Sunday, 17 September 2017

Dissident alt-rockers Thunder On The Left!

TOTL post LW. Photo by Jane Moriai.

Drawing comparisons with both Rage Against the Machine and Gossip dissident alt-rockers Thunder on the Left formed in early 2015 releasing their debut EP The Art of Letting Go later that year to very positive responses. I was lucky enough to see them at this years Loud Women Fest in early September where they took the day by the scruff of the neck and gave it a damn good shake! After their electrifying set I had a very excited chat with someone else who was also stood grinning at the back just because we both wanted/needed to talk about what we’d just witnessed! But that was quite a measured response compared to The Revue Magazine’s review of one of their shows which understandably commented that ‘the future of rock music may just depend on’ them!* After their set Carla Tully (guitar/lead vocals), Adam Kingsley (bass/vocals) and Arun Dhanjal (drums/vocals) somehow discerned a request for an interview in amongst my excited approach to them and kindly answered a few questions.

 
Could you give us an overview of Thunder on the Left? How did you meet? When did you start?
We don't even know if we actually exist...

The band name is the title of a book, isn't it? Any reason for choosing it?
The book is about being disillusioned with society, need we say more.

I would guess from listening to you and seeing you live that you've been in other bands before TOTL!?
We have, but none like TOTL.

Did you have a fairly clear idea of the sound you were aiming for from the start or has it evolved?
We had a template/outline of frustration and riffs, that was coloured in by our own individual styles - that was always the formula.

The last track you played at LW had a slightly different feel, quite Rage Against the Machine...
The track you refer to, ’The Cognitive Map,’ is the newest song we play live - we’ve been compared to Rage Against The Machine a lot, ever since we started.

You released an EP The Art of Letting Go in 2015 what sort of subject matter do you explore in those 3 songs?
Shining a light on those who have a fundamental lack of self-awareness.

Are your lyrics mostly based on experiences or inspired by other sources like films and books?
(Carla) - My lyrics are based on lots of different things, not just my own personal experiences - sometimes putting yourself into someone else’s position, or simply just a parable.

How does the creative process work in TOTL? Is there one main songwriter or is it very collaborative?
Sometimes we wake up in the middle of the night, circa 3am, and have a song fully fleshed out in our eardrums that we have to capture in that exact moment, so it doesn’t disappear in our short-term memory. This has happened to us all simultaneously in the past - where we hear the same song, then we simply transcribe it in the rehearsal room. That is usually the creative process.

There is a lot of concern about venues closing, are you managing to find as many opportunities to play as you would like?
It is saddening that some venues are dropping off the face of the earth due to capitalism, building flats and gentrification etc, however, there are bigger concerns we have with the world than music venues closing - music will always exist, even if it is driven underground by the dystopia.

Carla, a lot of female musicians seem to experience a degree of sexism, what has your experience as a musician in the DIY rock scene been like?
I have experienced sexism - yes. A certain type of man (note - not all men) is intimidated by a woman who can actually play the guitar, who is intelligent and who has something to say. I don’t let it get to me - I’d rather point it out, challenge it and move on. I have had experiences and it is always interesting how people think you won’t notice their projected sexism. The world still turns.

You’re a band that’s feminist and political- how has your politics developed? What were the influences ? Where would you place yourselves politically or is it a continual evolving of thought?
This is a big question - we are all individuals who are stimulated by evolving and growing, but we hold fundamental beliefs of the need for equality, justice and fairness. We don’t align ourselves too much with politicians - they are largely un-trustworthy and self-serving, bar a few that are generally more marginalised by the mainstream sheep who hold a majority of the vote. The problem is the system, not being politically aligned - until the system changes, nothing will change enough through any party.

I watched your videos on Youtube, 'Sick' had a unambiguous anti austerity/anti Tory message, are you encouraged by the number of young bands whose politics play a big part in their music, I'm thinking of IDLES, Sisteray and Skinny Girl Diet.
Yes, it is encouraging that more bands on the scene are putting their beliefs out there and provoking people to pay attention.

