Brian Walker performs as the frontman for the project A Day Without Love. What started as a solo, acoustic outfit took a turn for the folk punk after a collaboration with producer Jake Detwiler back in 2013. Since then, ADWL has included a rotating cast of talented musicians with whom Walker has collaborated with, and has released a plethora of singles and albums, including one of their latest singles, Caffeine, which was released earlier this year (2022). In his personal life, Walker is an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness and proudly identifies as a Christian Baptist, (NOT to be confused with Southern, or Westboro Baptist as he would like pointed out). Mars spoke to him over the phone on Tuesday, the 15th for about half an hour on the intersection of religion, race, and the folk punk community.
Mars: What is your religious background?
Brian: I was raised a Baptist and I still am a Baptist and that is not to be confused with a southern baptist, like Westboro Baptists ‘cause those are two extremely, extremely different things. And I want that to be known, because I think the media really destroyed the perception of what it means to be Baptist.
Mars: Yeah, I get that. Living in the south I can confirm there are Baptists and there are Southern Baptists, and you do have to ask them which they are because they’re SO different. I can see where you have to make that distinction.
Mars: What kind of place does religion hold for you in the world of folk punk?
Brian: For me, its very personal, as opposed to like, external, and what I mean by that is, like, I like to pray between gigs, I like to pray after gigs. Because as a Black man, as a solo traveler, as a musician, you just never know what can happen. I’ve played gigs where, on the way to the gig, someone has tried to shoot me, or rob me, or harass me or assault me…and yeah, I may be 6’ and 230, 240 pounds, it doesn’t credit from the fact that we’re all in danger. And I think a lot in the punk community, we think those at risk are only non-men. And I’m not denying that non-men have dangers that are different from men, I’m also not denying my own privilege as a man or a bigger bodied person, but I am acknowledging that I’m a Black man. A lot of people don’t give the empathy to Black men, especially in DIY communities. Partially because we don’t exist in DIY, and secondly, most people view Black men as intimidating due to racism. So I acknowledge these very worldly behaviors and I give it up to God. I can’t change that fact that people perceive me, when they don’t know me, as intimidating…but once they know me, I mean, I’ve been called a teddy bear, which might also be problematic because teddy bears are usually considered, like, “oh you’re making fun of my body,” but really, I’m a gentle giant. I am stronger than most people…but really, I just give it up to God, from the perception of self, to be safe. To make sure I don’t get robbed because I’ve been robbed before, make sure I don’t get shot at because I’ve been shot at before. It’s kinda like my serenity to accept the things that I can’t control. No music community is perfect but what’s interesting about punk or DIY communities is, a lot of times we espouse these values of be right to one another, respect each other’s pronouns, make the space accessible and not ableist, but a lot of times that’s not practiced, or you do all those things and still be racist. It often annoys me and I use God, and I use religion to accept those things I can’t control and move forward and focus on the positive things. That’s not to be confused with toxic positivity, that is to really manage my healthy relationship with punk and a musician and as a Christian person too.
Mars: That must be really difficult to deal with, as a person and as a performer.
Brian: It shows itself in passive aggressive ways all the time. Like, “I believe in Black Lives Matter, but like…”
I did the research, and I recognized that I’m the most prolific [Black] musician in folk punk and eventually probably punk music…and then all these people use the “quality not quantity” excuse, but look at Frankie Cosmos…Frankie Cosmos has 100 releases, right, and granted, Frankie Cosmos is good, but a lot of people value Frankie Cosmos just because they have so many releases. And what is Frankie Cosmos? A queer person who’s not a man. So take me, a Black man, why am I not valid for doing the exact same thing! I often feel that, and I realize that I can’t let that define me even though I do believe I should be recognized for my work. So I put that into religion. And sometimes I’ve used God in lyrics, but I do sometimes feel like my output is not recognized as a direct result of social and systemic racism.
Mars: What kind of space do you think religion holds in the wider scene?
