Featured in Blunt issue #140
Thomas Becker, guitarist/drummer for the Epitaph-approved Beautiful Bodies, snuck between the tour buses at Warped to tell us what happens when punk rock and politics collide.
There’s nothin’ like the smell of Warped Tour in the morning. If you’re an alternative band eyeing off scene stardom, the US summer festival is a well-worn rite of passage. And for a band like Kansas City’s Beautiful Bodies, a polished EDM-punk hybrid renowned for their energetic live shows, it’s the perfect setting to show off their shiny new album, Battles.
“I feel like it’s super generic to say, but it literally is like summer camp for punk rockers,” Becker says of the tour. “The album’s only been out a month digitally, and it’s weird; we’ll go to these towns and places we’ve never played, and kids are singing along. They know the lyrics better than our singer Alicia [Solombrino],” he laughs.
Remarkably, the burgeoning success Beautiful Bodies have seen in just a few short years isn’t the most impressive feat Becker can put his name to. Before being signed to prominent punk label Epitaph, and following a stint behind the kit with short-lived alt-rockers Gratitude, Becker found the time to go to law school. Harvard Law School.
“I’m a human rights lawyer so I was living in Bolivia working on this case against the ex-president,” the guitarist begins, as not many others do. “I decided I was going to take a break from music and commit to activism, so I decided to go to law school and moved down to South America. I wasn’t planning on suing the ex-president initially,” he chuckles.
The punk genre has always been one for luring intellectual outsiders and for Becker, punk rock and politics have always been inextricably linked.
“I grew up in a rougher part of town in Kansas City so I saw a lot of inequality, but I think punk rock through anarchism and criticism helped me put it into a political context,” he considers. “The people that are on the fringes and think outside the box? To me, that’s punk rock.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of different social movements – I worked with a lot of guerrilla and leftist groups in Latin America which kind of drew me to Bolivia, and when I was there, I met a bunch of victims who’d had family members killed by the ex-president. He fled to the US, so we thought, ‘It’s bullshit he’s using the United States as a safe haven. Let’s go after the fucker’. We decided to launch a lawsuit and somehow I became a human rights lawyer.”
Despite Becker’s modesty when it comes to his day job, he seems to have this law business down-pat: a Supreme Court case he worked in Bolivia has seen the generals involved in the mass murders of civilians jailed for genocide. As for the country’s former president? Justice is on the way via a travelling punk rock show.
“Just two hours ago I was on a phone call to Bolivia. Warped Tour… It’s one of the hardest places to do international legal phone calls.”
Given the fact that festival reception has oft stood in the way of a timely meet-up with mates at the main stage, we can barely begin to fathom Becker’s cellular difficulties, let alone the peculiar coming together of his two worlds.
“I’ll be on a call to Bolivia and I Killed The Prom Queen will be shredding in the background, just like metalcore screaming, and I try to explain it to these folks in Bolivia, but they have no concept of what the Warped Tour is and most of them honestly haven’t been out of their village or the neighbouring village. They’re just like, ‘What in the fuck are you doing?’ So I’m still juggling the law stuff, you know, sneaking between buses like I’m doing now and doing legal work when I’m not playing music or sitting at the merch tent. It’s worked out so far, but it’s been bizarre for sure.”