Anyone who’s ever been in a free-form jam session with me knows that I like to create noise by taking single shot drum samples, adding a ton of reverb, and compressing them as much a possible. I then manipulate this noise by playing with the parameters of a filter that it’s running through or by playing with the volume of the track that it’s in. Even though I used this technique in jam sessions many times throughout Stanford, I didn’t start seriously incorporating it into my music until Out of the Blue in 2016 (it can be heard in “Radioactive”). So after “Assembly Line” and “Live In Fear” evolved out of what was essentially noise, I decided to revisit the good ol’ reverbed-out-and-super-compressed-drums technique for the next beat.
The result of this was “Belligerent.” Much like “Radioactive,” the compressed drum effect reminded me of explosions so, much like “Radioactive,” I decided to make this song about war. Additionally, the phrase “JUST TELL ME THE TRUTH!!!!” came to me out of nowhere while I was making the beat so I decided that this song had to be about some form of deception as well. The original idea was to tell a story (from a first-person perspective) of someone who joins the armed forces with the best intentions of protecting their country, experiencing and participating in horrible acts while deployed that they weren’t told about beforehand, and, as a result of the trauma and psychological damage from the whole experience, returning home just to fall through the cracks of society and become a homeless panhandler on street. This song was to be called “Vagabond” and I didn’t think I was capable of writing it at the time. Because of this, I shelved the instrumental and went on to make “Midnight Metropolis” and “2084” instead.
Once Trump won the 2016 election, however, this instrumental became much easier to work with. This was in large part due to his destabilizing and provocative actions involving China (by contacting Taiwan), Iran (threatening to leave the nuclear deal), and North Korea (no explanation needed) to name a few. With all of this going on, it really didn’t seem long until the U.S. started another pointless war for the sake of political influence or resource extraction. As a result, I decided to change the subject of this song to imperialism and changed the title to “Belligerent.” The first verse would cover the motivations of imperialism, the second verse would cover the methods of imperialism, the third verse would cover the effects of imperialism, and the choruses would question the justifications that are used to deceive the public about imperialism. I did not strictly adhere to this outline when I finally wrote it but the final song does follow that overall structure to a certain extent.
Even though this song is supposed to be about the consequences of actions that are happening now, it is in many ways about past wars as well. Much of the third verse deals with the rise of ISIS from the resulting power-vacuum that was left by the toppling of Saddam Hussein during the Iraq War. The second chorus refers to the Johnson administration’s justification for escalating the Vietnam war. Parts of the second verse refer to massive bombing campaigns that were carried out during the Korean War. Since history repeats itself, I felt like the best way to write about a hypothetical future war in this song was to write about these events that have already occurred. The best indicator of the future is the past.