Nearly three decades after they first topped the independent charts with ‘Can’t Cheat Karma’, Zounds are back with a new line up, and renewed impetus. With their outstanding new album, The Redemption of Zounds set for release by Overground Records on 25 July, EYEPLUG caught up with the band’s vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Steve Lake to open up God’s wounds, and get the low down on their welcome return.

It’s been almost thirty years since The Curse of Zounds – what made you decide to reactivate the band at this particular point in time?

Well, I have always played, written and performed. I never stopped, except for a brief period in the 1990s when I was going through a spell of mental illness. I have reactivated Zounds a few times – Usually to benefit some lost cause or other – But I have performed loads of music and spoken word stuff forever, sadly for me most people don’t seem to like it. I started playing the electric guitar a lot, though and it seemed like a good vehicle for it. Plus, I stopped being embarrassed by the songs, which for years I thought were terrible.

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What was the sequence of events that led to today’s incarnation of the band coming together?

I got asked to do the Steve Ignorant ‘Feeding Of The Five Thousand’ gig at Shepherds Bush Empire and really wanted to play there. It was mainly an ego thing. When you feel as unloved and unlovable as I do, you crave acceptance and appreciation. Of course, those things always have a way of turning round and slapping you in the face. The previous incarnations of the band were too battle scarred to take it on, so I used the guys from the band I was in at the time. We had this really primal rock and roll band called The Evil Presleys. I just got them along to do it. I was always being asked to do Zounds gigs so after the Empire I just started saying ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’ and carried on using the same guys; Paul ‘Overdose’ O’Donnell on bass, and Paul Gilbert on drums. O’Donnell has been playing with me for years. He has his demons and tends to play like one. A beautiful person and a beautiful player. Gilb is great too. Really orchestrates things with his drums.

On first listen, the album sounds wholly faithful to the sonic template you laid down all those years ago – was this continuity something that you actively sought to achieve?

Is that faithful, or old fashioned, undeveloped and lacking in new ideas? We really wanted to keep it live sounding and stick to the three piece sound. Gary Durham who engineered it played a large part in that too. He is a Zounds fan from way back and was keen that we kept it pretty live. On the later Rough Trade singles, Zounds started to use loads of sounds and approaches to recording; keyboards, synths, trumpets, whatever was around. But then, when you’re young and you get in the studio for the first time you start to think you’re Brian Wilson. We might do that again sometime. Often the songs dictate the approach, and a lot of these are rockers, so they had to be rockin’.

Similarly, there are some nice graphic elements on the sleeve of The Redemption of Zounds that reference the 1982 album (like the cover of Curse on the television screen) – was this another aspect of this continuity?

Definitely. Frank Zappa had this theory that everything he did was part of one huge continuum, and I believe that too. So bits of songs and artwork and lyrics can crop up all over the place. A lot of stuff in the world has changed, but much of that is on the surface. Underneath I think we face all the same dilemmas and problems. The first line of the first song we released was ‘War in Afghanistan’. So sadly this stuff doesn’t date lyrically. And of course, the development of ‘rock music’ came to an end in the 1970s, so the music doesn’t date either.

I’ve spent three decades wondering what the curse of Zounds was, and now I’m intrigued by the idea of Redemption – could you put me out of my misery and shed a little light on the album titles?

Because I am a bit stupid I didn’t get it for ages. The title was thought up by our friend JB, who along with Kif-Kif from World Domination Enterprises, was the mastermind behind Fuck Off Records. The original meaning of Zounds is ‘God’s Wounds’, and is actually a curse in the sense of words like ‘damn’ and ‘bloody’. So it was just a pun. I didn’t get it until about 1997. But as I say, I am a bit slow. I just liked the sound of it. Though I always thought of it in the sense that we were cursed, rather than we were putting on someone else.

I liked the sound of the phrase ‘The Redemption of Zounds’ because I felt I had let Zounds do some stuff we shouldn’t have done, and now we were back on course and have been redeemed.  I like the archaic nature of those sorts of words and phrases.

Was the process of recording Redemption enjoyable? Could you tell our readers a little about how the disc came together in the studio?

Very enjoyable – Though I don’t know why it should have been. All four of us, including Gary the engineer was going through some really weird shit. Break-ups, death of friends, illness, addiction, all the usual craziness that people go through, and tends to get glorified in the rock’n’roll context. 

We recorded it at weekends in a print works. We just set up between the machines and the stacks of paper and played. Gary had his recording equipment set up in another room and it worked out really well.

I had written about half the songs in 2003 and tried to record them before with a different version of the band. But I didn’t really know what I was doing so I scrapped the album. I salvaged half the songs from that album and wrote a few more.

We did minimal overdubs, a bit of melodica and the odd keyboard, but mostly just played the stuff a few times and took the best takes. Similar to the first single and album. One of the main differences is there is no guitar solos on this record. I only play rhythm. We have heard every guitar solo in the world so there is no need for another. Actually, I do a couple of solos live but they fall in to two types: One type consists of one note; the other is where I just hit the guitar randomly while dragging my hands up and down the strings. Sometimes, it sounds apocalyptic and sometimes it sounds like a drunken chimpanzee, both are good though.

Unlike many of the bands that Zounds shared gigs with back in the early 1980s, Zounds’ politics often centred upon the personal rather than campaigning on specific issues – would you say that this is because you are more interested in people than politics? What informs your view of the world?

