You know the feeling. You’re tired, fed-up, and feeling like you’re ready to quit. Your bones are aching. Your muscles are fatigued. You need something to unlock that extra mile; to spur you through one more rep.
Carb-loading and protein-shakes will only get you so far. This is going to take fuel for your mind and soul. And there’s absolutely nothing better to fire you up than the music that gets your blood pumping and adrenaline buzzing.
CM Punk knows this. Through his time as a world-beating independent wrestler, a WWE superstar (BEST IN THE WORLD, multiple-time World Champion) and into his current guise as a UFC Welterweight contender, an adherence to the energy, the ethics (straight-edge and civil-liberty) and the underdog toughness of punk rock has consistently ensured his stand-out quality. Preparing for his second professional MMA clash with Mike Jackson in front of a hometown crowd at Chicago’s United Center for UFC 225 this Saturday June 9, Punk took time out of a rammed schedule to talk K! through the songs that lift him to the next level.
“I feel great! I’m excited! I’m happy to be getting this second opportunity [after the first-round stoppage against Mickey Gall at 2016’s UFC 203],” Punk begins with an air of happy-go-lucky self-confidence. He’s just been cleared by a jury in a defamation case brought by WWE doctor Chris Amman, but his focus is on the road ahead – and the soundtrack that’ll play as he gets there. “Some of these song picks could get repetitive,” he laughs with relaxed self-deprecation. “Every single song is on the list because it’s a power song. And I could easily throw 10 more at you! This was a hard list to compile!”
MISFITS, GREEN HELL
I’m a huge Misfits fan. I was actually there at Riot Fest in Chicago in 2016 when they reunited. Just to be there witnessing them together onstage was literally one of those things that I thought was never going to happen in my life – them sounding great was, like, a bonus. Green Hell just gets me to freak and spazz out. It’s a very fast song. It was ahead of its time. That whole album [Earth A.D./Wolf’s Blood, 1983] came around the time Misfits were changing their sound – getting heavier, darker, faster. It’s speed metal. If I’m on a run where I don’t want to run one more mile, that’s the song that’ll kick my ass into gear.
MADBALL, SET IT OFF
These are the songs that I listen to that make me want to run through a brick wall, and this is just the perennial hardcore song that makes you want to ball your fists up and swing at the world. It’s heavy. It’s great. Is the aggression of this sort of music something that can [cloud my focus] going into a fight? I don’t think so. I don’t cloud my mind with anger. I just like to use this music to push the workout. It’s for when you’re pushing yourself and you think you’re finished, you’ve done enough – then this’ll give you that extra push.
ROCKET FROM THE CRYPT, MIDDLE
I guess I could’ve just stuck to metal songs for this list, but there are so many different things that get my blood pumping. I’ve been into Rocket From The Crypt since the early nineties. Rocket are a band’s band and they’re one of my favourites of all time. They were one of those bands that – in an era when everyone seemed to be going in one direction – they were doing their own thing. People seem to try to shoehorn bands into specific genres, but they’re just straight-up rock‘n’roll! They’ve got a lot of songs you could dance to – songs you could slow dance to. But this one is just short, sweet, to-the-point and it’ll kick you in the teeth.
AGAINST ME!, BLACK ME OUT
I’m fortunate to be friends with Against Me!. The Rocket From The Crypt drummer [Atom Willard] is now their drummer, too. Things circle around. Black Me Out is a song that carries a lot of personal, emotional meaning to me. A lot of the words, when this song came out, mirrored exactly how I felt about situations that were going on in my life. It became something of a time capsule track for me. I was one of the first people to hear it live, too. I was gifted an a capella, acoustic version of it before they sped it up and made it more grungy. To me it’s just pure rage.
I hear that first note and that’s all it takes for me to want to run through a brick wall. It brings me back [to those troubled times]. It makes me feel angry, but in a positive way. Do I feel that a song can amp me up as much through lyrical content as tempo and heaviness? Yes, I’d agree with that. But on here, there’s something about the way Laura sings that song that you can just feel– it’s not about words, it’s just pure emotion. Every time I listen I can hear her frustration and the whole ‘Fuck it’ vibe of the thing.
RUN THE JEWELS, TALK TO ME
Run The Jewels are the band that helped me rediscover my love for rap. I’m very into NWA-era stuff. I’m a big Ice Cube guy – his Predator LP is in my top 5 albums of all time. It’s probably one of the angriest albums I’ve ever listened to. Nowadays, I’m like the old guy in the room – I don’t complain, but I feel like I don’t understand mumble rap and that kind of thing. That doesn’t make me feel anything. But Run The Jewels makes me feel something. These are two like-minded guys, the same age as me, who consistently put out these amazing solo records. Now they’ve teamed up and they consistently put out these amazing rap albums. Just like Rocket From The Crypt can’t be considered just a punk band, Run The jewels [can’t be considered just] rap. They’re not gangster rap. They’re not East Coast/West Coast. They just kill it.
RANCID, ROOTS RADICAL
Ooft! Talk about a time capsule track that’ll take you back to the first time you heard it. This song is the reason I perpetually feel 15 years old. It’s the song that makes me want to dance and sing and just freak out. I can run to it, I can lift to it, I can have it on in the gym when I’m grappling or hitting pads – it’s the all-purpose punk rock song, and it’s every bit as good as any other punk band’s best song. Hearing this song was the defining moment of 15-year-old Phil. I remember thinking that this sort of song wasn’t possible: it was just the song that made me feel happy when I was sad.
It made me think, ‘Who is this guy singing about not having any money for the bus and having to beg the bus driver to let their friends on? That’s me! Who are these punk kids singing about the same stuff you’ve been through?!’ They’re just so talented in being able to put pen to paper and get it all down. I’m very close to that band, too – Lars [Frederiksen], in particular, is like a brother to me. It’s weird how life works. I remember hearing that song and asking those questions. Then I meet him some years later and realise that we’re basically the same kids who came up in different times and different places.
