Ethan 103 Incinerates the Scene with new song “Punk Rock Fashion Police”
by Kristi Garboushian
Before I tell you about the new alternative-punk jam I’m listening to, let me fill you in regarding the guys behind it, in case you haven’t heard of them.
I’ll introduce Ethan 103 the same way they introduce themselves: ARIZONA NATIVE PUNK ROCK.
Because when you encounter the band online, the first thing to get in your face is this self-descriptor, which they’ve stamped into their logo like a UV ink re-admission hand stamp at a punk rock nightclub.
ARIZONA NATIVE PUNK ROCK heads the group’s Facebook and Bandcamp pages. In some places, you’ll see “ETHAN 103 (Entertaining-Those-Hot-Ass-Navajos).” This is Ethan 103 displaying their attitude while directing your attention toward their roots: All the members of Ethan 103 are Native American, with blood from the Navajo and Oneida tribes.
Those roots are important, so pay attention here. We’re talking about roots that first took hold of the scorching Arizona earth in the Navajo Nation’s capital, Window Rock, before the band transplanted themselves in the Valley of the Sun.
Phoenix Metro is no less scorching, especially when its hot asphalt radiates heat into the night to the high-energy, melodic tune of Ethan 103 blazing through the local punk rock scene. Their progression has been relentless. It’s like someone struck a match back in 2006, and the more you try to contain the fire, the stronger it grows. Watching Ethan 103 play an outdoor venue on a summer night is like standing downwind of a wildfire ripping through urban gutters. Imagine a mystical, ancient desert fire on the gritty streets of New York City in the 1980’s… that would give you an idea of this band, rebel-rocking to the chaotic yet purposeful beat of their own drums in Tempe, Arizona.
A part of what makes Ethan 103 unique in the scene is their ability to merge their cultural and musical traditions. Take their song “500”(2011), which has been described as not just a punk rock anthem, but as “an anthem of survival of the Native American people… to honor the resistance, survival, and resilience of Native American people from colonization and termination attempts.”
Ethan 103’s cultural roots reach into the heart of their music while the band’s complexity challenges audiences on multiple levels. Inspiration for their “heavy-grained, high-tempo” sound comes from influences such as Bad Religion, Pennywise, Misfits, and Blink 182, but the band plays in and around their own brand of punk rock, a mélange of skate punk, alternative rock and melodic hardcore that both parallels and reflects Native history and culture. They offer music heavily fueled by passion and opposition.
I meet Parkhurst on a bright, late afternoon early in June, stepping in ahead of the happy hour crowd at the busy Mill Avenue club in order to grab a word with the man behind the lyrics of Ethan 103’s new single, “Punk Rock Fashion Police.” I’m also here to get in a sneak listen, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to be amongst the first to hear it. I’ve been an Ethan 103 fan from the beginning, following their ascent within the local music scene since their early days in the mid-2000’s. As with most of their originals, Parkhurst wrote the lyrics to “Punk Rock Fashion Police” and co-composed the music with his band members.
As usual, I’m fired up as I listen. In “Fashion Police,” Ethan 103 keeps their grip on the aural aesthetic central to punk music while doing what it does so well… blending the defiant combativeness and velocity of old school hardcore with catchy melodies and thought-provoking lyrics, producing a sound that’s traditional and fresh all at once.
“Fashion Police” proves itself as a statement song in every measure, with lyrics that hold back nothing. Parkhurst assaults the mic with an epic rant about the hypocrisy of punk rock fans judging other punk rock fans for the clothes they wear on the street, to shows, and, well, everywhere. As he puts it in our conversation, “Punk is about being true to yourself, not judging other punk fans’ exterior modes of self-expression.”
Fuck the punk rock fashion police!
“The song’s overuse of the F-word is intentional,” Parkhurst continues. “It’s such a silly word, and it should make more conservative types uncomfortable.”
There you have it… the essence of Ethan 103. They take things lightly while driving home a loaded agenda.
When I ask Parkhurst about his favorite musical aspect of the song, he emphasizes the importance of the instruments’ voices.
“I love the aggressive sound of the guitars, bass and drums, along with the singing,” he explains. “In the recording studio, we wanted it to sound like each element is in attack mode. Even the bass guitar, which is normally a muddy background thought, is clear and in your face. The drums – the kick drum in particular – we wanted to emphasize, because in many bands, the drums just are a little weak. We wanted to highlight our amazing drummer.”
That would be drummer Dwayne “Showie” Showalter. Then there’s Michael Parkhurst (guitar) and Troy Yazzie (bass) hitting the studio and stage with Wayne and Showie, rounding out Ethan 103. (Yes, Wayne and Michael Parkhurst are brothers.)
What I find the most intriguing about the lyrics of “Punk Rock Fashion Police” is that they almost turn the composition into an anti-anti punk song, as Parkhurst points out, revealing the hypocrisy built into the unwritten rules of punk fashion “standards” by people within the scene. First and foremost, the song calls out punk rockers who contradict themselves. Is this a photo op or a punk show? Parkhurst demands in the song’s second verse. I’ll show you what I think of your ego!
“Punk Rock Fashion Police” also speaks to the fashion industry’s tendency to cycle in and out of punk as a trendy theme expressed through stereotypical punk rock attire. When such creations turn up in designers’ magazine spreads and on runways in New York City, Paris, London and Milan, the appropriation diminishes punk’s classic conceits of politics, individualism and progressive thinking, drawing attention away from the messages punk rock aspires to convey. Neither do the exorbitant price tags on the clothing mesh with the punk rock ethos. Ethan 103 wants you to get the memo that all of this is bullshit. That memo is “Punk Rock Fashion Police.”