Saturday, August 30, 2014

Crucial tunes abound at a heavy Hoverfest in Portland


Andy: text. Cat Rose: photos.

YOB's Mike Scheidt might as well have been donning a crown when he stared out into the crowd. As 500 or so metalists dug in deep and prepared to let the headlining Portland trio pummel them, Scheidt stood still for a moment, nodded his head, clenched his left fist and raised his arm in the air.

It was understood -- some crucial shit was about to go down and Scheidt and his men were in charge. They were the movers and shakers in this place.

We were all noble citizens of Hoverfest alley last Saturday. It was the ideal place to call home for eight hours in an industrial sector of Portland as we were embraced by a barrage of heavy tunes of the highest order. Monstrous riffs and soaring vocals ruled the day and each of the eight bands provided twists and turns in their musicianship that led us along the righteous path of doom.

When you're in this environment of skull-busting and trance-inducing tuneage, you've got to sport your game face for full effect. Some Hoverfesters went with bulging-eyes intensity, others went eyes closed tight as if experiencing throbbing pain (perhaps a flesh wound from a particularly vicious riff). For some, it's a scowl, for others a smile or an evil grin. Whatever it takes -- we're out there and appreciating the tunes that are slayed before us.

The Hoverfest community was a united crew, whether your suit of armor featured a Ron Burgundy T-shirt or leather vest ... bellbottoms, a skirt or shorts ... boots or tennis shoes... long hair or short. Everyone was part of the scene, whether you cruised up and down the alley with a swagger, chose to rage up front, lean against a fence or find a spot in the shade to avoid the blistering sun and risk having your game face become a tomato face.

Cravedog, Hovercraft Amplifiers and Nanotear surely delivered the goods at their inaugural fest. Photographer Cat and myself were stoked to be back in Portland at a music fest -- the last one we attended was under a bridge 20 years ago and featured Skiploader, Sissyface, Sean Croghan and others.

We'll surely return from our abode in Seattle when the rock beckons.









... Gotta dig the YOB bass, yeah?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Superior Viaduct reissues essential titles From Flesh Eaters, Gun Club, Crime

Crime, "San Francisco's First and Only Rock Band." (Courtesy of Superior Viaduct Recordings)

Here's another solid Los Angeles Beat cross-post that ran on its website on July 31.

By Bob Lee

Every once in a while, here at LA Beat Central, a press release arrives in our mailbox that makes me feel we’ve found a friend we just hadn’t met yet. The knowledge that Superior Viaduct Recordings has not only reissued the Gun Club’s "Fire Of Love" and the Flesh Eaters’ "A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die" on LP and CD for the first time in over a decade, but also fashioned an LP around Crime’s three singles, with previously unheard studio tracks, all in the same week, gives me a lot of joy. These are primal recordings, important moments in the history of California music, and they need to be available to everyone in high quality at a reasonable price. The fine folks at SV are providing us nothing less than a community service.

Crime, “San Francisco's First and Only Rock Band,” never released a proper LP in their time, and their classic singles of 1976-80 have never been out on CD or LP before this, though vinyl transfers have been bootlegged and cassette-grade copies of some other studio recordings have been issued a few different times on various labels. I’ve checked most of those out and there’s no question – "Murder By Guitar" is easily the best full-length Crime title ever released, the first one that sounds like it was mastered from actual master tapes. But it’s not just a sonic improvement on the same material that’s been out there – most of the nine tracks that appear alongside the singles don’t appear on any of the other releases I’ve seen, bootleg or otherwise. The performances of “Crime Wave,” “Piss On Your Dog” and “Dillinger’s Brain” here are much better than the previously released versions. “TV Blue,” a song I’ve never heard before, is a rare drop in the tempo, and one of the album’s high points. Their signature sound – restless, raw rock and roll in the vein of “White Light/ White Heat” with a taste for all things seedy and illegal – holds true through the entire album. But you can hear the band gradually evolving as players as the works get tighter and increasingly well-produced over time, climaxing with the nearly radio-ready sounds of 1980’s “Maserati” and “Gangster Funk.” 35 years too late is better than never, we finally have a Crime album worthy of the legend.

