Rent Strike is an ever-evolving music project lead by John Warmb. I caught up with John shortly before they embarked on tour with Doom Scroll, whom they have joined on banjo.
We chatted about introductions to folk punk, traveling, anime, and more.
I read somewhere that you started touring in 2012.
“Yes! That was my first tour, it was with a band called Turncoat Collective. I did play a few solo shows.
How’s the view from 10 years?
That’s such a hard question to answer, because of Covid. I think I’ll have a better grip on that after I have been out and played a couple shows on this tour. y’know, I guess my answer can only be “I’m curious to find out as well”. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m probably in it for the rest of my life, for better or for worse. At the very least it feels really good to have a solid foundation of relationships with friends who I’ve been seeing in the same music scene for the past 10 years, that long standing connection feels very powerful.”
Is that one of the things that stands out to you about the folk punk scene?
“Oh absolutely! Any music scene is like this, but I do think that folk punk, with less of the focus ostensibly being on money and commercial success, I do think there’s a huge emphasis placed on relationships within the scene that I have always really valued. It feels like connection is the primary goal and that’s always been very appealing to me.”
What was your first folk punk “experience”? What was your first song?
“I was madly in love with this person when I was like, 15 years old and we were in the back of a car and they put headphones in my ears and it was “The Acid Song” by Johnny Hobo [and the Freight Trains] and that was the first folk punk song I heard.”
that’s a great first song! that’s a very solid foundation!
“Yeah I thought so! [laughs] I remember going home and going on YouTube and looking up that record and listening and being like “damn, what the fuck is this?” from there it was Mischief Brew and all the rest, but it was one of those things that it felt like I was just waiting to encounter [folk punk]. I felt like I was perfectly primed for it. In attitude and desire.”
“I graduated HS in 2011 and I left home that following fall to go hitchhiking and hopping trains I guess, but I didn’t really realize that folk punk was even like a community or that oogles….did that? [laughs] I was just really into LOTR and really wanted to go on a journey and travel and stuff, it was not something that I ever thought there was a community attached to. It’s just kind of one of those things where you fall into something that feels really right, and it’s been a journey. There have been periods of time where I feel very disenchanted with everything in terms of the folk punk scene, but y’know. It’s one of those things, it feels so right that I can’t picture doing anything else at the end of the day.”
I would to hear more about your passion for Lord of the Rings.
I grew up listening to it, my dad and my sibling read me The Hobbit as a baby. I loved the movies when i was growing up, I read the books when I was in high school. A lot of my friends were really into smoking a lot of weed and watching Lord of the Rings when we were juniors and seniors in high school, and taking a bunch of psychedelics and stuff.”
“I came to identify with this grand narrative that was in LOTR. It’s really powerful! There’s a lot to be drawn from it especially as I was leaving home and, y’know, the thought of a journey always really appealed to me. I think that’s a very human thing, in my mind. I think being able to identify life with myth and archetype, even if you’re drawing from something like Lord of the Rings, that’s always struck me as something powerful, and a powerful force. To keep putting one foot in front of the other. Feeling like you’re on some sort of, part of some story bigger than you.”
Ah, that main character energy.
Yeah, honestly! I’ve come to realize some of the dangers in identifying with that narrative so strongly but…”
There’s room for some of it!
“Yeah! Absolutely! There’s a lot to be said…life is so confusing, we’re plopped into this world and left to figure out whatever meaning we can — Lord of the Rings is a beautiful story and a beautiful world and it’s a nice lens to slip onto things when the time calls for it.”
I would have to agree. But back to the topic of touring!!
What is your favorite place you’ve travelled or toured?
“I love Maine. It is probably my favorite places to go. I haven’t done any touring outside of the country except Canada, but yeah, Maine is always one of my favorite places to play. I’m out in Fort Collins, Colorado right now — I love Denver, thats one of my favorites. Chicago’s great, I like anywhere! I think a big part of touring for me is — the shows are obviously great and a focus, but I also love being able to see like, mountains, and like, the ocean, just pretty stuff.”
Places with a secondary draw.
“Totally. And whether that’s the specific friendships that I have in a place. Coming to Moonrunner’s was really dope and I got to stay with some pals I hadn’t seen since the beginning of the pandemic. That stuff is really special. For me its less about the theoretical quality of the shows we would play or the quality of the venues, it’s “where are my friends, where’s the pretty shit?”
Whats your favorite tour snack you can’t get anywhere near you?
