Interview: Dick Lucas - Subhumans
Having just released its first new album in over 20 years, SUBHUMANS (UK), has proved that not only has its back catalogue stood the test of time better than virtually any band of the UK Anarcho era, but also that the band is still essential in today's ever-more dysfunctional, apolitical society. This is the second time I have interviewed Dick Lucas regarding SUBHUMANS and it's great to see the man is still sincere, opinionated and committed to all that he does.
You want a definition of what Punk Rock should be? Look no further...
..OK Dick, before we progress with the interview, just tell us what mood you are in and why as you sit down to answer these questions?
..Dick) Determined! This interview has grown hairs waiting for some attention, so i'm up in the single figures start of the clock thing [day] when I won't get diverted.
..So, SUBHUMANS has just released its first album of new recordings in over 20 years - the 'Internal Riot' disc. Why did you choose now to release the new album when SUBHUMANS has reformed a number of times in the past?
..Dick) Choice doesn't come into it! We reached the point of having enough new songs [why do bands call it 'material'? Sounds far too, ha, fabricated] to fill an LP; this took 20 years, as, apart from two gigs in 1991, we were split up, until reforming in 1998. It then took another nine years cos one: Three of us were in CITIZEN FISH and busy with that and two: In 2003 Phil [bass] and Trotsky[drums] moved country [Spain and Germany], which makes rehearsing very much not a weekly process, but more like three times a year - hence the slow accumulation of tunes.
..Do you hope this album will achieve anything new for the band? I mean, SUBHUMANS is a legendary name that has toured the world - do you think this new album may open any fresh doors for you or says something you haven't said before?
..Dick) This one at least shows we didnt just reform for nostalgia's sake. In terms of content, lyrically it's an updated outlook, 20 years later and a lot hasn't changed, still plenty of oppression, war and social collapse going on. If the subject matter seems repetitive it's cos the subjects still matter.
..How do you think the new album stands up when compared with the older SUBHUMANS records? Do you hear a distinct difference between those releases of 20+ years ago and this new album, or does the feel and vibe of the new album mirror that of the 'Religious Wars' EP for example?
..Dick) We're the last people to ask. Being totally involved and completely subjective, it's hard to, well, be objective as to making comparisons, but the main difference is in the sound. Studios have computers now and everything sounds as good as it can as a result. So yes I do think it stands up to the early records - in all honesty we wouldn't have released it if it didn't! We probably put more work into this one cos it was such a long time since the last one, whereas the early releases were never even a year since the one before.
..Did the writing of the album flow easily - and was the writing approached in the same way as it was back when you did 'From The Cradle To The Grave' for example? How did you all get on in a studio environment after all those years apart?
..Dick) The flow was interrupted by months of not rehearsing [see above], but it was the same process, ie fitting lyrics to tunes, fitting tunes to each other, dropping weak bits, adding stronger bits, etc. Being in a studio after so long away [as the SUBHUMANS at least] was odd, but refreshing, but hard work... I had a bastard viral sinus thing that lasted nine months going on at the time, and I had a struggle getting my voice on form, that didn't help. The initial excitement of making a new record soon wears thin in a studio, where everything takes forever, especially the mixing, so you have to really focus away from getting bored with waiting for, say, the drum sound to be 'right', when you thought it sounded great two hours ago! Engineers are audio-evolutionary types; in 3,867 years we will all hear things as they do. In the meantime you have to WAIT.
..What about the recording process - was that different from recording with CITIZEN FISH or those old SUBHUMANS records?
..Dick) Largely the same - set up, plug in and play until the drumming is dead right. Then add bass [playing along to the recorded drums], then a guitar, vocals, more guitar, more vocals... Then mixing it all, which with the invasion of computers means a screen to be stared at as well as a big desk full of knobs and faders. Bruce [gtr] knows how these things work, as does Phil, so they're way less impatient as a result. Trotsky avoids the mix altogether, and I sit there in a dreamlike state saying, "That Sounds Great", every 10 minutes, wondering why they haven't stopped yet. It's much the same as ever
..I'd like to ask you about some of the songs on the album, starting with what I consider to be one of the highlights, 'Won't Ask You Again'. It features what I think is a set of lyrics that must rank among the most bitter and dismissive that you have ever written. Lines like, "Action's a magnet for those who quit asking" and "Stand up and fight for the fighting to stop" suggest taking more than simply passive action - that correct? Can you specify who/ what the song is kicking against?
