I’ve known Jack and Wes since the first DIY punk show I saw in Norwich. The two were and are singing in Jackals, and as of late Wes is vocalist and Jack bassist in Norwich metal-punkers Midnight Parasite. Jack was vocalist of Sonic Order, organises a fair few Norwich punk shows, and has done a lot of writing about and photographing punk. Wes paints, draws and collages, and has created art for many bands and flyers. I met with them in The Owl Sanctuary and we had a long chat about a number of topics. This is the extended edition of the interview.
NMG: What’s the state of Jackals at the moment, and what’s the plan after the next record?
Jack: What’s the state of it?
NMG: That wasn’t intended to be-
Wes: Should we fully disclose it?
J: Yeah, fuck it.
NMG: You don’t have to fully disclose it.
J: We actually all hate each other.
W: Yeah I fucking hate them all. (chuckling) We’ve had a few line-up changes. People’s priorities have changed a bit, some don’t want to be in bands anymore…
J: I think the biggest thing is people moving to London, it makes it hard to practice.
W: Yeah, Sam has to travel from London… people obviously still enjoy it, but maybe touring’s something people don’t wanna do as much. We’re writing stuff for a new LP, and it’s a banger.
J: We haven’t recorded anything for about two years now. I think by the time we’ve recorded it will have been three years. It’s a long time. But even before the last 7”, we were practicing less than we used to anyway… it’s not been a bad thing because we’ve been able to spend more time on the songs, but it is frustrating when you want to get on with it. We’ll do the LP next year and play some gigs, and that’ll probably be it. Call it a day.
W: At the end of the day, it’s been since 2010, hasn’t it, so it’s a long time in anyone’s life.
J: It’s one of those things where it’s the level of commitment and effort to keep it going, it’s difficult to maintain when you’re not doing anything and can’t practice very often. Sam’s doing other bands, we’ve got other bands and those function more easily, so with Jackals we wanna go out in a good way, play some last gigs, have fun and leave it on a good note rather than letting it fizzle out entirely.
W: I’m not scratching the walls doing nothing because we have Midnight. We’ve got our own things, we wanna carry on doing bands.
NMG: Who’s in Midnight Parasite, how did it get started?
J: Neither of us were in that at the start. Pete, who drums, and Kyle, who plays guitar met on the internet somehow, because they both wanted to start a band. They practiced with each other maybe four or five times. I didn’t know Kyle at the time, but Pete asked me if I knew anyone in Norwich who wanted to play bass for it, so I just said I’ll do it, because I just figured it’d be a good way to practice bass. But the more we do, the more we go on, the more happy I am with the music. We started practicing last year around Christmas, wrote five or six songs. We didn’t need anyone to do vocals at that point because we were just writing. When it got to the point where we had to start looking I mentioned to Wes that we needed someone to do vocals if he’d be up for it, and that’s pretty much it. It didn’t happen by default, but he was the only person locally who we thought ‘oh yeah, that’d make sense’ about.
W: ‘Oh he likes the stuff’, you know what I mean? It’s sort of a niche band.
NMG: So Midnight Parasite just released a demo, and people seem to like it. What’s the plan next? More shows, more releases?
J: We’ve got loads of songs that we’re writing, the good thing about it is we’ve been able to practice almost every week since we started, so it’s quite productive. We’ve got a lot of things we’re working on, and we’re gonna record… next year? We’ll see where we are in a few months and let that decide what we do. Probably a seven inch or something, or record five, six, seven songs and figure out what we want to do with them.
W: It’s good as well because Pete seems to have been like… working on it for the last 25 years? He comes in with riffs he’d written on his acoustic guitar or something. Everyone’s coming to the table with something. You’ve [Jack] written some songs, Kyle has, Pete has… I haven’t, but…
J: It’s a good thing, everyone’s having their own ideas, we put it together, and it’s a bit different to what it started out as, but we’ve constantly got stuff going on.
NMG: Jack – what’s going on with Sonic Order at the moment? You recorded a new 7” a while back?
J: Yeah, we’re just waiting for it to come out. Nothing really interesting in terms of the reason why it’s been held up. It’s coming out on two labels, one’s from Zagreb, called Doomtown, these guys Carlo and Mihael, both people I’ve known for a while. And there’s another guy, Skunk, from Norway, who runs a label called Byllepest. It’ll be out next year.
NMG: So more shows to go with that?
J: Well, Jack, the guitar player, lives in Canada now. He moved out there six months ago?
W: He came back recently and stuff, but he’s in Toronto, or a little bit out of Toronto.
J: So he’s there. But the thing is, we weren’t really a band for long enough to make a big deal out of splitting up or anything. We’re gonna see – if he stays out there, then that’ll be it. But he comes back to England on and off, so there’s always the option we could play gigs when he’s back, do a tour here and there.
NMG: Is the name Sonic Order an Omegas reference?
J: I think it was. It was one of those things where we were just looking at song names because we couldn’t think of anything good. We had a couple of ideas of our own that weren’t very good… at all.
NMG: I don’t think I’d ever heard the Omegas until I listened to their song Sonic Order because I saw it online and went, ‘ah!’
