Grinders. Innovators. Phrase-coiners. Crust legends Hellbastard are back with a new album ‘Feral’ and their lead singer/guitarist Scruff gives us an exclusive interview…
For the few who don’t know about the band, tell us all about yourselves…
@S: The original idea for Hellbastard came in late 1984. My brother (Big Toot) used to co-run a venue in Gateshead called “The Station”, He was very adept at putting on bands there and it was in full swing with national & international bands appearing most weekends, and it was still at this point frowned upon by all and sundry (namely the crowds/groups of people we all used to hang out with, and of course the genre that we all came from,…‘anarcho-punk rockers’) to enjoy heavy/thrash/ metal music.
We, on the other hand loved that…. we came from the ‘first wave’ of punk Rock but wanted to emulate. the intense battery of bands like Discharge, and the tightness of a lot of the metal bands we had grown accustomed to, but keep the anarcho-punk ideology,…The first incarnation of Hellbastard was known as “Sons of Vengeance”, it was awful,.. a complete sham. Sons of Vengeance attempted to play live a few times and never recorded a single thing,… we’d have new members for each live appearance and they were more often than not found AT gigs about 10 minutes before we were due to ‘perform’.
As you can imagine this was a noisy affair and, looking back. It was fun at the time, but by contrasts now – it just makes me cringe even thinking about it. By 1985 Hellbastard were rehearsing as a 3-piece and trying our damned hardest to be as heavy as possible, not as fast as possible, just heavy and rocking.
I was put in charge of vocals so therefore I made sure lyrics were conscientious and hard edged. None of that awful mediocre satanic stuff. Our first bass player Christopher “Simo” Simmons died some time ago in the 1990’s,… bless him, he wasn’t meant for this world – or maybe this world was not meant for him, either way he is still sorely missed by all that knew him. R.I.P Simo.
So, the first ‘studio line up’ of Hellbastard came to be. Iain “Scotty” Scott on Bass guitar and Phil Laidlaw on Drums and myself on Guitar and Vocals. Phil had already been in bands before and so had I, so we had some idea of getting creative. Phil had previously played drums (guitar?) in a band called “Public Nuisance” and I had been in a band called “Feeble Minded”.
Let’s see. We had no equipment, we borrowed everything practically all the time and we were by all accounts absolutely terrible musicians. But, what mattered was we had a vision and that vision culminated in a demo we recorded months later in 1986 called “Ripper Crust”. The demo title has eluded most of the press we have received to date, so I will attempt to be a little more specific with the ‘meaning’ of said title – the whole ‘ethos’ or ‘modus operandi’ of the band from where I stood was always about environmentalism. Always.
The title “Ripper-Crust” is best summed up on the front sleeve of the 1993 vinyl debut re-release of that demo. It depicts a woman ripping the earth’s crust off the surface of the world,… she’s got dreadlocks and appears to be quite ‘alternative’ looking. This was meant to be a direct statement, humanity is fucking the earth up. Humanity is exploiting the earth to such an extent that we’re killing ourselves. Hence the title, “Ripper Crust”.
Admittedly the word ‘Ripper’ is included for its often depicted ferocious style of music. Quite often within our little world you’d hear comments of “Ooooh have you heard that demo? or that LP? or whatever, and “Yeah, I heard it, it RIPS”, often the word would be seen in print in a publication like the U.S made “Maximum Rock ’N Roll” magazine, so that pseudo ‘Americanism’ is garnered from that style of describing some new band or some new demo or some new music that we’d previously never heard.
This ‘environmentalism’ carries on to today,… the release after “Ripper Crust” was “Hate Militia” (1987), that depicted a huge army of disillusioned disaffected people rising up against the social injustices and dumbing down of freedom of movement and freedom of speech. The album “Heading for internal Darkness” (1987/1988) clearly depicts the same, with a beautiful nature/countryside scene on the front sleeve to boot. Self-explanatory was the next release “They Brought death” (1988).
This carried on to the release of “Natural Order” (1989/1990), and so on and so forth right up to the eventual ‘split’ of the band in 1991/2.
The band has seen its fair share of line-up changes in its time, How do you keep up with the changes?
@S: It’s a fucking nightmare. Having to get a new drummer/ guitarist/bassist up-to-scratch and gig-ready is a fucking nightmare. Not only does it set a band back. It stops most bands in their tracks. It is no fun. It’s a time consuming nightmare, having to have a new person learn all those old beats and time changes. All those old songs and then the newer ones – I can only describe it as a nightmare.
Keeping ‘up’ with change is what a band does, if you don’t then you don’t move forward, you stagnate and become a sad parody of yourselves. Making music is about change, it’s all about change. It has to be for it to remain interesting or ‘fresh’. When it stops remaining colourful then it becomes boring. The most important thing about any band is their drummer – anyone with any knowledge of trying to keep a band going for any length of time knows this to be true. Without a good drummer you have a bad band, it’s that simple. It’s like putting diesel into a petrol engine and expecting it to perform really well, you’re fucked.
Your commitment to Hellbastard is exemplary – what keeps you motivated?
