Wednesday, 23 May 2018
Early this year something wondrous and perfectly formed appeared in our midst...the Interrobang album had been released! If you haven’t heard it yet that’s several months of your life that have been musically poorer than they needed to be-get to it! Interrobang are like a wonderful cocktail that includes hints of The Jam, Gang of Four, Pulp and Blur while always maintaining their own distinct sound. Intelligent, witty, self aware lyrics embedded in vivid, cleverly textured and shaped musical landscapes that always enhance what’s being said. You can tell that this is a band that have spent time thinking about, honing, road testing this collection of lean, perfectly delivered songs. Ego-less collaboration, not an easy thing to find. Dunstan Bruce, Stephen Griffin and Harry Hamer have created a work of art that honestly and courageously explores the experience of being a 50 something dissident still bothered about the inequality and injustice they see around them, ”I’m sick to death of being told to keep calm, no danger of that happening any time soon, I’m angry, still angry after all these years, I’ll never calm down, never ever” (‘Mad as Hell’), still with a sharp mind but, disconcertingly, a waning body, ”…I’ve been privately browsing middle aged concerns, and I’ve been googling the 50 something blues…I’ve been denying existential truths and I’ve been ignoring hashtag cancerous news…” (‘Asking For a Friend’). The overtly political and those aspects of life often considered more personal (although of course the ‘personal’ occurs in, and is affected by, a social/political context) are kept in perfect balance as the album engages with the wide gamut of life (and death, both of a parent and the contemplation of one’s own) including apprehension of the next milestone “I’m in a car wash and frankly I’m terrified…what’s gonna happen when I hit 60, will I still be hungry, will I still be angry, and will I still have the energy?” (‘Breathe’),
As he had spent some time out of music between Chumbawumba and Interrobang I was intrigued to ask Dunstan Bruce how in retrospect the whole experience of returning to music, being in a band, releasing an album and touring again had gone...
Interrobang formed in 2012 and the album was released in 2018, in that time were you conscious that you were engaged in a valuable process of perfectly realising a vision and there were no shortcuts?
That’s a long gestation period isn’t it? We obsessed over this album, this project, this labour of love. The last thing we wanted to do was pour our heart and soul into this and watch it go out with a whimper not a bang. We spent a long time developing the songs, getting them tighter, more economical, more less-is-more-ish, honed into incredible little gems. And then life comes along and distracts you, kicks you in the balls, knocks you sideways. So you put everything on hold and then when you’re ready you throw yourself back in. This was too precious to us all.
I was reading a couple of interviews you gave (1,2), in them you mention that the album has been gestating, at least lyrically, for about 8 years, how did you feel as the launch day approached?
There has been a wonderful feeling of validation, of purpose, of value. It was a massive step for me lyrically, baring my soul, letting the world in, sharing my confessional. I had hit a point where my ability to communicate with the outside world had almost ground to a halt. Where I was incapable of expressing an emotion, where I embraced curmudgeon as an affectation rather than an affliction. It was a dark and lonely place. So I approached it with trepidation. And a glorious feeling that I was taking a leap again. It was exhilarating and terrifying. I had butterflies. I loved it.
The album has been really well received!! Were you surprised by how many people completely 'got it'?
I’d got wind that people were digging what we were doing from the gigs. Middle aged men coming up to me after a show and sharing their own stories about their difficult relationships with their dads, about feeling invisible, about never giving up. I discovered it was a common experience that I had gone through. Talking about stuff like that at a gig rather than at some men’s group was incredibly rewarding. Without the rarefied atmosphere, but just that visceral shared experience it was easy to talk and to share.
The album speaks to those of us who are wondering what dissent looks like when you are 50 something but it also explores mortality, relationships and the fear that one is fading into irrelevance. Did you find it difficult to write so honestly, did it feel vulnerable or did it feel a like necessary catharsis?
There’s no guarantee that something like this was going to bring me any sort of love, peace or understanding but it certainly did. Catharsis yes. definitely that. It cleansed my system. I kind of re-booted myself. I opened up. It was scary and I felt incredibly self-conscious at times. Even just bringing those words to the rehearsal room - a safe environment – I felt exposed. But part of getting to my age was that front part of my brain loosening up, that bit that says stop being so uptight, let it out, don’t give a fuck, that part just let go. I’m 57. What have I got to lose? This is my one go at this; I decided not to waste it any more. So weirdly now I feel like a bit of a fraud getting up in stage being that character who wrote those words. I’m not quite sure that’s me any more. Cliched I know but I’ve been on journey and I think I might just be coming out the other side now…
How have men responded to it, have they whispered/mentioned casually to you that it speaks to/for them?
Less of a whisper, more of a shout! It’s resonated for sure and that’s been great. There’s some tricky stuff on there, taboo stuff, awkward stuff, difficult stuff. I made a decision to put it all out there. Whether it’s entirely me or not. It’s all in there/out there and we’re all going through it. Sometimes I wonder whether not talking actually makes us ill. I’m almost evangelical about it. Almost…
How about women-has it resonated with them as much? Or is their experience shaped differently by society?
There’s no denying that what I say is very male-oriented and deliberately so but still there are shared ideas, shared themes, simple ideas that cross genders. There are lots of universal, communal conversations going on in there too.
Up till about 2005 you were in Chumbawamba, who identified as an anarchist band, how have your politics evolved in the last 10 years or so, would you still identify as an anarchist?
In the way I think we should organise, yes. In the fact that we have to take responsibility, do it ourselves, fight injustice and inequality, call out the egregious, take on the man, not rely on others, believe in a better fairer world also yes. But an anarchist who can bend his own rules, who can collaborate with the broad left, who can find links and connections and not exist in a bubble. Anarcho-outwardism.
Anarchism because it is the best way to preclude social injustice and inequality or because you prioritise personal freedom?
Anarchism because common sense.
I saw a clip recently of Benjamin Zephaniah talking to Krishna Guru Murphy about anarchism (3), and KGM appeared to be struggling! Have you had similar experiences, that people find it hard to imagine something other than a tweaked version of what is?
I loved that Zephaniah interview! He’s putting out those radical ideals but we know his heart is in the community. He’s no high-falutin head in the clouds fantasist. I love that. His feet firmly on the ground but he’s aiming at the stars. He’s a beautiful role model. I haven’t got any 5 point plan to change the world and whilst I might still dream of revolution I know that it’s unlikely. I love that Audre Lorde quote “Revolution is not a one-time event”. I also like that Howard Zinn quote ““We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”
What next for Interrobang? Is there going to be a second album?
It’s taking some small, initial, faltering steps. There will be a second album. There must be.
Any early ideas about what sort of subjects it might engage with?
Only that it will be different to the first. I’ve come through that process. I’m on a different adventure now. Audre Lorde again “ Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now”.
So, album out and tour complete-any final reflections on the whole experience of starting from scratch in 2012 to releasing a brilliant album and going on tour again in 2018?
At the age of 50 it felt like I was on cruise control, freewheeling downhill. One of the first lines I wrote for Interrobang was a stolen mashed up quote from somewhere or other that was “I’m embracing adventure with comfortable shoes and a clean place to shit, yeah that’s it”. I’m still on that adventure and I’m loving it all.
Any plans for more dates later in the year?