..Dick) The point throughout that song is that waiting for the State to change or solve the problems it itself creates is a waste of time; it's better to take matters into your own hands, even if your hands are tied by social/ moral restrictions, eg: being a pacifist, or feeling alone in your situation, or just not knowing HOW. Anything is better than ending up, by default, relying on those in power or with the money to help you out, cos they won't. The subtext is that the only way to change is through co-ordinating or communicating with like-minded people, which may not seem to change the physical realities of existence, but will change the mental realities away from subservience and the depression/ frustration that evokes.
..'Never-Ending War Song' is a 10-minute epic that parallels 'From The Cradle To The Grave'. Was this written as lots of small segments synched together, or something that evolved? It's a very intelligent set of lyrics I thought - possibly the most effective I can recall from the pen of Dick Lucas - with the final line of "War's the global empty face of loss and its retaliation" bringing the other aspects of the song together. Can you give us the basic idea behind the song and what inspired it?
..Dick) The words flew out at 5:00am one morning and the music came together by sliding several of Bruce's ideas around each other until we reached a point where so many lines of words could be in a song and that it didn't get overlong, dull or too repetitive.
It was - is - a time of war, which it always is, but this time it was personal! That's the only word for it, I mean 'my' country [and I'm sooo not patriotic] was involved in a theorectical 'war', 'against Terror' [like terror had boundaries and an army] which was overtly illegal, unjust, and forced upon us by US political/ economic strategists with their craving for global dominance and resources [mainly oil] using 9-11 [which was totally arranged and implemented by the US government, in order to justify everything that followed - these people have no soul - get to the bookstore and read any of several books cataloging the facts re 9-11] to coerce wannabe 'friends', eg Blair, to join in, which he did, against the massive public demand not to... It was all so wrong, and so obviously so! Instead of writing a War is Wrong let's sing-a-long catchy chorus rant I went into the angle of what sort of people are involved in war; mainly how people in countries that Bush can't find on a map are influenced by Western overseas policies and lifstyle importation, as well as being shot at. How the links between business and government ride over local priorities, destroying social environments and culture, and create westernised leaders whose people are then exploited for the 'free market' at the expense of local infrastructure, all to keep in with the USA, a country with an ever-shifting 'axis of evil' list you don't want to end up on.
So I tried to imagine the social background/ inner state of mind that leads to people becoming suicide bombers; and the corporate mentality that rationalises the production of war profits; two aspects of human outlook so far apart yet completely linked by war, greed and global exploitation. Both have that 'empty face'.
..'Supermarket Forces' and, to a lesser extent, 'This Is Not An Advert' rail against corporate bodies that are essentially raping the identity of any town or city centre, sterilizing independent business so all you see is a wall of Starbucks, MacDonalds, Sainsburys and B&Q. While you care, and I hope many others reading this care about independent business over multinational corporations, do you think the average joe really gives a fuck? I'd like to think there'll be a huge backlash against the 'brand names' - but fear it will be too little too late.
..Dick) As long as the brand names 'keep it cheap', and 'look after your pocket', people will choose to 'save'. It's the over-riding, economic, mind-set, coupled with the notion of convenience and excused by the lie of 'choice'. In a world where fast is good and all strangers are potential enemies, the anonymity of superstores feeds the fear of openness as it simultaneously relieves it. This is the opposite of the one-to-one social shopping that existed before supermarkets, when over-the-counter conversation was likely, voluntary, and subliminally kept people in touch with each other. It still does exist in smaller stores, but there's less of them, and less people in them. The cost of saving a few pennies is the priceless nature of spontaneous social interaction with strangers [as someone said, strangers are friends you haven't met yet].
As to what the average joe thinks, let's not fall into the trap of thinking he/ she even exists! It's you and me, and if we start to imagine our Giving A Fuck sets us above anyone else, nothing gets better.
..How did you choose lyrical subjects for SUBHUMANS when CITIZEN FISH is still a going concern? Did you write these lyrics and songs with SUBHUMANS in mind specifically, or did these subjects just enrage you at the time of writing?
..Dick) The second one. I write not knowing or minding which band I sing the song for.
..Do you feel the old SUBHUMANS material is still lyrically relevant today? Given what's going on in the world, 'Religious Wars' seems particularly pertinent likewise 'Evolution'. How do you feel when you are singing these songs (or any others you consider relate to today's society) and realize that little has changed in the last 20-25 years?
