We caught up with Itch Fox, frontman of The King Blues, before their recent matinee show in York and got talking about their mainstream success, future plans, the UK punk scene and, of course, politics.
Faye: What’s with the matinee show today?
Itch: I’m not too sure. [laughs] We’re doing this, this afternoon, I think it’s an under 18 thing, or at least an all-ages show, I know that much, then we’re going to Middlesbrough later to play. I think we’re seeing how hard we can work before one of us cracks up and goes mad, I’m pretty close at the moment.
F: How’s The King Blues’ summer been so far?
I: It’s been good, it’s been a very busy summer, there’s been a lot of festivals. We just got back from Ibiza, that was fun. We’ve done a lot of things we haven’t done before, there’s so many new festivals that spring up each summer and it’s cool to check them out, there’s like the bigger ones like V and Big Weekend, right through to Why Not Festival, where we were last night, and a lot of other smaller ones that are dab, they’re cool. It’s been a very good summer so far.
F: You’ve always said that you want to be the biggest band on earth to change the world, and with your last album Save The World, Get The Girl a lot of people have argued that it was more commercial than your debut Under The Fog, do you agree? Was that a deliberate attempt to break into mainstream? Or just a natural progression in your music?
I: I mean, for us, I kind of find it weird when people say that because, to me, it sounds a lot heavier the first album, which was purely acoustic and this one has more punky tunes on it and stuff, but there was certainly not any deliberate attempt to appeal to more people and such. I guess, when we started out, the whole point of the band was to be a band where people could hear the words, we were just playing with ‘shouty’ punk bands and the message was there, but no one could really hear it, like literally hear it. We wanted to do something where people could hear the words and to do that, we had to break back and be acoustic to bring things back a little, and try to make it our own. Our sound is just through jamming, we get together and there’s like 6/7 of us in a room and we just go through things and see what comes out. I think with songs, to me, I don’t think you really sit down and write a song, a song comes to you. You can sit down and think ‘I’m going to try to do this…’ and ‘I’m going to try to write a song that sounds like that…’, but it never really works unless it’s natural. I do believe that songs are kind of in the air and you can’t really decide on what your album is going to be about or what your album is going to sound like, it’s just if you have a good song that comes to you, you don’t pass it up, so I guess that’s how we went about writing the album.
F: Are you proud of the mainstream press that the last album received?
I: Absolutely, for us, it’s crazy, we feel like we stick out like a sore thumb in the kind of mainstream world, it is really mad. On one hand, we kind of keep our heads down, work really hard and we don’t have to sit back and self-congratulate or anything, we just stick to what we’re doing and try and take it as far as we can take it, but on the other hand, you do get those moments where you’re think, not so long ago we were out on the street and stuff, and now you look around and there’s a fucking load of people, and you do get those moments where you’re like, “Wow, this is crazy, we’ve done pretty good.” So, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved so far and I’m proud we’ve managed to get anti-war messages out on daytime radio and stuff like that, to me, that’s very important and I’m glad we can have a foot in both worlds.
F: Even though you’re getting pretty big, you still do a lot of things DIY, for instance, you still run your own MySpace, is maintaining somewhat of a DIY ethic, despite being on a major label, something that’s important for you?
I: Absolutely, we don’t really know anything else, the scene that we came out of, it was a completely DIY scene and for us as a band, no one would give us a gig and we had to go around and open up our own venues and find bands in buildings, kick in the doors and hook-up the electrics and start throwing parties that way, the whole thing was a very much DIY movement. I wouldn’t say we’re a DIY band now, obviously, with the label and stuff, but there’s certainly that element to us, we certainly get our hands dirty, we don’t sit back and go, “Alright, we’ll let you guys do everything and we’ll just go play the shows.” Our sound system, for instance, what we take out on marches and demonstrations, we didn’t get given that to us, we built that together, with our own blood, sweat and tears, and pull that fucker down the road and it’s damn heavy, so I guess, to a point, there’s still certainly that element in our band.
