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Escape Velocity

Never Lose The Aggression: Flats Interviewed
John Freeman , March 22nd, 2011 07:34

After being refused service in Wetherspoons, Flats tell John Freeman about wanting to write hits and why music and politics don't mix

Dan Devine is an inherently angry man. The singer's rage is fuelled by "anything and everything". I fear the worst, then, when we run into problems at the characterless chain-pub rendezvous (Wetherspoons, to be precise) before a recent Manchester gig. Unfortunately, Devine hasn't got any ID on him. The bar manager ("you are merely the Duty Manager, actually") refuses to serve him and asks Dan to leave, having already allowed the rest of the band to order and pay for their meal. When we politely request the manager to show some leniency, it would appear that the police will almost certainly be raiding the establishment within the next few seconds and he, personally, will definitely be fined £1000 if Devine is on the premises. It's hard to argue with such logic...

Thankfully, Devine and the rest of the Flats entourage manage to contain their fury without causing a scene, and we head across the street for a discussion about punk, politics and parents over a tableful of vegetarian pizzas. Devine and drummer Samir Eskanda do the talking. They are hugely knowledgeable about the UK and American punk scenes both past and present, and are passionate in their vision for Flats. Devine - who is the son of Alan McGee - is especially vocal and his quote-friendly opinions have dominated the content of previous press on the band. However, whatever subject he is spouting off about, Dan appears guilty 'only' of brutal honesty as opposed to playing the publicity-seeking, rent-a-quote game.

And Dan's ("53, no, 54 week-old") band are also grafters. Having just released their third single - the pounding 'Never Again' - Flats also have their debut album in the can ("it's both punk and Sabbathy"). Their Manchester set is a whopping 30 minutes - twice the length of early Flats shows. The Flats sound may be heavy, but there are some seriously good melodies tucked within the wrath, and Eskanda's drumming and Luke Tristam's guitar work are both highly impressive. As for Devine, he prowls the stage with a can of Special Brew in hand, eyeballing the room for an off-duty bar manager.

Flats are just over a year old. What it is about your band that should make people sit up and listen?

Dan Devine: Without sounding too arrogant: no band sounds like us at the moment. John Robb did an interview with us recently and said that because the music we are making is actually being written about in the NME, that's what makes it important. Obviously, I was very pleased to hear someone say that because that's how I feel it is. I listen to a lot of bands in the UK hardcore scene, but that is strictly a 'scene' and there is no room really for them to bring [their music] to a higher plane.

You say no band really sounds like you, but your punk influences are quite obvious. Aren't you merely an updated rehash of bands like Crass?

Samir Eskanda: Well, we are forward-thinking as a band. But, I think there is a lot of breath wasted about bands claiming to be original. The way I see it, pop music is a 20th century exploit - solely. It starts with blues in the 20s and goes through jazz, R'n'B, rock & roll, soul, house and hip hop; then it kind of stops. All of these forms of popular music were pioneered by a handful of, generally, quite poor, black men in America. They were using, abusing and misusing technology that had fallen into their hands; like acoustic guitars and decks. That process has stopped - it is over. It stopped in about 1981. Since, then it has become more cyclical and the best you can hope to do in that kind of environment is choose your influences wisely and play like you fucking really mean it. If you can do those two things, then you probably stand a chance.

And does that mean taking your music to as many people as possible? Would that mean 'selling out' compared to bands who are part of the UK hardcore punk scene?

DD: There are a lot of punk bands who don't want to sell out and I don't give a shit about that. I want us to be the biggest band in the world if we can be. If we are not gonna be, because of the music we make, then I definitely still want a lot of people to hear it. I want it to be classic. I want it to be important. I want to play as many festivals as I can and I want to sell as many records as I can. I want it to be massive. If that is some people's idea of selling out, then that's their problem. Bands that say they want to stay underground, for quite a lot of these bands it's that they have lost their bottle. It takes more guts to attempt to write a hit. We haven't wrote a hit yet, but everyone song we write we are trying to write a hit.

So is it important to crossover to a more mainstream audience and to be featured in magazines like NME?

DD: Yes, but we never came out of the hardcore scene. We started doing quite well quite quickly and we got some space in the NME and we have also had interest from punk fanzines and stuff. We are quite open-minded to all those people. We are not heavy enough for the hardcore scene, but we are bringing heavier music to people that don’t usually listen to that. I like to think that the songs that we write are very heavy but, at the end of the day, we are writing good songs – classic songs. This is a very high benchmark, but I’d like to be thought of as the 'punk Lennon'.

SE: We are confident in what we are doing and we are confident we can take this as far as we want to and, along the way, draw attention to what are influences are. We feel that a lot of music we have been inspired by hasn’t been drawn upon. If we can take our influences to a bigger audience, then I think we will be doing something quite interesting in the lineage of music.

I read in another interview that you love many types of music, but you always drift towards the most aggressive forms of any genre. Will Flats always have a certain belligerence? Could you ever record an acoustic song?

