When Donald Trump was elected in 2016, Daniel James was upset with more than just the outcome of the election.
“People were saying that punk is going to get good again,” James says. “I felt almost offended by that and didn’t want to participate. People are losing their health care and losing their rights.”
It’s not that James doesn’t use his platform as a musician to take political or social stances. He’s vocal about his zero-tolerance policy of “no homophobes, no racists” when promoting and performing at shows.
“We will call you out,” James says.
James writes uppity, glam-rock-inspired punk music that would fit into the New York punk scene of the 1970s. His band, Indonesian Junk, even looks the part — studded belts, pin-riddled leather jackets and leopard-print tops are often part of the garb. The music is a nod to the past, but not a recreation of it. Indonesian Junk’s sound feels fresh.
Fans concerned about the state of punk music need only to look — or listen — to bands like Indonesian Junk to realize that good punk-rock never really went anywhere.
Indonesian Junk was formed after James uploaded some music for an unnamed project to Bandcamp in 2014. He eventually named it after lyrics from Cheap Trick’s “Surrender.”
James met current bass player Johnny Cyanide during Alice Cooper’s 2012 performance at Summerfest. Cyanide was standing in the row ahead of James.
“Cooper was playing a lot of stuff I didn’t like, so I yelled out ‘Dwight Fry,’ and he turned around and high-fived me,” James says. “It seems like such a cliché ’80s thing.”
Current drummer Mike Mattner was added to the mix after conflicts with the band’s previous drummer created an opening. Mattner made his first recorded appearance on the band’s debut full length, Stars in the Night, last year.
“I feel like we’re a really good band now,” James says. “I feel like it’s the ultimate version of our songs when it’s us playing together.”
The most recent evidence of the band’s chemistry comes in the form of a new EP, Darkness Calling, released Aug. 23. The EP has four songs — power-pop-punk bliss, with catchy riffs, even catchier hooks and massive solos.
The first track, “When I Find You,” uses a warning as its refrain: “I heard you were back in town / When I find you, you’re gonna get beat up.” From the head-bopping bass line in the verses to the solo that erupts from the middle of the song, the band’s strengths are quickly evident.
Next is a cover of KISS’ “C’mon and Love Me,” which reflects the influence such artists as T-Rex and Hanoi Rocks have had on James’ songwriting. The band wraps up the cover with a teaser of another KISS hit — the opening riff to “Detroit Rock City” is played, then fades out. It’s a fun little joke.
The third track, “I Could Die,” slows things down with somber lyrics of heartbreak and self-deprecation. The downward shift is replicated with a guitar solo that wails just as wistfully as James’ vocals.
The closing track, “See the Light,” is a rocking and rolling number that shows the darker side of the band, as James asks, “Do you see the light? Do you want to die?” Carried by a bluesy guitar riff and group vocals and culminating in a flurry of noise, this track contains the lyric and attitude that became the EP’s name.
In celebration of the new EP, Indonesian Junk is embarking on a “Darkness Across America” tour, which will cover the Midwest before heading east and then back.
When touring is over, James plans to return to the studio to record another album.
“I definitely have a lot of songs still in me,” James says. “It helps me compartmentalize my life — it’s a great outlet.”
Indonesian Junk performs at the Riverwest Public House Sept. 29 with Jollys, Iron Pizza and Duckling. The show starts at 8 p.m. Admission is free.