Interview: Healer of Bastards

"I despaired with the state of the world when I was younger, and I educated myself about important and moral issues. Feeling utterly powerless to change the world, you have to start with yourself and then try to inspire others."

Melodic hardcore 3 piece Healer of Bastards comprising of Paul (drums and vocals), Jake, (guitar and vocals) and Simon (bass and vocals) formed in December 2014 and quickly released their self titled debut EP in May 2015. Just over a year later they released the 3 track EP Wage Slaves which engaged with working class experience in Neoliberal Britain “MPs would have us work to death, Retirement age at your last breath, Life reduced to bills and fees, Economic slavery.” (Wage Slaves), the evolution of warfare “Asks no questions, obeys all orders, No need to think what is humane, Not all wars are fought in defence, The Iraq war showed them this” (They are the Drones) and alienation “What is this place? – Why does that meal still have a face? Words fall on your ears – but the meaning seems to disappear” (What is This Place? (Not on Your Own)). H.o.B.’s mix of social concern and hardcore punk had one reviewer comment “… I had never heard these lot before but had checked them out online and was expecting them to be good. However not this fucking good… hardcore punk with a passion to make the world a better place… Tight, catchy and inspired. Healer of Bastards have some important stuff to say from ‘Killed By Catwalk’ through ‘Who’s To Blame’ to ‘Wage Slave’ they care…have a passion for change and musical ability by the tonnage” (1).

Early 2018 will see the release of their debut album Justice which aims to capture their live sound and was described by Paul as  “thrashy, catchy, angry, and doesn’t give you any time to catch your breath!” All of which sounds pretty exciting!        

 

(((o))): I caught you at a Punk4TheHomeless gig at The Sumac in Nottingham where you played an amazing set!! Could you give us an overview of Healer of Bastards? How did you meet? When did you start?
 
Thanks very much indeed, Tim. It was really nice to meet you there. We always enjoy playing and supporting those gigs, and the Punk4TheHomeless crew do an amazing job raising money and awareness for the cause.
 
In terms of our history, I (Paul) have played in a few bands for a number of years and became friends with Jake (guitar) many years ago via gigging with his other band SLAB. He ended up joining my old band ‘R.A.M-M.A.N’ for a time, and we always got on really well, so working together again was just a matter of time I suppose. I met Simon (bass) through a mutual friend who asked us to be part of his band/project for a while. That was fun but only lasted a short time, so I decided to work on a solo project, which I wanted to call Healer of Bastards. I wrote a couple of songs, using drum machine patterns I wrote, samples I made, and playing bass/guitar over the top. I told Simon about it, and he immediately wanted to be part of it, so it quickly became a joint project. I also showed Jake some early stuff, with the idea that he might help flesh out some of the guitar parts and do guest vocals etc. He really liked the lyrics and arrangements, so we suddenly found ourselves being an actual band! It all happened so fast, but it’s been a blast ever since.
 

(((o))): Did the band come out of a shared politics, shared musical interests?
 
I think the first and most important factor was how well we got on. I believe that a band can only be truly fun if you like and trust your band mates, which we are lucky enough to have with H.o.B. In terms of shared politics, the lyrics we had created was one of the reasons we asked Jake to collaborate on joint vocals in the first place. I had written a song called ‘Pit Bullshit’, which is about the absurdities of the Dangerous Dogs Act, an act that effectively means innocent animals that have done nothing wrong are destroyed, simply because of how they look and their measurements etc. I knew Jake hated the injustice of this, so he jumped at the chance to help, but ended up embracing the idea of the whole project. As for Simon, he was really into the messages from day one, but also liked the idea of working on something that had potential to sound a bit different. We are all so open-minded about what our songs can sound like, which was such a great feeling and one of the reasons I think we have worked so well together. We will turn any idea that one of us has, no matter what style it is, then ‘Bastard’ it up into a H.o.B song.
 
(((o))): How did the name come about?
 
