Interview: Gary 'Oskar' Budd - Anthrax
Forget the New York Metal band of the same name, this ANTHRAX hailed from Gravesend, UK and was one of the bands that made up the Anarcho Scene in the early 80s. There was only two official releases, the classic 7" on Small Wonder and a release on Crass Records, although the band also appeared on a Mortarhate compilation. The band has just released a lavishly packaged compilation entitled 'One Last Drop' of all the officially released material plus two early demos. Below is an emailed interview with vocalist Gary 'Oskar' Budd.
..OK, the band recently released its entire back catalogue on the CD, 'One Last Drop'. Why did you choose now to release it - had you considered releasing the compilation at any time previously?
..Oskar) Well, we had thought about releasing it in 2004. We had been approached by the Grand Theft Audio label but decided we would do it ourselves. It seems most of these labels want 74 minutes of material. We only had about 40 minutes and we did not want fill it up with poor live stuff of the same songs.
..It's brilliantly packaged with a poster, sticker, badge and mega fold-out sleeve. What made you eschew the popular jewel case/ digipack format in favour of the cardboard foldout? The only thing that let the package down a bit was the lack of band biography. Any specific reason this was over looked?
..Oskar) The jewel case just seemed the norm and not very DIY; just straight off the shelf - no effort. To me, the thing I always like about DIY Punk, was how people put it together (CRASS etc). As for the lack of band info it was basically just over looked as this was our first release -sorry - therell be more info on the LP!
..The disc is released on your own label - something the original ANTHRAX releases never were. I recall hearing that Overground Records had planned to release it. Why didn't you go with this already established label which, presumably, could have offered instantly better distribution?
..Oskar) Well, we were offered several deals, one of them being Overground Records. But after we thought about it, we realised we had done this with Crass and Small Wonder which was great at the time but trying to get our material back turned into a nightmare. Plus, back then, we did not have the money to do it - now we could and it was something we had always wanted to do. And we are glad we did it as it turned out really well. We could do our own fold out cardboard cover (which the distros liked because it kept the postage down), include a small poster/sticker etc just like we used to do with the fanzine, Enigma, plus we could keep the price right. And it took it back to DIY Punk that seems to have got lost along the way. All the small independent distros help us out and it sold really well world wide - and to our surprise is still selling a year on.
..Let's do the history bit - how did you personally 'discover' Punk Rock and what inspired you to take an active roll? I think you got into Punk while still at school in the early 80s - what did your parents think of this new found obsession?
..Oskar) I first got into it through listening to John Peel. Our parents were very supportive. They did not really know what we were doing, but they helped out getting us to the studio and sorting out gear. The band started when we were all at school. We used to use the church hall next to the school at dinner times for free as bassist Rob's dad was the vicar; he also let us print our fanzine, Enigma, on the church printer - although he did not actually agree with what we were doing! At first there were lots of us in the band, and we had borrowed a kids drum set off eventual drummer Peter. My dad had got us a Vale PA from his works and the guitar amps were 5 and 10 watt - it was chaos! Finally the line-up changed and we started to sound like a band. We all left school and got jobs which gave us money to start buying better equipment. Additionally, we got Peter on drums as he had had drumming lessons and was shit hot at the time. Gareth was on guitar along with Dee, Rob was on bass and myself, Oskar, on vocals. Sue came along on vocals later. We did our first gig at the Tam O'Shante in Gravesend and the crowd went mad; the landlady was doing her ironing at the side off the stage and thought a riot was happening as she hadnt seen a Punk gig before!
After that gig we got rid off Rob and Sue, who went on to form FACTION. The band carried on with Dee on guitar, Gareth on bass, Peter on drums and myself. We saved up £90 and went to Oakfield Studios in Herne Bay, Kent to record our first demo which turned out, in our eyes, to be the best recording we did. The studio engineer was really helpful and guided us in the right direction and the backing vocals were by Gravesend Punks and the X-CRETAS. We started selling the demo for £1 and interest started to grow. Then we got 'All The Wars' on the CRASS compilation, 'Bullshit Detector Vol.2'. A copy was given to the Small Wonder label and we were phoned about putting out a single. Then Eve [Libertine] phoned from CRASS about doing a single and we then started playing gigs with CONFLICT whom we knew as we were at their first gig and had interviewed them for the fanzine.
