Archive for April, 2014

So we need to go a little further back this time, the furthest I’ve gone back in this column. 1977, the year that punk became huge and the cool thing for every suburban kid in the western hemisphere was to have a Mohawk and a safety pin through your cheeks. And I’m of course talking about the band that started the whole thing, the band that if it wasn’t for their existence I wouldn’t be writing this column and most of my record collection would be non-existent. I’m talking about the Ramones of course. Their first self-titled album was released in 1976. I bought it when I was 15 or 16 in Sweden and it’s to me what marked the start of Punk rock and a year later the sound would be brought to the rest of the world with British bands like The Clash and the Sex pistols. 1977 would also be the year of the most wonderful pop punk albums ever, the Ramones released both Rocket to Russia and Leave home. I bought the latter in a record store with the view of Leith in Edinburgh (along with The Record’s “Teen-a-rama”, which has the creepiest cover I can think of and the Proclaimers’ Sunshine on Leith and got the same view as the dudes in the duo on the cover when I left the store, which was worth walking 500 miles for, but that’s another story) The first album was a good debut album, but these two albums took them to other heights. And later we would get their best produced album Road to ruin and the Phil Spector produced End of the century and maybe the most underrated (yet having the most overplayed song) Pleasant dreams. I did however have to go with one of the classics from 1977; it’s called classic pop punk picks for fuck’s sake. So leave home it is.

Leave home was released on January 10 1977 on Sire records. The album cover is like all the four first albums with the band posing in their leather jacket and t-shirts. However, this feels a bit different than the others, maybe it’s their postures. The three first albums also have Tommy Ramone on the drums, which had his unique drum sound. He also uses the tambourine a lot, and sometimes the drum sounds more like just a tambourine than drums. I recently bought a tambourine and I’ve realized lately that the tambourine is one of my favorite instruments and all my favorite records have lots of tambourine on them. It’s just a little detail that makes the entire unity so much better. The Vindictives also did a great job covering this album!

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1. “Glad to see you go”: The album starts off quick. The song is apparently about Dee Dee’s ex-girlfriend and the song is quite harsh, which might be understandable due to the violent things she is known to have done to her lovers. The song seems to be about the break up, but also includes a metaphor that alludes to murder, with references to Charles Manson and bullets. The song also reflects on the attention and fame a murderer gets. “I’m gonna smile, I’m gonna laugh/they’re gonna want my autograph”

2. “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment”: One of the first of the Ramones’ long series of songs about mental illness and this time about the treatment electro shock therapy. The song is the story of a person that claims he is going insane and hears about shock treatment from his friend and decided to try it out and now he’s “happy happy happy all the time”.

3. “I Remember You”: A way slower song that its two predecessors and seems more like a sixties pop ballad with its nice harmonies and this is also a song where the lovely tambourine comes into full play. The song shows something the Ramones perfected, minimalism and melody, it’s an almost perfect pop song, but it has almost the same lyrics over and over and the title is repeated many times which gives a great effect and the way Joey sings it is great. And the song also mirrors a feeling of sitting in your room being love sick and heartbroken over love that doesn’t last.

4. “Oh oh I love her so”: To me this might be the song that defines pop punk. The song has very Beach Boys –esque sound and the vocal harmonies in the beginning are maybe the best piece of music I can think of. The tambourine is even more present in this song than the others and the bridge is just wonderful: “hanging out on a night like this, I’m gonna give her a great big kiss” the song is a cute little love song about falling in love with someone at the soda machine at burger king and going to an amusement park and the naïve, lustful feeling that love will never end. This is a song that makes Burger king food sound way better than it actually is.

5. “Sheena is a Punk Rocker”: The fifth song on the album was originally “Carbona not glue”, but it was removed due to copyright violations. I used to think the reason it was removed was because the content was because the lyrics were too explicit. The song “Babysitter” replaced it on the UK version, and the reason that one didn’t make the American one might be that, but I don’t know, at least “Sheena is a punk rocker” is the fifth song on most of the releases. It was also released as a single and also appears on Rocket to Russia. The song is very inspired by the Beach boys and the Ramones described it as a “classic American rock n roll song”, but because it had “punk rocker” in it wasn’t a big hit as it should’ve been, in the UK it seemed to have the opposite effect, since punk rock had become big business over there, the song became a hit even if it was more of a pop song than their British colleges were making at the time. This song might have one of the catchiest choruses of all time.

6. “Suzie is a Headbanger”: A little tribute to the art of headbanging. The song is similar to Eddie Cochran’s “C’mon everybody” and it’s one of the Ramones songs that had the coolest drum parts. The drums in the chorus are pretty cool and the drums in the “headbanging” part are even better, along with the tambourine of course!

7. “Pinhead”: A song that basically just have three lines. My least favorite song on this album along with “Commando” and is more reminiscent of their first album than the other songs on this album. This tune is a song that many people relate the “Ramones sound “ to and lots of copycats go for copying the style of this song, which usually ends up in some crappy fucking bands. Still, this is one of the most important Ramones songs. It has many catchphrases like “gabba gabba, we accept you”, “gabba gabba hey” and “D-U-M-B: Everyone’s accusing me!” which are catchphrases many associate the band with. “gabba gabba, we accept you” is a reference to the 1932 movie “Freaks”, which is described as a horror movie, but I always saw it more as a romantic drama with sideshow performers, I always thought it was a sweet little film, at shows Joey’s brother Mick would come out on stage dressed as one of the “pinheads” from “freaks” and the film and this song has inspired a lot of the famous Ramones imagery.

