XXIV album interview number 1
Time & Matter website editor Mark Chadderton chats to the
Subs drummer - So what's the new album all about?
MC: OK Jamie, let’s start by asking how do you view the new album now that it is ready to go into its final stages of production at Captain Oi! and has it worked out how you envisaged that it would, when you set out to put your new songs down?
Jamie: I think for me this album represents a frustration with the monotony of punk music today and the clichés associated with it. I wanted something which was eclectic in terms of influence and I wanted for us to create an album which wasn't all about pandering to a particular crowd and churning out the same old tired overplayed bullshit that we have to endure on a daily basis. I wanted something fresh, something that stands out and I also wanted to experiment with different sounds and really explore different avenues. And I feel that my desires have been met.
MC: Well, having listened to the new album for around 30 times, it certainly does exude a freshness, and the ‘experiments’, as you term them certainly stand out, but we will talk about that in more detail later. Picking up on your feelings about ‘punk’, I'm intrigued by what your frustrations are with, as you say, ‘the monotony of punk music today’ and its associated clichés. Would you like to elaborate on this with more specifics?
Jamie: Yes! I'm frustrated with the huge lack of creativity and originality. Bands seem to conform to this very narrow definition of punk, afraid to stand out in case they aren't considered ‘punk enough’ by the crowd that they're pandering to. It's like ‘let’s record 4 chords over a fast drum beat and scream over the top of it’! Then they make a CD and stick a punk-cliché-image on the cover like every other band. Of course it is perfectly fine if you want to do that, nothing wrong with it at all, I just find it a bit boring and soulless. If you look at bands like the Ruts, the Clash, the Ramones, Rancid - they all had or have something original about them, their own identity. And that to me is something to strive for.
MC: And talking of ‘something to strive for’, or moving things on in a different and more interesting direction, Charlie previously told me about this forthcoming album that "...the Subs are in a 'born again' frame of mind after 'Work In Progress', which I see as our first album and 'XXIV' as the 'Brand New Age' of today... being a step forward in every way..." There certainly seems to be a strength of unity in the modern day U.K. Subs, so how do you feel this new offering has been a 'step forward' recording and end result wise?
Jamie: I think it will prove to be a step forward. We’ve used quite a few different sounds in some of the songs and I think that represents a certain fearlessness within the band. We aren't afraid to step outside the boundaries of what people expect of us.
MC: And for me there is also a great balance, subject matter-wise, between political message and 'good time' story-telling on this album, would you agree with that?
Jamie: I think so. One thing about this band is that we know how we feel and we are totally unashamed of our standpoint and we like to have fun, so why not combine the two? I can't see either of those things changing anytime soon so fuck it!
MC: I’m glad you just mentioned ‘combining the two’ as the acoustic album that comes with the electric to make up the Subs’ first studio double album is a real radical departure for the Subs and will surely 'challenge' their hardcore fan base. How important was it for you and the band to 'break the mould' with this new acoustic direction?
Jamie: Well I saw the Real MacKenzies acoustic show in Prague a few years back and was absolutely blown away. For me it highlighted just what a versatile band they really are and it showed me something which was totally unexpected, they were brilliant. The acoustic side of XXIV, for me at least, does give us the opportunity to do the same. To show a different side and yes, to challenge our audience. It just goes to show that you CAN teach an old bitch new tricks!
MC: …and regarding the acoustic set and talking about versatility, I hope you will be pushing the rest of the band to perform an acoustic set at Rebellion next year, if not sooner?
Jamie: I would absolutely love to. I think it really would be something that would surprise a lot of people and in a really good way. I'd also like to do a Nirvana style acoustic set at some point as a one off or something. There’s so much I'd love to do.
MC: Well you certainly keep yourself busy, what with the Clem Burke scientific drumming experiments, Sci-Fi Mafia, Dumjaw, Short Bus Window Lickers and drumming for various other artists in the studio, you’ve also just done the 4ft Fingers re-union tour in early October. But coming back to the Subs though, they have always been well known as a live touring band, has that been frustrating to you in respect of recorded output? Would you like to record more with the band? And would you say you prefer studio or live work, or do you feel that the current balance the band have is just right – which is to record an album every couple of years?
