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Escape Velocity

Relentless Working: An Interview With Sievehead
Noel Gardner , February 25th, 2016 09:52

In the wake of last year's excellent debut LP, the Sheffield trio tell Noel Gardner why their hometown is a "hidden gem" on the UK punk scene, a community dedicated to forging a DIY atmosphere of apeshit-going gigs

If you were to listen to Into The Blue, the debut album by Sheffield punk trio Sievehead, without any prior knowledge of their background… well, that would mean skipping the rest of this interview, so please don't do that. However, someone who did do that might have cause to wonder how this band came to combine post-punk and proto-goth, serrated indie jangle and late '80s DC hardcore with such scrappy perfection.

After some online amateur sleuthing, you would conclude that Sievehead only came into existence some time in 2014. They had a demo tape ready to go almost instantly, which sold out pretty quickly, and Into The Blue was in the can by late summer last year (the vinyl eventually emerged in December). Damn, these boys (you would by now have established that all of them are boys) work fast! Enough to make a jaded bastard suspicious. What's the secret behind their efficiency? Do I detect a machine in the shadows, pulling Sievehead's strings via a system of hydraulics?

Naw, ya big dummy. If anything's happening fast for bassist Joe Singleton, drummer and backing vocalist Bry Suddaby and singer and guitarist Dave Walker, it's because they have a ruthless punk rock work ethic, and haven't sat around waiting for the world to bring them oysters. They are also blessed with – and very much part of – the support network of the DIY punk underground, in Sheffield, which is as healthy in this respect as it's been for a long time, thanks to venues such as The Lughole, and the UK as a whole. This subculture is where their ethics, loyalties and friendships lie, and as they profess no wish to change this, may it forever be.

Still, there's nothing wilfully noisy, difficult or inaccessible about their songs: upbeat in tempo but gloomy in feel, replete with earworm choruses and well-worn chorus pedals. Folks who turn out for Iceage, Protomartyr, Eagulls or Fucked Up ought to dig Sievehead – heck, maybe they already do. And if you don't? Get acquainted.

How old were you when you first discovered a) punk rock, b) DIY punk rock and c) a DIY punk rock scene you could get involved in? What were influential entities – bands, labels, people – in each of these steps?

Bry Suddaby: Punk came into all our lives at the same time, around 13 or 14 years old. Starting with commercial pop-punk stuff through to ska through to crappy hardcore: the general route for kids our age who don't have ex-punk parents or whatever. The real stuff started for me when I started coming to shows in Sheffield aged 15, 16; the majority of punk shows were at a pub called The Cricketers Arms. I found a community of punks that were committed to DIY and were putting on amazing bands where everyone would go apeshit at every show. Local bands like Big Difference and War Crimes stand out as big influences for me locally. They showed me the importance of saying something but not forgetting to have fun with it. Today, we work with some of the same people to run The Lughole.

Joe Singleton: My parents were both involved in punk/new wave bands before I came along. I don't think it had a massive influence on me until I grew up and was mature enough to appreciate the stuff they were doing when they were my age. I was at the 'embarassed by your parents' stage of my teens when I first listened to my dad's old band One Gang Logic and I couldn't really see past that. Now I listen to it and I am in awe of what great music they made and it was all self-directed and pretty DIY so I massively appreciate it now. [Interviewer's note: the One Gang Logic single is indeed a choice slice of early UK DIY punk oddness.]

How much have you talked with your parents about the punk scene of that time, relative to now?

JS: From hearing their experiences it doesn't sound like much has changed in terms of how the scene functions. I asked my dad why they decided to self-release their records and his answer was that there wasn't really any other way to get your music out there – it was around the time when people started to realise it was possible to do it yourself and bands such as Desperate Bicycles were encouraging others to do the same. The biggest change is probably the internet and having a place to share and distribute music much more easily. My dad mentioned people basically just bought records with no idea what the band sounded like, based on a word of mouth, name, artwork, etc, because you could usually tell if it was going to be something you are into.

Nowadays music is proliferated in a more disposable form and I think another great thing about DIY labels is that they're creating a record of the stuff that happens in that scene, which is tangible, rather than just some mp3s floating around that'll be lost to time.

What about your mum's band?

JS: I'm told the only record of their existence is a bunch of photographs and a recording of a gig where you can mostly just hear glasses being thrown at the band and my mum politely sharing her thoughts on the situation.

I think I'm right in saying that all of you are skaters...

Dave Walker: We all skate when we can, when the sun's out.

What's your personal relationship between skateboarding and punk?

BS: Skateboarding will always go hand-in-hand with punk, but nowadays anyone skates/has a board. There's no real counterculture or rebellion to it anymore. It's a mainstream sport. But if you have a true love with skateboarding you can ignore all that bullshit and skate the way you want to.

Do you give a lot of thought to ideas of 'DIY ethics' in punk rock, or does it just work as a general way of life without having to fret about it too much? Does it, in some way, influence where you shop, what you eat, what you do for a living, etc?

BS: In Sheffield, the punk scene has always been very DIY-orientated. Spending my teens here, it just became the norm to do things that way, music-wise. Now we're getting a bit older, there's less influence on our daily lives from that aspect. We all work full-time and rent or have mortgages, whereas four or five years ago we were squatting, unemployed and skating all the time. But that's life.