100% it is — in the south they have these coolers in like, every gas station, full of Mexican ice cream, and they have these strawberries and cream popsicles that are so fucking good.
FRESAS CON CREMA!!
“YEAH! That’s exactly it! So good! I cannot get that in Michigan. So every time I cross the Mason-Dixon Line, I’m like, yes, get me to a gas station! That and boiled peanuts.”
Really?? That’s an acquired taste!
“No, I love…, the cajun boiled peanuts are the shit!”
I know so many people who live here that are like “no, no boiled peanuts for me!”
“It might be very well be because I did not grow up by them that I have acquired the taste. There’s an element of novelty to it but I love cajun boiled peanuts.”
While we’re on the topic of food — I know that you enjoy baking quite a bit.
I do, I do.
You have your own sourdough family.[laughs] Yeah I do, my community.
it IS a little community! That’s so wholesome!
Yeah, I geek out about the biochemical processes that go on with sourdough baking. They are so fascinating. I have yet to be able to translate it to art or metaphor or whatever, but there is a powerful thread of resilience to pick up on and [pauses] cultivating the right environment for the right shit to grow. The tenacity and resilience…like, you have to feed it flour and water every day and eventually the bad bacteria? Y’know what? They’ll just go away, and the good yeast create an environment where that bad stuff can’t even find purchase. there’s some sort of revolutionary metaphor to draw from the process of developing that yeast culture that’s self sustaining and smells wonderful and makes the most beautiful bread that you can even imagine.
That’s the modern utopia.
Just shrink me down, make me a yeast please. put me in that slurry. [laughs]
It’s like a SCOBY. The perfect environment to create a delicious treat.
Exactly. It’s even got ‘symbiotic culture’ right there in the name, what a beautiful concept.
They’re all just getting along![laughs] Yeah, look at that!
Back off the topic of food — I have to tell you. Y’all’s pressing of IX with the star splatter is to die for.
It is really beautiful. unfortunately there was one thing wrong — a lot of people got damaged records because the paper sleeve that it comes in – this is me nitpicking – was too fragile and a lot of them split along the seam. Me and the guy, Mike, from Pirates Press in California who are wonderful to work with, we went back and forth so many times for so long about designing this. I had never done this before and I’m not working with a record label, so I was just figuring this stuff out on the fly. I had a lot of help from Scott from Flail [Records]. He gave me a ton of guidance on how to do it and is a very wonderful person. It was super fun and satisfying to put together, all said, and I’m really stoked with how those came out. I think they’re very beautiful and special.”
What did the included ticket mean, stamped with August 23rd?
It was this whole thing! Yeah, it led to a discord server.
I thought it was a fun little journey to go on — to find the ticket, scan the QR, find the discord server, join the server, it was a fun little extra.
I thought it was a fun little, kind of thing, where I was just flying by the seat of my pants, thinking “this could be interesting or fun!” I’m bored, it’s the pandemic, I’m gonna try to wingnut out and write a bunch of weird lore for this concept record. If I could go back and do it all again, there’s things I’d do differently, but ultimately I’m pretty stoked, especially with the art. Those tickets themselves were very beautiful, our friend Levi made those and screen printed them.
They did turn out beautifully, very formal!
Definitely. It was a fun little thing. Someday I’ll…I was actually just thinking about this this morning, I kind of have on the back burner, doing a little — not like a zine — a mini book with the lore and the lyrics in it. I dunno. There’s something on the horizon. We’ll probably do a similar rerelease after two or three years of the new record [NOW] being out with some fancier physical thing. ‘Cause right now all we’ve got are CDs.
I noticed that at Moonrunner’s, and I was thinking “maybe there’s a pressing on the horizon!”
There probably will, but realistically not for another year or two. I’m of the opinion that if you’re gonna wait all that time, and spend so much money on vinyl, its like, you gotta do it special. You gotta make something special. Again, I’m not working with a record label, so I have to actually put in the legwork to design all the stuff and make sure all the communication happens, so I might as well put in a bunch of work. If I’m going to have to put in a bunch of work I might as well put in a bunch of work to make it very special and beautiful.
When did you formally become Rent Strike, and how did you meet your current bandmates?
“The current line up has gone through somewhat of an upheaval, Emma just left the band and I’m moving out to Denver, so there’s a little bit of a shakeup going on right now, some question marks about the future. It started as a solo project in 2012. I had a brief period of time where someone was playing the chain for me, just hitting a big chain with a hammer as a percussion instrument. And then My friend Green and my friend Eric were playing accordion and washboard for like, the first lineup.