8. “Now I Wanna Be a Good Boy”: Another great track. The protagonist wants to be a good boy, but he also wants to leave home, which is appropriate! He also says he wants to be sad and alone. The drum beat in the middle sounds like a continuation of “Pinhead” and I often think he’s gonna burst into “D-U-M-B”, but he doesn’t.

10. “Swallow My Pride”: The second biggest hit on the album(charted #36 in the UK), the biggest was “Sheena is a Punk rocker”(which charted #22) and their third biggest hit in the UK all in all (their cover of “Baby, I love you” was their biggest at #8), being a pretty big hit and all it’s not a very recognized song and I think it’s one of the best and most underrated Ramones songs. I like the positive vibe it gives you and the feeling that “things were looking grim, but it’s looking good again”

11. “What’s Your Game”: The Slowest and prettiest song on the album, there’s of course a tambourine in here too! Another outstanding example of the band’s perfect minimalism. Joey says more in this song in five lines than other bands say in 5 verses. Joey wrote the song about a girl named Mary Jane who suffered from mental illness and how it stopped her from being like all the other girls and to live the life she wanted. The vocal harmonies in the second verse where there’s no lead vocal is one of the most beautiful parts in a song I can think of. Almost every time I hear this song I can feel a tiny little teardrop running from my eye and it’s probably the song that’s made me cry the most times.

12. “California Sun”: The version of the album I got sounded very lo-fi and was probably released in the early days of cds (I think it was a Australian issue), a few days ago I got to hear the re-mastered one, and it sounded way clearer and I heard lots of things I had never heard before. “California Sun” is a cover of the Rivieras’ 1964 hit. Which takes us back to sunny California rock n roll? It’s also one of the few early Ramones songs which Johnny plays a solo on, even though on the re-mastered version it sounds kind of muffled.

13. “Commando”: Maybe the most political sounding song on the album. Mentioning anything from communism, war, Nazi Germany and Kosher salami and for some reason there’s kind of contradictory link between these. I think Johnny Ramone once called it a pro-war song, which doesn’t really make much sense, but it’s a song that can be interpreted many ways. I guess it’s also the most punk song on the album.

14. “You’re Gonna Kill That Girl”: This title sounds like a terrible advice to give someone. The music is very poppy and also takes us back to fifties and sixties music. The lyric is about someone who sees a girl being murdered. “When I saw her walking down the street/ my heart stood still and skipped A beat/ then he knocked her on the floor/ but he wanted just a little bit more” The Queers do a great cover of it on their “Live in East Hollywood” album.

15. “You should never have opened that door”: Maybe the most grotesque song on the album, which showed the Ramones love for dark humor and slasher movies. “You don’t know what I can do with this axe/I’ll chop off your head so you better relax”. This was demoed for the first album, I actually think the demo is better, which is usually not the case with the Ramones (except with “I wanna be your boyfriend” which the demo is so beyond the studio version, it’s scary).

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I’m also gonna write some about the two songs that were not on the album.

“Carbona not glue”: As I mentioned earlier this song was put off the album because Carbona is a trademark and didn’t allow them to use it on the album. I also think it was supposed to be a single and it was inspired by the Beatles and the Rolling stones. I think both “Sheena is a punk rocker” and “Babysitter” are better song, but the way “Carbona not glue” is pretty nice.

“Babysitter”: This song sounds more like the Beatles than “Carbona not glue” and is one of their most melodic songs and probably has their best bridge, I definitely think the album would be even better if this song was on it. The song is about a girl who is babysitting and invites a boy over to make out with her, but they can’t because one of them might tell the parents. This is kind of similar to the even creepier song “Little children” by Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas!

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I have a home exam this semester where I’m supposed to write a text and analyze it afterwards and they said I could do a music review, so I decided to use one of the articles in this column and I’m thinking of going with this one. I’ll have to translate it into Norwegian and change the format and the context so that it fits in a newspaper! It could be interesting and I feel like this album really deserves to be in the newspaper! I really wouldn’t be writing this column if it wasn’t for this album. The next album will be Zatopeks’ “Ain’t nobody left but us.

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Review: Banner Pilot- Souvenir

Posted: April 29, 2014 in Reviews

Souvenir cover art

Good old dependable Banner Pilot, eh? Instead of completely re-inventing themselves with each album, they do what they know best. They have their own style. All four Banner Pilot albums are distinctly their own, and are all at least 8/10s in my book. How many bands can you say that about? Despite their ‘sound’, they do evidence progression on each album; moving forward with greater ambition and further experimentation. Indeed, Souvenir sounds pretty different in a lot of ways to their first LP Resignation Day, when looking back on it now. This version of Banner Pilot is cleaner, catchier and has more bite.

