Interview: Subhumans

It’s great that it still influences people's way of thinking. That's what I'm told. It’s got a rawness because we were so new with it.

When it comes to the influence on not just punk bands but so many hardcore, crust metal bands and beyond, then you don’t get much bigger than the impact that Subhumans have had. Since the band started 40 years ago, they have been at the forefront of forward thinking and defiant music both in the studio and in a live environment, and are still playing gigs to this day. The band have recently released their 80-86 Box Set that collects all their early albums in vinyl and Gavin Brown got the chance to talk to Subhumans vocalist Dick Lucas about the box set, a new book on the band, those early days and the future of Subhumans in an informative chat with one of the best punk bands to ever come out of this country.

E&D: Subhumans have just brought out the 80-86 vinyl boxset. How’s it been received so far?                      

Dick: Very well for the people who’ve emailed back and say they’ve received it, and it’s not smashed up by the post office, which did happened to one geezer! It does look good.The wacky thing was the demand seriously outstripped the supply. The first press sold out in half a day so they’re going to do another one which should be out very soon.

E&D: Have you wanted to get all those early albums together on vinyl for a while?

Dick: No, not at all. The idea was to keep the vinyl going forever. When it was going through Southern distribution, all the albums were always kept in press, but about 8 years ago they stopped getting re-pressed which brought an annoying halt to to the availability of the albums. In the end, we got permission to re-release our own records so to speak, so all the other albums were gonna come back out with the idea of doing a box set to celebrate being together for forty years.

E&D: It’s been 40 years since you released your debut album The Day The Country Died, which is part of the box set. What are your main memories of making and bringing out the record?

Dick: It was hectic in the studio, we were in a place near us in Wiltshire called Corsham, a small place. It was expensive at the time. We were pretty excited because it was our first album, we’d had EPs and 7”s out and we spent ages decided what track to have and where they should go on the album. It was very chaotic! We did it all in 4 days and I wouldn’t say it as rush but it was done quick, compared to some bands who’d take months! We were still learning about sound effects like banging reverb machines and stuff like that. John from Southern was very impressed, calling us pop stars! It was a great success, more successful than we ever thought. It actually sold like 100,000 copies partly helped by the invention of CDs, I guess but It’s a lot of copies for basically, a DIY anarcho punk rock record. I’m not showing off about this but these are memories about that record.

E&D: How does it feel looking back for the album to be looked on as so influential?

Dick: It’s surprising. I mean, it’s great that it still influences people’s way of thinking. That’s what I’m told. It’s got a rawness because we were so new with it, we weren’t professional with any aspect whatsoever. We knew what we were playing but the whole thing about recording and the nature of sound and stuff you can do, that was further down the line. It’s got a rawness that still appeals to a lot of people, very unpretentious and it’s got a lot of nerves and a lot of energy all mixed up.

E&D: As well as the boxset, Subhumans have got a book coming out called Silence Is No Reaction: Forty Years of Subhumans which is written by Ian Glasper. Can you tell us a bit about the book, when it’s out and how it came about?

Dick: Well, Ian’s written a few books about punk bands but it’s always been about the bands from certain scenes. He said he’d like to do a book about 1 band in particular and he chose us, which is nice! We’ve known him for a long, long time. His band played with us at various gigs in Ledbury and Hereford where he used to put gigs on. He came round and visited us on several occasions and one the phone to Trotsky as he lives in Germany and he couldn’t pop round there! We went through on a timeline really and he started by asking about the bands we were in previously, we’d all been in small bands and he just came round for a chat and recorded everything and then he put it all together. Once he’d done a chapter, he’d email all of us the truly and we’d go through it to check. I was on the linguistics side of things, that should be a comma and all that! If someone’s writing a book about your band, it’s like what! This doesn’t happen and our story is going in a fucking book! I’ve been asked when I was going to write my life history and it’s either before I die or not at all but it’s been done now! Having someone else write it has been helpful as it’s someone who likes the band and knows the band but ask questions that you wouldn’t ask yourself. It’s been revealing, reading it and seeing what the other members have said because it’s stuff that you wouldn’t talk about in the band. We wouldn’t have reflected on the history of the band in the 80s but when your asked about it for a book, it all comes out. We were rediscovering stuff we’d forgotten about, like Nick Lant who did the cover artwork for The Day The Country Died and the Rats EP, really political pictures, he just lost contact with us and we couldn’t get hold of him for anything, we didn’t know if he was dead but Ian got hold of him! He asked him questions about his early days with us, so he really went to town on the research.


E&D: How was it looking back through the history of the band for the book?

Dick: Well, it’s quite interesting. I’ve been keeping a diary since 1979, a bunch of exercise books, I’m on 288 now. I’ve been looking back and picking out certain gig dates and things. Before I was asked the questions for the book, I was almost doing a bit of revision. Reading back, that was extraordinary and forgotten memories  and it was pretty chaotic. There was one morning where I woke up after a party the night before, in Trowbridge where I didn’t live, and some bloke woke me up and gave me my leather jacket, I asked why he had it and he said he had to borrow it because he was running away from the cops and had to disguise himself! Beats me! Later that day, we had a gig in London, miles away but I’d didn’t have a bike or a car, so I’m walking very quickly around Trowbridge with a hangover trying to get us a driver to get to the gig in London that night! I find somebody, then he’s organised somebody else who’s got a vehicle to take us over to pick up the rest of the band and then set off for the gig. In fact, I actually organised transport before the day of the gig! I’m not saying this happened all the time but here’s an example of how chaotic it was!

