Interrobang‽ Interview

 

How do you follow up on the most unlikely global hit pop song ever?

A song, perhaps best known for the infectious chorus, ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again’, scorched across the global pop charts some years ago. Its title was Tubthumbping and the collective responsible for it were Chumbawamba previously known only to the DIY music community.

Interrobang‽ are the new band from two members of Chumbawamba, Dunstan and Harry, yet the sound couldn’t be more different. That’s says a lot about a commitment to be creative, innovative and experimental. Onstage they are dynamic and thrilling, combining just the sounds of guitar and drums with Dunstan’s vibrant, expressive talk-songs.

Because the guitar is such a vital part of the band’s sound, yet avoids most of the clichés and limitations of rock guitar, I wanted to know more about it. It reminded me of the intensity of Fugazi and even the Ruts or the interesting bits of Bauhaus in places, so I asked the Interrobang‽ guitar-person Griff and here’s what he had to say.

 

 

 

Michael: For me, Interrobang‽ came as a complete surprise. I’d seen two-piece bands with a drummer before, going back to House of Freaks circa 1989, yet Interrobang‽ was captivating, even revolutionary. Musically speaking, can you recall any acts that gave you a similar feeling, overwhelming you by being original without feeling like a gimmick?

Griff: I love that feeling when you discover a new band that makes you throw out everything you previously understood, and makes you want to set sail on a new course. I felt like that when I first heard Public Enemy in the 80s. A friend leant me It Takes A Nation Of Millions on cassette and it was all I listened to for about a month, it blew my teenage mind. The noise, the words, it was something totally new to me and it seemed to make so much other music I was listening to at the time redundant.

 

How difficult is it for you as a musician to compose for a lyricist/performer who seems to have a very strong sense of how to perform his lyrics?

Griff: Our process for writing the Interrobang‽ material was very much a collaborative effort. The initial batch of 4 songs were created in a room as a live band, using improvisation as the main way to generate sounds. Dunstan would start reciting/shouting the lyrics at a tempo and vocal pitch that was right for him and I would respond with whatever felt right in the spur of the moment. We recorded what we did so that we could pick and choose the things that were working after the event. Even so, quite a few of the songs just came out fully formed that way. I think Curmudgeon and Billingham just happened without us having to change very much, we just used the recordings to learn exactly what we had played on the initial attempt. Obviously slight improvements and tweaks to the guitar parts happened as the songs all found their space over time, but the structure and essence of those two songs just arrived fully formed.

Geographical limitations meant that we had to find other ways of writing as the project started becoming more serious as I was in Leeds, and Dunstan in Brighton. After the initial batch of songs we moved to a process where I would record improvised guitar parts and ideas in isolation and add them to a Dropbox folder. Dunstan would then pick and choose the ideas that he felt best suited the mood and tempo for songs as he generally had a good idea of how he wanted to deliver the lyrics he had. He would then chop up my guitar ideas and put rough vocal takes on top using garage band i think? I would then get those Garage Band versions from Dropbox and then try and play his arrangements again as a song, maybe changing a few things here and there. This would then go back in the Dropbox and Dunstan would then add his vocal again, maybe moving guitars around again. We’d go back and forth like this until we had a finished song of guitars and vocals. i was always keeping an eye on the parts to make sure that it was something I could recreate live using the loop pedal, as we were very much focused on the live presentation of the songs for the first couple of years. The idea of how to record them came much later. We deliberately made the decision not to think about the recordings until we had played as many live shows as possible. We wrote 12 songs in this way before Harry joined the band on drums.

 

Can you tell us a little about how you actually create your sounds in the live shows?

Griff: My technical set up is very simple as far as the sounds I create, as I don’t use any pedals to influence the personality of the sound in any way, it’s just the Les Paul plugged into the amp, well… 2 amps 🙂

In the initial rehearsals I tried to do everything using a single guitar amp. I’d start looping and then would play live guitar lines over the top of the loop but it was immediately apparent that that wasn’t going to work as the drums had to follow the loop rather than the other way around. It was impossible to do that with the live guitar playing over the top, we kept losing track of where the loop was and things would fall apart.

