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In Extremis

The Ethics Of Punk & Love For Susan Boyle: The Plight Interviewed
Matt Ingham , March 16th, 2010 12:33

Axe wielding punk rock pupil Lewis Pugh of The Plight talks to Matt Ingham about punk, politics, pot and why Susan Boyle is awesome

Leeds punks The Plight standing in their rehearsal room

Punk rock epitomised the seedy undercurrent of malevolent consciousness in a period of society that I can’t help but think of in melancholy ash greys. But how relevant is punk today? The disillusionment of inhabiting the countries gutters while the scum they openly defied operated high seats of power seems to have taken a back seat in recent times. Nu-metal, pop punk and emo may have given the alternative scene a brief but much needed breath of fresh air, but all the self absorbed apathy that defined the content pales in comparison to those street savvy, leather clad ruffians.

When facets of punk rock down-tuned their guitars and upped their fraying tempers the result spawned luminaries like Converge, Fugazi, Far and Refused. Proving hardcore punk was still a necessary evil has been fruitfully backed up by new wave bands Fucked Up, The Bronx, Ghost of a Thousand and Every Time I Die.

To mention the entire myriad of angry young men and women who’ve shaped our lives and absorbed our frustrations would be a fruitless task on these pages, but there is one faction that deserves an honourable mention. Leeds based rhinos The Plight exemplify the fighting spirit of hardcore music and shoulder the archetypal formula of classic rock as they forage, kicking and screaming into the contemporary music scene. Teaming up in 2005 their efficiency was nailed down at practise sessions in a vacant warehouse, culminating in the release of their self titled demo, EPs The Plight (2006) and 'Black Summer' (07) and garnering attention from Visible Noise records in 2007.

Their debut album Winds of Osiris is a 40 minute balls to the wall seizure, deep with caustic groove and elephantine at times. Their lyrics are surprisingly audible despite possessing more bark than the oldest Californian redwood and their constant touring schedule has seen them play under Converge, Gallows, Poison the Well and Cancer Bats.

The Yorkshire punks are also a fairly elusive bunch. It took a good while for The Quietus to thrash out a conversation with lead axeman Lewis Pugh, but good things come to those who wait - he had more than enough he wanted to get off his chest. Spitting out more fucks than a reflective Fred Durst poem, The Plight are ample proof that the spirit of anti establishment, non conformist DIY punk n’ roll is still alive and sharp enough to draw blood.

The Plight in their rehearsal room

Lewis, the lyrical content on Winds of Osiris has a vivid and visual quality to them. Are they metaphorical or literal?

Lewis Pugh: Well the way that Al writes is always inspired by things that have happened to him personally, but his way with words leaves it open to be interpreted in ways that make sense to whoever’s listening to it. You don’t necessarily need to have had the same experience to grasp the concept.

You seem to be in a constant state of motion and the band’s touring schedule seems relentless. What’s the worst gig you’ve ever played?

LP: A lot! We’ve played a lot! Oh...fuck me. To be honest I think when you play in bands you just try and forget about the bad nights. One that springs to mind we did in Hartlepool. There were kids fighting each other, the cops turned up outside and there was a supposedly a BNP meeting going on downstairs during the gig. It was just a stupid day, there were way too many bands playing and there were 3 American bands playing at the end who all got their sets cut short because the day had been so shit.

The police mistake the event for some kind of anarchic BNP rally?

LP: Nah they didn’t think any of that! They just didn’t want people fighting in the streets and it was all really petty. It was kids throwing shite and then other kids throwing stuff, which became a sort of third generation, retarded mosh. That started causing the problems.

Your list of touring pals currently reads like a contemporary hall of punk rock fame. What have you learnt from your peers?

LP: I don’t know if we’ve necessarily learnt anything, but take Converge for example. They’re a band that we all respected anyway and to actually get to play with them, consecutive nights, you realise how hard they play and how much they give it. It’s all eye opening - meeting people and seeing what their take is. It’s all to see if it reaffirms what you already thought or whether it makes you think about things differently.

And it seems to make you think of playing even more gigs?

LP: We’ve always tried to do that, whenever we can. It’s a privilege to play music and that’s [touring] always been a big part of it. When you’re from a city, it’s good to get out of it. It makes you appreciate it more when you get back.

As if you haven’t heard it enough, I’m about to tell you that your band sounds like a coalescence of Black Flag slaver and Thin Lizzy grandeur. A fair assessment?

