No More Gigs speaks to James Scott from the Domestics and Dis-Tank

James Scott is a scene veteran, currently in The Domestics and Dis-Tank. We caught up with him to speak about The Domestics new album, and much more.

The new Domestics album Routine and Ritual sounds more raw and aggressive than your previous releases. Who were you all drawing on when you wrote and recorded it?

Well firstly I’d have to say that I don’t think any of the previous releases were necessarily any less aggressive. I would concede though that the recordings didn’t perhaps didn’t capture that as well as Routine and Ritual and the other tracks being released from the same session. Previously we’d always recorded on a digital multitracker in whatever room we could get hold of at the time – a rehearsal space, Rik Spanner’s front room, wherever. Given the limitations of that setup I think Rhodes (The Domestics’ bass player) did a great job, but going to a ‘proper’ studio with a producer that’s been recording hardcore since the late 80s has meant we now have a record that sounds how all the other releases were meant to sound! We cranked everything up into the red a bit, recorded all the basic bass, drums and rhythm guitar live – mostly in one or two takes then stuck on the second guitar and all the vocals so it has an immediacy about it – we don’t like to labour these things; if you do you lose the energy. We went in knowing exactly what we were doing and exactly what we wanted and just bashed it out, no messing.
I guess I’m best placed to talk about the writing as I write all the songs. That’s not to say that they don’t get tweaked by the others because they all chuck ideas in and put their stamp on them but I write them initially and bring in demos to rehearsal. The influences I was drawing on were the ones I’ve always drawn on for The Domestics’ songs – classic Japanese hardcore like GAUZE, FRAMTID and more recent stuff like KRIEGSHÖG or D-CLONE. Then there’s the old US hardcore stuff like CIRCLE JERKS’ first album, BLACK FLAG, OUT COLD, NEGATIVE APPROACH, that 8 track ACID REFLUX 7” which I’ve been playing repeatedly, but again the contemporary stuff like MAUSER, GREEN BERET, LIMP WRIST, KOWARD. Also other stuff like CHAOS UK, EXTREME NOISE TERROR, DHK, SUDOR, GOVERNMENT FLU, VIOLENT REACTION…there’s so much great hardcore out there if you care to look around. I try to keep my ear to the ground. We’re pretty weird in our tastes as a band…I mean Ed hardly likes any hardcore at all; our taste crosses over far more on music that has nothing to do with punk. Recent tour favourites have been CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL, CHAS ‘N’ DAVE and TOM WAITS. I’m also into northern soul, roots reggae and all sorts of other stuff. I think that’s one of the reasons we always have tunes in amongst the noise and aggression, I like something memorable with hooks and a chorus and I make no apologies for that. A few reviewers and gig-goers have likened us to CONFLICT but I don’t really see that at all. Maybe it’s the delivery and my accent (the others are basically Suffolk lads but I grew up in Essex and my family roots are in East London so I inevitably have that London-Essex accent, although it has mellowed over the years of education and living in Suffolk). But although I’ve always liked the idea of CONFLICT and the delivery and conviction, I think THE DOMESTICS are much more song-based. I always want to make records that don’t just fit in with the latest hardcore fad but that someone could pick up in 10 or 20 years’ time and go ‘these are great songs!’.

As implied by its title, a lot of the songs on the new album talk about the way capitalism shapes our lives, often for the worst, through its routines and constraints. What are good ways to regain some control of your life?

Yeah, that certainly is meant to be implied by the title but it’s also supposed to reference how so much of what we do and don’t do as part of our everyday lives is dictated by routine and ritual – the way we socialise, the way we speak, the things we eat, how we engage with the media, our consumption habits. Sometimes we constrain ourselves through routine and ritual as well as being constrained directly by the forces of capitalism. Although of course, those two strands are not entirely unrelated – far from it!
I’ve thought about the notions of personal freedom and ‘regaining some control’ at various points in my life and I’ve still come to no satisfactory solution. The game seems rigged before you start. Of course we have the freedom to quit our jobs and try to follow some self-supporting lifestyle, growing our own food etc., employing a more agrarian bartering system and stepping outside the system but you still need land, equipment etc. which of course costs money; and it’s all very well being ‘free’ but how free are you to travel, to do things you want to do when you have no money to speak of? Capitalism is a trap that we’re pretty much all caught in whether we like it or not. Once that genie popped out of the bottle it was, and is, way too tricky to get the fucker back in! It’s pretty depressing that all notions of personal freedom now seem to be inextricably linked with having enough money to step outside the system, but of course any attempt to reach that goal necessitates immersion in the system itself. There’s no escape really! The picture on the centre labels of the vinyl version of the album suggests to me that one of the women taking part in the tea ceremony – the one looking at the camera – has suddenly thought that there is an unknown world beyond the routines and rituals she is immersed in and she wants to know what it contains. A moment of revelation. I have no idea whether there is any truth in that but that’s what the image represents to me and why it’s part of the artwork.
For me at least, the control I exercise is in my creative life. Writing and playing music, running the label, resisting doing things that I don’t want to do as much as is practicable. Being someone who has an idea and follows it through – I mean anyone could start a label and put out records but I know to a lot of people it seems a daunting exercise. It is hard work, especially when you’re working on a few things at once, busy with the day job, playing gigs and a have relationships to maintain and enjoy. Worth it though. It does give a sense of doing something based on ideas of community, reciprocity, friendship, art etc. rather than purely capital, although it would be naïve to think that commerce doesn’t come into running a label or playing in a band. Petrol to get to gigs costs money and no one wants to press 500 records and sell twenty – that’s just not viable, it’s fucking pointless.