Having said that, Souvenir feels less confined, the ‘freest’ they have sounded, while being less immediate and more melodically subtle than its predecessor Heart Beats Pacific. You will find no ‘Spanish Reds’ or ‘Division Street’ here. But the melodies and catchy verses will reveal themselves after a few listens. The emphatic chorus to ‘Hold Fast’, for instance, is among their best ever, while the verses of ‘Dead Tracks’ bleed with melody. It helps that Banner Pilot are now trying slower tempo songs. I am now talking the mid-tempo punk songs, which Banner Pilot have perfect over the last couple of albums; I mean, properly slow moments. Listen to the verses of ‘Colfax’ or the opening moments of ‘Summer Ash’. Definitely the slowest tempo stuff Banner Pilot have attempted. And it works, making the choruses all that more powerful. Breaking the 5 minute mark with ‘Summer Ash’ makes it all the more interesting. This is Dear You territory. Of course, in these songs, the band eventually kick the gear up a few notches and let rip with a high-tempo chorus (with ‘Colfax’ being the obvious example of this). It would be pretty cool to see how Banner Pilot got on with a song which was slow-tempo throughout. Maybe in a couple of albums time, we will know.

Thematically, we are on similar ground with Souvenir: Banner Pilot invite us into a world of back alleys, dive bars and fading dreams, where the bleak winters are soul-crushing. But, amid the bleakness, what Banner Pilot have always had, and which many of their contemporaries don’t, is hope; the sun parting through the clouds. And there is bucket-loads here. I’m not sure whether it is the lighter melodies tricking me, but Souvenir seems to be Banner Pilot’s most positive record so far. This isn’t just false hope; Banner Pilot are full of confidence: “This world we’re in can do its worst/ It’ll never win” (‘Hold Fast’). The closer of ‘Summer Ash’ meanwhile recalls the romantic storytelling of ‘Skeleton Key’: “So turn down all the dark days; Kill this night/ New page, all the blue skies we could write”. But, in many ways, Banner Pilot’s lyrics have transformed a lot from the early days. Compare simply the lyrics from Souvenir to Resignation Day and they could almost be from two different bands. The new style is more hard-hitting and direct, while still retaining the poetic, romantic core. This is most obviously seen in the Blink 182-like ‘Shoreline’, where Banner Pilot talk about being feeling “so disconnected”, and ask a question Off With Their Heads posed more vociferously a few years previous: “How much can one kid take before he’s had enough?” And that kind of sums up the Banner Pilot of Souvenir: familiar, but evolving.

DB

Take a listen: http://bannerpilot.bandcamp.com/

To Live and Die in West Central Scotland cover art

Along with The Murderburgers, The Kimberly Steaks are painting Scottish cities in a new, not-before-seen light: as enlightened, green utopias. The Scottish tourist board have even recently praised them for their efforts. Just kidding: of course, it’s a shithole! Un-named urban hell-holes in “West Central Scotland” are put through the wringer by The Kimberly Steaks and their debut LP. The protagonist hits home their lost ambition, lost ideas and potentially lost mental health, with getting wasted the only way out. Basically, imagine if The Dopamines were from Midwest Scotland, instead of Midwest US.

The Murderburgers have been the obvious emergence in Scottish pop-punk over the last few years, but if The Kimberly Steaks keep up like this, they won’t be far behind. This is passionate pop-punk/ramonescore that you just want to jump around to. As the brilliant out-take from Look Around You attests beforehand, yes, the tempo is quite fast. Most songs last barely more than a minute and have shout-y choruses. The notable exception is the last song, their attempted “Jesus of Suburbia” if you like. It clocks in at over 5 mins and is split into 5 different segments. I’m not sure if it works as well as it could have done, but it’s nice to see them go acoustic, even if it’s only for about 30 seconds. Indeed, if there is a criticism of this album, it’s that it’s all a bit samey in its punchy tales of drunken despair and mental rage. But, two things. One: there is no ways you would not raise your pint of Tennents to this in a Scottish dive bar and dance like a moron. Two, samey it may be, but I would much rather have this kind of ramonescore from the gutter than ramonescore that only acknowledges surfboards and hot girls.

DB

Check it out: http://thekimberlysteaks.bandcamp.com/album/to-live-and-die-in-west-central-scotland

Erratic Behaviour cover art

Irrational Act are a new-ish hardcore-influenced skate-punk band from Sheffield. They offer a “fuck you” brand of punk rock, with bundles of passion and energy. They have axes to grind, from homophobes to protein shakes, and they mean business. The cover to their new ep Erratic Behaviour kind of says it all: an ageing, mohican-wearing punk screaming at a wall (bonus points for Minor Threat reference!). I don’t really hear some of the influences the band cite, particularly the skate punk stuff (NOFX, Bad Religion). To me, it sounds straight out of the late ‘70s UK punk rock scene, on the more hardcore side of things, like Crass or GBH or something. Or maybe if a UK band came from that early ‘80s US hardcore scene. You can totally imagine a huge moshpit throbbing along to “DEADHEAD!!”

