Austin Stemper – Free

By Ed


If you haven’t heard Free yet you must be living under rock.

Im keeping it short and sweet I think they are next level so I contacted Austin and we had a great little chat below.


DR: So what made you guys want to do Free?

Working closely with each other in Clear, Pat and I wanted to start a new project that was still inherently hardcore but a little more outside the box than what we were used to writing. As time went on, Pat and I kept going back and forth on who we wanted to play and create with until the lineup filled itself out with Ryan on guitar, Kei on bass and Shawn on drums.


DR: Did you know from the start what kind of sound you wanted?

Absolutely, from the get go we wanted the band to have a sound that was equal parts dark and noisy yet concise and thoughtful — really looking to the Inside Out EP and the Turning Point LP for reference when writing the initial batch of songs.

DR: Are you all happy with the demo?

Yeah we are very happy with how everything turned out. As a whole we feel that the demo exhibits five different point of views resulting in a true cohesion of the sound we set out to capture. Also working with Trevor Vaughan is such a comfortable, conducive experience so we were able to hone in on exactly what we were going for.


DR: How were some of the first shows? Was it weird for the HH guys after being in a band everyone loved so much to be back at it together?

We couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of shows first starting out, playing our first show at the second installment of America’s Hardcore Fest opening for so many great up-and-coming and established bands as well as being able to say goodbye to some of our oldest and closest friends in Foundation and Bane at some of their last few shows.


It really hasn’t been weird at all for us to be playing music together again, if anything as bandmate it feels as if hardly any time has passed at all. We are more focused on what lies ahead carving out a new path for Free rather than looking back at some rose-tinted expectation of the past.


DR: Are you guys all living pretty close to each other to practice and play out?

Pat and Shawn live in New England, Ryan and Kei live in New York and I live in DC so we tend to centralize all of our activity in the general NYC area for now. Even though we cover a large area of ground we make an effort to meet up at least once a month, whether it’s to write new music or play a string of shows.


DR: Who came up with the name Free? It has a great Straight Edge feel to it for me.

Oh wow, for being such an open-ended name that’s cool that you interpret it in such a way. Free is actually an acronym for our so-called mission statement and is Pat’s brainchild. The acronym is:

Free to be

Right to choose

Equal to me

Equal to you

Ultimately we want those who listen to feel that no matter what your beliefs are, how you choose to identify, or on what issues you stand, you are able to take something away from the messages that we try to convey which are unity, tolerance, equity and equality.


DR: What bands would you say have influenced Free the most?

Along with the aforementioned Inside Out and Turning Point, we all tend to look to the bands we cut our teeth on growing up such as Swiz, Count Me Out and Burn for guidance while also being compelled by our contemporaries who include but aren’t limited to bands like Fury, Free At Last and Red Death.


DR: What’s your personal history?

What bands did you play in previously and what was your path into Hardcore?

I grew up in a college town called Harrisonburg, Virginia located between DC and Richmond by proxy of the Shenandoah Valley. In the mid 90’s I was exposed to skateboarding culture through some neighborhood kids and with the help of MTV and some friends’ older siblings it created the perfect storm that was my interest in punk rock. I continued to follow the rabbit hole of buying value-priced sampler CD’s and going to local shows until sometime in the late 90’s when I stumbled across the Cinema Beer Nuts, Punk Uprisings and Victory Style compilations which exposed me to hardcore and I haven’t looked back since.


After going to shows for a few years, in 2003 some high school friends and I decided to start our own band called The Frontline, a band for which I sang. Through releasing a record and touring with The Frontline our paths crossed with the Have Heart guys in 2006 and we maintained a close friendship for years. Meanwhile in college some friends asked me to join a band called Savage Land in which I would now be playing guitar. It wasn’t until the Summer of 2008 when Have Heart asked me to roadie for them for some upcoming tours, and having just graduated college, I relished the opportunity. When it was announced a few months later that the band was breaking up and that Kei couldn’t do the rest of the touring, the band offered me the position to play guitar for them for the duration of the band and I accepted. It was on this tour that Pat and I laid the groundwork for the project that would become Clear.


As Pat and I worked on getting Clear off the ground I spent the next year or so filling in for my friends in Give and Police & Thieves here and there. Fast forward to the Summer of 2011 when I was asked to join Mindset and from there I would join both Peace and Praise; and after moving to DC in 2013 I started Line of Sight with my friends in Protester.

DR: What was it like playing shows on tour with HH? Where did you go with them?

The last few months playing in that band, and that last year and a half as a whole, were really special — not only were the shows themselves great, but I learned a lot about myself and the world around me through the life experiences I had on those tours and wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. In the consecutive time I spent on tour with them we did two laps of North America and Europe as well as South America, Africa and a few smaller runs in the States/Canada.


DR: Do you personally think kids are pleased that HH have almost come back in the form of Free?

Yeah I think that once word got out about who was in the band it generated a lot of a “they’re back” buzz which can be detrimental to a new band trying to get off the ground. After the demo dropped and it was realized that Free isn’t so much of a copy of what has already happened but a new identity altogether it helped the music stand on its own and sets the stage for what’s to come.

DR: What can we expect from Free in 2016?

We will be getting out and playing as much as our personal lives allow us at this point and we will keep writing and releasing music thusly.


DR: Thanks for your time.

Thank you, Ed!  Keep Droid Rage going, always a great read!

Photography by  Reid Haithcock,Todd Pollock,

Pongsakorn Neton  ,Johnny Milano and Rebecca Lader.

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