I hold my hand up: I know nothing about hard core punk! Which made me even more interested in interviewing James Scott of The Domestics. With a respectable PhD title and a challenging job at the Data Archive of the University of Essex, England, he makes a very interesting new guest on my blog.
– So, James, tell me about your band.
How It All Started
– Right… I don’t know where to start… I suppose it all started around 2011. I hadn’t done a band for a good few years (I’ve been doing bands since I was about 14). I’ve been in quite a few bands over the years, but in my early twenties I decided I had enough of that, so I left. It turned out to be a bit of a horrible car crash of a band. It wasn’t good!
– Was it a garage band?
– Yes, but more of the poppy punk, more like The Buzzcocks. So I got to that point and then decided I wasn’t going do any bands anymore. But then in 2011, I bought some studio equipment for home, just to mess around, and ended up writing about a dozen songs. So I thought it’d be quite nice to do these maybe with a full band, and maybe a couple of gigs. Got a few guys together and we thought we’d do a demo. The demo turned into sort of fourteen tunes and we ended up putting it out as an album instead, doing quite a few gigs.
First Album “Keep It Lean” – Demo That Got Out of Hand!
– Did you manage to find a publisher?
– We just did it ourselves. All we were going to do was just put it out on a CD and give it away to some people just as a way of getting some gigs. And we thought: this is coming out really, really well, let’s put it out as an album! So we all put some money into it and I am kind of glad we did. The first album was called ‘Keep It Lean’. Effectively it is a demo that got out of hand, really. But what it did do is it meant that we had something we could have on our stall at the gigs. It is still selling now, so we are glad we did it that way. So we started playing out in Manchester, got a gig in Bristol, and it sort of snowballed.
– I was looking at your Facebook page: there is quite a lot of stuff going on there! You have a new album?
History of the Band
– There is quite a lot happening! So, we did the first album. Then about a year later we did a 7-inch with six tracks on it (The G.D.P.E.P.). We’ve been on a few compilations, 7-inches, etc. Recently we recorded a new album, but we also recorded some other tracks in the same session. Some of them are coming out on compilations throughout the course of 2015, and four of them are coming out as a split EP with another East Anglian hardcore band called Volunteers. They’ve been going for years and years. We went on tour with them a few months ago as well.
So we have a lot going on: we’ve got the album coming out, we’ve got the split with Volunteers coming out in probably about three month’s time, a compilation that will be out around March: loads of stuff, to be honest. We already have another twenty songs in hand that we haven’t even worked at as a band yet. I guess we’ll record them in the summer, maybe for release in the end of 2015 – early 2016. We’ve always got more songs than we need.
Combining Song-Writing With Work
– When do you find the time for this? You have got a full-time job!
– Yes, I work full-time. All of us except one work full-time (the other one is unemployed at the moment). When I write music, I kind of know what it is going to sound like in my head before I record, and then all I need to do is find maybe an hour to sit down and jot it on a sheet. I demo it all up at home in a rough form – guitar, bass, drum machine and vocals, and give it to the band to learn.
– So you are the one who composes the songs?
– Yes, I write them all. The other guys throw in some ideas, but the original idea comes from me. It doesn’t take me long to do demos, as I’ve kind of done most of the work in my head just as part of walking around.
Presence on YouTube
– I’ve heard a few of your songs on YouTube. One of them sounds like proper heavy metal.
– Oh, I wonder which one that is! There is such a lot of our stuff of YouTube, to be perfectly honest. There is loads of it. Even the amount of live clips of us! Some of it is really well filmed; some of it is terrible. It’s nice that people want to film it and put it on YouTube.
– Have you got a lot of fans?
– Depends how you judge it. In terms of Facebook ‘likes’, which a lot of bands put a lot of faith in, we’ve got around 700-800 likes, which, given that we play massively uncommercial music, is pretty reasonable. But how many of those people will get off their asses to actually come and see you play, or go out and buy your record as soon as it is released, is another matter. I think bands put far too much emphasis on Facebook likes. People ask me to check something out and, OK, I like it if it’s good, but I am not going to go and check them out unless they come and play on my doorstep. It works both ways. I know someone who booked an American band overhere that have about 20,000 likes on Facebook, and six people turned up! So it doesn’t necessarily equate to the real world, you know.
We play sometimes in Sudbury where most of us come from, but there is no scene here. I grew up in Clacton-on-Sea, actually, but now live in Sudbury, Suffolk. Four out of five lives around there; the other one lives the other side of Ipswich. Typically, when we travel to a gig, we end up having to go up to Ipswich, go to the other side of Ipswich, then come back and then drive on to wherever we are playing, so it adds miles and miles on to where we are going. We can pull a reasonable crowd in Ipswich. We do some fairly big gigs up in Manchester; same across in Bristol, Sheffield, Leeds, Brighton. To be honest, we generally play at bigger crowds at other parts of the country than we are getting at home.