DB

Check it out: http://irrationalact.bandcamp.com/

I don’t know if it would be even possible to write a column about classic Pop punk without mentioning the Queers. The first time I heard the Queers was when I was into Rancid and found the song “Rancid Motherfucker” and I thought it was the worst song I’d ever heard. When I got Wiggle I saw Joe Queer had co-written some of the songs and I decided to listen to “Rancid Motherfucker” again and see if it was still bad and it was! I figured all their other stuff would be better so I went to their Myspace and heard their cover of “Can’t stay mad at you” and was like “Wow, this sounds like the Beach Boys!” I instantly had it stuck in my head; it was at a time when I had gotten heavily into sixties pop music and was pleasantly surprised by the band. The next two songs were “I Always Knew” and “Peppermint Girl” which took it all to another level and I thought it was two of the best songs I had ever heard. The fourth song was “Stupid Fucking Vegan”, which I thought was pretty dumb and kind of sounded like “Rancid Motherfucker, but I forgave it because of the three great tunes I had just heard. It wasn’t long after that I decided to get Love Songs for the Retarded and other Queers albums followed. Don’t Back Down   and Grow Up were my favorites and still are, but the entire summer of 2007 I went around singing the songs from Love Songs. And I feel like I couldn’t have done another album when it comes to the Queers, it’s basically the definition of a pop punk classic.

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Love songs for the retarded was released on April 13 1993. It changed a world for leather jacket and high top chuck-wearing, bubblegum chewing, beer drinking Lookout nerds who liked to sing beach boys songs and say “fuck you” at the same time. With its political incorrect attitude (It’s called Love songs for the retarded, so obviously) and catchy melodies it inspired a generation (at least we like to think so).

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1. “You’re Tripping”: “YOU SUCK, MOTHERFUCKER!” the first words on the album! The song starts up with a drum roll and bursts into a hardcore-ish punk rock anthem which both reflects on anti-racism and getting drunk. The song just smells sing-along-anthem and every line will be sung once you’re in a crowd of sweaty punks pogoing, while Joe does his thing.

2. “Ursula Finally Has Tits”: Maybe one of the creepiest titles in pop punk history, and the opening line takes it even further: “When I first saw her, gee, I like that girl/Even before her first pubic hair would curl” in spite of that it’s a cute song and a classic ode to puberty and the sing-along factor might burn even hotter in this one. It’s as catchy as a pop punk song can get and the lyrics are so silly that you forget that they are indeed kind of creepy.

3. “I Hate Everything”: The sing-along-a-rama never ends. You can write a punk rock song about hating anything. “I HATE BIKES” or “I HATE BUGS!” or “I HATE YELLOW M&M’s!” and there exist songs like “I hate you”, “I hate Led Zeppelin”, “I hate your guts on Sunday”, “I hate your fucking guts”, “I hate punk rock” and “I hate hate haters”, but this song simply states that “I hate everything!” and that includes everything from eating your vegetables, to the Grateful Dead, to mowing the lawn and concluding that even the song itself is hatable.

4. “Teenage Bonehead”: Joe often introduces this as “A song for all the fuckups in the audience” and it tells the tale of someone who’s just been committed to a mental institution and had his girl ran away from him with his best friend and send him a post card that she’s glad he’s not there. In the end he sits alone wondering where she is and what she’s eating and why she never said goodbye to him. The song is a standard pop punk song that has a beach boysesque chorus. It’s a pretty slow song, but live Joe really speeds it up. It’s the ultimate pop punk heartbreak song! I’d maybe say it’s the ultimate pop punk song!

5. “Fuck the World”: A rather cozy song in spite of its title. It’s about life being shitty and the future being bleak, but that doesn’t matter when you have someone to hang out with you, whether it’s a lover, a friend or simply the audience you’re playing for. A song that mixes self-deprivation with feel good happiness and the “whoah”’s in the chorus just tops it all. The lyrics are written by Ben Weasel and it was originally supposed to be a Screeching Weasel song called “Amy saw me staring at her boobs”, they also did a version of “Fuck the World”.

6. “I Can’t Stop Farting”: Another song co-written by Mr. Weasel. It might be the least good song on the album, but it’s a song just about everyone can relate to. Having gas and farting all the time and trying to take a shit, but it isn’t happening. This song is the band telling us, like Joe has said a lot of times, “don’t take yourself so seriously” and maybe we shouldn’t!

7. “Feeling Groovy”: This is one of the songs where I have the most misheard lyrics in. I used to think he sang “they say I’m deeply troubled/oh, I shaved my head with a chainsaw” and “I’m really not Fats Dominos”. The song is sung from the point of view of Joe Queer himself and he wants a beer (probably a Budweiser) and he claims his parents hate his guts and that all the girls he knows are sluts. He also ran over his dog, but it’s OK since now he can eat his food. The bridge takes its melody from Jerry Woodard’s “Long tall Texan”, which of course was covered by the Beach boys on their first live album. Joe also references his own song “kicked out of the Webelos”

8. “Debra Jean”: One thing I know is true is that this is one of the best pop songs ever made. It’s a slow melodic straight up pop song that shows Joe’s romantic side. The chorus has “ba ba”’s that are more reminiscent of the Beach boys than anything they’d done before. The lyrics mixes infatuation with the self-deprivation we saw from the earlier songs: “Debra Jean, baby you are my queen, and queens don’t seem to speak to guys like me”, I’d go as far as saying this song is perfect.