Jamie: Yeah it is frustrating. I love writing and I love recording original music. But then playing in this band has afforded me the chance to record my music in an awesome studio with a kick-ass producer and tour the world with a phenomenal band alongside some of my heroes. I would never have had the opportunity to do that before the Subs came into my life. I joined the band when I was 20 with no real prospects, but now that I'm here I want to create and record as much music as possible, although touring so much does slam the brakes on doing that somewhat. So I would definitely like to record more but I also do think we have a healthy balance.
MC: So both you and Jet have now been playing live with the Subs since 2005, leading to the band's most stable line up of all time - you obviously know each others' strengths and this led to a brilliant 'first' studio album for the current line up, but what lessons do you feel that you learnt from the recording of 'Work In Progress' and how were these lessons implemented for 'XXIV'?
Jamie: I think probably the thing I learned most is that to put ideas forward isn't something to be afraid of. I used to feel embarrassed if an idea didn't work because I felt like everyone in the room was thinking ‘yoooouuuuu twat!’ But now I just think "OK" and then move on. Trial and error.
MC: Can you elaborate on your new found 'trial and error' recording ethic then?
Jamie: Well, for me, music is a very personal thing. If someone tells me they don't like something I write, it almost feels like they're saying that they don't like me. So to present an idea to someone is kind of opening yourself up for scrutiny. Since ‘Work In Progress’ though, I have learned to not think in this way so I try to present all of my ideas now.
MC: Can you tell us about who plays what instruments and who sings what on the new album?
Jamie: OK, Charlie sang on all of the tracks for the electric side, except 'Black Power Salute' and 'Stare At The Sun', which were both sung by Alvin. Jet played guitar on everything except the rhythm guitars for 'Stare At The Sun', which Alvin played and 'Implosion 77' and the rhythm guitars for 'Rabid', which I did. Alvin played all of the bass parts and I did all of the drums. I also played the keys on 'Stare At The Sun' and programmed the violins with the help of Jase Vine from Sci-Fi Mafia.
Jamie: On that we all played guitars, the lead vocals we're done by Charlie and Alvin and I did the backing vocals and tambourine. And of course Charlie plays the 'moothie' as he calls it (harmonica).
MC: And on the final mix, there are plenty of sound effects, samples and additional instrumentation such as violins on there. Has working with other musicians such as Dumbjaw and Sci-Fi Mafia had any bearing on your approach to this recording?
Jamie: I don't think the use of different sounds has come too much from working with Dumbjaw and SFM although I can't deny that to a degree it has. I have always had an interest in using different sounds and timbres. I think that stems from my love of bands like Pitchshifter and Blue Man Group. It just makes exploring music more interesting for me, I don't care too much for lyrical content - for me it's all about sounds. I hear something and I'll think ‘Wow, how did they even think of that?’ That’s what I love the most.
MC: Well you’ve surprised me there, for a man of intelligence with a forever-inquisitive mind and an inspiring work-ethic, I find your comment that you ‘don't care too much for lyrical content’ astonishing! Is writing your own lyrics something that you have never felt comfortable with?
Jamie: Absolutely! I'm just not a lyricist. Some people are great at writing meaningful and inspiring lyrics; I'm not one of those people. I never write lyrics, which is perhaps one of my downfalls in the way I write my music?
MC: Speaking of which, you have written some stunning music for this album. You also wrote the stand-out opening track on ‘Work In Progress’ with ‘Creation’, and with this new offering you actually have a few more songwriting credits than last time I see. Do you want to talk us through some of your ‘XXIV’ songs in terms of their, if you’ll pardon the pun, genesis, and any experiences or sources involved. The obvious one to start with is the barn-storming opener called ‘Implosion 77’?
Jamie: OK, well I started developing the idea for that song’s music last year when we were on our European tour with TV Smith. The use of a lo pass filter on the intro was actually inspired by a dance song I heard while out on the piss one night, and I thought it'd be cool to have the intro explode out of it. The second verse was inspired by AC/DC and I remember writing that riff at Walfisch in Freiburg, Germany. The ending was most definitely inspired by 'Emotion Sickness' by Silverchair.