@S: That is a very good question. I guess I’m in the unfortunate percentage bracket that labels me a “lifer’. I’d love to be able to answer this, but you have me completely stumped on this one. Well done, Paul. Not many have done that before, in fact i think you are the first to ever do so. I’ll buy you a pint or two for this. You have to keep me to that. I’m well impressed. I could argue that I’m a slave to the mighty riff,but that’s a bit of a cop-out. I am also well aware that certain people refer to me as “Lemmy”, cheeky bastards.
Your new album ‘Feral’ has just been released, how long has it taken to produce it?
@S: When I decided to reform the band in late 2007/2008, I had already written some of the tracks for the 2008 album – “The need to kill.” By all accounts it is an awfully rushed and very bad erratic album. I could argue that “The need to kill” (along with “Eco-War’, “Sons of bitches” and the other releases in between) being the last album before ‘Feral’ (which makes a timeline of 6 whole years) has taken exactly that, six long years! It’s insane, HB only existed back in the day for 6 years to begin with! I think ‘Feral’ would have seen the light of day sooner had it not been for the in-fighting of band members and attitudes that went against what I/we were personally trying to achieve. We recorded ‘Feral’ in July/August of 2014. It took from then to February 2015 to complete the mixing, of course if we all didn’t have other day-to-day living concerns then the whole thing could have been completed much sooner.
You have guest musicians on ‘Feral’, how did that come about?
@S: I asked them if they would do it and they all said “yes”.
Your passion for animal/human rights is well known. How active are you in defending them?
@S: If I asked you for your bank account details and PIN No. would you send them to me? These kinds of questions are best left unanswered due to the fear of any possible repercussions that may or may never happen in the future.
Are there any particular causes that are close to your heart?
@S: Sea Shepherd, Hunt Saboteurs Association, ALF, Animal Protection, RSPCA… the list is a long one that goes on and on and on. This sounds pretty cliché, but I’ll remark on it again. If you look at nature and the ‘natural world’ outside of capitalism and the pathetic fear induced hypocrisy of a ‘humanised’ society, everything ticks along quite nicely. Everything seems to have a place, and a reason for ‘being’, now put humans into the equation. Hey Presto! Instant carnage.
Naturally I’m well aware of the aborigines and the native people of this earth, using everything and wasting nothing and respecting the earth – but to get that balance back we’d have to go back to that. What is our reason for existence? Can you tell me? I have not heard a decent answer from anyone… ever. Not a single piece of literary information can inform me of this; none that I have read anyways.
Don’t mistake this for a Nihilist viewpoint, I’m not even a Nihilist, I just cannot see any point for humanity being here. All we really have to do is put food in that hole, make sure it comes out properly on the other end, go to sleep, wake up and do it all again. Other than that, what the fuck? I guess I could tell you about a personal ‘cause’ I have, I’ll never have a child. No sir. I don’t want to add to the already over-saturated mess that we are already in. to me it’s just pissing in the gene pool and I personally place animal life above human need. Period.
Having been generally accepted as coining the phrase “crust punk”, how relevant is that term to Hellbastard now?
@S: Good question. I guess it all depends on how you define the terminology. Personally for me the 1980’s was a fucking awful time, and now it’s even worse. So, it must be relevant, but only in certain ways. That whole ‘crust-punk’ thing became very fashionable around the world. The sad thing is there’s a ‘uniform’ and a choice of bands to listen to make you ‘acceptable’ to the ‘crust/punk’ fraternity. What a load of complete and utter shit.
To me, ‘crust punk’ is about how you choose to live YOUR life,… and how that impacts on everything around you…… but to determine any ‘relevance’ I think you have to disassociate the music form from the political ideologies that the whole genre represents. In terms of ideologies it is EXTREMELY relevant. There are individuals and communities out there in the world existing as best they can outside of ‘the grid’. These people absolutely reject the homogenised, standardised, oligarchs of the ‘western world’. They absolutely refuse the obsequious peanut crunching crowd and make their own paths.
That, to me is the true spirit of ‘D.I.Y’. I am personally in awe of such people. I wish I had the bollocks to go and do it myself.
What is your process for writing new songs? Do they all stem from you or is there a collaboration process?
@S: It is true I do come up with a lot of the material, and have always done so. This changed on the new album ‘Feral’. Our other guitarist Pete Salvage wrote a complete track (lyrics & music) called “Social hand grenade”, and our bass player Laine composed an instrumental piece (what is for me the best track ON the album) “All our sorrows”, and also included some parts to a track called “…and the point of your being is?”, Laine also wrote the music for “4-Paws” too. Rob Miller (Ex Amebix) wrote his own words for his guest appearance on a track called “Wychcraft” and Teddy Beetle (From the American cult band “Count Beetle”) co-wrote the lyrics with me for the track “We are coven”. Andy “A-Droid” Wiggins (Ex Amebix) composed the opening sequences of “In praise of Bast.” and naturally Andy Sneap (Ex Sabbat/Hell) wrote his own lead guitar parts too.