DD: Nah, I always want Flats to stay aggressive. All the music I listen to, I always listen to the most aggressive versions of it. But, I love The Beatles, I love The Kinks, I love James Brown. I like Tom Jones for Christ's sake. I love Scott Walker records - they are intense, they sound like a schizophrenic's break-up. But, look at Swans - they were fucking amazing. They were like the American Napalm Death at that time by creating that fucking noise. Then, they turned into this acoustic country bullshit. I just want us to carry on writing punk songs. I'm a young guy that makes aggressive music that will annoy teenagers' parents. I never want to lose that.

Flats seem to be fuelled by anger. Apart from having to deal with barmen, why are you such angry souls?

DD: My girlfriend tells me that I am angry all the time. I like being angry - angry suits me. If you get someone who is quite tepid and passive, generally they are very boring and secretly very unhappy. We did an NME interview and I was called a 'pissed off little teenager' and I probably am - I have never grown up. Anything and everything winds me up. I am politically angry, but that is never gonna be in the music.

What makes you say that? Why can't Flats make political statements through their music?

DD: I have my personal belief with politics. I am personally angry about it. Samir is personally angry about it. But, Crass and those anarcho-bands who based everything around politics took it very seriously. Basically, they could have been a terrorist cell if things had gone a bit differently. The fact is that I don't want to do that. I don't want to impose my beliefs on someone and my ideas on how things should be.

Why not?

DD: Because, firstly, I don't have all the answers, so I shouldn't be preaching about what should or shouldn't happen if I don't personally have any solutions and then, secondly, politics is something that should be dealt with and not spoken about. Also, the way society is in Britain at this moment is pretty shit but it is not terrible. When I write a song, I write it based around anger. I base it on the social angers around me and my personal angers. I recently wrote a song about one of my teachers at primary school who I fucking hated. She used to bully me horrendously. For three months she used to take my chair away during every lesson and make me kneel on the floor.

That is absolutely outrageous.

SE: You don't need politics to be angry when stuff like that happens to you. Dan would be angry anyway. There are things going on, and if people are trying to connect politics to our music, it is clearly not what we are trying to do.

But, isn't 2011 crying out for an articulate, politically-motivated band? The demonstrations against the education cuts suggest that young people in Britain - plus the obvious examples in the Middle East - have huge resentment towards the political situation they find themselves in. Surely music can communicate a powerful message?

SE: When I think about bands and politics, and I'm trying not to rant now, but it has occurred to me, that the whole idea of political bands has become discredited by things like Live Aid. When Rock Against Racism started in the late 70s, that had a specific intent and you have got to respect the integrity of it. But, as the years went on it became obvious that bands were doing it for their own gain. When you look at people like Razorlight telling us to donate money to Africa and telling me the way I should think about world poverty, I feel a little bit embarrassed by the whole concept.

DD: The reason I write songs about personal anger and relationship anger is because people relate to that. If you only write about politics then you restrict yourself to people that are into politics. If you are not political and you hear a song that is political then you feel it is cheesy and tacky. Also if you write a political song or base your whole band on politics you immediately date yourself and restrict yourself to the time and period you are in. The only reason I think bands like Crass have stood the test of time is that in Britain we still have the hangover of people who were here in Thatcher's Britain and felt the hardships.

SE: If you talk to people about what is wrong with their life, it is not David Cameron or Nick Clegg; it is the everyday things and that is what inspires us.

Let's change the subject. I believe you have recorded your debut album - what can we expect from it?

DD: We have got quite specific influences for the record. We are trying to encompass three styles of music into one. We don't want it to sound like 'now we are playing a punk number, now we are playing a hardcore number and now we are playing a bit of a metal/Sabbath number'; we want it to have completely one direction that encompasses those elements. I think we've actually managed to pull it off.

In terms of output, you've been impressively prodigious since forming. Can you keep up this relentless barrage of releases in future?

DD: We are hoping that every three to four months there will be a release. I wanna just carry on churning it out. I never want to take my foot of the pedal - if people want to hear it and we still have a deal to carry on releasing records. A lot of bands go away for six months and relax and then come back and write an album. Fuck that - take a week off, fair enough, and chill out a bit. But on your week off you should have your fucking guitar with you. At the moment, my entire life, my entire train of thought, revolves around writing songs.

Finally, Dan - can I ask you about [your estranged father] Alan McGee?

DD: I do want to answer this question, but as long as you can promise it is unedited. Every interview I have had about him, when it has been brought up, people have changed what I have said and made it really positive and cheery for the story.

Of course - all I was going to ask was whether he had given you any advice on how to navigate the music industry?

DD: That man, he abandoned me as a child. Then he abandoned me again when I finally met him after 16 years. He plays absolutely no role in my life and has never done a thing to help me. I really hate the fact that people think he has played a part in it, because I have worked my fucking arse off. Over the past year I have slaved for this band - all of us have, we've all worked really hard - but it is a perception to some people. He has never done a single thing to help us. When we were getting a deal and stuff, I don't even think it would have helped us, but some people might have utilised it as a selling point. I didn't. To be honest, I never really discuss him with people.

SE: The only time it ever gets brought up is by journalists in interviews.