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Haymarket Squares blend music and activism

By Colin Marston ’13
The Bronco Beat

“Oh, oh, oh/I’ll get him hot, show him what I’ve got/Can’t read my, can’t read my/No he can’t read my poker face” – “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga.

“Don’t stop, make it pop/DJ, blow my speakers up/Tonight, I’mma fight/Until we see the sunlight/Tick tock on the clock/But the party don’t stop, no” – “Tik Tok” by Ke$ha

“We don’t live in a democracy, and I’m sure that we never have/Electoral college means that your vote doesn’t count and that it never has/Money is the high influence, which means that you will never be represented – “Oligarchy” by the Haymarket Squares.

Wait, what?

Ke$ha, Lady Gaga and the other divinities of American consumer culture garner tens of millions of views on YouTube, see their albums reach platinum status and ride on a cult of personality wave.

But when was the last time people stopped groaning about contemporary pop music and gave a listen to their local anarchist punkgrass band?

The Haymarket Squares are a local Phoenix band consisting of three members.

Mark Sunman plays the mandolin and accordion; John Luther Norris plays the guitar, harmonica and banjo; Marc Oxborrow plays the bass and all three of them sing.

The band’s name, the Haymarket Squares, is an allusion to the 1886 Haymarket affair, where several Chicago anarchists were executed in suspicion of detonating a bomb.

The Haymarket Squares describe their influences as including This Bike is a Pipe Bomb, Against Me!, The Clash, Flogging Molly, Elvis Costello, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Woody Guthrie.The band is politically oriented to the left and their views are lucidly expressed in their song lyrics and in the song names themselves.

“Oligarchy,” “I Wish There Was a God” and “We Got a War” are just a sample of some song names.

The band’s website is

If you had to, how would you classify your band? In what genre?

We classify ourselves as punkgrass, which of course is punk rock and bluegrass. We are not a bluegrass band, which is how a lot of people think of us (except for bluegrass musicians).

Your band name is an obvious allusion to the Haymarket Square affair during the 1800s. Why did you choose that for your group’s name?

We like the name because it sounds rootsy and old-timey, kind of like a lot of our songs, but it has a meaning that resonates in the hearts of those who fight for human rights and for those who know the history of that struggle. Adding the plural makes it slightly self-deprecating, which is kind of like us saying, “we’re not trying to be cool.”

What is your opinion of the Phoenix independent music scene, and do you see a vibrant future?

The Phoenix music scene is pretty accessible for such a large city. You can really throw something up the flagpole and if it doesn’t suck, people will salute. Therefore you get a lot of stuff that is unique and unpretentious, but you do also get some stuff that’s, well, less easy on the ears (I’m trying to be nice). I don’t know what the future holds for the Phoenix music scene, and I really don’t care to be honest, as long as I get to have fun playing shows and connecting with people through music. The Phoenix music scene is fun and I hope it stays that way for a long time.

What are some musical inspirations for your group? Where do you get encouragement? Do you get inspiration from any great past icons of music?

The three of us have a wide variety of musical inspiration, but to name a few of our favorites: This Bike is a Pipe Bomb, Against Me (older stuff), The Clash, Flogging Molly, Elvis Costello, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and probably a fair amount of classic rock and assorted hippie music. Woody Guthrie stands as a shining example of somebody who used music to represent the people.

Your band features songs with very politically charged themes. What do you think is music’s place? For ascetics, politics, beauty, all?

I think I started writing political music because I found it easy to write about stuff that pissed me off. During the Bush administration, I started writing anti-war songs on my mandolin and that’s how the whole thing got started. We’ve stuck to the theme of picking out things that are really messed up with the world (the drug war, the war on terror, capitalism, religion) and writing songs about them. There are a few songs that are positive, so we try not to be all doom and gloom. I think art just reflects what’s in your heart and your head. If you are going insane because of all the ways we are destroying the world, it’s going to come out in your art.


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