Ha ha, yeah, people are always interested in the name, which I think is a really good thing! I wanted something people would remember, and also something that would never be questioned in terms of what our intentions were i.e. we are a DIY band that are interested in saying important things and having fun, not trying to play Download Festival and being featured in mainstream media. That’s fine if people want that, but we just want to play music, have fun, and express ourselves. Also, I had been in bands before where the names never stuck with people, or 10 other bands had chosen the same name, even though you didn’t realise it. With the H.o.B name, the story goes that I was doing one of those stupid Facebook quizzes once (don’t judge me), and one came up once called What is your Game of Thrones name? You simply typed your full name in and it would put your name in graphics and included a description for you that sounded Game of Thrones-esque. It described me as a ‘Healer of Bastards’. It seemed fitting, because I am always writing about social injustice and wanting a better world. Healing this world of all the bastards that ruin it appealed to me, so that was that.
 
(((o))): Who would you admit to you as musical influences!
 
Wow! How much space do we have? Ha ha! We have such varied tastes, all of which I think spill into the music. However, the variety of influences means we have ended up with a band that sounds like a blend of hardcore, thrash metal and pop-punk. I’d say that there is some influence from Sick of it All, Entombed, Pennywise, Dead Kennedys, Drongos for Europe, SLAB, Satanic Surfers, Rise Against, R.A.M-M.A.N, and Motorhead.
 
(((o))): You formed in late 2014 and had your first release out in April 2015! You must have the ground running! Did you have a fairly clear idea of the sound you were aiming for from the start?
 
Not really to be honest! I had an idea of what it was going to be like if it were my solo project, but the additional styles, influences, and enthusiasm that the others brought to the table just meant that songs came together quickly and organically. In short, it just ‘worked’ really quickly and was never a chore. I guess that’s what happens when everyone is into the project and loves making music. There are no passengers in the band and everyone wants to do it.
 
(((o))): How has it evolved? On your Bandcamp page you advise people to listen to your second release Wage Slaves to get a better idea of your current sound…
 
It’s evolved a lot since those early days. It started out with me as a lead singer, and we played to the drum tracks I wrote electronically, with samples etc. I loved diving around the stage and being the front man, but everyone kept saying we would be so much better with a live drum sound, which we agreed with. Every good drummer we knew was already in quality and busy bands, so I decided to pick up some sticks and try playing again, something I had not done for a number of years. We played our first show with me drumming and singing at the Brum Punx Picnic in 2015, and we loved it! Also, people said that it was nice to see a drummer-singer, as it is not especially common. Wage Slaves, our second EP, was the first with me drumming and singing, but we have improved dramatically since then and are much tighter these days. Our debut album JUSTICE is coming out very soon, and I think people will notice that we have taken things up a notch.
 
(((o))): You describe Healer of Bastards as playing ‘angry, but catchy songs about social injustice and the struggle for a better future’. Could you talk us through the subjects you engage with?
 
Sometimes a message in a song is pure anger towards the injustice of a situation or occurrence, but the songs usually aim to make you think more about something and decide how you feel about it. For example, we have songs about how ridiculous homophobia is; the cruelty of blood sports; the heartlessness of austerity; the responsibility that fashion industry has for negative self-image; and about how the insanity of this world can drive you to dark places, but that you are not alone in how you feel. We challenge negative views and events in the world, and almost demand a person to reflect on what to do about it.
 
I despaired with the state of the world when I was younger, and I educated myself about important and moral issues. Feeling utterly powerless to change the world, you have to start with yourself and then try to inspire others. Sometimes, direct action is required, but fighting with words, music, and dialogue has an important place too (music and lyrics made me turn vegan 20 years ago). That’s what all the songs are to me. They are a challenge to read the words and think about what you want to do about it. If the words don’t affect you, then at least the tunes might make you dance….. I’ll work on the politics some other way, perhaps over a beer!   
 
(((o))): What resources do you draw on in your lyric writing? Personal experiences, other sources like films and books?
 
It’s all from the news, books, personal experiences, individual politics, and those light bulb moments whereby something occurs to you about life, and you just have to share it in order to feel sane. Hopefully, some of it resonates with others, or maybe even changes the way someone sees an issue. Nobody is perfect and we are always learning, so that is why reflection is so important! None of us should go on just doing and thinking the same things we always have, so we need to learn from each other. I am not the same person I was 20, 10, or even 5 years ago! We live, we learn, we share, we try to improve. The lyrics we sing about are just our two pennies worth. However, the music is just as important to us as the message, and we always enjoy what we play. We just don’t know how to sing about anything else!
 
