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Escape Velocity

Love And War And Capacitors: An Interview With SCUDFM
Patrick Clarke , September 5th, 2022 08:23

Patrick Clarke meets with Zsa Zsa Sapien, Madame Hifi and Adam Brennan of SCUDFM to discuss their long-in-the-making debut album INNIT, their role in new South London label Dash The Henge, Bob Crow, capacitors and more

All photos by Lou Smith

tQ tracks SCUDFM down to the yard of The Earl Ferrers, a corner pub in Streatham, South London, sitting with the trio amid beer barrels, ashtrays and discarded furniture. It’s a Monday afternoon and the pub is closed, however Zsa Zsa Sapien and his wife Madam Hifi have a key to the back. Adam Brennan is close behind them – immediately after our conversation he’s rehearsing above the pub with Brian Destiny, the new project led by Fat White Family’s Nathan Saoudi. Saoudi, along with Tim Harper and Rebecca Prochnik, also runs the new label Dash The Henge, which will focus on the kind of underground and countercultural groups that go overlooked by traditional ‘indie’ music gatekeepers.

The Earl Ferrers serves as the unofficial HQ for this growing creative network, at least until the opening of Dash The Henge’s new store and venue in Camberwell. They’re currently in the process of taking over the site of the former Rat Records shop which closed earlier this summer, intent on preventing it from becoming “yet another fast food chain, or even worse an estate agents,” as Sapien put it in a statement announcing their designs. His enthusiasm’s clear in person, too. “That’s the most exciting thing,” he says of the shop, “similar to what Beggar’s Banquet had in Kingston. It’s right bang in the middle of Camberwell and I’m hoping it can become a hub.”

SCUDFM’s debut album INNIT will be Dash The Henge’s first release. “They’re staking it all on us!” Brennan laughs. Neither he nor the label need worry, for INNIT is a knockout. It is at times strange and left-field – there is an entire song about the intricate details of a capacitor – and at others incisive – ‘Hex On My Sex’, penned and sung by Madam Hifi is a searing rebuke to a lifetime’s oppression at the hands of the patriarchy; ‘Bob Crow’ is a thumping tribute to the late union leader. Instrumentally it’s both maximalist and wonky, Brennan’s considerable skills on guitar are employed with a welcome dash of chaos amid a wonderful clatter of sound.

What stands out most of all, however, is the album’s abundance of soul. The wide-ranging experimental nature of its sessions have in turn created an album that’s open-hearted and inviting to listen to. The trio take tQ through the story of its inception.

Can you take me through how SCUDFM started?

Adam Brennan: It started as just the three of us around 2018. We were spending a lot of time together because I was living at [Zsa Zsa and Madame Hifi’s] house for a bit.

Zsa Zsa Sapien: Things started to go missing…

AB: He plays the trumpet really early in the morning, so I’d always wake up hearing him jamming, or banging on my door like ‘I’ve got a song!’ Then I’d come in and just try to make up guitar parts. It was all based on repetition and the sampler, almost like hip hop.

At that stage did it feel like it was for fun, or the start of a project?

AB: We knew it was good.

ZZS: I always start with a sampler anyway. The only difference with SCUDFM is that there’s a live dimension as well.

AB: We started making the album really quickly, we only did a few real gigs then Lias [Saoudi, Fat White Family] saw us playing in The Windmill and was like, ‘You guys are actually really good!’ He called up Nathan [Saoudi, also of Fat White Family] and we started working on it in stages. We crammed loads in. The first time, Lias came with us, which is how we ended up with him doing backing vocals. He was there with his top off getting really deep into how Zsa Zsa played the maracas, so we said, ‘Why don’t you be helpful and sing a bit?’

The initial recordings were just a few weekends, but it needed some more work here and there. Then we just kind of sat on it not knowing what to do for ages. It was a backlog of a year and a half to get it printed. It felt like Chinese Democracy, it became a running joke that we had an album coming out. We also had the luxury of revisiting it a year and a half later in the studio. All we could afford was one day, so we had to think of anything and everything we wanted to put on it there and then.

ZZS: It was like being in Hamleys, playing with all the toys.

Madame Hifi, what was your musical experience before SCUDFM?

Madame Hifi: Nothing. Absolutely nothing! At school I tried to learn the piano but nothing came of that. I never thought I’d be in a band; I was so shy when I was young, but I quite enjoy getting up onstage.

ZZS: You did sing in front of hundreds of people at a Meatraffle gig, supporting King Khan And The Shrines at the garage. Cloudy Truffles [Meatraffle bassist and occasional vocalist] was away, so I asked ‘would you mind singing ‘The Bird Song’.

MH: I love that song, so I said ‘of course’, but I thought it was going to be a pub gig! But when I got up there and sang I thought ‘Oh, that was quite easy!’ I quite enjoyed it. So then I thought, ‘I’ll write a song. Something that I’ve always wanted to say.’

That song was ‘Hex On My Sex’, which is one of most incisive moments on the album…

MH: It’s my life story basically, a bit angry… something I needed to get out there.

ZZS: Adam’s guitar brings a real kind of Motown feel to it.

Other than the live dimension, how does SCUDFM differ from Meatraffle?

ZZS: I don’t mean it in a bad sense, but the different limitations of the musicians… You try to say to most drummers, for instance, ‘can you do a really fast speed metal beat’, ad a lot of people just can’t do it, even though they’re really good musicians.

AB: I remember when you first saw me play the guitar, you said that I made the guitar sound like a whole band. I think he was thinking that if I’m so busy on the guitar he doesn’t need to do so much. I could be a sort of faux-guitar hero, Eddie Van Halen going really, really wrong, not quite ever getting there.