COCK SPARRER, TAKE ‘EM ALL
British Oi! music wasn’t exactly popular when I was a kid growing up in the Midwest. But I had this really cool aunt who got me into so much great music: The Ramones, The Clash, Anthrax, but also bands like Spandau Ballet. She listened to a wide variety of stuff, but everything she listened to was cool. That allowed me to realise that there was other music out there beyond what they play on the radio. You discover imports. You discover other music from other places. I got to writing to bands and record labels. And I think history has shown that Cock Sparrer was really a band way ahead of its time.
They were writing these songs that weren’t that popular in their time – maybe they weren’t marketed properly or the record label didn’t get behind them – but the music is great and the musicians are geniuses. That whole album [Shock Troops, 1983] is one of the greatest albums of all time. Everything on there is a banger. We’re Coming Back could be the choice, too. But this is the one that’ll really make you pump your fists.
BOUNCING SOULS, APARTMENT 5F
I’m just a little bit of a Bouncing Souls fan… [Punk Laughs – he’s tattooed with the ban’s symbol, has used their songs as his entrance music, and has appeared onstage with the band..] It’s almost impossible to pick my favourite Bouncing Souls song. This one would probably amp me up the most for a workout. But this is a band I’ve been friends with for longer than I can remember. It’s the same [kind of relationship] I have with Rancid. They just seemed like the same kids singing about the same things I was going through – just across the country from me.
They were like the soundtrack to my youth. Now they’re another group of guys that I wouldn’t even refer to as friends – I’d call them family. They’re guys who’ll stay at my house when they’re in Chicago and when I’m in New Jersey I’ll stay at theirs. It’s the music that brings people together. You get to realise that you’re the same as these dudes. All of their friends are the same as yours. It’s this whole community with the common thread of punk rock running through.
TURNSTILE, I DON’T WANNA’ BE BLIND
They’re such a fresh new hardcore band and I think everyone should listen to them. I got turned onto them by my friend Chad Gilbert from New Found Glory. He’s a hardcore kid just like me. More often than not, when people tell me I need to listen to a band where they love it, I just feel lukewarm. But Turnstile are different. It just feels like they take this old school approach to the music and make it new. Do I have any problem with that experimental approach to hardcore? No. If it’s good, I like it. There’s good music and there’s bad music.
I’m not one to label stuff. That’s why I’m comfortable including a band like Run The Jewels on a list for Kerrang! it’s important to open people’s eyes to these common threads running through all different kinds of songs and bands and genres of music. I love how Turnstile have progressed [between Nonstop Feeling and Time & Space]. I love bands who are themselves. I love bands who don’t just come out with a new album that sounds exactly the same as the last album. People change and grow on a daily basis. And their [artistic] progression is just them expressing themselves.
MOTÖRHEAD, ACE OF SPADES
It feels like putting this song on any kind of list at this point is something of a cliché. But Motörhead are a band that bridges the space between punk and metal. That’s extremely important. This is a song – and a band – that made the punk rock kids, the stoners, the metallers all realise that we’re all the same. In a society where everyone is so quick to label everyone else in terms of race and religion and all this other ridiculous shit, that feels so important. Knowing the story of the band, their backgrounds, those ’80s tours with acts like Metallicaand Cro-Mags, this song symbolises the bringing together of those different underground subcultures. My last memory of Motörhead is a bittersweet, sad story.
I was onstage at their last show in Chicago. It wasn’t their last last show, but it was close. Afterwards, myself and Lars from Rancid spent a lot of time with Lemmy, just talking about music and records. The funny part of the story is that Lars took a picture with him, but I didn’t. I’m not really one to bother people for pictures. I just felt lucky to be able to hang out with Lemmy, to chat and BS with him. He didn’t act like he was above anyone. We left the trailer and Lars asked why I didn’t ask for a picture with him. I said, ‘I don’t wanna’ bother him…’ and Lars just said, ‘Dude, it’s Lemmy!’ He dragged me back in and Lemmy just said ‘So you don’t want a fuckin’ picture with me?!’
FRANK TURNER, THE NEXT STORM
I love Frank Turner, and I love his music. The opportunity to appear in the video for The Next Storm literally just dropped into my lap out of the blue. Frank’s manager just contacted me with the vision for me being in the video and I though I was down for it, [especially given how] the song’s about weathering the storm and picking yourself up when you’re down. I was flattered that they’d ask me to be in the video. It was fun. The shoot was great. And when you talk about people who come from one certain genre then branch off to be themselves, it feels like Frank’s a prime example. Do I think he could hold his own in an actual fight? Yeah! I was shocked by how tall he was. Maybe he’d need to lift some weights to help define and chisel that body into a fighting machine. But, yes, there’s a chip on that guy’s shoulder. There’s definitely a mean side to him.
LIVING COLOUR, CULT OF PERSONALITY
I’m absolutely not sick of talking about this song. It’s just that I can sound like a real dick-bag if I tell everybody that I go to the gym or head out running and listen to my own entrance music to get me going! This is still a song that makes me want to run through a brick wall and fight the Russian army! It came out in 1989 and it was my Little League baseball team – The Indians’ – anthem. Sonically, you hear it on the radio and it just blows your mind and changes your world. It’s, like, ‘Who are these guys?!’ Then you get into them and go back to find out who influenced them and all of a sudden you’re a 12 or 12-year-old kid playing baseball and listening to Bad Brains! Each of the Living Colour guys are such amazing artists and musicians. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen them live! Lyrically, sonically, musically, their ability to pull from all sorts of music to build those songs is amazing!”