I was very impressed by the video to 'Pretty Little Victim' really intelligent and sophisticated-could you unpack what you were exploring a little bit?
It’s for the viewer to interpret, and it’s all in the video/song.

What bands and musicians have you been impressed by lately?
We’ve been listening to Chelsea Wolfe a lot on the way to our gigs.

What are your plans for 2017 - an album on the horizon at all? Will you be out gigging a lot?
All will be revealed, so stay tuned!

Bibliography.
and http://www.m-magazine.co.uk/newmusic/30seconds/30-seconds-interview-thunder-on-the-left/

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Jitterz: Lo-fi Feminist Punk!


Photo by Lewis Cutts.
Comprised of Beth Morris and Jamie Brown Jitterz formed in early 2016, their first release was in October that year and this Summer they released their debut EP Get a Real Job (which includes the excellent ‘One Good Song’ and ‘Unicorns and Glitter’) to positive reviews, alphabetbands commenting... ‘damn catchy pretty much encapsulates Jitterz perfectly. Each of the four tracks on the EP is highly infectious. Riffs and rhythms combine brilliantly to batter your brain into submission, able to withstand no longer it lays down and allows Get A Real Job to plant its flag and set up camp’ (1). Intrigued by an EP that oscillates between lo-fi punk and blues while exploring Neoliberal Britain, relationships and relationships in Neoliberal Britain an interview was arranged.   