9. “Hi Mom, It’s Me”: The perfect little one minute song that’s perfect for mother’s day. Which gives us the feeling of a punk rocker and his life at home where he comes home drunk every night and he claims the beers his mother found weren’t his and gives us a feeling of the relationship between a teenage punk and his mother, even though Joe wrote this when he was well into his thirties and it still sounds sincere. “Hi mom it’s me, the fucking little shit/the ugly little monkey that used to suck your tit”

10. “Noodle Brain”: Another classic tune, which takes us on a rollercoaster ride of feelings. The song seems to be about someone getting drunk trying to forget that he thinks the girl he likes acted like a slut. The chorus is him telling her that he hates her and how awful she is, but that she is a noodle brain just like him, which makes the song kind of adorable. The song is honest from start to finish, from the “Fuck you”’s in the pre-chorus to the declaration that she is the one that made him get wasted to drown his sorrows to him stating that “you’re a noodle brain just like me”. I feel like this song gives us a sense of sincerity a lot of the more politically correct bands lack.

11. “I Can’t Stand You”: At this point in this classic record, we get two straight up punk songs in a row. A song written by one of the most mysterious characters in Punk rock history: Ronnie Parasite. I don’t know much about him except that he’s a psycho. I think he plays in one of the bands called Accelerators that I like. This is another song about hating a lot of things, this time he can’t stand politicians, the military and talk show host, but most of all he can’t stand you.

12. “Night of the Livid Queers”: Maybe the fastest song on the album, cause Joe can play faster than Johnny Ramone. Like the opening song this song gives us a Meta feeling because it’s the Queers singing about being the Queers and they could both sound like theme songs for the band. It could also be a reference to the Beach boys’ “Chug-a-lug” which is Mike love singing about the rest of the guys in the band doing cool stuff and him chugging root beer.

13. “Granola Head”: What is going on? This song takes us back to the poppier side of the Queers. This is Joe singing about not wanting to be a hippie that eats bean sprouts and has dirty underwear. He’d rather get drunk and listen to the Ramones, with a bunch of stupid punks. (When I went to see the Queers I got a button that said “I don’t wanna be a granola head” and I talked to a hippie looking guy in the bathroom who said it was his favorite song and was bummed out that they didn’t play it and I showed him the button and he went and got one too, he also told me later he didn’t wash his hands, the memories)

14. “I Won’t Be”: This could possibly be the catchiest Queers song there is and also possibly the meanest with lyrics like “I won’t be your boyfriend because you’re just so damn ugly”. It starts up with a fantastic guitar lead. Once again Joe’s dislike of Dead-heads comes to life. There’s a very strange contrast in that Joe’s voice makes him sound like the nicest guy in the world, but the lyrics makes him seem like the meanest guy in the world and this effect is what makes the song so great. If this was just a silly cute love song that went along with the sweet sounding vocals and the catchy melody or an angry song telling someone that they’re ugly the song would be nowhere near as great as this! In spite of being kind of rude and mean, it does have a great message that you should just be yourself.

15. “Monster Zero”: Another more punk sounding song. It’s about a dude taking a girl to a drive in movie and she seems to be on drugs and claim she is crazy, he also tries to kiss her, but she falls asleep and even if his dad’s car is impressionable she still looks at him like he’s retarded, and this is his love song to her. The song has a cool guitar solo and a sweet bass line. What I like about this song is that like “Too many twinkies” on Beat off, it’s a fast punk song that fades into the most pop song on the album, on Beat off : “All screwed up” on Love songs: “Daydreaming”

16. “Daydreaming”: It only took me two times hearing this song before I got it stuck in my head. The bass intro is fantastic and it leads us into Joe’s “YEAH” and one of the strongest choruses of all time. It’s a story of someone who has always been let down by love, but has finally found someone he can be with that has taught him how to brush his teeth. I think there are references to the Beach boys’ “Good Vibration” (“I love the funny clothes that you wear and the little thing you do to your hair” and Velvet Underground’s “I’m sticking with you”(“Stick with me, I’ll stick with you”, it’s a perfect ending to a great album! “is this infatuation or just my imagination? I’m daydreaming my life away because of you”

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After I got this album at 17 it’s still important to me, maybe even more than it was back then. It always reminds me not to take myself too seriously and appreciate the greatness of the Ramones, the Beach boys, Angry Samoans and of course the Queers themselves. All line ups of the Queers have been great and they’ll probably always be good, but this was the best line-up: Joe, B-face and the great late Hugh O’Neil. This album is 21 years old and would be able to buy booze in America if it was a person and it’s still a relevant album and will probably also be in the future. The next album is Leave Home by the Ramones.

Interview: Zatopeks

Posted: April 2, 2014 in Small Talk

Zatopeks formed in 2001 and have been consistently been one of the most interesting, creative and bloody catchy pop-punk bands in Europe. Unlike many bands from this scene, they can’t be so easily pigeon-holed as pop-punk, with a variety of influences being evident, including folk and Russian futurist writers. Their latest album About Bloody Time just came out at the tail-end of last year and is fantastic. If you haven’t checked it out already, you really need to. So, I chatted to the now well-dispersed Zatopeks about their time as a band.