(((o))): John Holloway talks about our sense of self emerging from our acts of collective creativity (2), do you think that-plus community-is the key to maintaining an alternative narrative and resisting the pressures to conform and consume?
 
I have studied Sociology a lot in the past and had heard of John Holloway, but I was not really aware of his work to be totally honest. However, I know there’s a Marxist influence there, and the ideas you outline above sound really interesting. I will genuinely read more about this when I get time.
 
Anyway, to try and answer your questions as best I can, I think that everyone is completely different, so I believe our sense of self is probably way more complex than scholars can explain. However, I think a lot of what is being said there resonates with me. One of our very recent songs, as yet unrecorded, is called ‘Connect and Reflect’. To explain, this song warns against being insular in your own points of view, and being unwilling to consider others’ opinions and experiences. In short, the point of the song is that engaging in debate, thinking, reflecting, and then re-shaping how you think and feel can lead to better awareness of who you are, what is going on around you, and what may or not be utter bullshit. We can’t change the world from our keyboard, or through Facebook, so we have to get out there and work together. Along the way, we should all challenge our own thinking, and the thinking of others.
 
Music has a part to play in this but, ultimately, it’s all about communication and reflection. Being part of a punk rock scene is about this for me. Even if other punks might not agree, I think we are all unconsciously shaped by the people and communities we engage with, and part of that in the punk scene is to challenge, question, and resist. There’s a certain love for non-conformity, possibly because there’s such a strong desire within us to please, to follow suit, and not rock the boat. Deciding to tip the boat over, instead of start rowing too, appeals to everyone somewhere deep inside, even if it makes them feel uncomfortable. Community can help us with self-awareness and thinking differently, but they are only extensions of the people that make it up, so they can also be toxic and lead to being close-minded. Part of human nature is a need to know what to do, so being told what to do by huge groups of people is why religion still exists. You can’t necessarily find your own ‘self’ in these communities, but you definitely cannot find yourself if you don’t talk to anyone, or leave the house.
 
I may well have missed the point of your questions and talked a lot of shite, but it’s the best answer I can give without really looking at his work. However, I enjoyed thinking about it, and it’s given a few more ideas for future work, ha ha.
 
(((o))): How does a song take shape in H.O.B.? Is there one main songwriter or is it very collaborative?
 
We don’t really have a set way of writing, at least not consciously anyway. Sometimes we just start with a cool riff and develop parts to extend it into a full song. I’ve always got lyrics lying around, so we will either fit some to go with the tune, or, if they won’t fit, I’ll write new ones to match the tone of the song. Sometimes, I’ve got an idea of how I want to sing something and then we will write riffs to go with them. It’s extremely collaborative and no one person dominates the song-writing process, which I love about the band. In terms of lyrics, I suppose I usually write most of the them, but there is also input from the other guys on this. They may add lines, sections, or even come up with concepts we might write about.
 
(((o))): You’ve got an album out soon called Justice, can you talk us through it? What sort of subjects and ideas are you engaging with on it, how would you describe it musically?
 
Musically, it’s relentless, fast, varied in terms of styles, and true to how we sound live. It’s also got a lot of our heart and soul in it. We recorded it DIY style in our own lockup with our mate John. We set a goal of wanting it to sound just like we sound live, and think that’s what we have ended up with. There was no “fixing” of drums and guitars etc. If we made a mistake on our respective parts, then we started the track again. That was partly because the old school portable studio we used doesn’t have many tracks, so we had to get the songs right! I think that’s what really makes it sound authentic. If I missed a kick drum beat or a cymbal hit, then that’s what it sounds like on the record. I refuse to play to a click track too, so it feels extremely human and you can hear and feel it when we are getting into the music. It also sounds live in that we play at the tempo we play at during gigs. Sometimes, bands play faster live and the album sounds slow in comparison. Not with this album! It’s thrashy, catchy, angry, and doesn’t give you any time to catch your breath.
The themes we cover in the album all seemed to be about injustice in the world, so we asked a UK artist (Shindy Design) to draw a simple logo for the band that signified the powerless fighting back against their oppressors. Seeing as we sometimes sing about the injustices that non-human animals face in the world, the bull goring a matador was perfect. That really sums up the essence of the album. With songs about the powerful dictating austerity, nepotism, the decline of our environment, and how the self-interest of capitalist society means that the people are forgotten, this album is us yearning to see a paradigm shift.
 
