Born of the disintegration of THE THROBS and ANATHEMA eighteen months ago, SURF WEASEL push an energetic and forceful sound _ ‘stormin’ South London hardcore with hints of INSTIGATORS, DEAD KENNEDYS, and latter day CITY INDIANS. Andy Chapman spoke with SURF WEASEL one Sunday lunchtime at the Pig and Parrot hostelry adjacent to Kew Gardens London Underground Station.
Surf Weasel: Pablo Videla/drums, Steve Cotton/vocals, Chris Nash/bass, James Jenkins/Guitar.
MRR: So who and what are Surf Weasel?
Steve: We’re just four geezers from South London who want to play dodgy old hardcore!
James: It’s all music maaan.
Pablo: We want to gig, gig, gig!
Steve: Yeah artistic freedom for oppressed minorities.
Chris: Play some more gigs other than the Bun Shop, Surbiton.
SC: We want people to think for themselves but don’t take my word for it. There’s no rigid band policy – the lyrics are mainly mine and if anybody objects they get chucked out….
CN: Yeah and if Steve objects to the music we’ll use his head as a bass drum!
JJ: We’ve just done the 7″ so all we’ve got left to complete in our “five year plan” is the album , 10″, 7″ picture disc, 7″ shaped picture disc, CD and triple live album with a 3D hypnotic sleeve.
MRR: Your material/structure of songs contains large sections of instrumental pieces. Why? Is this a reaction against “noise for noise sake”?
CN: I dunno, it isn’t a conscious thing.
SC: It’s definitely not deliberate.
CN: A lot of bands play really fast and loud – very often somewhere along the way the messages in the lyrics get lost. If there’s a good catchy tune then hopefully that draws peoples attention to the lyrics.
JJ: We all listen to a cross section of music so obviously that has some bearing on the music we play.
PV: I like anything from reggae to thrash metal.
CN: And I listen to all sorts of stuff – from classical music to Husker Du.
SC I think that the only band we all enjoy listening to is PETER AND THE TEST TUBE BABIES.
MRR: You’re a relatively “unknown quantity”. I use the term loosley. How difficult are you finding it to establish yourselves?
JJ: We’ve only done a few gigs but now the 7″ has been released we’re going to make an effort to push it.
SC: Obviously we want/need to do more gigs but we don’t want to do a blatant overkill by playing the same venue and doing the same set. Even in London it’s very quiet nowadays. Two years ago there were there were quite a few individual promoters putting on regular gigs at places like the Canterbury Arms in Brixton and The Robey in Finsbury Park. But now it’s really difficult. I once put on gigs at the William Morris Club in Wimbledon but due to my commitments with WEASEL and the record label I can’t exactly afford the time and I don’t want all that hassle again.
MRR: Over the last three to five years the “scene” has gradually declined…what with major record companies sniffing around, more often than not messages/ideas being diluted, the so_called “cross_over” thing ad nauseum. Would you accept this?
SC: I don’t think theres more punk bands on major labels today than there was fourteen years ago….
JJ: There’s so much better music around.
SC: It’s floundering at the moment – some direction and some purpose is needed!
CN: Because the major labels don’t like it – they’re only interested in big buck, big shit, big sales figures! Take note EMI.
SC: It’s like every type of music – it’s popularity can’t stay at the same level indefinitely because obviously music fads rise and decline. At the moment some of the best bands are the smaller ones – for example, PULLERMANN from Germany.
CN: The “scene” has got to have deteriorated because the UK SUBS are still playing and releasing records.
MRR: Now then, I think you should have some respect for Charlie Harper because he’s continually grafted away for may years doing what he enjoys and wants to do plus he hasn’t exactly compromised….
PV: Oh yeah
SC: Discharge have just reformed and guess who will be gigging with them?
SC: UK SUBS!
CN:I don’t think that there are many punk bands on major labels apart from people like NEW MODEL ARMY on EMI. There’s still a lot of “indie” bands.
JJ: But it’s a lot harder to find somewhere decent to play.
CN: A few years ago there were more places to gig – church halls, community centres – but now there’s nowhere unless you are really fortunate.
SC: It’s going to be hard for us to sell our single. Ten years ago we’d have easily shifted two or three thousand copies but now the demand isn’t there.
PV: Well, in this country anyway.
MRR: So how do you see the “scene” evolving?