The autumn yeah; Ireland, Germany, hopefully a few choice UK shows. We’re still specifically waiting for the call for a Scottish jaunt too… I miss playing live. I miss Griff. Griff’s a genius. And a style guru. And a guitar god. We’ll be back though. Shouty man and loopy guitar man. Getting all hot and bothered under the starched and pressed collar…
(1)Dix, J. (2018) ‘Interview: Dustan Bruce from Interrobang’ https://www.echoesanddust.com/2018/04/dunstan-bruce-from-interrobang%E2%80%BD/
(2)Fox, C. (2018) ‘Dunstan Bruce still dreams of revolution: Interrobang Interviewed’ http://louderthanwar.com/dunstan-bruce/
(3)’Benjamin Zephaniah on Windrush, anarchism and his time in North Korea’. Channel 4 News (2018) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zowOkv0Cuhk
Sunday, 20 May 2018
|Photo by Frau Mony courtesy of Slow Faction.|
At the London gig, that John (Youens) had also helped organise, we had a chat about getting an (email) interview together and lo and behold here it is!
Could you give us an overview of Slow Faction, how long have you been going, how did you get together?
If truth be told, Slow Faction is a lifelong project for me, albeit an intermittent one. I first used the name Slow Faction in 1986/7 when I was writing songs with a friend at University in Exeter. We went our separate ways but carried on writing songs by correspondence – I got into 4 track home recording and he sent me lyrics or I sent him themes to go with tunes I had. He moved down to London in 1993 and we put the second incarnation of Slow Faction together as a gigging band. 4 years later we split in acrimonious circumstances. I and the other musicians limped on for a year or so under a different name but the impetus had gone. After the split I continued down the home recording path and writing new songs and this time lyrics – I posted the songs under the name Suburban Armchair Paranoia and always got good feedback so never lost sight of the fact that these songs should one day be played live. I never lost touch with Umbi, the bass-player in 93-99, and we used to see each other every couple of years, but he was always in bands doing this and that…then in 2012 we met up and he wasn’t in a band anymore. It might seem strange that I waited 13 years to play live again but I always had the feeling that Umbi and I would make music again and it felt that this time around, the time was right. We recruited Zen (drums) and Lee (rhythm guitar) through Gumtree and worked up a live band and started gigging again in Feb 2013. Zen left in Dec 2016 and Kit joined us on drums. Since Kit joined us I feel that we are more musically complete than at any time and the gigs are getting better and better.
Did the band come together out of a shared politics or shared music? Which was the main driver behind Slow Faction? Could Slow Faction have been a band who sung about getting pissed?
To be in Slow Faction you have to have a broad sympathy with the politics but the music has to come first. My idea for Slow Faction was always the best possible tunes & melodies which rocked but allied to lyrics that had substance. I always wanted Slow Faction to be a literate punk rock band that quickened the pulse. I feel there are enough bands singing about getting pissed already.
Had any of you been in bands before? I would guess from the level of musicality that you have!
As I said above, for me Slow Faction is a lifelong project and I have grown musically over the years through improving my musicianship, teaching myself about recording and sound engineering and trying to find a lyrical voice. Umbi, Kit and Lee have been in multiple bands before. But, just as important, we are all massive music fans and listen to a broad range of music – we don’t sit around listening to just punk – and within our music there are different influences at play which come out when we play live.
What bands are you conscious of being an influence on your sound? You describe yourselves as being influenced by the first wave of punk and people have mentioned The Clash but I was also thinking about The Alarm and The Levellers, I think it's because the songwriting is so 'musical'!
Thanks, yes for me the Clash and early Stiff Little Fingers were a prime motivating factor to pick up a guitar and write songs. Later on I became a big Rancid fan – I think Tim Armstrong is a very interesting story-teller lyricist. I have also followed the Manic Street Preachers from the start until now – I love the way that even 29 years into their careers they can still pull out a big exciting melodious song.
Was Slow Faction's sound a deliberate decision, or is it the combination of the component parts?
I always had a vision (if that’s the right word) for how I wanted Slow Faction to sound. Of course, like everyone, we went into studios a few times but it was always an unsatisfactory experience. In the days before digital, there would always be the pressure to mix quickly so the studio could wipe and reuse the tape. This led to hurried mixing and we never came out sounding how we wanted to. Now, we record ourselves and each recording comes closer to how we want to sound. The reviews for Under Heavy Manners (Sept 2017) were outstanding – and no one mentioned the DIY production so we must have been doing something right!
How does a song come about in Slow Faction? Is it a collaborative process or does there tend to be one main songwriter?
Because I have spent so long writing and recording myself, it is not a collaborative process. I tend to have the song completed in terms of lyrics, structure and guitar riffs and present a drum machine demo to the band, which we then work out into a band version.
My writing has always come about from an acoustic guitar or electric guitar on a clean setting. I focus very much on chord structures and melody lines…I live with this for a while until the right lyric starts to form and then I will start to think about arrangements, riffs, solos…but it always start with the melody lines…
'Can’t you see, there’s a war going on out there?
It’s a fight for survival now
But you don’t really care
You think it doesn’t affect you
Two million children live in poverty
And they say we’re a civilised land
The social contract’s been rescinded
As a million queue for food banks'
('There's a War Going On'-Heavy Manners)
One of the things that marks Slow Faction out is the relevance and quality of the lyrics, they stand out for their sophistication and intelligence. What sort of resources do you draw on? I'm guessing a lot of time reading is distilled into three minutes of singing!?
Thanks – yes, this was always the long-time aim of Slow Faction to write relevant, literate songs which mean something and it hasn’t exactly come about overnight. Like most people my sort of age, I am a synthesis of everything I’ve experienced, read, listened to and this has come together to form my lyrical voice. If you want to boil it down to a few ingredients – punk rock, left wing politics, German 20th Century Literature, Eastern Philosophy and meditation – my wife is a Thai Buddhist and we go to the temple regularly and I have studied Taoism and meditation for over 25 years. I have also travelled extensively for my job and have experienced many different countries and cultures. In the broadest sense I would describe my views (as Heinrich Boell did of himself) as humanitarian liberalism. I am from the left but not dogmatic about it…I am more concerned with equality and fairness and balance and, certainly in this country life has become far more unequal, unfair and unbalanced. There is a war going on in this country and as I write in the song Under Heavy Manners, it’s one that’s being waged by the rich upon the poor…
You released your first EP The Shopping Malls in August 2014, The Brixton Tapes later that year, This Machine Kills Fascists came out in 2016 and last year you released Under Heavy Manners. That's quite a stream of creativity! What sort of subjects have preoccupied you over those 20 or so songs?
The overarching themes are the abuse of power by the rich which is used to control and subjugate and destroy the poor, aided and abetted by the complicit people in the middle who unknowingly allow it to happen while being fed a diet of stultifying drivel by the media. If you look at just the song 'Under Heavy Manners', this contains most of the major themes in its 3 verses: closing down the cities and ordinary people’s way of life, distracting people with cheap reality television, lying politicians leading us into unjustified wars while all the time taking from the poor and giving it to the super rich, surveillance and CCTV spying on our lives while we sit at home satisfied by what the media provides as a distraction…and all the while we are more and more divided and there is no motivating factor to unify us to take to the streets and say enough is enough…those of us who seek to offer a different viewpoint are lone voices in the wilderness as I conclude in the song 'Clear Channel'…
In your song 'Poundland Society' (Under Heavy Manners)
'Now in this world of demagogues
They stir up hatred to unite
So you rally one more time
Behind your flags of ignorance
I'll leave you now as you celebrate
The hollowness of your victory
Your aim was so wide of the mark
You've handed power to the enemy
- and you'll always have nothing Poundland Society
- I see the desperation
- of this divided nation
- enjoy the independence
- of your bargain bin fucked existence
- you've got your sovereignty now
- say hello to penury now
- wave your flags that's all that you've got left'
you've nailed Brexit completely 'You've handed power to the enemy', is a succinct analysis of the class dimension that seemed to be missing from most working class peoples' thinking. Did you find that a particularly frustrating time?
