Interview with Andrés novacronica.com
A lot of rock music is still pretty masculine and testosterone-driven. What’s the hardest thing about being a woman in a band and in the music industry?
Sexist promoters and producers and sexist band members. Sexism hurts men too so it isn’t just an issue that affects women.
It seems women don’t make angry records as often as they did before. This made me think of all the places women could possibly be drawing anger from.
Where do you draw anger from now?
Injustice and cruelty, there’s so much to be angry about in the UK alone, when you factor in the suffering in the rest of the world it’s mind blowing. The ruination of the planet, the slaughter of billions of animals through factory farming, the misuse of charitable funds wasted on vivisection,War, female genital mutilation, corrupt hypocritical politicians, the perverting of religion to justify murder, rape and cruelty.
Do you think music has lost its aggression?
No, the more you play the more stamina you develop and the faster and more furious you become.
Was it difficult as a woman in a band, with the dominance of men in rock?
I was far too young to really understand just how dominant men were, I was full of pubescent hormones and lived for the moment. There were lots of attempts to control me from within the band and from management and record companies so being an awkward teenager I would do the opposite! I didn’t realise till later that being female meant I was more likely to be underpaid or placed lower on the bill at festivals etc. It’s difficult being in a band whether you’re female or male.
In musical and personal terms: What was your ambition as young woman? What is your ambition now?
As a child I wanted to sing, write songs and play guitar, and basically that’s what I want to do now. I’ve always loved music, especially the sound of electric guitars. Music moves me deeply, it’s the love of my life. I wanted to own an animal sanctuary but forgot the fact you need to make money to buy land, so that’s an ambition that I’ve yet to fulfill.
Do you think there are enough interesting women bands in the public eye right now? In what way would you hope these younger female artists are inspired by your music and personality?
There are loads of successful female Pop and R&B artistes but far less successful women in Metal and Punk. There are some great female Punk singers in the UK right now, many of them are vegan and some say I inspired them to take an interest in Animal Rights so I am very pleased about that.
Did you ever want to take your role as a punk figurehead any further, in a political sense maybe?
I’ve thought about it but I’m too thin skinned to endure the abuse politicians get and also I don’t have the patience to deal with people who choose to be ignorant. I think a basic IQ test should be a necessity before you get to vote. I used to think British people were quite intelligent and well educated but from what I’ve seen recently this isn’t the case. A lot of our politicians are not only corrupt but clearly unfit for office.
What would you say, then, to a young group who are offered a major deal?
It’s highly unlikely for a group to be offered a major deal these days because the music industry is in decline. Nowadays major labels offer what they call 360 degrees deals where they get a chunk of everything the artiste earns, i.e merchandise and gig income as well as record sales. In effect bands are now the indentured servants of the record companies. So my advice would be to get a good lawyer and make sure you understand what you are getting into, especially regarding who has artistic control.
Were the Vice Squad destined to burn bright and burn out fast?
As to the original line up then given our extreme youth the answer is probably yes. If we’d been in our twenties instead of our teens we may have lasted longer. As for the line up since 1997 then no, because we are more experienced and far more in control.
The tabloids painted you as a notorious figure. Did that mess with your head?
Did you like being in magazine covers?
I was too young for it to mess with my head, I quite enjoyed the notoriety at first but was embarrassed at seeing myself on magazine covers, rather like I was embarrassed at hearing my recorded singing voice for the first time. Later on I realised that the notoriety was a stumbling block because people were quick to dismiss me as a ‘ screaming pissed up punk ‘ when in fact I was a very dedicated hard working singer and songwriter.
In those punk days: were you physically attacked?
I was pulled off the stage a few times and had earrings ripped out, plus someone stole one of my boots at a gig which was a bit awkward as I had to hop around for the rest of the night. The gobbing was the worst thing, I used to be covered in it,it was utterly revolting, especially when we had to sleep in the truck and had no access to washing facilities.
Why do you think some of those punk audiences were/are hostile?
They weren’t hostile, they were just enthusiastic!!!
There was a neanderthal element of the audience that was affronted by a girl being on stage fronting a band, and to this day Punk is still very male dominated, you rarely if ever see a female headline a Punk festival. Back in the late nineties one of our agents told me that ‘People won’t come out to see a girl’.
Vice Squad: What went wrong/what went right?
We were too young and emotional to relate to each other in an adult way. I think the other 3 members treated it as a bit of a laugh whereas I was deadly serious about Punk. I was the youngest in the band yet the first to leave home and live in a different city and try to stand on my own two feet, my experiences in London made it hard for me to relate to the band and manger who all stayed in their home town and lived with their parents.
