Bullyrag Interview

Last YAZ you should’ve read the Liberty 37 interview. You should’ve cos I spent a lot of time typing it up for you. Since then quite a bit of time has passed, but if we nip back to that sunny day in May in Wolverhampton, only a matter of hours have passed. And we’re back in the dressing room type thing. And this time we’re in the company of Stew, the guitarist of Bullyrag, who’ve just completed their set on the same evening apparently as a free street party was taking part in the middle of Birmingham featuring the All Saints. Which has nothing to do with this interview, but it’s something to do with literary license, or creative something or others.

But enough of that, let’s talk. It’s the first Bullyrag headline tour, following God knows how many support slots over the last few months. The album is mere weeks away from finally being released as we talk, and that’s all the scene setting that is required.

The bog standard excuses then from me. I’ve not written any questions down, but I had a few ideas on the way here. I just hope I can remember some of them now.

What’s your name? Dave. There’s so many people you meet on a daily basis, there’s always a good option of Dave, Paul or Steve. Ok, sorry, go on.

Ok, the first time that I saw you was supporting Korn at the Crazyhouse in Liverpool.

That’s a couple of years ago isn’t it? Yeah, and then you seemed to disappear for about a year. I was wondering what happened during that time.

To be honest with you, what happened was we got signed to Mercury a little bit after that, and then we went looking for producers and we were working on our album. Then we found a producer after a little while, recorded the album, and started releasing singles. It’s taken this amount of time. Because I think it took us about a year to find the right producer. We tried different things and then you get someone, but they’re not available because they’re in the middle of an album. It just takes a long time. So we went and found a producer.

So what makes the right producer for you then?

I think because the album was ambitious in what we were trying to do. I mean, if you’re going to go “crash bang wallop” dead heavy stuff, and that’s all it’s going to be, and you’ve got a guarrantteed safe gig where everyone’s going to jump around and they’re all going to be into you because you belong to the league of heavyness, then you just get a few producers that are renowned for doing heavy stuff, and that’s kind of easy. And if you do funk music, then that’s kind of easy cos you get a producer that does funk music. If you do reggae you go for one famous for doing reggae. Whatever it is. But if you’re trying to do a lot of different things you got to find a producer that can do all the different technical requirements. So in our minds it ended up being a collective producer. Someone that knows how to be, someone who was in a band, someone who knows music, someone who was a musician and someone that was able to get all the sounds and programme. You know to deal with the technology. So we ended up with two Gary Langdon and Chris Hughes. Gary Langdon was the engineer for the Art of Noise. And Chris Hughes has been a producer for about 18 years and has a massive CV, bands like Jesus and Mary Chain, and mainstream bands like Tears For Fears. Between the two of them that was our criteria filled.

I’ve read a few times with our bands, that they say that the producer points you in the right direction. Is there something like that which you was looking for?

Yeah. Do you play at all? I try to play bass. Bass. When you get in a band, you can take it as a paranoid thing, and like “I know what I’m doing”. And you’d be stupid not to take advice from someone. And then you get into a little team and a very insular environment and then you get into like listening, and you trust someone after a while. You know, someone whose done lots of albums and they say “at this point here’s a good setup. This guitar with this amp gives this sound cos I’ve done it and here’s an example.” So you just use your own vetted system, so that you eventually work out that “yeah, he actually knows what the fuck he’s talking about.”

You were saying onstage tonight that the album is released at the begining of June (yeah I know that was ages ago. These interviews take a little time to get through to this stage, but like a good wine, they get better with age. Believe me. If you’d have read this a day after the interview took part, it would’ve tasted like shit). It’s been a long time since you started doing the support tours late last year. Was that the labels doing?

Well no. We finished the album in October and immediately released a single which was limited edition, and immediately got touring. We did some TV and got single of the week, and we started the profile that we do. So we just got on with it. And then we wanted to build at least a couple of singles before we released the album. The second single was like the first single cos it wasn’t a limited edition. That was Learn To Live in February. And now we just done Jump Up in a Fashion on Monday. And that’ll be our second single and we’ll have done what we wanted to do from a marketing point of view. We’re not really hoping for the album to go into British Top 40, cos we’re not a singles band due to the nature of our music. Basically we’re heavy. But it’s something that we wanted to build, to build a fanbase and to tour. But it turned out to be an international thing. We’ve been swamped with airplay in Australia, and swamped with airplay in Europe. Swamped with MTV airplay in South America. This is all before the album and just with the singles. But England and Britain as you know is a different sort of structure. I’m sure every band that you interview will tell you the same.