The other year we did the Strummercamp festival, which is a music awareness charity in memory of Joe Strummer from The Clash. We’ve played the TNS Records 10-year anniversary (I think that was end of last year, might have been early this year) – this was pretty big. During the day there was about 1,500 people I think. We played the after show. We’re doing the Manchester Punk Festival in April next year. That should be good, I would imagine that will be a big deal. You get all the punks coming from Liverpool; the other ones will come out from Leeds and Sheffield. It’s big enough that it should attract enough people. So that would be good. We played Bristol’s Punk Picnic this year; that was good. Steel City Punks Picnic in Sheffield this year. So it’s nice; we’ve done a few little tours. We’re doing the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool again this year. Biggest punk festival in the UK. That’ll be fun!
Plans to Tour Around Europe
We are going to go in Europe in June next year. The tour is not booked yet. It has been hard enough to find a nice little window of time when we can actually all be free for a week, especially as the bass player now has got a kid as well. It’s quite difficult for him to get big chunks of time away. But we’ll definitely do it next year. We’ll probably got out for about 6-9-10 days. It will be just us, The Domestics, and we will book it up probably with some local bands when we get over there. I think it’s easier to book Europe if you just go as one band. The original plan (we were going to do it last year) was that two bands would do it together, travel together. It turned out that what we want is not necessarily what the other band would want as well, so it’s hard to book dates, and we didn’t end up doing it. We had transport issues as well. This year our transport issues are sorted. I think what we’ll do is get the ferry over, maybe do a date or two around Holland, maybe do a day or so in Belgium. We probably won’t stray too far into Europe; we’re looking at fairly small margins in terms of what we’re gonna get paid. And to be honest, most of the bands that I know who go Europe, kind of go, do it and if you’ve come home and broke even, you’d probably give it another go. There ain’t much money in punk!
– I don’t imagine you do it for the money, though. You do it for the following, don’t you?
– Absolutely! You wouldn’t play the music we play if you were doing it for the money.
– I don’t really know much about punk, but where do you think you fall within the music spectrum? Would you group yourself together with bands like Clash or Sex Pistols?
– No, not really. Don’t get me wrong; when I was about 14, those were the bands that got me into punk, although that was well past them being active or being at their peak. I heard that stuff from older punks that I knew who were ten years older than me. I really liked it, but then I started getting into the hard core kind of stuff, so The Pistols and Clash were like a gateway, if you like.
What we do is probably more influenced by quite a lot of Japanese hard core bands – bands like Gauze, Kreigshog, bands like that. Also a lot of US bands, probably more early 80’s US bands like Minor Threat, Black Flag, that kind of stuff when things started getting a little bit faster, a little bit more aggressive. Also the UK bands like Chaos UK, Discharge. It’s a real mix of US, UK and Japanese stuff.
It’s kind of weird, because when we go out and play odd bills in this country, there aren’t many bands really doing that, even within the punk scene, so we do stand out a bit in that respect. Not particularly by design, but this is just how it is. There is not really many bills that we play with bands that sound like us. There aren’t that many bands, or if there are, they are only vaguely similar. The record label that have put the CD out (TNS Records – they are a great label) – if you look at their bands, they are mostly much more poppy, bits of sca punk, but there aren’t any bands on TNS that sound like us at all! A lot of people say: this seems a very odd label for you to be on! But they are great people; they really like us and we really like them, so it works out fine.
– Don’t you think that in this case you could try and make it bigger?
– Maybe. It’s hard to say really. At the end of the day, even if any opportunities do open, we won’t be able to do many. None of us are twenty, we are all in our thirties, we’ve all got full-time jobs. To be honest, I don’t think that we are commercial enough and would get the opportunities to make it much bigger anyway. We can probably get to the stage (perhaps in a couple of years) when we can go and tour the US, do maybe one coast, but we are not doing anything vaguely commercial, really.
That said, there are things you can do, but when you are in your thirties and one of you has got a kid and you haven’t got a lot of money and four of you work full-time, it’s quite difficult. You’ve got partners, responsibilities and stuff like that. I do the band, and I run a record label as well. I run Kibou Records. It co-released our first album, “Keep It Lean”, and co-released our first 7-inch. It’s been involved with some other releases as well.
I have another band that I do as well – Dis-Tank. We have got a 7-inch coming out, I think in February-March time, which is partly through to Kibou Records, partly through Spanish labels as well. So I’ve got that on the go as well. To be honest, I am really looking forward to Christmas to relax. What I’ve been doing over the past few weeks is trying to get everything as far through the processes as it can. The split 7-inch with Volunteers that The Domestics are doing went to the pressing plant yesterday. Dis-Tank’s 7-inch has also gone to the pressing plant. Everything has kind of gone out, so two weeks not doing much will be very nice. I know that in the new year I’ve got to start booking this European tour. I’m in the middle of booking a South East coast tour as well, which will take us down to Canterbury, Hastings, Brighton and Portsmouth. It sounds like that is will be really easy: just to book four gigs, but finding four gigs on consecutive nights in towns, cities that are on a sensible route, actually takes quite a lot of doing.
