With such a diverse range of people and cultures confined to one area, it’s only natural for seemingly opposing ideas to find balance in a city like Santa Cruz. Along with CrossFit and Netflix, the city can now boast the birthplace of the world’s first Buddhist hardcore punk band, the Deathless.
“The concept was to bring spirituality and Buddhist teachings, or Dharma, into hardcore music,” says singer Joe Clements through a static-filled connection while en route to a seven day, silent meditation retreat in the desert.
“This is it for the talking,” he laughs. “After this I’m shutting down for a few days.”
The idea behind the band began at different meditation retreat, this one in Big Sur hosted by Clements’ childhood friend and Dharma Punx author, Noah Levine.
“Punk rock saved our lives,” says Levine, traveling with Clements. “It’s what gave our lives meaning and gave us an outlet for our angst. But we also both became drug addicts and lost all of our ideals to addiction.”
The two friends found that the Buddha’s teachings and practices helped them through the healing and recovery process. Since then the two have continued their spiritual paths, helping others find mindfulness and a better way of life.
“There were a bunch of ‘krishnacore’ bands but no ‘Buddhacore’ ones,” Levine says. “So we thought, ‘Let’s put this together.’”
“With Noah being a teacher and better at words, he started writing lyrics, and I worked on the songs,” Clements explains. “We began laying down tracks and those gained momentum.”
The Deathless has since grown to Clements (formerly known for iconic Santa Cruz punk band Fury 66) on vocals, Felix Lozano (Los Dryheavers) and Mikey Grove (the Itch) on guitar and Corey Atkinson (also of Los Dryheavers) on bass and Robert Scobie (Abhorrance) on drums.
“It’s a really cool band with important people from our local scene,” says Clements. “All Santa Cruz guys that are stoked to be giving back to the scene that has given us so much.”
Although not even a year old, the group has already signed to local indie label, Chapter 11 Records, and released their debut EP, The Gates to the Deathless are Open, last month.
The result—recorded at Clements’ Compound Recordings—is an intense, 15-minute bodhi kick to the face. The first four tracks are positive hardcore tracks dealing with the demons of addiction, the salvation of punk rock dharma, and the need for action to change the world around us. The B-side features two tracks of material by Levine spoken over the band’s music.
“Often the punk and hardcore scene doesn’t go far enough in offering solutions to society’s problems,” says Levine. “So we bring these mindful philosophies into the band and hopefully offer kids some solution.”
INFO: 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24. Blue Lagoon. 923 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $5. 423-7117.