Was it hard to find consistency with such a fragmented recording process?

ZZS: Because it came from the sampler, the skeletons were already there, so it’s not done from scratch. The skeleton’s there so it’s basically putting on the muscle. Making music with other people is not like the visual arts, where you’ve got total control, but I think a lot of artists think it should be like that. If you carry on like a dictator, things are gonna be quite frustrating

AB: You’ll end up like Paul McCartney! Zsa Zsa’s always really open to whatever someone wants to try, and so was Nathan as a producer. He interjected a lot, he put down really good keyboard parts and xylophones. The idea was ‘fuck it, try anything,’ and 99 per cent of the time it was good. Warren’s just got great songs so it makes it very easy. You can do what you want to a really shit song and it's still gonna be a shit song! If someone’s written something that really moves you then it’s the opposite. The first time I heard ‘Meatraffle On The Moon’ I felt really emotional.

There are now two versions of ‘Meatraffle On The Moon’, the SCUDFM version and the version that appeared on Meatraffle’s album Bastard Music. The SCUDFM version is far more melancholy and emotional…

ZZS: I think that’s because it’s nearer to the first demo I did on a sampler

AB: We recorded ours before Meatraffle had put theirs out, so it was like a space race – who’s gonna get to the moon first?

’One Thing’ is quite touching too, particularly the video in which Madame Hifi is driving an ailing Zsa Zsa around in an old ambulance…

It makes me well up a bit! It follows a tradition of videos directed by Niall Trask where I die in the video… in the video for ‘Brother’ by Meatraffe I was buried with my trumpet. And now my wife euthanises me off the coast of Kent!

MH: The Isle of Sheppey, actually

Do the lyrics draw on your real-life married relationship?

ZZS: I think I was supposed to take the washing out the washing machine or something like that, and she said ‘I asked you to do one thing!’

MH: He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve written a song about it instead.’ Thanks!

ZZS: A lot of my source material is my own incompetence. I thought it was quite funny

AB: Zsa Zsa’s a bit like Larry David, it’s Curb Your Enthusiasm but in song…

SCUDFM’s first proper single release was ‘Oliver Twist’, at the end of 2019, how does that come into things?

MH: It was around the time of the last election

ZZS: It’s based around the chorus from ‘I’d Do Anything’ from Oliver! - ‘l’ll do anything, for you dear anything, but you can fuck off if you’re a Tory!’ One of the proudest things that I’ve achieved in life is not going out with a Tory or voting Tory.

There’s a bluntness to your songwriting that’s quite effective sometimes… I do mean that as a compliment. The Bob Crow song on this album, for instance. It’s pretty obvious what you’re trying to say…

ZZS: I’ve been trying to get that song out to some of the people in the RMT, but it’s been quite difficult. I guess they’ve got more important things to do.

Mick Lynch has also mastered the idea of simple, direct communication, which is part of the reason he’s been so effective in the media.

ZZS: It’s like what the press would normally term as common sense, but it doesn’t seem to apply any more.

MH: I’m surprised they let him have so much airtime. He’s always smelling of roses; I love it.

As someone who’s long been banging the drum for industrial action and unionisation – a song like Meatraffle’s ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ is about the power of a general strike for instance – is it gratifying to see those ideas gathering such pace?

ZZS: It’s a necessity isn’t it?

AB: Public opinion is quite easily swayed by the press, still so many people are still saying things like ‘why are they striking they’re making so much money?’ But if only everyone else had a union that strong. It’s not just the train drivers, it’s for everyone, from the cleaners to the top. Why shouldn’t people who work hard be paid?

MH: I feel like people are not wanting to support people as much as in the 80s, where people were doing CND marches and poll tax marches, and now it’s nothing. I feel like we need more.

ZZS: Some of the political will’s been sapped away by New Labour. We’ve lost generations of potential.

With dancer Ollie Mozley

Is there a deeper meaning to a song like ‘Capacitors’? When I first heard it, I thought you were reading the Wikipedia page…

ZZS: I was actually reading a book by Morgan Jones on how to build valve amplifiers. It’s probably the best book I’ve ever read. I didn’t know anything about valve amplifiers but it was like reading some kind of abstract novel. I was totally succumbed by it, it wasn’t boring. And this guy is also quite sarcastic, he’ll say something like, ‘Bill Jones made an output transformerless amplifier and he put a shunty capacitor in the signal part – what an idiot! Everyone knows you can’t run an amplifier on negative feedback alone!’ It’s really funny. There was a piece in the book where he explains what the functions are of electronic components and there’s one about capacitors. I thought, ‘this is actually quite a miracle!’

In the past you’ve referred to yourselves as ‘Black Metal Rock & Roll’. How does metal influence you?

ZZS: I was into jazz and dance when I was young, but then as a teen I became a headbanger overnight and sold all my dance records to a guy in the youth club. They’re probably worth £150 each now… I just went, full-on denim and leather, patches on my back, grew my hair long… I think SCUDFM has some of that spirit.

AB: I love anything with a loud guitar, although I was always embarrassed by bands like Guns N Roses. I always liked stuf that sounded a bit off. There’s a big difference between a slayer solo and a slash solo. That’s one of the things I really liked when I first met Warren, he said his biggest influence on the trumpet was Kerry King, I knew what he meant - all the wrong notes but it sounds and feels good and that’s what matters. All that ‘I’m the big powerful blues man’ – no one likes that shit, that’s loser music! Slayer over Guns N’ Roses. I think there’s something quite naïve about what we do though, it’s not contrived, or thought out. We always have a massive soup of what we like; we could have a reggaeton rhythm going on.

SCUDFM's debut album INNIT is out now via Dash The Henge. Purchase it here