Interrobang‽

 

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 2017 Interrobang

Interrobang

A plush theatre in the North West of England. A new band, an audience of punks in a room full of history.
There is a sense of excitement. I certainly don’t know what to expect, except that Dunstan from Chumbawamba is involved.

Naturally, being creatures of habit, we look at the stage……then from behind us comes a voice, through a megaphone, it seems to say: I’m so taciturn I got to answer a question on the radio!

Odd, and it makes me want to know more. It’s good when you don’t get all the answers immediately.

Interrobang are amazing, a beat group for the beaten generation. Sharp suits and talk songs with a great two-piece backing band……this is the true spirit of punk…..vibrant, creative, entertaining and thought-provoking.

The sound contains The surprising elements of Gang of Four and Wire…..even a bit of the intro to Staring at the Rude Boys was smuggled into the mix. They represent a fantastic transition from Chumbawamba….who will never be forgotten in the Dublin DIY community for their brilliant eccentric, and pointed performances most notably in the SFX with Fugazi.

The set ended with a mantra of: I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this any more.

Personally, I can’t wait for more from them.

Michael

Rebellion 2017 – Day 2

Before every trip to Blackpool I sit down, pore through the lineup and pick out the must see and the nice to see. I have a problem today. 34 bands are on the list. That may not have been an issue for 18 year old self but it is a problem. It will sort itself out over the 13 hours.

The way I see it is that I’m a sponge and rebellion is my education. I may never see some of these bands again, we may never be in the same country together so I want to make the most of it. Let’s go for 34

Poly-esters were new to me. Playing in the huge empress ballroom, home to Darts, they engaged and rocked the lunchtime crowd.

I’d been looking forward to seeing Petrol Girls. There’s a scene of bands out there that have wiped gender breakdown away. Of course it doesn’t matter what gender you are playing in a band but Petrol Girls are screaming out about misogyny and sexism and their toe tapping noise is a glorious soundtrack to that manifesto. Petrol Girls are top of the pile throwing away the punk stereotype and ready to challenge you if you’re too comfortable.

Matilda’s Scoundrels from Hastings have that folky punk sing along feel. You want to be in their gang. Im struck by the fact that they seem to be the first band not selling merchandise as the 6 piece take over the stage.

I guess the real mackenzies are a Canadian version of Matilda’s Scoundrels, it seems bizarre to me but Canadians in kilts singing about drinking and playing bagpipes is something I’ve missed out on. For years though I ignored drop kick Murphy’s and am now a convert so maybe there’s hope for me for the real mckenzies. To be honest I hope not

Interrobang are taking music and adding some theatre, trying to unsettle the crowd but playing angular music. It’s not in your face but they are looking to reach into your heart. Dunstan sings like he is starting in Chumbawamba once more and he is still angry after all these years and will never calm down. We need bands like interrobang telling us they as mad as hell.

I’ve been communicating with Doug from flies on you in various guises over 30 years it all started when he was bass player in nerve rack and talking about playing in ireland. That never happened and decades got lost. Now he is on the “new” band stage with flies on you who have two great albums out. Doug has dropped the bass but the acerbic sound remains and it’s a fall-esque sound, well starts with the fall and nerve rack and mixes a whole lot more in. Great to see them on stage.

The featherz brought some glam to the day, at least for the three songs I caught. Nice change to the wall of noise on offer elsewhere.

Dave dictor tempted us last night with acoustic versions but tonight was the turn of the powerful MDC, more relevant than ever.

I missed the FU’s when I started listening to American Hardcore. Boston punks exploded on the stage tonight. Even treating us to some straw dogs sings which is what some of the FU”s became for a while.

Subhumans never change, even if some of the personnel do. They are still as good as they were, and playing many of the songs they played in, the youth expression Centre in an early 1980s dublin. These are another necessary feature of Blackpool. Again more relevant now as our political structure becomes more similar to the 80s.

