What a great band Monkey Island are. Despite playing to only twenty or so punks, the band produced a blinding set at the Plantation Cafe in Guildford, packed with intense momments that left the audience equally impressed and bemused. The climatic song 'The Cha Cha Champion' remains one of the most deveststing momments of rock I've seen yet this year, and the waves of frenzied feedback suitably ended a terrific performance. After the show I got to talk to Pete and Jan from the band in the dark alley outside the venue, who as well as being good musicians, are really cool people too, and we had a conversation about all sorts of stuff...
Can I have your names for the tape recorder, please?
JAN: I'm Jan, for the tape recorder.
PETE: I'm Pete, for the tape recorder, and Darren's in there...
And what are your instruments?
JAN: I hit things and shout a lot.
PETE: He's drums and vocals, I'm guitar and vocals.
How did you form and who are your influences?
PETE: Formed about four years ago, we sort of all bumped into each other. Our influences range from stuff like Minor Threat and the Minutemen to stuff like AC/DC...
JAN: ...and Paul Dirkin, the poet. We like poetry, people who use performance poetry, like Adrian Mitchell, people who really had something to say. That's why we kinda like, sort of think we have something to say.
Are you politically stanced in any way?
PETE: Eveybody is. You can't help but be political, can you? You walk into a supermarket and you've got choices, haven't you, you've got certain choices about what you buy...
JAN: The man who says he's not politically stanced is politically stanced against politics isn't he?
You've got a new album out. It's your second album; how different is it to the last one?
JAN: It's tighter, it's more extreme, shorter...
PETE: Someone said it's just more considered. I like the first album because we just did it in a day, trashed out kinda like fifteen tracks, thirteen hours mixed, stamped, thank you very much!
JAN: On this one we spent two and a half days! *laughs*
Who are you releasing it on?
JAN: We're putting it out ourselves. We run our own label, it's called Ultra Recordings...just got it together ourselves.
PETE: ...sick of the corporate business. There's a man with chains there!
A punk kid then staggers towards us, not having a clue what's going on!
KID: Is it finished?
PETE: Yeah, you missed it!
KID: No, I saw you, you were well good!
Pete then gave the guy a free copy of the band's latest album, which was very nice, especially as the album is completely ace, and is reviewed somewhere else in this zine.
You come from Stoke Newington (North London). What's the scene like there?
JAN: I dunno, it's getting worse really. It's pretty trendy...it's getting more and more trendy. It used to be like quite a bohemian quarter. There's loads of bands that hang out there like Penthouse and Quickspace, because it was like really cheap rent, cheap late-night drinking and all that sort of thing, but apparently Damon Alburn has just moved up, so the scene's going downhill rapidly. We're the new Islington, it's very disappointing. We're putting posters up saying Damon Go Home... sick of your Pavement rip-off music, just fuck off back to Notting Hill, really!
During May, you're doing a two week tour...
PETE: ...at least, yeah, we're doing about twenty-three dates. We've done six already and then we've got two weeks straight through.
Have you ever toured out of Britain?
PETE: Yeah, we've played Holland and Belgium.
JAN: We're going to Sweden in September. Hopefully we'll be touring back through Denmark and Germany.
What's it like playing to our European neighbours?
PETE: They're great! Belgians are the best; they react against our stupid notion that they're really conservative and boring by knowing more about American and English music than we do.
JAN: The people in Holland are glued to their chairs with cannabis resin, that's their problem! They've got guildas coming out of their ears!
What's the best band you've played with?
PETE: We've played with loads of really good bands; a band callded Spinach who were brilliant, a band called Don who are fucking ace and have an album out, played with Penthouse who are excellent and Goldblade who are excellent... they're all different, Goldblade are a real show band, Penthouse do a sort of Jesus and Mary Chain thing, Don are just excellent.
JAN: Do we have to have a favorite?
Yeah, who's your favorite?
JAN: The favorite, the favorite person I think I've ever toured with is a performance poet called Mikel-F, who founded Sniffin' Glue magazine. Gave Danny Baker his first job. We've taken him on tour and sometimes he's just outstanding.
PETE: He's forty-two now, he's a complete nutter, and he's never stopped being punk. Danny Baker became a football commentator and a beer boy, he just became a performance poet.
Do you read other fanzines?
JAN: Yeah, we like loads. R*E*P*E*A*T fanzine's good, Here Be Monsters is good, all the Manic Street Preachers ones.
You've had a lot of support from John Peel, haven't you?
