Interview: Truth Equals Treason
"...punk used to shake the foundations of society for fuck's sake! There are still plenty of battles to be fought here and now to try to make the world a slightly better place, so let's have it!"
In his book ‘Lipstick Traces’ Greil Marcus connects Dadaism, the Situationists and early Punk as movements that creatively disrupted and exposed society (1) as a construct and in doing so pointed to the possibility of something better than what is. Punk has long been a contested art form struggled over by both those who see it as a DIY grassroots artistic expression of progressive politics that may or may not be musical and those who would reduce it to a musical style with associated fashion accessories. In a continued attempt to defang and domesticate punk the BBC recently commemorated 40 years since the release of never Mind the Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols by representing punk as a bygone historical movement, an interesting museum piece, references to ‘the punk era’ were common.
For those who consider punk as a DIY grassroots artistic expression of progressive politics there never was a punk era! For them punk is an ongoing vibrant voice of dissent, a problematic community that at its best offers a glimpse of solidarity, tolerance and alternative social relations. One of the bands who best express these aspects of punk are Lincoln based Truth Equals Treason, at present a three piece, who formed in 2015 and released an EP It’s Got a Photo of Thatcher, Must be as Punk as Fuck early this year. Having seen them deliver an astounding set of well structured, danceable, riotous, compassionate, political songs at a weekender in Nottingham recently I contacted them for an interview.
(((o))): I caught you at a Punk 4 The Homeless gig and was blown away!! Could you give us an overview of Truth Equals Treason? How did you meet? When did you start?
Jam: 3-piece punk band from the Lincoln area – used to be a 4-piece, but we recently mislaid our original guitarist in bizarre circumstances… Alan, Glen and Jackson had started a band in 2015 called ‘T.W.O.C.’, but needed a bassist, so I volunteered (even though I hadn’t played bass in a band since 1985…) and the rest is history – started as the embryonic T=T in August 2015; played our first gig in February 2016; became a 3-piece in August 2017…
Alan: I was only 16 when the band first started – I was in a bar with my dad when we met Jackson, and he introduced me to Glen. We used to practice in my front room to begin with – our first song was a cover of ‘Taken by surprise’ by Poison Idea!
Glen: Yeah, I was asked by Alan and our old guitarist Jackson to come and have a cider-fuelled jam-session round at Alan’s house back in 2015. We tried a couple of cover versions (‘Scarred for life’ by Scottish band Last Rites and ‘Taken by surprise’ by Poison Idea) and also had a half-formed song or two knocking about from mine & Jackson’s previous band that we kicked into shape. Rehearsals were chaotic to say the least – vast amounts of booze was consumed and local lads and lasses wandered in and out all the time…
(((o))): Great band name, how did that come about?
Jam: After I joined, we decided to change the band name from T.W.O.C. to ‘Death Rattle’, but that lasted less than a month before we had a rethink – I came up with ‘Truth Is Treason’ (inspired by cases like Bradley/Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, etc. and the state/media reaction to them), but after a week we realised it had an unfortunate acronym, so TIT became TET…
Glen: Hahaha – I have no recollection of the Death Rattle thing at all! T.W.O.C. was bandied about for way longer than was sensible until Jam came up with Truth Equals Treason – it suits us.
(((o))): Your set was really well delivered at The Doghouse despite being down a guitarist! I guess you’ve been in bands before Truth Equals Treason?
Jam: Thank you very much – it was our first outing as a 3-piece, so it was a little nerve-wracking waiting to see if me switching to guitar & simulating a bass sound by means of electrickery would actually work out OK on stage (we’d only had two practices up to that point…), but by all accounts we pulled it off! As for other bands, I’ve been playing about with various outfits in and around Lincoln since about 1981, but it’s very unlikely you’d ever have heard of any of them, although some did at least make it as far as playing live (Cri de Coeur (recently reformed…), Doctor Rat and Shanarchy).
Glen: I’d never been in a band ’til RatRaven – a band I’d played with the year before T=T with my good mates Whaler, Jacko, Nugs and Black Metal Adam. It was shambolic at best but we did put out a track on a great comp 7”, so all the 9% lager and fallings-out were kind of worth it…
Alan: I hadn’t had much band experience, but I was studying at Access To Music and had a little band there. It wasn’t long after I began college that I started with Truth Equals Treason and now also play for Cri de Coeur.
(((o))): Who would you admit to you as musical influences?!
Jam: I’ve never been able to pin down whether I’m influenced by other bands when I’m writing or playing or not, but I’ve always loved Crass, Dead Kennedys, Discharge, Subhumans, etc.