Depends if they’re American or British. The Americans seem to get the reaction.

Well yeah, but it’s also the same with us in America. We’ve just released the album to the label in America as a precursor to release, and their flying someone to the gig on Monday to sort out the plot for release, cos they love the album so much. So it’s the same, but in reverse. So you can’t moan too much. I don’t actually mind, cos I know the album, we’ve just done a set here, 9 songs, 8 of which are on the album and the other is a b-side. And they’re quite powerful songs, but they’re not just in the league of heavyness continually. The rhythmical structure is not in the league of rocks, and the drums aren’t “rock” all the time, and the vocals definitely aren’t rock. Some of my guitar tone is maybe. But there is definitely a rock energy though. But there’s stuff on the album, that we just can’t play until the album is out because it would be too diverse for the audience.

Even up to now, having seen the band maybe 8 or 9 times, it took me maybe about 5 times to actually get my head around things. The first time it was like, “this is different”, and I was thinking Dub War. Do you think people will take that bit of time to absorb it when they do get the album.

You know, it’s a good question, but it’s a bit difficult, because I’m never going to be “most people”, which is a problem. I mean, having an eclectic musical taste, which is a journalistic term, no-one thinks like that, I find it a curse in the immediate response. If we were going to go on and go “duh duh de de de duh”, and the next song go “de duh de de duh duh” (you try typing someone singing two similar guitar riffs!) it’s easy and you can get a great response, but it’s actually boring as fuck for me. So being into all different types of music, melody and structure and different types of guitar playing, just being into stuff I think is a problem for immediacy. I think that’s a fair point. But at the same time, once you’ve listened to a piece of music once or twice, you can make each individual subjective. The difficulty is getting the attention span, you know, you need to have some angle. As far as I’m concerned, I’d really like to be liked. You know, when I’m in a band I like gigs with a lot of people there, I like the shared energy. That’s my feedback. But as far as the aspect of the album goes, I kinda don’t really mind whether it takes them a long time or they don’t get into it. Because there’s so many fucking people out there, I can’t even begin. I mean, we just done a gig, and if you were to line each of the people up and ask them “what were you into”. And it’s like “well I was into that Rob broke his zip on the first song” or “I was into your guitar”, or “I liked your hair”, or “I fancied your singer.” You know, everyone’s got their own different gig on what’s good. I believe in the album and the band believes in the album that we’ve done. All our songs that we’ve done we’ve tried to be as ambitious as we can. So I think it’s something now that has fuck all to do with us as to how long it may take people.

It’s just that I find myself now at the gigs recognising a part of a song, and I want to hear everything now to be able to put it all together.

There’s a song on the album called Plague, which goes from like American R’n’B, and you know, you can’t go and do that when no-ones jumping around. Then it goes through a Pink Floyd musical kind of ambience stage, and it’s all about AIDS and then it builds up into this fucking crescendo of a riff. Once the album’s there, people will probably go, “oh, there’s that tune”, but otherwise, if they haven’t heard the album, they’d go “what the fucking hell was that?”. And it’s fair comments. The last song on the album, we’ve condensed. On there it’s 13 minutes long, and it’s a hidden track, well, it’s not advertised, it just comes up 3 minutes after the end. And we’ve decided, instead of representing the bit where your stoned where it goes into this movement where your stoned and it goes very ambient and reflective. We can’t really ask for people to pay attention to that when you’re supporting some nutter heavy metal band. So we’ve kinda been known for the songs off the album which are more immediate, which are the energy tracks. Tonight we played a couple, You Can Have Me, and Summerdaze, which are more melodic. And that contains half the album, but we haven’t played any of that live yet. So we’re looking forward to gigs when the albums out, cos then the people that come to see us will know the songs by nature of the album

You’ve said a few times, it’s very eclectic. And there’s you with a guitar style, the rhythm section with a different style, Dave with the samplers. Is there a point where you write a song where someone wants to get one part in, and someone wants another?