For their first few years of existence, the Flesh Eaters had no particular lineup, just singer and songwriter Chris D., plus some other people. The group’s first album had eight musicians playing musical chairs over the course of the sessions, mostly moonlighters from bands like the Randoms and the Eyes. For their second album in 1981, Chris D. pulled out the biggest guns he could find and created a true Hollywood All-Star lineup – John Doe and DJ Bonebrake of X, Dave Alvin and Bill Bateman from the Blasters, and saxophonist Steve Berlin, now of Los Lobos. It might be the single best musical use of an “all-star lineup” in the history of rock. For one glorious album, they sounded like nothing else on earth, a ripping, blues-drenched punk band that often gave the lead lines to the sax and marimba players. This is dense, sophisticated music that can go crazy at any moment, as when Alvin rips into a dark, damaging guitar solo on “So Long,” or when Chris D. decides to enunciate a particular word by howling from the depths of his being, as “Counting his chips” becomes “Counting his cheeeeaaaaaauuuurrrrrrrgh!” Lyrically, it’s as if Flannery O’Connor had a band, all fevered religious devotion, madness, desperation, death and the occasional flash of humor (Seriously, they have a track called “Cyrano De Berger’s Back.”) The shifty groove they achieve as Bateman and Bonebrake trade snare hits on “Satan’s Stomp” over Doe’s insistent bass line is one of the great LA rhythm section moments on record. Basically, it’s one of those things that I believe everyone should own and know, like "Thriller," but better.

The Gun Club’s first album was produced by Chris D., who also did the cover art, and oversaw its 1981 release on Slash imprint Ruby Records. The two records don’t sound much alike, but if you listen to them back to back, you can sense that they’re kindred spirits. If anything, Jeffrey Lee Pierce takes the Flannery O’Connor thing to even further extremes, wailing about his desire to “be a Baptist preacher/ so I don’t have to work!” and “going to the mountain with the fire spirit” in a high, wailing moan, with a group of young rockers who are trying to play the deep roots of American music without being retro about it. Pierce was said to bring Marty Robbins records to band practice just to have guys look at the covers and vibe off of them rather than listen to them, and in his own songs, you can tell he desperately wants to be that guy singing “El Paso” or “Devil Got My Woman,” wants to evoke the feeling of those records without imitating their sound. They’re more literal in their references than the Flesh Eaters; you can really hear the effects of what’s going on in LA at the moment with references to the Cramps (via the “Human Fly” intro quoted in “For The Love Of Ivy”), and the Urinals (Cf: “Sex” vs. “Fire Spirit”), but mostly you hear old, indelible things like Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, all channeled through this one, utterly unique collective consciousness. It’s another un-missable release.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Raise your pint: The Number Ones come rockin' out of Dublin

The Number Ones (Photo: Cait Fahey)
By Andy

If you want the lowdown on Dublin, Ireland's The Number Ones, vocalist/guitarist Seán Goucher is here to help.

Their sound is "like keys being cut in the wind." Their songs are "like butter melting in the freezer." And their lyrics are "like scraping burnt toast into a sink."

Translation: It's infectious and addictive punk-power-pop in the grand tradition of fellow Irish bands like Rudi, The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, Protex, etc, etc.

In short: It's fuckin' great.

The band leaped out of the gate about two years ago and also includes Eddie Kenrick (26) on vocals/guitar, Cian Nugent (25) on bass/vocals and Conor Lumsden (19) on drums/vocals. Goucher is the elder statesman of the band at age 27.

The Number Ones' self-titled debut album is now out on Static Shock Records of London and Deranged Records in Canada. It's a 10-song corker and well worth tracking down.

Here's an email interview with three of the guys. It's serious ... and loaded with laughs.

* Give us some history on the band and any interesting facts about the band and members (serious and humorous are OK!).

Seán: About two years ago, Eddie and I wrote some songs and demoed them in my parents’ attic with my little brother on drums. Those songs became our "Italia ’90" tape. Around that time, we had various friends helping us out live before Eddie’s old friends Conor and Cian joined the band. We all live in Dublin city and live in a house together, Monkees style. The neighbours don’t like Conor and constantly tell him the music he listens to “isn’t music.”

Cian: The band was formed in late 2011 early 2012 and after a couple of lineup changes we settled into being the proud family we are now. I've known Conor all my life as he's my younger brother, I taught him how to skate and dyed his hair blue when he was 10. I've known Eddie since he only drank flagons of cider and had to come up to Dubin from Portlaoise and sleep on our sofa. Goucher I had heard of because my friend fancied him but never met till we started this band because he was from Tallaght. We regularly all socialise together around the Dublin live music circuit.

* What were some of the first Irish punk bands (or worldwide) you heard? Which ones are your biggest inspirations to form a band?

Eddie: The first Irish punk bands I heard were Stiff Little Fingers, The Undertones and I guess Therapy? if they count. I got into Therapy? through my older brother and SLF via a lunatic neighbour. At some point a bunch of these bands and a broad selection of Irish indie and rock bands were featured on a 2 CD compilation that I reckon every home in the country owned. I loved knowing that all these bands had come from so close to where I grew up, Ireland being such a small place.

The first punk bands I got into more generally were probably all that stuff that got big in the early to mid '90s, again via my brother. Green Day, Offspring and Nirvana were the first bands I really got into, and as most enterprising kids will do, I read anything I could find about these bands which led me to NOFX, Rancid, Bad Religion, etc., which in turn led to Minor Threat, Black Flag, Bad Brains and so on and so on.