..Dick) I avoid naming politicians [eg] in songs, cos they are transient, and irrelevant four years later. But war and exploitation are seemingly never-ending; which is saddening, maddening, and to most people perhaps 'just the way it is'. It's not as if nothing has changed at all, eg the percentage of vegetarians has finally reached double figures, and political propaganda has lost its power in these days of internet-spread analysis and debunking, but it's hardly party time, is it? How do I feel, going on and on and on about Big Brother and politicians being parasites? I feel like it's all still far too true and it still pisses me off and it's still worth saying so, and on top of that [or underneath? hmmm] it's like COME ON! But that's me being impatient, all change is gradual and mostly slow and probably relies more on rearing children to have a better outlook than we were starter-packed on. But, that aside, where's the reason to quit complaining?
..While I realise why you released 'Internal Riot' on your own Bluurg label, were you not tempted to approach some of the other labels you have released records with? I'm thinking specifically of Fat Wreck that released the killer 'Live In A Dive' album. Incidentally, how did you end up releasing that on Fat? How did you find working with such a large label - was it drastically different to your dealings with, say, Lookout! or Alternative Tentacles for the split with LEFTOVER CRACK that CITIZEN FISH released?
..Dick) Dealing with all or any of these three mentioned labels was more-or-less the same, no contracts, we get a percentage of profits and some royalties from sales, and when on tour in the USA we get to meet the people on the other end of the phone calls and see where all their records are kept and what pets are in the office, ie it's all pretty relaxed. The live LP was done through Fat cos Fat Mike is a SUBHUMANS fanatic ['fans' blow air about, 'fanatics' have a sense of the insane about them, much better word!], and wanted to have us do one of his 'Live In A Dive' series, so we said yes. It was an idea, a live record, that we'd had for years but not got around to.
..You mentioned earlier that that Phil lives in Spain and Trotsky lives in Germany and the strain it puts on rehearsing. Have you ever thought about relocating abroad? How different do you imagine your outlook would be had you moved to America or mainland Europe say, 10 years ago?
..Dick) Yes, to rehearse we have to fly and do some gigs to pay for it, at times when all of us are freed up for a week, so it's a rarity. Luckily Trotsky lives waaaay out in the Germanic countryside, so we can make all the noise we like. And there's a collective of musicians with a practice-space building in a town near Phil's village that Pid from CONTEMPT put us in touch with.
It's friends and family that keeps me here, rather than the poll tax, rain, gas prices, nightclubbers, rain, tabloids, football, rain, and public transport, and health service, did I mention the weather? I can't imagine my outlook if I'd emigrated, cos it's 6:00am and I'm facing a computer screen.
..What do you make of the current renewed interest in the 80s Anarcho movement? By this I'm referring to Ian Glasper's 'The Day The Country Died' book and DVD, Overground Records' recent four volume Anarcho Punk compilation series and, most recently, Steve Ignorant's staging of 'Feeding Of The 5,000'.
..Dick) The book, DVD and CDs are all rather excellent attempts at capturing a 'scene' that was generally dismissive of being categorised, annotated or held down. As for the CRASS reunion, it wasn't CRASS, either in lineup or attitude, and I hope anyone who saw that goes back to [re-]read everything CRASS wrote 20+ years ago.
..For those who lived through it, the 80s Punk and the Anarcho scene was a pretty violent place to exist in. Do you believe you possibly got a little desensitized to all the violence? Do you see a great deal of violence at SUBHUMANS shows today?
..Dick) We never got used to violence at gigs. We got wary of some venues or were made aware of local 'problems' before we arrived at a gig, but any time there was trouble it was always so fucking depressing, if not scary. Having said that, the number of screwed-up SUBHUMANS gigs was less than 20 [out of 300 or so], and I'm sure some bands attracted more trouble just by the nature of their lyrics or macho attitudes. Most trouble was with skinheads, sometimes nazis, sometimes assholes who figured out that fighting was easier if you shaved your head first. Sometimes it was people reacting to cops getting heavy outside. Over the years trouble got less and less, the skinheads grew up or got bored, the cops downsized the potential threat of Punk gigs [moved on to hassle the ravers], and these days the only hassle is drunken assholes now and then.
..One thing I recall at those 80s shows was the amount of literature that was either available or freely given away. Today, it seems a lot of those who attend shows don't even understand the concept of a fanzine - that something you agree with and find often? I know you have railed against the impersonality of the internet in various songs - is the 'Net to blame for the scarcity of print zines? I note you have a Myspace page - give us your thoughts on the Myspace 'Community'.