We went into Southern Studios to record our first single with Small Wonder, but unfortunately the engineer did not get on with Pete - and Pete did not like him! So, it did not get off to a good start. Plus, we would have to travel from Kent to North London right after work which took about two hours only to record early into the next day. But when the single came out it went to #1 in the Sounds/ NME indie charts which was great - and the late, great John Peel played it a couple off times.
Then we went into Southern to do the CRASS single which was really alien; their recording techniques were very strange to us. They would get us to pick one string at a time and this went on for hours. When we went back to the studio to hear the final mix they told us they had taken Gareth off the recording and Penny [Rimbaud, CRASS drummer] had played bass on the record. Looking back on it, it was well out of order! None of the band was that keen on the recording; it just sounded like CRASS and not ANTHRAX. But the single did well; also getting to #1 in Sounds and NME indie chart. We carried on playing about two gigs a week with the likes off CONFLICT, DIRT, RIOT/CLONE, HAGAR THE WOMB, LOST CHERRIES, NAKED, X-CRETAS etc. Then we wrote to THE EX about playing in Holland and they set up a week's worth off gigs which was great.
LINE UP 1: Rob - Bass, Dee - Guitar, Gareth - Guitar, Peter - Drums, Sue - Vocals, Oskar - Vocals
LINE UP 3: Dee - Guitar, Gareth - Bass, Peter - Drums, Oskar - Vocals, Shaun - Guitar
LINE UP 4: Dee - Guitar, Lawrence - Bass, Peter - Drums, Oskar - Vocals, Shaun - Guitar
..I was interested to read in Ian Glasper's book, The Day The Country Died, that ANTHRAX originally had a female singer - something you touched on above. Why didn't you continue with that line-up and was there a vastly different dimension to the band with a female singer?
..Oskar) Well, for one gig, we were getting a bit too CRASS-like so we dropped Sue who went on to form FACTION with Rob.
..Your first record, the classic 'They've Got It All Wrong' EP was released on the then-established Small Wonder Records. Tell us about that.
..Oskar) Our first demo we sold on cassette and a Punk band called THE SNAILS had taken it in to the Small Wonder shop and gave it to Pete Stennet. He phoned us up and asked to come up to his shop to discuss doing a single. Also, about the same time, CRASS had phoned us also about putting out a single. Peter wanted to put out 'Capitalism Is Cannibalism' but CRASS had taken that track so Pete went for 'They Got It All Wrong'; a track that I think was a good choice for Small Wonder.
..It always appeared a diverse but vibrant label, releasing a wealth of Anarcho bands (CRASS, POISON GIRLS, CRAVATS, ANTHRAX) alongside the likes of MENACE, COCKNEY REJECTS, THE CARPETTES and THE WALL - not to mention the first CURE single. What drew you to the label? Had things gone a little different for Small Wonder, what do you think the future would have held for the label?
..Oskar) We all loved the Small Wonder label. We were always sending off for records from the shop as they always sent them quickly. If you ever went into the shop it was like an Aladdin's Cave for Punk. It's a shame the label is not going now as I think they would be putting out some diverse material. Pete had a good ear for the unusual.
..It was after the release of this single that the band's line-up changed, with bassist Gareth leaving to be replaced by former X-CRETAS and future ANTISECT bassist Lawrence and second guitarist Shaun. What did the addition of these guys add to the mix that was previously missing from ANTHRAX? How did the dynamic of the band change with these new members?
..Oskar) Well, Dee used to play guitar with the X-CRETAS and Peter would play drums for them from time to time. So Gareth had gone - which was never an easy or good thing to do as we were best mates from school. To me and Shaun, Lawrence was a sound choice as we had gigged together a lot with the two guitars. We could get the studio to overdub the live guitar sound so it sounded a lot fuller.
..It was also around this time that the band toured Holland with Dutch band THE EX. It's often said that bands get treated that much better in Europe than they do in the UK; what differences were immediately apparent between playing in the UK and on mainland Europe?
..Oskar) We were shocked when we went to Holland! They put 13 of us up, feed us, paid for playing - to us then, it was a big money night of £120, free beer (bad mistake for 18 year olds) a cooked meal before gigs - where by in England you were lucky to get your petrol money and a good kicking!
..ANTHRAX's next release, the 'Capitalism Is Cannibalism' EP for Crass Records. Given the standing of CRASS at that time (1983), was it a little daunting working with the undoubted figureheads of an entire scene?
..Oskar) We had sent CRASS our first demo which they liked and put 'All The Wars' on 'Bullshit Detector Vol. 2'. Then Eve phoned me to ask if we would like to put out 'Capitalism Is Cannibalism' on Crass Records which we jumped at. It was very daunting at the time - and even more so in the studio.
