Pop and Kingsley talk about the implications of sporadic line-up changes, tell us why they hate Britain, and generally give astounding amounts of paragraphical evidence for being possibly the most politically frustrated musicians we’ve ever interviewed. ANGRY! REFRESHING! CONTROVERSIAL! INSPIRING!
Hey dudes. You’ve had a pretty crazy ride since way back in ’06. How much have the changes in your line-up affected your creative process?
POP : Well, the first line-up change the band went through was when I joined and I would say that had a pretty fundamental effect on the sound and the way the band created music. The song writing had been quite insular and mainly featured Paul and Kingsley, but once I joined and brought with me my bag of sound and fury things opened out slightly. The way we worked is each member of the band would tend to write their own parts and the band as a whole would then structure up the song and add the meat onto the bones. Since Scott, Owen and Kevin joined, this process has changed in that each of us tends to come to a rehearsal with an almost finished version of the song and then we knock it around a bit, spit and polish it and come out with something that we are all equally proud of. We have certainly become more prolific as a result and the songs themselves seem to be much more well-rounded and fully realised as a result.
The Cruel Britannia title is pretty blatant, and you’re often seen to be quite an angry band – how would you describe your feelings towards your homeland?
POP: I think like all Englishmen I have a feeling of proud dislike for my homeland. I love Britain for its long history of multiculturalism, its rich creative and industrial heritage, its pomposity and its strength in relation to its size.
But I hate its pointless monarchy, useless government, its over sentimentality, its xenophobia. I hate that its working class is happy to fight amongst themselves and to blame others for the state the country is in instead of coming together and using its legendary sense of community and spirit and claiming back what is rightfully theirs from the bankers and greed mongers and self serving members of parliament who have cheated and stolen from them for so long. I hate that the royal jubilee and the Olympics have been used as some sort of patriotic shock and awe campaign to give us all something shiny to enjoy so we would all forget about massive corporate tax breaks, VAT increases, brutal public sector cuts, vast increases in university fees, the closure of public libraries, art galleries and museums and the massive cost of the jubilee and the Olympics themselves.
People often say to me that if I hate so many things about this country then why don’t I leave, but the fact is there are so many things I love about it too. However I refuse to ignore the bad because I want to love everything about the place I live and am willing to work hard and do my part to get it there. Excuse the pun but I want Britain to be great not grey.
How do you feel about the EP release coinciding so perfectly with the Olympics? An intentional statement or happy coincidence?
KINGSLEY : The EP seems to be coinciding with EVERYTHING. 2012 seems to be the year Britain has got the bunting out and finally gone completely insane – whether it be everyone celebrating the fact that an extremely rich 80 year old woman who has never wiped her own arse for the duration of her life has managed to stay alive for so long and not give her odd out-dated inbred powers to her first born loveless son; or watching a hapless bunch of passionless, uncaring, inept millionaires battle it out in Poland and the Ukraine on a football field and inevitably come up short; or trying to support an overblown and over-hyped athletics event that features minority sports that is seemingly less about athletic prowess than about making vast amounts of luscious money for MacDonald’s, Samsung, Lloyds TSB, Visa and the Olympic organisation. I honestly completely fail to understand how Seb Coe – someone who was the very best athlete in the world for a time so must surely understand the concept of a healthy diet – can stand there with a straight face next to the biggest MacDonald’s restaurant in the world bang in the heart of his Olympic Park. Everyone’s ethics and morality have disappeared – it’s a fucking farce.
We love the backdrop that Stella Vine made for you. How did the collaboration with her and the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art come about?
KINGSLEY : Basically Stella contacted me a long time ago when I was doing some paintings for an exhibition I was doing in Teesside – we both have a fondness for big bold marks and paint that looks like cheese – and she was giving me advice on how to sell my work in order to justify not having a proper job so I could afford to be in the band and pay all my credit card bills. Essentially our friendship continued from there, she came to a few gigs and there was a mutual admiration for each others’ skills – she really liked the band and we all really liked her paintings. We had a collaboration organised for an arts and philosophy festival in Hay-on-Wye, and I thought it’d be a great idea to see if we could do a similar thing a bit closer to home in Teesside so I got in touch with the people at MIMA.