PETE: Yeah, he's been playing us loads hasn't he? Yeah, he's cool, wish he was my Grandad!
What did you think of the gig tonight?
PETE: I thought it was ace. We played to a crowd who basically wanted Rancid, didn't they? Parts of it I knew they wouuldn't get, but I thought we'd make those parts even more ungettable.
The alleyway is by now full of people who don't want to go home, and a girl seems to think Pete works at the Plantation Cafe!
GIRL: Can I use the toilet?
PETE: Yeah, sure, go ahead. It's on the right. *laughs*
And what did you think of the support band (Captain Everything)?
PETE: I thought they were brilliant. They were like Minor Threat. They've got something going, y'know? They were like a local band or something but they were brilliant. They should play up in London more. I like really tight, straight down the line punk ...it's that total energy. We play the music we do because of our age, we've listened to loads of music. We're not going to pretend we're young or anything; I'm thirty-three, he's thirty and our bass player's thirty-three today, believe it or not. This is what we've been doing since we were sixteen, that's why our music sounds like that. Their music sounds like that because they are sixteen.
What do you think about punk as a whole? Is it dead?
JAN: No it's not, because punk's about subverting music and it's reinventing itself constantly.
PETE: For me, it's like turning your blazer inside out. When everyone's turned turned their blazer inside out, you turn yours out again, y'know? The cycle just goes on and on, to make it really crass. When there's nothing left to subvert, subvert. Punk's never dead... punk's just an English name for a particular type of revolutionary action.
JAN: And loads of great songs came out of that. During 1978 to 1982, there was just tons and tons of great songs.
PETE: I heard that music when I was eleven, so imagine what it does to your head!
This question's really boring, I know, and I should have asked it at the start, but are you named after the computer game?
PETE: No, we're named after a Thirteenth Floor Elevators song. There's a band called Thirteenth Floor Elevators, and I apologise to the people who know, but for those who don't know, they were a Sixties band, formed in the year I was born, 1966, and they were the first band to sort of fuck about with music, the first white band anyway. They're from Texas, and we thought we'd name ourselves after a song by a band who fucked around with music, in the tradition of like the Rolling Stones naming themselves after a Muddy Waters song, that kind of thing.
JAN: Shows how old you are, mentioning the Rolling Stones!
Your harmonica player mentioned that you hadn't heard of a band called Monkey Boy, who played here last month...
PETE: Yeah, we have! He hasn't, no. Yeah, Monkey Boy are brilliant. They're one of those bands who we haven't played with but we'd like to. We know them quite well. I think we ended up playing here because they suggested it to us.
They reminded me a bit of you, but maybe it's just the name...
PETE: We were here first! We're going to sue them! We're going to make them give us their mountain bikes or something! *laughs*
Yeah, because they're really young aren't they, about my age?
PETE: How old are you?
PETE: Seventeen? What an ace age, eh? Nah, they're about twenty I think. See, they're already swept up by the music industry, lying about their ages! *laughs*
What do you think about all the young bands around?
PETE: Well, yeah, great, but what about all these old bands? Do you think we should give up because we're thirty-three? I think they should all stop, none of them can play, and they should all go away for ten years and learn to play their instruments! *laughs*
PETE: Definitely Seafood, we'll wrap their knuckles! No, who gives a fuck? They're ace, yeah! Just start playing. I started when I was sixteen, but the drummer of the Buzzcocks had made an album by the time he was sixteen. I started late didn't I?
I've always held the opinion that being young doesn't necessarily make you good, for example, Silverchair.
PETE: Are they still going? Aren't they related to Toad the Wet Sproket? They sound like they're really old ...I know loads of people who get married and have kids when they're sixteen. I'm not big fans of them either, y'know? They're not the youth! It's an attitude, it's what age you get it at. My Mum's seventy-six and she likes Shellac's new album because she used to do tap-dancing. *laughs* Just go for it...age isn't a big issue.
Any last things you'd like to say?
PETE: Yeah, how many wrinkles have I got?
PETE: There you go, you see, rock'n'roll keeps you young!
JAN: It's the final word, isn't it?
And that was it. It was pretty late, and the band were keen to get home to celebrate Darren's birthday, before heading up to Liverpool for a gig the next day! Their second album, 'Monkey Island', is out now and if Monkey Island play in your town, make sure you go and see them because their lo-fi, sleazy punk is superb. Cheers again to the band for being so friendly.
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Issue 4 Contents
Issue 4 Summer '99 © Tim Bragger