“I don’t want to be known as a band that’s always on a downer, just because we’re fucked up,” concludes Rebuilder’s Sal Medrano as we wrap up a near hour-long chat. It’s a comment that comes as a surprise considering the ease with which Medrano talks (and, by his own admission, he talks a lot). “I do sing a lot about depression and feelings of giving up,” he says, “but I always make sure there’s a positive note. Like it could be a small hiccup, but it’s not the end of the world. I think that’s the point I’ve reached in my life.”
It is this positivity – or at least resolution – that is the take home message from Rebuilder’s excellent new EP ‘Sounds From The Massachusetts Turnpike’. Sure, life throws up challenges, but it’s how you respond to them that matters. “I’ll live and die a thousand times before I ever get things right,” they sing on ‘Vivr & Morir’ and it’s this stubborn, gritty stoicism that represents life for millions of people the world over; people just trying to get through the day as best they can.
And at present, the world is challenging, and especially so for an Hispanic-American living in the age of Donald Trump’s Government by Twitter. “Living here when Trump got elected, it was really scary. It still is,” says Medrano. “It’s this looming thing in the air; like every day there’s a new fucking surprise that takes us 20 steps back in history. It’s unreal. Me being Hispanic and seeing how immigrants were treated in this country, literally overnight, it was so disheartening.”
In response, Medrano and Rebuilder spent much of the tail end of last year and the early part of 2017 raising money for MALDEF – the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. MALDEF was established in 1968 as a non-profit civil rights organisation, and it supports access to legal aid for Hispanic Americans. In the face of Donald Trump’s diatribes against the Hispanic population, Medrano was keen to support his heritage in the same way many bands were supporting Planned Parenthood.
“I felt that there was also another group of people who needed immediate help in this country because of the President and the laws that he’s putting into action,” he says. “The fact that punk kids were coming together shows that people do care.
"You know, my parents came over here – legally – but it was difficult for them. They came over for school, but they had someone in the family who could pay their legal bills. If you don’t have the means of doing that, and you’re scared to live where you are, and you are willing to put yourself in a life or death situation to cross the border; that’s pretty dramatic. And that’s the world we live in now.
"So I said, if we’re going to do something, we should raise money for immigrants in this country who need representation. And looking around, I really like MALDEF as they’re able to provide counsel for people who need legal representation.
So the band released a special single featuring the songs ‘Singing For Our Future’ and a cover of Elvis Costello’s ‘Radio Radio’, and also collected money at the merch table at shows. Like many in the underground punk scene, it was a point of defiance. "It shows a lot of people in this community really do give a shit,” affirms Medrano.
Medrano is entrenched in the punk community in Boston; a scene lifer, if you will. And his passion for the city shines through. From being driven to Lansdowne to watch punk shows by his mum as a teenager, to slinging merch for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and the Dropkick Murphys, there’s an affinity there when he talks about his hometown that is infectious. It’s the opposite in fact to that pop-punk trope of having to leave your town to make something of yourself. Even then though, he appreciates the challenges. He may love the town, but there are no rose-tinted glasses…
“When you’re from here, there are a lot of things that you’re up against,” he says. “I’m sure it’s that way for a lot of bands in certain cities wherever you go, but I think Boston, in particular, can be a really difficult city.
"Even weather-wise; we get tonnes of snow in the winter – and it’s really fucking hot in the summertime. You can’t play a lot of shows in the winter, so that’s when we write. But you can’t come here and not hear people bitch about the weather. It’s in your DNA.”
He also acknowledges the struggle up-and-coming bands face. It’s a town where the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Dropckick Murpheys still dominate, with new punk bands failing to pick up the baton, instead of putting out a couple of well-received records before calling it quits. “There are so many good bands here, but a lot of them don’t last – they break up pretty fast,” he considers. “You ask someone who their favourite band is, and they’ll give you a big long list and maybe only 2 will be around still.”
There is, however, still this sense of community. Opening for the Bosstones or Dropkicks remains a big deal for Medrano while building relationships with the scene’s older statesman has served to validate his work:
“When we opened for the Bosstones, Dickie [Barrett – The Mighty Mighty Bosstones vocalist] said to me ‘wow, you guys sound like a real band’,” laugh Medrano. “It means mean a lot to me coming from him because I’ve seen him play since high school, I’ve worked for him and it’s one of those things where it’s like you want your ‘Dad’ to think you’re doing a good job.
"The fact that he thought what we were doing was cool; made me feel good about what we’re doing. It’s Dickie Barrett, you, know!?’”
And when it comes from the mouth of Dickie Barrett, it’s arguably a stronger endorsement for just how great Rebuilder are than a string of four and five-star reviews. That said, ‘Sounds From The Massachusetts Turnpike’ is punk rock at it’s very best, and you really should check it out…
‘Sounds From The Massachusetts Turnpike’ by Rebuilder is out now on Panic State Records.
Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair)