Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Interview: The Restarts

This interview conducted last summer when the RESTARTS were here on tour around the “Outsider” release. The band had a pretty hectic schedule, but agreed to play on the day they flew in. They had been up for more than twenty four hours and were exhausted but carried on nonetheless. The interview was transcribed by Jennifer Stacey.

Thanks very much for staying so late with us and especially for coming in after flying all day. Introduce yourselves and tell us what you do in the band.
Kieran (K): I’m Kieran. I sing and play bass.
Robin (R): I’m Robin. I sing a bit and play guitar.
Darragh (D): I’m Darragh. I play drums and sing a bit.
How long have the RESTARTS been around for?
K: We formed in ’95... so that is... makes it now 12-13 years. Robin is the most recent edition.
R: I joined in 2003.
How did the RESTARTS form? I have read the thing on your website, but like how did you really form? You talk about it being a convergence. What does that mean?
D: Well... we just used to drink together.
K: I moved to England in ’88 and I had met Darragh briefly. Then I went back to Toronto and then back to the UK. After being in ARMED AND HAMMERED I knew that I wanted to keep playing in a band. I knew that Darragh played drums.
D: I tried to.
K: I am not sure how it really came about. We just said “Yeah let’s do a band.” Then we needed a guitarist and that was it. We just started recording things in the bedroom on cassette tapes and stuff.
D: Did we? (laughter)
Kieran, didn’t you initially move to the U.K. to be in a band?
K: I didn’t know that I wanted to be in a band. ARMED AND HAMMERED needed a bass player. Allegedly the bass is the easiest instrument to play so I was like “Yeah, I’ll try that”. Then I got the bug. So when I decided to move back to the U.K. I had no other agenda so I said “Let’s start a band” and I think Darragh was thinking the same thing.
D: Yeah. I had just got out of DETOX.
Did you have an idea in mind what kind of band you wanted it to be?
K: I think it was a reflection of the scene we were hanging out in at the time. There were lots of squat gigs and it was pretty nihilistic at the time. The early recordings were lots of songs about alcohol and desperation. It was pretty negative, but we used it as a cathartic way of venting frustration. Not so much the same now. We have expanded in different areas.
Darragh were you in a band previous to the RESTARTS ?
D: Yeah... DETOX and another called MAD MAC AND THE POLAR BEARS. That was a brilliant band. Sadly a couple people died and that was that.
Robin, were you in any previous bands?
R: Yeah: I was in UTRECHT 4:01 in Holland where I was squatting before I moved to London. I was in a band called DISGRACE which was good fun. I learned a lot. I was born in Holland and moved to London in 1998 when I was 18. I play in the SHORT BUS WINDOW LICKERS. I think Darragh was playing drums with them and that is how I found out that the RESTARTS were looking for a guitar player. When I initially joined the RESTARTS it was only going to be for the European tour and ended up staying in the band. They had initially just asked me for the tour... we were practicing in Clapton was it?
K: We kept asking you because we wanted you but you kept saying that you couldn’t solo. Well, now you can! (laughter)
Have you had other guitarists? Didn’t you have the guy from the UK SUBS at one point?
K: Yeah. Mik Useless was our initial guitarist and guess he had just had enough. I think he was more into metal. His previous band COITUS was more that UK crust style and when we started banging out a few ska songs he begrudgingly played them. It was all amicable when he decided to leave. At that point we were on the search for a new guitarist. I was living with Alan who plays for the UK SUBS and so we got him to do the recording. He played two or three shows and he had too much commitment with the UK SUBS. And then we got Robin he learned the set in like two weeks before this tour.
R: I fucked up the first two gigs though. The first gig in Potsdam I started playing different songs, I couldn’t keep them apart.
K: Did you? I don’t remember.
R: That’s cause your getting old.
K: Yeah. Robin is the young spirit in the band.
R: If you think 28 is young then it probably says how old you are.
Where does the name the RESTARTS come from?
K: Well at the time most people were signing on Welfare benefits and the government in England had launched a program, similar to what they do in Canada, a program to motivate people to get off the benefits and so they had this program called Restart. So the worst thing you wanted to get was a letter through the post saying ... ‘we’ve booked you a Restart interview’. I was all about them saying that you had become a drain on the system and they want to teach you how to sit up properly and attend a job interview and write a resume. None of us had any interest in doing that at the time, so... we just kinda decided one night at a party that we should call ourselves the RESTARTS ‘cause we were all getting Restart letters.
Who do you consider influences on the band?
K: What are the bands that influence us?
R: It is such a wide gamut.
When I listen I here 999, the ADICTS, DOA, SUBHUMANS (UK). I mean I am not sure if I am even getting this right...
R: Yeah: it is a shitload of bands: UK and American punk.
K: There is a ska influence too. All three of us have always written whether it was Mick or Robin we would all sort of go home and write our own songs and then bring them to the band practice. So there were a lot of different influences. Like Mick would sort of present a more metal song and Darragh was more into the ’77 style rock/punk and I like ska and Robin does more power chord like POISON IDEA style songs. We end up with this amalgamation of different styles.
Sometimes that can be really disastrous, but I think that in your case it really works. It sounds like a cohesive sound. It is not generic. You are not pulling from a retro or nostalgia thing. You are taking an old sound and developing it. Where does the idea for the PIONEERS cover come from? The chorus: “Everyday things are getting worse”... it reminds me of the central point of Noami Klein’s book “Shock Doctrine” things for everyday people just keep getting worse.
D: I think I suggested that. I was listening to a lot of old school Jamaican ska at the time. I love that stuff: and when I heard that song it was so happy sounding but the lyrics were so fucking real.
R: You came up with the “Big Rock Candy Mountain” cover. Was that the period when you were listening to American.
D: Yeah. I was listening to a lot of country and old folk. American shit.
K: Today I ran into Al Ridley and he was telling me that he’s obsessed with that song and apparently he has an LP compilation of all different bands doing that. I didn’t realise that there were that many bands doing it and he said that there are something like 15-20. All different lyrics. If you Google it you can find tons of information.
D: Yeah there’s like a missing verse or something.
K: It is actually quite a deep song.
I don’t know the song. What is it about?
K: It was written around the time of the Depression in America and Hobos were jumping on trains and train hopping got big. People were looking for something better, you know, work and just going from one town to another. Then this kind of fantasy came about where there is some mountain somewhere where there are no police and the streams are alcohol and cigarettes grow on trees and there is free money everywhere. Its kinda like a bum’s paradise. So, obviously if you are living through hard times that fantasy is appealing. Apparently, there is a lot written about it. There is supposedly a missing verse when he gets to the “Big Rock Candy Mountain”. It is a bit of an anti-climax because if you don’t have the desire or yearning to get somewhere then once you’ve got them there is no point to living.
I would like to ask you a bit more about your influences. If you could limit your record collection to five punk releases what would they be? And to make it a bit tougher I want you to do it as a band.
D: As a band? Ooohh... One would have to be “Never Mind the Bullocks”.
K: Yeah that would be one of mine.
D: All time favourite or that are important for the band?
K: All time favourite.
D: “Inflammable Material”.
K: “Feel the Darkness”. DEAD KENNEDY’s “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables”, DOA for me but to pin it to one album is hard.
D: “Bloodied But Unbowed”
K: DOA, definitely for me.
K: I like TURBONEGRO, but I don’t think it is a direct influence on the music we write.
D: DISCHARGE. The whole D-beat thing
K: “Hectic” by OPERATION IVY that just encapsulates the punk/ska that we like. It is dirty sounding ska. We don’t really like what the ska movement has evolved into. Very clean like middle-class American kids would like. That whole scene is not what we aspire to. We all love ska-punk.
Do you all take turns writing lyrics? Is there a principal song writer?
K: No. In a way I would like to collaborate more, but we don’t. We bring to the table a complete song each. Pretty any much any song one of us is singing we have written. We do throw ideas around though.
R: The last album we were a bit more of that. We certainly tried.
K: Yeah. We did collaborate more.
What are some of the things you write about? I noticed on the last album that there were quite a few songs about the environment. Was that intentional?
D: I think when the last album “System Error” came out the internet was all over the place and the previous one was four years before that. Then the whole global warming issue came up and it was there all the time but it was really brought to people’s attention and people were trying to ignore it and I guess that’s the reason.
You were reacting to people trying to ignore it.
K: Yeah it wasn’t like a conscious decision. What happens with us is that we write but we write about what is topical at the time and what people are discussing and thinking about. With “System Error” some songs were written about internet and technology. It wasn’t a plan but that ended up being the theme of the album. And then with “Outsider”, Robin came up with “No Escape” and I did “Koyaanisqatsi” and then Darragh brought forth “Cluster Bomb” which is a social commentary on the arms trade and it sort of culminated in one theme.
Can we go through some of the songs? I wanted to ask about “Intelligent Design”. I know because of the things coming up in US politics with the Religious Right and Intelligent Design, is it a big thing in the U.K.?
K: Well, it was covered in the news and I saw the news coverage of what was going on in Dover, Pennsylvania where they voted Intelligent Design out and I was just so shocked that Pat Roberts was given a prime time slot on CNN and he just condemned the whole state of Pennsylvania and was basically threatening them with religion saying “You voted God out of your state’ and this was right after the New Orleans hurricane thing. And he was pretty much saying that if some natural disaster happens in your state don’t look to God for help. He was threatening them with natural disaster because they voted Intelligent Design out of the school system. If you want to teach theology then go ahead, but don’t teach it as science because it is something else entirely. And then it came up that something similar was happening in the U.K. It is a small number and mostly private schools, but they are basically teaching Creationism in science class saying that the Earth is only 10,000 years old and that there is an Intelligent Designer controlling the whole evolutionary process.
D: It is widely discredited now.
K: But the Christian Right are still backing it.
Have you seen the film Jesus Camp? I was just thinking about the way that the Religious Right prey on kids.
D: It’s quite systematic, isn’t it?
If you want to talk about child soldiers, they are just breeding these kids to be an army of God. Teaching them religious vigilantism and then blaming it on Islam. Was the song “Koyaanisqatsi”, was that based on the film? It is the Hopi term for life out of balance, right?
K: Yeah, because I saw the film, downloaded it and it is such a powerful film with no dialogue, just images and then the one statement at the end.
Have you seen the two follow-ups?
K: I have watched parts of the 2nd and it wasn’t as good. I have got the 3rd but haven’t watched it yet. The first is really enough for me. It is so relevant today and it was made...
Was the idea to get at the concept of the film or to highlight the film itself maybe?
K: It was to highlight the film, but to tell it in a really simple, aggressive, D-Beat way. To me early D-beat, like DISCHARGE stuff, is just so powerful and I wanted to make a really simple song...
Yeah, based on haikus, I mean DISCHARGE basically wrote haikus, really short and straight to the point.
K: Yeah, exactly.
O.K. ‘Bolloxology’. What is this one?
D: It is something my Dad used to say all the time. Whenever he had something he didn’t like or disagreed with he said “bolloxology” I just love that word. I use it as a punk lyric all the time and decided to make a song out of it.
Do you mind if I adopt it and start using it? I just love it.
R: Yeah dad would have loved that that is what it is for.
So it is kinda like a bullshit detector?
R: Yeah, totally.
“Running out of Time” ?
K: Again, it is the same concept. That song was really driven by the riff and I wanted it to fall along the same sort of environmental theme. It is that we are always in such a fucking hurry to get somewhere and there is never enough time for anything. The way technology is moving, having to consume daily... we just need to slow down. Everything... work related or even entertainment...