The song ‘Wrong’ contains the lines ‘I should defend your right to say what you like / But how can I in good faith when you’re just not right?’ What do you make of the notion that good comes from letting bigots and liars spread their views? Would you endorse censorship for certain views? For example the notion that vaccines cause autism?

That line really makes reference to that quote that’s often attributed, wrongly I think, to Voltaire on free speech: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” and how, however noble a sentiment that may be, there are some things that are so offensive to me or you or whoever, that even the right to say such things seems indefensible on some level. Every time I hear a bigot spread their views it makes me shrivel inside but then I do think about what kind of society it would be if there were certain groups who made decisions about what words and ideas were spoken – do we really want to live in a society that can censor to that degree however abhorrent the views may be to us – well some of us, clearly they’re not abhorrent to all – I don’t know. It’s about weighing up which is the preferable scenario and I don’t have an answer to that, all I can do is pose the question! Useless really…
I don’t really see how you could censor ideas like the one you mention regarding vaccines and autism. Now, that’s a potentially dangerous view but is it any more dangerous than hundreds of others? I think public bodies or news outlets should be very clear about the ‘facts’ (the notion of ‘facts’ is a whole subject in itself so here I’ll use ‘facts’ to mean the most supportable view at the time or something along those lines) of such matters and be held accountable if they are found to be deliberately whipping sections of the public into a frenzy about these kinds of issues which could have future health repercussions but you can’t stop individuals from holding ill-informed or downright stupid views on any subject you care to mention.

‘Punk Points’ attacks bands who talk about politics, ineptly, just for the sake of looking punk. Is that something widespread?

Maybe this is something that comes with age and increased levels of cynicism. I just sometimes feel that bands are trotting out the same old tired lines with no thought beyond whether they are ‘suitably punk’. If you asked them about what they specifically disliked about capitalism, the police, politicians, war or whatever I wonder whether they really would have any view on it beyond what they robbed off some other bands’ lyric sheet. I think that of you are going to write around these subjects you have to talk about aspects you understand, even if just subjectively – you don’t need to be an expert! But personally I just can’t sing about stuff I don’t know about. How can you explain what you’re on about of someone asks you to clarify? I’d find that extremely embarrassing so I don’t do it. THE DOMESTICS do cover the political and we’re often thought of as being quite a political band but more from a personal, sociological perspective than from the perspective of a totally clued up activist. For me, I have to be true to what I know…and whilst I do know plenty of stuff I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not, which is a core tenet of punk really. I won’t bullshit people by pretending I know more about a given subject than I do. If I want to know more I’ll ask not try to bluff my way through something. It’s all about communication after all.

You worked with Dean Jones of Extreme Noise Terror on ‘Fuck Your War’. How did that come about?

Ah yeah, that was great. I’ve been into E.N.T. for years, I got into them through older punks when I lived in Clacton (or ‘crack town’ as it’s now often referred to) some years ago. Dean lives in Ipswich and E.N.T. had just started recording what will be their new album around the same time we recorded ours. I mentioned to the producer, Mark, that I’d really love it if we could get Dean to do a vocal on ‘Fuck Your War’ but that I didn’t really know him and to my surprise he said he was seeing him the following week and he’d ask. Anyway, the next week I went in one evening to do all the lead vocals and after a few songs, Mark says “Oh we have to go and pick Dean up in half an hour” – I really hadn’t expected it to happen!!!! Turns out he’d heard the rough mixes with the guide vocal and liked what he heard so we picked him up, got him in some Special Brew and the rest is history as they say! Then when we did Rebellion fest last year he came along and sung it live with us too, which was great. I think there’ll be a repeat of that this year now the record’s actually out. He’s a top bloke with a lifetime’s worth of great stories and the stuff I’ve heard from the new E.N.T. album sounds amazing. I’m not just saying that, it really sounds great and contemporary and fucking full on.

