This was a particularly exciting interview for me. That Petrol Emotion were one of the greatest live acts of all time, and their records captured their musicality, originality, fun, ambition, enthusiasm and ability to construct amazing unique songs.
When I mentioned to one of the stalwarts of Ireland’s independent rock scene, Michael Connerty, that I had just interviewed one of my musical heroes, Steve Mack, I recalled how the Irish rock scene has never produced “another band like That Petrol Emotion”. Michael smiled, and said, no scene anywhere in the world has produced another band like them.
Simply put, That Petrol Emotion, were one of the greatest. In my Top Ten greatest bands for sure. Three of the band, Reamann O’Gormain, Ciaran McLaughlin, Damian O’Neill are now in the outstanding, The Everlasting Yeah!, and were good enough to write brilliant pieces for our book, Favourite Gigs of Ireland’s Music Community. And they say you should ‘never meet your heroes’. It turns out that some of the greatest heroes of Ireland’s DIY and punk scene are also thoroughly decent human beings too!
I won’t go on, but I remember a particularly memorably night when I was lucky enough to finally see one of the all-time-greats, Iggy Pop. The gig was in Birmingham and he was superb, yet the opening band on the night, That Petrol Emotion, were even better. That takes some doing.
The Petrols’ singer, Steve Mack also has a new band, Stag. They make effervescent pop music underpinned by 40 years of men, and women, in platform boots and glitter, stomping their way into the hearts of many pop and rock lovers, and the charts of many countries.
Stag play next Monday night in the Workman’s Club. The decent thing to do would be for legions of music fans to turn up and enjoy a truly spectacular night.
Michael: You are best remembered, and most loved, here in Ireland for your dynamic antics with the incomparable, That Petrol Emotion…..how did you get into music in the first place?
Steve Mack: Hah! Well, I was brought up in a relatively musical family. My grandfather wrote musicals, and my dad had a great stereo. I grew up playing the usual assortment of instruments in school – drums, clarinet, sax – and eventually bought and taught myself how to play guitar. I put together a punk rock band for our high school talent show, where we blew folks away, and I was kinda hooked, though being a professional musician didn’t really seem like a viable option.
Did you get any encouragement from friends, family, teachers etc?
Steve: Yes and no – it always came relatively easy for me, but I never practiced so wasn’t very good to be honest. But one night at a college party my friend forgot the lyrics to a Monkees song and asked me to fill in. I did and he told me I should be a singer. I was blown away – no one had ever complimented my musical ability before.
Are there any particular highlights of the Petrols’ days that you look back at with most joy?
Steve: Oh jeez – so many good times. The Feile was one of the highlights, and I’m not just saying that. We were at our peak, and it felt so good. Playing to 80,000 folks in Estonia was mind-bending. Recording our first album, Manic Pop Thrill. Playing in venues in the US where I’d seen my heroes play. Honestly it was such a great, cherished time in my life.
We’re obsessed with punk at this ‘zine…..what did punk mean to you? Did you have any particular favourite records or memories of gigs?
Steve: And well you should be! Punk changed my life. Seriously – I was a suburban new-wave loser, frustrated with life and the political situation in the US, which was dire at the time, though in retrospect Reagan seems almost lovable at this point. And then you hear the Dead Kennedys – and everything changes. You hear Minor Threat. You hear Black Flag. Gang of Four. The Buzzcocks. And you meet people at parties and at gigs in Seattle, and you realize you’ve found your tribe. My tribe, being the folks who went on to be the godfathers of grunge. We all grew up together, partied together, played together.
The thing that drove grunge was that there weren’t that many acts who came through Seattle at the time, so the ones that did we went absolutely bat-shit crazy over. DOA and the Subhumans from Vancouver – great. Black Flag, of course. I was actually hired to be security at a gig that turned into a riot. Me! All nine stone of me at the time. Hilarious. Iggy Pop at the Showbox where the drums caught on fire – epic. The Dead Kennedys. The Damned. PiL. 999. All of these bands were seminal influences on all of us.
Then in 1982 I went and spent a summer in DC, working for a government agency. The drinking age was 19, so I could drink legally! And since it was east coast, so many more bands played there! Killing Joke. The Dickies. Gang of Four. X. Bad Brains (!!!). Government Issue. The Necros. Man, those DC punks were HARD. In Seattle, we stage dived like crazy, but people always caught you, and helped you if you fell down. In DC, guys were literally trying to beat the shit out of you. I guess they were pissed off because they weren’t drinking.
Stag has a swagger and energy that summons up the past as well as the present, you have always seemed alert to how deeply music can affect people. Were there any acts or genres or even scenes that inspired you in particular?
Steve: All of us in Stag have been in a bunch of bands, and have deep record collections. We decided with Stag that we just wanted to make a big, joyous noise – if we ended up wearing some of our influences on our sleeves, who gives a f**k? Besides, the influences we think are obvious people don’t even remember! So we just go with our instincts and make it big, make it rock, and make it hummable. Obviously we love the Beatles, the Kinks, the Who, and 70s acts like Cheap Trick and Badfinger, as well as glam bands like T-Rex and the Sweet, hell, even Mud if pushed to admit it. But then there’s a modern edge that recalls Guided by Voices, maybe some Spoon – it’s all a great stew of goodness.
What can Irish music fans expect from Stag?
Steve: We will rock. We will crush. We will jump up and down a lot. And tell really stupid jokes. And drinking. Plenty of that. All good fun, right?
Is the process of making music with Stag different from with the Petrols, if so, in what ways?
Steve: Oh yeah. Though, in fairness, a lot of it probably has to do with age and maturity. Ben London, our lead guitarist, comes up with all the song ideas, but we arrange them as a band. Sometimes I fine-tune the lyrics. The most important thing is that it’s a collaborative process where all ideas are allowed a shot. And Ben is great about letting some songs rise to the top, and others fall by the wayside. We’ve more or less taken the ego out of the process, which makes it a lot of fun.
What would you dream festival line-up be……apart from yourself, what other 5 acts (living or dead) would you include?
Steve: Oh lord – you’ll get a different answer from me every day on this. But for today, let’s make it a Detroit-based festival. So that would be the original line up of the Stooges, the MC5, and Funkadelic. Throw Aladdin Sane-era Bowie as an honorary Detroit member. And of course Stevie Wonder. How about that for a great night?
One thought on “Steve Mack Interview. Stag, That Petrol Emotion and the US punk scene.”
I saw TPE when they played the Princess Charlotte in Leicester in late ’86 to promote Manic Pop Thrill. It’s still one of my favourite gigs ever. I would have spoken to them afterward but I was so awestruck I couldn’t think of any questions, other than what strings they had on their axes.