F: What’s changed for you being on a major label?
I: It’s a case of being heard, on one hand, when we were on Household Name Records we were being heard by a very small, select, group of people, as opposed to, now, being heard by a hell of a lot more. As a band, Island have been brilliant to us, although they’re a major, they’ve got a history of doing things a little differently, like with Bob Marley through to Jimmy Cliff, all these kind of rebel music acts that have come out of it, Island’s got a nice history and I think that we fit in quite nicely with it, they’ve been fantastic to us. A lot of labels nowadays, if you’re not an instant success straight away, you get dropped, you need to have a hit straight away or they drop you, but with us, they’ve stuck with us, we’ve done two albums with them now and we’re working on the third. We haven’t sold millions of records, but they’ve stuck with us, they’ve believed in us and that’s a lot more faith than a lot of other labels have shown. At the end of the day, the difference between indies and majors nowadays isn’t that much, nobody really knows what’s going on, no one really knows how to play the music industry and there are some labels that are very cool and do it for the love, but a majority of indie labels, you have to sell the records as well or you get dropped, it’s the same thing but on a different scale, but it’s been fantastic for us. There hasn’t been a day where we’ve regretted it for a second.
F: What are your thoughts on people illegally downloading music? Are you for it since you want more people to hear your message?
I: I think it sort of cheapens the whole experience of buying music, I mean, when I was a kid, it was a case of, you got a blank tape and your mate would copy an album and you’d sit there and listen to it, and you listened to it, until you got it, until you liked it, but now, music’s just so easy to get and it’s so disposable, it’s a shame. The bands who are doing something a little bit different, they’re not given as much of a chance because when you hear something different, it takes a while to sink it, it takes maybe 3 or 4 plays, but if you’re not given it that full chance, then all you’re getting is the same thing over and over again. I certainly like the idea of music being free and people being able to get music for free, I think in theory that’s fantastic, but, in practise, it hurts people across the board, it hurts the small bands who are touring, it hurts the bigger bands who are touring, it hurts everyone, really. On the other hand, if kids can get music for free, if I was younger and I had no money and I knew I could get music for free, I’d be getting it all. I certainly don’t hold it against anyone who downloads music, I fully understand why, but I do feel in a way, it kind of cheapens the whole act of what’s been put into the album.
F: Do you think record labels could do more and be more willing to accept the dying format of the CD?
I: Yeah, I’m not really sure what they can do to prevent it, everyone’s kind of scratching their heads as to what they can do, but labels certainly need to deal with the fact that the music industry has changed and dealing with the fact that kids aren’t paying for records any more and are just getting them for free. Unfortunately, the way they seem to be dealing with it is bringing in 360 deals, where they take a cut on your merch or a cut on your ticket sales, rather than just the record, so it’s unfortunate, that once again it’s the bands that miss out on that and lose out, but, yeah, it’s kind of the eternal question, if any of us had the answer we’d be billionaires, but who knows? It’s something that I’m sure will even out eventually.
F: I’ve heard some say there’s hypocrisy of you being on a major label when you say you’re anti-capitalism, how do you feel about that?
