In the never-ending quest to corral punk, to throw a saddle on it and ride, bands and their fans spend countless hours in circular debate over this flexible genre's beguiling definition and their own adherence to its limits. What is punk? Who is punk?
Punk is a sound and attitude perfectly exemplified by Rochester's Green Dreams. Some punks are too punk to admit they're punk. Not Green Dreams; the band packs a pristine punch but the edges are still frayed. There's urgency, but no anger, there's fun but no hollow frivolity. It's declamatory but not duplicitous. Can you dig it?
Green Dreams — guitarist-singer Jesse Amesmith, bassist Ben Kruger, and drummer Trevor Amesmith — solidified the line-up in 2012 and now has three EPs to its credit: "Pain Don't Hurt" (2012), "Sweats" (2013), and its latest 7'' EP, "Rich Man, Poor Man" (2014). There are also the singles "Goatscraper" and "Body Magic" (both 2012). The trio's sound is loud, thick, and grungy with minimal intimidation — that is if you don't want to have fun. Speaking of which, front woman Jesse Amesmith is bubblier than the "Lawrence Welk Show" and personifies the band's mission. She came down to the City Newspaper offices to arm wrestle and chat. She dragged Kruger along with her. We kibitzed. Here's an edited version of what was said.
How did Green Dreams get started?
Jesse Amesmith: I had been playing in a band called Total Babes and that band stopped being a thing.
That's a nice way of putting it.
Amesmith: It was just time. I'm a lot to deal with. I wanted to play more aggressive music. Total Babes was way more poppy and experimental and friendlier and I wanted to play music that was specifically punk — faster, more aggressive.
Why do you suppose aggressive punk is still in the minority despite its popularity?
Amesmith: I don't know. I think punk got apathetic somewhere down the way and it became not punk.
But isn't punk constantly reminding us of what it isn't?
Ben Kruger: I think listening to less punk, you lose the point of reference to what it's supposed to be.
What are Green Dreams' songs about?
Amesmith: I write about all sorts of stuff: ghosts and aliens, street harassment, human rights issues, my moods, cats — a lot of cats.
Do you have a formula?
Amesmith: No. If I do, it still doesn't always come out as planned.
Who is in your audience?
Amesmith: At first it was just our friends. Now there are people there that I don't know because they just like our band, which is pretty cool. A lot of young women are coming to our shows which I'm a fan of.
Are there some that don't get you? Why?
Amesmith: Yes. Outspoken women are hard to stomach sometimes.
Kruger: People that don't speak their own mind; they can't let it go. They're envious of our position.
What's so radical about your message?
Amesmith: Nothing. Initially I was saying, "Listen I'm just saying we shouldn't be assholes to one another." I think what initially attracted me to punk was its outrage at the types of oppression that exist: the man, corporate ideology, and the destruction of the environment. And when I was a kid, people standing up for their beliefs with loud music was absolutely mind-blowing for me. It changed how I saw the world.
You kind of sound like hippies.
Kruger: We are hippies.
Amesmith: When people heard our music it was like, "Wait, wait, wait, you care about stuff?" And I was like, "Yeah, that's punk. I showed up because I kind of wanted to break free from cultural oppression, and some people were like, "Oh no, we don't do that around here."
Where does the fun come in?
Kruger: The fun comes at all points.
Amesmith: It's just funny that somewhere along the way being respectful of your peers wasn't fun. I still want to see someone swinging from the chandelier, I just don't want them kicking someone in the face when they jump off. You don't have to bring other people down just to have a good time. It's not about being cool, it's about being a good person. But that's where I confuse people.
Punk shows typically have a sense of danger though.
Kruger: The danger's always going to be there
Will you ever expand or are you going to keep it a simple three-piece?
Amesmith: For a while we had a friend playing second guitar but we decided we like three-pieces better. It's easier to manage, it's more straight-forward, it's more of the sound we wanted.
How has Green Dreams evolved?
Kruger: We've gotten more into rhythm and melody. As we've gotten older we've decided that's what we like. It's exciting to try new things like that.
How is it for you, Jesse, specifically fronting the group, singing, and playing guitar?
Amesmith: It's interesting but it's manageable. I think if I was just the singer or just the guitar player I would do things differently. So there's always this consideration for me. How it's going to sound when it all comes together? Am I going to learn something when these two things come together? In this case it's more of a sound than an attitude.
What's something you haven't done yet with the band?
Kruger: We talk about drum machines and synthesizers all the time
What's something you'll never do?
Kruger: Disco. But even KISS said that.