..Dick) As a zine scene humabean, that's a problem you've noticed more than me, but it's still scary. I get the same blank looks trying to sell vinyl sometimes. It's the problem, let's call it that, of computerized output. Both printed matter and music are now so downloadably available on the interweb that the act of selling something, no matter how cheap, is getting tricky, unless it's a t-shirt. Aha! Let's say the product [zine or CD] becomes ONLY available with the t-shirt, it's sewn into it... Of course it's easier and cheap as free air to do a zine on the net or download a song, but you can't take it into the bathroom or onto the bus! And you can't read the words or the cover art that goes with the song! It's a shadow of the real thing, and it all involves fucking your eyesight and your wrist muscles and your sense of 3-dimensional reality, and eventually your vocal cords dry up and eight of your fingers atrophy into useless stumps and your breathing gets shallower 'til your lungs shrivel up, cos it's all so much screentime. OH I'M ONLINE RIGHT NOW I'LL BE WITH YOU IN A MINUTE... Hahahahahahaha [slump stage left]
Ahem where was I? Oh yeah - MySpace! All the friends you can imagine are all here, and....and....what happens next? Total strangers ask me, "How's it Going? [end of message]". Well, let's see, I've been sat here instantly forgetting what I was going to do when I got here, and it's sunny outside but I'm inside and I haven't met any actual local friends for over a week cos I feel I ought to catch up with all these messages, and there's a voice in my head yelling, "Wot the fuck are you doing?" But I'm too polite to back out and say, "Fuck Myspace," cos it may insult - in some virtual way - any one of these 2000 'friends' I seem to have accumulated, and although some good contact does come out of it, it's no more, in fact a lot less, than I get through regular emails... But, what with so many people on Myspace, it is good for promoting gigs or releases, at least.
Meanwhile, here's a link to an article that tells you more than Facebook would like you to know.
..How was the reaction to the reformed SUBHUMANS when you made it to the States?
..Dick) Insane! 36 gigs in a big circle round the country in six weeks all sold out. The depth of expectation and eagerness was slightly frightening! The most insane was a gig in San Bernadino, basically in a hall the size of an aircraft hanger about 20 miles from LA, into which flooded 6000 people?! [what the fuck? as they say]. Scarey moment #1, the sound system dies mid-song, all the power onstage has gone, and five minutes later a section of the crowd the size of 1.675 anti-war demos starts repeatedly chanting BULL-SHIT!! What do I say to calm the seething masses? Fuck all, the mic isn't working! Anyway it all worked out in the end... But a tour has never been so energetically mental
..Going way back, how did you get into Punk Rock in the first place? Did you come from a musical background?
..Dick) Imagine there's no Punk Rock, and when the last rebellious music was the Rolling Stones[!], and the only good bits of your music collection are [although you're not conscious of it] the fast heavy bits [at this point I can't actually recall any fast music at all, before Punk], ok, the heavy bits... Anyway, Punk comes along, on the radio, and it blows everything apart, the bullshit rockstar culture, the pretentious prog rockers, the sexless pop stars, all the shallow meaningless lyrics, and introduces actually Fast and Noisy and Pissed Off to the musical dictionary, and it's full of darker emotions like anger and pain and cynicism, and it makes a whole metric fuckload of teenagers very angry and happy indeed! It all felt so relevant, and you felt connected to it.
Musical background? Well, sort of... What parents don't listen to music? My dad listened to classical a lot, and never to commercial radio, which is a good thing indeed.
..OK, coming off music a little, I just want to ask your opinion on a few general subjects starting with your thoughts on Gordon Brown and HIS Labour. How do you think he is doing and has he improved what Blair left behind - or was that too much of a mountain to shift so quickly?
..Dick) He's done nothing but bleat platitudes about caring, family and facing problems 'together', while gas prices, the credit crunch and the collapse of almost everything continues unabated, and really all these recession-style goings-on is a global problem that no one leader can change. He at least looks miserable about it, rather than putting on the Blairite happy/ understanding face that helped keep him in power... But if there was any hope that Brown may pull Labour back to the Left where it started, it's all gone now; privatisation has not been reversed at all, despite being seen to fail over and over again, and in fact is increasing. Businesses still pull the economic decision strings, even as those businesses are failing. The troops are still in Afghanistan and Iraq... What did anyone expect? Change?
..If you could change one thing about life in the UK what would it be and why?
..Dick) Bring back the illusion of freedom by removing all CCTV cameras and repealing the dozens of criminal justice acts that came in the last 15 years, thus re-allowing the rights to spontaneously protest, voice radical views and be free to gather and roam the streets or fields without being automatically charged with terrorism or disturbing whatever passes for peace these days. When questioning authority becomes illegal outside of regulated outlets like the media, where it hardly happens anyway, we all lose any sense of being free and start to fight ourselves.