So, I did a bit of research and bought a Radial Tonebone Twin-City Active ABY Switcher pedal. This let me send the guitar to 2 separate outputs. You can send to output A, or to output B, or A AND B at the same time. I sent output A to the loop pedal and then the loop pedal could have its own dedicated amp. Then when i played my live lines on top I could switch to output B going to a second amp and that way the loop amp was playing LOUD right next to the drums, with no live guitar obscuring the loop. Now it was possible for Harry to follow the loop without things getting out of synch. It still wasn’t easy to do, and it required a great deal of skill form Harry, especially as we drop the loop out in sections and need to maintain tempos so that when the loop comes back in things don’t fall over, but Harry managed to do it with some practice.

It wasn’t until we got all of this working that I realised that I could voice the amps in a way that would sound amazing when both amps are playing the same sounds (ie. when the loop drops out). I make sure the loop amp is quite clean, with a lot of attack, to make it easy for Harry to hear and follow, but the live amp has a bit more gain like a traditional rock sound. The result when you play power chords through both of the amps is a big part of the Interrobang‽ sound.

 

How did you come to fall in love with the guitar in the first place?

Griff: I was always very musical as a kid and was playing violin from the age of about 7 in primary school. My friends were always surprised how I could pick up an instrument and play any tune that they named, it was like a party trick. I started playing guitar when I was about 11 when a guitar playing friend of mine asked me to help him work out the chords for ACDC Back in Black. Once I’d worked it out I couldn’t put his guitar down, and ended up getting my own £60 Kay’s guitar a few months later for Christmas from a second-hand shop at the end of my street. I never put it down from the day I got it. I spent a lot of time working out guitar parts from cassettes I had of The Buzzcocks, SLF, Sex Pistols, The Damned and plenty of others.

 

I’ve read a bit about your ‘mood boards’ (I am a teacher and this is very exciting to me, as lots of my students aren’t rewarded by the standardised education system). Can you tell us more about how you use the mood boards as a road map?

Griff: The mood board was the idea we had on the night that we formed Interrobang‽
Dunstan told me that he had all these lyrics ready, and when he told me what they were about I immediately wanted to help him put something together to deliver them to an audience. I didn’t want to push my musical ideas onto him, as i knew he would have strong opinions about how he was expecting it to sound, so I suggested to him that he make a compilation CD of songs and bands that he thought we should be referencing. It was so useful for me as it was a very coherent compilation and I was inspired by it instantly, having lots of ideas about what to do. The keystone of the mood board for me was the Gang of Four and Wire songs. I knew it had to be anti-rock, brittle, insistent, and intense.

The other very important influence on there, and the one that pretty much dictated, and helped me to develop, a specific guitar style for the project was Dr Feelgood. To be honest I have stolen Wilko’s approach and style on the guitar, and then added a few inflections of my own. I decided to put a few rules in place for my parts, to try and spell out the anti-rock thing. Self-imposed rules included; NO bending of the strings, NO hammer ons, NO pull offs, NO solos, EVERY note was of equal importance so I took Wilko’s relentless up/down strumming pattern and applied it to single notes on single strings. I tried to make it as robotic as possible to emphasise the motorik nature of the sound that you get when using loops.

There were other things on the mood board which didn’t influence my playing style as much but were more influential in an atmospheric aspect. Things like Beefheart and Tom Waits.
The mood board was a great way to start the project and it was good to communicate with actual sounds and songs rather than dialogue which can leave too much room for mis-understandings and conflicting assumptions. I really think that this helped us get to the interrobang‽ sound quickly and without too many wrong turnings.

 

Not everyone is familiar with your past history, what parts of your music career have shaped you, and what you bring to Interrobang‽

Griff: I’ve played in a wide range of musical projects throughout my life, and it would be hard to find a consistent musical approach or thread through them all. I’ve usually been a facilitator of other people’s ideas though.

The musical project I was working on directly before the Interrobang‽ project was an improvised psych rock 3 piece that was all about the loop pedal. I’d just come out of a singer-songwriter band before that and I was sick of spending rehearsals discussing what should happen when, rather than actually playing. We were called The Other Things and we would play for 4 hours solid once a week. We’d record the entire 4 hours and then edit it into a 40-minute album, and stick it on Bandcamp. I was exploring what I could do with the loop pedal in that project, so when Interrobang‽ started I knew I wanted to put some of those techniques to use in a different context.

