São Paulo Punks Futuro: “Punk is the best modus-operandi for producing music and art in general”

Original photo by Mateus Mondini. Mixed media art by B.

Futuro are a punk band from Brazil, who got the inspiration for their name from the thought that “conservatives are obsessed with the past, while revolutionaries and progressives are obsessed with the future.” At the end of last year, they released their dynamic and frenetic album Os Segredos Do Espaço e Tempo (The Secrets of Space and Time). Gimmie dropped a line to vocalist Camila Leão and guitarist-vocalist Pedro Carvalho to find out more about them, their music and life in São Paulo. Futuro are also big fans of our country’s music, expressing, “Australia has some of the best bands in the world right now.” Agreed!

Futuro are from São Paulo, Brazil; what’s it like where you live?

MILA: It’s a gigantic, grey, neurotic megalopolis. The metro area has about 20 million people. It can drive you crazy. But it’s also an interesting hub where lots of things happen. I think the city is a very big component of what the band is about. Our music and lyrics translate a feeling of anxiety that has everything to do with São Paulo. The band is actually all spread out now. Pedro and Flávio live in São Paulo, Xopô lives in Belo Horizonte and I live in Baltimore.

Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

PEDRO: I don’t know what to say about myself, but I’ll try. My whole life revolves around music, both at work and in my free time. I’m not very good at anything else, really. I’m lazy. But also, very determined and rarely give up on things. I’m not very good at anything else, really. I read a lot and think a lot about politics, philosophy, psychology and things like that. Not that I do much about it, but I feel like I need to understand the world and people around me.

MILA: I like to put my mind in creative projects that allow myself to experiment. I’m a graphic designer and illustrator and I really like to make things with my own hands. I like to learn about different cultures and its philosophies, and I love to be around nature and animals. I’m fascinated with natural sounds, textures and colors.

How did you first find music?

PEDRO: My mom was a massive music fan and had a record collection which was always around. She taught me how to play records when I was about four or five years old. I used to wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning and spend hours by myself listening to records and looking at them. We’re basically sponges at this age, so I think music just became part of my DNA.

It’s funny that I still like most of the same records from my mom’s collection I liked as a child, stuff by the Beatles, The Stones, (Brazilian band) Os Mutantes and things like that. My mother had all sorts of records, but for some reason it was 60’s rock that spoke to me.

MILA: I remember traveling to visit my grandparents in the country and my dad had tons of Brazilian rock tapes in his car. When I was six I knew how to sing most of the songs from bands and artists like Legião Urbana, Raul Seixas and Titãs. I think that’s how I started to enjoy rock music, it was fun and energetic.

When I was older, I think MTV helped me to discover other bands and refined my rock and metal music taste a little bit more. But it was only when I was eleven or twelve that I started to buy my own hardcore punk CD’s. I used to go to a store on my way home after school – this is a specific kind of store that is very common in Brazil, they sell used books and used CD’s/ LP’s – to check out whatever had edgy artwork and were in the punk section haha.

Photo by Mateu Mondini

Who or what inspired you to start making music yourself?

PEDRO: I saw Kiss on TV when I was about four or five. They came to Brazil and it was all over the news. I decided there and then that I was going to play music. The image of them and the sound of distorted guitars coming out of instruments that looked like weapons was so powerful… I informed my two best friends that we were going to have a band when we grew up.

As I said I rarely give up on things, so when we were about eleven, I bugged them until they got instruments and we did start a band. By then I had read about early punk and the whole “this is a chord, this is another chord, now go out and start a band” thing and felt encouraged to play even though I still didn’t know how. So, we began doing covers of simple 50’s songs by Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley (some of his songs had one chord) and people like that and eventually began writing our own songs and playing slightly more complicated stuff. That was my first band. But my friends got too much into being musicians while I got more into punk rock, so we drifted apart. They went on playing “good” music while I started playing in punk bands.

MILA: I was a very shy kid and I never really saw myself in bands. I grew up seeing women in bands/groups on TV and even though I wasn’t very passionate about the kind of music that some of them were playing, I always thought they looked cool and powerful and that always caused me some fascination.

When I started to go to hardcore punk shows and I realized that people like me were making music and creating meaningful things, I felt like I wanted to contribute too. My main inspiration to make music was to see the local punk youth putting their hearts into their music, to build some sort of community. It wasn’t just about music, they were raising their voices and sharing their views. When you’re a teenager there’s so much to say and I felt like singing in a band would be the perfect place for me to share my thoughts.

After singing in bands for a while, I felt the desire to evade more creativity. I wanted to be able to play instruments and to start my own music.

What album or band has had a big impact on you?

PEDRO: Early on the Beatles and The Ramones were the bands that really influenced me in all sorts of ways. In a way I feel they’re the two bands that impacted me the most and formed the basis for everything I ever did musically.

The Beatles showed me that you can be adventurous and change from project to project while retaining an identity of your own and that there’s no limits to what can be done. The Ramones showed that anyone can do it as long as they have the focus and the concept in their minds. And also, that music can and should be really exciting all the time. Both bands had really good songs and I always thought the song was the main vehicle for ideas and should be memorable and well thought out. Also, great guitar tones. This is non-negotiable for me.

Later on, there were many other bands and albums that did the same in different ways, but these two were the ones that started it all for me, probably.

MILA: It’s hard to pick only one band or album because I am always changing my main references from time to time, but I think Depeche Mode was the most solid one throughout my life. Musically, it embraces excitement and sadness at the same time. The lyrics take you to a different reality and the voice melodies have a life of its own. I like how some electronic elements can sound odd alone but, in the song, it adds personality. Of course, another solid reference is The Ramones. I appreciate their technical simplicity, creativity, and energy.

What inspired Futuro to start? You’ve been around since 2010, right?

PEDRO: Me and the bass player, Bá, were in a band called B.U.S.H. that had existed since 2003. We never really like the name of the band and by 2009 or so the whole concept of the band had changed a little. We were writing songs that were more serious and had a different general vibe, even though the style wasn’t radically different. So, we decided to change the name of the band to Futuro.

So basically, Futuro was B.U.S.H. under a different name. We recorded the first album MMX and right after it came out the original singer left and Mila joined. When she joined, she began participating in the writing process and bringing her own vision to it, so we started to get rid of the older songs and became an entirely new band. Basically Futuro didn’t start out of nowhere as much as it slowly morphed into what it is now.

What draws you to playing punk music?

PEDRO: Well, I think punk is the best modus-operandi for producing music and art in general. Like, a radical vision of amateurism, being a dilettante on purpose and with a purpose while using this method to criticise the very idea of “professionalism”.

Also, it’s the coolest, most exciting music there is. Of course, punk is incredibly diverse. It’s a huge umbrella for a lot of different forms of music. But from garage punk and post-punk to the most extreme forms of hardcore, I think it is and will always be the coolest music universe to be in. Also, it’s permeable to other musical forms as long as you rid them of the boring aspects. I mean, I could do acoustic folk music or free jazz and it would be done in a punk way, it’s just part of who I am.

MILA: Yeah, I share the same vision as Pedro. I think inside punk you have the autonomy to manifest your creativity and be free to do whatever you want. You don’t have to stick with a formula, you can incorporate different styles and ideas to it and still make it sound punk and original.

Punk music is plural, and it also embraces other aspects such as visual arts, politics, ethics and so on. It’s a whole universe, involving cultural angles and communities and I enjoy all of it.

Photo by Alejandro Reyes-Morales.

This year has been a challenging time for bands. How have you been dealing with it?

PEDRO: Well, a big part of it for us was finishing our record. We took our time. We began recording in 2018, finished it in 2019 and mixed it in 2020. The mixing process and the great reception it had when we put it out basically inject the band with what we needed to keep going despite not being able to play live or even see each other in person (right now we have one member in a different state and another in a different continent). I really miss practicing and traveling to gigs with them, but I think this whole thing only made us appreciate more what we had before. I can’t wait to start playing around again.

You recently released album Os Segredos Do Espaço e Tempo (which translates to The Secrets of Space and Time); where did the title come from?

PEDRO: It’s a line in the song The Third Eye, which we covered. It says: No wings for my flight/ I drift through the night/ Understanding the secrets of space and time. Our bass player Bá used it on the artwork just as a test to see what it looked like and at first there was some resistance. I thought it could be misinterpreted as something pretentious, but then I changed my mind because who gives a shit, right? It’s cool and kind of funny/trippy at the same time. And it goes well with the music and artwork.

MILA: Once Bá put it in the artwork and showed us I loved it right away. I think this one piece of lyrics from The Dovers can be interpreted with a vast range of perspectives. Whoever is reading/listening can relate to it in a different way and even though the rest of the The Dovers lyrics doesn’t speak for the rest of the album, I still can relate this part to my style of writing. And there’s also the fact that we were in the middle of the pandemic, which felt like an event disconnected from our reality and time, so it made perfect sense.

What influences your music the most?

PEDRO: Everything from 60’s garage and psych to early 80’s hardcore, 70’s punk and post-punk. I think we have a very wide range of influences but at the same time it all fits together somehow.

Apart from the more obvious punk references – bands like The Damned, The Saints, X, The Avengers and so on – I steal a lot from Brazilian 60’s rock and tropicalia music – especially the outrageous fuzz guitar tones, as well as other 60’s stuff in the way I play guitar. I like how they used open chords, droning strings and things like that. All mixed with heavy downpicking power chords as well.

I think it’s cool how 60’s psych and early Brazilian hardcore both have these fuzzy guitars that sound like a cloud of wasps attacking you – probably by accident, because they didn’t know how to record it right and/or had limited gear options – so we try to build a bridge between these two universes.

It was interesting that this record has been called hardcore, punk rock, post-punk, psych-punk, noise rock and so on. I think it means we absorb all these influences and turn them into our own thing, which is important. We always felt strong about not following any specific trends or subgenres. I always loved how the early punk and hardcore bands were all influenced by other styles and therefore sounded different from each other while having a similar energy. And this energy is what turns it all into “punk” or “hardcore” as far as I’m concerned. 

MILA: As far as vocals, I like to mix the melodies of post-punk with the intensity of hardcore. Something like Siouxsie and the Banshees meets Bad Brains LOL.

Late 70’s and 80’s bands like 45 Grave, The Bags, Sadonation, Destroy all Monsters, and Legal Weapon are a huge influence to me. I love how these women sound so powerful, it’s like they turned a little distortion switch on their voices!

Where did you write and record your album? Can you tell us about your song-writing process?

PEDRO: We basically wrote the whole thing in the practice room. Most of the songs begin as jams when we’re setting up the amps before we start practicing our set. There are songs that came out about 90% ready on the spot. Xopô starts playing a beat, I create a riff, Bá improvises a bass line and Mila starts humming a vocal line and bingo, we have a song. Then we just polish it, Mila (usually) works on the lyrics, we decide how many times we play each part, add an intro, a solo or whatever and there it is.

Other songs are based on ideas we create at home or concepts we have in our minds. But we rarely write entire songs on our own, they usually appear almost from scratch during our practices.

In this particular record, some of the songs were finished remotely, because Mila had already moved to the United States, so we’d record the instrumental parts and send it to her. She would work on the vocals and we finished the whole thing when she came back to record them.

Photo by Alejandro Reyes-Morales.

On the album you do a cover of The Dovers’ ‘The Third Eye’; why did you choose this song?

PEDRO: We always record a cover on our albums. I think it’s fun to take a song and make it ours, reinterpret it our way. And I always thought The Third Eye would be an amazing song to record. It’s so trippy, but also pretty hard, kind of punky, with that fast rave up solo part in the middle. I love what Hüsker Dü did to the Byrds’ Eight Miles High, what Agent Orange did to Somebody to Love by The Jefferson Airplane and so on. These 60’s songs are always cool to redo in a punk vein. We also like to explore the freaky, kind of mystical aspect it has and combine it with the down to earth, realistic element of punk.

What do you hope people take away from your music?

PEDRO: If they’re able to capture and feel one tenth of the emotion we try to express through it, I think we’ve succeeded. Also, I like it when people really pay attention and listen to the music for what it is, regardless of trends and labels that come and go. If it speaks to them, I’m happy.

MILA: Exactly what Pedro said. Same way in the lyrics aspect.

What do you like to do when not playing music?

PEDRO: I like to go out to eat and have real conversations with people. I think people are becoming less and less capable of having actual conversations as opposed to just talking, so I value real communication. Especially while eating together.

MILA: I like to work on art-related projects. Lately I’ve been drawing and painting a lot, but I also love to hike with my dog and to grow vegetables.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about and share with us?

PEDRO: Australia has some of the best bands in the world right now. I’d love to go play there when/if the pandemic is over. It’s an amazing country.

MILA: Thanks for the talk, Bianca! I am also an Australian punk fan and I hope to visit this gorgeous country someday!!

Please check out FUTURO bandcamp; on Instagram; on Facebook.

Jorge Tichbon of Gold Coast Punk Band Debt Cult: “Skating and music grounds me when I don’t feel great”

Original photo: Jhonny Russell; handmade collage by B.

Debt Cult play high energy punk! Their live sets are always riotous and fun. Guitarist-vocalist Jorge Tichbon visited Gimmie HQ to have a chat about the band, their debut EP dropping this week, as well as his time living in Texas, skateboarding, Aussie larrikinism and art.

You’re originally from the Gold Coast?

JORGE TICHBON: Yeah. I was living on the Gold Coast until I was seventeen.

How did you first discover music? You have an older brother that was into it, right?

JT: Yeah, I have an older brother who was playing guitar when I was growing up. I wanted to do anything that he was into. I started off listening to old metal bands like Slayer and Metallica, thrash metal brought me into punk rock.

Same with me. I had a big brother that I thought was the coolest person ever, who was into music too and he got me into Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies, D.R.I., stuff like that. I wanted to be like my big brother as well. He got me into punk, hip-hop and skateboarding. Other than your brother; who what inspired you to want to make your own music?