LP: Wholeheartedly. None of us are offended if if we would be! To use those bands as a reference point is a massive compliment. We’ve all come through the punk background and without wanting to sound preachy, I think that to get what we do you have to have at least a slight kind of appreciation for that. For example, we did an interview the other day and the question was something along the lines of; “A lot of hardcore bands mix it up with rock and roll, but you seem to be more of a rock n’ roll band that’s flirting with hardcore,” and that’s totally not what we are. You could argue that we are... but you’d be wrong! I think punk rock has always been a lot more, it’s hard to articulate, but a kind of spirit that anyone can get up and do it. It was the antithesis of stadium rock and at the same time I dig a lot of that as well, bands like Van Halen etc. Then again we’re more angry than them!

Is punk rock not just another trendy lifestyle nowadays? Another diluted ideology that’s lost touch with that initial spark?

LP: Quite possibly, but I think it’s what you make of it, it’s what you take from it and it’s what you can add to it as an individual and not as a lifestyle. I’ve never looked at it as a lifestyle. I guess it is in a way, but I don’t like the connotations of those kinds of words, they’re more akin to marketing jargon. There’s no such thing – it’s just living your life, how you want to. And just trying to maintain a sense of integrity in yourself in a world of...shit basically! You can definitely say that punk is a fashion, because you go to Camden and there’s fucking dickhead fuckin’ peacocks – that aint what any of us have got into or been a part of. It’s the same for a lot of people who are into punk but [big sigh]...I don’t even know if I’ve answered the question!

The Plight performing at Reading/Leeds festivals

No your points are valid. Especially against the vacuous, ego tripping popularity contests that grace our TV sets like the X-Factor...

LP: Totally, but not just X-Factor. You’ve got a government that have not been representing the people for a long, long time. People will still [big sigh], the kind of people I work with, will get distracted by, and be happily pacified by entertainment like X-Factor. It’s not so much the programmes fault, it’s the fact that people acknowledge it as important to talk about, because it’s just a waste. But that Susan Boyle, I dunno if she was an X Factor woman but that song was fuckin’ know, I like that. When she comes on the radio, she can sing. I didn’t even know who it was but it just kept coming on at work and I was like “Fuck! I like that song!” It’s just funny because even douchebags were like [adopts irksome camp voice] “oh you know, it’s cool innit because she just got famous for her voice and not her looks” and it’s like whoa! People have been doing that for a long time, and for TV to show you that means you’re really missing out. I’m not gonna preach at these people because if they’re not into music then they’re not into music.

You mentioned our ‘illustrious’ government. What did you think of the recent Professor Nutt episode?

LP: I think that he had the balls to actually have an opinion, and that doesn’t wash with our government. They get these scientists and they say, “hey look, your cool, you’ve got the right credentials, get on board with the home office, we’ll pay you a fuckin’ awesome salary and your life is gonna be totally transformed...but here’s the but, and it’s a big but - you do have to go along with what we’re saying, and you have to back us up because that’s why you’re getting paid.” For him to be sacked like that is hilarious, because all it does when it’s presented in the news is [mimics buttery smug news presenter], “and this has happened and it’s controversial, now we’ve got the mother of an [menacing baritone] ex cannabis user.” Well fuck me! Let’s have some perspective here, if this didn’t country didn’t make growing hemp illegal back when they did, it would have completely transformed the economy and we would have had a situation where we could make a lot more things ourselves. If we’d had a lot more people growing hemp and being down with that, it wouldn’t be a fringe, hippy thing. It lasts hundreds of years compared with linen shit...anyway I’m getting off topic slightly, but I think this country would be completely transformed if it rethought its drug acts. And they are acts; they’re not laws... by a fuckin’ theatre.

How relevant are the current wave of punk bands when compared with the genre defining acts of the 70’s?

LP: That’s kind of impossible to answer really; it’s not for me to say. What bands do you mean anyway?

Well bands like the Ramones, the Clash, the Sex Pistols...

LP: yeah yeah yeah, but in comparison to what?

Compared to yourselves, or acts like Fugazi and even Blink-182...

LP: Well you’re mentioning a lot of different things and a lot of different eras, I can’t really comment. What I will say is people are always gonna have that need for something more real, and all those bands achieved that in their own way. Even Blink-182 - their first couple of albums - they were a punk band who were just doing it in a very American way. I can’t really say how relevant they are or not, but in terms of what they did in this country, they definitely brought punk around again. Blink, Green Day and Offspring all helped to get a lot of kids into the music again and think “I need to listen to the Clash.” I’m sure it had that effect on a lot of people. Everyone has their own different roots when getting into music and that was definitely one of them when I was in school.

You posed as uni students to scan the finished artwork for your album. Has punk rock felt a little like covert guerrilla warfare at times?

LP: Ha ha. It wasn’t quite that bad, but basically our other guitarist Stoz did the artwork. He’s designing stuff with a guy called Luke. So me and Luke when we both weren’t working, we’d go down to the uni, get in there and try and blend in to use the scanners and the printers. We’re still doing it now and we’re getting away with, but last week I went in with Luke and the technician came up to him and went “Alright mate, what course are you on then!?” and he just went [in his best scared child impression] “Ooooh! I’m just helping my mate!”.