Our inability to play and sing properly meant that we couldn’t copy other bands so we accidentally sounded quite unique
Why did you chose to reform to the band?
People kept asking me to play the old Vice Squad songs when I was in the Bombshells and we were asked to play a one off gig at ‘Holidays in the Sun’. At the time we had a broken down transit van that needed a lot of repairs. We used the van to get to gigs and if we didn’t gig I didn’t eat so I said yes to the ‘Holidays’ gig as the fee they offered was enough to repair the van. I’d been writing songs on my own and sent the demo to PHD/Rythm Vicar who offered us a licensing deal so we released ‘Get A Life’. After ‘Holidays’ we were invited to play a gig in Ljubjana which was brilliant, the audience was fantastic and for me they represented the true spirit of Punk, so we decided to tour Europe. After that we played the Social Chaos tour in the USA in 1999 and we’ve been touring and releasing albums ever since.
What happened with Beki and the Bombshells?
We continued up to the end of 1999 then stopped gigging. My time in the Bombshells taught me to sing, there’s nothing quite like 3 or 4 gigs a week in smoky bars and clubs to develop the vocal cords. It also taught me how hard it is to run a band and keep it functioning, it was my first DIY band so I learned a lot about booking gigs and maintaining equipment etc.
We had a lot of laughs but the Bombshells was very hard work. We’d often find ourselves desperately trying to find yet another new band member when one of them inevitably quit because it was just too hard and too low paid. I struggled on with chronic asthma trying to hold the notes on a punishing set 3 nights a week in smoke filled pubs. I never quit in spite of being regularly plunged into despair by sheer frustration and lack of money and power.
We tested the theory that the Bombshells were being discriminated against because of my past by recording a demo and submitting it to a magazine called Future Music under the name ‘Autoerotica’, it was featured as demo of the month and the reviewer lavishly praised my vocals, saying ‘Who needs parametric EQ when you can sing like that?’. I doubt my voice would have received such praise if they’d known it was that ’Screaming pissed up punk’.
Does the world need a band like the Vice Squad today?
Yes, we need authentic bands that do it primarily for the love of music.
Do you find your songs are better now that in the 80’s?
Yes of course, I can express myself a lot better now. I’m still proud of the old material but it was written when we lived at home in safety with our parents so can’t possibly be as authentic as songs I wrote later against a backdrop of desperation and relative poverty.
The albums ‘Defiant’ ‘London Underground’ ‘Punk Rock Radio’ and ‘Cardboard Country’ were all written and recorded in the front room of my South London flat and and all but Defiant released on our own Last Rockers label, you can’t get more DIY than that!!
Can you recall the sentiment behind writing Last Rockers?
Teenage doom and gloom, all teenagers revel in misery to a certain extent, and you can’t get much more miserable than nuclear war, though of course the song still has some swagger about being a young punk.
How does it feel to be doing old Vice Squad material now?
We play the old songs a lot faster and heavier now which gives them new life. The subject matter of the old lyrics is still relevant, nothing’s changed in the world except that things have got worse!
Do you believe music has a responsibility to address social and political issues?
Punk music should address these issues, Pop music is more about escapism.
Are fame and money invariably corrupting?
If you get them very young then the answer is probably yes, but it depends on the person, some people have high moral standards at a very young age. It could be said that a lack of money is equally corrupting as poverty degrades people and limits their lives. Nowadays we have a Fame Culture where people just want to be famous as opposed to being really good at something, they seem to confuse fame with love.
What’s your favorite Vice Squad song?
I don’t have a favourite one, I favour several then get bored with them and get new favourites. At the moment it’s Punk Rock Radio or Hallelujah Karma.
What do you miss about punk era?
This is the Punk era.
How important is truth as a starting point to a lyrical idea?
It’s very important to me because I tend to write about social issues, if I was writing a pop song about some abstract idea of love or sex I don’t think it would matter so much.
How much self-examination goes into your music?
Not a lot, the ideas just come out when the Muse says so.
Do you have to draw emotions deep within you. Do you have restricted areas that you won’t go to?
We used to restrict ourselves but the floodgates are starting to open now, there are no rules.
Do you believe you must hate something or have an element of horror to write from true emotion?
It helps but by the same token it’s also easier to write about something you really love.
How much of you is revealed in your songs?
Quite a bit I suppose, but I write about other people a lot and also use my sense of humour to lighten the subject matter sometimes.