I've played in hardcore punk bands for I guess maybe 6 or 7 years and it was mainly during this period that, through the friends I'd made through the punk scene, I started finding out about more and more great melodic punk bands. I've always been really obsessed with melodies in songs as far back as I can remember, and the deeper I delved into these old punk/power pop/garage compilations and singles the clearer it became I'd happened upon a goldmine.

In terms of biggest inspirations to form a band, it's hard to really say. I think I remember seeing Buzzcocks on TV when I was 15 or so and thinking that looked really really fun. That was probably as influential as anything really.

Seán: It was through compilations that I got into a lot of the Irish stuff, too. Bands like The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, The Blades and The Golden Horde and then later the Good Vibrations stuff. In terms of inspirations for the band, starting out we were listening to a lot of Buzzcocks, Mick Jones’ songs in The Clash and compilations like Pebbles and Nuggets.

(Photo: Lyndsey Putt)

* When and where was your first gig? How did it go... were you spot-on or was it a tough go?

Seán: Our first gig was shortly after we got going and was in a venue in Dublin below The Lower Deck pub. We were pretty nervous and turned the amps up quite loud to drown out the lyrics. It didn’t matter much since the front row was full of people I had never seen before singing along to our songs, which was a bit weird.

Cian: First gig we played as this lineup was a two-in-one-night job. As far as I remember, both were very drunk and fun -- probably sounded pretty crappy. Since then we have really knuckled down and focused on our craft and turned into the powerhouse we are now. Around a year ago, Eddie insisted we rehearse 6 hours a day, and since then we've really started to get good.

* What have been some highlights for the band thus far?

Eddie: I think a highlight for me personally was a blazing argument mid-set that was all my fault followed by emotional apologies/general strengthening of friendship, and later that night Cian leaving our pal Myles Davie's house to go for a smoke, getting lost, getting on a bus, putting me on the phone to the bus driver, getting another bus, hopping a tube and being found by our friend Sam a few hours later wandering around the opposite side of London wearing no shoes.

*  Any interesting story behind the name? What makes you lads No. 1 as opposed to runner-up or an honorable mention?

Eddie: There was already a band called The Pisses

Seán: I can’t fully remember but I know I wrote it on a CD-R for Eddie with recordings we’d done but I’m not sure if it was a Big Star or Prisoner reference. It stuck in any case and now we are very hard to Google and Tweet about.

* What's the Dublin scene like nowadays? What are some other hot bands and clubs, etc?

Eddie: Cian's other band Cryboys are the best band in Dublin.

Seán: There is a good scene in Dublin at the moment, which is nice. Some bands worth checking out are Faux Kings, Exploding Eyes, September Girls, Sissy amongst others.

(Photo: Cait Fahey)

* How has your music been received around the Dublin area and elsewhere? Are you making an impact with your music?

Seán: Dublin has always been good, though anywhere we’ve gone we’ve had fun and been received well. In terms of impact, it’s kind of hard to quantify because everything moves so slowly in terms of releases, or at least it feels that way. At the start, everything moved a lot quicker because we recorded and mixed the tracks in a day and duplicated tapes the next, so anything longer than that feels like an eternity. Our album is only just out now so it will take a while before any impact is noticeable. Our mams all like us though.

Cian: Our aim was never to make impact, other than on the band we're opening for's rider. If you steal their leftovers, you can live off it for days and get really drunk that night. It's so good getting free beer because in Ireland beer in a bar is really expensive, you know you're looking at like 5 euro for a pint. Sometimes the band beer runs out and you have to drink their whiskey or something, which is a surefire way to puke.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Fix: 'It had to be loud, it had to hurt,' says vocalist Miller / Interview

The Fix (Courtesy of Touch and Go Records)

By Andy

My family never had a dog ... we opted for frogs, goldfish and guinea pigs.

However, one day in 1982, a snarling and ferocious beast in the form of The Fix came to my house and figuratively ripped my eardrums to shreds.

The Lansing, Mich., foursome were the standout band on a mixtape sent to me by Tim Tonooka of Ripper fanzine: their six tunes were equal parts lunacy and proficiency. Eye-opening and eye-gouging. Fucking delightful.

Thirty-four years later, Touch and Go Records reissued the brutal "Vengeance/ In This Town" single and "Jan's Rooms" EP as a 7" double-pack, gatefold treat -- 1,000 copies strong. Originally released in 1981-'82, the exact replicas hit the streets on April 15 of this year and quickly sold out.

Vocalist Steve Miller of the long-defunct band weighed in via email on the Record Store Day release (most of the copies were gone via direct sales or from distributors in the first day or two).