 

To me, Interrobang‽ is a form of mash-up, with music meeting a dramatic vocal performance. Can you think of any other cultural mash-ups that you admire/appreciate?

Griff: Hah, that’s funny that you use the word “mash-up” because the only other musical collaboration the I’d had with Dunstan was in the early 00s when we worked together to put out a white label of a mash up that I had created. I was in London at the time and I’d made a bunch of tracks where you take accapellas or instrumentals of popular songs and mash them together to make new songs. I’d made one that mashed together Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” with Happy Monday’s “24 Hour Party People”, basically it was Sean Ryder doing his thing on top of the Kylie groove, with Kylie singing the chorus’. Dunstan loved it and set up a little label and we made 1000 white labels of it, and then drove round London record shops selling them to shops out of the boot of a car. It was a lot of fun.

I think we also tried to do something similar using lots of post punk 7” singles that Dunstan had, but tried to add his vocals on top, a bit like the early Sleaford Mods stuff that Jason did before Andrew Fearn was on board. I can’t remember why we didn’t get very far with that project, but it didn’t really come to fruition. I think I have some recordings on a hard drive somewhere of that stuff. I might have to go and dig it out to see what’s there!

 

Did any punk records/groups/statements make an impression on you? Any punk records or acts that stand out for you?

Griff: I was born in 71 so was too young to get any of the first wave of the punk thing as it happened. But I did go digging through the punk sections in local record shops as a teenager in the mid 80s and loved all the big names that were available there. The first gig I ever went to was Public Image Ltd at Manchester Apollo, it was quite a daunting experience as I was about 15. Most of my friends at the time were either into indie stuff like The Smiths and The Cure or into Led Zepellin and Pink Floyd. I loved all that stuff too.

One record that made a big impact on me was Rudimentary Peni’s Death Church. When I saw the hand drawn cover in a shop in Affleck’s Palace in Manchester I was intrigued and bought it straight away. I didn’t really understand the context of that record, knew nothing about the anarcho punk scene, but it totally engulfed me. It was so dark and was like nothing else I had ever heard. Quite psychedelic in a way.

When I was older at the end of the 80s I moved to Newcastle and met a new crowd who were all into American hardcore stuff. Minor Threat totally blew my mind because of their straight edge stance and total commitment to their message. I shaved my head and tried to adopt some of their approach for a while, but struggled with the straight edge thing, haha.

One of my favourite bands that I discovered around that time, and one that I think has a huge influence on how I approach the Interrobang‽ songs was NoMeansNo. The “Wrong” album was, and still is, one of my favourite albums.

https://www.facebook.com/intrrbng/?ref=br_rs

 

Rebellion 2015 day 2 from the wildhearted outsider

Rebellion Day 2

Here’s the thing…a few thousand punks gathered together in a Northeastern English Seaside town in August 2015…why would that matter? Is it all nostalgia? An attempt to recapture, relive, or even reimagine youth?

The Q&A conversations provide an opportunity to hear first-hand reflections from some of the people who were there. Pioneers.

Jules Denby has lots to say. Se is also fantastically articulate about what it was like to try to break into the music industry in the post-punk era. To get New Model Army gigs she pretended to have he own agency…yet as she reflected on how hard it was to break into the inner circle of culture…she concluded that it is harder now. To her freedom of expression has become more difficult for young artists…it has become a declining circle of opportunities….now parents pay thousands of pounds to get their kids’ bands started. Never mind DIY.

Today’s highlights included a number of female-fronted bands. And the most positive thing is that the female musicians and singers didn’t appear to be pandering to some cliched idea of what ‘rock stars’ or ‘girls in bands’ should look like. These were young women worthy of respect…commanding respect.

In Evil Hour showed another way that punk had reinvigorated and inventing itself:by getting a blood infusion from heavy metal. The female singer had a great tuneful voice and wasn’t afraid to screech when the music called for it. A band with a kick and a punch….and looking comfortable on the main stage.