No, because the songs are written by me and Robbie. To be honest with you the album and all the singles and b-sides apart from 2 songs, which me, Robbie and Mike wrote. The bands input is, you basically take a back step from that. You’ve got a drumkit, a bass guitar, guitar, vocal and X noises whatever you want to call it stuff. Dave isn’t necessarily triggering technical stuff, he’s triggering guitar, vocals, stuff that you can’t do live. So in that’s sense, it’s not a technical role, it’s a role after the event of the song. It’s more of a live role. It’s like you’ve got an introductory guitar part, and I’ve got the main one, but you really need that guitar part, so it’s on its own pad and it comes across more. So there isn’t a big fight of “I want my reggae bit in” and “I want my heavy bit in”. We’ve been doing this since 1990 me and Robbie. Eight years and it’s still not fucking understood he laughs.

It’s around about this time that people are sticking their heads around the door and saying all the goodbyes, so we should say goodbye to them. Liberty 37 and The Beekeepers have now left the building. And normal service is now resumed .....

You said there that it’s still not understood. You’ve done tours with bands like Tura Satana, and Pitchshifter, Prodigy etc. A huge range of styles. Has there been one particular audience where you think “this is the one that has tapped in”.

Bit like girls, I think I like the ones that like me he grins. I appreciate the ones that don’t but I really like the ones that do. And I think with audience, any fucker that likes me, I like. I don’t like playing to people who are not interested, that’s honest. I don’t like it. I know a lot of people say they don’t care, but I actually don’t like it. I don’t look at it as a big ritual that I have to do. If they don’t like, I don’t mind not playing. I’m there for a reason selfishly. The band’s there to enjoy itself, to enjoy it’s music that it believes in. And I don’t expect every fucker in the world to like us, I don’t expect everyone in the audience to like us, but as long as there’s a few that I’m focussed on. It is a very intimate thing if you believe in music, and I do believe in it. I can get a bit sensitive sometimes, just personally, not so that anyone would know, but becuase this is an interview that’s my personal view.

Do you actually get the feedback on stage, cos sometimes you see bands who say things from the stage, but you just don’t get any emotion from them when they’re saying it.

I don’t have a microphone on stage, I think if I did I’d communicate a bit more, but you sometimes feel fucking daft. Just briefly y’know, briefly and awkward and stupid.

I feel that in the crowd.

Oh yeah, and it’s a shared experience. Sometimes you feel utterly invincible and sometimes you just know you’re going to pull your lead out and it’s going to go off. And I think it’s beautifully varied, and I think we’re trying to learn how to do it, and I think once we have then that’ll be the end of it, because what do you do then? I think there’s a craft to playing live. And it’s not easy, we’ve set ourselves up with a hard task with the type of stuff we’ve done. 10 songs, crash bang wallop is a piece of piss live, you just plug in and go, but if you’re trying to go up and down, trying to be ambitious with no-one knowing you, then that’s hard.

If it’s not happening, it should be shit y’know. People look as though they’re playing to 1000 people when there’s only 8. Shouldn’t have done it, don’t you think so? To me it looks false.

Well, for example, I saw a few bands a couple of weeks ago in Derby, say 50 people there. And the bands got pissed off with the crowd. In that instance, should the band be pissed off with the people who have actual gong to the gig, or with those that haven’t bothered.

I think you should play a gig relative to what’s there. The whole over gestation of performance, people hide behind that a lot. People like whatever band, X band for example. If their guitarist or singer looks as though he’s playing to a rammed out show that’s kicking on, to me that’s ignoring the people that are there. Cos I think if you’ve got a small crowd and it happens everywhere until you establish, that you should play to them people. But if you’re at a party, and the clubs kicking and there’s 300 people and you’re sheltered in that environment and it’s dark, you’re kind of more used to it. But if there’s only 8 people in the room, it’s different, and I think you should reflect that. I don’t think you should just play “the gig” regardless of the audience, you should play “that gig” and be honest with what you feel, cos I think it’s more insulting to fucking lie than say “well fucking hell, let’s have a bit of a laugh here cos this is shit”.

We had a gig up in Edinburgh two nights ago, it was a really small place. And there’s a few people, say 80 % full, a little bit of space for people to move. So when we finished the show, we just decided to see if they’d like all fit on the stage. Now that was relative to the gig being not sold out. So you do show it relative to the place. See tonight’s was good, that had a lot of energy which was good.