"What a great honor to have that demand. I don’t care about the collector thing. We made the music to be listened to. Some folks are acquisitive. I hear people bitch about that, but I have no concern," said Miller, whose band's original single sold for $3,500 on ebay in recent years.

Miller added: "Corey Rusk is a visionary who knows everything about the record business. He came to me and asked what I thought and my first concern was 'will anyone buy this?' I would hate to waste his money and time. Corey was sure it would move but he didn’t know how many copies (they had 3,000 in mind, but stuck with 1,000). He had the idea that 1,000 would be signed, at first by just me. Then he had the notion that (Craig Calvert, guitarist) might do it. Well, if I was gonna sign one, Craig wouldn’t refuse to sign the other. I was moving around as usual and ended up signing the things in a Florida hotel room. Tesco (Vee) and I spray painted the 'Jan’s Rooms' lyric sheets in my living room the day before I left. This was all in a week span -- the signing, the spray paint."

Miller: signing session. (Courtesy of Touch and Go Records)

So, while Miller's on a roll, we'll let him give us the lowdown on The Fix story, shall we?

** Give us a history of The Fix: influences and anything that stands out from the early days.

Started in Lansing, Mich., March 1980 –- first rehearsal in a basement at 1435 Roosevelt. Mike Achtenberg on bass, Steve Miller on vocs, Craig Calvert on guitar and Jeff Wellman on drums.

Wellman had a tight perm and a bad mustache when we first met him and we made him get rid of both –- he could drum like a motherfucker right outta the gate. Craig drove a red Cutlass with white leather seats and carried his Strat in a beautiful case along with several joints that he would go through as quickly as he could.

Mike and I were pals from high school who loved the blitzing rock starting with the Stooges and Five in the early-mid-'70s. We read Rock Scene and Creem and rarely looked at Rolling Stone. Separately got the first Ramones album in the first week it was out, and started scoring British stuff distributed by Jem. Kept digging into the music, then we saw the Stranglers in April 1978. The next day, I sold a stack of collectors Sporting News and bought a $35 guitar at Kmart. Mike bought a bass at Wilcox, a used store in downtown Lansing.

We practiced, writing our own songs since we couldn’t play anyone else’s. I had to drop guitar when we started The Fix because Craig was so damn good. So I had to be the singer. It was like all those guitarists got so discouraged after seeing Hendrix. After we heard him work out a couple songs he had in the can, Mike said, “why would you want to play with us?” He liked our bad attitude, he said.

One of those songs was “Vengeance.”

** What were Fix gigs like ... chaotic? What were some highlights from the live performances?

We quickly realized that we wanted to get up and get it on and get out fast. 25 minutes was fine, because we would string songs together and keep moving. The Ramones had done it and we took it from there. There were no sloppy Fix gigs, we rehearsed quite a bit and if anything, we could be guilty of being like a machine. If we started getting too much in that mode, I’d use that as a license to have more than two beers before a show just to make things looser. Usually it was never more than two beers because we moved so fast and you’d end up lost.

The volume was always a big deal to us and if a soundman was being a pussy, we’d ridicule him and try to intimidate him into what we wanted. It had to be loud, it had to hurt, and we loved the volume in our own ears. Why would the crowd be any different? Craig had a transistor head –- Fender? -- and a 4 x 12 cabinet and he was great about keeping the speakers reconed. A few shows and those things started to sound muddy, that was the volume level. Shortened their little lives. Mike had a Kustom cabinet, I think a 2 x 15. We had no idea that was what country music people used. It looked pretty cool, we thought, and you could sleep on the padding –- these things all came padded –- in the van. Mike used a Peavey head. He played a Fender P.

Jeff had this little drum kit, like one size smaller than a big pro dude. We played the Eastern Front in Berkeley, Calif. in 1981 and he had set his drums up and was cooling out and the stage manager came over and asked who the drummer was; he thought it was some little kid. Then he saw Jeff play and came back and told him how sweet that shit was. Jeff could roll with one hand.

The shows were always a blur of noise. We never let up once we got out there. We didn’t write songs as well as Black Flag but our stuff worked better to keep things moving along.

Best show we did was in Seattle, toward the end of the first tour. We had gone to the local homeless place to have some hot dog stew earlier in the day, as money was a little tight. No big deal, none of us ate all that much. Got to the venue, the Gorilla Room, and got a free beer deal, which was rare. Here we were at the end of the road and we’d already spent some time at the homeless place. We’d been on the road for a few weeks and could communicate pretty well without speaking; it’s something you learn in secret societies. The consensus was: Make sure the shit’s straight onstage. The backstage of this place was an unfinished frame at the back of the place with rugs and drapes tossed over the 2 x 4s. An anarchy punk spray painted the side of his shaved head and writhed in agony on the concrete floor. That was a first for me. We had mostly hardwood floors where I came from.