JT: It was just lack of interest in learning other people’s songs once I learned to get around a guitar, I lost interest in playing covers. It was easier to write my own music. I’ve been playing since I was thirteen.

I heard that you tried starting a punk band when you were thirteen?

JT: No, not really. My first bands I started playing in, I was eighteen or nineteen, that was in South Texas in McAllen. I left the Gold Coast when I was seventeen to go live with my mum in Texas. I started playing music with people there. I was playing bass in a band and I realised then that I wanted to write my own music and start a punk band.

The Texas bands – Hevy Majic and Wax Pink – that you were in, were psychedelic surf-punk kind of bands?

JT: Hevy Majic was the first band I was in, in South Texas, with Eric Echo. I was hanging around Ramiro Verdooren of The Rotten Mangos, who is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. We would go up from the South Texas town to Austin Texas, which is the music hub.

Yeah, home of SXSW (South by Southwest) music conference.

JT: Yeah. Those boys showed me around and I ended up staying there for a bit. I started a new band called, Credit Card. Debt Cult is kind of a run off of Credit Card, that style of music. I chose to leave Texas when Corona virus hit.

Ah, so that’s how you ended up back here.

JT: Yeah. South by… was cancelled for the first time in fifteen years. I was like, alright this is getting serious! I have an opportunity to go home. So, I did. I was looking for a reason to move home for a really long time though.

Why is that?

JT: Leaving at seventeen I never really got to grow into an adult in Australian culture. I left at the end of being a teenager. I romanticised larrikinism, being from Queensland; I had this idea of what it was to live in Australia as an adult and wanted to use that in my music, but I couldn’t because I didn’t have a grasp on it, because I was so young. Coming back and doing this band, we have songs about Loganlea and Southport—I wanted it to sound real bogan and straightforward.

What was it like growing up in the America?

JT: I got the culture shock when I came back because I realised how different it was. Growing up over there, I think I was a little bit disappointed that I had to wait another few years to drink at a bar. I spent my eighteenth birthday crying on the floor listening to the Velvet Underground thinking, why am I here? Now that I think about it, it’s a really good way to spend an eighteenth birthday! [laughs].

I remember on my 21st birthday I was in Las Vegas. It was the day before and I went to go to a punk show and I showed the bouncer my ID and he said, “Your birthday isn’t until tomorrow so you’re not 21 yet, I can’t let you in.” and I told him that I was born in Australia and it was my birthday there already so technically I’m already 21! He laughed, told me that was a good one and let me in. You spent a lot of time skateboarding in the US as well?

JT: Yeah. In the little town where my mum was working there was nothing going on, so people got really good at music, art and things like skateboarding. There was a really small skatepark and there was this insane amount of talent with the skaters; there was Majer Crew. They ended up taking me around the country for a couple of years, they were probably the reason I stayed in America. I jumped in the van and they took me up and down both coasts a couple of times, I had a blast with those boys. Unfortunately, that group ended though and I moved to Austin to start doing the music. It was a great time.

Previously, you’ve mentioned that skateboarding pretty much saves your life every day; in what way?

JT: It’s such a release. It’s so tied to music too. I can just chuck my headphones in and not talk to anyone for a couple of hours and get some exercise and get those endorphins going. It’s a creative outlet too, I get to do what I want to do. It’s so interwoven into my personality, who I identify with. Skating and music grounds me when I don’t feel great. I won’t feel good if I haven’t skated for a couple of days. It’s definitely pulled me out of the sludge, which I’m really grateful for.

You started recording yourself while still at school?

JT: When I started recording my own music, was when I first moved to Texas. I would be in my room and I couldn’t really go out anywhere and I was in a new country, I’d be trying to teach myself to record and write songs. Those couple of years there, was when I got a grasp of it. When I was in high school, I wasn’t really recording much, it was more about just learning to hold a guitar.

Who are the songwriters that you enjoy?

JT: A notable one would be Devendra Banhart. I don’t play music like him, but I enjoy listening to his stuff. It’s always been more what my friends were playing in their bands. Right now, I listen to a lot of Gee Tee and Research Reactor Corp. I listen to the local bands that play at Vinnie’s, just my friends’ bands.

Photo: Jhonny Russell.

You started Debt Cult at the end of last year?

JT: Yeah. I met Lindsay who plays bass, I was like, let’s start a band! I met Michelle at the skatepark, she roller skates; I saw her play the piano at Vinnie’s one night, again I was, let’s start a band! It took off from there. Ryan was our first drummer; he grew into an adult and is a bit too busy to be in a band [laughs], he comes and plays tambourine sometimes when he feels like it. Eli is our drummer now, he’s doing all the mixing and recording for us, which is cool cos we can save a bit of money on studio time. We like doing it ourselves so we can make it how we want to make it.

Your bass player Lindsay has to be the happiest bass player I have ever seen in my life, he is all smiles! In fact, your whole band smiles heaps and you look like you’re having the best time while you play and I think that’s infectious. It kinda lights up the whole place.

JT: That’s amazing! I catch Lindsay doing that out of the corner of my eye and I make mistakes because I start laughing. He’s just lovin’ it!

Debt Cult have a 5-song EP coming out. You recorded that at Vinnie’s?

JT: Yeah. I do a lot of closing shifts during the week. When there’s no shows, I have the keys to go in there, we do our practices there sometimes. All the drums are mic’d up already, we just go plug in.

Did you record in that space because you wanted the same feel as when you play there live?

JT: We’ve only ever played at Vinnie’s. I hope the recordings sound the same as our live show because it is recorded in the same room.

There are parts on the EP that have talking in the background and it feels like it has a live, party vibe.

JT: That’s on the song ‘Ca$ino’. We went down to the Cecil Hotel and had a slap until I got a feature and we recorded the feature on the machine [laughs].

What are you going to call the EP?

JT: We’re still trying to figure it out. Maybe Debt Cult EP 1. Everyone is so busy with full-time work and full-time study. Michelle’s about to be a Sparky [Electrician] and she also works. Lindsay is doing horticulture and working. I’m doing Community Services and working at Vinnie’s when I can. I don’t know what Eli is doing, he’s a bit illusive that fella. Eli is coming over to my place this afternoon and we’re going to make the covers for the EP, we both do collage stuff. The title might end up being one of the track names like ‘Southport’s Sharpest Weapons’.

That was one of your earliest songs?

JT: Yeah. We all live down the street from Vinnie’s. We wrote that song walking to Vinnie’s after a couple of beers.

Write what you know, right?

JT: Yeah. It was kind of taking the piss about gang mentality and street violence, it’s pretty abundant in Southport. We’re a bunch of soft, friendly people singing this song [laughs]. There’s a pretty gnarly homelessness and drug problem in Southport right now. I don’t know what the council is doing about it. I know there’s some free clinics around, but if you don’t want to get help you won’t.

I’ve definitely had friends that have decided to take that route in life and they seem happy with it, but it’s not sustainable, you’ll hit ten years from now and go “what have I done?” To each their own though. What I’m going to do with the community care thing I’m doing is I’m going to go into the drug and alcohol-side of things. I’ve had a lot of friends who have burnt out on it. I definitely had a party over in The States as well, that’s part of why I wanted to come home too, to get out of it. It’s too easy to do it over there, you can get everything so cheap. Over here you can’t go out and get $2 whiskeys.

Alcoholism is the symptom of the problem, it’s not the problem, the problem often has to do with having a low self-esteem. People in the situation of addiction often don’t know that there’s something else there that they need to fix. Especially around punk rock and rock n roll, it’s cool to do drugs and burn out, but it really isn’t because you never get anything done. It’s definitely a trauma response for some people, there can even be multiple traumas you repress and don’t even realise.

How did the song ‘Anna Seedy’s Graveyard Party’ come about?

JT: Lindsay’s alter-ego is Anna Seedy. There’s a story of him being at a party and disappearing and then having his own party in a graveyard. He told me about the story and I decided to write a song. It used to be a longer song but we cut it down, we made it almost like a nursery rhyme. It’s one of our favourites from the EP.

What about ‘IDK Where My Legs Went?’

JT: When we play it live, we play it straight after ‘Southport’s Sharpest…’ and it’s kind of like, you go out on the weekend and you lose your legs! [laughs].

Do you write most of the songs?

JT: Yes, for the EP I did. For the next one Michelle is stepping up. I wrote ‘[Do You Love Me?] Logan Lea’ for Michelle to sing. She’s got some new songs we’re trying to play. I’m trying to get everyone involved. Lindsay has a song we’re going to try to play too. I’m trying to get everyone excited about doing it, because I don’t want to be “the guy”! I don’t want to be the frontman. I want it to feel like everyone’s project, not like they’re just helping me.

Does everyone have different influences that they bring?

JT: Yeah, I just want it to all melt together. Lindsay likes a lot of post-punk. Michelle likes Amyl & the Sniffers and country music. Eli listens to a lot of alternative stuff. We all like the same music but have different styles of playing.

When you started doing Debt Cult did you have an idea of what you wanted it to sound like?

JT: A lot of my bands have been reverbed-drenched and surf-y. With this new project it’s reverbed-drenched and fast with keyboard leads. Sonically I left everyone’s role for them to decide how it sounds, I don’t tell anyone else what to play. Everyone writes their parts and that makes the sound.

What’s one of your favourite aspects of making music?

JT: Seeing the finished product and having something to be proud of. Having something to be involved in with my friends creatively. I love performing! Each show we play we try to do something different. The Dicklord show we played we decided to dress as cowboys and I cut my jeans into arse-less chaps! [laughs]. It was so much fun.

Debt Cult have played five shows, all at Vinnie’s. Can you remember the first show you played?

JT: It was with Headlice. Having Vinnie’s as the homestead is the cherry-on-top to moving back to Australia. It gives us the space to practice and record, it’s everything that I was trying to do over the last four years. I tried to do it in Texas but it was oversaturated there. On the Gold Coast there’s a few good bands but not 400 trying to do it. It feels amazing to be back in Australia doing this. I’m really stoked on the energy.

You also make collage art; when did you start doing that?

JT: I did a design course in Texas but I dropped out.

Why did you drop out?

JT: The gun laws over there are cooked, especially in Texas. There’s mass shootings going on, one happened the day before I had class. I was sitting in algebra and the alarm staring going off and I chucked all my stuff in my backpack and I was halfway out the window. It was the projector turning on or off and the whole class was looking at me like what-the-bloody-hell-is-going-on? I was like, you guys are so desensitised! There’s shootings happening every bloody couple of days, and you think I’m weird for jumping out of a window when an alarm goes off! So, I dropped out of college for fear of getting shot. You can open-carry AR-15’s in Texas. Most of my friends had guns over there. I was against guns when I first got there, but then their government is cooked so maybe people should have guns.

When I was last in Los Angeles, I was walking around with a friend and there were some dodgy people hanging around and my friend was like, “It’s all good. If anything happens, I have a gun in the glove box of my car!” I was like, whoa! What the fuck? I’m from Australia, that idea to me is foreign and weird. It freaked me out that that’s such a normal thing for people.

JT: When I first got there, I was so adamant about no guns! I was having a conversation with someone who was very pro-guns. I stopped having the conversation because you can’t win. I was like, people can be irresponsible with them. A couple of weeks later he got drunk and accidentally blew his friends leg off with a shotgun!

Whoa! That’s intense.

JT: He’s not pro-gun anymore. He thinks they’re bloody dangerous! When I would try to explain to people over there, I’d be like my grandfather is a sugarcane farmer, he has a gun in a safe and the ammunition is separate and he has it because there’s a big bloody carpet python at the creek and he doesn’t want it to come to the house, that’s a reason to have it. For 21-year-old kids to just have a gun in the glove box of their car, it’s pretty cooked.

So, you mentioned you dropped out of college; how did you get to making collage?

JT: I tried to quit smoking cigarettes and I just started cutting up magazines, to keep my mind busy pretty much. I saw a country compilation LP at a thrift store and I really liked the design on the front and thought it would make a good collage. I started piling books up, within minutes I had a bag of books and I knew I was going home to cut them up so I wouldn’t buy a pack of smokes. I still do collage now, but I started smoking again! [laughs]. I really like that medium of art, it’s almost like sampling music. It’s sustainable too.

Photo: Jhonny Russell.

Please check out: DEBT CULT on bandcamp; DC on Facebook; and DC on Instagram.

A chat with Warttmann Inc, R.R.C., Set-top Box, Satanic Togas’ Ishka: “I have hope in the world!”

Handmade collage by B.

Sydney-based creative Ishka Edmeades is constantly in flux whether it’s working on one of his many musical projects: Research Reactor Corporation, Set-Top Box, Satanic Togas, G.T.R.R.C, Gee Tee, Australia Idol and more; independent punk label Warttmann Inc; zine, TV Guide; making art or writing graffiti. No matter the medium, the message is always one of humour, fun and honesty. Gimmie was super stoked to chat with Ishka!

An abridged version of this conversation first appeared in Issue 4 of the free mail-order music mag Streetview (@streetview.mag), which we love! It’s worth your while to get on their mailing list.

Hi, Ishka! What have you been up to today?

ISHKA: Hey, Bianca. I’ve just been hanging out.

Is it your day off?

I: Every day is pretty much a day off at the moment. When Corona [virus] hit, I was working in cafes, and since then it’s been hard to find a job. I’m enjoying the time off though.

Yeah, I found myself in the same boat. Like I said in our correspondence, I’ve been working in libraries for so long and when COVID-19 hit, there was no work for months. How’s lockdown been for you?

I: I feel bad to say it but, it’s been pretty good for me in a lot of ways. I’ve been recording music and just being creative. It’s been good having time to ponder different things. I feel bad because in one sense, Corona is a totally shit thing to happen!

