I want to kill you, but I’m not allowed, at least not right now
I want to kill you, so you’d best watch out when the shit goes down
– The Slackers “Kill You”
In March of 2022, Rootfire premiered a track titled “Hanging On” from The Slackers then forthcoming album, Don’t Let the Sunlight Fool Ya, one of their finest from an impressive catalog that spans over thirty years. The article served as an album showcase of sorts and included an interview with band members Vic Ruggiero, Dave Hillyard and Ara Babajian.
Well, it seems the band kept an ace up their sleeve from those recording sessions, which they will be releasing as a 12” vinyl that can be ordered here. The track, titled “Kill You,” which acerbically criticizes America’s gun culture, will be available on streaming platforms starting September 22, but of course, Rootfire readers can listen to the track above today, as well as enter to win a copy of the vinyl below.
The vast majority of Slackers songs throughout their three decade plus career clock in at under four minutes, but thanks to the mixing work of studio luminary Victor Rice, the Slackers have decided to release a discomix of the song that runs for over seven minutes. The B-side of the vinyl will feature a dub version of one of the strongest songs on Sunlight, “Statehouse,” remixed by Emch, DJ at Subatomic Sound System, a long time collaborator with dub dignitary, Lee Perry. Emch’s deconstructed version brings forward the hand drumming of percussionist Larry McDonald, a mutual friend of the Slackers, Emch, and Perry.
With these two songs, this 12” vinyl wafer packs some serious punch with its social commentary. It reminds me of the t-shirt I’ve seen from time to time, which pictures a guitar with the words, “This Machine Kills Fascists,” which stems from a political statement that Woody Guthrie had painted on his guitar in the mid-1940s.
As the Slackers’ press release from label Pirates Press so perfectly summarizes:
“Kill You” reflects our current contentious climate over gun rights, insurrection, threats of a new civil war, and the epidemic of gun violence. Frontman Vic Ruggiero’s lyrical insight for the song comes from his encounters with firearms in public over the last few years. Factor in a conversation with longtime friend and musical collaborator Rocksteypood, and “Kill You” is a 7 minute track that cuts deep into divisive issues in America.
Ruggiero’s unease comes from a portion of America’s obsession with guns and what could come next. “I started thinking about a lot of things…How does a civil war start? How come it’s OK for people to shoot each other in certain situations and others it’s not? I even took a gun safety class in Phoenix that was less about gun safety and more about who you can shoot in what situation and get away with it.”
The B Side, “Statehouse” is a commentary on the struggle for justice in South Carolina seen through the campaign to take down the Confederate flag that flew outside its Statehouse from 1961 – 2015. “Statehouse” began as a reply to “Wrongful Suspicion” which Ruggiero had written back in 1997 with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong.
“Kill You” points out the irony when comparing our country’s history to the far-right mindset, deemed “patriotic” in their deluded ideology:
Flashback, Civil War
Killing white supremacists is what you get a medal for
Flashback, Second World War
Killing white supremacists is what you get a medal for
Through other lyrics, Vic Ruggiero relates his uneasy experiences while living in the Pacific Northwest:
People ask me why I’m worried for
All the ammos sold out in the sporting goods store
A gun on your belt, a tat on your arm
It makes me think you’re gonna do me wrong
Fi-fi-fo-fum… the giant is awake
Man,watch out, better run
I say, why does my democracy look like hypocrisy?
Old white supremacy, greedy kleptocracy
Tell me why I pay more tax than the millionaire
And I’m living in fear just waiting to hear…
Wanting to hear more about the experiences that served as Ruggiero’s inspiration for the song, I reached out to him and he kindly obliged with more details and reflections: “Shopping for a tent in a sporting goods store in Washington state, and I pass this buff clean-cut dude with right-wing militia/Nordic looking tattoos bending over the gun counter,” he began. “He’s got a cute little Boebert-looking wife and a 10-year-old kid and a tiny daughter with him. Behind him is a line that consists of a two black guys in work clothes, an older Mexican guy with his younger cousin, and a yuppie-lookin’ white guy…nice cross section.”
Ruggiero said, other than himself, it’s obvious that no one is shopping for hunting rifles. “They’re perusing Glocks, a small James Bond-lookin’ gun, a tactical bull-pup semi-automatic shotgun, and the white guy is buying a huge semi-automatic GI-Joe looking thing that only shoots .22 ammo.”