Even leisure or communicating...
K: Yeah, it is like it’s a job... whether you’re doing emails or these social sites.
Just to meet up and have a good time, it’s like we are killing ourselves to do it. It is pretty ludicrous. There is also a song called “Job Club” and a clip off a snitch line. Is that from the same program that the RESTARTS get their name from?
K: So what happens sometimes is that people will sign on to the dole and then... like living on the dole gives you the most minimum amount of money you could possibly live on. Politician’s are always trying to live on the amount a person would get on the dole for a week to try and prove that it is not enough. So, what happens is many people sign on to the dole and then work under the table. And what these snitch campaigns are saying is like ‘You know your neighbour is on the dole, but you see him going to work. Give us a ring and we’ll charge him with fraudulent receipt of benefits...’ They still do it. Instead of looking at why some people are...It is not greed or anything...some people are just caught in that gap.
Can you single out a RESTARTS song from a lyrical stand point and tell me why you like it?
D: I think one would be Kieran`s one “Enemy’s Enemy”. “Enemy’s enemy one step ahead of me”. I think it is a great little expression and it makes a point about Bush and how to use the Al Qaeda against the Russians in Afghanistan.
In Italy there was a campaign used by the Left to counter the Right, and I can`t remember the exact phraseology but there was a similar thing like: Keep one eye closed but one eye open type of thing.
R: Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer type thing. “On to you” is another one. Maybe I am just over paranoid but like I just really, you know you have the Oyster Card along and it is a card that wherever you go on public transport everything will be recorded. Where you go, when you got on, what type of transport you take.
K: It is like a swipe card system.
R: I just refuse to get it and they try to force you into a corner to get it by removing all other options. It is little things like that. If the power falls into the wrong hands, well it already is in the wrong hands, but if it gets worse they can just check up on you and every detail of your life. These cards are becoming more and more common. The global consumer surveillance system is very scary.
K: The song “XQ 28” is about homophobia within institutions and society.
XQ 28. What is that?
K: It was this research that was funded to try and find the ‘gay gene’. I found that really dicey and the motivation behind that I found offensive. They came up with this theory that they found this X chromosome and that could prove that people were gay and they could now do tests on people.
Similar to eugenics?
K: Yeah: exactly. I kind of made this imaginary Orwellian scenario which was loosely based on films like “Gattaca” where they are genetically profiling babies before they are created to make designer babies.
Can you give us the discography of your releases?
K: “Job Club Demo” - 11 songs. And from that we took four songs and released the 1st 7”, “Frustration”. Then we did another recording and released it as a 7” called “Just Gets Worse”. Those were both on Blind Destruction out of Bristol. Then we did a split LP.
Who does that label?
K: It used to be run by a guy named Pete Rose who played in a band called SPITE at the time and then he went on to play guitar for ICONS OF FILTH up until their demise and the label got passed through a few different hands and I think it ended up in the hands of some guys who played with IN THE SHIT and I don’t know if it still going. I am not sure they were continuing to press 7”s.
Is that what lead to “Actively Seeking Work”?
K: Yeah so then we decided to put all the early stuff ... well that label was passing through so many hands that is was kinda hard to keep track of who was actually running it to get new pressings. Then with the whole digital age happening... people still like 7” but we thought people would like to have that on just one digital package. Then we did a split LP with ZERO TOLERANCE who was a local Oi band we used to play with. ZERO TOLERANCE split up, the singer died sadly. Rejected Records from Ireland re-did the “State Rape” recordings as a CD with FLEAS AND LICE.
FLEAS AND LICE from Ireland or from Belgium?
K: From Holland.
D: Was that on vinyl?
K: It only came out on CD with FLEAS AND LICE. Then came...
R: “Slumworld” and split 7” with BROKEN.
K: Our side was called “Your World” and those songs were taken from the “Slumworld” recordings.
Were they extra songs or did they also appear on the...