Yes, you are right there. I was never consciously writing about politics. I just wrote about the lives we were living. Other people’s politics set the scene for the situation you find yourself in. We were unlike a lot of the political bands we got lumped in with, because their main interest seemed to be going on about the system. We were just stoned, rock’n’roll children singing about our lives on the fringes of mainstream society. My main interest has always been rock’n’roll. I guess I am quite a shallow person in that regard. But I mean every word I write. I always thought we had more in common with a band like The Jam than with a lot of those shouty, cartoon punk outfits.

Politically and economically, there are parallels to be drawn between the present day and the early 1980s – do you think there’s been any great societal progress in the last thirty years? Would you say things are better or worse today?

Hard to say. I live in London and there are certainly things that have improved. You get disabled access on buses and in public places. There are more opportunities for some women. You can be openly gay in a lot more situations; there isn’t the overt racism there use to be. A lot of things we argued and lobbied for have come about.

But capitalism and the commodification of life is much worse. People’s identities are much more governed by what they consume. War continues, people are still starving all over the world. Things are a bit more comfortable in the west. As Tom Waits points out, you can pretty much always get a decent cup of coffee these days. But no doubt the shit is hitting the fan and things could get very heavy again. I still expect the whole global edifice to crumble and plunge us back in to a long period of barbarism, but I don’t get hung up about it.

In recent interviews with Steve Ignorant and Mick Farren, we’ve discussed the idea that rock’n’roll is no longer a motivating force for youthful rebellion – would you say this is the case? If so, what do you think has led to this being so?

It is true, but it is because the world is different. Rock’n’roll is just another commodity on the shelf. It has been going since the 1950s and it’s never going to be the new radical thing that excites in the way it once could. But also the age of greatness is over. Everything is too exposed – What the Sunday supplements call ‘post-modernism’, I believe. Everything is on the surface, but there is no depth, no meaning. Everything is image. That’s not to say there can’t be enjoyable music made, but we all know it’s not going to change the world. Rock’n’roll was colonised by the corporations round about the time of Woodstock. We fought valiantly but the game was already up. Punk rock wasn’t the beginning of something new; it was the last hurrah of rock.

When we played Dublin recently there had been big student protests at Trinity College. They were demanding the University provide more parking places.

What would you say were the main differences between the two incarnations of the band?

Over the years quite a lot of people have passed through the group, even in the early days. With the new rhythm section we are a lot groovier, a bit more of a swing in it and it’s easier to dance to. Also there is no longer any pretence that it is a democracy. Everyone has a say but everyone knows it’s my band and my vision. I use to have to hoodwink the others into thinking they had some sort of say.

Although your music and lyrics transcended the confines of the genre, Zounds are inexorably linked with the anarcho punk scene – what are your feelings about this? Is it a scene that you look back upon with any fondness?

We were in quite a small enclave really that consisted of us, the Mob, The Astronauts and a few hippie bands and assorted weirdos and outcasts. We did gigs with Crass and Flux and Poison Girls and all that lot, which was always nice, but I don’t think it was quite as people imagine. It’s much bigger now than it was then.

Mainly we were holed up in Brougham Road, Hackney. The term ‘anarcho-punk’ wasn’t even invented then. Josef, our drummer at he time, who went on to play with the Mob, claims that there was no scene, it was just a load of frightened children huddling together to keep warm. But it was great, funny, emotional, challenging, infuriating, inspiring and exploratory. As the scene progressed it all started to go a bit haywire. Everybody had to wear black; you had to think this and that. There started to be a lot of rules, and a bit of a lack of imagination. I thought that was the antithesis of anarchy. But then, I learned my anarchy from comics mostly so I am not the best judge.

What would be your favourite memory of that period?

Playing in Berlin the first time. Very exciting, very vibrant. Masses of energy and inspirational people taking control of there own lives. It was the height of the cold war and it was so strange, so loaded with historical significance, you really felt part of something terrifying and beautiful.

I can recall seeing Zounds on one of those Straight Music Lyceum bills – onstage at 7pm on a bill headed by someone like the Exploited – and feeling that I was seeing the evening’s only interesting group. How did you find playing those gigs? Did they represent an exercise in playing outside of the anarcho punk bubble?

That was a strange one. The afternoon before that gig we did a free thing in an adventure playground at Parliament Hill Fields with The Mob. We felt alienated and out of place playing with the Exploited. We started a tour with Theatre Of Hate but they were arrogant, talentless idiots who thought they were pop stars because they knew Mick Jones. We walked off the tour and I wish them nothing but ill fortune – Unless they have become nice people in the meantime, in which case I wish them nothing but good fortune. The best band we played with from outside that scene was the Birthday Party. Nick cave seemed smacked out of his head but at least was friendly, helpful and polite. Which is nice considering he is the ‘dark lord of goth’.

What would the Steve Lake of 2011 have to say to the Steve Lake of 1982?

You’re an idiot.

How was it playing at the Fleece in Bristol with Rubella Ballet and The Mob?

Lovely, Mark is very much the same. Except he lives a completely different lifestyle now. But they are a great band and it was a real gas hearing them play again. It was a real celebratory thing with a lot of old faces. Even people that didn’t talk to me back in the day pretended to like me.

What’s next for Zounds – I know there’s a gig coming up in Brixton, but do you plan to tour more widely?

Zounds are never going to stop now. I used to say I would never reform the band, now I intend to never disband it. All I can do is write songs and perform and record them. Probably of no use to world in general but I just love it. I am not religious in any way, so the kind of transcendental primal ego loss I experience at certain moments in the best gigs is as close as I can come to any kind of spiritual experience. Whilst rock n roll is dead as a medium of cultural transformation, it is very much alive as an experience of personal joy and release. Coming soon to a youth club near you.

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© Dick Porter 2011

Originally posted 2011-05-30 07:41:47. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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