Same with DOA, Canadian punks screamed for change in the 80s. Lead singer Joey keithley ran for office. They wanted a better future. They got a different one, better in many ways but the question remains was it worth it? This three piece were are as fast and powerful as anything else today with some tunes there screaming out

 

Attila The Stockbroker is on great form. Not just politics but emotions too. It must be so frustrating for any artist with all talking going on in the background in the acoustic room as people settle in for a drink and a chat. Attila defied them and told us all about the band we should form called “winter vomiting bug” which was dedicated to the band sick on the bus. He gave some newer poems which detail how working class people are still second class citizens despite all the years of words

I never saw or listened to Frank Carter before except when he was in gallows who I didn’t enjoy that much. At one stage he got a circle pit going right round the hall and just like the junior b hurlers they ran and ran badly in that circle

It’s been an interesting festival as the politics of today has lead to a lot more statements from bands on stage. If we can’t talk about what’s going on what can we talk about?, and bands grasped that. They have also reached out to those struggling with mental illness and this punk rock community should know it’s ok not to feel ok and just talk if things are getting to you. We are all in this together, whatever this may be. Frank Carter reminded us of words Petrol Girls had spoken earlier, it’s fine to be down just share it and let’s look after each other.

Membranes are special to me. This is their home town, well it’s not really but it’s the original bands birthplace and singer john Robb, is the sole remaining original band member. They have diversified in recent years and the post punk sound is still there but drone and power are the main traits on display. Tonight they have the backing of a choir which just adds to the sense of surreal spectacular in this car park stage

Wonk unit are increasing in popularity by the day. Each gig sees them getting more popular. Second last band on the empress tonight and Earlier they played a stripped down version of their set in the acoustic room. Not even room to stand. Empress crowd weren’t left standing, we were too busy moving our feet.

Their good friends slaves followed them. For a two piece they can sure fill out a stage. For a drummer with two drums and 2 cymbals there is some sound on stage. At times it felt like maybe, just maybe, they were trying a tad too hard but the power was something else, as was the visuals

I wasn’t sure if their style of humour would suit that big stage. But it did. Alex treated the crowd as if we were visitors to his regal home, sticky dance floor and all. Wonk unit have been described as a modern day snuff and that’s not far off. They will play any gig, won’t get lost or worried in the trapping of success. And they listen to punk rock and know they are no different to us watching them. Perfect.

Kiss my acid were the first of many Irish bands for me to see today. Snotty abrasive tunes with green day playing grunge feel.

I am a car crash are gaining interest. It’s easy to see why, more rock than punk and more post the pre, it was great to see the dublin lads on the big arena stage.

Protex played the opera house. It gave us a chance to sit down, relax and enjoy their power pop tunes.

Lee Harvey’s have a 1978 feel to their sound but with power. Close your eyes and they could almost be part of that northern Irish good vibrations scene. Great set.

Paranoid Visions pack some power. Deko says they are tjebhate of the city’s well there’s a certain section thaysboroud of them. Singing and powerful as if killing joke had attitude for dinner. There is a large Irish contingent at rebellion playing and spectating. Most of these were in the large pavilion crowd tonight as the visions played more recent material and are as strong, prolific and valid as ever

Ok I didn’t quite make the 34 but managed to squeeze in songs from Godfathers, the Professionals, and Bono too

Niallhope

Rebellion 2016 – Day 3

The ruts take the opera house by storm

Rebellion 2016 – day 3

Nothing like a bit or raucous punk folk to start the day. I didn’t make it to black pitts but will catch them in Dublin soon I hope. Matilda’s Scoundrel were on the introducing stage and judging by the receptive crowd they weren’t being introduced to many. Accordion, mandolin, tin whistle with guitar, bass and drums drumming up some sing along punk anthems

Dunstan bruce has a very interesting story to tell and he is not only doing that on the literary stage he is in thee process of making a movie about it. The first phase of his Kickstarter campaign was successful but more funding is now required to get into the edit stage. Chumbabwamba played a folk set at rebellion just before their hiatus and Dunstan wasn’t around then but he is now back with his new band interrobang. Before their live set though he had a story to tell. Unfortunately johnny wah wah was asking the questions so there was little insight, it kind of feels like the questions are made up on the spot. Maybe the intention is to come across like two friends having a conversation over a drink and we did get to hear that chumbabwamba wanted to be a northern version of Crass whilst listening to the fall and the mekons.

imageDunstan started interrobang as he still feels the need to be part of something that wants to change the world, be part of a movement. Their sound does hark back to that post punk era Complete with loud hauler found at your nearest protest march. We get a brief break during the set when all three start screaming “I’m mad as hell. I’m not gonna take it anymore”. Dunstan even travels through the audience while we politely applaud. Great to see the evolving sound and message of wanting to change the world still being strong 30 years after I got a reply from my first letter to hin

Shot! were on the introducing stage. Rocky punk sound. Again the new band stage is shining, no inhibitions as bands give it everything in this small room. Rooms like this is where the bands playing on the larger stages in the venue all started out. This kind of energy too