I: I don’t really understand that, it’s like saying if you’re anti-capitalist you can’t be DIY and sell your own CDs because you’re selling them for money, and it gets to a point where, really, you can bang your head against an anti-capitalist brick wall and I’ve done that myself for many, many years and if you’re only preaching to the converted, really, what is the point? I think people who say those kind of things, for one, they’re never actually involved in the movement themselves, they’re always people who are from the outside, they’re never actually part of the scene or part of the movement or actually doing anything themselves, from my experience. They’re people who are generally cynical and are outside of the scene looking in, who are making those kind of judgements and people who are involved, know what we’re about and know that we’re real. You do get to a point sometimes where you’re like, we can continue to do this and we can bang our head against a brick wall and we can be cool, underground and credible, and play to 20-crusties at a BBQ, which is all well and good, it has its place, or we can go out and we can actually try to make a difference and try to make a change. To me, this band is not about us being cool or us being credible or us being underground or us being edgy, it’s about actually getting out there and making a difference and making a change. The fact of the matter is, if we stayed underground, there’s no way we would have got those anti-war messages out on daytime radio, there’s no way we would have got those messages out in the magazines, there’s no way that a lot of kids would realise there is an underground political movement that they can come and be a part of, so I think those comments don’t really stand up to anything. I think with certain bands it does and you can see they bit the bullet there, and they’ve gone over to the darkside, but with a band like us, we have our integrity, we play so much and when we’re not playing, we’re working on political things. We were activists first, before we became musicians, and we still consider ourselves activists first and musicians second. If people have got a problem with me being on a major label, it’s like, man, I honestly would like these people to say it to my face one time, because I don’t want to play the whole bleeding heart story, but sometimes I sit back and go, “You know what? A couple of years ago, I was living out on the street, I was begging for money, but now, I’ve got a place where I live, I’ve got a rent, I’ve got a roof over my head, I’ve got a band that love me, I’ve got a van we can travel around in, I can tour around Britain and people dig my band.”, and if people have got a problem with me for doing that and want to pick at it, it’s like, whatever, man, I know I ain’t done too bad, I’m not going to let it bother me.
F: What do you think about people saying that musicians have no place in dabbling with politics?
I: It’s crazy, it’s like what defines political? To me, everything is political, love is political and everything is kind of a struggle of power and distribution, and when people say musicians don’t have the right to talk about politics, it blows my mind because musicians are people and not only are they people, they’re people that travel, so people who get to experience different things and see the way different people live and how various things effect various people. If people think that I’ve got no right to talk about politics, that blows my mind, I know I’ve got the right to talk about politics. I’ve been an activist for many years, I’ve lived a life that’s full of grassroots politics and struggle, so people don’t think I have a right, they can press the stop button, it’s cool, but no one is going to stop me, no one’s going to stop me talking about what’s on my mind, talking about what I want to do. It’s like, what should singers sing about? What make singers an expert on love? Nothing, it’s just an opinion. Singers can’t just sing about being singers all the time, that would get pretty dull, so I think variety is the spice of life and I think there’s certainly room for politics in music. When the apartheid was ended in South Africa and people were singing Free Nelson Mandela by The Specials, that’s a special moments, that’s a real thing. Different music affects different people in different ways, when the Berlin wall comes down, you’ve got David Hasselhoff singing there, that’s laughable, but that’s a wonderful moment and that’s something that brings people together. Music has the power to unite people and the world is in a very unstable place, politically, right now, we need all the love, the hope, the compassion and the unity we can get, and if music can provide that, music certainly has its place.
F: With The King Blues, even though you’re pretty political, your lyrics are really accessible to people, they’re not heavy and quite quirky, is that something intentionally you’ve done to reach out to more people?
I: Not necessarily to reach to more people, it’s just to kind of make it more interesting and make it listenable. I mean, I’ve got no interest in putting on a record and having someone lecture me, when I put on a record, I want to have fun, I want to enjoy it, it’s entertainment. I think if you’ve got a message, you’ve got to put it in an entertaining way, you need to keep the listener entertained. I think it’s a bit self-indulgent to just sit there and lecture people, so yeah, it’s a way of trying to keep it interesting, I guess.
F: Are there any political issues or movements that you’re particularly concerned with at the moment?