(((o))): How would you say the UK DIY punk scene is doing, is it in a healthy state? Are there plenty of opportunities for bands to play?
 
I think DIY punk is doing really really well these days. There are certainly lots more gigs than ever before, but I can’t say that it’s easier to get gigs. We always put our own gigs on in Birmingham, so we play locally whenever we want, but it can be harder to get shows around the country sometimes. There are loads of great DIY people working hard all year round, but there are more bands than punters. In fact, the punk fans are the bands themselves, for the most part! The majority of any DIY punk crowd is made up of cool and appreciative band members. The bands are all so good too, so it is not always easy to get gigs during busy periods. We mainly have to rely on mates to help us out, and we use gigs as a nice excuse to spend time with the people we like, but it’s a huge bonus when you constantly make new friends too. Some DIY scenes have become so big that I can’t really figure out how anyone gets on some of these bigger DIY festivals. There are so many great bands to choose from, so it’s hard for DIY promoters to be fair to everyone that wants to play. However, I can’t imagine any other way of doing things, and DIY punk extends across the globe, which is magical. I have given DIY gigs to bands all from all over Europe, and even the USA, plus we have had similar help from great DIY people too. That’s how we organise our Euro tours, with all our mates helping us when they can. The DIY scene is not perfect, and the left are too divided for my liking, but it’s still pretty fucking great.
 
(((o))): Obviously H.o.B. are an overtly political band- how has your politics developed? What were the influences? Where would you place yourselves politically or is it a continual evolving of thought?
 
It’s all from personal experiences, books, music and gut feelings about what is right and wrong. We do not go out of our way to be overtly political, but as I said earlier in the interview, we really don’t know what else is worth singing about, ha ha. Music is passion and emotion, and we all care about this world and the creatures that inhabit it. In my younger years, I would have happily tried to categorise the politics of the band, but I would now contend that there are some seriously fucked up problems in the political left, which has led to unacceptable divisions. This, as well as many other problems we have with pigeon-holing, means I frequently refuse to identify with established positions. We all have our own political positions, and there is no one person in the world that I agree with on every issue. The best answer I can give is that I think we try hard to be nice people, we hate unkindness, hate prejudice, hate the oppression of the powerless, and would love to see everyone unite in a shared of sense of creating a better, fairer, kinder, and more compassionate world. Whatever that standpoint is called, then that’s what we aspire to be.
 
(((o))): What bands and writers have you been enjoying lately?
 
There are too many books to mention, as we all like everything from fantasy to crime, but some recent good reads we enjoyed are: ‘Pirates, Punks & Politics’ by Nick Davidson; ‘The World Without Us’ by Alan Weisman; and ‘The Year Of The Flood’ by Margaret Atwood.
 
I hate to single out bands, for fear of missing any out, so we’ll just stick to mentioning what is genuinely right next to our stereos at this moment – ‘The Storytailor’ by Bambix (Netherlands); ‘The Dusk in Us’ by Converge; ‘Suas Torres Douradas Entraráo Em Colapso’ by Killbite (Germany) and Odio Social (Brazil); ‘United States of Horror’ by Ho99o9; ‘To Live and Die in West Central Scotland’ by The Kimberley Steaks; and ‘Appreciate your Concern’ by Brassick.
 
 
 
 
Bibliography.
  1. Eagle, http://www.healerofbastards.co.uk/reviews-interviews/
     (2) Holloway, J. (2005) ‘Change the World Without Taking Power’, Pluto Press, London and New  York.
Photo courtesy of Chris Hill Photography.

 

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