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Let Fury Have the Hour: Part 1

Talking about war resistance, water justice and punk rock with "The Biggest Little City in the World's" snake charmers, the Cobra Skulls

by Cameron Fenton

The Cobra Skulls: Devin Peralta (left) and Charlie Parker (right
The Cobra Skulls: Devin Peralta (left) and Charlie Parker (right
coming soon a tap near you: "we’re using more fresh water than is being replenished, there is less and less potable water while we’re building cities in dessert and bringing water from other locations where it is supposed to be"
coming soon a tap near you: "we’re using more fresh water than is being replenished, there is less and less potable water while we’re building cities in dessert and bringing water from other locations where it is supposed to be"

In 1795, The Philadelphia Minerva, a weekly chronicle published the lyrics to “Women’s Rights”, an ode to the suffrage movement sung to the tune of “God Save the Queen”, and so the first official protest song was penned in North America. 

From plantations, to picket lines and prison cells music has long been the sonic manifestation of the soul, spirit and rage of our struggles.  Music has passed from generation to generation carrying people’s histories.  Throughout the decades, peoples’ struggle has been defined by anthemic choruses and refrains that crystalized social movements in song.

This is part 1 of an ongoing series examining the state of underground resistance music today, following the tradition of People’s Songs – a group founded in 1945 to preserve, create and promote music that reflected struggle –turn it up.

The Cobra Skulls – hailing from Reno, Nevada – infectiously catchy blend of punk rock, folk and rockabilly combines both message and medium with sonic and ideological urgency.  Their latest record, 2009’s American Rubicon, takes on a range of issues from Iraq war resistance, to public transportation and water justice.

“Most of what I wrote about on American Rubicon was just personal experiences and observations,” Devin Peralta, lead singer and bassist, said. “It’s more about what I have been observing over the last couple of years and the experiences that I had and the people I met.”

The song H.D.U.I (Honorable Discharge Under the I) tells the story of his interaction with an Iraq war resister on a Reno street corner. 

“I was working [as a canvaser] for the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] trying to sign people up on the street,” he explained. “This bystander heard my tagline ‘do you want to help us stop President Bush and his abuse of power?’  [The man] told me a story about how he had just gotten back from Iraq on his second tour.  He wanted to get out of the army without having to go back on his third tour, he was really depressed about his position over there – his brigade was guarding an oil pipeline.” 

The soldier had enlisted in order to get his G.I. bill to pay for college. 

“He said he felt that ‘there’s one reason why we’re here, and its not to find weapons its for oil’...he figured that he could keep his money for college if he got a D.U.I. and got an honorable discharge,” Peralta explained. “He just drank two or three beers to get over limit, went and drove around for a while until a superior officer pulled him over and was honorably discharged.”

He got to keep his G.I. money. 

For Peralta, punk music and political engagement have always been intertwined.

“I found punk rock when I was in Junior High, I think thats a point in peoples lives when they’re trying to find out who they are and what is going on with the world, and punk rock was the only thing that grabbed me, one of what was on the radio really spoke to me,”  he said, describing growing up in a political household. “I grew up with parents who were political, my mom was an activist growing up, talking about nothing but politics, so it just seemed right when a music came to me that was speaking in political undertones.”

It seems that the Cobra Skulls aim to continue passing that tradition onto their fans, especially in what can often be a climate of political apathy.

“I feel like there are maybe less punk banks like that now than in the days of Ronald Reagan when all the punk bands were pretty pissed off about what was going on and rejecting the ‘me’ generation and that sentiment...[today] a lot of people just don’t care. The majority of people in general don’t really care about [politics] so you could say there is going to be less people that grab onto what we’re singing about, but I get a lot of people coming up and thanking us for what we singing about,” he said. “It does get through to some people, and I think those people are going to me more passionate that if we were just singing about girls.”

Musically, punk has always been the expression of rage, angst, discontent and depression, turning the music scene into a broadcast antenna for political messages and struggles.

“I would have to say [the message dictates the medium], whether I intend it or not, a love song shouldn’t sound like a Slayer song.  If I am writing something with a political undertone to it where I’m pissed off about something the song will probably sound a more pissed off and aggressive.  At the same time, there’s so many different bands that have some political undertone to their music I feel that they are still all different.” 

For Devin and the Cobra Skulls, their songs address stories and issues that fall through the massive cracks of the corporate media.  The song “the Cobra and the Man Whore” on 2007‘s Standing Army took on the case of a homophobic evangelist who turned out to be a homosexual, which Peralta thought  “was a really big issue that was skipped by the media.”

The influence of personal experience on musical direction iis perhaps best exemplified in the song Exponential Times, which deals with water justice and the looming threat of severe water shortages around the globe.  

“My great-great Grandfather built the L.A. aqueduct. He was the head of Water and Power under 5 mayors in L.A. during the turn of the century and brought water to L.A. at time when the population was diminishing, people were actually leaving. Water has always been a big issue in my family, with our world being more and more populated, we’re using more fresh water than is being replenished, there is less and less potable water while we’re building cities in dessert and bringing water from other locations where it is supposed to be.”

This collision of storytelling and political urgency creates a compelling call to action for a time where, 

“The golden age is never coming back, Getting out was not part of the plan,
You’re just a victim of an old design, Falling behind in exponential times.”

I caught up with the Cobra Skulls on their recent Canadian tour with the Flatliners and Broadway Calls, you can listen to some songs here and watch the awesome video for Rebel Fate here

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