Brassick were also impressive….powerful, packing a blast of energy and exciting to watch. I know I am using the language of fighting to describe these bands and that seems appropriate when there are so few women being taken seriously by the music industry…or taking the brave decision to bypass it.

The Ruts DC in conversation with Alex Ogg was another highlight. I feel that punk’s history and legacy is in good hands with people like Alex around to research and champion it.

The Ruts DC were fantastic in conversation and just as impressive on both the acoustic stage and during their full electric set. They took the essentials of that early punk movement and made songs that were pared down to their essentials yet had room to breathe and have a deep rhythmic resonance. They always bring to mind Fugazi…that no-nonsense economical approach…nothing wasted…everything in the perfect place. It sounds easy but is meticulous. They both make music that stands the test of time.

The Gang of Four’s debut, Entertainment, was one of the great albums of the era. So different….so exciting….funk rhythm….dance music with considered lyrics…words that made us think about our consumption…how we lived…how we received our information…..isn’t that a fine legacy?

To sum up Jules Denby and to quote Segs from Ruts DC: this is about “people unite”! It is about a caring community. And what could be more inspiring than that?

Honourable mentions to the energy of Cynadie Pills, Arthur Brown who pioneered the theatre of heavy metal in the 1960s, and the Damned whose Neat Neat Neat and Smash It Up were still joyous after all these years.

Rebellion 2015 – day 2. Phew

Ruts DC acoustic
Ruts DC acoustic

Rebellion 2015 day 2

And so it continues, the streets around the Winter Gardens have been magically cleaned and the seagulls had some treats for breakfast, It all kicks off just after midday with Max Splodge the MC for a game of bingo, when in rome and all that.

First bit of music for me is the Uk based but US influenced sound of 4130;s. I’ve played them a few times on my radio show. Speedy and tuneful just like bad religion only with less words.

Johnny wah wah curates the new band stage which takes place on day 1, he also is one of the main interviewers on the literary stage as well as singing in on trial UK. Distorted Buzzcocks tuneful songs.

I felt like I’d gatecrashed a secret party gathering when going into see in evil hour. Fairly packed empress ballroom with hundreds of people sing along to the power punk on offer. It was a good secret and a good surprise however I still can’t get into guitar solos, any chance rebellion could ban them?

The Crows are regular features at rebellion but this was my first time to se them, tuneful punk that started with an accapella version of homophobia. What more could you ask for?

Every year I run a competition in my head for most popular band t-shirt. I will be amazed if gimp fist don’t win it for 2015. Biggest queue at a March stall for over an hour before they even played. Don’t quite get it myself

Paul Haslam on the Literary stage told us of his time getting into publishing books. I can’t think of many better ways to spend a Friday aftrnoon than listening to tales of punk rock by people who were involved, Paul co-edits street sounds magazine with Gary Bushell and owns countdown books. His upbringing was soul and mod and he dj’d at 100 club. He has a big connection with the oi scene but this talk ended up being rushed through due to him arriving late. Rebellion runs on a very tight timescale and its timekeeping is usually immense.

Cathi Unsworth reminisced on her days and her 5 books. Her journalistic career started with articles for sounds. And as I sat listening the lightbulb appeared above my head. I have read many reviews from Cathi down through the years. Sounds helped me discover some great bands in the 80s and Cathi (along with John Robb and Gary Bushell) helped with that soundtrack. Joolz then spoke of tattoos, writing, art her background, New Model Army and pretty much everything in between. Some sad tales of the removal of artistic freedom for people in bands. Both Joolz and her interviewee Rhona Dakar asked that people off all ages need to support diy and that is the way forward for all artists. Joolz had a tough upbringing and if she had of dropped a pin during her explanation of her youth it would have created a thunderclap noise. We sat motionless and stunned whilst we hear of the agony that men inflicted on her as an adolescent

One thing that strikes me so far is that there are so few all male bands or events. Striking in that it shouldn’t matter but with so much make aggression in punk rock it is heartening that women are involved and rebellion is not behind in pushing that forward.

Seggs and Ruffy from Ruts DC go into more detail about their new book. A book they introduced to us last year but has been five years in the making. It is now published. The band that don’t want to complain any more they want to provide answers. The message they want to send out is “people unite” How refreshing is that?