After we had a bunch of beer, The Fix were amazingly proficient and looser than usual and it worked that night, felt like magic. The PA was perfect, the volume intense as shit and it was an amazing feeling. I’m sure the 40 people there had no idea. I mean, "when the fuck are the Fartz coming on?" I had hoped to find someone from Solger around, but asking got me nowhere. Good show that night.

We played a homecoming show in East Lansing after the first tour and wrecked the place. Cops came, etc. That was a good one. We played a particularly good show in Fayetteville, Ark., in a theater in December 1981. The promoter paid us half of the $100 guarantee. I ran into the guy two years later when I was playing for a band called Strange Fruit in Tulsa, Okla., and he was there in the crowd and remembered. He paid me the other $50. We did a good show in Reno, Nev., in summer 1981 in some pool hall. These little shows stick out, but I’m not sure we ever did a horrible show. Early on, we’d take shows in unusual places like redneck bars, and they’d make us stop.

** Those singles just jumped out of the speakers and headphones and throttled you ... what do you remember about recording them and did you feel you had something special on your hands?

The first one was recorded in Chillicothe, Ohio, four songs. The studio was real easy to get used to, and we did it in 48 hours, record and mix. It was this place where they allow the bands to stay on premises in a little shack with barely any heat in the dead of winter. I don’t remember thinking anything special except that it was pretty decent. The Touch & Go guys loved it, though, and that meant something.

"Jan’s Rooms" was recorded in Los Angeles at the Music Lab on Hyperion with Spot. We were really tight from touring and had been scheduled to play some place in East LA with the Circle Jerks but the place got closed down by the cops. We met some girls there who were staying in a huge house in Pacific Palisades, and they invited us to hang there while we were in town recording. I think one of their dads was some exec who was traveling out of town. The place was luxe, you could see the ocean out the front door. We were astounded anyone could live in such a house. The recording was again easy, we wanted a noisy thing that was less like Black Flag and more like a noisy burst of energy and Spot understood immediately.

** How many copies were printed of each record and why that amount?

200 of the first single. We accidentally melted 15 copies on the heat vent. The Fix house had a huge furnace and the vents were located in the floor and blasted warm air. I would just hang out on them in the winter. I thought the singles would enjoy that warmth, as well. They got all crinkled. The second one was 1,000 press.

The reason for the low press is that no one gave a fuck on the outside. It was cool with us, we never expected to make a record. Or tour. Or have anyone respond if we did either. We were OK with being hated and pissing people off. Being honest. That shit didn’t sell records in the Midwest. Tesco tells the story of having both the Necros and Fix singles out and going to the local record store to check on sales. Nothing doing.

**You got rave reviews from all over the US ... what did you think of the attention? 

We’d get some tear sheets. But we didn’t take reviews all that seriously, as the field at the time was scarce. Just putting something out there was rare enough. We were proud to be doing music that we truly believed in and that someone would listen. Job done.

I read some of the stuff when "At the Speed of Twisted Thought" came out and it was nice to see some folks getting off on it. That’s better than any kind of financial reward could ever be. That’s the major change in music, this idea that money is the ultimate reward. For art, it just isn’t, and in fact may be a sign that you’re not on the right track.

** How do you feel about those songs when you listen to them today?

For the first 10 years after the band, I never listened to the material, although I had a tape of it. Never had the original records for more than a couple months. Remember, we couldn’t give them away, and the second EP came out after we had disbanded. A defunct band back then, with the flurry of great new stuff, just wasn’t that important. So later I started to listen and compare it to other stuff, how it held up, etc. There was never this bursting of pride or anything, but I was amused that it held up pretty well.

**  Is there anything up your sleeves regarding future Fix gigs?

Not going to happen.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Eternally Inflammable: An Interview With Stiff Little Fingers’ Jake Burns

Stiff Little Fingers frontman Jake Burns swings through "Barbed Wire Love" in Brooklyn in 2011. (Andy photo)

With this post, we are beginning to share the wealth, so to speak, and cross-post with the Los Angeles Beat, a stellar site run by Elise Thompson, Andy's former grade-school and high-school classmate in the Hermosa Beach and Torrance, CA areas. We're stoked to have Elise and her crew aboard!

The Los Angeles Beat originally posted this interview on Feb. 3, 2014.

By Bob Lee

It’s been thirty-five years since Stiff Little Fingers launched their debut album, "Inflammable Material," into a severely agitated United Kingdom. A first-hand account from the heart of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the band’s righteous spirit and urgent delivery established them as one of the brightest lights of second-wave UK punk. Still standing tall under the leadership of singer/ guitarist Jake Burns, the band – which also includes original bassist Ali McMordie, drummer Steve Grantley and guitarist Ian McCallum – arrived in LA several weeks ago to record and mix its first studio album in ten years. "No Going Back" will be the first SLF album to be entirely self-released, with CD and vinyl copies now available for pre-order at following a highly successful experiment in fan-funding.