..In my last interview with you (back in 1998!!), I questioned you about not being on the Electoral Register - I assume you are still not? You replied to the question stating, "Me voting or not voting makes fuck all difference to the nature of government which is basically to oppress, control and pacify the people." So, where do you actually sit politically, Dick? You have been quick not to label yourself as an Anarchist in the past. What contradictions do you see in the ethics of Anarchism?
..Dick) If I tend to any side in politics, it's the left, meaning I agree with more left wing views than right wing, as they seem more liberal and less selfish/ nationalist/ racist/ capitalist. But as all political parties these days [here at least] are centrist or right wing, and in the end all these wings are mere labels for ideals that rarely transcend the reality that money and power govern everything, I'm not out there supporting any of them. I haven't studied anarchism or its ethics, but it seems to me that the level of people's interactions outside of politics is what determines quality of life in terms of personal and social fulfilment. Relying on the powers that be to help our mental state is a dead end; all they do is give us empty speech and fluctuating statistics and a view of an endlessly unattainable rosy future when all the jobs are good and the wages fair and the housing affordable, and as we concentrate on these econo-mists we lose sight of the fact that there's more to living than these things, and much of it involves acts of self-empowerment and co-operation and defiance of the status quo, and having to stay with the laws that restrict freedoms of speech and movement may be impossible. I'm not talking about organising a revolution here, merely something as enjoyable as having say a party in your back yard, or moving into an empty house... Squatting and self-policing and bartering goods and skills are all economic alternatives to the way we're told things happen USUALLY. Patterns of repetition are the levers of control, and seeking out the unusual may be the variety of life that seems to be lacking from the incoming messages.
..What about the Yank Election? We know that Bush will finally be outta the door - do you see Barack Obama really having a chance against John McCain and, if so, who would you favour and why? Does it really matter who sits in that position anyway as they all become corrupt and selfish?
..Dick) It would be alarming if the Republicans won against a plastic bag after eight years of Bush, but that's what we all thought after four years of Bush... It would at least shake up a lot of perceptions if a non-white intellectual got into power, and given the inability to remove the pillars of power that is US government altogether, let's hope Obama is the one that doesn't end up corrupt and warmongering. It's hard to see how he could do worse than Bush, whereas McCain merely has to do nothing to keep the juggernaut of right wing extremism crushing all before it.
I think the Republicans will fix it at the last minute as they did with Florida and Ohio in the last two elections.
..Looking back at the 80s again, the biggest threat to society then seemed to be Nuclear destruction. Today, it seems to be terrorism - you agree with that? What are your thoughts on fighting terrorism - particularly the threat of suicide bombers either in the Middle East or in the UK/America?
..Dick) Or is it pollution/ food additives and the cancers they cause? Far more likely I'll get cancer than get blown up by a terrorist - if I'm not run over first. To fight terrorism we need to stop terrorising other countries with imperialist aggression and self-serving resource grabbing, pull out the armies and do a major course in reconstruction after all the damage we've done. Stop selling arms to anyone.
..What do you think are the best and worst aspects that Punk Rock (and Anarcho Punk itself) has brought to society?
..Dick) At best Punk asserted the power of Anyone to make and release and perform music, whereas before it was the realm of big business and plasticity. It also gave people a musical space to vent negative emotions as well as all the usual happy ones, which was good catharsis for a lot of depressed youth. At worst? It used up the last musical frontiers of shock tactics and rebellion! So now either is repackaged or so predictable it fails.
..Tell us about The Clutton Brothers that you seem to be involved with in some way.
..Dick) In some way?! I am Frank Clutton! Brother of Jack, ie Jasper of CITIZEN FISH. Turned out we were both recording odd tunes and words in our spare hours, and we recorded some stuff together, all on a 4-track machine, so decided to act as if we were a Proper Thing, called ourselves the Clutton Brothers and compiled not one but two cds-worth of tunes [Spring Collection 2003 and Turned out Nice Again, both on Bluurg Records]. Musically it's a bit mental, a bit Punk Ska Reggae, lounge field cupboard, all sorts really, all a lot of fun doing it too!
..What's next in the life of Dick Lucas? Is SUBHUMANS going to record another album in the near (or distant) future? What about CITIZEN FISH - will your attentions now turn to that?
..Dick) Attentions are never solely focussed on one band or the other, but next up a UK tour for the SUBHUMANS and a Eurotour in October, then....we'll see!!!