The arts are going through a totally shit time at the moment due to Government cuts and many people see institutions such as galleries and museums as unnecessary fluff as they think money could be spent on other – and in their eyes, more important – public amenities. In part, the idea behind the MIMA show was to try and get an audience into the gallery that may have never went in there before – modern art galleries have a tendency to be imposing, unapproachable places and I wanted to show that there’s no need to be afraid. The world doesn’t have to be full of grey Victorian skies, community police officers, pound shops and unemployment.
Are there any artists that you feel you are particularly influenced by?
KINGSLEY : I tend to get influenced more by non-artistic things than artistic ones. I’m more influenced by conversations I have in the pub, or when a relationship fucks up, or from an article I’ve read in the news, or from a car almost hitting me, for instance.
I really like, and am inspired by, Felix Gonzalez-Torres. He died in the ‘90s of an AIDS related illness, and was famous for very minimal and quiet work – but I find most of the art he did impossibly touching and beautiful.
I like genuine trailblazing artists like Pollock, Rothko and Bacon as I think part of me still clings on to the idea that a true artist should be some sort of crazy, wild-at-heart dark lunatic.
One of my favourite contemporary painters though is someone I discovered via MIMA and she’s called Katy Moran. Her paintings to me are what I imagine a romantic artist would have done a few hundred years ago if they’d taken a barrel full of drugs and stopped trying to be so damn precise. They’re amazing images and somehow simultaneously manage to appear abstract and modern yet classical and old fashioned – beautiful carnage, in other words.
What about bands? Who do you feel are your musical peers?
POP : The band’s musical influences are pretty eclectic. Due to each of us coming from very different musical backgrounds, we bring a lot of our separate influences through in the songs or parts of songs that we each write. There are common threads such as Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, MBV, Eighties Matchbox, and a few others.
I personally love Marilyn Manson, Bauhaus, Jesus and Mary Chain, Andrew WK and Rammstein – and a few of these artists can be heard echoed slightly in the songs I’ve written. The Yin to my Yang is Scott who loves deep house, Brian Eno, and other experimental instrumental music.
You describe yourselves as ‘politically charged’. Is it always a conscious decision to include this aspect in your tracks or does it just naturally weave itself into things?
POP : For the most part it’s a natural thing. I think it’s important as an artist to draw influence from as wide a net as possible and to somehow try and reflect you thoughts and feelings as much as possible through your music and lyrics. We’ve never really described ourselves as ‘politically charged’ but we try not to shy away from writing about things that could be seen as such. It’s hard not to feel angry about the things that are happening in this country at the moment and it angers me even more that these feelings don’t seem to be getting represented in music. No one seems to want to be seen saying anything inflammatory in case people think they’re not cool or something, and I find that really frustrating. Where are the John Lydons or the Penny Rimbauds, the Dylans or the Strummers, the Ari Ups or the Richey Edwards of today? Someone, please just act like you give a fuck.
Do you think to be a musician you have to be a little cynical and wary in how you view the world?
KINGSLEY : I think it’s a blessing and a curse. I think if I wasn’t so cynical and fearful of pretty much everything that goes on in the world around me I’d probably be a lot happier. I’ve never been a carefree type and I worry way too much. I have to have objects at right angles on all surfaces and I can’t abide anything balancing on the edge of a table. I watch the news first thing in the morning, miss out odd numbered stairs, avoid cracks in pavements and I glare at drivers of cars if I feel they’re going over the speed limit in suburban areas. I don’t want to be so cautious about everything but I just am – it’s a totally innate quality.
I’m suspicious of every single thing I read and see – I like to take in as much information as I possibly can but I also like to let my judgement decide whether I believe it or not as I think we’re fed mountains and mountains of lies on a daily basis. I abhor manipulation on any level – by the media, or record companies, or national radio, or shithead sneaky marketing strategies, or X Factor, or governments, or jobsworth arseholes with no humanity. I fear that every tweet by anyone involved in PR person is a lie – or at least a truth that’s been paid for. I don’t know if I’m paranoid or just plain wrong in the head but none of it is a put on – the world perplexes me and amazes me in equal amounts, and the people that inhabit it drive me mad as I don’t understand why they can’t see the things that I see. So yes, I apologise for being a tad cynical.
You’ve made two pretty intense but sparse videos for ‘Summer Song’ and ‘This English Life’. Care to explain them a little to us?