We visited Burns during the first week of sessions, and were rewarded with quite an earful about the things that still get his dander up, as well as the joys and demands of total independence, and the key to career longevity in punk rock. The band will be playing dates in Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Great Britain through the spring, with the announcement of American shows expected soon.

** I understand that this album you’re working on has been self-funded through a PledgeMusic campaign, how has that worked out for you?

It was great! It’s a bit of a misnomer to say it’s funded by ourselves, it’s actually funded by the audience. We initially set a target to cover the budget to make the record, and gave ourselves a period of two months to raise the money. Astonishingly, we had raised the money within twelve hours, so, to say it went well is an understatement! We were a bit nervous about it at first, probably because we’d never done it before, but the more we thought about the more we realized that, realistically, with the rise of the internet, traditional record companies are pretty much dead in the water these days. We did talk to a few but, they were kind of so dismal about their own outlook that it didn’t really inspire us to want to work with anybody, And the more we thought about the pledge thing, the more we realized that it was kind of close to the do-it-yourself ethic that we came from. And it brought us almost full circle into being a fully independent band again, and there’s a lot to be said for that. Not that we ever had a huge amount of interference from either Chrysalis or EMI, or any of the record people we worked with, basically they just let us get on with it. But there always was the possibility that somebody from the company would come down and make harrumphing noises at the back of the studio. Whereas, with this, we’re the only ones in charge, so you do get a huge amount of artistic freedom with it.

It’s interesting, because, as I said in the past, we were going into the studio and we were effectively spending EMI’s money. It was OUR money at the end of the day because it’s only an advance, but you kind of felt, it’s a big corporation, they can afford it. With this, because it was the audience’s money, we kind of feel a bigger responsibility to get it right this time. Because it’s a huge leap of faith on their part. Effectively they are pre-buying a record that they haven’t heard. Which shows a huge amount of faith in us, so obviously you don’t want to let them down, you want to justify that faith. So we’re all … I think whenever the guy hit record, today was the first day I was actually working on the guitars, when he put the machine into record, I’m suddenly very aware that, I gotta get this right! I can’t afford to screw this up because, like I said, they’ve already bought it. They’ve put their faith in us.

** How did you decide to do this one in Los Angeles?

Well the band live in four different locations. Our drummer’s the only one who still lives in the UK. Ali lives in New York, I live in Chicago, and Ian, our guitar player, lives here. So I think we’d already realized, with three of us in the United States, we were going to record somewhere here, simply because it’s cheaper to have one transatlantic flight than three. And each of the three home cities all have top class recording facilities, so that wasn’t a problem. And then we looked at our schedule, and realized we were going to have to do it in January! And quite rightly we realized that NY and Chicago were going to be sub-arctic at this stage of the game, and there was the distinct possibility that you might not be able to get everybody THERE. So Los Angeles became the obvious place to do it in, and so here we are.

** With the pledges, did you pledge to do anything interesting? Do you have to show up at anyone’s Bar Mitzvah?

Nothing quite like that! We did, the highest end one was to come and spend two days drinking in Chicago with me. We sold two of those, and we’ve already had one guy come across from the UK. And to be honest, I think I’ve had more fun than he had. I had a great time, showing off my hometown to this guy, and also he turned out to be the nicest guy in the world. We’ve kept in touch since, sort of football banter, and have no doubt we’ll see him whenever we play in Cardiff, which is his hometown, later on in the tour. So it’s paid lots of interesting dividends like that.

We also, one of the pledges we did put in place, was if you put in a certain amount, you could come play with the band at a soundcheck. We did stipulate that “you’ve got to be able to play,” although we did kind of jokingly say, “as long as you don’t play better than we do.” And we’ve had some great people. We’ve already had three people get up and do it, a couple of guys got up and played the drums, both really very, very good. But my favorite, I think, was this guy that came over from Paris, who played guitar. And he was just fantastic. He was showing shapes and everything. And he brought a friend along with him who brought this very professional looking video camera, and they shot this little montage of his of his day, which he put up on the internet. And that was really cool! And again, we probably have more fun than the guys that get up and play do.

So yeah, it has been a very, very good thing from our point of view, to do the pledge thing. Great!

From left, Ian McCallum, Jake Burns, Steve Grantley and Ali McMordie. (Courtesy of Ashley Maile) 

** This current lineup that you’ve had is the longest lived in your history, eight years with these people and three fourths of it for about twice that long. What do you think has held this formation of people together so well?

