Kebs Talks Skateboarding, Inclusion, and Her Debut LP with Punitive Damage

Playing Seattle
Photo Credit: Clayton Hebenik

Punitive Damage, a Pacific Northwest-based hardcore punk band formed in 2018, rips hard. With a raw ferocity and a merciless attack on their instruments, their debut full length, This is the Blackout, which drops on October 14th via Atomic Action Records, rages at our decaying system.

At the center of the Punitive Damage eruption is Seattle bassist and professional skateboarder Kebs, whose passion for skateboarding, music, and social justice adds heat to This is The Blackout‘s meaningful scorch.

A longtime Seattle resident, Kebs first began learning guitar and getting interested in punk music at 12, inspired by her older brother’s collection of Green Day and Nirvana CDs. At the time, she was also starting to skateboard, a sport she says helped nourish her interest in music even further – she always takes a Bluetooth speaker with her to the skatepark, so she can jam while she skates.

“Skateboarding and music are naturally intertwined,” says Kebs, who went pro for Meow Skateboards in October 2020. “People put out skate videos and they’re edited to music… like Modest Mouse or Built to Spill come to mind, being a kid of the Northwest. I learned of a lot of bands through skateboarding.”

Through her teens and early twenties, Kebs continued pursuing her interest in music, learning a variety of instruments, and skating. While she excelled at both, she was also meeting resistance, exclusion, and loneliness as one of the only girls grinding rails or stepping on stage.

“Sometimes I’m skating and… it will pop [into] how some dude was a dick to me at the skatepark when I was a little girl and I’ll say, ‘fuck that’ and try my hardest,” says Kebs. “So, I’m constantly pushing myself to do things that feel scary. To get up on stage in front of people that might be better musicians than me, or play after a band that was fucking killing it that has way more following. I’m reminding myself that I’m strong and can do it.”

The pushback she faced as a young person also motivates Kebs to be a voice for justice and equity in the skating community, which is notoriously dominated by men—not unlike some aspects of the music community. As executive director of the nonprofit Skate Like a Girl, she works to empower girls and trans people through skateboarding. She’s also involved with Consent is Rad, an effort working bring cultures of consent to skate communities around the globe.

“I would say, in punk and hardcore culture, ten years ago people were talking about rape culture and sexual abuse, allyship, and racism. Skateboarding is a little bit slower to pick up on that, so I’ve taken some of the things that I’ve learned from punk and hardcore and brought that to skateboarding,” explains Kebs.

Vice versa, she brings her fight for social equity to the hardcore punk scene and to Punitive Damage, which she joined in 2018 after playing guitar for a band called Lowest Priority.

“Because my work with Skate Like a Girl is about creating space for women and trans and queer people in skateboarding and skateboarding has a big culture of teaching people how to skateboard, I’ve done that in punk as well,” she says, adding that she’s helped teach friends to play instruments.

Since their formation, Punitive Damage—including vocalist Jerkova, guitarist Czecho, drummer Alejandro, and bassist Kebs—has put out a few short EPs, but this month’s 13-track This Is The Blackout marks the band’s first full-length. Sure enough, issues of social equity and inclusion are topics tackled across their releases so far, particularly through the lens of Jerkova, who writes many of the lyrics and is the daughter of immigrants.

This is The Blackout also takes on other aspects of a defunct and unjust system—with roaring, acerbic emotion and a dash of hope. Kebs’ favorite track on the album, “Big Man,” explores how we “can’t afford to live, can’t afford to die” in an expensive and exploitative world. Hard-hitting “Nothing” condemns the complacency of Boomers, and “Pure Bloods/This Is The Sixth Sunrise,” draws comparisons to the present moment and the Nahua creation story in Aztec mythology, which suggests a time of massive tumult may be a beginning, not an end.

As the album drops, Kebs is proud of the entire thing and her commitment to community that made it possible.

“I feel like you could listen to the whole thing and not get bored,” says Kebs. “I think for me, it’s empowerment—and even though shit is fucked up and hard, that collectively, all we have is us. All we have is our friends and communities and the fun we create.”

Follow Punitive Damage on Twitter for ongoing updates.

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