Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Boys

     In all honesty, I was debating whether or not this interview needed any sort of introduction at all. I mean this is The Boys, but in all fairness, I decided to write one anyway. When people say, “This band needs no introduction,” The Boys really don’t. The Boys are arguably the best, most seminal, and highly influential and one of the most critically underappreciated punk, pop, power-pop bands of all time. Casino Steel and Matt Dangerfield were arguably the Lennon/McCartney of UK punk and had the songs to back it up. Yes, far more bands got the accolades, but before The Boys unplugged their amps in 1981 they had released four of the best LP’s ever (The Boys, Alternative Chartbusters, To Hell With The Boys and Boys Only). So after thirty-three years, The Boys are back with Punk Rock Menopause, their brand new LP. Does this mean it could be five for five?

Interview by Ed Stuart

Who’s answering the questions?
Matt Dangerfield

Who is currently in the band and what instrument do they play?
Matt Dangerfield, guitar/vocals
Casino Steel, keyboards/vocals
Honest John Plain, guitar/vocals

Can you give a brief history of The Boys?
The Boys were born in September 1975 when I left Mick Jones and Tony James’s London SS to form a new band with ex-Hollywood Brats keyboard player Casino Steel. My old art college friend, guitarist Honest John Plain, was soon recruited and in 1976 Kid Reid on bass and Jack Black on drums completed the line-up. After just a handful of gigs, we were the first UK punk band to get an album deal when we signed up with NEMS Records. After two albums with NEMS we moved to Safari Records and released a further two albums with them.

What bands did you have in mind when starting this band?
Having grown up in the sixties, the best music from that decade was a major influence but this was a new era and I envisaged us being a cross between Velvet Underground and Hollywood Brats. Later, when the first Ramones album came out, that was also an influence.

How did the idea come to get the band back together and record Punk Rock Menopause?
We had been playing live gigs together again since 2000 when we reformed to play Japan. There had been many offers for us to reform over the years, which we turned down but Japan was interesting as we’d never been there. Also, a major Japanese punk band called Thee Michelle Gun Elephant had covered a couple of our songs and suddenly we were selling lots of records over there.

The idea of making a new album was occasionally discussed but I was always the most against doing it unless I thought it could be as good as, if not better than, our previous albums. This time though, after a day in the studio knocking around a few new song ideas with Casino and John, for the first time it seemed to me that there could be a new Boys album and now there is.

How did the band decide on Wolverine Records to release Punk Rock Menopause?
They were recommended to me by my good friend Campi from Die Toten Hosen.

The Boys have been referred to as the Punk Rock Beatles. How do you feel about that reference?
It used to annoy me in the early days but now I don’t mind it. I forget which reviewer first used that phrase but it was only because we sang harmonies live and most of the other early punk bands didn’t at the time. One of my strongest musical influences came as a teenager when I used to go round to a school friend’s house to practice guitar together on a Friday night. He came from a big Irish family and after the pubs closed all his older brothers and their friends used to come back to his house to play guitars and sing fantastic harmonies – early do wop Rock N’ Roll stuff, which I’d never heard before as well as Beach Boys, Beatles etc. That’s where I learned to love and sing harmonies.

I always thought one of The Boys secret weapons was that the band had several different lead vocals. I know early on it was primarily Matt and Duncan taking leads vocals with Casino Steel providing back-up vocals. What was the original idea behind not just having one lead vocalist?
Maybe that’s the other reason why we were labeled the punk rock Beatles! Originally, it was going to be me as the lead vocalist but I always thought it would be more interesting if there was more than one lead singer so when it turned out that Duncan could sing. I was really pleased. Also our early songs were all fast and furious and we both sang and played instruments, so having two singers helped us to keep the energy levels up on stage.

How do you feel that your songs and LP’s are seen not only as influences to numerous punk-pop and power-pop bands?
It’s always a huge compliment when someone names us as an influence.

In an interview, Duncan Reid stated that one of the reasons The Boys didn’t get airplay was because “At the time the charts used to be rigged and people used to get into the charts because the record companies, especially the majors, had the power to buy you in. Once you'd got into the charts you got onto Top Of The Pops and all the other exposure followed, so I suspect we didn't benefit from that either.” What do you think of this comment?
In our time every record company knew which record stores were used to compile the charts and those stores were targeted by fake buyers employed by the labels/distributors. But everybody was doing it. A major label could probably afford more fake buyers, but if you’re cheating in a game of poker you can’t really stand up and complain that someone is cheating better than you.
And getting airplay doesn’t necessarily mean you sell more records. There were times when we employed the best pluggers (the specialists who approach the radio stations) in the business and we got tons of radio airplay but sold bugger all. It’s what’s called a Radio Hit – radio loves it, record buyers hear it, but don’t want to buy it.

50 years ago people used to buy music and get their water for free, now people pay for water and get their music for free. In what ways do you think this affects the current state of music and would it affect the way The Boys will promote Punk Rock Menopause?
Maybe we should be bottling punk rock water instead of making records :)
We just make music and get it out there.

Other than bands using tremendous amount of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to promote themselves nowadays, do you feel the basic mechanics of being in a band are essentially the same as when The Boys originally started?
The basic mechanics of being in a band are exactly the same but the whole music business has been flipped upside down and inside out. There are good and bad sides to that. Record Companies weren’t perfect but how intrusive and controlling is social media going to become? Whatever happens, people will continue to love making music and people will love listening to it. Social media might very well disappear up its own backside but music will always be essential and loved.

The Boys were offered a record deal after just six live gigs. Do you think that type of thing could happen again?
Yes, of course.

Which Boys LP is your favorite and why?
The first album. Because it’s like your first born child. Because it’s so instant and raw but to this day sounds dynamically brilliant. We only had a few days to record, mix and finish off writing quite a few of the songs on the way to the studio so it has a sense of urgency about it that I love. We could never recreate it no matter how hard we tried.

Can you talk the about song “Jimmy Brown?” I have read a few interviews with Boys members and all of them have remarked how great they thought this song was, but the song never made it on a proper Boys record and wasn’t released until Odds & Sods. Any reason why this was?
No particular reason. It was recorded in a session between albums when we were looking for a single to release. We recorded three or four (maybe more) songs in that session. We ended up releasing “Better Move On” as a single. None of the songs from that session ended up on the next album either because, as usual, we had more than enough new songs to deal with at the time. We’ve had a lot of great songs that ended up on the shelf because we were very prolific in those days – still are, as we’ve discovered making the new album and had to shelve a few songs.

Where can people hear The Boys and what’s next for the band?
On the new album or live on stage somewhere. More of the same.

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