I know what you mean. Creatively for me it’s been great too! During this time my husband and I made Gimmie zine and worked on my book. To be honest, most creatives I know, say it’s been great for them. Of course, there’s the downsides of no shows, losing jobs etc. but at least from a creative perspective many who I’ve talked to, worked on projects, learnt new skills and took the opportunity to make the best of the downtime.

I: Yeah, that’s the thing. For sure, you have to make the best of things. For me, I’ve been recording every day or making art—it’s been great!

Anyone I’ve interviewed or spoken to that knows you, they always have the loveliest things to say about you. One of the most common things people tell me is that they’re really inspired by you, you have a pretty prolific output and are in so many bands. I know for you that’s just what you do.

I: [Laughs] Oh, I don’t know… thank you. That’s really cool to hear; I’ve never really heard people say that before. Thanks. I guess because we’re all just good mates and hangout all the time, stuff like that never gets brought up.

Kel [from Gee Tee] is definitely a big influence on how I go about recording stuff. He moved down to Sydney from the Gold Coast into a house with me last year in June. I had my drums set up in my room and we just had a fun time recording. We did the Chromo-Zone stuff, I play drums on it. It was good to watch him record. I’ve always liked Gee Tee and Draggs. Watching him do stuff heled me heaps. I first met Kel when Draggs came down to play here.

Are you originally from Sydney?

I: Yeah, I’ve lived here all my life.

What scenes or communities did you grow up in?

I: My dad’s Māori. He moved to Bondi from New Zealand in the 70s, there was a big Māori community around there. I grew up in that area in the 90s then I moved out to the Inner West when I was nineteen. There’s still a Māori community but it’s fleeting, a lot of them have left. All the older guys in that community were into dub and reggae, I got heaps of influences from them. I still really love Prince Buster and the Blue Beat [Records] stuff.

I figured you were into that, on your Instagram a while back, I saw that you had a live video you took of Lee Scratch Perry.

I: My friend Harry, who plays in [Satanic] Togas as well, my friend Dion (we’re all old high school friends) and I got to see him live, it was great! He was pretty out there. It was pretty funny. Half of his set was him rambling.

So, dub and reggae were the first kind of music that you got into?

I: Yeah, it was the first music that I was exposed to. Where I was born, my dad’s house was the jam house, he had every kind of instrument and people would come over and jam all the time. From when I was born, I was always around people jamming. I’m sure they were just playing the “skank” one note [laughs] and that got lodged in my brain.

Is that how you started playing guitar?

I: I started playing drums first, because of Metallica. My friend and I really got into Metallica, he played bass, so we started jamming Metallica songs when we were ten. I got my dad’s old drum kit. After school every day, I lived close to the school, we’d just go home and jam Metallica songs with drums and bass, it probably sounded pretty horrible to all the neighbours! [laughs].

How old are you?

I: I’m twenty-two right now.

How did you get into punk rock?

I: After Metallica, I got into Nirvana. The first real punk memory I have is watching Decline Of The Western Civilization [a 1981 documentary on the Los Angeles punk scene]. It’s the usual story, Kurt Cobain would mention a lot of bands and you’d go check out some of the bands; that movie came up. The Germs was the one thing in it that was like, “Oh yeah! That’s awesome.” Darby Crash in the movie was a train wreck, at the time I thought it was pretty cool [laughs]. He was maybe putting on a persona in a way, I guess.

You did graffiti back then too?

I: Yeah, I still do. I actually went to court for graffiti a few days ago. It was terrible, I had to wait there for a while. It was good though, I got no conviction, I got a good behaviour bond. Happy days! I celebrated after. I was just drunk and not looking and being an idiot. Graffiti is great though.

How did you get into graffiti?

I: A mate used to do the loops every day. Two of my mates started doing it secretly. I found out and was like, “Let’s go stupid!” They took me to do loops after school one day, and I got hooked; “loops” like train rounds. I got pretty into it for a while. I stopped for a bit and then got back into it, I’ve been in and out all the time. Recently, I got super into watching Style Wars [a 1983 documentary on hip-hop culture with an emphasis on graffiti] again and it sparked my interest in it again.

That one’s a classic! I grew up loving hip-hop and that whole culture. When I was in primary school my mum brought me the book Spraycan Art, which was released just after…

I:  Subway Art?

Yeah! I thought graffiti was the coolest and tried to replicate it in my notebooks and learn about the writing styles I’d see in that book. I’ve always loved both the hip-hop and punk subcultures, and art; my husband Jhonny is the same too.

I: Yeah, they’re such cool subcultures. I was into punk rock at the time but all the writer’s I knew were into Aussie hip-hop, which wasn’t that bad but I was like, “Is there any punk writers?” I found out that there are a lot of good writers that are punk!

What were the early local shows you’d go to?

I: In Year 7, I’d go to metal-core shows. The first proper one was Parkway Drive; my mate and his brother were really into them. From there, I’d go to local shows at the Annandale Hotel.

I’ve heard some of the earlier music you’ve made and it’s quite different to the stuff you’re doing now; what was it that changed your music making direction?

I: I was into punk but I didn’t really know anyone that wanted to play that stuff. I started to get into garage rock and I started leaning more towards psychedelic rock more and wanted to do that. I used to jam with a friend called Jake, he went to some after school guitar school; I met Owen Penglis there of Straight Arrows, that’s where his studio was.

I ended up doing work experience at Owen’s studio, I went to a TAFE high school and you had to do work experience every Friday. It was pretty cool doing work experience there. Owen put me onto the Back From Grave and Killed By Death stuff!

What was it like working with Owen?

I: It was cool. I was a pretty quiet kid at the time. I was really interested in what we were doing at the time because I had already started to record stuff at home, real badly though [laughs]. I got to watch a few albums being made like the first Los Tones album [Psychotropic]. I was there the whole time plugging in stuff and setting mics up and all that stuff. It was cool, I used to have conversations with them but I felt so weird because I was so young and had no experiences yet, I was definitely an observer at some points just taking it all in. It was great!

You do a lot of different music projects – Research Reactor Corporation, Set-Top Box, Satanic Togas, G.T.R.R.C, Gee Tee, Australia Idol and more – they all have such strong identities; do you think that might be able to be tracked backed to early on seeing someone like Darby Crash, like we were talking about earlier, and how you thought his having a persona was a fun idea?

I: For sure. I feel like making a persona, making a character in a sense or characters, is fun. It’s cool to play something else, it’s kind of like acting in a sense. It can help song writing. I consider myself bad at lyrics, or at least it takes a while for me. Sometimes it’s random but mostly it takes a while. If I have a character to think about, I can write for it. For example, with the Set-Top Box stuff, I could always write about a movie or something like that.

I noticed in your zine TV Guide, you had movie reviews of 80s comedy/horror flicks.

I: Yeah, I love all of that stuff. Me and my housemates always watch those kinds of movies all the time. My housemate works at JB Hi-Fi so he always gets heaps of movies cheap.

Nice! What are some of your favourites?

I: I recently watched Wild Zero that Guitar Wolf movie, it was great, I hadn’t seen that for a while. I like TerrorVision, that’s one of my all-time favourite movies. I love humour in movies, I try to put humour into music.

That definitely shines through. I especially like the humour in Research Reactor Corporation’s songs.

I: Yeah. We like to paint a scene. Billy’s lyrics are actually pretty funny and great. You can’t understand them sometimes [laughs], but they’re really great. The movie [Class of] Nuke ‘Em High is pretty much the genesis concept for Research Reactor, there’s heaps of samples from it throughout the album.

We really love the new Satanic Togas record X-Ray Vision!

I: Awww, thank you.

I really love the song ‘Skinhead’!

I: [Laughs] That’s a pretty funny song. I wasn’t even going to put that on there but Billy [Research Reactor] made me! Well… convinced me.

It really does captures them well!

I: [Laughs] Yeah, not diss to anyone! It’s just a funny song. I was thinking about skinheads, like tough skinheads, and I thought it would be funny to write a song where there was a really small skinhead singing the song, a baby skinhead in a way. It was a stoned idea! [laughs].

When I heard the lyrics, I cracked up! “I’ve been listening to Blitz / I put my hand in a fist”. It’s so good!

I: [Laughs] Thanks! It makes me crack up too.

Hearing you say you wrote it from the perspective of a baby skinhead makes it even funnier! Total gold.

I: Kel loves that one too, it’s a lot of people’s favourite.

How many songs do you think you’ve written?

I: I don’t really know, maybe 100? There’s more to come! I’ve got lots more to record.

Awesome! Can’t wait to hear them. Do you have a process for writing your songs?

I: It’s pretty different all the time. I usually play guitar a lot and a riff will just come up. Sometimes the whole song comes out straight away. If I just have a riff, sometimes I might not finish it until ages after, or I’ll slowly build the idea. Sometimes it’s a synth line.

What interests you about writing songs?

I: I never liked learning other people’s songs, when I first started playing guitar, I wasn’t really into that. It’s just very satisfying at the end to have a song. Doing it always feels cool. It’s all fun.

I know that you have a lot of fun going down internet rabbit holes too; what’s an interesting one you’ve been down lately?

I: Oh yeah! I do. I’ve been watching heaps of monkeys on YouTube [laughs].

[Laughter].  You’re also a big music nerd and always looking for new music; is there any kinds of things in particular that piques your interest?

I: At the moment, stuff from the late 70s and early 80s, if stuff is around that time that’s been interesting me recently. I like releases that will have a weird saying on them or stuff like that.

Sometimes when I’m flicking through 45s at a record fair, I’ll come across titles of songs that sound really interesting or weird or cool that make me buy it.

I: For sure! There’s a few buzz words that I have in the back of my head and if I see them I think, “Oh, this has gotta be good!” [laughs].

I’m always drawn to things about space or dogs.

I: Space is a big one for me too.

So, what kind of set up do you record with?

I: A cassette 4-track, I just got a new one. I had two or three break on me recently, which sucked, all breaking around the same time. Most of the Togas record was recorded on my friend’s 4-track, he’s got a snazzy Tascam one with heaps of knobs! [laughs].

I love all the extra fun sounds you add into the mix and synth-y sounds.

I: A lot of that stuff can be a tape being slowed down or sped up, I love that stuff.

Before you mentioned that you record stuff after a smoke; is that how you record a lot?

I: Yeah, pretty much! [laughs].

Does it help your process?

I: It definitely does. It makes more ideas flow… maybe?

Maybe it’s because you’re more relaxed and more open to trying whatever?

I: Yeah, for sure. Recording at home helps too. I’ve done studios a few times and I don’t know… there’s a sense that you have to do it, right then and there! At home there’s no pressure.

Australian Idol released something not too long ago, right?

I: Yeah. We put out a tape. I can’t remember when we recorded it. We got together, we were seeing Dual Citizen at 96 Tears, which is a DIY venue that used to run for a bit. Everyone was there that night but I went home. I woke up in the morning to all these messages on my phone and a Facebook Group chat called ‘Australian Idol’. They had created a band and made me join without me being there, it was pretty funny. The tape came together pretty fast.

I noticed in your zine TV Guide that you like to ask people what their thoughts are on punk in the digital age; I’m interested to know what yours are?

I: It’s pretty cool. I grew up in the digital age. It can be good and bad in ways. It’s cool being able to access anything all the time wherever you are and discover things on your arse sitting at home [laughs]. On the other side, it can get overwhelming with too much stuff all the time. You have to learn when to step away from it. Not so much just punk too, being in the digital age in general. I think recording in my house is a great way to escape when I get really overwhelmed.

You often post videos of animals. There was one post that said something like “Animals are way better than most humans.”

I: [Laughs] Yeah. I do love myself a good animal! Right now, we have a pet rat, he’s been taking up most of my love at the moment! Animals seem to be a lot more caring than humans most of the time.

Totally. We have a little dog and all she wants to do is love and be loved, fuck around playing, eat and sleep. Humans could learn a lot from animals.

I: Yeah, totally! Having said that though, I have met some amazing humans—I have hope in the world!

Please check out: Warttmann Inc Records. Satanic Togas. Insta: @warttmanninc + @researchreactorcorp.

Joe Keithley of D.O.A.: “Being in a band is a really good chance to say what you think about the world…”

Handmade mixed-media art by B.

On this day in 1981, Canadian punk band D.O.A. released their Hardcore ’81 album. Punk heavyweights Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, Jello Biafra and Kevin Seconds have all spoken of the impact and importance of this record. It’s been said that the title is the first time the term “hardcore” was used to describe this style of punk outside of a music publication. A couple of years ago their sophomore full-length won The Polaris Music Prize, awarded annually to one of the all-time best Canadian albums based on artistic merit. Hardcore ’81 still holds up today, as a record that is still wild (or as Joe puts it, “rips your face off”), full of conviction and energy. D.O.A. were also one of the first punk bands to tour (North America) independently, setting the blueprint for all the bands that have come after them. Yesterday, Gimmie spoke to vocalist-guitarist Joe Keithley.

On the 22nd of April D.O.A.’s album Hardcore ’81 celebrates its 40th Anniversary; what comes to mind when you think of that record?

JOE KEITHLEY: Lots of things. It’s a unique thing that we came up with, that title, and threw it on an album. It was a collective thing; we had heard the term “hardcore” a few times. There is some argument with who came up with the term but that doesn’t really matter, I think it’s a worldwide movement that came out of a few bands, including D.O.A.

We’re reissuing it on my label Sudden Death Records in August. It will be a special 40th Anniversary edition—it’s a fucking classic record! [laughs]. I don’t look at old D.O.A. records very often, but I put that one on when we were doing the remastering. We added three bonus tracks. I was like, wow! It just rips your face off, so that’s a good thing, right?

Totally! It is definitely a classic. An important punk record. Around the time you initially released the album you would have been around 25-years-old, I think? What was happening in your life or around you at that time that inspired the writing of the songs on Hardcore ’81?

