Interview With Justin - 19/06/01
It's now been 18 months since the release of 'Eight'. How do you feel about it now?
I'm immensely proud of that album. It was a very important record for me personally, and I love the way in which each individual song is clear and clean and sure of itself. I also quite like its "unproduced" feel. It was the most easy-going and trouble free of all our albums to record and I'm indebted particularly to Michael and Dean for the spirit in which we worked.
What's happening with the band at the moment?
In some ways we're less of a single unit than we once were. There are a couple of reasons for this. The most obvious is geographical. With Nelson living back in Essex and Dave now moved to Devon, we're about as spread out across England as we could be. It's also true that all bands reach a point where each individual wants to pursue other personal creative avenues without actually leaving the group and so it is with us. It's worth saying that this has acted as a release for everyone and that there is a fire and a magic and a cohesion in almost every gig at the moment where we now play so well together by instinct, while none of us feel held back by the constrictions of being in the group.
There has been much talk of a solo album. What's happening?
I do have an album full of melancholic sea-songs (songs in the same feel as 'Marry the Sea') half-recorded but for the moment, this has been temporarily sidelined. I'm currently working on a whole different set of ideas and songs which I don't want to say too much about yet.. I really hope to finish both these projects this year for release in 2002.
Are you self-producing these projects in the same way as you produced 'Eight'?
In their early stages, yes. But I would like to collaborate with an outside producer or mixer at some stage.
We understand that you don't want to say too much about it but let's say - what are your current interests and inspirations?
Well that's difficult to pin down. To begin with there's the words I write and then there's the music and often the sources of inspiration are different. What I'm listening to is as eclectic as ever - on the Baltic tour we listened to a steady stream of early 60s Jamaican Bluebeat and Rock Steady, the Who's Quadrophenia and the Eminem album. More recently I've been listening to a lot of Flamenco, early Neil Young, Arabic music that my sister sends from Cairo, Arvo Part (Estonian minimalist modern classical music) as well as my usual steady diet of Motown and Northern Soul. Oh all sorts really.
Not much Rock music then! How do you feel about the "New Metal" coming out of America that is sweeping Europe?
I've never been a massive 'Rock' fan. The 'Rock' bands that I love - The Clash, Noir Desir, Killing Joke all have a strong element of something else - a sense of romance or spirituality or beauty or something that is absent from many 'Rock' bands. There does seem to be a new thing going on at the moment - or at least the major return of an old thing. I am kept half in touch with 'new metal' by a little posse of 11-13 year old kids in my street. This seems to be mostly ground already covered by the likes of Huskerdu through to Nirvana or by the hip-hop-metal pioneered by the likes of Bad Brains 20 years ago. Still, anything that leads to youngsters buying guitars and making a wild passionate noise has got to be good. I can't say that I really know "what's happening". I just get the feeling that people are getting tired of the endless diet of dance, pop and hip-hop derivatives and they want something else. I'm all for that..... I have seen a few gigs recently but nothing remarkable - with one major exception: I saw Queens of the Stone Age last autumn and then again last week and they are a thrilling band - the most exciting I've seen since Nirvana. They will be playing at this year's Bizarre Festival just before us (as far as I know) so I look forward to that.
And when it comes to lyric writing, what is on your mind?
There was an election in Britain just recently and like most people, I was fairly disgusted by the whole process. However this had less to do with the politicians than with the media!. Even the political cowardice of Blair and the right-wing populist idiocy of the Conservatives was as nothing when compared to the narcissistic and overwhelming arrogance of the media. Meanwhile Britain is rotting from the inside - perhaps not before time. I had always thought that the old Britain of Class and Empire was dying a natural death, but no. It's like a monster from an old movie that cannot easily be killed. We're just going to have to keep on stabbing at it until it finally expires and then burn it and bury it before something new can grow in its place that has some social cohesion and respect and Grace.
Having said that, like many people who begin their lives full of hope and faith in macro-politics to carve a better world, I've become less and less patient with it. The make up of my own neighbourhood here in Bradford, which is a particularly interesting city, individual relationships between people and also our relationships with Nature and with God (for want of a better word - and whatever we perceive it to be) are more and more fascinating to me.