Personally, I am horrified by Brexit. I have lived and worked across Europe and I view (and backed up by European friends) the EU not as some globalist, fascist state, but rather more as a well-meaning but obviously imperfect social democratic institution which, by necessity, is seeking compromise across many countries’ interests. Sometimes they get some issues very wrong, but on overall balance, I see the EU as more positive than negative. I see Brexit as a very negative step that’s been sold to the British public by unscrupulous politicians from the far right and by tax-avoiding media enterprises. Also there is definitely something behind US and Russia interference both of whom would benefit from a weakened EU. People in this country have been left behind by the rich NOT because of EU policies but because of policies pursued aggressively by our own government. If the EU was a neoliberal plot then how come the gap between rich and poor is much narrower in Germany (which has had a conservative president for most of this century) than it is in the UK? It is entirely down to domestic politics that we are so unequal and so much has been taken away from the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. If people who voted Brexit seriously think things will become much fairer in this country in a government led by Johnson, Gove, Raab, Fox, etc, supported by Murdoch, Dacre, Viscount Rothermere, Richard Desmond and the Barclay Brothers, then I think they might well be in for a nasty shock…
You are a political punk band, whereabouts would you place yourselves politically or is there a continuing evolving of thought? Is there a spectrum of positions within the band?
We are a band of mature individuals who all have our own life experiences which form our own thoughts and opinions. Having said that, we are all left of centre to varying degrees. Personally, I view myself as more of a European-style social democrat but on the social issues (fairness, equality, race, the abuse of power, etc) very much to the harder left of the spectrum.
How did your politics develop? Were there any significant experiences or influences?
Punk rock was very much my first music, being 13 in 1977 and growing up in the Midlands, but it was very much the Clash and Stiff Little Fingers who sparked my interest in politics in the broadest sense. When I was 18 I lived in Germany working in a hotel and, for what was then a very prosperous country, saw homeless people for the first time. At the same time I started reading Heinrich Boell (Boell had been a leading liberal voice of reason in Germany at the time of the Baader-Meinhof gang and the public reaction had led to extreme measures against anyone with a leftwing background). His views were very much ones of the politics of the everyday – how we relate to people, our thoughts when confronted by people less fortunate or different than ourselves, how sharing a conversation or a coffee or a cigarette could be interpreted politically or even take on an almost sacramental value. At the height of the terrorist paranoia he described the feeling of Beruehrungsangst (fear of contact) and how the clampdown on freedoms, supported by media distortions, was making society more atomised and people less willing to have anything to do with people different from themselves. In this country from Thatcher through to today we have seen this happening – we are more remote from other people, we live outside communities and society is very fragmented and this is supported by a media full of stories designed to make us look down on or fear our fellow human beings – the fear of contact that Boell was referring to 40 years ago, has come to fruition in the UK.
Slow Faction are very involved with the DIY punk scene in London and with the South London Punk Collective, how do you think grassroots punk is doing? Is it encouraging to be part of?
Grassroots Punk is very healthy in terms of the number of bands out there writing and playing amazing music – the songwriting talent and musicianship is incredible. In London, however, you are always chasing the 200-300 people who are regular gig-goers and if there are 4 or 5 punk gigs on the same night (very common) then the audience gets very fragmented.
Yes, it is very encouraging to be part of as certain bands really contribute to the feeling of community, that’s so lacking elsewhere. However, the frustrations are the ones of bands everywhere and live music in general – some bands are only in it for themselves – they message me for SLPC gigs but never see them at a DIY gig unless they are on the bill themselves. Even if they can’t make a gig, they could help share and promote the DIY gigs on Facebook but even clicking on share is too much effort for some people.
The other frustration is that there are people who will pay to see ‘name’ bands – particularly on the punk nostalgia circuit – but wouldn’t walk to the end of the road to check out a free entry gig of local bands.
Has involvement in grassroots punk grown again in reaction to the imposition of neoliberal class war inspired cuts aka austerity? Have you seen more young people looking to punk as a site of resistance?
I’m not sure about that. Punk feels very much a niche music genre these days and London is a very big city which has always been home to people of alternative outlooks, attitudes and lifestyles so it’s very hard to tell if the ranks have been swelled as a response to austerity. Also, although we are a political band, there are some who state firmly that punk is not and never was about politics – and those views are not confined to age groups or genres within punk.
I feel that anyone drawn to politics or resistance of whatever form of protest, will do so regardless of whether they see themselves as punk or not.
Over the years has the numbers involved in punk tended to move in waves or is it fairly constant?
In terms of making music and active punk groups I would say we are currently at a peak. In spite of venue closures, there is always a choice of gigs every weekend in London. Recording technology is cheap and people can make their own music at reasonable expense and the internet means you can distribute it to a potential audience.
The problem is that the audience for punk both as music consumer and gig-goer is very limited. Punk remains a niche genre.
Do you think punk has generally developed in a positive way? Has it fulfilled your hopes for it?
Personally, yes – punk is in my heart and in my head and informs how I live my life – not just in the music scene, but how I approach my relationships, my work, my family – this is also combined with my interest in Buddhism, Taoism & meditation – through these I try to live my live with honesty, integrity and transparency and punk values inform this approach to life just as much as the Eastern values. I also know many people in the punk scene who I would trust 100% to uphold these values.
But, but, but – being a punk is not an automatic pass to the higher plain. Punk is a microcosm of society and there will be racists, sexists, selfish people, users & abusers within punk just as much in society at large.
In your own experience has it managed to stay as a counter to consumerism as identity, to offer positive community and creativity as alternative resources for the construction of self?
Once again, for me, personally, punk embodies many healthy values which I subscribe to and which have informed my life. Yes, punk has made me less susceptible to consumerism and selfishness. It has engendered a sense of community to me, my band and the bands we most closely associate with. ‘Ignore Alien Orders’ still informs my thinking and leads me to question everything. This in turn leads to the desire to keep on exploring ideas which then come out in the form of new songs – and yes, always being questioning does lead to an exploration of self, if not a construction – that happens with every thought, experience, action, not necessarily just through punk or punk attitude…Hermann Hesse described those who explore through questioning and self-examination as Morgenlandfahrer and with my combination of punk and Eastern philosophical values, that is how I view my own personal journey
What are Slow Faction's plans for the rest of 2018? Are there plenty of opportunities to see you playing live?
We’ve still got a run of gigs through May/June/July and August. Umbi, our bass player, goes to Japan every year around October time so we’ll be out of action for mid-autumn but gigs always come up and we’ll no doubt organise some SLPC gigs in London. I would also like to take some time out to write new songs. Each year our set changes and we want to keep moving forwards – writing new songs, exploring new ideas…
What bands and writers have you been enjoying lately? Who should we keep an eye (ear?) out for musically?
Writers – I’m re-reading at the moment a novella by Boell as I had a discussion with a friend about a month ago and she inspired me to pick something up by him for the first time in 20 years. My other favourite writers are Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse. I would also recommend reading the Tao Te Ching – reading this 25 years ago literally changed my life.
Musically, I love so many DIY bands that if I mention some, then I will only leave someone out….but special mention goes to my SLPC comrades Stone Heroes and Mindframe plus the wonderful bands we toured Germany with recently: The Phobics and Proud City Fathers. Favourite CD of 2017 – the debut EP by the utterly wonderful Backstreet Abortions.