JK: Yeah, that’s about right. Before that we’d spent a lot of time as a band touring. Since I was a teenager, I’ve always been an activist for different causes, we took that on as much as we could doing benefits shows and doing records for good causes all around the world. We’d been around North America [on tour] a bunch and we’d been going to Southern California probably five or six times a year; that became our home away from home. What happened was, I was probably in the van driving up and down the Interstate 5 highway back and forth between Los Angeles and Vancouver playing shows.

The only thing that I did at home was that I was a cab driver. They didn’t really care about me and I didn’t really care about the cab company. When I showed up, I would drive the car and when I didn’t, some other guy would, probably another musician or a waiter [laughs].

Did you find driving cabs interesting with all the different kinds of people that you meet?

JK: [Laughs]. That’s one way of putting it! I drove for a long time, for three or four different companies, on and off, for about six years. I’d go to the job every time I’d arrive back from tour and be broke. I’d just call them up and start driving again. You’d meet some interesting people; you’d meet some you didn’t like and be glad you never got to see them again. I thought it was pretty interesting, the one thing I really noticed was that, people with not a lot of money, they were the most generous tippers and people with a lot of money, were really cheap. Go figure, right?

Right. That’s usually been the case in my experience too. On the cover of Hardcore ’81 there’s photobooth picture strips of each member; where did you get those done?

JK: Yeah, it’s one of those machines that you go into a booth and they’d take passport sized photos, you get a strip of three or four. Our manager had the idea. The booth was probably in Vancouver, maybe at the Greyhound [bus] Station. We went down there and thought it would be pretty funny. They look great on the cover.

Why did you decided to cover the Led Zeppelin song ‘Communication Breakdown’ on that record?

JK: I can’t remember what the impetus for that was. I remember that there was this guy in my neighbourhood when I was growing up, and if a new song came on the radio… (we lived on a mountainside-type-thing, it was quite steep) he would take his old records, of the songs that weren’t in fashion anymore, and he’d roll them down the hill! When I got into my first punk rock band, which was called The Skulls, we were from Vancouver, I found a hill (this was about ‘78’) and I took all my Led Zeppelin records I had loved in high school and I rolled them down the hill. They got run over by cars and got smashed to bits! [laughs].

For some reason someone in the band suggested we do that song. Nobody could sing it though. Chuck [Biscuits] tried to sing it, Randy [Rampage] tried to sing it, but they were both too high. I said, “I’ll do it!” We put this underwater effect on it, it makes you sound like you’re underwater singing. We were like, “Huh! That kind of works.” The original take actually went on for about another minute, it was longer; at the very end you could hear the sound of a 2-inch tape going off. The ending was kind of perfect.

Why is music important to you?

JK: Music has always been a big thing for me. For one thing, it’s a lot of fun! That’s why you get up on stage, you want to thrill people and excite them and get ‘em worked up. I think that’s the goal of a band. With a punk band, or metal band, or rock band, heavier stuff, you want to see people going crazy, so you have to do something to make ‘em go crazy.

Being in a band is a really good chance to say what you think about the world. I was heavily politicized when I was a kid, with the Vietnam War going on and environmental degradation and the Arms Race between America and the Soviet Union. I joined Greenpeace when I was seventeen. I got into a band, D.O.A. started to take off and I thought I had a perfect soapbox to get up on and say what I thought about the world. That’s why I did my songs.

Before you started D.O.A. you wanted to be a civil rights lawyer; obviously you’ve always cared about people and what’s going on in the world?

JK: Yeah! My goal through Junior High was to be a professional hockey player for the Boston Bruin, to play ice hockey [laughs]. That didn’t work out, I was ok, but not that kind of quality. Then I got into the legal thing. I was involved in protest stuff.

This guy, William Kunstler, the lawyer for the Chicago Seven – there were big riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention – he defended them, which I found quite interesting. I thought, I want to be like William Kunstler! He defended Abbie Hoffman [a political and social activist who co-founded the Youth International Party (“Yippies”) and a leading proponent of the Flower Power movement] and all the rest of the people that were on trial. I guess it was strange for a kid in high school to have the resolve to be a lawyer [laughs]; a civil rights lawyer, not a lawyer, lawyer!

Yes! There’s definitely a difference [laughter]. Was there a moment you can remember that you realised that music could have a big impact on people?

JK: Oh yeah, absolutely! When I was a kid in high school and even much earlier. You could see people like Jimi Hendrix and Country Joe McDonald, influenced what was going on in the world. Think about the Vietnam War for example, it was a big, big thing when I was a kid, and musicians would stand up against it. It was an interesting transition, at first, they were called “Commie pinko fags” and all that stuff for not supporting the American war machine. Eventually, people in the mid-west, farmers, saw it was an immoral war as well—not that any war is moral. This one was particularly horrible. All of a sudden, people that played music that was saying stuff against it, weren’t so far out there and wrong, and you had the regular work people saying “yes” too. They might not have been buying Jimi Hendrix records, but he was influencing people that were involved. Rather than saying that Richard Nixon stopped the Vietnam War—it was the people that did.

What do you feel is one of your most powerful songs?

JK: There’s a few. ‘World War 3’ and ‘The Prisoner’ [from Something Better Change] is a really strong song. I think the song that a lot of people identify D.O.A. with is ‘The Enemy’ which is on the first record and on the Positively D.O.A. 7-inch EP [with the lyric]: “Ya gotta know who your enemy is”. It’s synonymous with D.O.A. and D.O.A. fans. The line in the chorus, pretty much says it all.

Your band is known for being trailblazers of independent touring, especially in North America, laying the blueprint for bands that came after you. Previously you’ve mentioned that part of why you started touring is because the band were adventurous; have you always had the sense of adventure?

JK: I was a pretty introverted child, I wasn’t really outgoing or anything like that, which may be hard to believe [laughs], it’s very true though. It was one of those things that just started happening, I went to university to be a lawyer. I was there for about four months and then I was in a punk rock band, we got a little bit popular, not long after that we started D.O.A. and that took off right away, within a few months things were moving pretty quick—right guys at the right time in the right place.

Because Vancouver was a real backwater (not these days though, Vancouver is a big town with over three million people). The music industry was in London, New York, Los Angeles and Toronto, for us anyway. Obviously, you’d link Melbourne and Sydney to that too from where you are. Those were the centres of attention and where all the bands were getting signed and that they would gravitate towards. We didn’t, we thought we’ll just strike out on our own. D.O.A. was a lot more unique because we weren’t trying to play to get signed to a label, therefore our style wasn’t co-opted from someone from a record label going, “Oh, you should really put more of this in there!” The pressures that bands start to get when they begin to get popular. We blazed our own way!

We bought a van and toured up and down everywhere. In 1979, we went all the way down to California, to Texas, up to Chicago, New York and eastern Canada and all the way back; it was a North American tour. We had a lot of days off because we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing! We’d sit around at people’s houses and eat them out of house and home [laughs], ‘til they got sick of us and then we’d try and find another show. That’s all we could do. We were getting a lot of attention.

A big break [in 1981] was that we saw an ad in one of the big English music papers like Melody Maker or New Music Express (they were pretty influential, people in North America would read them too), it said that D.O.A. were opening up for the Dead Kennedys at the Lyceum in London! It was a big, big hall, 3,000 people-type-thing. We looked at the ad and were like, “We are? Nobody told us about that!” We phoned up the promoter and they said, “Sure, you guys can play, but I won’t pay you anything. You have to get over here.” We all saved up about $700 to pay for the air flights and we found some friends to crash with, on their floor. We went to London and played this big show. It worked out because the record company [Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles Records] released Positively D.O.A. and it became Single Of The Week [in British press]. It sold a lot! We were like, wow! Ok! That whetted our appetite to do more. Eventually in ’84 we came back and did a two-month tour of Europe and the UK.

Before you mentioned that when you were younger you were introverted and now obviously, you’re not; did being in a punk band give you confidence?

JK: It certainly makes you stand out from the crowd. When I got into it, people were afraid of punk rock, they thought it was the strangest type of music that had come out and people were shocked by what they saw; some people were interested in it though, and loved it like me. We were way in the minority.

Being in a band, the first few times you go up there, you might want to get off stage and puke because you were so nervous. Because you have your fellow bandmates there with you, your confidence grows off of each other. You get the courage to get up there and do what you do. If you’re good at it, it will grow.

Another thing that I’ve always loved about D.O.A. is that you always keep moving forward and create new things. You once said, “We still sound like a punk rock band, but we’ve tried to progress with the times.  We try to expand what we can do lyrically.  We sing about what’s going on now.  We don’t hearken back to the glory days of punk.” A lot of people talk about punk like it was a special time that existed in a particular time period. It’s still happening today and still thriving. Punk is an energy, that keeps moving and evolving.

JK: Yeah, I would agree. There’s lots of younger bands around with great ideas and lots of energy. They’re being rebellious, and that’s what it was about it the first place. An older band has to find new ways to keep progressing, to find new ways to express themselves, that’s really important. If you don’t come up with anything new, that’s fine, if you just put out two albums and you go on tour 30 years later and play those songs to fans it’s because it’s kind of a trip down nostalgia lane. With D.O.A. there is a sense of nostalgia because we were one of the early pioneers of the whole thing but you have to keep moving forward, otherwise you become a nostalgia act, which is deadly if you ask me; that’s not where you want to be as an artist, you want to keep writing new songs.

Is there a particular way that songs come to you more often when you’re writing?

JK: If I sat down for a couple of days with my guitar I could come up with hundreds of riffs, they could be good or bad or I could be repeating myself (which happens when you’ve written so many songs for as long as I have). The big thing for me is the lyrics; if you get the lyric, that’s the key. When I have the lyric, I can try to write the music to back its sentiment. If it’s a dark lyric, you want something dark sounding. If it’s a happy lyric, then maybe you play D, G and C. If it’s something evil, dark, maybe you play a B-flat and E-flat [laughs]. Some cues are happy and some cues are mean and tough. To come up with a good lyric is a hard thing to do.

Please check out: suddendeath.com & D.O.A. on Facebook. There’s also a documentary about Joe and D.O.A. in the works called Something Better Change more info here.

Iso Guitarist-Vocalist for Melbourne Punks Gutter Girls: “Seeing more and more female-identifying people front bands really inspired us”

Handmade collage by B.

Naarm/Melbourne-based femme 4-piece Gutter Girls began in a sharehouse. They had no musical background but saw many of their friends playing in local bands and decided to start a band and join the fun! Gimmie interviewed guitarist-vocalist Iso about their most recent single ‘Skin 2 Sin’ which was mixed and mastered by Iso’s housemate Michael Ellis from Kosmetika.

What’s an average day look like for you right now?

ISO: The Gutter Girls are all still working from home, listening to our friends and idols host or play on community radio and daydreaming about what’s for dinner.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Do you have any hobbies?

I: We collectively love to watch trash TV, spend more time at band practise eating than rocking and finding fun places to swim!

How did you first get into punk rock?

I: Thanks to my oldies for playing the gold hits like Skyhooks, Susie Q, AC/DC and Divinyls. Then sprinkle a little teenage angst into the mix with some Green Day, No Doubt and Nirvana and a big thanks to The O.C. soundtracks from 2003-2007-ish—best punk rock era ever.

What was the first local show you went to?

I: I can’t remember the first one ever, but an early iconic show was when Crepes played at the Tote and covered Mental As Anything’s ‘Nips are Getting Bigger’. Afterwards my now-great-friend-but-then-acquaintance and I played pool with strangers, who were annihilating us until we made the return of the century and came out on top. It was all very worth getting locked out of my house in my pyjamas at 3PM the next day for leaving my hangover nest to get Maccas.

Who or what first inspired you to make your own music?

I: Lots of our friends were playing and we wanted to join the fun! We’d go to local shows regularly and always wanted to be in a band but didn’t think we could without any knowledge of how to play instruments. Seeing more and more female identifying people front bands really inspired us and gave us the confidence to give it a go ourselves. Turns out YouTube and practising helps a lot!!

What inspired Gutter Girls to get together?

I: We were all on the same page of being excited and motivated to start a band and learn how to play from scratch all together. We didn’t know each other well in the beginning, but we were attending all the same shows and shared the same love for music which made it pretty easy to get things moving. Our first few practices were spent learning Joan Jett covers and it wasn’t much longer before we had our first gig locked in.

Last year Gutter Girls released songs ‘The Bullet’ and ‘Skin 2 Sin’ and the previous year before an EP and back in 2018 your demo; will we be seeing a full-length this year? What’s been influencing your songwriting lately?

I: We are easing back into Gutter Girls post-lockdown quite slowly, with all members in other local Melbourne bands now as well (such as Carpet Burn, Dragnet, Blonde Revolver). We definitely plan to write and release throughout the year but haven’t decided what the final product will look like at this stage. After being apart for so much of 2020 we’re mostly excited for the writing and developing process which we always have a lot of fun with.

What’s one of your all-time favourite songs written by someone else?

I: ‘Live it Up’ by Mental as Anything—cos life is a dancefloor and we should live it up.

A lot of time was spent in lockdown last year; what’s something you’ve discover about the neighbourhood where you live since you’ve been back out and about in the world?

I: I’m very lucky to be living in walking distance to lots of Melbourne’s beautiful parks, a few favourites being Murchison Square in Carlton and Methven Park in Brunswick East. I hadn’t spent much time in either parks prior to lockdown so it was nice having the opportunity to discover those local gems.

You played your first show of the year in January with Eggy; do you have any pre or after show rituals?

I: Nervously drink vodka sodas before we play and then happily drink vodka sodas after we play. The rush after playing is always worth it though, and it’s a nice reminder you’re alive when you’re a bit nervy before something.

How do you feel when performing?

I: I don’t think I could tell you honestly because all that is going through my head is ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR or trying to remember silly lyrics from a few years ago. It’s a lot of fun though, especially glancing around to a familiar face in the crowd or one of the Gutter Girls’ giving off a big grin.