With a lot of punk bands these days from the emo revivalists to the garage rockers focusing more on the personal, would you say punk is becoming less political?

Not really, but then my ear is always more to the underground where the political side of things still persists to some degree. I guess if you listen to emo, pop-punk and ska-punk then the politics may be lacking but I don’t listen to that stuff. If I want ska I’ll listen to sixties stuff.

I understand this sounds cynical, but what function does political punk serve right now?

I don’t think that’s cynical particularly, it’s a fair question. With most of the topics played out over the past thirty plus years you could be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing left to say… but that could’ve been said when I was getting into punk in my late teens too. I hadn’t heard about all this stuff so it was useful to me being a newcomer and that in a nutshell is the main function it serves. It’d be ridiculous to think that anyone just discovering punk would automatically know or have even thought about racism, sexism, animal rights, DIY, government control, misogyny, the evils of capitalism etc. These are not big topics of discussion in the average ‘straight’ household. It also serves the function of keeping these topics on existing punks’ agenda I guess.

Artwork for The Domestics and Kibou Records often draws heavily on Japanese artwork from the 19th century and earlier. What inspired that?

Just my love of Japanese aesthetics I guess. I have some Japanese prints and books at home, my tattoos are largely Japanese. I also love Japanese punk as I said. I guess it’s just a combination of those things. I love the serenity of a Japanese garden or the ferocity of their hardcore. I’ve always been drawn to Japan stylistically. One day I’ll go!

As well as The Domestics, you’re also in Dis-Tank. What’s that band’s agenda?

DIS-TANK was a side project that was used to soak up some leftover riffs really. THE DOMESTICS had a few months off at one point so I just put this stuff together – it’s way more generic than THE DOMESTICS and it’s intended to be. It was a bit of an experiment really – call it ‘Dis’-something, stick a tank on the front and some skulls in the artwork. I just wanted to see how easy it’d be to make a d-beat tape…I wrote down the first 7 titles I could think of that sounded a bit d-beaty and just fitted them to the riffs. It was a piece of piss! Anyway I took the plunge and pressed 50 tapes but they sold out in no time, then a Spanish label asked me to press some more as demand was high, then an American distro wanted some…anyway there’s a 10 song 7” out next week – it’ll be out by the time this is in print I expect. As an experiment it’s worked pretty well so far! I’ve created a monster!!!!! I think the other factor is that the tunes, despite being a shit-fi d-beat racket, are actually pretty memorable. I dunno, it’s a bit weird really.

What have Kibou Records, The Domestics, and Dis-Tank got planned for the near future?

KIBOU has just put out a 14 track 7” called ‘Haiku Fucks’ featuring SHOWER OF BASTARDS, 51ST STATE, CHILDE, NASTY BASTARD, THE SHORTS, RATRAVEN, BOYCOTT THE BAPTIST, VOLUNTEERS, BRAINFREEZE, THE DOMESTICS, DIS-TANK, SKINNERS, THE MIGRAINES and FORCED EXISTENCE. The label is also involved in co-releasing the DIS-TANK ‘Hardcore D-Beat Bruiser Volume One’ 7” (alongside GLOBAL RESISTANCE, DESORDEN and MONO CANIBAL) and the THE DOMESTICS/VOLUNTEERS SPLIT (alongside RIOT SKA, URINAL VINYL, GLOBAL RESISTANCE and ALMIGHTY BEARD). Also there are plans for a co-release on the MIERDA 7” and hopefully a 7” by HARAMARAH from Bandung in West Java. I’ve offered to do a 7” by Basingstoke’s SHITHOUSE but whether they’ll ever get it together to record one I don’t know! I hope so, I love that band and the guys in it.
If anyone wants any great punk and hardcore sounds from all over the world, check out the KIBOU distro at http://www.kibourecords.bigcartel.com Support the underground!
THE DOMESTICS have those things mentioned above coming out – all with exclusive tracks on – plus a track on a comp 7” on ORCHESTRATED DYSTOPIA RECORDS sometime soon. We have some festivals and gigs lined up all over the country for the rest of the year plus hopefully some Euro dates in June and are working on tracks for a new 7” which hopefully we’ll record over the summer. Actually 2 7”s maybe – one of originals and one of covers. We’ll wait and see.
DIS-TANK have the 7” coming out and then, when I get some time, I’ll start work writing for the D Beat Plague album.
Cheers for the interest, Ned, much appreciated.

No problem!

[interview conducted by Ned Samuel, originally published in No More Gigs issue 4, March 2015]

No More Gigs speaks to James Scott from the Domestics and Dis-Tank