Glen: Bands that got me into music and I love – it all started with Bay City Rollers and the Wombles… At 8 years old I started going to record shops – I bought Madness, Undertones, The Jam, Clash, The Police and all the classics of the time! Later I got into electro and early hip hop, then a friend (who later became a Nazi) introduced me to basic punk. Dead Kennedys blew me away. Round about the same time, I saw The Exploited on TOTP – my dad weren’t keen… In about the mid ’80s I started to listen to John Peel and it all kicked off – Chaos UK, ENT, Napalm Death, Ripcord, Electro Hippies plus all the Yank core: DRI, MDC, JFA, Septic Death – I spent a ton on imports. The anarcho sentiments of Crass, etc. strongly influenced my thinking, but I was swept away with the harder and faster choonage. Saying that, I was also listening to metal, industrial, hip hop, reggae etc. These days I listen to h/c punk, metal, hip hop and jungle mostly, but I love old skool London music like Johnny Moped and Chas & Dave – working class music with heart, innit…?
Alan: When I was 14, my dad bought me a drum kit and I taught myself to play by listening to music on my headphones. I would say I have been influenced by bands like Stiff Little Fingers, The Clash, and The Exploited.
(((o))): Who would you not admit to?!
Jam: I’m rather partial to a bit of Slade and have an enduring love of Blondie, but I don’t see too much of them in our sound (although Glen might look good in a big sparkly hat…)!
Glen: Well… I love good pop – Kylie, Adele, Manics, Dolly Parton, Tom Jones, Amy Winehouse… There’s not much I wouldn’t admit to liking – I have little in the way of shame!
(((o))): Did you have a fairly clear idea of the sound you were aiming for from the start or has it evolved? Where are you in the punk spectrum?
Jam: As the ‘new boy’, I just went along with the flow to begin with, so it’s probably fair to say that the first songs had more of a metal influence courtesy of the then-guitarist. As things have developed, though, we’ve moved away from that somewhat and I personally think we’re probably tending towards more of an anarcho punk feel now (which covers a great many styles and neatly dodges the question!). A couple of people have described us as ‘anarcho street punk’, but they were drunk at the time!
Alan: When we first started I believe we were looking to do something Discharge-sounding or The Exploited, but it didn’t seem to go to plan…
Glen: Hahaha! I’m in a band whose music I would listen to myself. I’ve always wanted it to be hard-edged music with heartfelt progressive lyrics. The punk spectrum is big these days and as long as we’re not playing with braindead fence-sitters or stagnant ’77ers I’m normally happy… I do like to see diverse line-ups (grind, HC, etc.) – it brings people and our ideas together. Mates of ours like Sods Law, The Domestics, Kill Bitches To Dress Foxes, White Skull Death Snakes Of Death, The Rioters, Paul Carbuncle, Nieviem and more, I see as our peers – that’s our present spectrum and it suits. We’ve played with folk punk through to grindcore bands – they were all punks.
(((o))): I noticed that you are donating all profits from your latest track ‘Through the Cracks’ to Punk 4 The Homeless, the lyrics seemed really empathetic,
“Spend all day just traipsing the street.
Numb inside, life on your feet.
Alley for a house, step for a seat.
Stark, cold living death – bricks & concrete.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Believe the lies – demonise.
Never want to sympathise.
Spend every day in a world not fair.
Pass every day in a living nightmare.
You gotta fight for the meagrest share.
See the people round here, they do not care.”
Is this an issue that particularly troubles you?
Jam: I think it’s fucking shocking! People have signed up to the lies trotted out to them by the Tories and right-wing media and swallowed the ‘austerity agenda’ hook, line and sinker (the ‘I’m all right, Jack’ mentality always prevails when the Tories are in power). Unfortunately, the people who fall ‘through the cracks’ are increasingly fucked as mental-health care, social services and safety nets are eroded and they’re left to fend for themselves. For one of the richest countries on the planet, the state we’re in is an absolute disgrace, and it’s all down to ideological dogma!
Glen: If we’re not looking out for those at the butt-end then what are we? Our home city is particularly bad at the minute – all funding for homeless people has been stripped and I hear a lot of victim-blaming. One of the biggest issues we have is with the legal highs – it’s terrible from what I’ve seen. People shuffling, underweight, often convulsing on the floor. What are people escaping from now? It’s heartbreaking to see. We live in a country with hundreds of thousands of empty houses – they should be homes not investments for the rich.
(((o))): You released a 5 track EP It’s Got a Photo of Thatcher, Must be as Punk as Fuck in January, could you talk us through the subjects you engage with in it?
Jam: Mainstream media manipulation and false news; dead-end jobs, wage-slavery, erosion of workers’ rights; the plight of refugees and immigrants; the negative effect of religion; reality TV, exploitation of the needy and dispossessed, vilification of the poor, and back full-circle to mainstream media manipulation… Essentially modern life in microcosm, sadly. The title might also be a little dig at lazy ‘dad-punk’ that sometimes appears to think that wearing a pair of bondage trousers, surrounding yourself with the tired iconography of 35-40 years ago, and singing about puking your guts up after 20 pints and a kebab is all that punk’s about… I mean, I’m a fully-paid-up old fart myself, and we all wallow in nostalgia at times, but c’mon – punk used to shake the foundations of society for fuck’s sake! There are still plenty of battles to be fought here and now to try to make the world a slightly better place, so let’s have it!