JJ: Downwards with a current trend away from “angry” bands.
SC; There’s a spiral effect downwards from major labels. They’ve created a demand for CD’s and it’s going to eventually price aspiring bands out of the market.
CN: It’s definitely a conspiracy on behalf of the major labels!
SC: I’d say so! If you’re a young and new band who want to release five hundred CD’s then it would cost around two and a half grand – four thousand one hundred dollars. Not many people have got the cash to do that!
PV: With our record we just hope that John Peel picks up on it and plays it a few times…I think it will sell more in Europe than here.
CN: Hopefully people will get off their arses and do something.
SC: You’ve got to be positive!
MRR: But the song “A Mind Of Your Own” appears to focus on one of the more negative aspects of the “scene”….
SC: It isn’t meant to be specifically negative.
CN: It’s asking people to question – there’s still some people who believe blindly everything they read on a record sleeve…
SC: When I was younger I was like that with CONFLICT. But that particular song is basically encouraging people to question and not passively accept.
CN: The blind acceptance of a bands lyrics is no different from somebody quoting directly from the editorial of the Sun newspaper. Just because something is in print doesn’t necessarily meant that it’s true!
SC: People should sit back, work things through and generally try and find out more about a subject. But take it a step further and there’s people who even dress like their “heroes”.
CN: Look at those people who are into NEW MODEL ARMY – some of them wear clogs because members of the band wear them on their feet? What’s the practicality of that?
SC: “A Mind of Your Own” is not meant to be negative but there are people who might to claim to hold all the politically correct beliefs but are utter shits in the way that they treat others on personal level.
MRR: Obviously the only way we can expect to change society, “Smash the state” or whatever is to question how we behave/interact in relationships – whether it be with friends, lovers, parents/family or whoever. Basically if a large scale movement isn’t based on personal change also, then what hope remains?
SC: Yeah, in many ways relationships are more immediate and have a more direct impact than government policies. For instance a government policy can have an affect in a monetary way…whereas someone splitting up can totally fuck up your entire life on an emotional level. It’s far more personal and therefore has a far greater affect on the individual than just having to dodge the poll tax.
MRR: Regarding your recently recorded cover version of the DEAD KENNEDY’s “Pull My Strings” …what is your definition of the “sell out”?
PV: I dunno, because some bands get accused of “selling out” when their popularity increases which is just stupid.
JJ: I’d say that a “sell out” is based around money and not because more people happen to be interested in what a band is doing.
CN: New Model Army – an obvious choice!
SC: People have accused NAKED RAYGUN and BAD BRAINS of selling out. That’s fair enough because both bands claimed to stand for something then they turned their backs on it by becoming entangled in subsidaries of major record companies.
CN: It’s stupid to put long term restrictions on a band so that people can turn round later and use it as ammunition to slag you off.
SC: There’s things I believed in five years ago which I no longer believe in now. We should be able to admit when we’re wrong and change our outlooks – not just make blanket statements on how we are always going to live our lives.
PV: How much money and where do I sign?
MRR: So what made you decide to rework “Pull My Strings”?
SC: Well in 1980 the DEAD KENNEDY’s were invited to play an awards ceremony organised by a Californian music magazine called BAM and they did a version of THE KNACK song “My Sharona” but with different words. It’s a dig at THE KNACK for “selling out” and not playing the music they liked but what the record company executives wanted them to play.
CN: It’s a funny song and fits in well with what we’re about and the other songs in our set.
MRR: I gather that one of you is involved with a local theatre group…
CN: Yeah, I’m in the Green Theatre Company who are based in New Malden. It’s a youth project and a registered charity and we’ve also done performances for the elderly and people with disabilities. The Green Theatre Company generally keeps the thugs off the streets and puts them on stage! Our productions vary enormously, from Shakespeare _ we’re doing “Twelfth Night” at the Convent – to Steinbeck’s “Of Mice And Men” and musicals. The standard is actually really good.
MRR: Would SURF WEASEL ever do something live with a small theatre performance on the same bill?
CN: I don’t see any reason why the two types of performance shouldn’t be mixed. It would be good to get a theatre audience into the music and the music types into the theatre. Both would find out what they’ve been missing instead of just taking the piss out of each other.
MRR: Finally, what’s you favourite colour?
SC, I’ d say Red.