I: Obviously, the rise of the BNP at the moment is a scary thing, it’s very scary, we’re sending these people into Europe and saying these are ambassadors of for country. It’s a very, very scary thing that there’s that many people that have voted for them and what’s even more scary is that a lot of people who voted for them don’t even believe in their party, they don’t even back their politics or policies, it’s just that they felt they had no other alternative. When the Labour Party and the Tory Party turn their backs on the working class, some feel that they have nowhere else to go, and scum like the BNP will always swoop in, and take people’s fear and people’s ignorance and play on it. If you look at the towns where the BNP are the most prominent, it’s not towns that have a large Asian population or have a large black population, these are predominantly white, working class towns, so it’s not a case of the foreigners coming in and taking their jobs, it’s a case of being no jobs there and because they’re white working class towns, it just shows that the BNP go in and they feed ignorance and they feed fear and they feed something that isn’t real, in order to create this monster and that, to me, is horrifically scary. The fact that we’re building arms and selling them to Israel and Palestine blows my mind. The fact that we have a Prime Minister that nobody voted for, that is an unelected Prime Minister absolutely makes me crazy. The fact that all the councils in the country last year, they couldn’t even build one council house per borough, even though there’s masses of housing problems and they’re giving planning permission to yuppie flats. There’s just so many things where it completely and utterly blows my mind, the way the homeless are treated and the fact that we’re in a recession and the homeless and the jobless are being treated so badly. There’s a thing in London called Operation Poncho where they’re going around in Central London at 4/5 in the morning and waking up homeless people and pouring buckets of cold, icy water over where they sleep, so they can’t return back there with their sleeping bags and it’s treating people like vermin, treating people like roaches, and thank fuck I’m not homeless now because I don’t know what I’d do now, and when I see that it really fucking breaks my heart, because these people, they obviously haven’t joined up to the police force to do this and once they’re given a bit of power, it corrupts people, authority Babylon is bad stuff, it does corrupt people. I can’t bare any more to see people being the way they’re treated, at the moment, in the UK, if you haven’t got money, you’re treated badly and no one has got money, we’re getting less and less money and going deeper and deeper into a recession, but as we go into recession, we have to choice to switch into the left or to swing to the right, and pray to God that the people wise up and we swing to the left, and that the left, itself, wises up and builds itself and makes itself more militant and makes itself more relevant to the people.
F: What are your thoughts on the next general election and the inevitable success of the Tories?
I: The Tories are going to get in and it’s a crying shame, but I think with general elections, it’s all a game, the whole politics things, the whole parliament thing. Whoever you vote for, they always come in and they always fuck us over, it’s always the same people that get fucked and the same people that get rich. For me, we’ve had capitalism for hundreds and hundreds of years and at no point it’s looked like it’s working, at no point it’s looked like everyone’s getting a little bit, there’s always been winners and there’s always been losers. There’s always been rich countries and there’s always been the poor countries and, to me, it’s like how much longer and how much more of a chance do we give the system before we start looking at alternatives? Before we start moving on? The system is not sustainable as it is and so, for me, I’m just completely and utterly ignoring the general election, completely ignoring parliament, and building our own system within the system, and building our own society within the society. From ’77 to ’85, punk rock was all about breaking things down and smashing things down, and it had its place and it was very relevant, but I think we need to learn from those mistakes of our elders and say this time round, let’s not smash things down, let’s not break things down, let’s build things up that are our own and if we build enough that’s how we’ll break things down, so that’s where I stand on that.
F: So, do you not vote?
I: No, I don’t vote because I can’t bring myself to vote, I can’t give my blessing to anyone to lead me, I don’t want to be anyone’s leader and I don’t want anybody to lead me, so I can’t give my blessing to anyone to be my leader.
F: You get branded punk and you call yourselves that, but your music style isn’t typically punk, do you believe that punk is more of an ethos and ideology, than a style of music?
I: Yeah, it’s a funny word, it means different things to different people, some people say it’s an attitude, some people say it’s a lifestyle, some people say it’s music, but, to me, I just know it when I see it and I think that was the case with our band, we never went out and said we were punk, people just knew it when they saw it, they just knew what we were and the scene we were coming from, so it’s a very difficult question. I can’t really define what punk is, to me, it’s about living your life how you want to live it and not listening to other people and not conforming to other people. You’ve got to live your life, how you know your life is right and not how other people live, so that’s what it means to me.
F: I interviewed The Skints a couple of weeks ago and they said that the UK punk scene has been in a bit of a slump recently, but is picking up, especially with you guys on the front cover of Kerrang! and Sonic Boom Six on the main stage of Reading and Leeds Festival, would you agree? What’s your stance on the UK scene?