One or two people have said that they missed the anger and politics on 'Strange Brotherhood' and 'Eight'.
I didn't begin writing songs just to put across a political agenda - which is a commonly held misunderstanding. Even 'Vengeance' had songs about personal and social things, so in reality there has always been a mixture. Having said that, there was actually a lot of political angst written for 'Eight'. In the end, though, most of it was compressed into 'R&R' - each verse of that song contains enough ideas and fury for half an album. As I'm sure I've said many times, it's not that I believe in different things now (although age and experience have taught me a different set of priorities - just as they do for everyone); it's just that it is important to me not to write the same song over and over again.
Changing the subject, how did you feel the 20th anniversary concerts went?
The Nottingham gig was a really emotional experience for me - the whole thing - the club, the audience, the atmosphere, the songs that we chose to play - just everything really. Michael and I spent a long time mixing the sound for the video release and it was a real labour of love but emotionally exhausting hearing it again and again. The gigs we did in December were a bit different. It sounded like a great idea, doing 57 different songs over two nights (still only about a third of our material) but to be honest, we found that trying to hold so many songs in our heads was so demanding that we didn't really have as much time to really enjoy the gigs. I think Nelson, particularly, did an amazing job just remembering so many complicated bass parts. Having said that, it was great to play with Mark Feltham again just as it has been to play with Ed Alleyne Johnson (several times recently) and the audiences, particularly on the second night in London, were amazing.
Weren't the London gigs filmed? What's happening with that?
Yes they were. But at the moment I'm busy writing and trying out new ideas and, after spending so long last autumn mixing the Nottingham gig, I am not in a rush to go back and mix another five hours worth of old material. Likewise, Jean-Manuel Moreau, who shot the film, has been so busy with his Mancuna project, that he has had very little time to edit the NMA footage. This will eventually get done - in the meantime I think the Nottingham video is excellent.
You did a vocal track on the Mancuna album. How did this come about?
Simply that I've known Jean-Manuel for some years now; he asked and it seemed like an interesting thing to do. It's a kind of trip-pop track and I'm singing a version of 'Whitelight' in a duet with Lydia, a Brazilian singer who is singing in Portugese, although unfortunately we weren't in the studio at the same time.
How was the Baltic tour with Dean and the Red Sky Coven tour?
The Baltic tour was the kind of adventure that I love the most. The simplicity of the set-up - just Dean, Scanners and myself travelling in an estate car with a couple of guitars and a keyboard, the small club atmospheres and that direct contact with an audience without the big stage and PA, being back in Scandinavia after so long, crossing the frozen Baltic, negotiating Polish snow drifts and all the people we met along the way!. Dean is a wonderfully flexible musician and I think that each night we managed to get the same kind of emotional intensity as an NMA concert produces. I plan to do much more of this kind of touring in the future.
As for Red Sky Coven, there is no other show like it. More than anything Joolz, Rev, Brett and I have been best friends for as long as I can remember and as people and artists, we compliment each other perfectly. In Germany the show has its own audience now - independent of the NMA connection. In Britain I think we need to do gigs more often so that more people get to understand it. I think sometimes people get confused because there is nothing you can really compare it with - the ranges of emotion and the music/ story-telling mix.
What happened to the much discussed solo tour of America?
For a couple of years now, I've wanted to do some shows in North (and South) America again, because I love touring and because people there want to see us play. The plan is to begin with solo shows (or perhaps with Dean) and then, if there was enough interest, bring the band over. This has been postponed again while we find an American label to release our current catalogue, (which is now closer than it has been for many years). There are also the usual work permit problems. It will happen though...
What other projects do you have on the backburner?
Too many - especially a lot of studio things. There are immediate plans to compile and release a B-Sides and Abandoned Tracks Part 2 (including deleted B-sides from Strange Brotherhood and some of the huge amount of unreleased material from the last ten years). There are also plans to remaster and rerelease Joolz's1991 album "Wierd Sister". At some point in the near future, I will be writing and recording a musical soundtrack album to accompany the release of Joolz' third novel, 'Borrowed Light' (probably April next year) - like a movie soundtrack but for a book. I've also been asked to produce a new Rev Hammer album, which is something that I would really love to do.