Brian: I think it’s sometimes distorted. Sometimes people like to make fun of bands that are Christian, which I think is really wrong.
Mars: Harkens back to the days of “Oh, you listen to UnderOath???”
Brian: Yeah, so what if you listen to UnderOath, you can’t go and say “Oh my God, you listen to UnderOath???” and then be like, “Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper ever”, because Kendrick Lamar is literally a Christian rapper. There’s so many popular musicians who are Christian. It doesn’t just stop with Christianity, ‘cause then — It kinda almost makes you look performative, makes you look like an asshole — when you make fun of a person’s religion, because like, if you’re gonna make fun of someone’s religion, then make fun of their race. If you’re gonna make fun of someone’s race, make fun of their gender, and the list goes on, right? Religion is a part of how someone sees the world and sees themselves on a personal level.
Brian: It’s all distorted, because there are songs that have cut through the punk space, a la Circa Survive, y’know, diving into Agnosticism and the idea of faith, and their records Juturna, and On Letting Go, I can keep going! Manchester Orchestra, and so forth and so forth and so forth. I feel like, there’s this performative, ‘you can’t talk about God ‘cause it’s not cool’ but it totally is cool! I mean, Paramore is literally a Christian band whether you want to admit it or not! So I guess what I’m trying to say is, I think it plays a part, but I don’t think people are unified on the idea. And I think that’s partially trauma informed, and it’s performative because people that are of belief, whether it be Christianity, or Judaism, or Islam, whether it be a non-Judeo-Christian religion…but they don’t want to admit their beliefs because they’re afraid of being vulnerable. That’s what I honestly think it is. We live in a vulnerability-avoidant society and it’s really showing itself in DIY communities.
Mars: What would you change if you could?
Brian: If it were up to me, I think it would be great if the stigma was reduced. At the end of the day, I am a Christian, and I do believe in spreading the word of God the best I can, but I don’t believe in the idea of being a Crusader, like, forcing religion onto someone. It is a known fact that gospel music is the most accessible form of music in the music industry where you can make a lot of money but not “be famous”. I think the problem with that is like, are you religious or are you just capitalizing? Like, Bishop T. D. Jakes has an album but he’s literally not singing. That’s where the capitalism and consumerism of Christianity comes in. I don’t think the solution is make more Christian bands…I think the solution is, “how can we reduce the stigma of someone speaking up for about their faith”. When I think about the topic of singing about faith, I have a song called Never Judge, and the hook is literally, “God told us to never judge.” Its self-explanatory. We need to live in a world that’s more open-minded. We say that we’re open-minded in left leaning scenes, but we’re not. It’s like, ‘okay, I’m open-minded, I like tattoos and piercings!’ Alright, cool, well bring your friend with tattoos and piercings home. “Oh, no, I can’t do that, my parents can’t see that!” Or, like, Black Lives Matter. If you believe in Black Lives Matter, go to the party, go to the cookout. In this case, I wish the stigma of Christianity was reduced, because we’re not all bigots, we’re not all homophobic, we do accept Queer people in the church, we do want people of different colors and races to come to church, a lot of us are pro-choice, not just pro-life. I kinda wish that more people had an actual open-mind that allowed religion to be in the conversation. At the end of the day, all non-white people aren’t the same, all Queer people aren’t the same, and all religious people aren’t the same. If we had that fluidity, then you allow relationship, conversation, and understanding of people who are religious to have a place in DIY.
Mars: How do you feel like your approach to making folk punk music is different from a non-religious person making folk punk music, like…Pat the Bunny was always vocal about atheism, do you feel like the same applies to your Christian place? Do you think the music is coming from a similar place or a different place? From what you can assume.
Brian: No. The thing about atheists — and this is not “all is true” – but I feel like atheists are louder about being atheists than Christians are about being Christians. Right now, I do want to write about faith and God, but I’m not there yet spiritually. Even when I do that I don’t think that I’d take the Pat the Bunny approach. In the lens of DIY, religion is very white. What I mean by that is, you talk to most white people about religion and they’re gonna immediately start talking about trauma or how their identity disassociated with their beliefs or relationship with God. But when you talk to me about religion, speaking for myself, I’m gonna tell you about how religion helped me with my therapy and my understanding of the value of my own life so I wouldn’t kill myself. Which is a different thing that Pat the Bunny would ever discuss.