Could you give us an overview of Jitterz? How did you meet? When did you start?
Jamie: We were both playing separately at a gig, and saw each other’s sets, I thought Beth’s set was really great and different to other acoustic artists, so I went and awkwardly introduced myself...we started playing together, and even tried to get a normal person on 2nd guitar, but they were too good.
Had either of you been in bands before?
Beth: I gigged as a solo acoustic artist for years and then started getting angry and wanted to make loud noise so I bribed Jamie with cake and here we are.
Jamie: I have been in bands since 2013, but never had an input on lyrics before, which is really nice to start to being able to do, especially given how well I think Beth and I work together during the writing process.
Who would you admit to you as musical influences!?
Jamie: Me personally, I’d say Daru Jones for drumming, Shawn James for singing, and Kate Tempest for lyrics. But also I think we both like The White Stripes and Courtney Barnett a lot, and would very much like to be friends with all of them.
Beth: S Club 7
Did you have a fairly clear idea of the sound you were aiming for from the start or has it evolved? How would you describe Jitterz’ sound?
Jamie: Beth can definitely answer this better than me, as most of the songs are hers. I would say that since we have written a couple of songs together, there has been a different feeling to them, like ‘Lobotomy Eyes’ feels more on the Blues-Rock side of things, and newer one, ‘Too Big For Your Boots’, combines several elements of Punk, Blues, Soul, and Hip Hop beats. At the start, I didn’t have any idea of a particular sound, I remember just feeling excited to play with Beth.
Beth: I didn’t really have a clear idea, I just wanted to be super cool and be in a band. I achieved the latter. I think. I’d describe our sound as awkward noise which sometimes gets a little bit too rowdy for your Grandma. Apart from the rock&roll songs I wrote. She’d like them.
Jamie, you commented “we don't take ourselves too seriously, but our sometimes very serious tastes (like Kate Tempest and dystopian art) are informed by current political and social issues like the constant presence of war, the refugee crisis, and the hate people direct at these victims”. Did those shared concerns play a part in forming the band? Did you feel you had things to say from the start?
Jamie: I don’t think that played a part in forming the band, but after hearing Beth’s lyrics and having conversations with her, I could see we care about some very similar things, which I think has brought us closer together. most things I write don’t have a particular direction, even when I’m part way through writing them, but they seem to end up with one at the end.
Beth: I think it really helps that we have common ground. Jamie is one of my favourite people and we have really interesting chats about everything and nothing and it’s great. At Uni they tried to make me join a band… they were like “Beth, you don’t have to want to MARRY them. Just join a band”. I was too much of a rebel and just carried on bumbling along on my own as it didn’t feel right just yet.
Give us a few pointers about dystopian art(ists)...
Jamie: I am very into Utopia by Dennis Kelly, which is about overpopulation, and the struggles that could be faced in near future, also Humans (about artificial intelligence), and Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. All of which are not overly far-fetched, which I think is what makes them so interesting and scary at times too.
Beth: I had to stop watching Humans because it freaked me out so much. I need to catch up on that. I have heard amazing things about the new TV version of The Handmaid’s Tale but I stopped after episode 1 because I couldn’t hack it. I’d like to read it first. When I hear Dystopia I think about the usual… Orwell, The Scream, Francis Bacon, reality TV. I love a casual existential crisis.
The lyrics to ‘One Good Song’ include
‘Here we've got no galleries,
Here we've got no Greek beauties,
All we've got is supermarkets and free time,
Here we've got no fine red wines,
All we've got is parking fines,
How far can we get with metal minds?
One good song could be my way out of here,
One good song could be my way out of here,
The sun is shining in the sky,
I'll take off all my clothes you'll be my alibi,
One good song could be my way out of here,
I don't want to work 9-5,
I hate my job, I hate my life,
It's no joke, I can't cope,
Cos when I lose my mind, I lose all hope,
You're too thin, you're too fat,
He doesn't love you, don't go out in that,
Buy our things, buy them now,
Sofas, cereal, self-esteem now,
Sofas, lipstick, face cream, homes,
Mobiles, magazines, sex, lust, hope…(2)
A superb critique of many people’s lives in 21st Century Neoliberal Britain, did the song come out of particular experiences?
Beth: I worked at a rubbish coffee chain for two years and it got me really angry.  There’s only so long you can pretend to be enthusiastic about a skinny-one-shot-sugar-free caramel latte. This song just fell out of me in a 20 minute rage. It’s still really cathartic playing it on stage now. Without music I would probably be rocking in a corner shouting at a Coca Cola bottle.
You released an EP Get a Real Job in July, what sort of subject matter do you explore in the other 3 songs?
Beth: I just write about whatever is on my mind at the time. I get nervous talking about my songs, I prefer for people to just take from my songs whatever they can. I feel like the majority of the EP suits dancing around in your pants. I hope so. Try it.