J: Yeah, it wasn’t a tribute or whatever. I think they’re really good, but it was just us looking at song names and choosing one. A pretty lazy way to do it, for when you can’t think of anything cool. I will say that pretty much all the good band names have been taken now, there’s nothing left. You just have to stick with something that doesn’t sound awful. Just put a couple of words together and hope it’s not embarrassing.
W: It sort of varies how successful that can be sometimes. I always think of the Simpsons, the B Sharps bit. When I have to explain that my band’s called Jackals or Midnight Parasite, I just sort of say ‘it was funny at the time’. Six years later you’re fucked.
NMG: It’s a lot nicer than saying you’re in a band called Shower Boys. That was an in-joke for us, because we were gonna do a joke band, but then I started writing serious songs…
J: If you can’t think of a cool band name just think of something you’re not embarrassed to tell someone. If you can get that far I think that’s a start. If you’ve got a real cool band name, that’s good, but…
W: Just put Dis- in front of it, you’re sorted.
NMG: Yeah. Dishower Boys, that’d be totally normal. So with the different bands you’ve been in, how does the creative process differ?
J: Jackals has changed, really, from what it used to be. Now Sam’s writing a lot of the stuff at home.
W: He’s got Garageband on his phone and he just… does it on the toilet at work.
J: He’ll do the riffs at home and then fit the drums around it… whenever he’s got five minutes. He’ll bring that to us, and at practice we’ll kind of put it all together, add the bass, the drums. The songs often change as we do this. I write lots of lyrics for songs, and once we’ve got a finished track I’ll look through the different ideas I had and work out which one fits which song. That’s pretty much Jackals innit.
NMG: You mentioned Midnight Parasite, that that’s three different people writing songs and putting them together.
J: It started off that Kyle wrote them all, the first three or four songs Kyle had written and demoed himself, with drums and everything. As it’s gone on, I’ve been suggesting things, or he’ll have a riff and we’ll work from there, change things. Because we practice a lot it’s easier, because it’s all fresh in your mind and you can change it. And Wes has got the lyrics once we’re fairly set on a structure.
W: And as it goes on it gets easier to tell someone oh, I think you should tweak that.
J: Usually with Jackals it’s like telling Sam to keep stuff simple… I was talking to him the other day and he said he liked bands that will just repeat two riffs for a whole song, so he likes that, but he finds it hard to do that himself. So sometimes he needs to be told, just keep playing that bit, because it sounds good like that.
W: With every band I’ve been in, the creative process always feels roughly the same.
NMG: I suppose it differs depending on the genre, and who’s involved.
J: For me if I’m in a band I want to have say in how it sounds… but as a vocalist you have less involvement in the structure of the songs. With Midnight Parasite it’s the first time I’ve played bass in a band, and I’ve been contributing more of my own ideas from the start. You get an idea for a song and you can take it to someone more musically minded, and they add in stuff you might not think of and you can then learn through that. I usually write stuff that’s very simple and then tweak it with others. With the effect I play the bass through it’s sort of… grumbling… I could be playing anything really…
NMG: Now, the big questions. How do you think current events – Brexit, Trump’s political ascendency – is going to affect DIY punk, not just in terms of the music, but it terms of the organisation, the logistics, the distribution.
J: First of all, I’ve talked to people about this already, and I’ve found it really irritating and infuriating, how in the aftermath of it people had that detached approach of saying ‘oh at least we’ll get some good music out of it’.
NMG: Oh yeah, I’m not trying to say that, that it’s this wonderful thing. I think it will change the landscape a bit.
J: I think for a lot of politically aware punk bands, this is a worrying development, in terms of the rise of the far right, but if that’s the only thing someone gets annoyed about, America having a bad president, I wouldn’t really wanna hear that person’s opinion on politics. The only bands I think will gain political mileage out of Trump is bands like NOFX. Ultimately in terms of these developments it’s best to see them as indicative of a worrying shift. The political landscape has changed, but it’s a development of the way the world’s been going, and the way the world’s been for a long time. People are exploiting things which were already there.
NMG: I’m interested in the way punk reacts to the far right, but I feel like the Brexit thing is going to change the distribution of punk, the way records can be traded and sold.
J: It’s gonna be more expensive. But it’s still pretty open in terms of what could actually happen. There’s a lot of ways it could go, but the terms on which it’s going to happen and what the long term effects are going to be is uncertain. Maybe some have a better idea than me, but I don’t know what’s going to happen yet. Ultimately as much as I have massive reservations about the EU, for bands, the idea that you can tour mainland Europe without any sort of hassle, just go out and do it, might be in danger. I’d hesitate to call it the end of open borders, since they were only open under certain circumstances for certain people.
W: In terms of the far right, I’ve seen a lot of people who think that what they do in the punk scene exists only in the punk scene, and don’t really see it in the grand scheme of things. They’re aping the right. I’ve had to turn down artwork requests for some bands because I don’t think they’ve understood the implications of what they’ve asked me to do. It opens doors for certain people to come in. I’m seeing people at shows who I’ve seen on social media with swastikas in their houses. And with Brexit and Trump and all this other stuff; now the fascists are feeling quite bold. Often when people object, the PC thought police thing gets brought up a lot, and all the social justice warrior fucking crap. But basically, I don’t want to be around people who are alright with nationalism and racism. That’s what it boils down to.