Did Sievehead grow up in or near Sheffield? Do you think of the city as having a rich musical history, and if so, what music do you think of when someone says that?

JS: Me and Bry are from Scunthorpe originally and Dave's from Grimsby. We gravitated to Sheffield for different reasons but the fact that it has a good music scene, with a bunch of people involved in DIY, makes it a lot easier to do something different and actually get an audience. Sheffield's Western Works was well over by the time we all moved here but I like a lot of stuff that came from that scene – Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA, I'm So Hollow, etc.

BS: The Mau Maus are the best and most underrated band from Sheffield. Hardcore punk from 1982. 'Society's Rejects' is up there with all the early Clay or No Future Records singles for me.

What or who have been the factors that have made Sheffield more vibrant, punk and hardcore-wise, in the last decade? When I was starting to get a handle on the UK DIY scene from the late '90s onwards, it felt like everyone just focussed on Leeds.

BS: Sheffield has always been an underdog in UK punk, but a hidden gem at that. The thing with Leeds is that there's a lot more people travelling there to live but then moving on, meaning there's a strong, high-output scene, but faces are constantly changing. Don't get me wrong, I love gigs in Leeds, but Sheffield has a more solid scene in my eyes and you'll get a good mix of crowds at each gig rather than scenes being segregated, like in bigger cities.

Can you talk a bit about The Lughole and The Audacious Art Experiment? How viable is it to create something like this in the current economic and musical climate?

JS: Right now, in Sheffield, the music scene is better than it has been for a long time. The Lughole is the best thing that's happened to punk in Sheffield since The Cricketers closed. I think that at the moment, because Sheffield is a town where industry was massive at one time and is now becoming a distant memory, there's the opportunity for places like Audacious and The Lughole to flourish. The Lughole was a workshop of some sort and I'm fairly sure Audacious was too – the area they're both in is pretty heavily populated by derelict warehouses and factories, which would have been involved in steel finishing or similar. There's one or two still functioning but the industry in Sheffield is a shadow of what it used to be.

The sad thing is that it probably won't last – the council already want to knock down an area opposite The Lughole, which includes another space called Tye Die Tapes, to replace the old workshops and warehouses with overpriced flats. That seems to be the trend across the country at the moment: gentrification, rather than encouraging people to be proactive and do something off their own backs.

There are way more of these kind of spaces – ones that are distinct from 'standard' music venues but aren't squats or houses – in the UK than was the case a few years ago. Why do you think they have proliferated recently?

BS: In a country where the cost of living is getting higher and higher, I think musicians and artists have felt the need to stop relying on others and doing something for themselves. And of course a show in a warehouse – BYOB, no bouncers – is more appealing to punks as it makes for a more chaotic gig and people feel they can let loose in an environment they feel comfortable in. Not to mention supporting something that they believe in rather than lining the pocket of a bar owner.

DW: DIY spaces help a scene and bands flourish. With a space like Lughole, you can practise there, gig there and hang out. It's more than just a venue, it's a centrepoint of a scene.

Do you find that shows in bars or wherever aren't as much fun anymore?

JS: There's been a lot of press on the dwindling number of small venues in this country – I don't think that's a good thing, but at the same time it's an incentive for people to start something in place of the pub/club/whatever, which is being closed down.

What are the songs on the album about? I get the impression that you're more about interesting lyrical imagery than conveying direct meaning – is that accurate?

DW: Fairly accurate. I start off with a subject in mind, but come up with ideas when I'm walking around at work. The bleak situation we as individuals face in our country at the minute, the compression of our individuality through relentless working, the way creativity isn't encouraged, grinds my gears. I like to try and paint a picture but almost every line has an extended meaning to me.

Do you have any thoughts on the trend of punk/hardcore bands' lyrics being less explicitly political than in decades past? There are exceptions, of course, but most new records I hear tend towards the personal, abstract or both.

DW: Everything's political. It's all rooted in the way your life is structured for you.

JS: I think punk as a political movement, or statement, has just become less brash as time's gone on. It isn't as shocking to people now as it was and has just naturally become something more diverse and accessible for people to draw on.

Has the LP got much traction outside the UK yet? Are you planning to tour overseas in 2016? For that matter, is a UK tour longer than a long weekend likely?

BS: We're all so busy all the time, whether it be with other bands or day-to-day shit, but we'll be playing a lot of shows this year. The LP's been sent all over the shop which is cool.

DW: GOING FUCKIN' CANADA IN OCTOBER! Buzzing for that. I've never been off this continent in my life, so to do it because of a band is mint.

So far, has the band had many – any? – interactions with people from what I guess is still the 'music industry'?

BS: We've had emails which we've instantly dismissed.

Do you have a fairly set idea of what Sievehead would and wouldn't sign up to?

BS: I don't want anything to do with contracts, moneymakers, whatever. We're much more at home with legit labels we know and love.

How important is it that Sievehead get heard by new people – and new types of people, not just punks?

JS: I don't think we have any aspirations for our stuff to be heard by a particular audience, but because of the labels who've put our stuff out working with different groups of people – Milk Run do hardcore stuff, Evil Hoodoo do psych – I think that it's reached a different audicence than it might have otherwise. Obviously, that's a good thing.

Into The Blue is out now on Evil Hoodoo Records and Milk Run Records. For upcoming gigs, head to the band's Facebook here

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