Jamie: The only song on that EP I wrote any lyrics for was ‘Lobotomy Eyes’ (second verse), what I wrote about there was the feeling of the huge presence of information being constantly thrown at us by the mainstream media, which leads me to feel desensitised. but I think that part links to the rest of the song through the last line which talks of using the delicate balance this situation demands to make a genuine connection with real people and experiences.
Are your lyrics mostly based on experiences or inspired by other sources like films and books?
Beth: Always from experience. Once a song is written I try and work out what I was blabbing on about. Song-writing is very therapeutic. The occasional cultural reference will probably creep into my lyrics though because I am a massive nerd. I find books better company that people. OK not all people. Most people.
Jamie: the lyrics I have written have been about experience, but the phrase ‘Lobotomy Eyes’ comes from Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson when he was describing the passive nature of the partners and families of the Hell’s Angels, I thought that passive nature really related to what I was writing about there too.
How does the creative process work in Jitterz? Is there one main songwriter or is it very collaborative?
Jamie: Beth is definitely the main songwriter, she writes all the music and 99.999999% of the lyrics. But we have been becoming more collaborative in terms of writing and structuring recently. Most of the time, Beth will come to me with either a fully formed song, or a part-done one and we’ll iron out structure, I’ll hit things in time with it, then work on backing vocals if they add to the song.
Beth: Yeah, most of the time I will bring a song to Jamie and like magic he will come up with a beat which really lifts the song. I am a bit of an antisocial songwriter but it’s nice writing something and knowing Jamie can bring something so great to it.
What is the music scene like around Leicester? Are there plenty of opportunities for bands to play?
Jamie: I really enjoy the music scene in Leicester, and yes, there are plenty of opportunities to play. There are so many amazing artists and bands doing great things, and apart from standard gigs, there are collectives like House of Verse and Anerki that put on events with loads of weird interesting things happening, and it really feels like there is a community which welcomes and encourages new artists. Like any scene, there are some who try and take advantage, but since the community is so strong, I think it will always thrive.
Beth: The best thing about the Leicester music scene is the people. There are some really lovely people who put on shows/come to shows/fellow band-y people that make gigging extra great and worthwhile.
Beth, a lot of female musicians seem to experience a degree of sexism, what has your experience as musicians in the punk/DIY scene been like?
In Leicester there is a great community of DIY bands and in the company of them I feel completely supported and at home. I have experienced occasional sexism but we try and play DIY shows with nice people so it rarely happens in those circles.
It still happens sometimes though. Earlier this year a manager of a band we were supporting told me how pretty I was and how I need to be more outspoken on stage because I’ll never get anywhere being how I am. He also mansplained to me being in a band and how great it can be to release your own music and do your own videos. I couldn’t be arsed to tell him I have released my own music for years now and made me own videos and got by on my own. Whilst he was talking at me I nodded along, smiled sarcastically, and completely ignored everything he said to me.
Another time a guy heckled me and told me to “smile” so I dedicated the last song in my set to him and singled him out down the microphone. Don’t fuck with someone with a microphone my friend.
Capitalism tries to create a sense of anxiety and insecurity, in women particularly. Do you think a sense of community and exploring your creativity helps in resisting those pressures to conform and consume?
Beth: Yes. Being creative helps a lot of things. I am a pretty anxious person and throwing all that into being creative really helps. Writing songs helps me process my weirdness and my place in the world. When I perform on stage I feel like the strongest and best version of myself. There are some really great local queer bands that make my heart melt because it’s so exciting and essential for queer people to be visible. I get so excited seeing women/queer-folk in bands being bad-ass. It’s important to see people that look like you doing what you want to do.
Jamie: I would agree with that. For me, having a supportive group allows for a positive environment in which self-expression can flourish, and with that, I think, comes a sense of belonging and security, so I don’t need to look for that within consumer society, not that I think it can be found there anyway.
You’re a band that’s feminist and political- how has your politics developed? What were the influences ? Where would you place yourselves politically or is it a continual evolving of thought?
Jamie: I think that a person’s politics should be ever-evolving, because then you can constantly challenge your own thought and add more validity to it. My politics are based mainly around wanting all to be treated with respect, and being able to do and say what you like as long as that doesn’t impact on the happiness of others. Obviously, that’s an ideal, which I don’t think will be achieved fully, but it’s something I think we should aim for to improve things. My politics have developed as I have learnt more about the world, being relatively young, I know I still have a lot to learn, but I find that exciting and see it as a chance to better myself as I do. This feeds into feminism as it strives for equality, which is something everyone should have.
