Punk has been treated to some exceptional albums so far this year and none any better than the new album from UK giants Goldblade. Their sixth album, The Terror Of Modern Life, is a masterful, openly diverse, and ferocious strike of irresistible and inciting riots of invention and enterprise. One of the most thrilling releases to unleash its triumph upon 2013 so far, the thirteen track brawl snarls and provokes thoughts and senses with pure imaginative craft. Seizing the opportunity to talk with band founder and vocalist, John Robb, we charged up our questions to ask one of the genre’s biggest creators about the album, punk itself, and his own history.
Hi John and welcome to the site, thank you for sharing time to chat with us.
Album six, The Terror Of Modern Life, has just unleashed its confrontation on the world; does the feel, thrill, and anticipation change from release to release?
Of course…and it gets to be a bigger thrill. It’s a mixture of thank fuck we are still doing this and surviving in the collapsing music business and still have enough inspiration to still want to make music!
With this album we felt really excited. We knew we were onto something good with this record a long time ago. We got the sound we wanted from the start and we worked hard to get the songs right. We wanted a variation of styles- from fast kinda hardcore rushes to anthemic punk to dark tribal stuff to droning post black metal apocalyptic pieces. It’s like a collection of all the various strands of punk and its off shoots – we wanted something people could dance to at gigs, something full of hooks but also fuck with things a bit as well. We wanted to make a record that reflected the underlying darkness and unease of these times, times where the word ‘terror’ is the key word like the word ‘clash’ was the key word in the punk times and caused the classic band to name themselves.
We immersed ourselves in the album and pushed ourselves to the brink. We then made the sound the way we wanted, in a way we never got close to before. We wanted something darker and heavier- we wanted the bass to sound right- I had reformed my old band The Membranes for a few gigs and played bass again and it reminded me of the fundamental power of that instrument if you stick it though a rat pedal and play it with a direct venom- this cross pollinated into Goldblade and infected the album and it really places us back into the place we wanted to be- that twisted end of punk occupied by Killing Joke, Dead Kennedys, Stranglers, Black Flag, whilst continuing the great quest of the Clash but updated to a 21st century feel because we have never stopped listening to new music.
The year has already seen the outstanding new UK Subs album XXIV provoke and impress and now your scintillating encounter, it feels like the ‘old brigade’ is still driving and leading UK punk, does it feel like that for you?
There are great younger bands around- Dirt Box Disco album is stuffed full of great songs- I think it’s a case of older bands not giving up in their dotage- with discipline and concentration you can make the best and most urgent history of your history. Punk, by its nature, doesn’t have leaders- we just operate in our own space! The UK Subs album is great and Charlie is an inspiration to anyone, there have also been great albums from Killing Joke, the Stranglers and other bands from that generation- it’s like those bands have found their teeth again- maybe they also feel the urgency of these times…
The Terror Of Modern Life is as with your previous albums a collection of songs which steer through, challenge, and stand eye to eye with injustices and social wrongs, but your most potent and venomous yet?
I think things are getting a bit helter skelter out there and it’s hard not to reflect this, the last ten years has seen things get very unsteady in the world and that’s bound to get into the music- we have no interest in lecturing people, we just reflect what’s happening- people can make their own minds up or just dance to the music- it does not concern us what people think of the words, the world seems to be in a fast forward towards several different conclusions and out album reflects this tension.
Do you feel the impact of politically fuelled songs whether on the personal, social, or world level is still as strong as it used to be within not only punk but music as a whole? Do people and especially the latest generation of young people listen to songs and music the same way as those before them?
To be honest the impact has lessened in some ways and yet in others it’s got stronger- music, the music discourse is no longer driven by the counter culture and there are many strands of thought out there, but that’s inevitable because people don’t have the time and the impact of being a political song is less than when it first came about in modern culture. I don’t think young people are less political than they were years ago- that’s a bit of a myth. Not all of punk was political and it didn’t have to be- punk was many things- it could be comic book like the Ramones or political like Crass and both were genius for me. I think people sometimes feel overawed by the world these days and feel detached from the political process and that’s creating dangerous vacuums. We don’t claim to have all the answers but we have definitely have all the questions.
You obviously grew up with and were inspired by the birth of punk and the bands sculpting its first mighty wave; do you still see and feel the same essences politically and musically in today’s punk bands outside of yourselves and the still provocative bands from back then?
First wave was important for me but I don’t wallow in there for ever- those records always sound magical and powerful but I love lots of new music as well even it affects me in a different kind of way. Modern punk bands are as varied musically and politically as any bands were back then, it has changed in many ways as well- even if it was a business then as well it seemed to be a bit more haphazard and suicidal- now it’s a long term operation and band’s gigs are very different. In some ways punk has become a tradition like jazz or blues and a way of making music or dressing- and that’s understandable – the music and the style are very attractive and create a cool- the only danger is getting trapped which is a contradiction of the punk spirit!
For those unaware of your intensive history within music could you give us the history of John Robb between say ’77 and the emergence of Goldblade?
Wow, that’s long and complex!