So its been an ever evolving kind of thing.
It really has been. There’s been quite a few members, thinking back on it. Right now the crew in Lansing, Mica who plays bass and Nick who plays the drums, those are people I’ve known from Lansing for a long time. Emma was someone I had met through the scene, and we toured together and she ended up moving to Lansing for cheap housing…I think about relationships and the importance of them, the lineup changes, it’s been a solid experience to make music with a lot of different friends and explore a lot of different sounds based on who’s around me with a project.
Bouncing ideas off of a different group each time keeps things exciting.
Yeah and all three of the full length records we’ve come out with all sound very different and I think that’s a testament to not only personal growth as a songwriter but also the difference in people I was surrounded with and bouncing ideas off of.
Tell me about the first show you ever played.
“My first show was in Fort Collins, I remember this. This kid — I was a kid, but this kid was a kid, he was maybe 14 or 15, he was a friend of a person who I was staying in an apartment with — we had a 2 bedroom apartment and we had 13 people staying in there in Fort Collins…there was no room…yeah, wow, lots of hectic moments. Someone pooped in a condom and froze it and it sat on this windowsill…anyway, we went to this kids house, it was this nice suburban home. We showed up and it was 11 fucking oogles, and nobody was there but this kid and maybe 3 of his friends, and his parents sat us down in the living room and were like “we don’t want any crazy rockstar stuff going on!” And we’re all literal kids, we’re like, “we’re not gonna trash your house!” We went down to the finished, carpeted basement, and this kid had his band play, they were just a high school punk band that i’m sure had never played music for anybody before and it was super cool for them. Then I played solo and my friend green who went on to play accordion in the band was wearing a red onesie and did an interpretive dance during the set. Also Eric’s powerviolence band played a two piece set.
That sounds rad, what was the cover to get in?
I don’t think there was one, I don’t think anyone showed up. [laughs] It was definitely in the ‘burbs in this massive house… [laughs]
I would’ve gone to that. I like going to the suburbs to cause a little stir.
It was funny. they [the parents] were like, “the fire Marshall lives next door so if anything…” we were like, “what the fuck?”
Y’all were like “We’re not gonna burn it down!!!”
Ironically you went on to write a song called Burn It All.[laughs] Right.
What do you get into in your free time, when you’re not on the road?
I run a syringe access in Lansing. I have for the past 3 years. a lot of my work and passion go to that. I was on unemployment for a lot of the pandemic, but the well has run dry, so I’ve been doing a little bit of gig work, canvassing for some of the petitions going around, just this, that, and the other. In terms of hobbies, I got a dog during the pandemic, we spend a lot of time together. He’s a border collie so he needs a lot of attention and love which is great because I love spending time with him.
He does get lots of love on your IG.
Oh yeah. He’s a little sweetheart. He’s a little fucking menace, but…
He’s a handsome little guy though!
I know. [laughs] He’s one of those dogs that, because his face is completely black, it’s really hard to get good photos of him, he looks like a void. Which is, I think, very charming. But he’s a little sweetheart.
Ive been getting really into foraging the past few years, I had to radically rediscover a relationship with nature being that so many of the externalities, as it were, of life like touring and career goals and mindsets, a lot of that did have to be shelved, at least initially. There was a big push in, I think a lot of people, but myself definitely, to reconnect with nature. Also with a mind toward the future and sustainability and what is on the horizon, just learning more about nature. I got really into philosophy, I’ve gotten into postmodern critical theory. That’s been a very fun way of teasing out some new ideas and expanding the horizons of where my mind tends to go with things, that’s been super rewarding. Also baking, but that gets posted to the internet so people know that. I like biking and being outside, being in boats.
The pandemic, just to put a bone in it, there was a big realignment. A lot of the things that nourished me in the past, touring, traveling, seeing friends, gatherings, these things became inaccessible for a time. And that shone a light on what is sustainable in a life. I think about shows, and its kind of a very particular set of circumstances that allow for this to happen, esp with an electric band, and needing PAs and venues and a receptive audience and stuff, it’s like, I dunno. the disruption of Covid had me asking “what is important? What is sustainable, what is realistic to you, what is realistic to even plan for in the future?” There was a big realignment. My hobbies have been more solo based, more individual based, more internally focused over the past 2 years.
Do you think there will be another realignment now that we’re turning a blind eye to Covid?