So the uni doesn’t take it too seriously then?

LP: They would if they caught us! But we just do a few at a time and then go back later to do more. But the artwork is really big, so we needed fuckin’ huge scanners! We wouldn’t have been able to do it so easily if it wasn’t for the learning institution that is Leeds Met!

Can you recommend a classic album for our readers, as well as a new ‘must have’ album you’ve recently discovered? LP: Aaaaaaah let me have a think. [Sigh and a long pause] Ummmm. [Deep breath] Right, in terms of new stuff I’m gonna mention a guy called Sam Barrett. He’s a folk singer and he’s fuckin’ good. He mixes it up with traditional American and English folk, but he writes his own stuff as well and he’s finally got an album out. He’s got his own label putting stuff out in that vein and he’s awesome. In terms of something considered classic... [adopts Jesse, Fast Show bumpkin] “Well this week I ‘ave been mostly listening to” the New Bomb Turk’s (garage punk from Ohio) !!Destroy-Oh-Boy!! I think that’s a wicked album. I can’t say that it’s classic because I just don’t know. But they’re an awesome band anyway.

What do you think of the music piracy debate and the illegal downloading of music?

LP: The whole issue is quite big and I don’t think it’s very wise to have a clear cut opinion on it, purely because, generally the people that wanna change these things are media moguls that get their own pop stars on board and then try to push this idea that downloading is against music somehow and damaging music. In reality it has nothing to do with that in the pop world because they’re only interested in sales and profits. So to say that it’s damaging musicians means they’re trying to speak for everybody and that’s really not the case.

The Plight playing live Photo credited to Al Overdrive

What if people downloaded Winds of Osiris?

LP: Inevitably people will just download it and will listen to it a couple of times and form their important opinion about it, but in reality they’re missing out on the physical document of sound, the artwork and the whole feel of the record. The whole downloading thing is great, you can hear new music all the time which is cool, but it does reflect a little in the fact that people’s tastes and passions can sometimes be a little bit more whimsical, because people can get into anything in a week. You can be into stuff that you’ve discovered yourself, and maybe the internet’s helped to hear stuff that you want to hear. Other people who’ve never been into music can turn around and all of a sudden they’ve acquired the same music library as you, but somehow its lost a little bit of its soul along the way because they haven’t given it the hours that it deserve to be appreciated. That’s not only the case though and a lot of use their mp3 players and really get close to the music because it’s in your head. I don’t think I’d be pissed off if people downloaded our album, I just think it’d be nice if people think about the whole release rather than just the compressed mp3 version. At the same time I’d rather people hear the music!

Can you tell our readers a little bit more about the Rik Clay foundation? He was the inspiration behind the album title Winds of Osiris...

LP: The foundation as it stands was set up by his parents. I think they wanted to get something up as a solid memory, but it doesn’t have his links to his research or any of his work yet. I’m sure they’ll put it up at some point, but the foundation has general aims and purposes that aim to spread the information and ways of thinking that Rik was pursuing. It aims to look at the world in different eyes than you would have before. It’s been set up as a forum to share those thoughts and it’s not reached its potential yet.

What’s life like for The Plight when there’s no music left to play? Do you all hold down jobs?

LP: Well Stoz and I do whatever comes our way. He works in Waterstones and I work temporary at the uni, but the rest of time I try and sign on! If I’m not signing on then I’ve got a temporary job! It’s not because I’m trying to make a career it’s just because I don’t like working. I’d rather be playing music!

Well you’ve got to work hard and pay your dues before stuff starts clicking into place really...

LP: Exactly. We’re always willing to drop that stuff if we get touring or get something booked. We’d rather be doing that so we’ll just sack it off. That’s hopefully something we won’t tire of. As long as we don’t get to up to our eyeballs in debt we’ll be alright!

Last week’s Sunday Times Culture supplement included an article claiming that bands with over a thousand dedicated fans should have an annual gross income of £50,000. I’m interested to see how that syncs up with The Plight...

LP: That’s bollocks. That sounds like a fucking hilarious article.

Fifty gigs at £300 a night. 1,750 CDs sold at gigs. £5000 earned on fan special merch etc...

LP: Well it’s talking out its arse innit. Out its absolute arsehole, because gross profit and that kind of stern economic talk doesn’t really cut it with bands that are hiring a van, paying for all the merch to be done and when you sell the merch its only gonna be covering the cost of what they made for it. It’s not really as simple as saying [apes plummy banker’s tone] “Oh there’s a thousand people into your music so you get this amount of money.” Bollocks.

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