(((o))): What resources do you draw on in your lyric writing? Personal experiences, other sources like films and books?
Jam: For me, my songs are usually based on politics (local, national, international and personal) and current affairs, with personal insights if I’ve been affected/involved by either.
Glen: It depends really, it can be different with each song. A song like ‘Fuck off back to Eton’ can be seen as flippant and knee-jerk, but it comes from a serious place – sometimes I’m adding the politics to the personal experience sometimes vice versa. I really haven’t been putting pen to paper very long, but I’ve been ranting all my life so it comes naturally – hahaha!
(((o))): How does the creative process work in T=T? Is there one main songwriter or is it very collaborative?
Jam: I come up with the music these days, with the lyrics usually coming from Glen, although a few of my little ditties will probably make an appearance in due course (I’m not a vocalist, though, so my lyrics tend not to take into account minor things like breathing, being able to remember fourteen verses, etc.!). Once I demo a new tune, it’s then a collaborative process sorting out arrangements, etc. – Alan’s got a good ear for song structure, and the song usually evolves fairly quickly from that point, although we’ve had to take a couple of months off from song-writing recently to adapt to our changed line-up. We’re firing on all cylinders again now though, and plan on getting back into the studio in the new year to record our next EP.
Glen: The creative process has been fairly organic up ’til now – Jam has a decent bank of riffs and our Alan is a powerhouse on drums as you know. We’ve had to adapt slightly now we’re a 3-piece but it’s still flowing, although we don’t set out to write songs to any deadline. Jam’s lyrics are a bit more cerebral and wordier than my own, but I like that mix, it works for us!
(((o))): What is the music scene like around Lincoln? Are there plenty of opportunities for bands to play?
Jam: In spite of a shortage of good venues, there seems to be a bit of a punky resurgence in Lincoln at the moment with fairly regular gigs and quite a few good bands on the go – Mothcob, Nieviem, Boycott The Baptist, Throatpunch, SkinLover & others I’ve probably forgotten, sorry! Having said that though, in the two years that we’ve been going, we’ve only actually played our ‘home-town’ once, so we’re possibly not the best band to ask…
Glen: Pretty healthy tbf! We get on quite well with all the lads and lasses involved with the Lincoln scene and it’s been brilliant to hear how we’ve all progressed over the past couple of years. Me and Jam are like the elder statesmen obviously (well, we’re old!) – not that the rest of the little fuckers would ever listen to us…
Alan: Not the best place for live music, not enough places have live bands.
(((o))): How would you say the DIY punk scene is doing more generally, is it in a healthy state?
Jam: It seems in fairly good health, although getting people off their arses and out to gigs (or actually in to watch the bands instead of standing outside with their mates having a fag…) is an age-old problem. We’ve done DIY gigs in Bradford, Derby, Grimsby, Lincoln, Norwich, Nottingham, Manchester, Peterborough, Sheffield, Wellingborough, and usually found the events well organised, so there are still a lot of committed folks out there keeping the flag flying.
Glen: The enthusiasm from promoters is definitely there, but it seems to be hit-or-miss with the punters. Not to say all gigs are under-attended, but it seems you need a ‘big name’ draw to get a crowd sometimes…
(((o))): Capitalism tries to create a sense of anxiety and insecurity, tries to get us to root our sense of self in consumption. Do you find the punk community and exploring your creativity helps in resisting those pressures to conform and consume?