K: They ended up on the “Slumworld” release, but with that recording we weren’t happy with it. We were sort of flailing at the time trying to decide whether to call it quits and we sat on it for three years and the Active Distribution.
D: Nah... it wasn’t three years.
K: It was because 1998 was the recording and 2000 was the...
I think that’s right because I have a copy of that out on Malarie which is in the Czech Republic.
D: When did the LEGACY OF BIGOTRY 7” come out then? The split with LEFT FOR DEAD? Was that before “Slumworld” ?
K: Well yeah. That was in the same time. So the recording was done in 1998 and then between 1998 and 2001 or 2002 we kinda farmed out a few songs. One was for the split with LEFT FOR DEAD from Hastings, England and the other was with the “Your World” split with BROKEN. Then came “System Error” and now “Outsider”.
One of them got released on Havoc, right?
K: For the 2004 tour in America, Havoc did a co-release with Active.
Are they interested in doing anything else with you guys?
K: I have talked with Felix but he is so busy and maxed out financially. So we looked to Bill from Rodent Popsicle in Boston and he is doing the “Ousider” release.
Is that vinyl?
K: He has done both vinyl and CD.
That’s good. Is that out now?
K: Yup.
I wanted to ask about the “Outsider” release. First off, I want to go back to the Job Club: you were talking about how impressed the engineer was. That you didn’t waste any time. You recorded and mixed it in two days?
K: It was pretty fast. We did all the tracks and music was down in two days and then we did the vocals in one day or something?
D: “Job Club”? We recorded and mixed that in two days.
R: Was that a live recording or separate tracks?
D: No... we did all the songs live and the vocals later. All in one day. The next day we fucking mixed it up.
Well you know with punk bands the energy that comes from live sound is often lost in studios, so I think by not frittering around with it, maybe that is a better approach. There is a band recently from Sweden called KVORTERINGEN whose members are in really prolific crust bands. They formed this side project to not fuck around and to just do something really quickly and all their recordings are amazing like that. So... my question is how long did it take to record “Outsider”? Is the philosophy still the same?
K-R-D: No. It was totally different.
D: Actually, it was your first album recording because he had this whole portal recording disk. So it was kinda...
You did it yourself?
D-K: Yeah.
R: And it was the first time for him to do a full album properly and release it. We had to rent a room that wasn’t finished and we just kept going. Sometimes we fucked it all up and you know we didn’t have some setting s right. You know we were learning as we went along, but I guess it went quite fast I think.
K: But we spanned it out over a longer time.
D: We did a demo first... so we demoed the songs and then we went back and re-recorded the whole thing.
R: It was seven months in total.
D: When you have your own mixing disk you are not paying an engineer so you can take your time.
R: We didn’t have a deadline like going on tour or something.
D: Well, we missed that! (laughter)
K: We went on tour without the new CD!
Were any of you other releases self-released?
K: Most of our other stuff was on Active Distribution an Anarchist distro in London.
Do they actually press it or just distribute it?
K: It is more like a collaboration. I would supply the artwork and the box design/layout and then they would put up the money for the release. We would get a percentage of the pressing and then they would distribute.
Have you got much feedback on “Outsider” yet?
K: It has got some reviews, but not a huge.
Still early days yet?
R: We didn’t really promote it...
K: Dirty Faces is distributing it in Germany and throughout Europe and he has sent out 30-40 and some were sent to MRR, but they haven’t reviewed it yet.
You are doing a North American tour now, what are the band’s plans after?
D: More gigs... probably Japan
K: Japan is the ultimate goal.
Are you writing new stuff since Outsider?
K: We’ve actually sorta been going off on personal projects: Darragh has a side project: I am doing some electronic stuff and Robin has got his other band. Once we kinda put all this effort to put “Outsider” out and gig it... we are putting that stuff aside a bit let it mature and then get back to it.
How can people get in touch with the band?
K: Our e-mail is, our website is, and our myspace is www.myspace/therestarts.

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