Born in Blackpool, formed The Membranes in the punk period and also started a fanzine called Rox. The Membranes became a big underground band with noisy records inspired by the dark zone in the middle of punk and post punk- we toured the world and were critic and John Peel faves. At the same time I started writing for Zig Zag and then Sounds and covered all the fallout of the punk generation from the goth to grunge scene to Madchester to baggy to punk itself- being the first person to interview Nirvana and also coining the phrase Britpop, formed Goldblade in the mid-nineties to fly the flag for rock n roll in the middle of the non-rock n roll decade! Wrote books on punk and the Stone Roses and the eighties underground scene as well as doing TV and radio stuff…and that all continues now with Goldblade playing all over the world etc…
As you mentioned your writing, something you are renowned, has that experience and aspect of your life impacted or brought a view upon your music lyrically and in regard to creating sounds which brings something different to Goldblade, something other bands might lack?
Of course, even for the simple reason that I hear lots of music and it also keeps me fully engaged in the culture and keeps me interested and investigating everything. I’m a compulsively creative person who keeps making, creating and writing stuff. Apart from hearing so much stuff I think the impact on Goldblade is more minimal as that is a very instinctive thing, we make the music that entertains us and the songs are kicked about in the rehearsal room till they sound and feel right to us and not to fit in with anybody, anywhere!
Listening to The Terror Of Modern Life alone, one has the sense inspirations are far wider than just the early days and sounds of punk. What does give you food for thought musically?
You got it- some people think we operate only within punk but we have a far wider listening base than that- even punk was originally about dub and other musics- it’s good to mess with things but keep the focus and the energy- sometimes it’s great to switch to fast and furious punk rushes just to get that adrenalin fix, sometimes it’s good to find a different rhythm or atmosphere- it could be from black metal or from dub reggae but it must always be put through the Goldblade mangle and made to sound like us.
Did you approach the new album any differently to your previous releases?
We wanted something a bit more extreme, more heavier, and rawer; we felt the last album had been too tame and too much click track and production- we wanted the record to sound live and if the songs speeded up towards the end then great! Because they speeded up with excitement- ‘rock n roll should speed up’ as Guy Stevens told the Clash during London Calling recordings…we had to record the album twice because of a fallout with the label but the second time we recorded it in two days flat and mixed it in 2 days- the urgency was vital to the album, it gives it an edge and we are addicted to the edge…
The songs on the album strike hard lyrically and deliver them with some of the most deviously addictive hooks and grooves, which comes first in your songs as a generalisation?
It can be either- we can have songs and bash them out in the rehearsal room and work out a vocal melody or it can be a phrase or some lyrics that come with a tune and we build the song around it- it’s a very varying process.
Is there any particular moment on The Terror Of Modern Life which gives you the strongest satisfaction?
I think the playing by the band is amazing, brother Pete’s guitar is fantastic- every time I listen I hear something new, even on the songs I mainly wrote! And getting the bass sound the way I wanted it to be- as heavy and raw as it should be- that made a big difference- when we finished the album we were really happy with it, I listened to it over and over- normally you feel a bit down when it’s finished but this time I could actually listen to this as an album and felt really excited by the sound and the reaction we have got so far with all the great reviews has proved this.
And anything you would have changed or like to have evolved further in hindsight?
That’s for the next album!
I would change the way people consume music- I think it’s getting almost impossible for people to record and release music now unless they are rich- the download thing has killed it for small underground labels and studios and everyone is really struggling out there- this is our first release where most of the people listening will have not bought the record but downloaded it from the internet and from the pirates- it doesn’t make me angry as technology is part of music- but it may mean that making another album may be almost impossible for us and lots of other bands. We will have to think of other ways of making and releasing music in the future.
The late seventies and punk gave freedom and realisation to bands and people that they could make music as they wanted, on their own terms. Do you think that freedom or realisation is still as potent, has the internet and the digital world given back that belief?
In some ways yes- you can get heard more now and the consumer has the power which we love- cult bands can be heard now and don’t have to grovel to the mainstream media for attention- that’s been very important to the underground and made a real difference- this is coupled with the real problems that many studios, labels and shops are having because of the pirate thing- we felt that if you want to give your music away for free that’s up to you and not someone else but we realise that there is nothing we can do about it- the internet is young and its effect on culture cannot be measured yet- at the moment its chaos out there and like the wild west- and as punks we love that aspect of it but we are not so servile that we want people we don’t know to make money out of us!
There has always been a unity and kinship between punk bands, certainly in its origins, do you still think it exists, can you feel that unity now?
Yes we all know each other, some bands are more friendly than others but there is a unity- I think we all face the same problems!
You have just come off a tour with the Misfits, and a band we love and feature constantly on our podcasts The Bone Orchard and The Ringmaster Review, Dirt Box Disco who you mentioned earlier. How was the tour and did you have to put those punk n roll freaks from DBD in their place 😉
DBD are good people and a great band and there songs are killer- I think they will be one of the biggest bands on the scene by the end of the year and we can then go and support them. It was great to tour with them and I had to chuckle when we played with them at the Manchester Ritz when their stomach problems were quite loud back stage. 🙂
You have toured all over the world it seems, any particular places other than the usual countries which you enjoyed and surprised you with their knowledge of your sounds?
Algeria was amazing- we were the first band to play there for 20 years and yet people knew our songs – that’s the power of YouTube for you- the songs that were on YouTube they were singing along- we have played all over- we have played Russia a few times and there is talk of going to China…
Once more a big thanks John for talking with us, anything you would like to add?
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The RingMaster Review 30/05/2013
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