KINGSLEY : Basically I just wanted a way of getting our songs online and heard before they were released so I figured that the easiest way to do this would be to make a couple of videos to go up on YouTube. I didn’t have a budget to shoot these things so thankfully managed to persuade a friend with a camera to come with me to the countryside armed with a flag and a binbag full of plastic bags. The idea behind ‘This English Life’ one was to effectively strike a pose as pompous as possible and to hold it for five minutes. I despise the inherent Britishness of feeling permanently repressed and in reverence to something you don’t necessarily agree with. We seem to spend all of our lives being looked down upon by people who have no right to do so, and over the last few years it seems they’re gradually losing control. Britishness to me is being rebellious and utilising your right to disagree and debate. Too many people are happy enough to see everything turn to shit. This band isn’t. I wanted my pose to be as statuesque as a lion in Trafalgar Square. Even though nothing at all actually happens in the video it still seems ludicrous and bombastic, and that was the effect I was after.
The video for ‘Summer Song’ is partly based on a performance art video I did when I was at university, which essentially involved me attempting to suffocate myself with a plastic bag in order to quit smoking. Again though, the point of this one was to be fairly ridiculous – it’s actually supposed to be funny and a bit of a black comedy, in that the monotony and relentlessness of putting bag after bag over my head and failing to properly asphyxiate is either the actions of someone totally incompetent, someone totally insane, or both. The first time you see me put a bag over my head and tighten it around my neck is supposed to shock but by the time I reach the third or fourth attempt, your reaction isn’t supposed to be as intense, and by the end you should be completely desensitised. We did about thirty different bag-takes that afternoon. Such fun.
The final names of each band member are on the record as ‘Chapman’. And yet you insist you are not a cult. All the same, do you enjoy cultish imagery?
KINGSLEY : The “cult” thing started when I decided to post up various idiotic things that I now mildly regret on MySpace way back in 2007. We all regret MySpace in some way I suppose, though – even Tom. I am more than a bit fascinated with “cultish imagery”, and I like the fact that any band at the moment can be regarded as a cult in some way – especially in this age of moronic Facebook “like” culture. People will try anything to get fans following them, whether it be by posting pictures of lovely cuddly cats or making promises of nakedness.
Marketing companies are continually coming up with new strategies into brainwashing. The population collectively sits at home on a Saturday night casually nodding at whatever Gary Barlow has to say about any singer on the X Factor stage as we believe Gary Barlow must know what he’s talking about as he’s Gary Barlow and he is in Take That.
We need to realise that manipulation of human emotions and feelings isn’t just confined to religion or something deeper – to me the manipulation of the masses via marketing, advertising, politics and scare mongering is something far more sinister.
On a lighter note, how has the response been to the new tracks on tour?
POP : The response has been amazing. It’s always a daunting prospect playing new tracks live to people who have come to the gig to see you perform the stuff they know, but people have been refreshingly receptive – so much so, in fact, that we’ve even decided to start playing brand new stuff that we’ve written post-Cruel Britannia. We’re really lucky in that we have a really supportive fan base who we tend to use as a sort of barometer for the quality of any new stuff we write. If they don’t like it, then we know it’s not good enough.
What band would you choose to see in the Top 40 (apart from yourselves)? You can take that accolade as a punishment or a reward for the band you choose, depending on your perception of the Top 40.
POP : I would genuinely love to see someone like Eighties Matchbox or Liars or Atari Teenage Riot just go blasting into the top 10 to really fuck things up. The pop charts are so safe, and so I would love something insane to break through and change things for the better. I love imagining what it must have been like when the first punk bands started filtering into the charts, or when someone like Bowie performed on top of the pops, and what it must have been like to witness and how exciting it must have felt. With musical tastes tending to be quite cyclical, I have all my fingers crossed that we aren’t too far away from something similar.
What’s next for The Chapman Family?
POP : Hopefully an album, and plenty more touring. We’ve got about 30 songs written and we’re hoping to whittle these down to the strongest ten and get them out as soon as we can. If there’s one thing that we’ve learned throughout the course of our career so far it’s that everything these days is so instant that you can’t afford to stand still for too long, or people move on from you to the next new band. We want to be able to do this for as long as we can and to make sure that people know we’ve very much alive, and kicking against the pricks like always.