Let’s start at the beginning: who is in Zatopeks and how did the band form, way back in 2001? A couple of you guys played together in a band prior to Zatopeks, right?

Sam: Sebby, Spider, Pete, Will and myself make up the band. We all played in a band called 3 1/2 Inch Floppy, apart from Spider who was jumping off things in various stoner/hardcore bands.

Sebby: Most of us met at university in Birmingham, except for Sam – but then Will had known him rather longer! When we started Zatopeks, it was just a bit of a joke side-project from 3 1/2 Inch Floppy which was our main band and had been going for a couple of years. We started off just playing covers and had a short lived idea to only write songs in a made up language, but luckily that didn’t last too long! We had a lot of fun with it though, the songs started getting a bit more serious and people ended up liking it more so it just kind of took over.

Pete: I love that it started as a joke and we’re still having fun doing it! Probably the most valuable lesson I learnt from university!

Next year will be the ten year anniversary of your first album Ain’t Nobody Left But Us. What are your reflections when you look back on it now? What were your aims when you released it?

Will: Ain’t Nobody Left But Us! Our album titles are always defined by Anglicisms. It was exciting to be part of the Stardumb Records scene around then, and I guess I can already look back at it with a kind of rose- (or Heineken-) tinted nostalgia. All the songs are linked to old jokes or personal memories, so it’s difficult to critically assess it, but I think it still sounds really good… youthful exuberance and all that. There were no real aims as I recall, but maybe the others can correct me and I’ve just suppressed the world-dominance aspiration memories through subsequent disappointment. I remember playing a gig in Denmark around that time and somebody we’d never met was singing along to our song while we were playing. I thought ‘we’ve made it!’, and that approach to success hasn’t really changed for any of us.

Sam: Yeah, as far as I remember we never had any aims. Just go out, have fun and give 110% every time. We can only beat ourselves. I think we may have beaten ourselves.

There is a good mix of ‘90s pop punk and ‘50s-style rock ‘n’ roll on that record, does this reflect your influences at the time?

Will: Very broadly, yes. Sam and I are brothers (you’d never have guessed) and grew up with our dad’s rock n’ roll records from an early age, though it was more Sam who turned into the Teddy Boy. In the late 90s when I started writing songs I was heavily influenced by my personal holy trinity of Screeching Weasel/The Queers/The Invalids, the latter being a massively underrated band. I guess the album was an attempt to blend these musical directions and include some tongue-in-cheek nostalgia via the ‘Jimmy’ gang stories, which we found hilarious at the time. But by this stage my main influences were more people like Tom Waits and Aaron Cometbus, both of whom had a big impact on the lyrics. You can already see that somewhat in the lyric book, and in Sam’s weird, grizzly Tom Waits-ish impression on ‘Mary Lou’. We were always terribly subtle.

Pete: Yeah it was all Lookout!, leather jackets, Ramones and fun back then!

Will: … and now it’s all Mayakovsky, corduroy jackets and angst!

Who writes the lyrics in the band? Does it tend to be a collective process, or is it normally one person who writes them?

Will: I write the lyrics and the basic songs on an acoustic guitar, and then play them to the chaps and we arrange them together. It was Seb’s idea to translate the Low German dialect into English for the chorus of ‘Politics’ on the new record, though. Definitely wise advice; I get a bit carried away sometimes.

Sam: That was definitely a good call by Sebby. Although a shame we didn’t record an alternative version with the Low German dialect.

Pete: As a band we have quite a wide range of musical & other influences, so the way we sound and perform seems to come together at the natural cross over of these influences all trying to sneak their way in amongst the framework of Will’s unique stylings.

My favourite song by you guys is “Some Town in Northern France”. Was this inspired by a real-life incident?

Will: Yes. Actually only one person who was there that night knows that there’s a song about it, and one which is still being sung 16 years later. I’d just finished A-Levels in 1998 and some schoolmates called me up asking if I wanted to go to France the next day as they’d found return tickets for 15 quid. We went to Calais, had no idea what we were doing, fled an awful discotheque and ended up walking around the countryside all night armed with several lukewarm stubbies of Export ’33. It was in one of these little villages that we passed these girls sitting at a fountain drinking beer. We all just glanced at each other and then we bottled it and wandered on, and then finally a couple of us decided to go back to the village and say bon soir. After being searched by some suspicious policemen who wondered why scruffy English teenagers were roaming around their otherwise pristine settlement, we finally got to the square and they were gone. To be honest, the girls were probably heavy metal fans, and not the ‘punk rock girls’ I sing about, but I thought that wouldn’t have worked as well in the song. It was an early lesson in both carpe diem and poetic license.

With Damn Fool Music, there were noticeably slower-paced and more experimental songs after the more straightforward pop-punk of your first album. Was this something you were actively looking to do, or did it just happen naturally?

