This article originally ran in the Dec. 17, 2015 issue of Smashpipe.
By Tony Sokol
Leave it to a zombie punk band to chainsaw through the red tape of the Syrian refugee problem.
The Syrian refugee crisis is getting to be a real pain in the ass and not just for the Syrian refugees. Surrounding countries are overloaded with requests for asylum. A lot of countries saw the heart-wrenching plight of these fleeing families and immediately jumped into pre-emptive action, barring their entry as a deterrent to any Trojan horse terrorist applicants.
All of that means nothing to Kill Matilda, a zombie-hunting-horror-dance-punk out of the northern wasteland of Canada. From now until December 27th, the band will be selling their new album ‘Songs of Survival’ on Bandcamp with a “pay what you want” price-tag. The band is giving half the sales to help sponsor Sayf, a “queer Syrian man who is not only feeling war and violence, but also persecution for his sexual orientation,” on his journey to Canada. The band hopes to raise $20,000 by Dec 31st, $12,000 goes to the sponsorship and the rest will help with settlement and living costs.
Smashpipe talked exclusively to Dusty Exner, the lead singer and guitarist of Kill Matilda, about the sponsorship.
Exner has a history of action outside the band. She “worked as a fundraiser for various international aid organizations, so talking to people about issues like the Syrian refugee crisis, child soldiering, women’s rights, Ebola, clean drinking water, these are all things I’ve been working on for years, trying to get people to care and inspiring people to make change,” she said.
“When the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, I was still working as a fundraiser and I remember even back then it was sometimes difficult to get people to care because the problem seemed so far away,” Exner explained.
“As the years passed and the numbers grew I really didn’t see the kind of media coverage or public response that was needed. The U.N. reported that the amount of funding received to deal with this crisis was way below what they needed. My thoughts have been with these refugees for years now. It’s been a cause close to my heart since it began.”
“I am so glad to see that the world is finally starting to care, although I wish it had happened a lot earlier. Many people by now have died who didn’t need to die, and many people have suffered who didn’t need to suffer so long.”
Exner gave details about how the band was pulled into the sponsorship.
“We found out some friends of ours were sponsoring Sayf and we were excited for the chance to support and make a difference,” she said. “I’m not sure how they were linked up with him but I believe Rainbow Refugees probably had a hand in helping connect them.”
Up until now, Kill Matilda has no involvement with LGBT or refugee issues. We wanted to know whether they were going to make a habit out of this kind of direct political involvement.
“As a band we haven’t formally done much for the LGBTQ cause in the past but both Mykel and myself were raised in same-sex households, so we are the product of same-sex families,” she explained. “LGBTQ rights are important to us because they directly impact our families and many of our friends. We would love to make a habit out of it.”
American media has turned the refugee crisis into a political football complete with a two-minute warning that has the potential to frighten anyone who can’t make the point spread. Canada’s media has been slightly less fear-mongering.
“There’s been a very different response from Canada than from America because we recently went through a change of governance,” Exner said. “Our last prime minister, Stephen Harper, was PM for almost 10 years. He was a right-wing conservative so the Harper Government’s immigration policies reflected that.”
“He was extremely xenophobic and actually Canada was one of the only countries that didn’t call for an extradition of our citizen who was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, Omar Khadr. Countries like Australia and Britain called for their national to be released, despite the fact that we had the only prisoner who was considered a ‘child soldier’ under the Geneva Convention.”
This changed with the last election.
“The Harper government was extremely anti-Muslim and racist,” Exner said. “Our new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has a much more open and inclusive policy. Many Canadians are very happy with the change because we’ve always been a nation of immigrants and welcoming those in need is much more in line with Canadian values than mistrust and closed borders.”
The Trudeau government has committed to bringing “25,000 refugees to Canada over the next few months and has expedited the process,” according to Exner. So hundreds of refugees are now starting to arrive.”
So, Canadians must be freaking out with all these potential terrorists lining up at the gates, right?
“The response from Canadians and the provinces has been incredible, each province offered so many spots that they actually offered more spots than 25,000 altogether,” Exner countered. “Here in Vancouver the Immigrant Services Society has been overwhelmed with donations and volunteers. People want to help these people. It’s really beautiful and amazing.”
But what do we really know about this Rainbow Refugees group and their connection to the Trojan terrorists? We have to be sure they’re wearing protection.
“Rainbow Refugees is an organization committed to helping LGBTQ people who are fleeing persecution in their own countries, along with those fleeing being of being HIV+ or their gender status,” Exner explained. “They provide advocacy support, information, and assistance to those in need. They are currently partnered with the United Church of Canada so that they can provide tax receipts to donors.”
American media portrays the refugees’ application process as a cake walk to hidden sleeper cell agents, while the rigorous vetting of applicants is actually grueling. Smashpipe wanted to know whether the applicants get hit with another wave of prejudice when they apply because of a hidden layer of anti-gay sentiments.
“It’s hard to say because nobody except those inside the vetting committee really knows what the process is like,” Exner admitted. “I can tell you that Canada is welcoming to LGTBQ refugees and, in fact, is a safe haven for these people. Canada prioritizes the safety of vulnerable refugees such as trans and LGTBQ folk, so I actually think they may have a slightly easier time getting approved than say, a single straight male.”
Kill Matilda believe in their paper-pushers and are “totally comfortable with whatever safeguards the government has put in place to vet refugees. We know that extremists make up such a tiny percentage of Muslim refugees worldwide, and in fact the growing number of displaced people is just fodder for organizations like ISIS.
“ISIS doesn’t want refugees to become westernized and find a home in Western countries; they want them to join ISIS. Allowing refugees to come to our country safely keeps them out of the hands of extremists and keeps them from becoming radicalized.”
Fans of the band are just happy that they have something to do now that their van broke down.
“We had to cancel a small portion of our larger tour mostly due to van/mechanical issues. We gave ourselves the time necessary to make sure we could get back out on the road in January safely,” Exner explained. “We have been receiving a really lovely response from the online community.
The band made their new album, ‘Songs of Survival’ available by donation big or small. That sounds like a missed opportunity for a lot of penny records, but not for Kill Matilda fans.
“We allowed people to pay what they want and the average price the album has been purchased for is still around $10, what we would charge anyway,” Exner said. “Most people pay $10 or more, a few people pay a bit less like $8, but it’s inspiring to see that when people are able to pay what they choose, they still place value on it. We expected some backlash from anti-refugee people but surprisingly there has been none.”
The freedom to pay pennies for a copy of a new record would make give a lot of New Yorkers the chance to toss out the same money what they’d give to a subway crazy. Canadians punk fans see this as a chance to do the right thing.
“The least was $2, the most so far has been $20,” Exner detailed.
Kill Matilda are known as big Misfits fans and recently covered “Night of the Living Dead.” Smashpipe wanted to make sure this whole thing wasn’t really just a way to bring about a gay zombie apocalypse.
“Yes. You’ve figured us out. Was it really that obvious?” Exner admitted.