What are you most looking forward to this year both band-related and personally?

I: Making up for a lot of lost-to-2020 time with the Gutter Girls and friends whether that’s making new music, dancing to other people’s or watching Coyote Ugly on repeat.

Please check out: Gutter Girls on bandcamp; on Instagram; on Facebook.

Kid Congo and The Pink Monkey Birds: “Stay in it for the long haul and stay true to the muse”

Original photo: Luz Gallardo. Handmade collage by B.

Kid Congo Powers is a creative force and true original. Kid’s played in The Cramps, The Gun Club, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Wolfmanhattan Project, as well as gifted the world a band of his own creation, Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds. Gimmie spoke to him to get an insight into their new EP Swing From The Sean DeLear, his experience of being a person of colour and openly gay in the punk scene, the upcoming biography he’s written, we also talk lucid dreaming and much more.

It’s so lovely to speak with you again. How have you been?

KID CONGO: Just at home [laughs]. Good, good. The lockdown has been good for a few things, I finished the draft of my memoir I’ve been writing for over twelve years; it afforded me the time to not have any more excuses [laughs], to jump up and go on tour and not finish it. Luckily, right before lockdown I had finished a lot of recording, a new Pink Monkey Birds record, and I did one with a group I’m part of called the Wolfmanhattan Project, with Mick Collins who was in The Dirtbombs and The Gories and Bob Bert that was in Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore. I’ve been working on other music projects with different friends, we’ve been recording at home and sending each other music and sending it back and forth between each other; a few of these are almost albums, I think. There’s been a lot of work. I keep sitting here for a year thinking I haven’t been doing anything but actually I’ve been busy the entire time.

It’s a strange thing because I moved, we’re living in Tucson, Arizona, and as soon as we were starting to know people, getting to know the town more and able to navigate it, the lockdown happened. There was no big social life, no getting to know anything else because everything is closed. Arizona had high Covid numbers so I was like, I’m not going anywhere! Just enjoying homelife, reading, playing music and writing, being a local stray cat mother; we found a little baby cat on our patio out front so we took him in and we’ve been raising a cat through the quarantine time. He’s gone from a sweet little kitten with eyes closed, he still had the umbilical cord and everything, just a day old, but now he’s six months old and a complete terror! [laughs]. We love him! That’s keeping me busy.

Your new EP Swing From The Sean DeLear is so cool, I’ve been listening to it over and over since it came out. Each track is different, there’s only four songs – one a 14-minute-long song ‘He Walked In’ – and it seems to me to tap into all of the things you’re about as a music maker and all the different things you like shines through in these songs.

KC: Yeah. It’s become the unconscious goal. It’s a really nice compliment because the goal is to use everything that you have learned and to try and make something else out of it. I feel like that is why sticking things out in the long term is really good. I was always in bands for two or three years and that was it or I’d start a project and end it but with The Pink Monkey Birds, it’s been over ten years with the same band. Everyone is very in tune and knows what we’re capable of and everyone contributes, it becomes its own beast with its own life. We never discuss when things are going to happen, a lot of music just comes out of “here’s some chords” and I’ll start playing or someone will start playing. It’s like automatic writing. Different people steer the ship at different times. That’s what happened on this EP, different people came up with different things. Mark [Cisneros] showed up to the session with a flute, I didn’t know he played the flute! He’s like, “We’re recording in the desert so I thought you might like some desert sounds.” I replied, “Great! Fantastic! Bring it on!” It really made that 14-minute-long song. Larry Hardy from In The Red Records said, “We’ll put out a 12-inch EP but one song has to be long, like 6-7 minutes.” We said we can do that. We recorded the song and I was like that should be 6 or 7 minutes and asked how long it was and he said “Fourteen minutes!” [laughs]. We weren’t conscious of time; we were just feeling it out. The only thing we worked out was the tempo change. There was no editing, it’s all live.

I thought, is anyone going to even like this? It’s a slow 14-minute song! We’re a crazy rock n roll, garage rock band. But it’s the music we want to make and that came out of us at this moment. Luckily, and like anything that has that positive energy behind it, it was very well received. I like that our audience seems willing and happy for us to change things up, they want you to expanded; like I do when I’m a fan, I always have been. I followed Patti Smith’s work since I was 15-16-years-old to now and I’m always happy whatever it is she does, it’s always big to me, it’s just loving her as an artist. I’m like that with a lot of people that stay in it for the long haul and stay true to the muse. All the people I have been involved with, I still feel its amazing work that’s coming out of them, it’s because they stick to their original idea but then are not afraid to experiment and go outside the formula, there’s no pandering going on, that is exciting to me!

Yeah. I’m the same as you. I love seeing artists go against expectation. If they’re doing it with honesty and stay true to their spirit, no matter what they do, I’m in.

KC: Exactly. We have plenty of rock songs on the record too.

The song ‘He Walked In’ was inspired by a dream you had about Jeffrey Lee Pierce?

KC: Yes. I had this dream that shook me when I woke up. I knew it hadn’t really happened but the things in the dream, I could smell him, I could feel him; I could feel him in my presence. I was very much like, wow! That really happened, that dream was a visitation. I have no doubts. I have lots of dreams and they’re just dreams, but once in a while you get these ones that are so sensory, you can feel it and when you wake up you can still feel it, and you know what that feeling is. I jotted down this dream when I woke up, it was very clear in my mind, the song is a version of it. It was important to me. When we started making the music for it, I had an idea that I’d use the text for this and it was perfect for it. It was all very serendipitous all fitting together.

In the song lyrics you mention the kitchen and a telephone on the wall; is that the kitchen where you live now?

KC: No, it’s actually my childhood house where I lived with my parents, that’s where the dream took place. It was even stranger and had very personal images. Jeffery had come to that house.

I really love the film clip for the song. I enjoyed how the first part of the clip is shot in one continuous long shot. I noticed too that when you were walking and you get to the part where you start the dialogue and you’re talking about Jeffery coming to visit that in the shot there’s a little golden orb of light.

KC: Yeah [laughs]. There’s no CGI going on. It’s the sun deciding to come at the moment, we did that take several times because we had to nail it. It was the hottest part of the summer; the Arizona summer is very hot and we’d had all these wildfires in California and the smoke was making its way all the way to Arizona.

I wanted to work with the film maker David Fenster, he’s magical too. He deals in a lot of art films. The films he makes deal with a lot of spirits, a lot of ancient spirits usually, either living in nature or inhabiting different inanimate objects, it’s beautiful. He’s a beautiful cinematographer. He had moved to here shortly after we moved here. I knew I wanted him to do a video. We’re in quarantine but we have some wide-open spaces, so he rented a really nice camera. He said, “I think you need to be here. Wear a white suit walking through the desert and we’ll figure the rest out. You’ll be able to feel what’s happening.” I had actually just done an online workshop with this intuitive teacher named Asher Hartman from Los Angeles; it was a workshop on finding spirit guides. I did that not too long before we did the clip. David had done some film work with Asher, that’s how I found out about Asher. That came into play in the film. It’s pretty much improvised, we just had to nail the text [laughs]. We had to do it a few times, walking for 9-minutes in the heat without stopping or having a car come by with someone honking or whatever. So, it worked out in a magical kind of way. It’s hard to go wrong in that magical scenery, you’re on Native land [of the Tohono O’odham, Sobaipuri, Pascua Yaqui, and Hohokam people] and that is magical, when you get out into the desert and you realise it really does bring a lot of magic to be engaged the whole time.

Speaking of magical things, your outfit in that clip is really magical!

KC: [Laughs] I wore that suit when my husband Ryan and I got married.

Awwwwww.

KC: That’s my marriage outfit! It’s a good suit and I was shocked, really shocked I could still fit into it! That’s several years old.

It is so beautiful, especially with the turquoise Bolo necktie.

KC: Yeah, awww. That’s the thing, every piece has to have meaning. Film is two dimensional and that kind of stuff helps make it visceral and more three dimensional, because all of that stuff is happening and, in the background, and in the weight of what’s going on in the moment. Full disclosure, I have studied acting as well, for four or five years I went to an acting teacher, a private group acting with Cathy Haase. She was a great, great teacher. She was from the Actors Studio and as a teacher at the School Of Visual Arts. I never thought I was going to be an actor but I thought, I’d rather do this than therapy [laughs]. It was a lot of Actors Studio kind of sense memory stuff and using your past to evoke emotions and actions. I think I’m very equipped for that, I don’t always know how to use it but for that I did. I don’t think I looked uncomfortable or anything.

It looked very natural. Another song on the new EP is ‘Sean DeLear’ that’s about a non-binary African-American punker and culture fanatic, and Glue front-person, Sean D; what’s one of your favourite Sean stories or memories?

KC: [Laughs]. I would just be constantly amazed at where they would pop up! Anywhere I went, at any event, it was like; how is Sean DeLear backstage at Siouxsie and the Banshees concert? They were very much a character and reminds me a lot of myself, that Sean just put themselves there. They were going to be in the middle of it and that’s just it! People start to treat you like, “Oh, Sean DeLear! They must be someone, so let them in.” The last time I saw Sean, they showed up at my show in London. I really liked Sean; I always call them demi-drag because they were not always a woman but not always drag, non-binary, whatever Sean felt like on the day. They were part Diana Ross, part Johnny Rotten; a real Zelig. He was a very engaged, lovely person and fully original. Just to be an African-American punker but to me, a gay, out, Black man was always incredible to me and always inspirational. I was always amazed where they showed up at, all around the world—New York, L.A., London, Vienna. An ambiguous character that was well-known and famous for being around. That’s a real, real talent! And, very beloved by the underground rock n roll community and the underground in general, the gay underground, LGBTQ+ underground. A bright spot. Very, very kooky and original person.

When they passed away it was like, how can it be that Sean Delear is no longer on the earth?! Someone that is so alive and bright. I was very inspired to write something about the essence of Sean DeLear. It’s like, where is Sean DeLear now? I thought if there is a heaven… I looked in the sky and I thought, oh, they’re probably just swinging from some chandelier, that’s probably what heaven is [laughs]. I say in the song: how many people can you fit up there? He passed away in 2018 and I had so many friends that passed away that year; I thought maybe they’re all up there on the chandelier swinging around together. I don’t know if I believe in that, I’d like to believe in an afterlife of some sort but I don’t know what it is but maybe that’s it, a party on a chandelier rocketing through outer space [laughs].

As a gay Latinx, person of colour, in the punk and rock n roll scenes; did you ever experience racism or homophobia? Or in your experience has it been an accepting place?

KC: Things came and went; prejudices and fears I would have about being out. Luckily, the earliest punk rock of Los Angeles definitely had a lot of gay people at the forefront, it was made up of art students, gay people, film people, all kinds of people made up scene—it was more misfit than misanthropic in the beginning. It was a gathering of likeminded outcasts who were sick of the status quo, the music and the whole scenario. That was always very open but it was also a time where people weren’t talking about… in the punk rock scene in Los Angeles at that time, any labels were absolutely off the books and totally taboo, you don’t want to be anything, except for a punk rocker, you’re outside of everything, you’re the blank generation! What ever you can call it, you’re not that. If you’re bucking against the system, that was good enough, that was the only requirement. Being gay was definitely bucking against the system. That’s how openminded and accepted things were in the beginning. I guess later it got more co-opted to become homophobic, more when hardcore music came in.

Totally!

KC: That kind of dispersed the original scene. People turned twenty-one and twenty-two and were old and out of it already by them—cos they were washed up old hags! [laughs]. People moved on to something else. In The Gun Club, we played with androgyny; Jeffery with his Marilyn Monroe from Hell moniker. We were totally unafraid to play with stereotypes and gender then. We were just freaks. Then in The Cramps, how much freer could you be to be a sexual deviant! [laughs]. It was encouraged in the highest! That too, with The Cramps there was no limit to gender roles. You just looked sharp and whatever it was, that’s the way you were going to look and be. It was such a pro-sexuality-of-all-kinds-scene, it wasn’t homophobic. The Bad Seeds, open-minded people, although very macho sort of; that was the first time I was in a band with all men [laughs]. There was always a woman in the band, with The Cramps and The Gun Club. I didn’t have any trepidation about being myself and sexuality and putting it out there. I think I adapted to every band. I just thought I’ll be me; I don’t need to be Ronnie Spector in this band [laughs]. If there was any trepidation of about what people thought of me, that’s on me really. I was never treated different for being gay and that’s because I’ve always stood my ground and been who I am. People can accept it or not accept it.

I think homophobia came from outside the rock n roll world, if it was in the rock n roll world, I’d just tell them to fuck off! I’ve experienced tons of homophobia. I also felt really ostracized by the mainstream gay scene, more when I was younger, the pre-punk time because I didn’t look like them and I was not going to be accepted by them. I decided that I’d just become a monster [laughs], that was a better route to take. If you see a monster, I’ll be a monster!

I saw much more sexism towards woman, directed at the women I was in groups with. I saw sound people in clubs be condescending to [Poison] Ivy or Romi [Mori] or Patricia Morrison. We would call them out of course, but it existed. For me, I didn’t feel it as much as what I saw happen with women, which upset me. They were all strong, cool, women that weren’t going to let it go! [laughs].

Did you experience any racism?

KC: I don’t think so, no. That was the glorious thing about coming up in punk rock, it was open to everyone. Being in Los Angeles, which has a huge Hispanic population, a huge Latino population, Chicano population, there was never a way of avoiding it. Jeffrey Lee Pierce was Chicano, his mother was Mexican-American. I think people were more outraged by my hair than the colour of my skin [laughs]. You come equipped when you are a person of colour. I was equipped with an immediate idea that I was a second-class citizen, that there was a prejudice and always a potential for danger and there was always a way to carry yourself to protect yourself. My parents very much grew up in the depression era… they had a very hard time, I think that’s why they brought me and my sisters up speaking English as a first language, not very much Spanish was taught to us. They wanted us to assimilate. They wanted it to be easier for us because they and their parents had a much harder time assimilating. Their parents’ generation were actually immigrants and they saw how hard it was. There’s a lot of people that didn’t grow up learning Spanish and it contributed to a feeling of otherness. You know you are Mexican and you’ve been raised to be proud of your heritage and you’re exposed to your heritage and customs, family and things, but you also don’t speak the language and that makes you feel ostracized from people.

