“Nazi punks fuck off” was the tune members of Stray From the Path were singing to on their 2017 record, Only Death Is Real. While Dead Kennedys were the ones who shouted the lyric first back in 1981, Stray surprisingly caught a lot of flak for including it (amongst other similar sentiments) in their brazen single, “Goodnight Alt-Right” — and not from the people they were expecting.

“We had half of our fans angry at it,” guitarist Tom Williams reveals, “and the other half of our fans were like, ‘This isn’t a real issue.’ Yeah, it is. This is bad, and it’s growing and we want to put a stop to it. People were very upset with us.” The issue at hand? White nationalism.

As their band name suggests, Stray have never been shy about their opinions on social and political issues and deviating from mainstream thought. They have always been blunt and unapologetic about identifying and criticizing hypocrisy, corruption, racism, sexism and other social justice issues. Yet, for some reason, their post-presidential election record apparently alienated some fans in a way they had never anticipated.

“Bands didn’t really want to take us out on tour,” he continues. “There’s a reason the only bands we went out with were, like, Anti-Flag. It was a pretty tough time, and we just had to keep fighting through it. People were afraid to touch us. We didn’t know that people weren’t gonna back us.”

But since the release of that record, things have changed. The undeniable hatred and division that has grown out of the Trump presidency has alerted people, including Stray From the Path, that the world is heading down a frightening road. In the wake of this realization, the band is shifting their focus for their new album, Internal Atomics. The message can’t just be about condemnation anymore, it has to be about change.

“The record is still very angry and still very pissed off,” Williams explains, “But it has a positive twist, which honestly is weird for us because usually everything is so aggressive and polarizing. We realized we need to get together and make the world a better place.”

Courtesy of Stray From the Path
Courtesy of Stray From the Path

The band arrived at this new approach to making music due in large part to a humanitarian trip they took to Africa in 2018. The Hardcore Help Foundation took Stick To Your Guns to Africa in 2017, and that effort inspired the members of Stray to want to make positive change, too.

“When we got there, we didn’t really know what we would get ourselves into," Williams says of the excursion. "Being out there was very eye-opening to say the least. We saw that a lot of people are in trouble and don’t have the basic needs that they need to live. While we’re here [in America] worrying about who the president is and what bills are being passed or who said what on the news, these people are skipping school because they need to find food within garbage to feed their family."

“We saw that there are people going to Africa doing a lot of good work. People have dropped things in their lives to start organizations in Africa to help people there and to give [them] a real shot. Realize, we live a pretty privileged life. Even the worst life you could imagine in America is still not what it is in Africa. It really shaped our perspective.”

Courtesy of Stray From the Path
Courtesy of Stray From the Path

After working with the Hardcore Help Foundation and Actions Not Words to help bring clean water to people in Kenya, Stray returned to the states with a new objective: bring people together to work toward a better future.

“We don’t want to lose unification,” Williams asserts. “A lot of things we do are polarizing. A lot of people are either with or without Stray, but we don’t want that. We want people to be together. The last record split a lot of people down the middle as far as what they feel about Stray. Whether it’s politics or climate change or education or firearms, there’s so much to be done and so much that can be done. [Internal Atomics] is kind of a call to arms. If we bond together, we can start to change things starting next year.”

Next year, of course, being the 2020 race for the U.S. presidency.

“It’s a big year, and the next 10 years after that [will also be] big," he says. "[We’re] inheriting a country and inheriting a planet that has been destroyed by greedy people. Even if this feels too far gone, we can still do something if we bond together to do it. I think even a lot of conservative people are like, ‘Whoa, what the hell is happening here?’ So I’m curious to see how 2020 goes. There’s definitely recovery for it. I saw the despair [in Africa], and I saw what one person can do—and that gives me hope.”

But it’s not just about presidents and government leaders. Even now, Williams and many others across the globe look to people like 16-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg for hope and inspiration.

“She noticed that she had that within her to go out and change the world,” he remarks. “She had millions of people all over the entire world [behind her]. Those are the type of people that can start to change the world if they really try, and I think there’s a lot of other people who have that within them.”

As for Stray, they believe it is their role to awaken that power within others through their music. “I’ll bring a mic to a gunfight,” vocalist Drew York shouts in their new song, “Double Down” featuring Matt Honeycutt (Kublai Khan). Internal Atomics stands not just to point out wrongdoing and injustice in the world, but to take an active stand on these issues.

“We feel like our job is to spread what we think is a positive message and a way to view the world,” Williams concludes. “We are [your] option to learn about things through hardcore and metal. We find value in playing to 100 people in New Zealand or 50,000 people in France, and everything in between.”

Courtesy of Stray From the Path
Courtesy of Stray From the Path

As for what happens when the music stops playing, that next step is ultimately up to you, the listener. In typical Stray From the Path fashion, the band gives you one final kick in the ass with the closing song “Actions Not Words” before you go:

The choice is yours / Change the world.”

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