Jamie: OK, 'Rabid Dog' was actually originally called 'IndoctriNation' which I demo'd for my solo album, which I’ve been planning to record for some time now. Originally I used a sample of Tim Phelps of the Westboro Church talking about how "God hates fags" - it was intended to be a statement about the inherently fucked up nature of religion and how the indoctrination of one family can destroy the lives of an entire group of people. Unfortunately they aren't the only ones who feel the way they do. I don't like religion and I don't respect it. I don't see how anyone can demand respect for believing in things that are impossible. Get a brain, think for yourself, don't be a fucking moron and more importantly stop damning people for what they are! If there is a God he'll judge, an omniscient being doesn't need you to do his dirty work for him. Actually I find it a shame that there isn't a hell for these Phelps mob cunts to go to when they die. Anyway rant over!
MC: Ha! Well a rabid rant indeed, and following on nicely from talking about those religious bigots let’s hear about 'Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind' next, which, incidentally, I think contains the most beautiful and spine-tingling delicate piece of music ever recorded under the name of the UK Subs as an instrumental break?
Jamie: I wrote the guitar to that while coming up with my acoustic version of 'Ghost Town' by the Specials. I started with a C minor and just shifted to a G# major7 by accident and I liked the way it sounded, so I changed the way I played it and that was it. I stuck some chords together for the chorus and then decided to bring the whole thing down half a step to make it easier to get a good tone for the chorus. I decided to finger pick the third verse but then in the studio decided to use a nylon strung classical guitar to do a Spanish style lead break, just to add a bit of texture to the track.
MC: For sure, it also adds an ear-opening musical shift; in stark contrast to the lyrical content which works brilliantly… is there actually anything that you feel could have been better if you’d had more time?
Jamie: Well 'Garden Of Good And Evil' is a track for me that was a bit of a cop out, if I am completely honest! I had written it with no real intention of ever using it but after a few comments made about how ‘busy’ my other tracks were, I opted to just use this relatively simple one for the album. The main progression was blatantly stolen from 'EZ money' by Punky Brüster. 'EZ money' is an anti punk rock song which basically says that if you give up playing the music you love and just start playing punk then you will make a tonne of money instantly. So I thought I'd rip it off in an ironic tip of the cap as if to say ‘thanks for the idea dickhead!’
In regards to other influences, I’d also add that 'Metamorphosis' was inspired by Radio Birdman. It’s just a quick thing I stuck together one day!
Jamie: This is going to sound really conceited but 'Implosion 77' because it came out a lot better than I had envisaged. Pat changed the arrangement slightly which really made the first verse, I love the way the intro explodes out of the lo pass filter at the beginning. I also love Charlie's vocals on it and the way the effect changes on his voice… and I love the violins at the end too!
MC: Well to quote one of my favourite author’s Arthur Conan Doyle, when he has Sherlock Holmes say to Watson: "I cannot agree with those who rank modesty among the virtues. To the logician all things should be seen exactly as they are, and to underestimate one's self is as much a departure from truth as to exaggerate one's own powers.” So yeah – blow yer own trumpet Jamie! So, the other stand out tracks for you would be…?
Jamie: 'Las Vegas Wedding'. Just because it's a fun song, it rolls on all the way through; again Charlie's vocals are great, especially in the chorus. I love how it picks up for the guitar solo and then drops down for the final verse. It's just a happy song, it makes me feel good. And as for a third song... I can't decide between 'Failed State' and 'Coalition Government Blues' so I'm going to say them both!
Jamie: Thanks! And yeah, 'Failed State' sticks out for me because it's the new 'I Wanna Be Your Dog'. I love Jet's guitar in the verses and the use of the EBow, the chorus is relentless and there’s an almost Public Image Limited feel in the verse which I think is absolutely brilliant. As for 'Coalition Government Blues', that’s because it's just a cool-as-shit blues song. I more or less nicked the beat in the verse from 'La Grange' by ZZ Top who have got to be one of the coolest bands in history. It’s a highly political song which is current; it's got harmonica solos throughout, a superb song - I just love it.
MC: OK, some interesting choices, I’m sure the Subs faithful out there who are gonna be reading this interview are champing at the bit to hear these songs. So looking forward – and picking up on a reference you made earlier, tell us more about your plans for this solo album you mentioned, how much progress have you made on that and is it something where you want to write and play all the music on, or will it incorporate others' musical and lyrical input?