Yes, within myself there’s a realignment happening. When Covid happened I was living in Pittsburgh, but I moved back in with my parents because I was like “my parents are going to starve to death. I have to go.” I dug up this huge garden in their backyard in march of 2020, I really thought that that was it. Fortunately slash maybe unfortunately that wasn’t the case but I do think there’s a realignment within myself certainly, in that I’m moving to Denver and realigning my priorities to be like “I need to make music with my friends, that’s literally what keeps me going and gives me life. I think a lot of people are in the same boat. the pandemic is interesting in that it touched everybody’s life. Everybody on earth was effected by the pandemic. There are effects of that that have yet to be seen. I guess for me it’s easy to say I’m feeling this certain way and probably a lot of people are in the same boat, at this point, needing a realignment. I am interested to see the currents and tendencies that reveal themselves in the next year or two, and what people are gonna do. We’ll see.”
We returned to travel.
“What do you do in a city where you don’t know what else to do?”
“Before, I was a drinker, so it was like, where am I gonna get drunk in this city, but that is no longer the case, so honestly to answer your question, it’s a question mark in my head of “so I’m not focused on going to bars, what do I do?” The thing that excites me about going new places is, again, seeing pretty shit. If there’s hiking trails or walking trails, I’m really attracted to those places. Especially when traveling with a dog. When I think about things I want to do, I mean, seeing pretty shit with my dog is a huge motivator. At this point, because I’ve been in the scene for so long, most of the places I go I have some basis of familiarity or know person or two, so a lot of times it is going to see people, but increasingly my focus is drawn toward nature and seeing what there is to see in terms of plant life and animal life. It’s a question, one of those things you gotta figure out in the moment I think. and tour is a strange context in which to figure it out because there is that anchor of “well, we’re here to play a show.” if I were to engage in more of the wandering style traveling like I did when I was younger, what is there to anchor around? What does my heart draw me to do, what do I want, what is interesting to me?” i think a big appeal of traveling and being in new places is being able to open yourself up to answer that question and be sitting there and be like, now what?”
Last few questions are from friends — first, Stufy wants to know if you still make the best eggs Benedict, and if you still make the best coffee.
Aww, Stufy! Yeah, I do! I haven’t made eggs Benedict in a long time but I do have a love for coffee. I love fancy coffee. That’s my snobbish thing, I love fancy coffee.
Ooh! What’s your go to coffee prep method?
I have an aeropress. I love my aeropress. This was back, a different person, I was getting unemployment money and I spent $80 on a coffee grinder, I got a Baratza Encore. It’s so bougie. its so fucking bougie and fancy, but I use it every single day, twice a day. In Lansing there’s a local roaster that’s really wonderful that sells their shit in grocery stores so I can get it on food stamps, its really a nice little creature comfort. I bring my aeropress on tour too.
Sounds like me with my pourover.
Definitely same vibe. I love a single cup of really nice coffee, keeps me going.
We live in the era of fast-food coffee, too. It’s lost the love, the passion is gone.
Beyond love and passion, kind of like the last song on our record NOW, A Spectacular Time, was written about this very specific moment of time we live in where coffee is so accessible, in recognition of the very very complex route that it takes to us and how we take that for granted. I’m like, okay, climate change is coming, i don’t know if it’s here, y’know? I dont know if in 20 years I’m even gonna be drinking coffee or if they’ll be growing coffee in fucking Indiana, I just have no idea. That’s an element of enjoyment, when Im drinking a nice cup of coffee. This tastes like late capital and there’s so much detestable about the current situation we’re in, but ultimately, when it comes to creature comforts, there’s been no finer time to live if what you’re about is getting your immediate creature comfort needs met, coffee is such an encapsulation of that. There’s complications too politically with coffee being the fuel for workers to go do more work, I don’t know. All that is to say, I love my cup of coffee and its a complicated love but I do love it.
What kind of bender would you be, in the Last Airbender franchise?
Hmmm, that’s a good question. I’m a Taurus, and I don’t necessarily buy into a lot of astrology but at the same time I do find myself identifying with the earthen traits… probably an earth bender. I will say, its unforgivable i’ve never watched the show. It’s a good show, I like the concept. Being able to manipulate the elements.
I’ve only watched it once. I do know it got a lot of kids into anime, which is rad.
Its funny. The kids today are really into anime…
When I was in high school, that shit didn’t fly.