Mars: Atheists sometimes leave the faith because of some form of trauma, whereas you found trauma reinforced your relationship with God.
Brian: Partially, yeah! There’s a multitude of reasons I stayed with God. Suicide, sobriety, I’m a recovering alcoholic — 7 years, outside of suicide or alcoholism, multiple near death experiences, I almost died a couple days ago in a car accident, racism…theres so many very deep things and to say “trauma only” limits the reality of me being alive. I could also say gratitude too, I got out of a situation that was inherently, I was never supposed to get out of there – being Black in Philadelphia. I live in greater Boston now. Or my day job income, having a masters degree, the fact that I haven’t comitted a felony or been accused of a felony. The fact that I’m breathing at 34, I feel like religion, for me, is about a functioning basic ability to live, and is both trauma and non-trauma related.
Mars: How do you feel when people talk down on religion?
Brian: I find it laughable. I equate it to people who shame me for exercising, or being lactose in tolerant, or being sober for that matter. I think a lot of times that if you feel the need to critique someone for the way they live, this could go even as far as, “oh, you’re a sex worker? I’m celibate” or “you’re polyamorous, well I’m monogamous because…” I think people have a need to say something that’s counterpoint to a way someone lives because they partially don’t feel secure, or have a lack of understanding for the way that they believe in something. So with religion it’s kind of like “oh, you believe in a God? Well I believe in nothing” which is communicating that you’re struggling with a sense of self and something bigger than you. I’m the sort of Christian that believes in God for a reason, but I’m also not so close-minded as to believe that it’s the only way. He’s the way and truth for life, for me. Its not my job to worry about the other 8 billion people here. I think that when people critique it, they’re kinda being arrogant because they think its their job to laugh at people for living a different way from them.
How do you feel that faith is best explored through art?
For me, I would say music, of course, but it’s also like, poetry.
Mars: Ah, through a verbal expression.
Mars: If you could express anything to the folk punk community, to the audience reaching for this zine, what would it be?
Brian: I would say, think outside you box. Folk punk isn’t just train hopping, addiction and not taking showers. I know that sounds so silly. DIY has more faces than just white people from the suburbs. And folk punk doesn’t have to be atheist, agnostic, and apathetic. It’s okay to be of belief and have counter-organizational beliefs or beliefs of society being a better place. When you create a status quo in a system such as punk music that isn’t about the status quo but alternative thought, you’ve already failed. I think religion taught me that you’ve got to believe there’s something bigger than you to make the world a better place. And punk can be a better place, but only if you have a fluid way of thinking.
A lot of alternative cultures are both forward and backward. I think what I’m trying to say is like, in the 80’s, punk was a revolution to american suburbia, and taking race out of the equation, it was about fighting the status quo of having to do what your parents wanted you to do. And that united a lot of people. However a lot of problematic behaviors came out of that. Fast forward 30+ years to what we have today in folk punk, you’ve got people talking about kinks, you’ve got people talking about poly, you’ve got people talking about needing mental health support, that would have never been discussed 40 years ago. Something I think religion can do is help people have a sense of belief. I think now, people are using technology as false idols, which is distorting people’s sense of self. Theres nowhere in any religion where it says “compare your body to someone else’s and hate yourself” and if we had these conversations, how to be body- positive in a Christian lens, a lot of people can find confidence in themselves…this isn’t to be confused with gender dysphoria, this is about hatred of self, where people are feeling low self esteem because of what they’re seeing on screens, I think religion could really help people love what they have and love what they’re striving for.
~You can find A Day Without love on their website at adaywithoutlove.com, or Spotify, Bandcamp, and YouTube. Interview conducted by Mars.