Jamie: I have a lot of material written, some of which I have demo'd already. As it stands I have only pieces of music but I do intend to start writing vocal parts eventually. I've considered bringing in a vocalist for it, but I'd like to do everything on it myself. My only concern is that my vocals might let the whole thing down!
MC: Well it definitely sounds like something to work toward in the future, and as you mentioned earlier, there is so much you’d love to do. So let’s throw in a sort of ‘fantasy question’ for you! If you'd had an unlimited budget and time to record XXIV, what would you have done do you think? Used a proper orchestra, brought in outside musicians as guests - or do you think that working within a specific short time frame, like you did with the 2 weeks for XXIV, concentrates the creative juices, within your 4/5 man team?
Jamie: Well, as you mentioned, I would definitely have had a small orchestra come in for the album. With an unlimited budget I would've probably also had another couple of weeks to record another album worth of material and then I'd have had us choose the best songs from both albums to make one absolutely super-album. I'd also have set up some kind of live feed in the studio running 24 hours a day so people could've watched how we work in the studio. Probably without sound though so as not to ruin the album for everyone! I just think things like that are interesting, things that nobody else can be bothered with or don’t care to do.
MC: And to use a word you mentioned earlier in relation to the new album, it keeps things ‘fresh’! In that respect, how would you like the band to progress further, would you like to share some ideas that you or the band may have in store for their followers in respect of, again - to quote a phrase you used earlier - stepping "outside the boundaries of what people expect of us" and continuing to challenge your audience?
Jamie: I really want to have a UK Subs podcast, a free monthly show where we’d talk to bands we like and things like that. I'd also like to do some quirky things release-wise like odd or unique packaging for our music. The band are known for releasing different coloured vinyl so why not take that idea a little further?
MC: I certainly feel that these are exciting times for Subs fans, as the band just gets better and better. Yes, the band have a glorious and fascinating past, but for me, it is still the anticipation of what will come next that fuels my enthusiasm for the Subs. So to hear the new album and to listen to what is still driving you all to create something that, as you say, should and does stand out, is, for me, inspiring! So before we wind our chat up, and picking up on what you said earlier about the album producer Pat Collier’s work in making the first verse of ‘Implosion 77’ really work, I’d love to hear about what qualities Pat brought to the new album?
Jamie: Yes, Pat is great to work with, he always gets a great sound and he's very efficient in his decision making. He brought a lot to this album because he recognises when something isn't right and he also thinks about the album as a whole instead of just thinking about each track individually. There were times when we'd intended to use an effect which we had already used in a couple of other songs and Pat quite rightly stopped us from doing that and pointed out why it wasn't a good idea.
MC: And in regards also to another case of ‘looking at the bigger picture’! Where do you think this album ranks with every other Subs studio album?
Jamie: For me it's a much better album than ‘Work In Progress’ and I think it's going to be up there with ‘Quintessentials’ and ‘Riot’ which are among my favourite Subs albums.
MC: And finally, here’s a question that I’m sure every Subs fan would love to know about… Would the band consider an old fashioned launch party for the new album, it would be stunning to see the band do both new sets, and will the band be incorporating more of this new (especially the acoustic) material into their live set?
Jamie: Well that’s for the whole band to decide, but also that's the real beauty of what we've created here. We have unlocked the door to our evolution as a band. To use an analogy think of a snake! Snakes evolved from other types of reptiles, and the gradual loss of legs means they can reach places where they wouldn't have been able to reach had they not evolved. With the creation of XXIV, we have enabled ourselves to reach places we couldn't have previously reached, and that's what we mean when we say we've evolved. I'm not sure what the plan for the launch will be but could you ever have imagined the UK Subs playing for example the acoustic stage at Rebellion? I know I couldn't have.
MC: Thanks Jamie!
Jamie: Cheers – I hope everyone loves the new album as much as we do, see you all on tour!
Previous Time & Matter interview with Jamie from April 2010 - click here
The 2 photos of Jamie playing with 4 Ft Fingers are copyright Cait Maxwell.
Check out the Cait Maxwell Photography Facebook page - HERE
Check out Cait's photos on Flickr - HERE
Cait Maxwell Photography official website - HERE
First published Sunday 28th October 2012