WORDS : TOM COLES

Aaron Heard, heading up brutal Philadelphia hardcore act Jesus Piece, has experienced one of the most dramatic, rapid rises in the five years since the band’s inception and two years since their debut, Only Self. Their chaotic live shows present a clash of ferocious styles and moods, as comfortable allowing a grim atmosphere to develop and fester as they are to lash out with a swift, metallic assault.

This eclectic, complex sound developed as a result of their upbringing, Aaron states. “Growing up all of the music I was listening to as a kid was Philadelphia music because I had grown up around it – Flowetry and The Roots and those kinds of artists,” he muses. “Outside of music I loved sketching things out of charcoal, because Philly has all of these murals around the city. Seeing that and knowing that I could make art on such a big scale was such a cool idea, but I decided to follow that through with music rather than art.”

I liked going to shows because I was a little afraid of what was going to happen, that danger is what kept me going back to shows

Live and on record, JP swing wildly from extremely to-the-point, brutal beatdown riffs to held guitar notes that melt from dour, gloomy textures into barely-contained atonal squeals. It helps that the band are extremely well-versed in the history of hardcore. “I listened to punk. My freshman year of high school, my friend Mikey who played in a few bands showed me Bad Brains and Dead Kennedys,” he remembers. “I was like – ‘holy shit black people do this?’ – I didn’t have much exposure to it and so when I often heard like yelling music I just thought ‘oh, this is white people music.’”

At time of writing, the Black Lives Matter protests are still growing, attracting thousands every day. As they develop, music and art scenes across the world are starting to unpick their complicated relationships with race. Whilst heavy bands across the world have been re-thinking their attitudes, Aaron is keen to state that JP have long held convictions that have informed their approach to these issues. “There are two aspects we want to be seen with, which is aggression and representation,” he summarises. “In two words that’s how I’d explain my band, aggression and black. I’m not saying that to swipe myself in a joking manner, and truly that’s what I wanted to be. If you look at my band and feel tense and start to feel uneasy that’s what I like, I like that. I want you to come to see and be kind of nervous. I liked going to shows because I was a little afraid of what was going to happen, that danger is what kept me going back to shows.” 

I grew up idolising people like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King jr, and while the American school system pushed only so many narratives […] they DID show radicalized black people and it backfired on them horribly

This conviction has led JP to reach out to raise funds for BLM charities, raising over $35,000 through shirt sales, taking a much more direct approach than a lot of their peers. Noting these successes, Aaron states that “having POC in the band – it’s not that we’re a political band but our existence is political. Coming from our background we’d be fools not to say anything. I just had a son, I have to make sure that I’m doing my part to change the world he grows up in.” Their direct approach is an active attempt to make the world a better place for their families and communities: “that to me is what being a father is about. Maybe I was tough enough to last it out but what if it gets way fucking worse in 10 years and my kid has it just as worse?”

Just as their musical approach is informed by the deep history of the genre, so is their political viewpoint. “I grew up idolising people like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King jr, and while the American school system pushed only so many narratives,” Aaron continues. “They DID show radicalized black people and it back fired on them horribly. Whether I wanted to be political or not I don’t have a choice. Now is the time.” 

I know that we’re a band with a black singer, but I fill the fucking shoes. We go hard, we bring it, music crushes and I want the fact that our drummer is Puerto Rican and that I’m black to be a bonus

On the subject of representation, he’s keen to state that the music comes first: “I know that we’re a band with a black singer, but I fill the fucking shoes. We go hard, we bring it, music crushes and I want the fact that our drummer is Puerto Rican and that I’m black to be a bonus.”

The conversation turns a little more personal at this point, turning back to the themes of community and responsibility that we’d touched on previously. “I was initially hurt at first because I couldn’t be out there protesting, I couldn’t be out there marching as I have my son,” Aaron states, firmly. “I have to make sure I don’t get myself into trouble […]. watching these protests, I could see myself losing my composure a bit so I’m glad I had this incredible way to make an impact.”

This is a tense time for the world, which has been reflected in our discussion: as we wrap things up, Aaron talks about the tension he feels maintaining a successful band and managing his own expectations. “You have to be careful and not be gloating, but also be proud of what you’ve achieved,” he concludes. “It’s the balance of being excited for yourself and not having an ego. It’s a gift and a curse because sometimes it’s good to be happy for yourself.”

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