Will: There was no conscious decision, but the lyrics of ‘I don’t want the Airwaves’ function as a kind of accidental manifesto for that album. I didn’t listen to much straightforward pop-punk then anyway, and it was an attempt to reflect our various musical interests whilst still sounding like the Zatopeks. Pete and I are massive jazz fans so this record was the first to try bringing in jazz lyrical and musical references. Damn Fool Music was chosen as a title because it was Sam and my great-grandfather’s dismissive term for jazz, and it was really fun to attack the Daily Mail using syncopation and muted trumpet. I guess it’s quite a transitional album, and you were right in your recent review to say that, taken together, it’s more eclectic but perhaps less effective as a whole than About Bloody Time. Thematically and musically I think it was a step forward, though.

Sam: I think we were also kind of finding our sound. We definitely tried to mix this one up a bit and didn’t want to make a straight up pop punk record. It was fun to play about a bit and we had also improved as musicians. Will was also getting a bit sick of writing songs about chewing bubblegum beside a jukebox, which is understandable. I think if we’d have stayed the same band as on the first record we probably wouldn’t have bothered making a third. I don’t know though, works for Motörhead.

You released “Handclaps and Bottlecaps”, a split 7”, with The Copyrights, in 2006. How did that come about?

Sam: I literally have no idea. I think Adam wanted to do something a bit different for It’s Alive. He asked both bands and we were well up for it. That was a lot of fun to make and I guess it also got us into contact with The Copyrights.

Pete: Those songs were really fun to record acoustic style. It was done by a friend of Sam’s who was getting into sound engineering and had a sweet little home-studio set-up, which meant we had time to mess about with the ridiculous intro on Death and the Hobo and the handclaps!

The 7” came out on It’s Alive Records. You have also released another 7”, as well as co-releasing your latest LP on It’s Alive. How did you get involved with Adam and It’s Alive?

Sebby: I’ve known Adam for a long time, it must be over 10 years by now! We’d been trading records online and talking for quite a while and I remember him telling me he was planning to start a label. Pretty soon afterwards we were working on our first album and we talked to him about It’s Alive doing an LP version but unfortunately the album was too long for the pressing plant he was using at the time to fit onto one record. We had a couple of extra songs that we recorded in the same session though and so It’s Alive put those out those on a 7″ with 2 other songs from the album, so at least some of them would get a vinyl release! When we were working on Damn Fool Music, Adam had the amazing idea of releasing a double gatefold LP of both albums together, but unfortunately that was going to be way too expensive! Then when we came to do this album, we were very keen to work with It’s Alive again, and to make sure that we had an LP version planned from the start.

So, your new album About Bloody Time came out at the tail-end of 2013, after a 6 year gap since the last one. Just where have you been?

Will: Well, it’s a hobby and it’s quite difficult to coordinate since we’re scattered around a bit. Spider, Sam and I moved to Berlin in 2005 and now we only tend to meet up all together for gigs or recording, which means we don’t do so much but we’re always excited to hang out and play together (speaking for myself, at least!) when we have the chance. The Berlin section is also playing in a streetpunk band called Tungsten Tips, with our friend Debby on vocals and me on drums, and that band is more active given that we all live in the same city.

Sebby: I also started another band with some friends in London called Paperjets a couple of years ago so that I could still play in between Zatopeks tours. It’s been strange getting used to having regular band practices again after spending so long in a band that’s spread out across different countries, and where band practice involves at least 2 of us having to take a flight.

Pete: Swinging on moonbeams & singing to the wind!

In the intervening years, were you still gigging much as a band?

Will: We’ve done a few tours for between 2-4 weeks over the years which were lengthy by our standards, but would probably constitute a long weekend to someone like Kepi Ghoulie or The Murderburgers. We try to tour like that at least once a year and then do a few weekends or festivals, though it doesn’t always work out. Luckily we can borrow people from other bands if someone can’t make it, and Matthias and Mikey from the DeeCracks are honorary Zatopeks these days.

Pete: Like Will said before, the lack of regular shows is more than compensated for by the fun we have when we do get together to play!!

I notice that you tend to play shows outside of the UK a lot, including Insubordination Fest in the US. Is this something you want to continue doing if possible?

Will: Since 60% of us live outside the UK it’s often more convenient to play on the continent, and I love how many different cultures you can cross in just a week or two of touring in Europe. We played in Ancona, Italy last year at a brilliant antifascist social centre, and within 10 minutes we were drinking the regional liquor with the organisers and learning about Italian politics, which are a thoroughly depressing topic for them but fascinating for us. Then the next day with we went with the other band (The Dinasyt) to a barbecue at someone’s house in the hills above the city and celebrated the anniversary of Italy’s liberation from fascism with a bunch of really nice and half-cut locals. Experiences like that remind you why you’re in a punk band, and I want to be able to do that for as long as is physically possible.

Sam: Since we started as a band we’ve always tried to play abroad. We’ve met so many good friends from all over and as we don’t play so much it’s nice to go on a proper trip. Although we would all definitely like to play more in the UK.

Going back to the UK, do you think the UK punk/pop-punk scene has changed much since you started as a band?