Promoting The Band – Do It Yourself
– You are doing it yourself rather than through a PR agency?
– We do it ourselves. That’s the thing about punk, it really is a DIY kind of thing. This is what appealed to me about it when I first got into it: this idea that if you want to do something, you don’t have to wait for somebody else to come and help you; you do it yourself. That’s always been what appeals to me about it. I didn’t have lots of guitar lessons or anything. When I picked up a guitar, when I was 13-14, I didn’t start learning other people’s songs. That was the reason for me to have a guitar: I wanted to write songs to do a band.
Another thing I do is I do promote gigs sometimes. We’ve had some quite good bands come down and play in Ipswich and Sudbury. This is something I have done so much less of in the last year, as I have been so busy. Another great thing about the DYI aspect of punk is that you end up making all these friends in different towns and cities. Most of them tend to play in bands as well, so you get them down to play a gig in your local area, and then when you need a tour date, they help you with that. We know loads of bands like that now.
Punk as Friendship and Cooperation
– So it’s not about competition.
– It’s about cooperation and about the friendships we made as well. There just doesn’t seem to be posing, posture. It’s all about helping each other out. It’s a really nice friendly scene. It’s kind of weird, but for someone who is involved in it, it is pretty obvious. A lot of people who don’t know anything about the punk scene are probably thinking that it is a quite scary thing. Most of us, though, got jobs, do normal stuff. I know quite a few punks who are tattooists or piercers, so to the outside non-punk world they may look unemployable, but it’s everyday stuff in punk and people are earning a living where they have facial tattoos or whatever.
Members of the Band
– Do you want to introduce the band to us?
– First person who got in was a guy called Rhodes. When I first moved to Sudbury, I didn’t know any musicians there at all. I moved in with my girlfriend who lived there (I used to live in Colchester at the time). I just put some adverts in shop windows. It turned out that the first guy was the bass player. He started on guitar. We had another bass player, but he was useless, so we put Rhodes on bass and had no guitarist.
Punk Musicians Can Play
Rhodes is an excellent musician, he can play anything. He plays stuff like The Cardiacs, some of those proggy punk bands, really crazy times signatures. He likes the circusy kind of music as well. He can play anything, he’s a really great musician, which again is not something you necessarily associate with punk bands. I think the idea that punk bands can’t play is something that was talked about in the early days. And really, when you listen to The Clash, you think they play pretty well. I think it was about shocking: look, they can be successful and can’t play, but actually they can. The Pistols could play, as well as The Who. It’s as simple as that!
He’s good at the technical side of stuff as well, so whenever we book gigs, I tend to get him to do the PA, run the sound. We’ve been through a couple of drummers. We lost the first drummer earlier this year. His other commitments were becoming too much and we had to turn down too many gigs. As it turns out, we got Simon in the band who has been our drummer since February – March time. He’s given us a massive lift. I hate to say this, but he is a better drummer. We’re at least 20% faster than we were with the old guy. Then we’ve got Ted Mint on guitar who is an old friend of Rhodes, and then Ed Ache. He used to be in a pretty popular band. He was with them for about ten years – a band called ICH. He wasn’t in when we recorded the first album, but it’s really good now. We got a new drummer, Rhodes switched to bass.
Current Line Up
I don’t think it can sound any better than it does. To be honest, I’d be absolutely gutted if we lost anyone! It just gels really well. We all get on well, aside from music stuff, we are very good mates. I can’t fault it really. At the end of the day, it’s all fast and loud. We just have less guitar solos, songs are getting shorter, that’s it. Most of our songs I guess are roughly about a minute long each. Some of them are shorter than that, some them are up to two minutes. That’s why our first album is called “Keep It Lean”. If you can’t play a hard core punk song in a minute – a minute and a half, you’re not really doing it right. There is at track on the new album “Of Routine and Ritual” – it’s 38 seconds long. It has a verse, a chorus, another verse, another chorus, a middle eight, another instrumental bit, another verse and another chorus, which is repeated at the end with a harmony. You don’t need it to be any longer than that! It’s a proper song, it’s just squished down into 38 seconds. Not just a noise.
The thing with us is, we want it to be fun, fast and all the rest of it, but there should always be something that people can sing along to at the gig. In amongst all the aggression and the speed, there should be a song in it there, something you can shout along to. It shouldn’t just be a noise. It should always be a song in there, and I think we all agree on that. We don’t want to just be a fast loud noise – and nothing else, nothing memorable. Admittedly, at the velocity that we play it might take a few listens to actually latch on to that. We do have people at the front at the gigs, grabbing the mic and sing along, which is great. All that makes that communal kind of feel, which is what we do it for.
And, finally, here is the full audio version of this interview:
The new album, ‘Routine & Ritual’ is out now on CD:
(TNS Records) and vinyl (co-released between Imminent Destruction Records, Kibou Records, TNS Records and Orchestrated Dystopia Records).