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Phobia: an unholy alliance of crust punk and grindcore

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SHANE MCLACHLAN OF PHOBIA.
  • Shane McLachlan of Phobia.

A lot can change in 20 years. Just ask the band Phobia.

The act, an unholy alliance of crust punk and grindcore, started in 1990 at Orange County, Calif. Now only singer Shane McLachlan is the remaining original member. Through innumerable lineup changes and record label affiliations, the entity has endured. Even their rampageous blend of speed metal and safety-pin-in-the-nose sneer is largely unchanged.

McLachlan described himself as an brash teenager influenced by seminal metal and punk bands like Napalm Death and Discharge. He admitted that early on he was mostly emulating his idols. He wanted his band to sound just like them.

"That's what I needed – the adrenaline of it," he said during a recent phone interview.

Not everyone in their part of the world was ready for that. McLachlan said Phobia was definitely in the minority at first. Death metal, and especially grindcore, were not in vogue yet.

"It was kind of a shocker for some people, the speed we were playing at," McLachlan said. "And we were pretty rowdy."

He remembers playing backyard shows and people throwing trash at them.

"I just gave them the middle finger and told them to fuck off," McLachlan said. "Here I am now."

It probably didn't help that Phobia originated in Orange County, Calif., one of the most affluent areas in the country. But McLachlan says the OC often depicted in TV shows and movies is "the farthest thing from how I grew up. That's like saying all people from Indiana are hicks or part of the Klan. The OC has this stigma that it's all rich, but we have gangs and violence. There's drug problems and social dysfunction. It doesn't matter if you live in a rich neighborhood; you can still be an addict."

McLachlan had his share of problems. The uber-tattooed frontman is a recovering alcoholic who has been incarcerated numerous times. Now 39 years old and a father, he's a long way from his rabble-rousing youth. His lyrics have always had a political and social bent, but McLachlan is less concerned about finding fault with authority now than he is leaving a better world for his children.

"In order to challenge your own thoughts, you have to live life," McLachlan said.

Not that Phobia has abandoned its principles. McLachlan still gives voice to anarchistic values.

"It doesn't mean going around blowing up buildings," he said. "It's about self-preservation and living for yourself. That's pretty much how we are."

Besides, in today's media age it's tough to speak out about much of anything without being branded something malignant.

"There's so many social problems in this world today," McLachlan said. "It's out of control. Sometimes it's better just to keep your mouth shut. But people like me have big mouths. I've always gotta be talking shit about something that's going to piss somebody off."

Ultimately though, McLachlan doesn't want to be so opinionated that he's turning off potential fans or preaching to the converted.

"Protest is important, but to me it's not always the most important thing," he said. "We are musicians, we like to have fun. Music is entertainment. For us it's mainly about meeting people, playing music and having a good time."

Times have changed in other ways. While young bands today have to carve out a niche in a much more crowded workplace, McLachlan doesn't think most of them have the integrity that he and his peers had.

"We went up against much bigger odds," he said. "Back in those days you'd get your ass kicked for being a punk. Nowadays you can go to the mall and become a punk. Being punk rock is socially acceptable now, but back in my day it wasn't."

Phobia is still going strong. The band recently issued a live album and a couple split releases with Extinction Mankind and Gadget. An EP is in the works. They're still recording and touring, but McLachlan has no concerns about the music scene he helped foment after he decides to retire.

"There's always new bands doing new things," he said. "There are kids starting out now who are brilliant at what they do. Scenes die out and come back; happens all the time. That's the way it's always going to be."

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