Terminal Nation Kurt Lunsford

Call it powerviolence, call it hardcore punk, call it metal. Whatever you call it, Stan Liszewski and his band Terminal Nation have been channeling rage and fury about police brutality, corporate corruption and systemic injustice into thrashing anti-fascist anthems for a few years now, and their latest, “Holocene Extinction,” is no exception. We talked with Liszewski ahead of Terminal Nation’s set for “Mutants of the Monster II,” a virtual heavy music fest organized by Christopher Terry (Rwake, Deadbird, Iron Tongue), which airs on Arkansas Times’ YouTube channel at 7 p.m. Jan 1-2, 2021. Admission to view is free, but we suggest you donate to the performing artists, who haven’t been able to tour or play live shows (read as: make money) since the onset of the pandemic.

Your music always, always sounds to me like there’s a complete fire lit under your ass. There’s an immediacy and an urgency to it. What’s the fire? Like, what really drives that level of energy for you?

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I’ve always used music as my outlet to unleash any and all of my frustrations. The fire stems from a combination of things, from both a first person and third person perspective. Any adversity that I have personally experienced, on both a macro and micro level, I try to channel that and use it as fuel when writing, recording, or performing. When writing, a large chunk of our subject matter is based on issues going on in the world around us. Sometimes I’ll hyper-focus on a specific incident or sometimes I’ll direct my rage at more systemic, global issues. Either way, the writing process comes pretty naturally when focusing on something, whether it be a specific target or general issue.

This sounds absolutely unhinged, but I have this “ritual” per se that I do right before every live set we play, in the moments leading up to that first note, I will just kind of stare off into space and I’ll try to run some images through my head of people or experiences that have upset me the most in my life, just to get in that right, angry headspace. The anger you see on stage isn’t phoned in. It’s totally genuine. I often hear music critics mention that this band is one of the most “pissed off” bands they’ve ever heard, which is really saying something in a genre that’s built on anger, but I assure you that with this band, it’s 100% legitimate.

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Kurt Lunsford
Terminal Nation

The new record is called “Holocene Extinction,” on 20 Buck Spin, and recorded it here in town, with Jason Tedford of Wolfman Studios. Can you talk a little about your connection to Arkansas, and to the scene here?

Arkansas is my home. I’ve lived here for the majority of my life at this point. There had always been a pretty strong local support for us here, especially in Little Rock, since the inception of this band and I’m grateful of that. I don’t think I’m telling any secrets when I say that, naturally, the music scene here is smaller than it is in other larger cities, but for what we may lack in relative numbers, I think we make up for in passion. Maybe that means that us and other bands like us from here have to fight a little bit harder for more national or international attention, but I’m okay with that. Also, a fun fact: Terminal Nation, I believe, is now the third band to work with the Pittsburgh-based label, 20 Buck Spin. They have also released records for Pallbearer and Deadbird, so maybe people are starting to take notice that folks have cultivated something really special here.

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On the description for the record, there’s a little prologue that says “America is a tinderbox. Lockdowns, pandemic, police brutality, kleptocracy, the orange menace. The injustice system is alive and well,” and that you are “lashing out at institutional corruption and racist power structures,” you say, “not from a liberal coastal enclave where it’s a generally welcome message but from Deep Red Arkansas.” Why do you think, in 2020, politics belong in our music?

Politics have a place in almost every facet of life. Music has always been a place to make your voice heard. Politics have been ingrained in art and music for eons, and 2020 should be no exception, especially on a local level. There is so much in this world that we, as individuals, have no control over. Can I go tweet at the president or tweet at certain Congress people to do better? Sure. I can write them and tell them to do better. Hell, I can even vote for them to do better, but will it happen? Maybe, maybe not. However, when it comes to our local music community, can we help to change perspectives of those that have regressive mindsets? Can we push for a music scene that’s a safe space for marginalized folks who struggle in finding a safe space anywhere else? Can we push for a music scene that’s open to anyone who shares that mentality? Can we have a music scene with people who are decent to one another? Yes, and it’s totally within reason, and it’s something that a number of folks here are helping to implement. I value my space, my art, my friends, and my community too much to share it with garbage people that don’t believe in human decency.

You strike me as a person who has a good time with social media’s more absurd qualities. And I thought it would be a fun game to read a few of your social media posts and ask you to elaborate on them, just a few choice ones like “Abolish Weezer,” you know? Would that be okay? 

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Okay, this sounds fun. I think, like many other millennials around my age range, we were the first generation, as teens, who grew up with social media on a large scale. We were kind of like the trial run for it. For me it was MySpace in high school. You could post a MySpace bulletin in the evening and maybe the next day you’d get beat up by someone for what you posted or you’d get suspended for what you posted or something. Even if people know you in person, there’s a weird level of anonymity involved in communicating through a screen rather than face to face. It was the ultimate crutch for people like myself who sometimes struggle with social awkwardness, cutting out any level intimacy involved in communication, making it easier to say anything you want with no immediate, real life repercussion. Understanding that early on, I learned not to take social media too seriously at all. I have to remind myself of that sometimes. If it wasn’t for music promotion I would have no social media at all. When I post on non-music stuff, I try to keep it at least a little comedic.

That said, I’m sure the dudes in Weezer are very fine people, but if I ever hear another song by them, it’ll be too soon.

Totally. Okay, here goes: “GIVE MEGAN THEE STALLION THE NUCLEAR CODES.”

Let’s be honest, I’d trust her with them more than the person that has them now.

Number two: “Spoiler alert: no stimulus, no healthcare, no ubi…. but…. but there is a corporate liability shield.”

This was a rebuttal to one of the many rumored COVID bills that was supposedly going to be proposed. It’s no surprise that these politicians are putting corporations above struggling working class people. Historically, it’s been that way for decades. Cracking jokes about stuff like that helps to cope with just how bleak the reality of it is.

Okay last one: “GOD I WOULD GIVE ANYTHING TO SEE THE SLIPKNOT BAND GROUP CHAT.”

Ask anyone in a band how difficult it is to coordinate schedules for three to five people for practices. It’s a nightmare. Slipknot has nine members. There’s a guy in the band who, I think, his role is to just hit an empty keg with a baseball bat. What if he has a prior obligation and can’t make practice? Do they cancel or go on without him? I need to know what that conversation is like.

I was reading an interview that a blog called Heaviest of Art did with you this month, and it struck me that in your responses, you talk pretty openly about your mental health. Do you worry that people in the heavy music scene stigmatize talking about mental health?

Not just in heavy music, but in society as whole, mental health is far too stigmatized. For a long time, I kept these things on the down low, but I’ve had positive experiences in being more open about stuff recently. Prefacing your friends, family, partner or whatever with a little explanation of your perspective and how you experience and manage situations can go a long way. There’s no shame in that.

Kurt Lunsford
Terminal Nation

I’m not gonna call it a guilty pleasure, but what’s an album that we might be surprised to discover that you love?

I’ve spent a lot of my quarantine listening to music of all sorts, so I have a few I can throw at you off the cuff here. Panic! at the Disco’s “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out” is such a fun, well-paced album that holds up well, unlike many of their Hot Topic scene peers of that era. It always seems to sneak its way onto a playlist in the van on nearly every tour I’ve ever been on. Also, if I’m looking to inject a little energy into my day and put myself in an upbeat mood, it’s really hard to beat the first two Madonna records and the first two Lady Gaga records.