According to his Ruggiero’s story, the guy with militia tattoos took out his own green camouflage 9mm from the holster on his hip and removed the magazine to show the guy at the gun counter a detail, while his wife and kid wandered away to look at the ammo aisle to which they remarked is “completely sold out!”
He then engaged a 40-ish hippy-looking mother and her teen daughter in conversation who also commented about ammo being sold out everywhere. “Good luck,” said the woman, “I might have to buy a new gun to fit the ammo I CAN find.”
“It feels like everyone is getting ready for something,” Ruggiero summed up. “Everyone is looking at each other. An Asian man working the gun counter really enjoys rattling off specs on calibers and recoil, as does a young man with Jugalo tattoos who helps me. The topic goes from bears, to deer, to people. ‘I don’t wanna shoot anyone,’ he says, ‘but you better have something that works for more than a squirrel.’”
Ruggiero went on to say that similar situations occurred in different degrees as he shopped for camping gear in different stores over the next year. He recalled that in the middle of the pandemic, he had noticed gun shops with lines out the door and in two different situations people touched their holstered weapons when he had stopped to ask directions from his van window.
“I get the feeling that everyone is waiting to get the go ahead,” he commented. “Everyone seems to be asking ‘When is it suddenly sanctioned?’ The difference between the guy in the electric chair and the guy pulling the switch…is permission.”
A keen observer of society, Ruggiero also has routinely demonstrated his strong knowledge of history. “Biker gangs were started by vets from World War II to Vietnam, guys who were trained to be adrenaline junky killers and suddenly returned to society with the permission revoked. Now, the cops are combat vets and little rural U.S. towns have SWAT teams and mini tanks.”
Ruggiero also provided a little more insight into the “gun safety” class he had taken while on the road with The Slackers in Arizona due to the fact that it’s required to get a “concealed carry” license there, and is also honored in over 40 U.S. states. “No gun safety was taught in this class,” he asserted. “Instead, we were advised to buy ‘shooters Insurance’ and coached on how to report your shooting to the authorities. We were shown videos of attacks on cops, candy store stick-ups, parking lot assaults and a mass shooting attempt in a church where parishioners shot the assailant from their pews.”
In addition to these ruminations, Ruggiero felt like he needed some input from others to bring the song to fruition. His bandmate, Dave Hillyard gave him a few lines and he also called upon an old “rapper buddy” of his named Rocksteypood who he always thought was a great lyricist.
Much to Ruggiero’s delight, the topic resonated with the Florida-based artist and he contributed a whole verse:
Just sell me a gun
So we can go pop
And I’ll become popular
While people just drop
Let’s dead all the drama
The shit never stops
Come on, mom and pop pawn shop
Give me that Glock
Just sell me a weapon
So I won’t feel threatened
Despite all the recklessness
That weapon does beckon
I’ll feel more respected
A little less rejected
And now I’ve perfected
The art of arming adolescents
Hand me a shotgun
Bear witness to the outcome
I’ll peek through venetians
Lead legions, like Malcolm
I’ll star in a web video
And go viral, if not suicidal
I’ll become homicidal
Arm me with an army
So no one can harm me
We need weapons of mass destruction to live in harmony
We’re living in poverty, imprisoned in state property
And y’all think this shit is cinematography?
Regarding his own inspiration, Rocksteypood, a former New Yorker, said that living in Florida where gun laws are much more permissible has made him “very wary of some folks and their backwards way of thinking.”
He said, “I had too many unpleasant situations and altercations all those years. I have had incidents where police pointed guns at me but I have fortunately not had random people run up on me like that. But my lyrics weren’t motivated by personal experience as much as being an observation and warning maybe of the climate.”
Rocksteypood shared that he had come up with the first few lines of his verse while walking past an old guns and ammo pawn shop in Florida. “This was around the time of protests, police violence on display, all these shootings on the news.”
Likewise, Ruggiero recalls situations out west around the same time frame, such as in Olympia, WA, where daily demonstrations were full of Proud Boy/militia guys sporting AR-15s and pistols. “In the end, who will be punished and who will be praised?” he pondered. “Do these guys really think they’re Revolutionary War Minutemen? The new Paul Reveres? But certainly mixed with the frustration of asking if I actually need to say ‘NAZIS ARE BAD’ out loud in a song? The answer is YES. I do.”