One of the bands I was most looking forward to see as part of this festival was the spoilers. They are on new band stage clashing with Carol Hodge, channel 3 and hifi spitfires. But it doesn’t matter. They are nearly worth the admission price alone (it’s a lot of money just for one band). spoilers storm this rebellion introducing stage. They pop us in and punk us out. Catchy tunes that demand you join their gang. Bizarrely enough it was the worst sound that I’ve seen in that venue but still you could reach out and touch the power

Dick Lucas has now added artist to his repertoire as he has an exhibition in the punk art and even had some sold stickers on his paintings. The time culture Shock don’t play rebellion will find the festival with a huge hole to fill. Regular entertainers with their ska tinged punk filling the outdoor tower arena

I keep hearing and reading that there is a rebellion family and it is a great opportunity for people to catch up. I’m usually pretty introverted and love saying hello to people but after that start to struggle a bit. I’ve decided to try and work on this so go up and say hi to a few I see annually but had some connection with since playing in my first band in 1984. Socialising I think you call it :). It was great to catch up with people but meant I missed out on Jfa and the wall. I did get to hear the angelic upstarts as i stood on the road chatting and searching for wifi so I could see how the dubs were progressing in their football match. There was a huge turnout for the upstarts, a larger entrance had to be opened. I first saw the band in Blackpool in 1984 and they played many songs from that night, and played them just as well.

image

So the next dilemma of stage time clashes!! Hard skin won out to louise distras, flat back four and the Newtown neurotics. I had to hear the between song banter of the second biggest anti fascist band playing here. I even got to hear some new skinhead anthems that hard skin have written, oh wait hang on – they weren’t new they were just written this decade. I think the north pier theatre in Blackpool are looking to book hard skin for a residency. Comic genius but an undercurrent of reality, the mark Thomas of oi..

Got three neurotic songs which was a real bonus, could have done without the effects on the vocals though

The weird and wonderful world of Spizz / Spizz energi / Spizz athletico 80 waqs next – definitely Spizz energi now and it gave me. chance to sit down, restore some energy and not worry about beer being thrown for a while. I don’t know what it is about gigs that makes people think they can just throw a glass with liquid in it up in the air. One sped past my head at hard skin and the goon that threw it just smiled and said sorry. Lucky for me I’m old and not bothered these days otherwise I probably wouldn’t have seen anything other than a red mist for the rest of the night )and maybe even a+e after an inevitable defeat. Spizz took the stage in full make up, bleached blond hair and lights on his fingers and eyes. I wonder if he looks like that on his bus pass ticket? now that would be a statement. New wave music that only moved enough to make me leave so I could catch some cockney rejects before the last acoustic set of the day.

I stumbled across the end of the hobo jones acoustic set and what a sight. 350 punks singing along to sheena is a punk rocker with the lyrics changed for a little girl who requested last year they play a ramones song. It was the cutest request they ever received so they agreed to learn another one for this year. Of course they forgot until today and then charged it for Sydney. We all sang and clapped. Sydney danced and it was one of those magic rebellion momentsl, of which there are many

image
Henry Cluney, acoustic set rebellion

Henry Cluney was the original guitarist in Stiff Little Fingers, a hugely influential band. Slf are playing tomorrow night and their influence can be heard right throughout the weekend. Henry is no longer playing with the band, plying his own wares in xSLF. His acoustic set is a joy to behold as he packs the room to the rafters. Again the respect is just oozing in the room. Henry is part of a huge Irish contingent over for the festival. Not just consumers of what’s on offer, like me, but many artists here this weekend. A long list. Those Slf songs sound as good acoustically and rebellion is a perfect avenue for this but is not its about what was happening in 1976, 79,82 or whatever wave was going on. Yep some bands are still playing this songs the same way but with the songs stripped down to the bare guitar and vocals cluney has the acoustic room in his hands, hundreds singing along dreaming of that other world we all thought was possible

Ruts are another that have evolved. Death has seen to that. But wow have they evolved. We are the flock and the ruts are our pastors. Each year they play an amazing set and throw in a new song or two, The Dub element in their sound is lessening bu us still prevalent. The newer songs hark back to their original day, If Rebellion is one big happy family then the rus are the relatives everyone opes will visit.

My last band for the day are Paranoid Visions playing with Steve Ignorant. WIth Steve on board the visioins play a more straight forward punk set. It’s a packed stage, chaotic and powerful, they even sneak in a cover of a crass song at the end. Do they owe us a living? Well do they? Top class