For Travis James, "Theatrical" Is Not a Compliment
Travis James, lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for Travis James and The Acrimonious Assembly of Arsonists, has been a lightning rod for controversy since he set one of his wretched feet down on earthly soil.
The thing is, I think that he knows--even he would admit--that he's an asshole," syas Mark Sunman of The Haymarket Squares, who also plays with the Acrimonious Assembly. "But I don't really think he cares. I think it's more about how he thinks people see him and not caring about that, more than actually being an asshole. I think in a lot of ways he's a very good person and a really principled person. But he's still kind of an asshole."
From getting the kibosh put on him at The Firehouse Gallery for egging "himself," to turning off the power at Pub Rock Live during another band's set, to being featured on news reports about Phoenix police's "Operation Safe Summer," when they raided a show at notorious squat "The Mansion," while he was living there, James finds ways to catch flak from just about everyone he comes into contact with.
"It has also been alleged that I was 'involved' in making an 'Ass*ssinate Arpaio' banner at the 'DO@ Bloc' against SB 1070," James himself says, referencing a 2010 protest of Tent City, "and Arpaio himself mentioned the banner in one of his money-asking letters to supporters and called it a threat against his life." All of this is just in Arizona.
Before moving to the desert, James found himself under investigation by the F.B.I. for his involvement with a Washington based anarchist group's activities in 2004.
"I pled guilty to one of two counts of depredation of government property for vandalizing military recruitment centers. The prosecution was tied to a Joint Terrorism Task Force domestic terrorism investigation involving an Earth Liberation Front-related firebombing of a Hummer dealership in 2004.
"The two charges I faced carried a maximum of 20 years and a fine of $500,000. But with community support, lack of a previous criminal record, and the judge's appreciation for my intellect, I was convicted with three years supervised probation and thousands of dollars in fines and restitutions," he adds. "No one has ever been charged in the Hummer firebombing."
Where most people would take an experience such as James's as a reason to back out of the political organizing spotlight, James uses it as fuel for both his political and artistic fire, which drives him to maintain a certain 'do-it-yourself' aesthetic in all of his performances.
"Seeing a Travis James and The Acrimonious Assembly of Arsonists performance is like being at an anti-government rally taking place on Sesame Street. Everyone is happy and singing along but riled up and ready to smash windows and kick down doors at the same time," says Monty Oblivion of Manual Sex Drive.
James' fans know all of his lyrics and have no problem proving it to the angsty anarchist live, screaming along to all of his songs and moshing to their hearts' desire. But James takes connection with his fans a step beyond most musicians, opting to play his songs amongst the crowd most of the time; when he does choose to be on stage he has no problem allowing his followers to ascend onto the stage and sing and mosh along.