Halloween saw the release of possibly the year’s most fun, energy and deliriously addictive album in the shape of Tales From The Wasteland from UK punk folksters Smokey Bastard. Bursting with 13 tracks of essential raucousness that come with an intoxicating mix of traditional folk, real punk, and deeply infectious enthusiasm, the album from the Reading band is frenzied and irresistible. Currently deep into a tour supporting the release guitarist Matt spared time to talk to us about the band and album.
A big welcome and many thanks for taking time during your busy tour to talk to us here at The RingMaster Review.
Firstly please give us a breakdown of the members and their roles within Smokey Bastard.
Currently, Macca plays the face, guitars and mandolin, Mike vomits gravel and plays the bass and Aled plays all the stuff that’s too hard. Buttons plays the drums, apparently. I (Matt) do some guitars most of the time. We swap instruments a lot. There’s some mad woman called Lottie playing accordion at the moment. I don’t know. The line-up changes a lot and it’s hard to keep track. I’m fairly certain that there are between five and nine of us…
The band started in 2007? Give us some idea of those initial years for the band.
We just played for fun and as a hobby. We’ve never really aimed for success or anything but little opportunities would occasionally pop up. I think if you’re aim is to ‘make it’ you’ll probably end up compromising musically and failing anyway, so we try and avoid thinking like that and have fun with it.
How has the band evolved from then over the four years to this point in time?
It’s got better. We’re pretty embarrassed by a lot of our old material; it’s too generic and derivative. The new album feels a lot more progressive and unique to us. If The Dreadnoughts have taught us anything (and they’ve taught us lots of things…,) it’s that there’s still life in the genre of folk punk provided that you’re dedicated to avoiding complacency and formulaic song writing… that, and how to open a wine bottle with a shoe.
Would you say the album fully encapsulates your thoughts going into recording it or went further and maybe surprised you a little?
It’s much closer to what we wanted it to be; certainly compared to the first album. The first album never really sounded the way it was intended and we were sick of it before we even had the hard copies. The new album sounds how I’d hoped and imagined it would in my head. And the item itself – the artwork, the packaging, it’s just a beautiful thing. I want one.
Who and where do most of the songs come from and what is the writing process leading to their final version?
Mike and I tend to write a song and then we all get together and flesh it out. Aled describes the process thusly; “Matt or Mike bring in a lyrical potato and the rest of us bring a selection of different eyes, eyebrows, noses, mouths, ears, facial hair, hats and feet to make it into a delightful Mr. Potato Head. We then change things until it looks like Jeff Goldbum. That’s how we like it”.
Your sound has obvious influences in the likes of Flogging Molly, The Pogues and Dropkick Murphys but is there something further that inspired the folk side of your sound?
Yeah. Folk music. The Transatlantic Sessions are a goldmine. If you can find Arthur McBride and the Sergeant by Paul Brady then go and listen to that; it’s a prime example of the power of folk music to tell enthralling and immersive stories. We’re also big on Americana for the same reason – The Boss and Tom Waits and the like. They write mythical songs that make you feel like you’ve watched a whole movie in four minutes.
Lyrically you are not as openly forceful as the likes of Dropkick Murphys and infuse great humour to your intent, is this deliberate or simply a natural thing form the personalities involved?
I’m guessing by ‘forceful’ you mean we don’t put across any specific political agenda? Personally I find explicitly political song writing kind of naff. That’s just my opinion. There are probably enough punk songs about not liking Nick Griffin now. It should kind of go without saying. That being said, I once saw an Interview with Matt Kelly from Murphys saying if you want to know about politics, read a book and don’t listen to college dropouts in punk bands. I think humour in song writing is important in order to prevent you from taking yourself too seriously. Dropkicks use a lot of humour in their song writing too, after all.
What are the literal influences that have inspired the lyrical writing style of the band?
The Black Freighter storyline in Watchmen, Viz magazine… I can’t really think of any specific literary influences. We do like good prose though…and good grammar…and deliberately bad grammar, wot we find hilarious.
It probably is wrong to single out any tracks when all are so inventive and enjoyable but please give some insight into a couple, ‘Mongrel’ with its potent message and ‘Dear Mol’ which I have to ask did it come from someone’s personal experience?
Mike wrote Mongrel. Its message concerns the artificially constructed notion of ‘native’ Britons and the benefits of multiculturalism. Mol is loosely based on personal experiences, yes…
The art work on Tales From The Wasteland is stunning where and who did that come from?
It came from the majestic Tom McGrath. He’s an art student from Lancashire that we found on deviant art. We had an ambitious concept with regards to the album artwork so we were lucky to find someone who could actually pull it off as beautifully as he did. We wanted to make the physical copy as desirable as possible to draw people away from buying it in a digital format at 192kbs a second. As great an invention as the iPod is, I think it will probably ruin everything. It encourages people to buy individual songs rather than albums. You can’t listen to a great album on shuffle. Fuck shuffle. Fuck it
The song is about a guy who is a bit of a letch, but for the video we thought an actual vampire would give us more scope for visual gags. We sat in the pub and worked out the story, borrowed a chat up line from my friend Ed (Do you want to come back to my place? I have both Savage Garden albums…) and then got the awesome fellas at Pork Chop Pictures to make it happen. If you enjoyed the video go check out their web series Meat. Funny stuff.
You have just started an extensive UK tour in support of the album and we are grateful you have made time for this, what can people expect from your renowned live shows and where can they best find info on dates and places etc?
Our website is looking a little ‘under construction’ at the moment but the gig list is bang up to date. Head over to www.smokeybastard.com and while you’re at it, friend us on Facebook…
Good luck with the album and tour and again thanks for sharing time with us. Would you firstly like to end with a thought for the day?
I’m all out. Here’s one courtesy of The Reverend Kevin Eldon in the 90s:
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!” said my daughter the other day whilst giving birth. “EEEUUUUURRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHH IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS!!!!”
“Ah my poor fool” I said, “for it is written that pain in childbirth is God’s punishment to women for Eve’s betrayal of God in Eden, and therefore you deserve every scintilla of agony you are experiencing oh whorrish spawn of mine. And thus, justly chastised, did she complain more quietly…
And secondly the track Mong Some Hoof, there is really a game it was inspired from and what’s the chance of it catching on as a craze sweeping the nation? Maybe some mid set fun on your tour dates?
The game Mong Some Hoof is one of many games invented inside Mike’s university house “The Fat Handed Twat’s Crooked House”. The game itself involves partly inserting a shoe onto your favourite foot and trying to flip it, via a kick, into your own mouth without touching it with any other part of your body. A fun game, involving black eyes and frustration. A partial list of other games includes:
Can you strictly come mong some segway?
(a two player variant on Mong Some Hoof)
You probably shouldn’t engage with the dress down
(Looking up whilst standing in a doorway and jumping as high as you dare)
(Not telling a house mate that we had the internet. This game can last up to two months)
Antigravity where’s Merick
(Hiding pictures of goats in Matt’s textbooks)
Skim the chief
(playing darts where each throw requires the dart to touch the ceiling before the board)
Stab the loaf
(A variant of skim the chief where the dart must pass through a slice of bread thrown by a second player)
Read the Tales From The Wasteland review @ http://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/smokey-bastard-tales-from-the-wasteland/