How did your song ‘(I Can’t Afford) Your Shitty Dreamhouse’ come to you?

KC: I wrote that before the George Floyd death, Brianna Taylor shooting and the Black Lives Matter uprising and protests; I could see something coming, just look at our Administration at the time. It’s a protest song. The shitty dreamhouse is all of the conversative right-wing let’s-make-America-great-again-dream they had, which is to return to a time when people of colour had no civil rights. That’s basically what they were saying. I’ve always been fucking fighting against this, it’s particularly terrible at this time. Blatant fascism. People were empowered to be racist. I was like, they have some shitty dream house they want to build! I can’t afford to buy into this or think that it’s going to be a part of my life. People are out there protesting saying you’re fucked and this is fucked and you’re not helping, you need to listen to us. There’s a line in the song that says: I can fight like we did all along, years before you were in my song. It’s a fuck you, you’re not going to get us. It’s protest music that you can dance to. It has a deeper meaning.

I love the art work for your new EP too; your husband Ryan does it?

KC: He’s done all of the records, he’s the ideas man! I really like the idea of having one artist, it really makes an identity and theme. I like to have a theme going with music or whatever philosophies there are with the culture we’re creating. He’s a visual artist and he said it was good to have on-going identity, that people come with you. I’m happy with whatever he comes up with, it’s always great. He does the lettering by hand. He’s an incredible draftsperson. And, he’s fun! He’s just the right kind of crazy, too [laughs].

That’s something that I’ve always loved about all off the bands you’ve been a part of, you’ve created your own world.

KC: That is intentional. I didn’t know any other way to do it.  That’s how I learnt from all the bands I’ve been in; you create your own world. Jeffrey was the focus of The Gun Club, Lux and Ivy were the focus of The Cramps, they came up with bullet proof concepts, ideas and worlds—they bring people together and people into a community and our world! It’s more multi-dimensional than just listening to music, it’s visual and conceptual and also loose enough to change and ever-morphing, it becomes its own beast. It relies on a fair amount of consistency, that was always my shortfall [laughs]. I’ve done a lot of different things but only for a little while. With The Pink Monkey Birds I wanted to start something like that. I’m in it for the long haul, as a result we have created our own world and we’re lucky people want to come along, jump on our planet!

A band like, Sparks, who I’ve liked since I was a teenager, still going and I’m still in their world and I never want to leave. It’s consistently amazing. You’re like, oh my god, they’re getting better! The Ramones, you knew exactly what their world was about when you first saw their show, at least I did. I couldn’t tell you what it was about but I could tell you that it was something that I understood. I do hope that it’s something that happens with us.

I spoke with Martin Rev from Suicide the other day and he was telling me that he wakes up and pretty much every day makes music. I asked him what he was working on and he told me that he wasn’t working on anything in particular that he was just making music. That’s his life.

KC: Yeah, that’s it. That is just it. There is no big plan, maybe some people have a big plan, but for us old timers and people in it for the long haul, you just make the stuff. That’s what Patti Smith told me an artist was: make the stuff, keep your name clean, don’t do stuff you don’t want to do and it should all work out somehow. You might not be famous but you’ll have this amazing work and people will respond to it, it might be ten people or it might be ten million, it doesn’t matter really. It’s our chosen path in life. That’s what we do, we make stuff.

Please check out: Kid Congo and The Pink Monkey Birds on bandcamp; Get Swing From The Sean Delear out on In The Red Records. Kid on Instagram: @kidcongopowers

Sydney punk band ARSE’s guitarist-vocalist Dan Cunningham: “I was really frustrated with everything in my life…”

Handmade collage by B.

Sydney punk trio ARSE’s straight-forward, minimalist, and most importantly honest music, captures the daily grind of the modern world in all of its anxieties, pressures, stresses, and frustration. Gimmie spoke at length with guitarist-vocalist, Dan Cunningham.

How did you get into music?

DAN CUNNINGHAM: From a very young age my parents got me playing music as soon as I was old enough to do so. It’s been a lifelong thing for me really, it’s in my family as well, I have cousins, aunts and uncles that all play. There’s always been music in my life and it just made sense to go for it myself. When I got to high school, I started playing guitar and that’s where I met Jono [Boulet], who also plays in ARSE. He and I have been on the road musically, and literally, together for years; we’ve always played in bands together. I’ve always been in bands, ARSE is the most recent one.

I know you did bands Parades and Snake Face too! You’ve gone from doing Parades that sounds pretty indie pop to doing a punk band with ARSE. Often when people are younger and in their teens, they’re really angsty and the music is aggressive and as you get older you mellow out more, I feel like you guys have gone the opposite!

DC: Jono and I have always had a punk band of some kind or another going at all times, even during Parades we had Snake Face as the side thing. We’ve always bonded over that kind of music. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve even said it out loud, at this point we’re in our 30s now… it’s insane when you’re doing music and you get to that point, it feels a bit ridiculous to be doing a kind of indie thing, unless you do it really well and you really think about it and it’s coming from a really visceral, honest kind of place and you do it convincingly, then it works. For us, we’re just at the point where we want to keep playing music together. At the time we started this band, it just felt like the absolutely right thing to do, especially for where I was at in my life, to do the band I always wanted to be in. Jono has always been on the level. We just did it and it felt like a really natural thing to do. We had zero plans for this band, to be quite honest. We started it three years ago.

I understand at the time you started the band you were going through a real depressive period in your life?

DC: Yeah, somewhat. I was a bit wayward really… just, life never turns out the way that you want it to, which is a sad reality. At that point I was really frustrated with everything in my life… which is totally normal I think, anyone can relate to that. At that time there was a real lack of music in my life, at the bottom of it all I think that was the root of a lot of my problems. I just needed to fill that space, that void in my life, it was absolutely the thing that I needed to do—that’s how the band started really. That’s something I only realised much later though, maybe after a year of doing it.

Was there a reason why there was a lack of music in your life at that time?

DC: Circumstances. I was at university studying and I didn’t have the time to do it, there were other personal things going on, it was a tumultuous time. Doing what I was doing at university I was pretty conflicted about it taking up so much of my creative time. There were a lot of questions about whether I was doing the right thing? As you get older I think you’re more aware of time, how you’re spending it and if you’re being honest with yourself in that. That’s where I was. I’m still kind of there [laughs] in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of those questions still hanging around. At least music is more of a thing though, it’s a clear and present thing in my life. I feel a lot better about everything.

What is ARSE for you?

DC: It’s an outlet for a lot of stuff. I do it with two of my best and longest standing friends which is a huge thing, just getting to create something with them! We get to spend a shitload of time together. When we play shows we love to hang out, often playing a gig is an excuse to go grab dinner somewhere, for me it’s something to do—that’s’ the most important thing to me. I love playing out of Sydney. Before lockdown we’d spend a lot of time in Melbourne, last year [2019] we went down five or six times; every time we play down there it gets better and better. Melbourne is such a great place to hang out. They’re really going through it right now with the Coronavirus. Knowing the people I know down there through playing in the band, the cultural aspect of Melbourne is its greatest strength and right now they’ve completely lost it, it’s pretty devastating. ARSE for me is to make connections, that’s a really valuable thing in my life. The music is the most fun I think I could have, doing that, getting up there and turning everything up to 11! Really feeling it! When you play it’s really a bit of a heighted state that I can’t get any other way.

I saw the podcast you were on recently and you mentioned that playing live was almost like a meditative experience for you.

DC: Yeah, absolutely. I’m definitely not thinking about whatever is going on in my life when we play, that’s a hugely underrated thing. We also mentioned that in the world of music there is this innate relationship with music and substance abuse and all that sort of thing, we see that when we play ‘cause obviously we’re playing shows all the time and spending a lot of times out in the evening, playing pubs, venues, where there is alcohol everywhere – which is totally fine, do whatever you do. For me, after a few years of getting on stage with a few beers under my skin and feeling maybe not as present as I could have been, now it’s really valuable to me to really be present and to just take it all in—to really be there for the moment. If I want to have ten beers after, well, that’s a different story, but when I play it’s really important to me to take stock of the moment, because moments are fleeting, moments are all we have at the end of the day, experiences and things like that. It sounds new age or something but that’s just where it’s at for us. I don’t know if that’s a bummer for some people, because I think people want punk bands to be bit lawless and fucked up basically, there’s an image there that people really connect with. It’s not our thing, it’s not what we set out to do.

One of the reasons I really love ARSE is because music-wise you are very traditionally punk rock and what people may expect from a punk band but then your lyrics are intelligent, at times philosophical and there’s a lot more going on there then what it might seem at first though. I feel like you have a lot of deep thought happening there.

DC: Thank you! I think about what I’m writing, if for no other reason than… for me,  a lot of the band is writing the things that I would want to hear or that I would be stoked on if I was hearing the band for the first time, that’s always in the back of my mind. I’m a huge fan of music, music is my life! Even when I’m not playing it. I’ve been in bands where you’re not into the music that you’re making, which is a really weird thing to do. I reckon there’s so many bands playing right now that don’t love their own music, that they just do it for some other reason. For me the only reason to be in a band is to make the music that you want to hear—that’s all we’re doing. It’s definitely what I try to do with the lyrics. I really nerd out on the lyrics of all of my favourite artists and bands. The lyrics are half of the picture for me, music is one part and then if you’ve got the lyrical side happening as well, those are the things that make my favourite bands.

Same! One of the first songs of yours that I heard and that really resonated with me was ‘NRVSNRG’.

DC: Cool!

You have no idea how many times I’ve listened to that song, especially in the car on my way to work every day, I could so relate to what you were saying. The lyrics are so honest. I’m listening to it and I’m like, “yeah buddy, me too!

DC: Awww that’s amazing. Thank you for saying so.

What’s the story behind that song?

DC: That was a really easy one for me. Some of our songs you don’t want to know how long I’ve spent on the lyrics, it freaks me out. I definitely get stuck in a kind of feedback loop when I’m writing stuff, I’m in it big time right now because we’re using the downtime to try and put out new stuff. I’m working on lyrics to a whole bunch of things at the moment, it’s kind of a bit of a pain in the arse. That song was not one of those instances, I remember being surprised at how easy that one was to do. The music was really straightforward and I didn’t need to fit things in anywhere, I could just go for it. A lot of the time when I am playing guitar as well, a lot of the lyrical side of things has to fit in with how I’m playing because it’s too hard to do live, it’s got to be feasible for me to be able to sing and play at the same time. That one was really easy for me because I don’t really play anything in the verses in that song, I had a chance to do whatever I wanted.

What you’re singing, the lyrics, is that how you were feeling at the time?

DC: Absolutely! It was a really natural thing to put all of that down, I was surprised at how well it worked, that’s what you want. I always want to get a result where I feel like it wasn’t written by me, that it was written by someone else; that’s the mark of a great result, that is the pinnacle of that feeling for me. I don’t know who wrote that song [laughs], it hit all the beats for me.

How good is the bass line in that song!? It has such a groove.

DC: Yeah, that’s Jono. He brought that to the table. That whole song is a great example of every piece falling into place. I would say in a way that is our most well-known song. When we play it in Sydney, that’s the one that everyone knows, I think it’s because it’s probably the most relatable.

I’ve noticed that at your shows. You look around at everyone in the crowd when you’re singing it and it really feels like everyone is like: I get you! I feel it too.

DC: Yeah, that’s it.

I like how you guys have a real minimalist kind of drumming.

DC: [Laughs] Yeah, we do. There’s a few things going on there with the drums, the big one is that it’s a bit of a, I don’t want to say experiment… Tim [Watkins] our drummer is a really incredible drummer, very talented, we just wanted to see if we could focus his energy completely, we didn’t want him to have all these extra bits of the drum kit to play with; we wanted him to have three things to hit. It’s so tempting to be all over the drum kit, he is that guy, he’d be all over it if he could! There’s only three of us in the band and we wanted to have every element going at 100%. The best way to do that with the drums is just to give him a couple of things to do. It helps us write the most effective song if we only use a couple of things.

You mentioned the song ‘NRVSNRG’ was easy to write; what’s something that’s been hard to write?

DC: Probably the EP, Safe Word. That was definitely harder, because we were trying some stuff, we were seeing what we could do differently. There was a lot of trial and error in that. There were also some time issues. It was a bad time to try to write a record, in our lives there were a lot of things going on; there was a lot of juggling of things. Lyrically as well I was trying new things. We’re still happy with the end result, but it didn’t come together easily. The odds were against us.

It’s been really cool now to have the time to think about what we’re doing; that’s one upside to the lockdown pandemic situation we’re all in.

What kinds of things have you found yourself writing about now?

DC: I think I’m definitely trying to get to that place where things lyrically need to come from the heart, which sounds a bit wishy-washy but I’m really trying to connect with that and things I’m feeling and try to put that into songs where we can play with new ideas. Musically, we’re in the early stages. Jono and I are just trying to figure out how we can be the best version of what we do. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, we’re just trying to hone in on the things that we love about the band and try and do better. We’re chipping away. We hang out once or twice a week and throw ideas around. At the moment we have a lot of stuff to go through, we have a big pile of trash we’re working our way through [laughs]. We’ll pull one or two things out and finish them.

What do you love about writing lyrics?