Jam: I haven’t felt any pressure to conform for about 30-35 years – I am what I am, and if people don’t like it, they can go fuck themselves… (I’m quite the diplomat, as you can see!). Also, I don’t know if there is a single punk ‘community’, to be honest – some of the people who call themselves punks should be ashamed of what they’ve become, in my humble opinion. Seeing people who’ve grown up listening to the same music and messages I have, but obviously haven’t understood a single fucking word makes me weep! ‘Punks’ slagging off ‘foreigners’, minorities, ‘benefit scroungers’, LGBT+ people, women, even tattooed/pierced folks, veggies/vegans, etc. – what the fuck is that all about?! And at the same time, these cunts are often waving the flag, proclaiming their devotion to ‘our troops’ and licking the arse of Farage, Britain First and the like! I saw a snarky comment a bit back when Trump was elected, saying something like, “watch all the anti-establishment punk bands now trying to find words that rhyme with ‘Trump’”. My question there is, what the fuck is an ESTABLISHMENT punk band…?! So to be honest, half the time I find the ‘punk community’ more of a frustration than a comfort, but I’ve always been an awkward sod – hahaha! As for capitalism, well sadly it’s unavoidable in the world we live in – like it or not, we’re all consumers, but you CAN minimise your participation in the whole rotten system if you want to: choose ethical companies where you can (or more ethical, at least…); don’t rip people off for a fast buck; don’t be daft enough to believe that the latest expensive shiny gadget will make you any happier; if you have the choice, don’t work for or trade with wankers; do-it-yourself wherever you can, etc., etc. As Flux said all those years ago, “Strive to survive causing the least suffering possible” – that will be different for every single one of us, but at least it’s a start…
Glen: We still have to operate within the neoliberal capitalist system, but we can as punks only try to be fair and try to exploit those around us as little as possible. Punk as an identity and philosophy is important to me – whether punk is affecting much in the way of change globally, I don’t know, but things like P4TH give me hope. We cannot afford to stagnate. Our message should not be diluted, we need to be inclusive and open to new ideas or it’s pointless – it’s good to see the new blood involved, they should be taking it to the next level! In my opinion, the ‘non-political’ punk scene is often just Bernard Manning playing bad heavy metal really, but there’s a lot of it about!
(((o))): How has your politics developed? What were the influences? Where would you place yourselves politically or is it a continual evolving of thought?
Jam: Ideologically, I’ve always considered myself to be an anarchist (anarcho-syndicalist, if we’re splitting hairs; which anarchists inevitably always do…). Having said that, I’m also a pragmatist, and acknowledge that as a far-distant goal rather than any sort of immediate reality, so in ‘traditional’ political terms I’d probably have to describe myself as a socialist. It’s something that you continually re-evaluate in response to changing events (even just getting older), but in the face of the damage caused to people and the planet by the greed & selfishness inherent in capitalism, ‘neoliberalism’, ‘neoconservatism’ and the like, I’m still firm in my beliefs that no matter the political system, we need to work together for the benefit of every member of society, not just allow a privileged minority to flourish while the rest of us drown in shit.
Glen: I’m a socialist with anarchist tendencies. My politics have become cemented over the years through life experience, union work, travelling and reading. I volunteer when I can in the community and I’m on the parish council, which raises the odd eyebrow, but fuck it! Think globally, act locally – amirite?
(((o))): What are your plans for 2018 – will you be out gigging a lot, do you have more any planned releases?
Jam: We have a couple of gigs on the cards for the remainder of 2017 and several already confirmed for the first half of 2018, but we’re always up for more, so get in touch, people! Hopefully we’re recording again in January, with another EP in the works, which with luck will be released early next year.
Glen: Nothing to add really, just to say it’s been a brilliant trip so far!
(((o))): What bands and writers have you been enjoying lately?
Jam: I’ve been reading war poems by Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon recently, as well as starting the first book of Sassoon’s ‘fictionalised autobiography’, the ‘Sherston Trilogy’ (the ruling class doesn’t change its stripes much…). Music-wise, in the past year I’ve bought new stuff by Active Slaughter, Armoured Flu Unit, Healer of Bastards, Nieviem, Oi Polloi, Shot!, Steve Ignorant/Paranoid Visions, The Domestics, The System, as well as catching up on stuff by Witch Hunt, Resist, Ação Direta and discovering Verdun, a sadly now-defunct French anarcho band.
Glen: Bands I’m currently enjoying are Sods Law, The Domestics, Nieviem, Anti-System, Bratakus, Doom, Bring the Drones; also I’ve been revisiting some old thrash metal (Kreator, Sodom, Death Angel, Hirax, Toxic Holocaust) and ’80s British HC (Napalm Death, Hellbastard, Ripcord, Heresy) – I love the rawness of that era’s music. I’ve also been listening to Sleaford Mods, Idles, Wonk Unit, Scroobius Pip, Lovely Eggs, Hygiene, Good Throb, Hard Left, Shandy, & Hard Wax. On top of all that, two bands that have impressed me with comeback albums recently are Wu-Tang Clan and Iron Monkey… Book-wise, I’ve just finished a great book on skiffle by Billy Bragg called ‘Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed The World’; also John Lydon’s autobiography, the NOFX autobiography (‘The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories’), a book on social mobility and class by Dr Lisa McKenzie whose title escapes me because I left it in a caravan in France, Maximum Rocknroll and Ripping thrash zines, and the newly re-energised Class War insanity! Oh, and Elvis Costello’s autobiography which was the beige-est book I’ve ever read…
Alan: I have been enjoying Burning Flag, Sods Law and Nieviem. I don’t really read books, though, so don’t have a favourite…
Jam: And on that note…
Glen: Thanks to Tim for the interview – we appreciate it a lot. See ya soon!
Photo by Debra Wilson.
Marcus, G. (2011) ‘Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century’, Faber and Faber, London.