Bullying is a pervasive problem in our culture, and New York rock band Face the King is doing everything in its power to show harassment victims that they can overcome debilitating, life-changing put-downs through the power of music.
Partnering with anti-bully movement Hate the Hate, Face the King asks all fans to email the band their experiences with bullying. The stories are nothing short of heartbreaking, but Face the King responds to each message and will be pursuing further anti-bullying efforts throughout the year and beyond.
I recently chatted with guitarist Eric Zirlinger, and here's what he had to say about the movement and why it's different than other anti-bullying campaigns.
1. First off, what inspired your band to do an anti-bullying campaign?
We're partnering up with this program called Hate the Hate. The idea came about because music used to be about selling records. It used to be about spreading a message. Everyone from Bob Dylan to Neil Young and there are artists who still do it but a lot of people are very focused on radio.
We all came together to figure out what was important to us and we kind of came up with the idea that no matter who you are or where you go, when you go to a concert, there's a phenomenon that happens when the lights go down and the music starts and everyone, people from all different walks of life, are all focused on the same thing. So that was where we came up with this idea, and we started talking to our fans online and getting some ideas to how they felt about it. They started sending us stories about how they'd been bullied.
We'd gotten hundreds of stories from fans about what they've gone through, and a lot of times people become musicians because they have a hard time adjusting t the day to day and the only thing they can connect with is the instrument and playing music. So we wanted to make a difference and we wanted to take a stand and we wanted to really be the voice for all of these people who are getting pushed around. We felt this was a great opportunity and a responsibility for us to take a stand for people who didn't take a stand for themselves or didn't know how.
2. So were any of your band members bullied growing up?
We just talked about this the other night. Some of the band members were bullied. Called things like ... is it OK if I'm a little vulgar? I apologize for the purpose of getting across what they were called.
We had band members who were called "f-ggot" and "p-ssy" because some band members dressed a certain way. When you're in that scene and you're a kid, you dress a different way and that's how you identify yourself. We had some band members who, to be honest, started playing because they didn't connect with anybody and music was a big outlet for them.
If I can be completely honest about my story, I wasn't bullied as a kid, and I wasn't a bully. I had, you know, I grew up in a pretty good home. I lost my father when I was in high school and I saw the importance of helping students. I was a popular student in school but my big thing was I wasn't a stereotype where I wasn't friends with [certain types of people]. My best friends in the world were the kids who were bullied mercilessly.
3. And did you notice that they were being bullied as it was happening?
I did notice it as it was happening. As a kid, I try to think now about what was happening and you feel in your gut that it's wrong, that something isn't right. When my father passed away, my best friend in the world who got bullied pretty hard was the only friend who, because I wanted to be left alone and do my art and music, no matter how hard I pushed, he didn't go anywhere. He was the kid that people pushed in all sort of directions for as long as I could remember, and he stayed by me when nobody else would. He saw that I needed somebody when nobody else realized that that's what I needed.
4. Are you still friends to this day?
He's my best friend.
I spend more time with him than anyone else in the band. One day, I hope I can get a chance to kind of repay him for everything he did for me. Friendship is about all the intangible things you never think about. It's not about the guy that's going to loan you $5 when you need it. It's about the person who gives you what you need and not always what you want.
5. So are there any particular media stories about bullying you find interesting? For example, the documentary Bully?
I know there's a lot of coverage about it now. There was just a story about a girl in the city who was pushed down the stairs. People recently did a big story on a girl who committed suicide and had been bullied, but if I could be very straight forward, what's making it stick with us are not the big stories. They are important, get the message out there, and force people to think, which is what I want, but what's making it stick with us is everyday we're getting inundated with stories from fans.
We're getting told from fans whose names I won't reveal that they've been beaten up their whole lives. They've had their jaws broken. Nobody in the world understands them, including their parents, and they're not comfortable saying anything because they're told it's part of growing up. So the big stories are important to us and we look them up, but the stories that really connect with us on a personal level are the day to day people. Some bands think them about buying CDs and shirts, but for us it's about them connecting with us and talking to us. We respond back to every single person who writes to us about bullying.
6. Is there a specific anti-bullying organization aside from Hate the Hate you support?
Hate the Hate is the one we're partnering with. Is the movie Bully the one where the family comes with the balloons and lets it go in the end?
Yeah, and it's a Weinstein Company film.
The reason Hate the Hate was so personal to us was because it's someone we know and we know the story very well. We've seen what this person is doing for everybody, and they're doing it through music. Another good one is Make Beats Not Beat Downs, but Hate the Hate is so important to us because it's centered around music, and that's how we came up with the theme for the anti-bullying campaign: You, Me, & the Sound.
7. With your anti-bullying movement, you're emailing everybody back who has shared a story with you. Are you doing anything else such as dedicating songs to victims or throwing any anti-bullying events?
The big concept for us is to throw a concert. No matter who it is, you all connect. This is what we came to Hate the Hate with. We wanted to organize a concert in the city, a 3-hour concert, centered around the anti-bullying movement, but it's not just here. We're taking seven to ten major cities where we know good people who will support the cause, and what we're trying to do is, on one night in seven to ten major cities at the exact same time, have bands play in support of the anti-bullying movement for three hours. We're working on something extra special to have this posted all over through the web. It's tough because I understand people have to make money but we're looking for donations. We're going to talk to every band about not being able to sell their merchandise for that show. We're going to try to get a t-shirt for "You, Me, & the Sound" for the anti-bullying campaign, and all proceeds from the shirts will go toward the Hate the Hate program.
The other thing that we're really hoping to do ... You know, sometimes you have to do something to grab the media's attention so people start to see it. I want to take some of the most hurtful things our fans have been called, the most hurtful, the kind that stick with you your whole life, and write them across a band. And live, we want people to be able to take a bat to the van, kind of letting out their frustration to promote the event and campaign. We're not trying to promote violence, we're just trying to using it as a symbol to start.
We're working on a song to support the movement, too. We're going to contact the studio that will hopefully record the song. Our goal with the song, like I said, is not about making money. We want to release the song so that people know the words. It's probably one of the hardest things for us to play because I have to play the drums and keyboard and sing at the same time, but we wanted something powerful and big sounding. Those profits, we're hoping, will be an ongoing source of revenue for Hate the Hate.
8. And do you have a time line for releasing the song?
We're hoping to do the song in the middle of August and we'd like to release it around then, not anytime after then. That's an ideal situation, that we can get it recorded and master before then.
9. Is there anything else you want to add or share with PolicyMic?
I had a friend growing up who was really struggling. He struggled with drugs. He struggled big time with drugs, the kind who would black out and wake up days later not remembering what was going on. When my father passed away, he took it really hard and I went to school. I wrote this song, "Face the King" around him, around the idea that before you face the king, you face yourself. When you're done with this world, before you even face God or whatever else you believe in, it's you that you have to face every day in the mirror.
The band I'm playing with now, I wouldn't play with if they weren't the best people I could find. That's what the whole concept of Face the King is all about. It's about being the best person you can be so you can look at yourself in the mirror, because that's one of my biggest regrets in the world: not still having that connection with him. I partly blame myself and it hurts, so what I'm hoping to do is teach bullies that before they face the king, they have to face themselves. You have to face yourself and ask yourself whether you've done right by people.
This article has been condensed. If you have a bullying experience you'd like to share with the band, email firstname.lastname@example.org.