I: Yeah, absolutely, the UK scene is coming into its own, there was a time where it was wonderful and we had Capdown, Captain Everything!, Filaments, Lightyears, y’know, the whole Household Name, Deck Cheese Records and Moon Ska Records, to a lesser extent, as well, but that all died out and it did go quiet for a little bit. It’s nice that there’s a new scene coming up now, with bands like Sonic Boom Six, The Skints, Random Hand, Dirty Revolution, Jimmy The Squirrel, all these bands coming up and making their own sound and scene, it’s just very cool to watch and I feel honoured to be a part of it, I really genuinely do. Some of those bands now, they’re making albums that are blowing my mind, I heard The Skints’ demos, they sent them to me a couple of days ago and when that album drops, it’s going to be big and huge. It’s really exciting, it’s been a little while since I’ve been really excited by a UK band, but it’s definitely, definitely picking up again. There’s something happening, there’s definitely some movement swirling and hopefully it’ll go on a little bit and keep up this momentum. It’s a shame, we’ve seen scenes in the past, they’ve got to kind of where they’re at now and the point where it’s on the cusp, but egos and various things have falling apart and I hope, this time round, we can keep our egos in check and everyone keep real and keep humble, and I think that’s how we’ll maintain ourselves.
F: What about your next record, have you been working on that?
I: Yeah, we’ve been working on that really hard, everyday we’re in the studio, when we’re not playing. It’s something that’s way off, but we’ve got some good songs finished and it’s taken shape. It’s certainly going to be different again to Save The World, Get The Girl, we never want to put out the same album twice, we want to progress and say something new, musically and lyrically. With this one, there isn’t one running theme, as of yet, but there probably will be, but it’s kind of in its early stages, it’s cool, it’s heavier, more danceable, it’s hard-to-describe music, but it’s good, it’s all going well. I’d be the first one to freak out if the writing wasn’t going well or the recording wasn’t going quick enough, but it’s all going alright.
F: When do you expect it to be finished?
I: We’ll have some demos done by next month, I reckon, and, hopefully, the actual album will be out early next year.
F: What does the rest of the year have in store for The King Blues?
I: A lot more festivals, we’ve got a big headlining tour coming up in October.
F: Have you got any supports confirmed yet?
I: No, not yet, there’s been some names thrown about, we haven’t confirmed anyone yet, but it’ll be someone good and someone interesting, we always handpick the supports we get and we’ll get someone really good. But, yeah, we’ll be working on our new our new album really, that’s it for the year really.
F: Will you be playing the Suicide Bid show on the 15th in London?
I: Yeah, absolutely, it’s going to be a good one.
F: Apart from that, what’s happening with Suicide Bid? Anything?
I: A new album is on its way, drums are done, the bass is done, we just need to do the guitars and the horns, and then send them out to all the singers. I imagine by early next year it’ll be out.
F: Change the record, who should we be listening to?
I: Right now, The Skints, that new album is just going to kick everyone out of the water, it’s going to blow the mind of the scene, it’s literally the best UK punk record probably since the first Blitz record, I mean, it’s that good, since the eighties. Throughout the nineties, throughout the noughties, nothing out the UK scene has been this good, everyone should just buy 10 copies of that album, because that’s going to smack it.
F: Anyone else?
I: Just The Skints, just buy The Skints. [laughs] No, I think I Dirty Revolution are working on a new album, the new Moral Dilemma album kicks a lot of arse, the new Grit album kicks a lot of arse, Jimmy The Squirrel their record is very good, I want them to do a new one because I think it’ll be better, my mind’s going blank, but, yeah, there’s a lot of good bands out there now.
F: Is there anything you want to say?
I: Nah, just thanks for having me, thanks very much.
Many thanks to Itch and make sure to catch The King Blues on their headline tour of the UK in October, for tour dates and more information visit: www.myspace.com/thekingblues