Thats what I’m saying! I loved anime too. My sibling was total weeb. We used to watch Full Metal Alchemist, Wolf’s Rain, and I fucking loved One Piece, that was one of my favorite things in the fucking world, some of the more obscure ones too — I was a pariah! Oh my god.
But how did you run down the hallway?
Okay, I did not do the Naruto run, but I will say my friends did.
Guilt by association, weeb.
Exactly. [laughs] I was definitely one of the fucking weirdos who hung out with the anime kids.
[laughs] I hung out with the anime kids too.
Now it’s like the cool thing to do! Literally if I had been born six years later, if I had been born in 1999, I would’ve been the coolest kid. I would’ve been a twitch streamer…nah, I’m just kidding. But no, I do think there’s an element of, especially when it comes to gender expression too, and the modalities of expression that are accepted, and not only accepted but are encouraged and emblematic of the Zoomer generation…part of me is like “damn, I wish I hadn’t grown up being called gay and stuff in high school.” I wish people were more open minded when I was that age. I wish so many things. But also that wish is alongside an encouraged feeling of “okay, the Zoomers are alright.” They’re alright. I’m sure there are problems in the generation, lord knows that social media and our relationship to it has utterly warped us, especially our young people. But there’s something to be said for the freedom for individual expression that seems to be a huge current in that that generation. cliques and clearly delineated social roles are kind of crumbling apart within the young people now. I feel like it speaks to the stage of capitalism we’re in where everything is so individually focused and everyone is their own marketing demographic, but there’s a lot of freedom of expression afforded to young people that I’m simultaneously envy and am appreciative of.
For sure, it seems unfair that kids can be public weebs now, and I had to be a closeted weeb.
Yeah, I know right? I had to wear that shirt under my hoodie. [laughs] I had to pack away my One Piece memorabilia at one point because I was like, alright, this is some dork shit, and I don’t want to do it anymore.
No kid should ever feel that way.
What Does Folk Punk Mean To You?
It’s one of those genres that’s hard to nail down, because it’s less about a sound for me and more of an ethos. It feels like a political project in some ways, where it’s like, I think that what is folk punk is in opposition to what, what the “mainstream” tendencies in music are. Even just playing acoustic shows is very much of an inversion of what the expectations of bands is. Theres a template that gets followed by bands a lot…that’s a hard question. There’s a lot to it.. there’s a rejection of commercialization. Although I will say, in recent years, and we’ll see what the situation is like when we get out on the road, there’s been an incursion of wealth into the scene. recognizing Theres a nascent crowd of consumers, for folk punk who have money to spend on merch. There’s always been a sense of “we’ve got to sell merch to keep on going” but especially with the way Days N Daze was able to achieve breakthrough success, and then you’ve got the Bridge City Sinners, that’s kind of like, Bless their Hearts, I love those folks but they’re marketers. I think my answer to this question would’ve been different three years ago, for a long time I looked at folk punk as unmarketable, but that was silly of me to think because capitalism will find a way to market anything, up to and including anticapitalism, maybe some of those distinctions I thought were inherent to folk punk seem to be fading a little bit. As we enter a mishmash of culture that the future is shaping up to be where everything is an identity or a label to market, I think the more cynical part of me is like, “folk punk is just some other thing to identify with, like stake your identity on, like patch pants and drinking whiskey, but at the same time I think there is something really malleable in folk punk and I think there have been different currents to it through the course of my time in it. Back when I first started, mischief brew and ramshackle…well, I guess wingnut, but ramshackle glory was a thing, and this bike is a pipe bomb and stuff, then It moved to this nihilistic, substance abuse based mindset that’s pretty exemplified by days n daze. Now we’re moving into a different direction, a different ethos, I guess this is a roundabout way to say this is a hard question to answer, I don’t think there’s a lot of fixity to it. I will say the one constant that remains, is the community. And ultimately more than like a delineated by style and substance genre as say, jazz might be, its more of an ethos and more of a community. I guess on the better days I believe that ethos is based in rejection of commercialization. I don’t think the presence of a “successful” band changes the ethos that’s present in the scene. Theres a lot of people making zines, and I talk about running a syringe exchange, and people from the scene come out and are like, this dope political project… stuff like that is inextricably linked to the core of what I view folk punk as a political project, like the music is in context. the political dimension is a big part of it in my mind. I think its a genre where you can push more radical messaging than you can in other places. I think that freedom and ground is….whatever grows out of it, that’s folk punk in my mind.”
John’s music can be found at the following.
Please consider donating to their syringe exchange, Lansing Syringe Access.