E&D: Have Subhuman got any plans for a new studio album at all?

Dick: Not really, it’s do with whether we’ve got enough songs together. Ever since Trotsky moved to Germany, we don’t get to practice much, like once or twice a year, we sort of build a little tour around it as well just to cover the air flight expenses. So getting a new album together is quite a slow process The plan is doing an album one day when we get out there. We’re playing the B.O.B festival over in Bremen and we’ll have a bunch of practices around that.

E&D: How have your recent live shows been going and are you looking forward to your upcoming gigs?

Dick: Yeah, there’s a few but not as much as back in the 80s, these days we’ve got to plan ahead but we do wheat we can. We did one show at the start of the year at the 100 Club and that was fun. We started the new year off with a bang. We never used to do gigs in January because it’s just after Christmas, it’s bucking cold and nobody was doing anything so you just took time out and plans for the rest of the year. But we found out if you do a gig then, everybody’s sick of being stuck indoors and they want to go out and see some bands.

E&D: You’re heading out to the US for a tour including playing the Punk In Drublic festival with NOFX. Are you looking forward to that and other his over the summer?

Dick: That’ll be different and it’ll be very large crowds. It’s their fortieth anniversary so they’re doing all kinds of different stuff and they’ve invited bands they like, including us and they’re flying us out which is cool. Were going out on an East Coast tour as well. We were meant to be doing a festival in Barcelona with The Exploited but that’s been cancelled because Wattie got ill again. We are doing the B.O.B festival in Bremen. That started in 1995, one in Bath, one in Oakland and one in Bremen alternating each year and so many friendships and members have happened by doing those festivals. We did it but couldn’t afford to do one every year as time went on but it’s still hoping when it can after all those years. We’ve maintained international friendships through punk rock and it feels very good doing it.

E&D: What gigs have stood out for you over the years that you still remember to this day?

Dick: Well, that question has got so many different answers. I could go down the size route, the biggest gig we ever did or the smallest. It would be handy if I made a list! Let’s go for the biggest, in the Stares in 1998, just after we reformed. We did a UK tour, a European tour and an American tour, and we were gonna just stop after that. We did a gig in San Bernardino in an aircraft hangar and there must have been 6000 people there because t he venues kept on getting bigger and bigger. It was fucking insane! There must have been 200 people onstage behind us and at one point, the PA power went down and I tried to get people to calm down but I was inaudible so we all got all these chants from the crowd shouting bullshit! This plastic cop that was going security, he had a badges and everything, he says you’ve got to get these people off the stage and I was like, isn’t that your job?! You’ve got the fucking authority! I had to plead with the punks to go that way but it was fucking impossible with everyone there! Luckily the pope came back on and the night was saved. The whole thing was just too big to be realistic, and it’s unreal gigs that tend to get remembered, more than normal gigs Normal gigs are definitely more relaxed, and more fun.

E&D: Going back to your music, do you  find it unsurprising that topics you sang about 40 years ago, are still depressingly relevant today?

Dick: It is depressing, but not really surprising, because of the nature of politicians. The names have changed and that why we deliberately didn’t name names in songs but it’s still the same. We’re not going to change the world but if you project how angry you are without resorting to violence, then that’s a good outlet and a good psychological release. If you entertain people and give them something to think about, whether they agree or not then I think that’s a better use of the above to sing in than just going on about beer, pubs, girlfriends, whatever. Everyday life, yeah you can just chat about that that wherever but you can’t chat about nuclear war down the supermarket, because they won’t chat back, it doesn’t work like that. Songs and poetry are a good way of getting these ideas across to other people, hopefully without sounding like you’re preaching. It’s easy to say nothing changes because things do change but done things get significantly worse. Some things, not a lot, get better. Vegan food in major supermarkets is one example of a step upwards, you could hardly get vegetarian food let alone vegan in the 1980s. There’s not really new problems just exaggerated versions of the old ones. More people now know about more problems due to the excessive rate of knowledge and problems at the same time due to the internet and the inherent promise of letting anybody know anything comes with these inbuilt flaws like concentrating on one thing when there’s so many things coming at you.

E&D: What have your other band Citizen Fish and Culture Shock got planned for the rest of the year and can we expect new music from both bands?

Dick: Yeah, same thing with Subhumans really, we don’t do as many gigs and we write music when we can. Citizen Fish aren’t doing too many gigs at the moment but the gigs we have done have been remarkably fucking wonderful. We were grinning all the way through. We did one at the New Cross Inn and the people who came to see us loved it and we all had a great time. It was refreshing. Citizen Fish and Culture shock are both playing at the Convoy Cabaret Festival in August down in Dorset.

E&D: Have you ever pulled triple duty and played with Subhumans, Citizen Fish and Culture shock all on the same bill?

Dick: Haha, it is a rarity, usually at Rebellion on the same day! I make sure there’s at least an hour before each performance!

E&D: With the Subhumans, how does it feel to be cited as such a big influence by  so many punk, hardcore anarcho bands and also bands like Neurosis and Napalm Death?

Dick: Fucking ace! It’s great to know that you’ve been an influence on other bands that you respect and they respect you back. Souls At Zero by Neurosis, that’s volume 11 in the car! I blew a car up listening to that album! I was in 2nd gear going round a roundabout and because Neurosis were playing so loud, I didn’t hear the gears and I was going 60 miles an hour and the head had gone so that was the end of the car! These bands have been massive influence on my driving skills haha! Being quite honest, it’s great. Bands influence each other, it’s all sharing.

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