In the Trenches with RJ Philips of Life Long Tragedy

Posted April 11, 2007 in
Hardcore’s longevity is a testament to the constant need of an outlet for angry disillusioned youth. It is all contingent on a seemingly endless stream of youth that are passionate beyond their years, but with the youthful mantra of “I hope I die before I get old.” In recent years, the media, corporations and mall-punk culture are doing their damndest to sedate this youth culture. An angry hardcore youth with more on his mind than going to the mall and getting a BMW for his birthday is a tough sell. A kid looking for the next cool thing is not. In recent years, a battle is being waged in the trenches between the fly-by-night set and the ones that are passionate and are invested. Fortunately for the passionate ones, they have an ally in the form of California’s Life Long Tragedy.

Life Long Tragedy (courtesy of

I recently spoke with guitarist RJ Philips about Life Long Tragedy, their future and the state of hardcore music. Hardcore is often made by and for youth, and Life Long Tragedy is no different—they formed in high school in 2001 at the ripe age of 16. The first full-length they released, Destined for Anything, was released three years later. This was followed by massive amounts of touring including a few stops at Salt Lake City’s Wild Mushroom Pizza. “I think we played there twice in a month in 2005” RJ noted - we had a chuckle about the fact that they played such a unique venue more than once in a month’s time. RJ mused, “It was an interesting venue for sure. It was cool though. The parking lot of a pizza place was the most unique (venue on the tour) I’d have to say.” Score one for Salt Lake City.

It is interesting to get the perspective of a touring band on the state of hardcore music, what bands experience while they are out on tour and to really gauge what is happening in the hardcore punk world. In talking with RJ, I think this was the issue about which he was most passionate—which is hardly a surprise due to the passionate and sincere nature of LLT. “I’m really tired of bands that have breakdowns for the sake of breakdowns. We hear that every night we’re out on tour. It’s so played out and overdone.”

We talked about how so many records are sounding the same, and RJ voiced an increasingly popular opinion. “It seems like a lot of stuff coming out now is generic and rehashed versions of stuff that’s been done before. That can go for lyrics as well,” a point about which we agreed. In keeping with LLT’s integrity RJ immediately followed up by saying, “If you want to have fun, have fun. I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade or anything. I just want to see more intense and passionate bands.” RJ sees the bigger picture. It takes all kinds of people to make up a group, but that all parts need to be represented, and to lose the initial passion and intensity of hardcore music is truly detrimental to its future.

We moved on to discussing the band’s next release, which they are set to record starting in the next month. Their first full-length for Deathwish Records is due in the fall; which is a huge step for the band. I wanted to know what was different about this album, since they are no longer teenagers and have a few more years of experience. “I think the main difference is that it is coming out on a way bigger label. I would just hope that more people would listen to it and check it out”. As for the musical direction, RJ talked about how unique it was and that “The songwriting is way better than it was back then. It’s more complex and not as boring.” Their last album was hardly boring, so with such confidence in their expanded musical direction the new album could shape up to something great. When asked about the lyrics, RJ simply stated, “We’d like people to get a positive message. The town we grew up in is kind of a dead-end place. [We’re] talking about our experiences here, trying to find a light at the end of the tunnel so to speak, and trying to change your situation if you’re not happy with it.”

Modesty was one of RJ’s greatest charms. At no point in our conversation did it sound like he was aiming for stardom or that he knew everything. When I asked him questions, he answered honestly, but seemed to be fully aware that he was only one person commenting, and that there could be multiple views. The biggest indicator of this modesty came when I asked about what he hoped LLT would accomplish. He simply answered that he would like to “travel the world, meet people, play with cool bands and hang out with friends”. This down to earth goal is something RJ feels LLT already accomplished, so to add on to that he noted “I think there’s so much more we can do as far as playing new places and meeting people. I don’t think we’re done yet. I want people to remember the band as a passionate band.” That’s the youthful advantage, and the reason Life Long Tragedy should be at the top of people’s lists. Passion, intensity, and getting out into the world are their current goals-—fame and fortune be damned. I can’t think of anything more punk rock than that.