Ok, now I’m going to have a crack (no pun intended, but if you laughed, well, just put it down to me being a comedian or you having a dodgy sense of humour) at a bit of the drug angle. So to put the record straight, I don’t do illegal drugs. But I think they should be legalised. My argument is like that argument many use. The war on drugs is not being won. They’re more readily available. It’s a business, prices are dropping which indicates the supply is there. You can potentially cut out the middle man, and do something to protect the users from impure cuts, shared needles and the associated problems. Ultimately, it’s a situation which to my mind isn’t going to get better just because some people think it’s wrong. So something should be done to address the reality of the situation as opposed to the ideal of “ooh, drugs are bad. If they are legalised, more people will die”. More people will die anyway. It’s a problem, and it isn’t going away. Legalisation gives scope for some monitoring and control, and you can use some of the money to educate against, give better rehab facilities. I don’t know that it would work, but one thing is for certain, NOT LEGALISING isn’t going to cure it either.

Boom Boom Marijuana. I guess asking whether you think cannabis should be legalised is a bit pointless ....

I don’t think it should no. I think it should stay the same. It all works.

Not the answer I was anticipating, so let’s probe further shall we.

It works. People who want spliffs can get it, people that don’t don’t have to.

As I was anticipating you saying yes, I’d been wondering whether you though harder drugs should be legalised.

That works as well though doesn’t it. People who want harder drugs can get them, and the people who don’t want them don’t have to. It’s not legalised, and it’s not formalised and it’s not advertised and it’s good. It works. Cos it won’t go away. That’s just my opinion on it by the way.

Yeah, it won’t go away and that’s why I think it should be legalised. The people who are selling the drugs you could say are making money which may be used for better purposes.

Well I don’t know. I mean I know a lot of beautiful people who have had a life through selling drugs, and I don’t think that you should take that away from them. Cos it’s fucking shit and hard to survive on the dole for the rest of your life. I think it all works meself, your opinion is not mine and I understand it, and I think it works. And my reasoning is that if you change it you advertise it. The debate advertises it and increases it. The novelty will wear off. It will still return to a fucking nutter situation with legalisation, unless you take cigarrettes or beer. Now if you become brewerified, the infiltration of beweries or clubs in the society in the hard drugs way, you’ve fucking seriously got a society with nothing but getting off your head at its centre. Alcohol itself, no matter where you go. If you had spliff shops everywhere you go, where you could get charlie, speed from, lsd from. What would be left? Probably have a couple of Sainsbury’s left, and pubs and drug centres. So I think there’s enough places to get off your head. Anyone that wants to, they can. The economic infrastructure allows people that are otherwise fucked to have a bit of money. And I don’t believe the myth that everyone that sells drugs is an evil fucker. Cos that’s the hypocrisy of everybody that wants drugs is an evil fucker. Not true, it’s a part of society. But it should remain in its proper place, it shouldn’t be society.

But don’t you believe it will end up like that regardless.

It is like that yeah, that’s why I say it works. Everyone that’s been in this room has smoked a spliff, everyone that’s been up there has been on wine, beer or spirits. It is yeah, but what I’m saying it works. To me it’s not broken, so don’t fix it.

But that’s my point of view. I’m not a spokesperson for the whole band. And I’m not spokesperson for that issue itself, cos it’s just me. My answer is to not ask the question in the first place. It works to me. So the answer to me is “don’t ask”. Cos the debate to me is the joke. Cos it’s usually debated by people who don’t have enough power to turn on the electricity, let alone legalise drugs. Till the people at the top start debating it, it’s a pointless debate.

Some might say though that it needs movement from the bottom to wake those up at the top.

Yeah but that’s because they’re ignoring the real issue which is the money. As soon as that kicks in, and the money to be made and controlled is there, it won’t have fuck all to do with whether you want it or not. It’ll be done. Simple as that. It would be done for money and nothing else.

Well, it’s a debate that could run. Like Stew says, should it be debated? You decide. I have my views, he has his, you form your own. You could say that singing about anything that is illegal is in itself generating debate, simply by the illegality of the subject matter. So if you don’t want to advertise it, no bands shouldn’t sing about it, or authors write about it. But I don’t believe in that, and I don’t think it’s going to happen. If you do want an alternative viewpoint on this, one place to start might be one of the Jello Biafra spoken word albums. Have a read of some Huxley, or Burroughs. It’s part of the wonders of being a part of a supposedly free society. We move on to less stormy waters now methinks ..... there’s a relief.

