It was a nice autumn evening when I sat on a bench opposite the City Hall of Köpenick with the river Dahme behind me. And that’s where we went to shoot the first photos after Justin had arrived. We started chatting right away, and the conversation went so well that I regretted not turning on the voice recorder from the beginning. But first I had to focus on getting some decent shots. We went over to the castle, and continued shooting in the park. Then we sat down on a nice bench under the trees and started with the interview.
Last night you played at a festival dedicated to world peace. Did you ever believe in such a thing?
I read somewhere that some historians did some research. In the total of human history there had been a period of four and a half years of peace, or something like that. Probably it was more like three days here, and three years there, and you could add it up to being four and a half years. Do I believe in world peace? [silence] It‘s a strange time in Europe. Here we are in the park. It’s pretty nice, and it’s a lovely day. Then you think of what has happened here in the past, during the war. It‘s horrific. We are so strange; restless monkeys, never satisfied. I think we once wrote something like, “Where there is war we like to bring peace; where there is peace we want to bring war” [from the NEW MODEL ARMY song “No Mirror, No Shadow”], and it’s a bit like that. And it just seems that way, especially at the moment in Britain, and probably everywhere else, but you know I‘m British, so [pause]. The language of war is very popular. This kind of “Us and them”, and building walls, and “We are right and they are wrong“, and “These are our enemies”. It does seem that either we have forgotten where this shit leads, or we are just sort of some pathetic drama junkies who can’t resist this.
And of course all the algorithms that were built up in the online world respond to clicks. So what makes people click? Anger and fear. And people are happy – they don’t really need to go online, and they don’t really need to click. “It‘s a lovely day today. Do I need to click? Yes!“ – “No, I don’t. Those bastards are selling you out!“ – “Do I need to click? Oh, ah, my anger is rising, click!“ And therefore this particular thing goes up, and it is more noticed. So I don’t think that people feel more war-like, but they have this kind of response. I don’t know; this is a strange, dangerous time. And maybe like in our song “The Weather” – is it exactly a coincidence that at the same time the whole weather system of the planet is readjusting itself to a kind of new chemical reality: global warming? So as the weather is getting more dramatic, the storms are stronger, the droughts are deeper and the floods are stronger, the people seem to have the tendency to become more extreme. We are made of the same molecules; it’s not a coincidence. But then if you look at the particular small details of things, like the fucking Brexit or whatever, it’s just such nonsense in the context of what is happening on the planet. It’s like a joke.
Almost like a distraction.
Completely! We are sort of dumb monkeys, really – tribal monkeys – dumb tribal monkeys. I started writing the new album at the end of last year. We all write in the same way, in the sense that we are collecting musical ideas from everyone. And these go into storage, a cupboard called “Musical Ideas“. We must not start making an album until the cupboard is full. But these days, the cupboard is almost always full. The other cupboard is “Stuff I Want to Write About“. But I definitely didn’t have the urge to write “Brexit is a con, la la la“. Winter was a bit more direct because it was written in the wake of what is happening. We knew the referendum was coming, and I kind of guessed what the result would be. It wasn’t a surprise to me. From Here is the absolute attempt to step away from it and look at the bigger picture. And when I had written what ended up as the last lines of the album, I knew they had to be the last lines of the album. [“So let’s all go home now, and look ourselves in the mirror, throw our heads back and laugh.“] It was definitely an attempt to step back. Then Lee Smith and Jamie Lockhart came to us and said that there is this studio where we want you to go to, and we looked at the pictures, and we went, “Yep, that’s our kind of place.” So we went off to Norway. The album was mostly written in Bradford – but in a chance to step back, and look at the bigger picture – this was the perfect place to do it.
For me the new album has a melancholic mood.
Is that particularly surprising [laughs]? I‘ve always liked music with an element of melancholy. All New Model Army songs are in a minor key. I find music that hasn’t got an element of that doesn’t move me in the same way. I was thinking about this “bleak“ thing. There is this word in English, “bleak”; it’s the cold grey North Sea coast on a cold grey day, but it’s strangely beautiful.
I feel it.
It is melancholic, but it is beautiful and it is something that we all share as a band. We like places like that. We all feel connected to that love of bleak, which is slightly melancholic. We are not really big city wild party people. All my favorite records have an element of melancholy. They also have a slight element of voodoo as well – just something which is slightly dark, and slightly strange, and slightly not quite controllable, and slightly tense, and a bit otherworldly. I think our records tend to have some of that. This one definitely does. The terrible thing now with the “click-click” world is that I am able to see all the reactions to the album. I tell myself, “Don’t look, don’t look!” – but of course I do.
And then you get different reactions, which is kind of understandable. The ones that aren’t quite understandable are the ones who are like, “They haven’t done anything good since 1985!“, and I think like, “Ok, if you think that, why are you still here?“ [laughs]. But then, beyond that, some people think it’s instant; some people say it grows, and some people don’t really like it. Other people prefer something else, other people LOVE it! And I think that is utterly a chance. From Here has got a very strong atmosphere and, if you are not in the mood for it, then I understand that. If you get to the end of the first song, and you are not in that mood – take it off. But if you are in that mood, then you kind of run with it. So I can understand if some people put it on, and it is not what they expected or what they needed for themselves at that moment. Sometimes people talk to me about “the audience”, as if it is a singular. And sometimes I talk to other front people in bands, and they often talk about the audience like that, but I never think about it as singular. They’re different individuals with different backstories and at different points in their lives.
Especially with New Model Army – you have the most diverse audience.
It’s very diverse. They come from different places; they have different needs from the music, and they all have different favorite songs. Our music covers a lot of different atmospheres. Some people really love the mosh pit songs, where everybody joins together and dances. And other people like the very dark, sort of melancholic stuff. But they are all different, and they all have different ways of responding as well. Some people want to take their shirt off, and join with each other – there’s a kind of communion that they want to share with other people. Others want to stand quietly in the corner, and watch and listen, maybe with their eyes closed. Everything is equally legitimate. We never try to do that thing where you try to unite the audience, like, “Everybody say yeah!”. We’ve never done that, and I never will.
In part two of the interview I asked him how he explains the ups and downs in the popularity of the band, whether the Night of the Thousand Voices will take place in Germany and if he is less angry now in comparison to when he was young. Read the full interview alongside with fullpage portrait photographs in the print issue of DEPICTED. Get your copy here:
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