Ben – Billy Bragg mixes what he has to say with the way he says it – is that an influence for you?
Thomas – We all talk about how much of a huge influence Billy Bragg is, we’re such big fans. It’s something we all agree on, because we’re all representative of different parts of punk.
Ben – Was it a conscious decision to make the sleevenotes (on Dead FM) more explanatory than on other albums?
Thomas – It was a progression of sorts. We had some more time, so we could spend time gleaning the right meaning and right tone for each song, and also we didn’t want to repeat ourself or be redundant. We wanted to talk about the pathologies and root causes of what’s in Western civilisation. We’re not just talking about left-wing slogans, but the psychological reasons behind it all, and the need to have personal relationships in your political metaphors. That’s what Billy Bragg did. We have a budget now where we can have what we always wanted, so we could have all this artwork so we could write beyond the lyrics.
Ben – Your band is about a marriage of music and lyrical message, how is being on Fat helping this?
Thomas – It’s something that seems like it has its roots in our beginnings, because Fat put out a 7inch with our first two songs, before we were on Jade Tree, so they’ve been our friends for a while. We were part of the Rock Against Bush tour and record, so we wanted to do a record with our friends. It’s a continuity of what we were doing, there wasn’t even any transition. Fat Mike gave us and Jade Tree that 7inch that Fat paid for as a gesture of goodwill and community, no competition, no bullshit, no copyright infringement. It’s harder and harder to find that nowadays.
Ben – The UK is such a small place but a huge distance for US bands to come to, is it still important to do that? A lot of the bands you pay lip service to have their backgrounds in the UK…
Thomas – Hell yes! Obviously the band we pay most lip service to is Bad Brains, and we also love the Cro-Mags, Gorilla Biscuits…but a lot of the ideals that move us in our personal life outside of an artistic collective come from here. New Model Army, me and Matt Sherwood grew up with that band.
Ben – Do you think about the next steps, or is it just a matter of consolidation at the moment?
Thomas – That’s a good question. We’re thinking about introducing more songs off Dead FM into our live set, and that’s so difficult because we love everything we have to choose from. We got off the treadmill of write-record-tour, write-record-tour and got involved into our communities, got back with our private lives and I think we came up with some of our best stuff from there. That’s the problem, we had like 35 songs that we wanted to play, and we don’t really know what people will like. We kinda think what people might like, and then we’re humbled when people come up to us and surprise us. We all need to accept happily that there’s no way we could quantify or control what people get out of us.
Ben – What’s it like when people have reactions in the public sphere to something you’ve poured yourself into? Like when people react a certain way to songs that you especially love?
Thomas – We talk about this a lot. Some of us think strongly that we should be able to call the shots, and the other half think that it’s the kids that are running the show, we’ve had our say by writing the songs so let’s just dive into the pit with everyone else. There’s merit to both sides. Sometimes you have to take the reins and invest everything you can into a particular battery of songs so you don’t just because a karaoke of your own music. I think there’s a balance to be struck, and it will take longer than the lifespan of our band to work out how to strike it. I think it’s important that we don’t have a plan.
Ben – When you do start moving towards songs with a specific message, how do you try to push it to a larger audience?
Thomas – You’re pulling people into a counter-culture. It would be disingenuous and generic for us to try and pretend to be a rock band to help out people that aren’t aware of what hardcore punk is. And we’re not going to blow somebody off because they’re wearing a football shirt or don’t have the right facial tattoos. We’re not fans of the elitist, university town, basement type posturing. We love DIY punk and our roots are in that community, but there’s been a huge elitist corruption of this. There’s a need to defend this against corruption, there’s a need to put our survival where our songs are. That’s important for the people in towns in America who have no history of counter-culture, who have no scene, who have nothing. There’s a need to not make protest music into something academic.
Ben – It must be quite scary to put yourself and your life into a decision like being in a band like this, because you rely on other people believing your message.
Thomas – That’s true. We’ve played to people that didn’t give a shit, who were bored, fashionable hardcore kids who didn’t think it was important to hear anything about politics or social change, or who think positivity is too nerdy. We’ve had the pleasure of playing for those audiences…we’re going to be on tour with NOFX in Southern California so we’re prepared for everything. We know it’s going to be entertaining to take the piss out of those people. I think we’re one of the fastest bands that NOFX have taken on tour since, maybe, Propagandhi in ’94. We’re affable Southerners, we can get along with hecklers. Sometimes we can rise to the occasion and not give a shit, but when people close up you have to switch on to a united front, like “we’re going to punish you guys with these songs whether you like it or not.” We get a bit out of shape when people are just bored.
Ben – Is it possible to still have fun doing what you do?
Thomas – I think so, that’s all it is. It’s a release of all these traumas, it’s a positive moment if someone is having a rough week or a rough day. We’re not trying to bum people out with a political lecture, we’re trying to get people fired up around a message. We want to keep communicating because we’re honoured by their attention.