J: With the far right, you give them space to occupy, and they’ll occupy more. I think what we do culturally matters and can have an impact, and the current political situation makes the need for uncompromisingly anti-fascist music and culture all the more vital. There are people in the US and the UK and around the world in bands that have a large degree of social capital and influence on other people. For people to not use that in a positive way, I find that very frustrating. The difference between bands I’m ambivalent about and bands that I’m excited by is whether they use that scene credibility, or whatever they’ve got, for good; to encourage people to think about things and take action.
NMG: Well that sort of leads into the last question. If there are any truly effective ways, how can DIY performers, groups, promoters, scenes and such resist against the far right?
J: It’s a really old discussion I think; since punk’s existed people have been asking how, as a subculture or a counter-culture, it can have an effect on the wider world. As I said, I genuinely believe it can, especially when people are able use the power that punk gives them to do positive things and put things on the agenda. For example at Static Shock Weekend, Strutter were absolutely raging but between songs made it explicit that one of their songs is about white privilege. Their singer’s in a cool band that people like, in fact three or four bands that people really do listen to, and is using that platform to challenge people. Punk can sometimes, if it’s done well, be an escape for marginalised people, so if you can use your own ability within the scene to make it a more inclusive place and elevate marginalised voices that’s also an important thing.
NMG: In the past few years it seems like punk’s become better for that. There seems to be more discussion about it.
J: It’s one of those things where for all the bad, there’s really genuine people using it in a really good way.
NMG: When G.L.O.S.S. initially came out that was exciting because it seemed to draw a lot of people into not just the music but also the idea that it can be radical.
J: I think the biggest thing for punk right now, as far as its vitality goes, is in the expansion of the range of voices that you can hear. Not to say that there’s not a long way to go, as for some people women in punk is still seen as an anomaly, but in a lot of scenes there are so many women that are just destroying the idea that punk is for and by men. Before the Static Shock aftershow at the Unicorn there was a fundraiser for a Decolonise Fest, and these things are happening everywhere, not just in London. If marginalised people are able to find power and a voice for themselves through punk, that’s a good thing in itself, beyond debates about the effect punk has in an activist sense. There’s bands like Haram, for example.
NMG: The New York scene is very interesting because of the different languages in use – Haram singing in Arabic, La Misma in Portuguese, Nomad in Japanese.
J: Punk’s always been an international thing. I think that’s one of the reasons it’s so vital, it brings together people from very different backgrounds.
NMG: There is this internationalism in punk now, the way the New York and London and Barcelona scenes connect together and share ideas and members. But also just the way you can go to a DIY gig in Britain and see like, a Malaysian grindcore band being supported by local bands, that’s something special in itself.
J: It’s always been the case that punk’s had that international thing, and while the world is becoming a more fragmented place in some ways, in terms of ease of travel it has got smaller maybe, so it’s still viable for people to do this.
NMG: It’s not as time consuming to keep up with internationally now – there’s less writing letters, making cassettes, mailorder and the like than there was in say the 80s.
W: Even though it is all there at the click of a button, you still have to do it… even if the means are there, it’s still an effort, and it’s still worth doing. If you really want to find out some bands, maybe message somebody, get a tape off them… so some of those elements are still there. But there’s no point romanticising the 80s and saying oh, now it’s not like that, so it’s not genuine.
J: I can understand where that comes from, but at the same time I think with anyone who’s actively involved in punk now, you really do get those moments that are actively utopian. It’s less necessary for certain people, and people’s experiences of these kind of things vary, but where it’s done right I think punk can be a very unifying experience, where you can break barriers. You can look at the bigger picture and ask how does punk effect the real world, but if it gives people an experience of escape, that’s good in itself and if it gives people experience in organising, that’s something they can then use in the wider world to make tangible differences. Like building DIY spaces, it shows you a new way of working with people different to the one you’re taught about. You can show someone a DIY space where everyone works together and contributes to make it happen, purely because they realise the value of it, and use it to show them that collective organisation can work, that people can organise and make something happen. There’s elements of conflict or whatever too, of course, but there’s a lot of positive examples.
NMG: Well that’s about everything. Any inspirational words for the kids?
J: Oh shit.
NMG: You can just say no.
W: ‘Smash to fuck the fucking system’.
J: That’s not actually the lyrics though…
W: It is! He’s not doing it but it is the lyrics!
NMG: Oh. Discharge. Right.
J: On the recording he said ‘it’s a messed up fucked up fucking system’ which is bad, and then they realised that ‘smash to fuck the fucking system’ is much better. I guess the lesson to be learned from that is review your previous work, and that you can build on your previous mistakes.
W: Demo a lot.
J: Punk’s a learning experience…
W: Punk’s about… refining what you’ve done under a microscope until it’s devoid of any originality.
J: And you hate your own work. Nah. It’s about learning, getting better.
W: I hope that was alright mate!
[interview conducted by Ned Samuel, a shorter version was originally published in No More Gigs issue 11, December 2015]