..There are a few contestable issues about this single - predominantly due to the post-production techniques of Penny Rimbaud and John Loder. Gareth's bass was removed yeah - and various other bits were added - what was your immediate reaction to the mix and has that opinion changed in any way given the passing of time?
..Oskar) Well, we were a bit shocked that they had taken him off the recoding. He did play badly that day but I think nerves got the better off him and he was still part off the band. Dee spent hours picking notes on the guitar and hated it - but we didn't really know what else they did. It was not one of our better studio experiences but at the time we were a bit star struck by CRASS. We have never been keen on the CRASS recording and will be re-recording 'Capitalism Is Cannibalism' soon in a way that is more true to how it should have been.
..We touched on violence at shows back in those early 80s, but your local venue at Gravesend seems to have avoided a lot of the nihilistic and petty Punk violence that continually surfaced back then. What made Gravesend exempt do you think?
..Oskar) We knew everybody and the Kent Hell's Angles used to drink there - so trouble makers kept away.
..A lot of the violence seemed to be between the skinhead/Oi! and the CRASS Peace/Anarcho Punk movements. What were your opinions then - and now - of that Oi!/ chaos side of Punk Rock? What part do you believe that Garry Bushell (singer of the risible GONADS and gutter press journo) had to play in this friction? Was it not he who prevented an interview with ANTHRAX appearing in Sounds?
..Oskar) The man was an arse looking for an ego boost. As for the Oi! thing, we liked bands like MENACE/ ANGELIC UPSTARTS - it was only him trying to make his own brand of Punk by sticking a label on these bands.
..There was a second tour of Holland yeah - one that was particularly disastrous apparently - why was this so bad?
..Oskar) Dee did NOT go so we had lost our lead guitarist, and the band was coming to an end by then - the rot was setting in!
..I have to ask about the track that appeared on Mortarhate's 'Who? What? Why? When? Where?' compilation, 'It'll Be Alright On The Night'. Its keyboard-laced arrangement seems so different from the material ANTHRAX had released previously - what happened there? Was this possibly leading to a similar direction as BLITZ did with its latter day material, even though lyrically 'It'll Be Alright...' was as pointed as ever and the guitar was to the fore?
..Oskar) No, we did not intend to come out with that kind of sound. We did not own any keyboards. But when we went into the studio they had a Moog keyboard there which Dee started playing with and it ended up on the recording. That was our last time in the studio and our last song, so I don't really know where it would have gone...
..Why did the band split? Given some of the line-up changes, can you pin point - given the benefits of hind sight - the beginning of the end for ANTHRAX? Your comments in 'The Day The Country Died' suggest that the main reason for the split was sheer frustration at the level of violence at shows back then - that true?? Had the band continued for just one more year - what do you think it may have achieved and how do you think it would have sounded?
..Oskar) I think, at the time, the band had run its course; the band had burnt itself out. The gigs were getting the "same-old same-old" travelling all the way to London to find out we were no longer on the bill. There was lots of Right Wing violence, so it was time to pull the plug. Thinking back now, if we had taken a year off and then gone back. it might have worked. As for how we would have sounded - who knows!?
..Do you feel the subjects ANTHRAX tackled back in the early 80s are still relevant today?
..Oskar) Yeah, it's all still there - War, environment, individual liberties - nothing seems to change.
..Looking back at the duration of ANTHRAX, do you have any regrets or changes that you would now implement? If you had to choose just one memory of the band, what would it be?
..Oskar) No regrets; only Gareth leaving - not that that would have changed anything - that is how it was meant to be. Our first time in the studio with a really good engineer and listening to the demo from that scene - which I still think is better than both singles and only cost £90 - would be a highlight.
..Has the band ever been approached to reform for the Holidays In The Sun shows or any other reason? Has the band ever reunited, even if it's just for kicks?
..Oskar) We were asked if we would play at some shows, but I don't think it would be our kind of thing, plus it takes us about two months to arrange for us to meet up as everybody is so busy with their families. We have been in rehearsals, twice which was fun.
..Are any of the band still involved with music? Do you hear anything today that has the same impact - or that you could imagine on the youth of today - on you as individuals that CRASS or any of those early Punk bands had on you?
..Oskar) Yes, Shaun still plays live, Gareth is still pottering and so am I. Yes, there is still loads off good stuff out there and it's a lot easier to get your music heard with the internet.