(1) Babey, G. (2017), Louder Than War, https://slowfaction.bandcamp.com/album/under-heavy-manners
(2) Whyte, J. (2017) https://slowfaction.bandcamp.com/album/under-heavy-manners
Sunday, 13 May 2018
'Prepare Yourself for an Emergency' Review. '...compelling evidence that the quality of DIY punk has never been stronger!'
Where are they all coming from?! All these amazing punk bands!! A mate commented last year that there are so many great DIY grassroots punk bands there aren’t enough punks to go round! I’m starting to think he had a point!
Someone sent me a copy of Prepare Yourself for an Emergency a split CD of eight tracks; two each from The Fleas, Geezapunx, Brash Bullets and Le Snags. The Fleas I knew, they released the excellent five track Heartbreaker EP a couple of years ago, so I was interested to hear what they’ve been up to since, especially as they are working on a new release.
Le Snags, Geezapunx and Brash Bullets I hadn’t heard of but was intrigued to see that Le Snags have a psych thing mixed in to their musical melting pot and seem to have (had) some connection to The Snuggle Bugs. Brash Bullets are a Southampton based trio who cite the boredom of a Cowell and Coldplay mainstream music scene as one of the main reasons they got a band together to play ‘77 influenced honest, aggressive punk. Geezapunx are an old school four piece from Basingstoke with a four track EP Angry out last year and a nice line in self deprecating humour (check out the track ‘Geezapunx’)!
Best idea seems to be to break the tracks down by band rather than jumping around so first up is The Fleas ‘Bouncer’ which starts off with the hubbub of a crowded venue and “All right love, got any ID on you?” Emily’s elegant response being “Fuck Off!” before the music kicks in, ace riff! Somehow Emily always manages to write songs that are punk but with a real musicality and pop sensibility (that’s positive btw), the track ends with Emily asking “Don’t you know who I am?” “I don’t care who you are, you’re not coming in” Great start! The Fleas also end the CD with track 8 ‘Fight/Too Punk For Centre Parcs’ which starts off with a nice bass line with the vocals coming in exploring the struggle to live a meaningful life in a society that pressures all of us towards conformity, the song then segues into ‘Too Punk For Centre Parcs’ and it’s in this track that The Fleas really hit their stride, great chorus “Too Punk For Centre Parcs, too drunk for Centre Parcs” underpinned with a great drum sound and with vocals that reminded me a lot of George Cheex of the excellent 80s band !Action Pact!-where’s the repeat button?
Brash Bullets have track 2 and 6, ‘If You’re Alive Girl’ and ‘Claws’. This band have an EP coming out in June Fake News Old Wounds and if the two tracks on here are anything to go by it will be worth checking out! ‘If You’re Alive Girl’ seems to be a celebration of the spontaneity and unpredictability of youth over a rollockingly good punk track that The Damned would have been happy with in their early days! ‘Claws’ is more of the same musically with lyrics that include “You make me want to scream aarrgghh! Money talks and Bullshit walks” Really good, reckon these would be great live!
Next up is Geezapunx with ‘Black Life/Black Death’. I’d never heard of this band before listening to this CD which is my loss. As it says on the tin it’s old school punk but it’s what’s embedded in the music that marks the track out, real incisive, intelligent quality lyrics on Oil. Capitalism, environmental crisis, dependency, pollution-it is all alluded to here in clever, concise shorthand. Next up by them is ’Go Jezza Go’ about everyone’s favourite social democrat. As someone who is a member of the Labour Party as long as Corbyn is leading it, I love this track! Nice drum led intro before the vocals and guitar really get going-fantastic! Guitar reminds me a bit of Dead Kennedys at times while in the verses the singer reminds us of Corbyn’s politics with a chorus of “They made him a joke candidate. Go Jezza Go! Then he got up to speak and stole the fucking show. Blair said he was toxic. Go Jezza Go! That warmongers bullshit will make him fucking grow!” Great track, would love to see these and Truth Equals Treason on the same bill!
Track 4 and 7 belong to Le Snags and are really very good indeed. First up is ‘Oi! Wot I Said’, distorted vocals over fuzzy guitar, shows how diverse punk can be, really good, slightly psyched out stuff with vocals exploring feelings of social/political disempowerment and being ignored (as a means of control?). Their second track is ‘Carpathian Warlord Pt 2/Enemy’, now this really is very good indeed-in fact it is so good it reminds me of GNOD on Mirror and Just Say No…, distorted noise rock with vocals that sound like they are coming at you through a megaphone. Then about half way through it suddenly speeds up and goes from a vaguely sinister Hawkwindish vibe to psych punk-excellent! Have this lot got an EP at all?
Look, I don’t know if you’ve got a spare £4 or not but if it’s a choice between another pint or this then buy Prepare Yourself for an Emergency, it’s a cracking CD made up of 8 great tracks by four diverse bands who are compelling evidence that the quality of DIY punk has never been stronger!
Contact the bands involved for a copy, even better get along to see them and buy a copy after the gig!
Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Describing themselves as an ‘Anarcho Noize Pop’ project and citing Crass, Sonic Youth and Babes in Toyland (among others) as influences Norwich based duo NurseOnDuty have been releasing their electro DIY shoegazey, industrial, anarcho-punk, RiotGaze since summer 2015 with LostAndFound Songs. The following EPs 1,2 and 3 show a band evolving musically as they respond to the political/economic/social world around them. Intrigued by the music of NurseOnDuty and by the motivations and ethos of a band who list as their interests subverting mainstream media propaganda and opposing prejudice in all its forms I contacted Ad and Kat to find out more.
Hi, could you tell us a bit about how NurseonDuty came about-you were both in SugarMouse wouldn't you? Are the two bands running in tandem? Is there a sense of musical continuity between the two?
Ad: Nurse On Duty in fact came first it was initially a bedroom project set up for Kat to learn guitar and was influenced by lots of lo-if shoegaze soundscape music I was listening to at the time such as Flying Saucer Attack and Loveliescrushing. We were just making music on an old 6 track recorder in our bedroom, 'MurderInLebanon' on Lost and Found Songs is from those original sessions. SugarMouse then formed and became our primary output for awhile. However various issues emerged in the other members private life’s and practices got more spaced out. I had just finished building a home studio/ practice space at this time, so me and Kat revived NurseOnDuty to fill the space in creativity as I was learning to use the new equipment. I guess you could say SugarMouse is currently on 'indefinite hiatus', we still see the other guys loads and are all still good friends so who knows what may happen in future with that project. I guess the musical continuity between the two projects exists as I wrote the vast majority of the ‘music’ as such and Kat wrote the vast majority of lyrics as such in SugarMouse which are roles we carried on over in NurseOnDuty.
Between July '15 and April '17 NoD released four EPs, (18 tracks) that's a continual flow of creativity! Has your sound changed over that time? What has tended to cause those evolutions and morphs? Society around you, situations, influences, technologies?
I would say all of those factors have had an impact. We have tried to use NurseOnDuty as a ‘mirror’ as such to society and the experiences we have in life, this therefore involves everything we experience on a daily basis from the political climate at the time to new artists musically and visually we have discovered, it all has a gradual subconscious impact and sometimes sets us off in a whole new directions. A song may be triggered from anything ranging from a news article one of us may of read, to a discussion we may have had, to a new effects pedal. In fact equipment often has a big impact at times. Musically there will often be a certain sound I may have in my head, trying to find it often leads to a lot of unexpected discoveries through experiments along the way, that can result in us trying something completely different to what we initially intended to do. We both love pushing equipment in strange new ways that they were never intended to be used in. In a way it’s a similar experience to what I used to have when I painted in an abstract expressionist style, the subconscious can lead you to unexpected places and normally leads to a natural evolution over time.....