Beth: I hate Donald Trump. My theory is that Donald Trump will peel off his skin and underneath there will be Ronald McDonald. It is not a coincidence that both names have DONALD in. In all seriousness, I care strongly about a lot of things. Intersectional feminism is the bee’s knees and there’s a lot to talk about and stand up for and get angry about right now.
You played at Glitterfest in September-how did that happen? Could you tell us a bit more about it, it’s been organised by Intrsktr, an Intersectional Feminist group, hasn’t it?
Jamie: Intrsktr are friends of ours, as are some of the other bands on the lineup like Kermes and Ash Mammal, so that’s the connection. It came about because Leicester Pride was the day before, and that hasn’t felt very inclusive to many people, so this (like all things Intrsktr do) aims to be as inclusive as possible. It turned out to be an amazing event, so many people turned up, there was such a friendly atmosphere and it was a really lovely time. It really proved that Leicester has a great music community, and that we are proud to be who we are, and of what we can do.
Is there a particular scene that you feel part of or has particularly welcomed you?
Jamie: The gigs we have played in Nottingham for (promoters) Fanclub have been particularly lovely, they put so much effort into their promo, and they really look after the artists: last gig we played for them, they fed us, paid us, got an audience through the door and gave us free glitter! So I think everyone should show them all the love in the world as they are some of the best people.
Beth: We feel very welcome in our hometown Leicester too. There’s a great little community of DIY folk making great noise and just being lovely. AHEM Kermes, Ash Mammal, Anatomy. Take my Heart.
In the book One Chord Wonders, Laing comments that first wave punk created space for women to deconstruct and explore gender (3). Do you think that is still true of the punk/DIY scene or have hegemonic gender stereotypes reasserted themselves?
Jamie: I wouldn’t say that the hegemonic gender stereotypes ever really lost much assertion, as there’s still very obviously a gender imbalance in music as a whole, as well as in the Punk/DIY scene (although, within Punk/DIY, I’d say there is less so than in music in general). However, I would say that since Punk and DIY have become more mainstream since its first wave, it has been able to include more people, and it has that reputation of creating a safe space for those who need it, so I think that now there’s more non-binary presence in Punk and DIY, which is progress in the way of lessening the assertion hegemonic gender stereotypes hold, but there is still a long way to go, which is why things like Intrsktr need the support they deserve.
Beth: That’s a question and a half! I feel like there is a long way to go. Certain DIY circles can feel far more inclusive and stand for what we stand for. There’s definitely a feeling of support among queer DIY bands. But in the mainstream I feel like there are still a lot of boys being boring. And gross. Yes Cabbage I am talking about you. I just googled Cabbage to read up on it again and thankfully it came up with photos of actual cabbages. Far more appealing.
What are your plans for 2017 - will you be out gigging a lot, do you have more any planned releases?
Jamie: I am moving to Manchester for Uni soon, so I will be looking for gigs for us up there, and hopefully now we have our EP and are known a bit better than when we started, we can gig in other cities and grow further that way, but no releases planned for the time being, I think we’ll need to find how running the band from two cities goes for a while, but I’m really excited to see what we can do with what I can find up north.
Beth: I am going to write a casual rock opera whilst Jamie is at uni to keep me entertained. And learn 48984 more instruments. We will still be being jitter-y, and will still be gigging. I will basically turn up at Jamie’s halls like “MISS YOU! LET’S SING A SONG!”.
What bands and writers have you been enjoying lately?
Jamie: As I’ve been writing this, I’ve been listening to Charlotte Day Wilson, I love her voice, its super gritty but subtle at the same time. Also By The Rivers’ new EP, everything they release sounds so fresh, they’re always evolving and I love that in a band. I listen to a lot of Hip Hop too, so Ocean Wisdom is my main staple in that at the moment, I really love the self-deprecation, comedy and flow that is really prevalent in a lot of British rap, and the music behind it usually seems to have some kind of Jazz or Soul sample which sounds real smooth.
Beth: Yesterday I was casually listening to Stravinsky REALLY loud on headphones. I recently bought a hefty book of Mozart sonatas and selected works by Phillip Glass, and I have started destroying them on piano. I have been listening to Hanzo’s debut a lot. If you like Tarentino/surf listen to them and lap them up. I have also been obsessing over this one song from Frozen which is SO CATCHY. I blame my girlfriend – she made me watch it and because I am convinced there are lesbian undertones I now secretly love it.


Bibliography.
(1)’J’ is for ...Jitterz. July 2017, https://alphabetbands.wordpress.com/2017/07/28/j-is-for-jitterz/
(2)https://jitterz.bandcamp.com/track/one-good-song
(3)Laing, D. (2015) 'One Chord Wonders; Power and Meaning in Punk Rock', PM Press, Oakland, CA, USA.