I think, first and foremost, we’re actually friends. Probably before we were musicians, you know. A lot of bands put themselves together just based on, we need the best drummer available in the area. It’s only when you’ve worked with him for a couple of months and find yourself on a tour bus in Seattle that you suddenly realize the guy’s kind of a dick and you don’t really want to be around him anymore! With the four of us, we’ve all known each other for such a long time, and like I say, we were all friends before we worked together. So, that really helps. And I think also, we’re that little bit older, and little bit longer in the tooth. So you don’t tend to overreact to the smallest things, you don’t fly off the handle like you may have done when you were eighteen and an idiot.

And we allow each other breathing space as well, that’s pretty important. When bands start out, there’s a lot of bonding that goes on. There’s a kid gang mentality involved, that we’ve all got to hang out together all the time and, that gets pretty wearing after a while, particularly on a long tour. Everybody else wants to go out to a bar and get wasted and you actually want to stay home, watch television, have something to eat and get an early night. Back in the day, there was an amount of peer pressure that “you can’t do that! It’s a day off, this is what we do on days off!” Whereas now, everybody’s like, I’m gonna go watch a movie, I’m gonna go get some nice Chinese food, maybe one or two might go to a bar but in general everybody just disappears, does their own thing. And when we do get back together, we’ve managed to recharge our batteries, and we’re ready to get back on with it again.

And it is still a lot of fun to do, I think that’s another big factor in it. We actually do enjoy what we do. So that makes it easier to get out of bed in the morning.

** As I was listening to your music while getting ready for this interview, I found myself getting pretty regularly riled up. And that seems to be a quality missing from modern rock music, I find. No one has the inclination to come right out and say things… something you can put your fist behind. Do you notice the same thing and do you have any response to this?

Yeah we do seem to be plowing a pretty lonely furrow in that respect. I can only speak for the songs that I write… I’ve never been able to write love songs, and I wish I could but I can’t. It always comes out sounding like very bad sixth form poetry when I try. But I have to believe in a song to be able to sing it. And generally to write the song, it has to be something that has offended my sense of justice. Now unfortunately there’s a lot of that about. A lot of things that do make me angry, and this is how I deal with it. This is how I react to it.

With regards to other bands not doing it, I think you’re right. We were obviously initially inspired not just by the Clash, who were obviously our main, huge influence when we started out, but also by the social realism that a lot of the reggae artists were using. A lot of the songs that pointed out the sort of injustices as they saw them. I think that when, not necessarily the first wave of punk rock, certainly in Britain. Because each band had a very definite style, The Sex Pistols were very much there to create an impression, and to create outrage. The Damned were kind of like the cartoon, almost the equivalent of the Ramones. And then the Clash were obviously the social realists. I think in the second wave of bands that came along, a lot more of us adopted the Clash model. And so you had bands like ourselves, like the Ruts, like the Members, all of whom were trying to write songs about their own lives. And ultimately that gave way to what became the sort of iconography involved in two-tone movement, the Specials and the Selecter and the Beat.

I think that then, there was a much richer vein of that type of music about. I’m sure there are bands around that still do that today, but if there are, they’re very much beneath the radar. That could be down to the demise of major record labels, because there’s no one to give them the exposure. Or maybe they don’t want to give them the exposure, even if they’re aware of them, you know.

** So I was reading the lyrics to “White Noise” the other day, and the first thought that came to my mind was that this not a song that you could even do on a record label today.


** You would be stopped from doing it, for fear that it would be misinterpreted. As transparently an anti-racist statement as it is, I don’t think you would be allowed to make it. As I’m thinking about this, I think about how much this has changed in thirty years, and how we’ve gotten much more permissive in the use of swear words – you could probably do a song titled “Fuck Racism” and get it on the radio today, maybe bleeped out but obvious, where in 1979 you’d be run out of town on a rail for saying that word on TV. I’m not sure what this means, that we’re erasing words with a fixed negative quality from the language, like in Newspeak, because we don’t trust each other to say what we really mean, or think about what’s being said.

I know what you’re talking about (ed: thank God!). It’s a very thorny subject. I think now, we probably wouldn’t write that song, simply because those words have now become so involved with the whole hate crime classification, that … I think the whole attempt to demystify them and take away their power isn’t really our call anymore. At the time we felt justified in doing it, and obviously we tied it together with the attack on being Irish in the final verse, just to hammer the point home for people who didn’t get it.

But even then it was misrepresented. Even then, people got it wrong. So much so that we were banned from playing, amazingly, in what became my home town for fifteen years, in Newcastle Upon Tyne. There were two wonderfully ironic points in this story, and the first is that the councilor who heard the record, heard it because his daughter was playing it in her bedroom. Now these happened to be a Pakistani family. And I thought it was interesting that the father didn’t get it but the daughter did. Now whether that was just a generational shift, I don’t know. But anyway he took it upon himself to go to the council and have us banned from playing in the city. So that was ironic point number one.