DC: I’m a writer for my work. I write for websites, that’s my bread and butter. For as long as I can remember, even as a kid, I’ve always had music going and I’ve always had writing. I studied journalism at uni. Like I said before, I really nerd out on great lyricists and lyrics. Writing is something I can’t not do—it feels good to be doing this. I feel like it’s what I should be doing.

Do you have any favourite lyricists?

DC: Definitely. I hate to be obvious, but someone like Gareth Liddiard [Tropical Fuck Storm / The Drones] for me is one of the most underrated lyricists; he is rated but he could be rated better!

Totally! He is one of the best Australia’s ever had.

DC: Yeah, he’s one of the best Australian songwriters of the last thirty years. That’s not gushing either, that’s the truth. He’s kind of like the gold standard. I feel like what he does is uniquely Australian, I think only an Australian could do the thing he does really well.

The way he delivers the vocal as well, it can give you chills and make you feel. It’s really emotive and he’s really great at creating an atmosphere.

DC: Yeah. I’ve read a lot of interviews with him as well and he kind of brushes off his talents in a way like, “Oh yeah, I just wrote this thing.” You can tell there’s so much work went into what he does. It can’t be mistaken; you just know when someone has worked really hard at what they do. He may be blasé about what he does but he is way better than people realise.

I also really like Nick Cave, for all the reasons I just said before, an Australian songwriter that’s undeniably Australian in what they do. These are big figures to have looming over me as I’m trying to write [laughs]. I’m not saying I’m anywhere near the talent of those guys.

You’re very talented at songwriting. I can tell there’s a lot of thought behind your lyrics.

DC: Thank you. I’m really glad when we play that the thing people often approach us with after we play is that the lyrics really resonate with them. For me, that is the ultimate compliment. I really appreciate that.

You meditate, don’t you?

DC: A little bit. It’s something that I’ve dabbled with for a long time and Jono’s done a little bit here and there. I’m always trying things. I’m always trying to be healthier. I think it’s an age thing. I’m always trying to create habits that I can carry into my later years because there’s people in my family and people that I know that are close to me in my life that never cared about that stuff and now in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s they’re just fucked! I don’t know how else to say it. Just surviving and not living. It goes for mental health as well. We’re of the generation now where there is a huge focus on mental health, it’s being taken more seriously. There’s not a person out there that doesn’t struggle with some form of mental health. I’ve certainly had my share of issues. There’s no one I know that hasn’t. For me meditation – it’s not something I do as much as I could or should – is something that I’m mindful of and work on.

So, when you’re doing it it’s mindful meditation that you’re doing?

DC: Yeah, a real basic one. I got really into it for six months, to the point I was doing it almost every day. I look back on that time as a time of better mental health. I’m currently trying to steer the ship back to that period.

I’ve been doing it on and off for around twenty years now and I know for a fact that my life is always better when I do it.

DC: You can’t deny it’s impacts. What type do you do?

I’ve tried a lot, like you I like to try as much as possible. I’ve struggled a lot with mental health and my whole family has had most major health problems you can think of, so I can really relate to what you were saying before about loved ones being fucked. At different points in my life different styles of meditation have helped but I always come back to the mindful breathing in, breathing out, simple meditation.

DC: Yeah, that’s the one.

I’ve been doing the mindful breathing one lately but when I breathe in, in my mind I say, “I’m breathing in, I’m alive” and you acknowledge that you are alive and that you’re here now. When I breathe out, I say in my mind, “I’m breathing out, I smile” and that’s appreciating that I am alive and that I should make the most of that. It’s as simple as that.

DC: Amazing! That’s a great lesson for anything really. You just have to find the thing that works for you.

Exactly! And, everyone is different…

DC: Yeah, so it might not work for someone else but if it works for you, fuck, you’ve just got to do it, right?

Right!

DC: I never thought that something like music and my practice of music, that mindfulness, by extension meditation, could play into the musical part of my life. There’s a relationship forming there, which to me is something worth pursuing. It’s great! Anything that’s going to improve your existence and whatever time you have left—you just have to do it.

*More of this interview can be found in our editor’s up coming book, Conversations With Punx, alongside in-depth chats with Ian MacKaye, Martin Rev, Brendan Suppression, Keith Morris, spiderxdeath, Rikk Agnew, Geza X, Steve Ignorant and many more.

Please check out ARSE on bandcamp; on Facebook; on Instagram.

Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson: “Things got quite emotional and that turned into inspiration…”

Handmade collage by B.

English duo Sleaford Mods discovered their signature “shouting over beats” style by accident; known for its punk spirit and radical heart of working-class, social commentary and observational themed lyrical content giving a snapshot of the challenges of daily life. Latest album Spare Ribs takes us beyond what we know and gives a deeper personal insight, Williamson getting introspective and reflecting on his early days, partly inspired by time spent in lockdown due to the global pandemic. Gimmie caught up with Jason to chat about the new record.

How did you first discover music?

JASON WILLIAMSON: As a child, through films really, and children’s television and the records my dad would play.

Why is music important to you?

JW: I just connected with it as a person more so than I have with anything else. I find it… not an easy thing to communicate and express myself in, but it’s more of a suitable thing; I just naturally connect to it.

I was listening to the song ‘Fishcakes’ from the new Sleaford record Spare Ribs and reading about it, you mentioned that when you were a younger you had spina bifida and that you went through spine surgery; during that time were you listening to a lot of music? How were you passing the downtime?

JW: No, I wasn’t, I don’t think. I was in hospital for about a month. There was a lot of sleeping. A lot of trying to figure out what I was going through and why. I was too young; I was only thirteen. A lot of it was I just didn’t connect with much really. I was just a young kid doing whatever I was doing.

Can you remember when you first wanted to start making your own music?

JW: When I was about twenty-one. I really got into indie stuff, Stone Roses and The Wonder Stuff I was listening to a lot of, and I joined a few bands in college. I tried singing and I realised that it was something that I could do.

When making things, what are the things that matter to you?

JW: That it satisfies my own needs and whatever those needs are. Generally, it’s got to be good, I’ve got to think that it’s good, I’ve got to feel that it’s good. That is obviously something that is tailored to my own tastes. It’s quite a personal thing. I have to feel that I’m satisfied with it, ya know what I mean?

Totally. When writing Spare Ribs what were you feeling? What were you working through that writing and getting this stuff out was helping with?

JW: I just kept going back to the idea and refining it with each of the songs and studying it, like I do with any album. Just to make sure what has been recorded and submitted is up to scratch. It’s just a fine tooth combing process. It’s quite tormenting and quite intimidating going into the studio, even if you think you have ideas, it can be quite frightening, it’s quite terrifying, ya know what I mean? [laughs] …’cause especially with Sleaford Mods, it could fall on it’s arse at any minute because it is so minimal, there’s not that many components to it. It’s really just that… going back to the personal process again.

I find a lot of Sleaford Mods songs to be observational and more about outward kinds of stuff but I feel lately you’ve been writing more personal songs.

JW: Yeah, that was down to the kind of history with the operation and my back, which I got a back injury over the summer doing too much exercise in the house, I couldn’t go to the gym during lockdown. I went to see a specialist and they brought all the operation up again and I only found out then that I was suffering from spina bifida; that’s what I was born with, a really rare form of it. Things got quite emotional and that turned into inspiration and content to put into songs. A couple of them especially ‘Mork n Mindy’ and ‘Fishcakes’, the last song on the album—they deal with my experiences and memories as a kid.

When I’m listening to those two songs in particular, you can really feel that emotion in your voice. There’s almost like a real sadness in there, it’s really emotive, it was making me teary. I could feel your pain, you guys captured that so well.

JW: That’s really nice to know actually, that it evokes those emotions, I think it certainly did for me… especially ‘Fishcakes’. I tried to give over that experience of what it was like growing up in the early ‘80s. But I didn’t want to make it a self-pity type song; I was quite concerned about that. I think I did eventually pull it off though. It’s really nice to know it evokes those emotions in people.

It gives another layer to Sleaford Mods; it gives us more understanding about you. Everyone goes through stuff in their lives and when you hear someone else being so honest, you can really connect with that.

JW: Thank you.

Were those two songs hard to record?

JW: No, not at all. I just got on with them. I knew what they needed. Once Andrew [Fearn] got the gist of what I was after, it was just a case of pressing record. We did ‘Fishcakes’ in a couple of takes. It was pretty sort of “bom bom bom”.

Was it called ‘Fishcakes’ because that’s what you used to eat a lot growing up?

JW: Yes, well, where I grew up, the housing estate where I grew up on, it always constantly smelt of fish cakes… or occasionally smelt of fish cakes! This really massive scent of it, it would drift down the street and that did remind me of being a child growing up in that period.

Another song on the record ‘All Day Ticket’ is another track I feel is personal with a lot going on there.

JW: ‘All Day Ticket’ talks about karma, about how somebody can find themselves in a great position but all of a sudden that position will just vanish and they will hurtle back towards the old way they used to live, which wasn’t great. It’s about them connecting to the reasons why they’re back in that crappy position, whether they admit that to themselves or they blame other people for it. So, this is what that songs about; its kind of about karma, about taking stock of your responsibilities and being honest with yourself.

Did you find yourself doing that when writing and having a lot of downtime because of the pandemic to reflect?

JW: Yeah, a little bit. Some of it, the pandemic, made me quite angry, in how the government handle it and are still handling it and how we are as a nation in England still ruled by an aristocracy, all of these things were exposed even more I thought during the pandemic. It made me really angry, that went into it. Also, a lot of recollection. A little bit of soul-searching perhaps… ‘cause you’re just stuck in the house all the time. It’s also laced with the usual trademark humour that we do that I still find quite interesting.

When reflecting and soul-searching, have you ever tried mediation?

JW: Oh yeah, I do a lot of meditating, especially at night. On tour I do it a lot as well. It’s definitely something that I have looked into.

What kind of meditation do you do?

JW: Phone apps, where it’s someone talking, you eventually fall asleep, stuff like that. I find it quite useful really.

Before you mentioned karma, that and things like meditation are from Buddhist philosophy; have you looked into that?

JW: It definitely can be… a bit of Yoga Nidra, Pilates, but I generally haven’t dived into any of that. As you get older you kind of pick some of that up anyway, don’t you, naturally if you’re in the position where you’re thinking about yourself as a human being and how you’re moving forwards and how you cope with life. You eventually connect to stuff like that.

Is there a philosophy that you like to live your life by?

JW: I don’t know really. Just to carry on and keep doing and being as alert as I can be and to make the right decisions in a controlled and calm manner. I think learning to incorporate patience into everyday things is the real, real goal. Being calm can attribute much more to a positive experience on a daily basis than not being calm, ya know what I mean… taking stock and stepping back and not panicking is something I am increasingly finding myself wanting to move towards.

It can be a hard thing to cultivate in the climate we find ourselves in with everything that is happening in the world. I walk out my front door and there’s something that can make me angry.

JW: Oh god yeah, don’t get me wrong! There’s a barrage of stuff out there that on daily basis I suffer with really badly, in the sense of frustration, in the sense of being aggressive, but when it comes down to it, when you’re on your own and you’re at the point when you’re going to boil over, that’s where I try and step back now. I find that’s becoming increasingly more possible to do.

When you first started Sleaford Mods, what initially inspired you to do it?

JW: I really like the punk aspect… I accidentally found this formula of shouting over beats and realised very quickly that it could be something bigger than that initial discovery. Also, that it could carry so many approaches because before I was only doing a traditional approach which was guitar and vocals, a traditional band setup, which I found quite restricting. When I stumbled over this formula, this really early form of it, that’s when I started to get other ideas.

I was so excited when I first found Sleaford Mods, it made total sense to me being someone that grew up on both punk and hip-hop, you combine two things that I love and doing so it made you unique. You have so much spirit and I believe what you’re saying.

JW: Thank you very much, that means a lot!

Is there anything that you haven’t talked about in regards to the new album that you’d like to?

JW: The two guest collaborators Amy Taylor from Amyl and the Sniffers and Billy Nomates who is an up-and-coming singer in England, those two for me really did transform the advancement we made in production on this album. We really took our time to make the production on this album better than the last one. The inclusion of those two have definitely completely changed it. We’re really happy about that.

Please check out SLEAFORD MODS. Spare Ribs out now via Rough Trade. Watch Sleaford Mods live in Brisbane, Australia. Watch Amyl & the Sniffers do a Sleaford Mods cover live on Gold Coast, Australia.

The Damned’s Captain Sensible: “You make the best album you can on limited resources and try to push the boundaries a bit.”

Original photo: Matt Condon. Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Captain Sensible is a co-founding member of UK punk band, The Damned. They were the first British punks to release a single, full-length, tour America and play CBGB. In the ‘80s they evolved beyond their punk roots to become one of the initiators of a new sound that would become known as goth rock.

Along with Damned bandmate bassist Paul Gray, and drummer Martin Parrott, Sensible formed outfit, The Sensible Gray Cells, born of their love of garage psych. The end of 2020 saw the release of new record Get Back Into The World, aptly titled and a positive, pro-active sentiment for getting back into life after most of ours has been somewhat side-lined by the global pandemic, lockdowns and disruption from our normal daily schedules and socialising.

Here’s to a greater year in 2021 for us all! What better way to kick it off than a Gimmie chat with The Captain!

CAPTAIN SENSIBLE: Hello Bianca! It’s Captain ‘ere!

Good morning! Are you a morning person?

CS: No, I’m not! I’m very much an evening person. In fact, that’s probably why I do this bizarre job of twanging a guitar for a living—I come alive in the evening. I’m terrible in the morning, I was always late to work when I had jobs and was always getting in late and getting fined or my wages docked. In the evening I’d go right through to the next day if there’s enough booze [laughs].

Is there anything you do in the morning that helps get your day started?

CS: Oh crikey! I just drink plenty of tea and hope my brain cranks into to gear, I don’t think it’s quite there yet [laughs]. You can probably tell; I’m bumbling a bit and I’ve allegedly been awake for three or four hours already.