Your sound is very 'digital cyberpunk' in the sense of knowing how to use technology to good effect...When I was listening to EP:3 recently, I think because of the vocal sound, it reminded me of the best of Hanin Elias' early work after Atari Teenage Riot. Have there been any bands that have helped point you towards certain sounds?
Ad: It’s really interesting you mention Hanin Elias as her solo stuff and early Atari Teenage Riot was one of many early influences on the project, definitely in vocal sound! We both love a wide range of music and I am in particular a bit obsessive so it’s hard to narrow down specific bands or artists as there are so many. But it would be fair to say a combination of Crass, My Bloody Valentine alongside 90’s riot grrrl bands like Babes in Toyland featured heavily in our heads certainly in the early days of the reformed project.
We live in societies that structurally and culturally reflect the interests of the elite, would your art be a contestation of that culture-like Picasso stating that art should be a weapon not decoration?
Ad: Most definitely, one of our early 'slogans' as such was ‘Art is Resistance’. I see a key role of the artist whatever the medium is to ask questions, particularly, why? The second key role is to challenge people to stop and make them think, that’s what I’ve certainly always looked to art for. Through the act of putting 'art' into the world you are making a statement and to me it always made sense that this opportunity for a platform automatically links in my mind to addressing injustice and pain in the world and to me the root of both of those is always capitalism.
In Inventing the Future (1) Srnicek and Williams make the point that cultural change often precedes political change-maybe Rock Against Racism would be a good example of that- do you think music can still play a big part in creating positive culturally change leading to more progressive politics-I'm thinking about bands like IDLES, Sisteray, Gnod?
Ad: Most definitely as a teenager I discovered most of my ideals and morals that I carry to this very day through music and subsequent attached cultures. Kurt Cobain telling all homophobes, sexist and racists that they weren’t welcome at his gigs reflected back to me what I already felt but this made me so much more set in my thinking to enable me to speak out against idiots in my own life. Then through discovering bands like Crass and a lot of the 80’s anarcho punk bands I became more interested in politics and activism, those bands actually made me stop and ask questions of myself and my life. The lyrics to a song like ‘Big A Little A’ had a huge impact on my life and the way I have lived it. So ‘Yes’ I definitely think art can have an impact on cultural change, even if that is just on a micro individual basis. However one of things that troubles me the most is that we aren’t seeing teenagers getting together more bashing out three chords in defiance to our current bullshit Tory government as they have been screwed over more than any other generation really, power of apathy enduring social media I guess?....
Could you talk us through the subject matter and ideas you were exploring on the excellent EP:3?
Most of the songs for EP:3 were written during the Brexit Referendum and subsequent general election. So as you imagine fascism, racism, the Murdoch media and the farcical nature of our so called ‘democratic’ political system had a massive impact. Whatever you feel about the EU, Farage and his Nazi billboard and the language being used by some to describe fellow human beings at the time was hideous to witness. We also sadly lost a friend to suicide around this time, a beautiful gentle soul that gave so much to the world but was eaten alive by society’s bullshit, so yeah that featured in our minds to. As both inside our personal lives and in wider society, a lot of parallels were emerging during that time, I guess a common theme was alienation.
What sort of things do you draw on lyrically? Books, films, personal experiences?
Kat:I guess it’s hard to say what I draw upon lyrically as I tend to find it is quite a subconscious process. I tend to focus on sounds that work with a song, and the lyrics tend to be written and developed after this stage. I find sitting and writing lyrics before this stage a little hard, and the process of submerging yourself in the music without a clear direction allows your unconscious mind to do a lot of the writing for you. From this point, listening back to what the words you are using you begin to identify the themes and points of reference which give you some general theme from which you can then build upon in terms of giving the song a coherent purpose lyrically. I guess it’s about harnessing the creative energy of new track, and primarily allowing the vocal contributions to ultimately shape the sound in the same way that playing an instrument might.
In Resilience and Melancholy (2) Robin James seems to be saying, if I understand her correctly, that certain pop music structures parallel values of neoliberalism. The Dadaists wanted to create non bourgeois art by drawing on non bourgeois cultural resources, this led them to look to non European art for ideas. As anarchists how have you approached trying not to reproduce capitalism and capitalist cultural norms via your music-did that lead you to the musical styles and sounds you use? Or do you think it is organic, that if you have internalised an alternative narrative that will affect the structure of your music because that alternative narrative and set of values is an integral part of your creativity?
Ad: That’s a very good question and an eternal internal debate for me. Having 'anti capitalist anarchist' ideals and living in the modern world is extremely difficult line to walk at times and often results in hypocrisy if you are not careful. A band like Rage Against The Machine was always a hilarious example to me, you’re 'anti capitalist' but signed to Sony who invest in the arms industry alongside lots of other nasty stuff. I guess it’s easier for us, as music is not a career so we don’t depend on it to survive, so therefore we can do everything DIY, we can put all our music up for ‘pay what you can’. But to us that is so important, everybody has a fundamental right to access art no matter how much money they have. Few people have got this balance right. I guess a contemporary example is Constellation Records (Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s label) who used to have a statement on their website saying something like ‘Download our music for free and do with it as you please, but if you would like it buy it…’ and then they presented the most beautiful finished packages in terms of their gate fold vinyls and included free CDs and stuff which made the ‘products’ quality and good value, all produced ethically and even stamped with ‘No export to Israel’, not an easy thing to do in the mainstream music ‘industry’ I guess they are an interesting case study as they were a bunch of 'anarchists' that ‘broke’ through and had some 'success' on a wider level, alongside the obvious example of Crass it shows it can be done!
In terms of our own person practice we have played lots of political and anti fascist benefits and of course would never align ourselves with anything that we don’t agree with politically, whether that’s not playing in a venue that rips off staff or for an organisation we do not agree with, politics and ethics will always come before any 'profile' boosting motivation for us, which certainly hasn’t helped us at times with organisations like the BBC but at least we can look ourselves in the mirror and I generally couldn’t imagine doing it a different way. In terms of impact on musical style and sound I guess the DIY spirit has just lead to us doing our own thing and not having to worry about what others may think, as we genuinely do not care what others think about it, as creativity is something we just feel compelled to do.
In Lipstick Traces (3) Greil Marcus talks about Dada, the Situationists and early punk as movements that disrupted and exposed society as construct- would you be OK with NoD being included in that lineage?
Most definitely, well I would like to hope we are anyway.
Capitalism would socialise us into constructing our sense of self from consumption, John Holloway talks about our sense of self being able to emerge from acts of collective creativity (4). Do you experience that tension? Have you found music has helped you derive your sense of self from creativity and community?
Ad: In fact the act of creativity I feel is something I have put consciously into my life to avoid the traps and pitfalls of consumption within the capitalist system. I think music and the creative projects I have been involved in have massively defined my sense of self, however at times due to following our own path that can lead to a further sense of alienation unfortunately at times, particularly in the local ‘music’ scene as unfortunately so called ‘radical’ politics scares a lot of promoters and certainly has prevented us from getting gigs at times.
Kat, if, as Social Constructionists argue, we construct our senses of self from the cultural resources available to us what role models, thinkers, examples have you drawn on to counter a patriarchal, sexist culture?