Ironic point number two, was when the local newspaper covered the story, the only photograph they could find of us playing in Newcastle was at a Rock Against Racism show! So we’re playing with this HUGE Rock Against Racism banner behind us in the photograph, and they still didn’t think to question, to actually look at the lyric and question it. And of course nobody contacted us to come explain ourselves, so we got banned.

So anyway, it was misunderstood even at the time, and today, you’re right, if anybody even got the chance to hear it, it would probably be even more widely misunderstood. But like I said, times have changed, and I think it’s no longer our call to make that stand, to try and un-demonize those words. That’s down to other people.

** So what are we going to expect from this new album?

Well, like I said, it’s difficult for me to write a song that doesn’t mean anything. I still write songs about a lot of subjects that have upset me recently. Since were just touching on racism, there was the almost, perceived government sanctioning of racism in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, insomuch as it looked like, every time I turned the news on in the morning or read a newspaper, there’d be a photograph of some Middle Eastern gentleman, almost with the caption “This man is your enemy.” It was all very Orwellian. It was almost like you were being given permission to hate people, and that’s kind of scary. Not that I’m defending in any way what happened on September 11, of course I’m not, but it was just, you can’t blanket an entire race of people because of that. So that inspired one song.

Obviously, the whole financial collapse of the entire Western World, while some people made off with vast amounts of money… again it struck me as ridiculous that you’d spend all your life, you were told from when you were old enough to reason, “if you work hard at school and get a good degree, and work hard at your job, you’ll have a nice home and you’ll be secure and everything will be wonderful”. Only to find out that the whole thing was a house of cards run by some shyster, who’s gonna make off with your money and leave you high and dry, and quite possibly without the house that you’d spent all these years working for. In a lot of cases, I’d see someone rewarded with a golden handshake from the bank he’d worked for.

There was another song, we happened to be in Ireland at the time that some of the victims of child abuse by the church very bravely came forward. And I was looking at these guys, they didn’t make any attempt to mask their identity at all. They went on television, and they were up front about what had happened to them, and what they were hoping to achieve by coming out and talking about it. And I looked and I thought, these guys are the same age as I am, so this was happening when I was a kid. (Laughs) There but for the grace of God… if that isn’t the wrong-est use of that phrase ever!

And it obviously still goes on today, and not just the Catholic Church. It seems to be any institution that has access to vulnerable kids.

So yeah, it’s the usual Stiff Little Fingers laugh- a minute stuff that you’d expect! Hopefully, when I write songs, I write them about things that matter to me, and I think we haven’t lived a life that’s divorced ourselves too much from our audience. So hopefully the things that matter to me matter to them as well, strikes a resonance with them, and like you said, get them riled up! That’s … well, that’s not really my ultimate goal, my ultimate goal was just to get them to think about this stuff. Because it is there, and it’s all around you.

I kind of do feel sad about, people often ask me, what do I think about what “punk rock” or whatever you would term that as, has become these days. I’m kind of saddened that it’s become, first of all, if you don’t have the right tattoos or the right leather jacket you can’t be part of the gang, and songs in the main seem to now be about getting drunk, screwing and fighting. And I’m like, this was worth a lot more than that. This was your chance to be articulate and prove to the world you were worth a bit more than just drinking and fighting, you know.

** If not that, there’s always the bands who aren’t singing about screwing, but whining about how they can’t get laid.

Not gonna go there!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Punk-rock mailbag: Bob Mould, Mike Ness, Paul Mahern and Jeff Nelson

By Andy 

Just digging through the collection in the garage today and I came across a few letters sent to me by punk-rock band members in the early '80s. With the exception of Jeff Nelson of Minor Threat, the rest of these guys are still making things happen musically these days: Bob Mould, Mike Ness and Paul Mahern.

Give 'em a read:

'It's Germany's Cup!': Interview flashback with Toby Charles of Soccer Made in Germany

Finally, we get a chance to celebrate Germany's World Cup victory.
For a year now, Cat has been proclaiming to everyone she knows that, "It's Germany's Cup!"
It truly is... and she'll soon be collecting $20 from a friend because of her home country's massive triumph.

So here we've got a classic interview with Toby Charles, former Soccer Made in Germany commentator, from the June 6, 1981 issue of The Globe Kicker. Andy used to spend one hour on Saturday afternoons watching highlights from top-notch Bundesliga matches on a UHF channel from his Redondo Beach, CA abode (and he received The Globe Kicker each Friday afternoon in the mail to gear him up for the matches).

Toby was the man... with his Welsh accent, he sported soccer knowledge and humor that no one could match. No one could pronounce Borussia Monchengladbach like Toby ... and Andy and Cat reached the promised land of the Monchengladbach stadium for a match in April 2013. It was bliss.

So, click the photos and read on, soccer friends. Prost!