My personal way of writing tracks begins with an old, old tape recorder. I have had it for years. I used to use it to record the band’s soundcheck and live appearances at the Station gigs in Gateshead and on a few occasions at the Riverside Club in Newcastle Upon Tyne. I’ll record the basis for a track on an old cassette and then rewind it back and play over the top of it. That’s how I come up with harmonies and melodies. It also gives a good insight into whether or not the two guitar parts for the track will actually work.
I write stuff in my head and put it in little boxes, then re-arrange stuff to suit. All the little boxes are different colours. That’s how I remember what is what. Laine our bass player has the technology to include drums and almost all instruments. That’s because he’s a clever bastard and understand his Apple Mac and uses the right programs for home recording etc, etc, I’d be lost doing that… I know where I am with a tape recorder and cassettes. I’ll sit on a track for months at a time until I think it is ready for rehearsing and getting tight and ‘ironed out’.
Since the release of ‘Feral’, this has only strengthened. Nothing but the best will do. If it is not killer then it gets binned, simple as that. As well as being a ‘house nazi’ I am also a ‘music nazi’ – like seeing a band for the first time, if I’m not captivated in the first few minutes I can’t help but think “fuck this”. That is how I personally see our song writing. It has to grab you and all the passion and emotion has to smack you in the face. If it doesn’t do that then to me it gets pretty stale very quickly, especially with heavy/hard music. Come to think of it I’m also a ‘garden nazi’ (I like things just so,…..) and I’m even also a ‘fire nazi’ (I like things just so around the fireplace, i.e. – regular cleaning and dusting and no ash left on the black slate underneath the fire – I have a special rag that I put oil on to oil the slate so that it looks very well kept. Sieg Heil! The Domestic Law!!
Do you miss not living in Gateshead/Newcastle Upon Tyne and how often do you visit ‘home’ now?
@S: I have never ‘officially’ lived in Newcastle Upon Tyne. I was born there however. I’m a Gateshead hooligan through & through. I believe that it’s people that make the place, not places that make people.
There are a massive, MASSIVE amount of people that I miss seeing as much as I used to when I lived there. I really do miss them very, very much, but I have very, very sad memories of living in the North-East, and that is something I’d definitely rather forget.
Unfortunately I have more sad memories than happy ones. I know you never said or mentioned any form of patriotism to the North-East but this same question brings up something very similar to me – namely how I feel when someone asks me “Are you PROUD to be British?” I can’t even begin to answer. The venom and the vehemence and the vitriol – it all wants to come out blasting from a screaming skull that would make no doubts as to the velocity and sincerity of my feelings. This has the same kind of feeling for me.
To call a place ‘home’ is something I have not really been embroiled in since 1976. Cliché as it sounds I usually call a place ‘home’ only in retrospect, and besides, there is no cat or dog in this place right now, and I firmly believe a home is not a home without a cat or dog in it.
You seem to go down very well with gigs in the USA. Any plans for more shows there? Any plans on touring or gigs in the UK in general?
@S: We are touring Europe next month and a return to the states with brothers from other mothers (WARWOUND) is on the cards for early 2016. We also have a few festivals next year and some one – off dates in/around the UK. Most probably these dates will end up being promoted on Facebook or something like that.
How do you approach the artwork for your albums?
@S: I come up with an idea and then absolutely harass a friend that has the technological skills and hardware to complete such a task. Then I pray more than 4 people buy the album so that we can give back some form of monetary exchange to the artist that spent hours days and months making the covers/sleeve/inlays etc.
How much of your free time does the band take up?
@S: We very, very rarely have any ‘free’ time, but we do make sure we rehearse at least long enough in advance before we perform live. Some bands don’t even do that, to me / us that is just shooting yourself in the foot. We have little meetings from time to time and discuss plans for world domination, these plans never ever come to fruition. But it is fun discussing who will own what country etc, etc when we finally rule the world, which we will.
Do you see Hellbastard being around in another 10 or 20 years’ time?
@S: That’s impossible to answer. The question is will there even BE an Earth in 20 years’ time?
What messages if any, do you think the band has put out there to the public?
@S: Over the years, we have received messages/letters about how we have changed individuals’ lives and made them better. That is a huge compliment.
We don’t go out of our way to ‘send messages’ in our music as such, but when someone takes something from our lyrics and it benefits them then that is a great feeling.
There are hundreds of individual cases where someone has written to the band explaining certain things about our music and how it has helped them in certain ways.
Like I said, we don’t go out of our way to do this, it just happens, and I’m personally glad it does. We are all glad this happens. It’s one of the biggest compliments a band can get I think.
Have there been any particular amusing incidents in your long history of the band that that you’d like to share?
@S: Not really. If you would have replaced the word “amusing” with “horrific” then I could have rambled on and on and on and on…
Is there anyone out there that you’d like to take time out and thank?
@S: Apart from yourself for hosting & spending lots of time on the www.hellbastard.co.uk website the list is too many. Literally. They know who they are, and why.
All photos courtesy of Hellbastard
‘Feral’ is out now and available via the band or all good music outlets.
Want to read this offline? Download Anger Burning Fanzine Issue 2.