Kat: I guess for me, the idea of being a female ‘fronting’ a band has not really sat comfortably as I’m not sure that gender really should come in to it. I feel that we should have moved beyond the need to identify females in bands as a unique ‘selling point’ and often don’t give it much thought. I guess for me, I would not wish to fall into the trap of conforming to the music industry's habit of depicting female musicians as primarily 'sexual beings', with the risk of their sexuality and appearances being the primary factor in promoting their work as opposed to their music being the most important factor in terms of promoting them.
After the brilliant EP:3 what's next for NurseonDuty? Any releases planned for 2018? Any chance of catching you live?
Ad: EP:4 is already written and mostly recorded instrumentally and I’m just waiting for Kat to finalise the lyrics but these things can’t be rushed, but hopefully it won’t be too long until that’s out and I hope to play some gigs after that with NoD, but not being the most social beings and due to the nature of the music it can be hard to find places to play so we will probably put on some more of our own nights again and gather the outcasts together. Me and Kat have also been involved in another project with the punk poet/philosopher/ musician DoctorThis, which is quite similar in sound to NoD. The project is yet untitled but we have an EP written and I’ve nearly finished recording that so it should be out very soon with hopefully some live dates following. I have also been writing and releasing some more solo music under the name CrAwE. That stuff is more dark ambient drone. I did a self released LP earlier this year and their should be a new EP for that project very soon, though the latest material is more kind of doomgazey in the vein of Nadja and less ambient in nature but that’s pretty much there as well. So yeah, I guess there’s always a lot happening, personally I can’t stop writing currently.
What bands have you been impressed by lately, any authors you would recommend?
Ad:Again probably too many to list but I’ve been listening to lots of Northumbria (Canadian drone duo), I like the new solo album from Efrim Menuck from Godspeed you! Black Emperor Pissing Stars, and also his partner Jessica Moss’ recent solo album Glaciers is very good. Alongside a constant rotation of a lot of classic shoegaze, noise rock and punk, the Subhumans back catalogue is never far from record player. I’m ashamed to say I have not been reading as much as I should recently preferring to stick to shorter articles, but the last book I read was George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia which everyone should read and before that it was The Last of the Hippies by Penny Rimbaud. I’m a big fan of Hunter S Thomson’s writing, I often think what would he write about the current political environment.
And last question! How did you decide on the name NurseonDuty, is it connected with the idea of helping to deal with a malaise?
Ad: There is no great story behind this one, we had borrowed a cookery book from my Mum, she was a District Nurse and we found an old car sticker that said 'Nurse on Duty' in it. I also liked band names with ‘Nurse’ in them or linked to sonic healing at the time, I think Sonic Youth's, Sonic Nurse had just come out, oddly I’ve never really put much thought into coming up with band names, which is odd as it becomes a primary label for the whole thing, I guess its because ultimately I always think the sound dictates your response to the name.
(1) Srnicek, N. and Williams, A. (2015) ‘Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work’, Verso. London and Brooklyn, NY.
(2) James, R. (2014) 'Resilience and Melancholy: Pop Music, Feminism, Neoliberalism', Zero Books, Winchester UK and Washington, USA.
(3) Marcus, G. (2011) 'Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century', Faber and Faber, London.
(4) Holloway, J. (2005) 'Change the World Without Taking Power', Pluto Press, London and New York.
Tuesday, 1 May 2018
|Photo courtesy of Jo Thair.|
Before their recent gig with Interrobang in London, where they played a set packed full of songs that bristled with energy and relevance (get hold of Live at AWOD 2013 to see what I mean), I was able to chat with lead vocalist Marie about the possibility of an (email) interview to find out more about life in Lost Cherrees and the ethos of the band, something she kindly agreed to...
You joined Lost Cherrees as vocalist in 2012- had you sung in other bands before that?
I sung in a really lovely and fun band called Hollywood Doll, I was a singer and uke player in The Pukes. I also sang in a band called Public Execution, we recorded an EP, the band was made up of members of Bug Central and Active Slaughter, we played a couple of gigs but didn't really do much. I also played bass in a couple of bands too, so I was used to playing gigs and recording before the Cherrees.
When you joined Lost Cherrees did you have to alter your vocal style at all for the pre 2013 songs, you were in a band called Social Schism before Lost Cherrees, were they a musically similar band?
No, I used to be a singing lecturer and I taught private vocal lessons for a long time, don't laugh but I sang in the school choir as a kid and went to music college, so I am used to singing all different styles. Social Schism were a hardcore type band, so the vocals were very shouty screamy. I never actually wanted to be in Social Schism, my ex-husband was in the band and he hated that I was in The Pukes and I was also doing Hollywood Doll at the time, both bands I enjoyed very much and had lots of fun. He was very controlling and he wanted me to be in the band, he would be very good at making life difficult if you didn't do what he wanted.
I was really impressed looking at the Lost Cherrees Scrapbook 2011-17 there is a real sense of Lost Cherrees music being embedded in, and being just one expression of, deeply held convictions. Is that how it feels for you, that there is a consistency between Lost Cherrees and the other parts of your lives?
Yes, the music is only a part of it, it’s the message that’s important, we are all individuals in the band and we all have our own beliefs and ideas, I think that the diversity and mutual respect we have for each other helps the band to work, it makes us who we are. Matthew Thair (drummer) is very talented and he produced the Lost Cherrees Scrapbook, he creates all the visuals for the band, the album covers, EP covers, flyers, t-shirts.
A couple of years ago you taught in a centre for people with epilepsy-St Elizabeth's, have the class war/government cuts affected the centre at all?
St.Elizabeth's has been effected, and its meant that students and people from poorer backgrounds have struggled to get places at the centre. What does keep the centre afloat is private funding, people are very generous and donate to the centre, and they have a lot of charity events and they have charity shops, which help raise money.
Education in general is suffering at the moment and it’s the students with special needs and those from poorer backgrounds who are suffering the most. They are taking learning support away from mainstream, so any students that need help and support can't access it, but then they can't get a place at a special school as their needs are not complex enough.
Are you still working in education?
Since St.Elizabeths I’ve taught in another special needs school and I now I am a tutor teaching about autism to working professional such as Care workers, Teachers, Childminders just to name a few professionals I work with. Teachers in general are having a hard time in the workplace, and I know that a lot of them are suffering from ill health due to the budget cuts as they are stretched to capacity.
You also have a family, is it sometimes difficult, time wise, to run everything alongside each other!?
Life is tough (goes without saying really haha), and no matter what I would be doing would be a struggle. I'm not from a privileged background, I'm from a Northern/Eastern European background, my family came to this country as refugees, we have never had lots of money, connections or support so everything I've ever done has been an uphill struggle. So this is just another period of my life which involves juggling and fitting things into place. I feel very happy to have my children and partner in my life, and I am lucky to be in a band with such lovely people who have really helped and supported me through some very tough times.
Lost Cherrees would be classed as anarcho-punk, how would you say that grouping is doing? Is it quite a healthy scene? You are quite involved in AWOD aren't you?
I am not as involved in AWOD as the rest of the band, AWOD is the brainchild of Steve Battershill, bass player and founding member of the Cherrees. Anarcho-punk has its really good points and I think in recent years it has probably done the best it’s done since the early to mid 80’s. In the 90's the major anarcho punk bands had disbanded. Now when playing AWOD and playing gigs with some of the reformed bands, the venue can be rammed. There is also a real community spirit amongst the bands and supporters, which is great and lovely to be a part of.
About a year ago Shea joined the band on guitar- I get the impression that part of the Lost Cherrees ethos is to always be developing and evolving musically including updating the sound of the older songs?
