Stomping With The
The Haymarket Squares, Sheriff Joe.
The Valley’s Premier Protest Band Will Release New Album Feb. 22 Amid The Growth Of Their Emerging, Innovative Blend Of Acoustic, Punk And Politics
Mark Allred of The Haymarket Squares. Images by Jeff Moses.
By Jeff Moses
Modern Times Magazine
Feb. 16, 2013 — Not quite folk, not quite bluegrass, definitely punk and every bit of a Phoenix original, The Haymarket Squares are injecting a whole new kind of fun into politics and music.
Mandolin and accordion player Mark Sunman, steel guitar player Mark Allred, guitarist John Luther, and stand up bass player Marc Oxborrow have been playing as the Haymarket Squares for the better part of three years while going through a variety of drummers.
“I really identified with the Squares because it’s the ornery, ‘shake your fist at the man-ness’ that punk rock has, but man, they sang harmonies and they totally could just play,” said Allred, the second newest edition to the band.
“When we started this band my goal was to get some shows around Phoenix and have a small local cult following and that was all I ever really wanted to do with music, and we’ve already exceeded that, so I’m just enjoying it and seeing where it goes,” said Sunman. “Marc (Oxborrow) and I met in 2007 — late 2007 — and formed a different, but similar band that had a hiatus when I moved out of Arizona. Then I came back and reformed the band as the Squares, got John Luther also on Craigslist and we played as three for a few years,” he said.
The Squares are unquestionably the premier political and protest band in the Valley.
“It’s Sunman’s fault,” said Oxborrow.
“I guess when I started writing angry political music I had been a conservative most of my life and I started to realize that was bullshit. I didn’t really become a liberal I just saw the flaws in the system and started writing songs about it,” said Sunman. “I started getting into acoustic punk, before acoustic punk started to suck, and I bought a mandolin and started writing acoustic punk songs because it’s what I felt. I was, like, waking up at the time to start to see what was really going on and it pissed me off and I had a lot to say about it and so my song writing at that time just happened to reflect that.”
“I’d never been in a band that had much political content and the stuff that Mark had posted online when he was looking for a bass player really appealed to me. I went, ‘Hey, wow, I found a kindred spirit,’” said Oxborrow.
The Haymarket Squares’ music, though extremely fun, still definitely has its detractors; people who disagree with the message the Squares put forth in their anti-war songs like “Bullet Catcher,” “We Got A War,” and many others of their more left-leaning songs.
“We played for some Marines at Yucca Tap Room once and they heckled us after we did this song and the end line of the song is ‘freedom isn’t fun when you’re dead.’ Then someone shouted out right as we were strumming the last chord — some drunk Marine shouted out — ‘You pay for freedom with your life,’ and then after the show I’m standing by the merch case trying to sell some CDs or whatever and then these angry Marines come up to me and start arguing with me. But actually me and one of them had a really nice conversation that was, ya know, about an inch away from coming to blows. But I’m glad it didn’t because he would have killed me,” said Sunman.
People’s emotions over the Squares’ music don’t always manifest themselves so negatively however.
“You're watching everybody and their like ‘yeah,’ ‘wow,’ and they’re like really into it and they’re moving their feet and then they’re like ‘wait, what? Did they just say what I thought they said?’ And some of them get all, ‘Yeah, that was awesome,’ and they get even more into it. Others, you can just see their faces drop and start thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ there’s usually not much in between,” said Allred. “They’re either like, ‘We’re going to tar and feather you,’ or they’re like ‘yeah,’ and usually the tar and feather ones just leave.”
Their fast-paced, politically-charged songs have garnered the punkgrass pioneers a niche following in the Valley of country fans, punk rockers, folk fans, and activists.
The Haymarket Squares have played a variety of protests from anti-SB1070 marches, to day one of Occupy Phoenix, to the 2012 Republican debates.
“John was really our conduit into the activist community. Because he had been a part of it for awhile before Mark and I got involved, and all of a sudden we were in John’s band and getting asked to come play protests and prison vigils,” said Oxborrow.
“We even played a prison in Belgium,” on their November 2011 European tour Luther said. “We did Belgium and the Netherlands for three and half weeks. We played for Occupy Amsterdam, too.”
And, no, the prison show was not a substitute for bail.
“The tour was set up by this company in Europe, they bring bands like ours over there and set up all sorts of shows. We didn’t have to do anything but say yes, and let them take a huge cut, and one of the shows they booked for us was at a prison,” said Sunman, “we also played the mayor’s office in a town outside of Brussels,” he said.
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