Will: Unless it was hiding from us, I don’t recall there being any pop-punk scene around 1999 when we met. Crackle! Records in Yorkshire was putting out some native pop-punk stuff, but we never encountered any of those bands at the time. It certainly felt like it was just The Griswalds, Punch Puppet and us, although I’m sure there were things going on elsewhere that we weren’t aware of. Last week I saw the line-up for the Stuck in Springtime festival in Glasgow and it was all UK pop-punk bands. There’s been a boom, for whatever reason. Styles have changed a bit in general, but I’ll sound like an old man if I start trying to figure out or explain what the kids are up to these days. More beards, less fake American accents. That’s my summary.

Sebby: Yes, I think the scene has changed a lot since we started. I remember going to (and playing) so many gigs in nearly empty venues in those days – I particularly remember seeing Sloppy Seconds play in Birmingham in 1999 and being one of only about 10 people there. There have always been great bands around, but I guess it was a lot harder to find out about stuff. It does feel like there’s a lot more going on these days and people seem more interested in UK bands now, whereas before it was always much more about American bands.

Pete: It seems to go in waves a bit depends on who’s about & what venues are going at any given time, but that said, the last few years there have been some fantastic new UK bands and lots of great bands playing that have been going for donkeys years. I’ve probably been particularly lucky being based in Bristol too, as there are some great promoters and there’s been a continuous run of amazing punk shows with some really great local bands, as well as others from across the the uk, europe and the world… and long may that continue!

Well, the new one has definitely been worth the wait. How do you think it turned out? What were you going for with About Bloody Time?

Will: Simon Speechless did a brilliant job on the production and I’m really proud of it all. One thing we wanted to make sure of was that it was an album we could play live, and that seems to have worked well. We were also going for a heavier sound and something that worked as a whole, rather than being a collection of different approaches and styles. Also, touring with The Copyrights taught me that it’s possible to write intelligent songs that still have catchy sing-a-long choruses, and I tried to bear that in mind whilst writing this batch of songs. In the past I used to get a bit bored of choruses and kept tinkering with the lyrics each time they came around, which is a pain for anyone who vaguely knows the tune and might want to shout along after a few beers.

Sam: We’re really happy with the outcome and Simon did a truly amazing job. I guess the next record will be more of a rock opera!

Pete: The whole process of making it was really fun. The conscious effort to get together to create something over a extended period of time, with little bits and pieces falling into place as it went was great. One weekend we’d be down in Ealing eating olives, 6 weeks later in a snowy Berlin hearing a new song then going to watch The Members, a month or so after in Manchester munching scones then somewhere else making 4track demos with headphones in a practice room. It’s probably this time of gestation and relaxed approach that makes it feel more of a piece than the last record.

There are a lot of literary references on the new album. My favourite being your adaptation of the WH Auden poem for the song “One Evening”. What’s the story behind this?

Will: We’ve used literary references or entire poems to a lesser degree on our other albums and 7”s, and increasingly it just happens that most ideas for songs come from a verse of poetry or a book that’s lying around in the flat or in the back of my head. The Auden song in particular came about because I’ve always loved that poem; it’s dark as hell and the imagery is beautiful, and I thought it would work well as a punk song due to its conventional structure and rhymes. That’s the usual pattern. Blending literature with punk music is also nice way of integrating different cultures and time periods… so far we’ve covered about 1500 years, from Tang-Dynasty China via Medieval Persia to South Ealing Station, and I think there are common philosophical threads holding it all together. Occasionally the references become a kind of game, for example trying to structure a personal love song around a series of sideways references to a writer’s back catalogue and ideas, which we do in ‘Acetate’ (Camus) or ‘Amy Tonight’ (Kafka). But more often literature helps to colour and distort the way I describe cities and places, providing a starting point that’s more interesting and dreamlike than personal experience. Lorca’s nightmarish visions of Brooklyn dictate the atmosphere of New York in ‘Alert!’, even though I only quote him in the chorus – I never thought I’d ever write about angels jumping off bridges and poets kissing hangmen, but that’s what Lorca does to you. ‘Mechanised’ is basically inspired by Nikolai Gogol’s 19th century warning that the devil himself lights the streetlamps in St. Petersburg in order to show everything in a false light. That’s still a haunting idea walking around the city in the 21st century, except now the devil is drowning in light pollution, which took the song off on different trains of thought and into later Russian cultural traditions such as Futurism and Symbolism. On a somewhat shallower note, there’s also a childish kick to be had from setting grim philosophical concepts to poppy melodies.

Looking to the future, what do Zatopeks have planned for the rest of 2014?

Sam: We will be touring in July and will also play some shows in UK after that. I think some long weekends in various places will also happen.

Will: Yeah, we play Fonsstock Festival on 11th July in North Germany and will hit the road after that for a little while. It’ll be nice to tour the record finally! In 2014 Sebby will also be defending his title as the best-dressed person on the European punk scene, aided by his new tweed jacket.

Do you think it will be another six years until the next album?

Will: I hope not, but I make no guarantees! I’ve already written several songs for the new record… based on literary references, so I guess that trend will continue.

Sam: Six years sounds very ambitious.

Thanks, Zatopeks! Any final words?

Will: Thanks a lot for the interview and hope to catch you in the UK this year!

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Check it out: http://zatopeks.bandcamp.com/