your lyrics? 
All the time, yeah.

I remember when you were doing the podcast with Patrick [Kindlon, Drug Church], there was an episode where you spoke about your brother’s incarceration and he spoke about his father’s. It resonated with me, but also I remember thinking how hard it is to have that out there. I was working at a men’s luxury lifestyle site at the time and I included it in some listicle, and I felt guilty after thinking, “Does this audience have a right to hear this story?”
I mean, with RJC it’s my biggest regret in that way, where I’ve largely defined my brother’s life [through my lyrics]. I have a lot of guilt about that. But he sings half of the new RJC record and I sing half of the new RJC record. There’s a song on it where it’s like “Did I save or ruin a life?” and it’s called “Prying Eyes.” It’s literally about inviting all these eyes onto our lives.

At the same time, he wants to be an artist and a musician. When you do that your life is a public spectacle to a large degree. That’s the responsibility you take. That’s why all of these people get fucking canceled, because their private life is different than their public life and people resent the lack of continuity between the two. I don’t know, I don’t regret it because I think that [my lyrics] probably find people like myself who would have loved to hear these things when I was young. It is a very strange dynamic, but at the same time, I’ve always been big on just putting out who I am and embracing all the fucked up shit that I’ve been through. To me, the ultimate thing is just how do I how do I get paid for it? I feel like God owes me money for what I went through, so I’m gonna fucking get it. [Laughs]