Yes, definitely. Moving forward is a good thing, who wants to be stuck in the past, why do the older songs the same as they were done in the 80's? It’s the same message, people can get so nostalgic and spend so much time in the past, that they don't appreciate or notice what is happening in the here now. The future is unwritten, so go and bloody write it! You can learn from the past, learn from the mistakes made, but you shouldn't stay there for too long.
Which is an exciting attitude as it means the bands desire for change and improvement isn't just pointed outwards at society but is also applied to themselves!
How does the band's politics affect the songwriting process, is it very consultative, collaborative?
We all contribute, we all have our own ideas, there is a certain mindset to which we all agree in regards to subjects and issues tackled in our songs.
Petrol Girls and other bands have spoken out against sexual harassment of women in the punk scene- is that a problem you've been conscious of at all?
Definitely, it’s still a very male dominated scene, in fact society is still male dominated in so many ways. I have seen and had so many women speak to me about their experiences of sexism, abuse and rape, in response to me talking about the abuse I suffered for years and being involved in Punks Against Domestic Abuse. If they have the guts to speak out against these men, they are vilified, ignored, humiliated and people tend to side with the man over the women. I see it happen too much, you stand up and say that you have been abused or assaulted and all of a sudden, you are scrutinised and people make excuses for the man involved. Yes, I recognise that it happens the other way round and I am not supporting that either.
Do you think things have improved or not over the years?
No I really don't, I think recently women having been speaking up more about what has been happening to them, but my concern is that people react in such a way, especially when it involves a friend who has done the abusing. Another example is when the victim is expected to behave in a certain way, such as the generalisation of a victim (a beaten down broken person, crying, withdrawn etc), some people who have been abused in some way, will lash out, will get confused, might say "It didn't happen" just to take the scrutiny and judgement away from them. Every person is different, you shouldn't have to go through that, people are so judgemental and it can make someone who has been through hell, very defensive.
Lost Cherrees have always been a very political protest band with songs about militarism, feminism, animal rights, class struggle. What sort of subject matter are you engaging with in more recent material?
Our most recent songs, have been written about rape, domestic abuse, the EDL, war, the scene we play in, staying true to yourself and your beliefs.
When you write about similar subjects to those covered in older songs do you find that the group's thinking and what you want to say has changed and developed?
It’s definitely changed and developed, its changed with the times, you have a new set of ideas, when Steve started the band he was a teenager (obviously I can't speak for him), he has become a lot more competent musically, technology has changed, the band as a whole have been creating and playing music for years, some longer than others, so we have learned more about songwriting and production. We have three different generations of punk in the band and we all bring these influences to the table.
Does that make some of the older songs feel like an 'awkward fit' at all, like putting on some old clothes you've grown out of!? Have you updated the lyrics or just stopped playing those songs!?
Some songs, are still relevant sadly. The 'Rape Equals Murder' song, is still as relevant as 'Still the Rape Goes On', which was written and sung in the 80's, animal rights still being a big issue, racism still being a big issue. The Lost Cherrees have always been a progressive band lyric wise, songs have been written that are still relevant today. As much as the world changes, many issues stay the same.
Claudia Mesch wrote in Art and Politics that mainstream culture is market and media driven (2) do you think the punk community with its ethos of DIY art and grassroots participation can be a site of resistance to passive capitalist consumption? Can the punk scene be something that encourages activism?
I think it can be something that encourages activism, I know that going to punk gigs when I was younger, going to gig's in squats in Leeds and London, and going to the 1in12 Club occasionally to see bands, I would always find leaflets, fanzines, booklet and flyers on various issues and ways to get involved and support, in ways that I had never seen before. It opened my eyes to a lot of issues that the mainstream like to gloss over.
In the book One Chord Wonders Laing comments that first wave punk created space for women to deconstruct and explore gender (3). Do you think that is still true of the punk/DIY scene or have hegemonic gender stereotypes reasserted themselves?
I don't, I do feel that hegemonic gender (relations) have reasserted themselves, I know many women who don't feel safe going out to a lot of the gig's they used to go to. I feel that men are a very dominant part of the punk/DIY scene, I just think it's harder for women to find their voice for fear of being ridiculed and ignored.
Overall are you encouraged by the punk scene of the last 10 years? Do you think it has survived, thrived and developed in a positive way?
I'm undecided, a lot of people seem to have come back to punk through social media. There are a lot more people attending punk festivals, in fact there are a lot more punk festival compared to 10, 15 years ago. Festivals such as Rebellion for example have grown tremendously in recent times.
What are Lost Cherrees plans for the rest of 2018? I think the last album was in 2015, any plans for a new album?
We have new songs to record, some we are currently playing live.
Our recording/producing/patience of a saint producer has moved back over to Ireland, so we are trying to find the right place to record the album, I am just hoping to get working on the album before this baby is born.
What musicians, thinkers, writers have you been particularly influenced by? And who have you been enjoying lately?
Lorna Wing and Judith Gould seem to be a big part of my life at the moment (Founders of The Autistic Society and The Triad of Impairments). I listen to all types of music, I tend to listen to what I feel like listening to and not what's trendy or what everyone else around me is listening too.
Big thanks to Marie for time, honesty and words.
(1)Lost Cherrees Scrapbook 2011-17
(2) Mesch, C. (2014) 'Art and Politics; a small history of art for social change since 1945', I. B. Tauris, London & New York.
(3) Laing, D. (2015) 'One Chord Wonders; Power and Meaning in Punk Rock', PM Press, Oakland, CA, USA.
Monday, 30 April 2018
|Photo courtesy of Bridge Nine Records.|
I was fortunate enough to witness War On Women live in the summer of 2016 and wrote at the time…’Shawna Potter’s experience in drama means the lyrics are delivered within an unusually full spectrum of communication as she commands your attention with her stage presence...To be honest I don’t think I’ve seen a better front person.’ That opinion still stands!
With a new album out and an extremely tumultuous last 18 months in the USA and Europe it seemed a good move to catch up with Shawna (via email) and find out how things have been going for the band.
It was summer 2016 when we last spoke, a lot has happened in under two years! Let's start with band changes! You, Brooks (Harlan) and Sue (Werner) are still there and have been joined by Jennifer Vito on guitar and Ben Jones on drums (2)-what sort of new resources have Jennifer and Ben brought to the WoW sound? Have they bought new styles and influences into the mix? Has the WoW sound changed from the first album at all?
We're really happy to have Jennifer and Ben in the band, they're great players and great people, so it's made the transition easy for sure. Capture the Flag was already being written and recorded before they officially joined, so while this record is the next step/progression for the band, I'm also excited to see what our next album sounds like with them more involved.
Three years on from your eponymous debut album you have released Capture The Flag, I would understand the title to imply a cultural struggle over who defines the USA and it's trajectory-is that fair?
Definitely. Who gets to call themselves a patriot? Who has a right to this land? What does it mean to be American? I think these are things we need to think about and agree on if we're ever going to avoid another regime like our current one.
On previous releases you have dealt with important issues from a feminist perspective; rape, toxic masculinity, the gender pay gap, the disappearance and deaths of women in Mexico, objectification, sexual harassment. What sort of subject matter have you engaged with on Capture The Flag?
I never want to make the same record twice, and that includes subject matter, so I find that limitation can inspire some creativity - how do you talk about reproductive rights after writing ‘Roe V World’? I did it by taking a different angle, what happens if you do end up giving birth? The GOP only cares about your kid when you are the incubator, just another excuse to not give women full autonomy as human beings. Always putting someone else first.