Last night I was watching TFI Friday ( ok, shoot if you want), and what attracted me more than anything was the Bullyrag posters that were next to the Evans bloke. So the question has to be, TFI Friday or Top of the Pops, which one do you want to do?

TFI Friday first to get us in the charts and then Top of the Pops. It’s PR advertisment, and I don’t have a problem with that. I think there’s so much mainstream shite, that it’s time to have a go. And I don’t mind being first in line. And subjectively I’m not saying we’re better than all these bands, cos I think the lack of competition in the psyche of being a band, allows you to enjoy being in a band. I’m not in a competition with all these bands, and I don’t really compete. But as far as mainstream stuff, these are mainstream forums. And if you want a debate, and you believe in debate, then you should put some other bands on to give the mainstream masses a choice. And if TFI Friday, which are coming down to the show on Monday, put us on next Friday or the one after, or the next single, then I’ll play it. Cos I want to advertise this band. And if that gets into the Top 40 and they ask us if we want to play Top of the Pops, I’ll play that. I’m doing the Ozone on Wednesday with the band. That’s predominantly full of Boyzone stuff, but it won’t be, because we’re on it. See what I mean. So I’m proud of it.

I thought maybe you were going to be on it (TFI) cos of the posters.

Maybe next week, I don’t know. They’re coming down to watch the show, so they’ll make a decision. I don’t know. Obviously they’re into us, if they put the posters up. There’s like 400 grand of advertisments on Channel 4 for us. I actually heard about it, cos my sister phoned me up to say the same thing. It was like all she could see, the poster of the band. I think actually it’s a very good poster anyway, very colourful and very Chris Evans.

The brains frying, I’m running out of questions.

Well thanks for the time, it’s conversation. It gets read as well. I mean, I’ve done a couple and actually there’s a certain amount of verbatim reproduction that’s not journalistic. That’s journalistic in it’s negative sense of trying to make the scene, trying to quote the quote, trying to be the fucking top journalist to discover the next top groove, blah blah blah.

Right then, to finish up, plans for the rest of the year?

No, that’s interesting. We’ve got to finish this tour, it’s our first headline tour, so it’s doing that kind of business which is fine by us. Go to Germany to do a skate festival, Suicidal Tendancies and some other bands. That’s until middle of June, then we come back and play Switzerland festival, Austria, Italy. Shitload of festivals, main stages. Then cos we’re getting about 300 plays a week on Triple J in Australia for Frantic, so it’s basically a hit there. The Americans are coming over, we may be doing a Lenny Kravitz tour of Europe in the Autumn. And the album will be out and we’ll see what territories are doing well and go and play them. Then come back to England and keep playing England and Britain. And I think September through December we should be in America. So all good stuff.

So basically touring.

Yeah, that’s what we’ve basically decided on doing the next 5 or 10 years really. We love PR as well, I just love this job. The whole thing. I’m having a fucking whale of a time. And don’t forget I’m not the spokesperson for the whole band, there’s another 4 people with views and opinions, which makes it a beautiful band. And an annoying band he laughs.

So do you differ much then.

I hope so yeah. But on a basic human level we respect and we have a perspective that will always get us out of trouble. But we do differ, and I think that’s how it should be. Otherwise it would be boring. Somedays it’s joyous, somedays it’s a nightmare. Me and Dave are at loggerheads some nights, some days we’re best of mates. Me and Robbie ignoring each other for three days and then we’re having a scream. It’s human life you know, and it’s great. I’m just trying to be honest about it, you know, cos I know everyone’s having a good time, bad time, shit time. And I think if you represent that, you communicate to people that way. That horrible term of “our fans”. What an absolutely fucking disgusting term. “Our fans”. As if you own them, and they are lower than yourself. They are the people who appreciate your music and don’t ever fucking forget it.

And with that thought, we bring another interview to a close, and my fingers can now take a rest again from the typing. Of course since this took place, the album is out, and many of the festival dates around Europe will have been and gone. No reason for saying that, other than I couldn’t think of a different end, and that seems to do it nicely. The End.

Yes, I know the pictures are nicked from the CD booklet. It’s all I had!