Paranoid Visions are gathering huge momentum and respect. Part of the furniture here, their accommodation becomes home to Irish Punk for the weekend. The flag literally flying in the front window of their, what Blackpool can only get away with calling a,hotel. The current line up is their tightest for years and songs new and old go down a treat. They are getting better with age and it was a dilemma that they clashed with the chat with ruts chat.

Cyanide pills are on damaged goods who always seem to pick out good tuneful catchy pop punk rock bands straight from the garage. I got their album after seeing the last year, well worth a listen.

We were treated to more stalwarts in the guise of Subhumans then. I’m never disappointed listening to their set even if Bruce doesn’t seem to be playing guitar. .

TV Smith played his own songs tonight rather than the Adverts classics of last night. It’s positive that so many people don’t just attend rebellion for nostalgia purpose. Sure the majority of people are here because of their affinity to a genre they lived and loved in a different century but they are still willing to open up to new songs, which is what Billy Liar and Louise Distras do in their seperate well attended acoustic sets

Ruts DC however are a different story. I think the best band I’ve seen here, the songs are incredible and the respect people have for them is immense. For many bands it can be a case of seeing a few songs and good and all as they may be you move on. Their is always someone else to see. For the Ruts DC my feet while not firmly planted on the ground (how can you fail not to move and be moved by In A Rut?) weren’t going too far. They played 2 sets tonight, electronic and acoustic and they made the trip worthwhile regardless of what other wonders the weekend might bring. They even do something the subhumans would never dare, play a new song. The respect the crowd have for the ruts is unequalled anywhere else. If Rebellion was a football team the ruts DC would be its star player. The one that can do now wrong and kisses the crest with meaning.

Back to reality and some comedic relief from Captain Hotknives before another nostalgic trip with the Rezillos. I spoke yesterday of that cassette I had in work, Crossing the red Sea wih the Adverts and I can;t Stand The Rezillos. Well the original pop punk band were bashing them out here.

More old scholl tunes from the Damned but to be honest that was just keeing me awake for another highlight. However the packed out Empress Ballroom were on a different wavelength as they jumped and sang and very nearly did as as It Up. Gang Of Four, I don’t know how i did it but i stayed awake over 13 hours after max kicked it all of with his bingo, caught the entire set and smiled my whole way home, not so much at Gang of Four and their incredible rhythmic angular songs. They could easily be Gang of one seeing as Andy is the only original member left but I am marvelling at the excellence and humility of ruts DC

Ruts DC acoustic
Ruts DC acoustic

Everybody’s On Top of the Pops….except the people not on it!

One of the most interesting things about the TOTP documentary was talk of the Clash and their notorious boycott of the show. They refused to appear and I am sure their record sales suffered to some extent. BBC had their revenge though…and put their troupe of dancers on screen to cavort to Bank Robber when it was stealing (sorry!) up the charts.

But that Clash decision has to be placed in the context of musicians who refused to do something on principle. Something that would help their career, help them sell product. How many acts would actually take a stance that results in lost sales?

Richard Jobson from the Skids said their decision to play the show almost caused the band to break up. Stuart Adamson was furious as he didn’t want to play according to his bandmate. The inspiration of the Clash led to his wish to boycott the show. Jobson talked about the dilemma. It was particularly acute because ‘his friends’ Cook and Jones from the Sex Pistols were telling him to go ahead and play the show…while Adamson was wracked with guilt about it because of the Clash example. The Clash and the Pistols: same era different decisions, different values.

The documentary also discussed how Captain Sensible was told they were off the show if he wore his chosen outfit of a fetching (bridal?) dress! Funny to think of the power wielded by the TOTP producers.

Don’t forget the Gang of Four refused to appear when BBC wanted them to change the lyrics to a song to erase (sorry again, that’s twice) the word rubbers from their song. All of this reminds me of when Krusty the Clown wanted the Red Hot Chili Peppers to tone down their words and they exclaimed what a great idea that was…and then performed the song as written.

I shall continue to think about other bands who have made principled stands. It is a great change from people grabbing at every opportunity for some publicity.

thewildheartedoutsider