Why did you choose to cover some Sex Pistols songs? What punk and the Pistols mean for you?
I think we just covered ‘EMI’ live in the old band because it was fairly easy to play. I used to have a crush on Sid Vicious when I was a kid but now I see him as a victim of the machinations of the music industry. Punk Rock meant the world to me and it still does.
Do you have a favourite song to play in your repertoire? Why?
At the moment it’s ‘Back In The Cage’ and ‘Spitfire’, I like the aggression and vocal melodies on both of them, I hammer the hell out of my guitar and tend to break strings when playing these songs.
The music business is a lot different from when you were tangled up with EMI. How do you see it today?
We’re DIY so we don’t have to deal with the music business much. The old days at EMI were great fun because someone else arranged all the recording sessions, gigs and interviews and all we had to do was turn up and get pissed. Now the music industry is in decline so many bands use crowd funding to raise money to record albums etc. It’s great being DIY because there’s no record company pressure to record an album just to make money so you write and record when you have something to say. The down side is there is no record company money or support, you have to do everything yourself, but it’s a price worth paying.
Do you have any regrets?
Yes, I regret being so naive about human nature, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and it sometimes takes destruction to make you properly creative. People with easy, safe lives tend not to be very artistic.
What is the legacy of the band?
I think we’re writing our legacy in the new album we’re recording now.
What do you think about the music scene in terms of the bands out there now?
There are loads of great bands still, there are also a lot of crap bands. There’s a song on Cardboard Country called ‘Everybody’s In A Band Today’ which sums it up nicely! Everyone’s a writer, a photographer and a musician these days, which is great because everyone can express their artistic side but the down side is that it’s hard to find the really good artistes amongst the average and plain awful. We are regularly supported by great new talented bands and bloody awful bands, it’s like promoters can’t tell the difference!!
You’ve always shown interest in politics in your lyrics. What’s your political outlook nowadays?
I’m interested in Animal Rights and Social Justice, my politics are the same as ever, just more intense.
In terms of politics, music and tecnology: What do you make of 21st so far?
Politically it’s interesting to say the least, too much to the right in my opinion, Donald Trump for example. Younger people are at last becoming politicised in the UK, hopefully in time to save the NHS and what’s left of our public services. Music technology has advanced a lot, many people have home studios capable of recording very high quality tracks that would have cost a fortune in a commercial studio a decade ago. There are some phenomenal musicians and singers that have emerged in the 21st Century too.
Technology could make everyones’ lives a lot easier if those who control it are willing to share the wealth, but at the moment it’s going in the opposite direction with a few billionaires hoarding the wealth. If the human race doesn’t sort itself out very soon it’s doomed, it needs to stop factory farming animals for a start, factory farming is the biggest cause of pollution and damage to the planet. The good news is that Veganism is the fastest growing social justice movement in the world today.
Has England recovered from the Thatcherism that dominated the country during the years you were with the first lineup of band?
No it hasn’t recovered but there is hope in the form of Green politics and a moderate Socialist Labour party. Thatcherism encouraged selfishness and greed but even Thatcher wouldn’t have tried to destroy the NHS.
What’s a punk attitude?
Question everything and survive causing the least suffering possible. There’s also a Rock attitude in Punk, it’s a bit of swagger and joy in the sound of Rock ’n’ Roll.
What’s your own future? What do you look forward to?
I tend to live from day to day rather than trying to control the future. I’m currently enjoying writing and recording new material and gigging around the UK.
What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome in your life?
Bereavement and poverty and the indifference of some of the people I’ve had to work with.
What do you think you represent to the people who admire you?
Hope and the ability to endure.
Recently I wrote a book about a young girl who was sexually abuse and sexual slave in my country. I found her working as a prostitute in a horrible place. I asked her what was her name and she said: “Rebecca. Not my real name but you can call me Beki”. Then she went to the stage and dance the song “latex love”. She likes your music a lot, made her feel strong. And of course she calls herself Beki because of you. What would you say to that girl? Would you give her some message or advice?
I’d say get the hell out of prostitution no-one has the right to touch you or hurt you. Get an education and get control of your life, you are worth so much more than the scumbags who abused you, you deserve to thrive and have a wonderful life. If what you endured has taught you compassion for other women (or men) in the same situation then at least one good thing came out of your ordeal. If my music has helped you to stay strong then I am immensely pleased and proud because you have made it worthwhile. I wish you all the luck in the world.
What’s the most one can hope for in life?
Music, contentment and the occasional frisson of joy