Do you read the Website Noticeboard?
It has been noticed that you never contribute. What's your position on the various debated issues such as moshing at gigs, favourite songs and albums, even grammar in lyrics (!) and most recently Timothy McVeigh and the issue of the death penalty.
One of the things that I've always appreciated about our audience is their diversity and their independence. If you are prepared to follow a band who do not belong to any musical 'category' and are largely ignored by the media, then you already have an independent mind. And I think our audience reflects the diversity of the actual members of the band in that they come from a really wide set of backgrounds, ages and opinions. I think that the Noticeboard is a place for free ranging discussions about all kinds of issues, serious and not, directly NMA-related and not, and that it benefits from being independent of any contribution from the band or an 'official' line.
But now you're asking me directly!
Firstly, the 'moshing' debate: we play music of a certain intensity and there's always been intense reaction to it. However, from what I can see from the stage, I don�t think that our gigs are generally violent. If I go to a gig and find myself on part of the floor where people want to express themselves, shall we say, more exuberantly than I do, then I just go and stand somewhere else. I don't see this as a problem...
Of course the favourite songs thing is interesting to us. When we asked people for the three songs they really wanted us to play at Rock City, more than a hundred different songs were mentioned. Of all the things that people have said about NMA, that single validation makes me the most proud.
Grammar in lyric writing? Huh?
I didn't follow the media circus leading up to Timothy McVeigh's execution, so I didn't have the extreme reaction to it that many people did have. I did notice that at times like this, the lyrics of the song "Vengeance" are often quoted. I wrote that song in a moment of blind fury after watching a TV reporter attempt to "interview" a known Nazi mass-murderer in Argentina in 1981: it was a gut reaction rather than a definitive philosophy. Neither does it say "killing the bastard". What I will say is that I believe that for society to work, justice has to be seen to be done. Personally, I don't have a moral problem with the idea of the death penalty. However with our deeply floored systems of justice, when innocent people are often convicted, I am utterly against the death penalty in practice. The Timothy McVeigh case is also interesting as it once again raises the spectre of Government intelligence and the use of under-cover agents. It seems more than likely that McVeigh didn't act alone. I'm reminded the time in the 1970s when I was living in Belfast where the British Army, the IRA, the RUC [Norther Irish Police], and the various loyalist paramilitaries all had advanced under-cover intelligence systems infiltrating eachother... where the lines of who was actually working for who became totally blurred. I'm not a great believer in conspiracy theories, but it is certain that our governments have access to huge amounts of information that we will never know.
The song 'Brother' seems very relevant at the moment. What do think about the Oldham riots and what is the situation like in Bradford?
I did notice that there was a lot of sensible and informed discussion about Oldham on the Noticeboard which proves its worth. However it's impossible to give a neat, short answer to this kind of question - also anything I say may be overtaken by events at any time. I don't really know Oldham but I do know Bradford a bit. There is definitely tension in the air and there are gangs of lads of all colours and ethnic backgrounds who hang around in an atmosphere of boredom, unachievable material expectation and macho sub-culture. This is not a great mix. So, of course, every now and then there is some kind of violent incident, the sort of thing that led to writing the song 'Brother' in 1996. But that is not the same as being on the edge of some all-consuming racial war as some people in the media would have us believe. If you walk around the city, you do not get any sense of an impending doomsday. Generally, people are just getting on with their lives. As always, the media make everything worse. The local paper is generally pretty responsible (after all the people who write for it have to live in the city) but the national media just love to poke sticks into other people's beehives and then stand back and morally deplore the results of their own actions. The biggest obvious difference between Oldham and Bradford at the moment, is the involvement of the BNP [British National Party]. They have obviously succeeded in systematically provoking a lot of the trouble in Oldham whereas, up to now, and despite a great many years of trying, no fascist organisation has ever been able to establish a really strong base in Bradford.
What neo-Nazi presence there is has to be shipped in from Leeds and York and usually Bradford people are resistant to outsiders telling them how to react. However it's not a good time to be complacent.
What news of Robert?
I believe he's fine, involved in family life, making music and gardening.
What will you be playing at the coming Festivals?
Wait and see.
© 2001 New Model Army
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