Did the Republican victory in the Presidential elections change your lyrical perspective at all? I think I mean did the structures of oppression come more clearly into view as systems reproducing themselves through the lives of individuals?
It did affect me, but in the sense that I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. I've been working on these issues and singing about them non-stop for years, and yet here we were. And frankly looking at 45's face was making me feel sick. So while I took in as much as I could about current events, I think I wanted to avoid writing anything that was too topical, that would be dated by the time the record came out. So while I did end up writing a bit about Trump, the song "Predator in Chief" can be about any man in a powerful position that uses it to abuse others.
Great cover by the way, I liked the intersectionality... is that Angela Davis depicted?
No, I don't believe so. But I'm very grateful to our friend Ryan Patterson (Coliseum/Fotocrime/Shirtkiller) for doing the design. After getting the first pass I definitely said "Less white ladies!" It's important that the album cover reflects a nod to history, who has been fighting and who is now fighting to actually make this country great.
I read that you have an educational resource/work book based around Capture The Flag's lyrics, can you tell us a bit more about that? Was it a response to how the first album was used (3)?
Yes, there were a few tags on social media that mentioned teachers and professors using our lyrics in class. I thought, why not encourage that more by making it easy on them? So I worked with a few friends to come up with a pdf booklet that includes our lyrics, back stories, quotes, resources, and prompting questions for each song. Anyone can download it at the Bridge Nine Bandcamp page,https://bridge9.bandcamp.com/album/capture-the-flag.
I read an article where you commented that you knew you were going into a sexist culture when you did the Vans Warped Tour last year-and that was exactly why you did it, to let some light in (4)! How did it go? Were you pleasantly surprised, did the other bands get on board?
Yes, there were plenty of supportive bands that "got it," and I'm sure the ones that didn't just avoided us. There were no arguments backstage or anything. A volunteer we brought out with us to run the Safer Scenes program, Kira-Lynn Ferderber, taught a bystander intervention class off hours for any bands and staff that wanted to show up. Major shout out to all the bands that attended. Overall, the entire experience was good and I'm glad we did it. I make it a point to say every festival can do better, and frankly as audience members we have a lot of power too. If anyone out there cares about making the festival experience a welcoming and non-rapey one, then take a bystander intervention class!
How did generally young, straight, white male crowds respond-were they able to grasp what was going on as you presented a feminist perspective, challenging sexism and taking apart their sense of entitlement!? Having seen you live I imagine they must have been terrified!
Ha! I don't know about terrified... well, every now and again someone would tell me they were simultaneously afraid and turned on, which I actually really love. I am happy to confuse, if nothing else, and I know I am (or can be) a sexual subject on stage, never an object. But I think any men that really didn't care or get it would just watch something else, there is no reason in the circus that is Warped Tour to keep standing there if you're not into something. So for that reason, we might have avoided some run of the mill heckling. But there were plenty of men and boys who told us they were surprised to realize that they liked our band, and even "got it" after seeing us play live. I don't think even I'd be interested in watching a band of feminist killjoys if the music sucked, so we've got that going for us.
Did you get much feedback from women and LGBTQI+ people-they must have been really encouraged!?
Yes! All the young trans- and non-binary people, some out and some not out and/or still discovering themselves, they made a point to come say ‘Hi’ to us and talk with us and that was always really wonderful. For some, not only might Warped have been their first show ever, but then to have an overtly trans-supportive band they can watch and feel comfortable in the crowd with? That's a beautiful thing that I feel lucky we could share with them.
On the Warped Tour you took a couple of people along to educate in preventing sexual harassment and in bystander intervention (3), did they have positive interactions?
I only know what they told me, since I couldn't table all day or I'd lose my voice. They told me of mostly positive interactions, just teaching people basic bystander skills they could use that day at the festival if something came up, or back home the next time they were in a public space. There were some negative experiences, as in someone would come over and question the importance of what they were doing, but the positives far outweighed the negatives.
OK, time to talk about the elephant in the room (lame political symbol joke)! The Republicans won the 2016 election which means the USA has Trump as President. Over here we had our version with Brexit. The Leave result seemed to emboldened some racists and xenophobes, what sort of cultural effect did the Trump win have in the USA? Has there been any experiential shift?
Same, the bigots are emboldened for sure. But everyone else is a little more awake now, too, realized that they have to fight for what they believe in, it's not just a given anymore. So I have a ton of people approaching me for safer space workshops, who want to learn bystander intervention skills. It's a great way to take control of your own little corner of the world, when everything else seems too overwhelming to handle.
Apart from college educated women, the majority in all categories of white voters seemed to have voted Trump including 62% of non college educated white women (5)! What did you feel that revealed about white American identity and white female self esteem that they voted for a man who had been caught boasting about sexual assault?
Internalized sexism is a hell of a drug. I mean, people really think they can get ahead as an individual if they rally around the ones oppressing the group they belong to. You see it with sexism, racism, etc. People will tie their worth to the nearest white male, hoping some of that privilege and confidence and ease of moving through the world will rub off on them, and maybe it does for a time, but at what cost? And what happens when things inevitably go south? They will choose their own, these white men, they won't have the back of any women or men of color when it comes down to it.
In January, a year after Trump was inaugurated, there were still big protests in the USA for women's rights and against misogyny and racism (6), has Trump's presidency united feminists and created a lot of male allies-a 'If not me who, if not now when' moment?
Yes, it has. We must keep moving toward a non-violent society, but we're on our way. Victims are being believed more and more, abusers are being taken down, and while keeping all that up the next step is actual accountability and rehabilitation for the ones who have caused harm. All while we avoid creating "untouchable, all-powerful men" by diversifying every meeting, company, board room, movie, etc etc.
And has it led to alliances of resistance with other groupings of people?
It seems like people get it, that marginalized groups of people, if we fought together, would greatly outnumber the supposed "majority." I feel it in the workshops I run, people know that they must stick up for each other, because who else will do it?
You had Kathleen Hanna join you on vocals for the track 'YDTMHTL', did that have a sense of joining the dots, linking up with another artist whose music has also been about female empowerment and challenging gender stereotypes?
For me, I just felt lucky enough to work with someone I have admired since Junior High. Really, it was surreal. I must confess, I was being selfish and thinking more about the joy of recording with her than what it might mean for others to hear us link up!
What current bands should we be checking out?
Krimewatch, Downtrodder, Gouge Away, HIRS, Sick Shit.
What plans do WoW have for the rest of 2018? Any trips to Europe?
Definitely some touring, and if we can't come to Europe this year then we'll see you next year!
Big thanks to Shawna for time, thoughts and words.
(1)Pelly, J. (2018), War On Women, ‘Capture The Flag’ https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/war-on-women-capture-the-flag/
(2)’War On Women’, http://www.bridge9.com/waronwomen
(3)Westcott, L. (2018), ‘Punk Icon Kathleen Hanne Has Something To Say About Being The ‘Right Kind’ of Feminist’
(4)Potter, S. (2017), ‘Let’s Not Mistake The Dickies’ Onstage Warped Tour Rant For Anything but Misyogeny’ https://noisey.vice.com/en_us/article/mbaa4q/war-on-women-on-the-dickies-warped-tour-rant
(5)Henley, J. (2016)’White and wealthy voters gave victory to Donald Trump, exit polls show’ https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/09/white-voters-victory-donald-trump-exit-polls
(6)Buncombe, A. (2018) ‘Women’s march: Thousands protest against Donald Trump’s ‘racism’ and ‘misogyny’’ https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/womens-march-donald-trump-racism-sexism-washington-dc-protest-latest-a8170171.html