From what I know of you, you seem like a pretty positive person.

CS: Yeah, that’s my outlook on life—every day is a holiday. I always look for positives in everything; even what’s going on at the moment, you take each day as it comes. I’m finding it funny the stupidity of it all, laugh rather than cry, that’s my thing.

Have you always had this outlook?

CS: Yeah, pretty much. I remember when I was a kid – my name is Ray, it’s not really Captain [laughs] – my aunty used to say I was their little ray of sunshine. The funny thing is that in The Damned I am the jolly Captain spreading fun and frivolity wherever he goes and Mr Vanian is the Dark Lord, we’re so completely different in every respect. He loves film, I never watch TV and I love audio and sound and playing around with that. I like football, he hates sport. We are absolute opposites, but somehow we don’t tread on each other’s toes and it comes together in the studio and on stage, that’s the dynamic.

That’s really cool to hear that even though you are so different you can get along to make such great art. Often these days people disagree on things with someone else and they can’t be civil to each other so it’s nice to hear that people that are opposites in so many ways can still be in harmony.

CS: Having said that he probably does find me a little bit annoying occasionally [laughs]. Especially going back a few years, I was a bit of a one-man party. I won’t go into it, you can find the stories online of chaos, nakedness and debauchery, blah, blah, blah. Sadly, now I’m too old for that behaviour and I’m more known for making a nice cup of tea.

I look at these new young-fangled bands and I think; where are the stories of mania and chaos and trashing stuff? Where is it? Being in band is a license to behave as bad as possible; they’re not doing it, it’s disgraceful! [laughs].

Who or what inspired you to play guitar in the first place?

CS: I did a few jobs when I left school. I was a typewriter mechanic, which was quite fun because you used to clean the typewriters with methylated spirits and of course you can get quite inebriated just breathing the damp cloth, that was fun.

I did landscape gardening. I’m responsible for a lot of housing estates in London… I can go round if I’m travelling on the train to London and I see all these trees that I planted forty-five years ago; they’re massive now, taller than the high rises on the estate they’re next to, five stories high.

Then I worked for an art centre called the Fairfield Halls. I was only the toilet cleaner, somebody’s got to do it. On Sunday’s they used to let me do the rock shows, they’d give me a little uniform and I had to show people to their seats with a little torch. One day T-Rex and Marc Bolan was on the stage and he had 2,000 screaming girls after him. At the time I couldn’t get a girlfriend and I thought, ‘I want his bloody job!’ Nobody is interested in a toilet cleaner but put a guitar around your neck and suddenly everyone wants to know. I went out the next day and bought a Fender Telecaster.

I sat in my room and practiced for two or three hours a day. I actually took it into work as well. After cleaning the fourteen toilets I had to do each day, I didn’t’ really have much to do for the rest of the day until the audience was let in and they got used. So, I used to take my guitar and sit in the toilets and practice.

Did you enjoy it when you were staring to learn? Was it a challenge?

CS: I would say yeah to anyone wanting to play. There’s a point where the difficulty of contorting your fingers into chord shapes, when it starts to not be an issue, it’s about three or four weeks in; if you can get past that initial period where it’s hurting your fingers, it gets much easier after that. You just have to persevere for a few weeks.

I’m excited to be talking to you about the new Sensible Gray Cells record, Get Back Into The World. I know that both yourself and Paul [Gray], who’s in both The Damned and SGC with you, are both very into garage psych. When you first heard garage psych was there a moment it really clicked for you and you were like, I really love this, this is for me?

CS: Yes, absolutely. When I was a school boy, The Beatles were so big they dominated the whole music scene. I thought they were a bit sugary, until the end when I think they found an edge. I thought all this ‘…Hold My Hand’ stuff and the syrupy melodies were a bit much and then The Troggs came on the scene and The Kinks with ‘You Really Got Me’—it started getting a bit gnarled and grunge-y and riff-y. That pricked my ears up and I really started to listen at that point. Of course, it went into a golden period of garage psych around ’67 – ’68 with the scene from America and bands like The Chocolate Watchband and The Seeds. The Electric Prunes I particularly liked; I was so happy I got to meet them and play with them a couple of times. They’re fantastic people and still on the go. There was a point where I became obsessed with that sound.

In the ‘70s we had glam and heavy rock and punk rock but as much as I dig parts of these scenes, certain bands, the garage psych thing sounds fresher to my ears, it never sounds stale. You have a band in Australia called King Gizzard [and the Lizard Wizard], they do it really well!

Photo: Alison Wonderland.

Totally! We love them. I know for you the origins of punk came from that garage psych scene and bands like The Chocolate Watchband and The Seeds.

CS: Exactly! That’s the thing that unites Mr Vanian and myself, and Paul. We’re all lovers of that scene—that’s where punk came from. It’s very basic, you could call it caveman rock, it’s not sophisticated, highfalutin or pompous like all that prog rock stuff, which was ludicrous with all its ten-minute drum solos.

I used to go to gigs, I used to devour concerts when I was a teenager. Every week I’d go to two or three shows. It was an education. I was learning what to not do as well as what to do. The ten-minute drum solos were definitely on the “no” list [laughs].

You once said that punk is an ongoing discussion about the world we live in and of society and our corrupt political system. I feel like the discussion is still going and I feel like you’re continuing to carry on that conversation in the punk spirit even on your new album.

CS: Yeah, that’s probably why we don’t get played a lot of the radio! Punk is a protest movement; it’s very much needed. What can you say about politicians? To say they’re all corrupt is an obvious statement, they’re all beholden to whoever pays the money that’s donated to their campaign funds; who pays the piper calls the tune really. That’s corruption if you ask me.

I know that you’re a Socialist; how did you get into that?

CS: Yes, I am a lifelong Socialist. I would say that the left-leaning movements don’t bear any relation to socialism that I know, anti-war and ‘ban the bomb’ and supporting unions and terms and conditions for workers against the corporations and all that stuff. Socialism at the moment doesn’t seem to be pushing any of those issues, it’s more concerned with… what? I don’t know. I’m not for any of these… like the Labour Party in Britain, there was this brief moment where I thought [Jeremy] Corbyn was the future but they destroyed him the media, they did a comprehensive job on that poor old git.

Are there any aspects from the early days of punk that have stayed with you?

CS: I’d go back tomorrow, as rough and ready as it was. I was sleeping on people’s floors for two years. I’d go back given the chance now, it was such good fun. I didn’t have any money. Even when we were on Stiff Records, I was on something like nine pounds a week, that wasn’t even enough to pay my train fair; I was always getting chased by ticket collectors. I was quite good at running. You go to the pub and when someone turned their back, you’d steal their beer! [laughs]. It was such good fun! You just had a feeling it was you against the world. I never thought it would become popular to be quite honest. All the big bands at the time were Genesis and Yes and Electric Light Orchestra, they were huge, playing stadiums and we’d get ten or fifteen people in the pub watching us. All of sudden punk rock became popular. I suppose there were other people, not just us, that were getting bored with the stadium rock. So, it was a real surprise when it took off.

What’s the significance of the title of your new record Get Back Into The World to you?

CS: People, especially youngsters, spend a vast amount of time online, much as I like a bit of retro gaming, the idea of sitting in front of a screen for more than thirty or forty minutes drives me nuts! People do that all day, it’s not just going to kill their eyes, they’ll need high strength glasses by the time they’re twenty-five or thirty. It can’t be doing much for our brains. We’re doing everything online, the shopping… It’s just “get back into the world”! Get on your bicycle. Despite the government’s rules right now, go out and socialise.

What do you like to do to get back into the world? I heard you bought a kayak.

CS: I did. I do like to go kayaking and out on my bicycle. I have a bit of an if-y back but if I’m careful I can slosh around for an hour or so. It’s really good fun. I kayak if we’re on the road. I kayaked in Perth near a cricket ground; is it called the WACA?

Yeah, it is.

CS: There’s a place next to that and you can get a kayak there.  I did one in San Diego too, this bloomin’ great big sea lion suddenly appeared next to me as I was sloshing around. It was absolutely massive. It was quite a shocker how massive these things are. It swam next to me for a minute and then disappeared beneath the surface. Good fun kayaking [laughs].

There’s a song called ‘Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn Ya’ on the new album and it talks a bit to the theme of health; what else helps keep you healthy?

CS: Well, ‘Don’t say I didn’t warm you” was the words of one’s parents coming back to haunt us now. My and Paul’s ears are just so damaged. If I go to a pub, just the sound of people jibber jabbering and clinking glasses and cutlery it drives my ears nuts and I can’t concentrate on the conversation so I have to shove napkins in my ears. It’s really sad actually, what forty years of loud music can do to your ears. Would I change anything? Yeah, if I could go back, I might turn the amp down a little bit. It’s just such fun standing there with the amp cranked to the max with your guitar! What can you do? You can deafen yourself with headphones.

You’re a vegetarian, aren’t you?

CS: Yeah, I’ve been a veggie for a fair old while. The idea of eating meat doesn’t appeal.

Didn’t you spend a weekend living, and recording with Crass and that helped inspire that change in diet?

CS: It was a very interesting week that. They put me up in their squat, it was very nice of them and they’d have discussions around the dinner table every day. I was a bit of a football hooligan in a punk group and after a week with them I was a vegetarian and anarcho-socialist—they reprogrammed my mind! [laughs]. I have to thank them for that. I found some sort of sense of the world in that week.

It sounds like it had a big impact on you.

CS: It did! There was a lot of laughing as well. We made a record together, me and the Crass guys called This Is Your Captain Speaking. We were shrieking with laughter when writing the lyrics. I think you can get a message over quite well with sarcasm… this is what I said to them because their music is very angsty and rough. I said, you can do the same message with humour and melody, and that’s what we tried to do. So, it’s basically Crass with melody. I think it worked.

Totally! I know the criteria for what songs you wanted to include on the new album, partly it has to have a strong memorable melody; where’s your love of melody come from?

CS: It’s from the record I bought as a kid. We had Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys and songs like ‘Good Vibrations’ and ‘God Only Knows’ which were incredible tunes. I used to like the songs that were really epic like ‘Eloise’ which The Damned funnily enough did a cover of when I wasn’t in the band, I thought that was a terrific idea. I like the idea of three-minute song that’s absolutely epic and goes through a bunch of moods. There’s another one by The Hollies called ‘King Midas In Reverse’ that’s absolutely epic. I’m not saying our material is anything close to that but I just love melody. Secretly I’ve been trying to get as close as possible to writing the perfect pop song as I can with my limited talent. The song I feel that gets closest to that on the new Sensible Gray Cells album is ‘Black Spider Memo Man’, it’s a real tuneful piece. It’s actually about… funnily enough, there’s two songs on the album about the British Royal Family. ‘Black Spider Memo Man’ is about Prince Charles because he writes these Black Spider memos to members of parliament, which he shouldn’t do; the Royal Family should keep out of politics.

The other song is Paul Gray’s tune about Prince Andrew… how can I say this? Hmmm… let’s just call him the nonce! [laughs]. The song is called ‘What’s The Point Of Andrew?’

What are the things that are important to you when you record?

CS: Just making the best record you can even with limited resources. Both Sensible Gray Cells records were recorded in people’s garages in back gardens. The first [A Postcard From Britain] was in a doctor’s garage in Wales and this one was down in a back yard in Reigate in Surrey. You make the best album you can on limited resources and try to push the boundaries a bit, try to do things that you have not done before. I find it really boring to make the same album over and over again. Some bands manage to do that really well but it would drive me to distraction.

There’s a lot of instrumental passages on the new Sensible Gray Cells record that are really quite melancholy and do stuff I’ve never done before. I was listening to a lot of Peter Green’s [Fleetwood Mac] guitar playing, he had such a beautiful tone and economy in his playing. Instead of a flurry of notes and twiddle-y diddley I was trying to pedal back and play something more thoughtful.

I feel like the guitar on this record has a really bright feel to it.

CS: Yeah. I was doing some tunings as well and using some kind of an Arabic Middle Eastern scales rather than your standard rock stuff, just trying to do something interesting.

Do you research that stuff when you’re wanting to incorporate something new?

CS: I do, yeah. It’s difficult to say what bit is the defining aspect of one’s record collection but, for me it’s anything that’s interesting and melodic, there has to be melody in it. I listen to a bit of Bollywood, I like that. I like Eastern music, a bit of Japanese. It’s a good fun. The only music I don’t really dig is country and western because it tends to never do anything that will surprise you, it’s pretty one-dimensional.

How great is the cover of the new record?

CS: When the photographer showed us that picture it just tied everything together, from the lyrics, the album and the crazy time we’re living through in 2020. He took that photograph last year; he was on a holiday in the Mediterranean. He came across this scene with all these tables laid out and it looks like the image of the virus. It was a really great coincidence that it was so perfect. His name is Antony and he lives across the road from the house with the garage we recorded in. We used to go down the pub with him and he showed us the picture and we were so shocked at how brilliant it was. He actually went down with the Coronavirus and they shoved him on a ventilator. He’s been telling us about that ghastly experience. Being on a ventilator wasn’t good for Antony, he only just survived.

Is there creativity in any other parts of your life beyond music?

CS: [Laughs] No, I’m pretty stupid actually. I didn’t do much at school. I’m obsessed with going out on my bicycle and I really like old retro computer games, Pac Man and Donkey Kong stuff and the old Mario games, Ridge Racer… I don’t know why but I just play them over and over. It’s really fun! Now I’m actually finishing some of them, but when I was younger, I’d get bored of them and go from one game to the next. Now I actually try to finish them. I’m on one at the moment on the Gameboy Advance, it’s called Advance GT 3, I got 4/5th’s of the way through it but now it’s starting to get hard [laughs].

Please check out: The Sensible Gray Cells on Facebook; The Captain on Instagram; TSGC on Instagram. Get Back Into The World out now on Damaged Goods.